One constant remains in a year unlike any other: New Japan Pro-Wrestling is holding its much anticipated round robin tournament.
The annual G1 Climax is arduous and the stuff of legend. The storied tournament returns again in 2020 with another loaded lineup of pro wrestling all-stars. G1 Climax 30 runs from September 19 through October 18.
The tournament opens in Osaka, Japan, and it wraps up with the final three nights in the historic Ryogoku Sumo Hall in Tokyo. In between, NJPW makes the loop through other towns and prefectures along with the way.
Usually a summertime tradition, G1 takes place this year in early autumn. The change was originally due to the Olympic Games in Tokyo, which was itself then delayed due to the ongoing pandemic. The Olympics in Tokyo is postponed until 2021, so next year G1 will likely take place in fall as well.
Among the 20 wrestlers in the tourney are NJPW top heavyweights along with some outside talent. Even in a year where international travel is limited, NJPW brought in some foreign talent that has already been quarantining in Japan.
The ongoing pandemic also changes the format of the undercard matches. Instead of various multi-person tag team matches, the up-and-comers known as the Young Lions will wrestle in singles matches before the main bouts.
The tournament itself is divided into two blocks, and the ten wrestlers in each block will remain separated from the ten in the other block. Thus, no multi-person matches on the undercard. Though the change is for social distancing, that will also allow wrestlers more rest between matches than in prior years.
Format and Rules
Twenty wrestlers are divided into two blocks, with ten wrestlers in each block. A round robin-style tournament determines which two wrestlers from each block advance to the G1 final. Points determine the block winners.
A win earns two point, a draw earns one point, and a loss is zero. Double count-outs or a double disqualification net zero points. If wrestlers tie for points in a block, the result of their head-to-head match-up in that block will determine who advances to the finals.
Block matches are one fall with a 30-minute time limit. Winners of each block will meet in a final one-fall match with a longer time limit to determine the tournament winner.
The award for winning the G1 Climax tournaments includes a title shot at the annual Wrestle Kingdom mega-supercard at Tokyo Dome, NJPW’s biggest show of the year.
In the last decade, G1 winners are awarded a Money In The Bank-style briefcase to showcase their win until Wrestle Kingdom. Just like with WWE, the briefcase acts as a certificate for the title match. The winner is also awarded a trophy and a ceremonial flag. More pomp and circumstance follow.
History and Tradition
NJPW holding annual tournaments goes as far back as 1974, and throughout the history of the promotion as well. Since then, the G1 has become a symbol of prestige and tradition for the company.
The G1 Climax lineage itself dates back to 1991. G1 is an acronym for “Grade One,” and it is definitely a grade above almost any other tournament in pro wrestling.
In the modern era, the G1 is revered for being the best tournament of the year, by far. The tourney consistently delivers some of the most critically-acclaimed matches of the year.
G1 matches also establish subplots separate from the overarching story of the tournament itself. The tournament bouts are non-title matches, but the results can set up future contenders.
The top singles champion and other title-holders can enter G1. Champions competing in the tournament can suffer losses that set up title matches on upcoming supercards in the months following the tournament, so the tournament has far-reaching implications even after its conclusion.
Historically, the conclusion of G1 establishes a main eventer for the promotion’s grandest stage. In its wake the tournament can deliver captivating matches worthy of headlining a supercard of their own, but audiences get to see them all within a month’s time as part of G1.
The looming question can the atmosphere and magic of past years happen under current circumstances? Crowds are spread out and refrain from yelling. Applause is still strongly encouraged, but staying so socially distanced has hurt the quality of pro wrestling shows.
New Japan can at least have fans at their shows for now. A pandemic is making for a G1 unlike any other, but at its core is still the same tournament that has become such a storied tradition.
A Block Lineups and Match-ups
A Block: Ibushi, Cobb, Okada, Ishii, Ospreay, Takagi, Suzuki, Taichi, White, Takahashi
The 30th edition of G1 features a loaded lineup with some intriguing match-ups. The A Block is especially full of top names in the promotion. Along with them are rising stars, albeit with maybe a few exceptions.
Kota Ibushi won the tournament last year, and he is likely a favorite again this year to repeat. Earlier this year, Ibushi went on to challenge Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in the main event of night one at the Tokyo Dome. Ibushi lost that match, and lost again on night two against Jay White.
Ibushi and Okada nonetheless had an incredible match at Wrestle Kingdom in the Tokyo Dome. That tremendous bout went nearly 40 minutes in length. In G1 they only have a 30 minute time limit, but Ibushi and Okada on September 19 meet in a rematch during the opening night of the tournament.
Ibushi defeated Okada during the tournament last year in the match that decided their block winner. On the opening night this Saturday at EDION Arena, they craft a new chapter.
Ibushi is making his sixth appearance in G1, and this is also his fourth consecutive year in the tournament. Not even an injured ankle suffered on opening night in Dallas last year could keep Ibushi from having great matches during G1. Ibushi delivers.
Okada makes his ninth appearance in G1, and these days he is always a favorite to win the whole thing. Okada twice has won the tournament during his nine consecutive appearances. He also delivers.
The A Block also includes the likes of Tomohiro Ishii and Minoru Suzuki. Those two can have an absolute banger no doubt. Imagine the possibilities of them also matched up against Ibushi or Okada in singles matches.
Ishii is entering G1 for the eighth time, all in consecutive years. His reputation for excellent matches precedes him. The “Stone Pitbull” is poised for another run of outstanding bouts.
Like Okada, Suzuki is making his ninth appearance in G1. Unlike Okada, with Suzuki those years are nonconsecutive. He returns to G1 after not appearing in the tournament last year.
Suzuki is having some of the best matches in NJPW so far this year. He also captured the NEVER Openweight Championship from Shingo Takagi at a recent outdoor show at a baseball stadium. They met again in the upcoming tournament.
In his own right, Takagi now has a reputation in NJPW for being a top wrestler. His move up to the heavyweight division could hardly come at a better time. Now he finds himself in the A Block of the most grueling tournament of the year.
His second time being in the tournament, Takagi can build on an already great reputation for outstanding matches. He won several matches in the tourney last year and finished with eight points. Does he fare better this year?
Several foreigners return to Japan for the first time since the outbreak of the coronavirus hampered travel. Two of them were New Japan regulars before the pandemic changed the world. Those two also had breakout years in 2019.
Jay White defeated Okada at Wrestle Kingdom in January 2019, and then in February of last year he won the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Okada would go on to defeat White for the title in Madison Square Garden. They meet again this year during G1.
White last year won his block, but he ultimately lost to Ibushi in the G1 final. He and Ibushi meet again this year in their block. This is White’s third consecutive appearance in the tournament. He has finished high on the G1 scorecards with 12 points in each of the last two years.
Will Ospreay returns to Japan for his second consecutive appearance in G1. His performance in the tournament last year helped establish himself in the heavyweight division. Outcomes in his G1 matches might point towards his future direction, or even new rivalries.
Jeff Cobb in his second consecutive appearance in the tournament returns to Japan for G1. NJPW seems high on him, and with good reason. The tournament can provide breakout moments for him.
Rounding out the field for A Block are Yujiro Takahashi and Taichi. Both are polarizing characters whose matches are often panned by critics. This year’s marks the seventh G1 appearance for Takahashi, but he returns to the tournament for the first time in five years. Taichi makes his second consecutive appearance in the G1.
B Block Lineups and Match-ups
B Block: Tanahashi, Juice, Goto, Yano, YOSHI-HASHI, Naito, SANADA, ZSJ, KENTA, EVIL
While at first glance the A Block seems more high profile, the B Block is still loaded with talent. The first night of B Block on September 20 can deliver with great matches maybe more so than the opening night of A Block. Likewise, some of the top names in B Block have the most experience in the tournament.
The promotion’s double champion headlines B Block. Heading into the tournament, Tetsuya Naito is the current IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Champion. He recently regained the titles after defeating his newest arch nemesis, EVIL. The two meet again in the tournament, albeit in a non-title match.
Even with a title shot at Tokyo Dome on the line in the tournament, the reigning champion can still win G1. Naito is making his 11th consecutive appearance, and Naito has twice won the tournament. This is EVIL’s fifth consecutive year in G1.
The person with the most G1 appearances among the entrants this year is the company’s “Ace.” This year’s marks the 19th appearance in the tournament for Hiroshi Tanahashi. His 19th consecutive appearances is the most of anyone else in the current field. Hiroyoshi Tenzan holds the record for most with 21.
SANADA is a strong pick in the tournament to do well. Making five consecutive G1 appearances, SANADA is a member of Los Ingobernables de Japon. SANADA during the tournament must face his stablemate, Naito, which is surely a much anticipated match-up.
Last year during G1, SANADA defeated the reigning IWGP Heavyweight Champion, who was Okada at the time. This year SANADA again faces the champion, but this time that champion is someone who would otherwise be a friend.
Naito is the leader of the faction, but now another star within its ranks is on the rise. SANADA finished with eight points in 2019, but he can conceivably finish with a higher point total this year as his stock continues rising within the promotion.
Hirooki Goto makes his 13th appearance in the tournament, all in consecutive years. He previously won the tourney in 2008, and he has also made it to the finals since then.
Goto is currently a co-holder of the NEVER Six-Man Tag Team Championship. He must face one of his fellow co-champions, YOSHI-HASHI, in the tournament.
YOSHI-HASHI is making his fourth appearance in G1, but his first in two years. Also making his fourth appearance in the tournament is mat technician Zack Sabre Jr.
ZSJ entered the tournament this year for the fourth consecutive year. ZSJ is a former New Japan Cup winner, so he can easily score some upsets in a tournament.
Like ZSJ, Juice Robinson makes his fourth consecutive appearance in G1. Also similar to ZSJ, Robinson is more than capable of getting some wins in the tourney. Robinson returns to Japan for the first time since the pandemic.
KENTA is also returning to Japan, and he makes his second consecutive appearance in the tournament. He recently made a promise to get a haircut before G1. That might not help him win, but he can look good trying.
Toru Yano is the King of Pro Wrestling Provisional Champion, and he makes his 15th appearance in G1. This also marks his 14th consecutive year in the tournament.
Yano typically plays spoiler, and him getting a win over a top name is always a possibility. His matches can also be a fun break from the more serious styles seen elsewhere in the tournament.
Stay tuned and check back for more coverage of G1 Climax 30 in the coming weeks via our website and podcasts.
Below is a list of the participants in each block.
- Kota Ibushi
- Tomohiro Ishii
- Kazuchika Okada
- Shingo Takagi
- Yujiro Takahashi
- Minoru Suzuki (NEVER Openweight Champion)
- Jeff Cobb
- Will Ospreay (British Heavyweight Champion)
- Jay White
- Tetsuya Naito (IWGP Heavyweight & Intercontinental Champion)
- Hiroshi Tanahashi
- Hirooki Goto (NEVER Six-Man Tag Team Champion)
- Toru Yano (KOPW Provisional Champion)
- YOSHI-HASHI (NEVER Six-Man Tag Team Champion)
- Zack Sabre Jr. (IWGP Tag Team Champion)
- Juice Robinson