Cubed Circle Newsletter 194 — It’s the other Happiest Time of the Year, 25th G1 Climax Is Here!
We (well, me, anyway), are back at the CCN headquarters in Johannesburg for another issue looking at the 2015 G1 Climax, which kicks off on NJPW World this Monday (!), Ben Carass reviews Mid-South from 1982 with an appearance from Killer Karl Kox, RAW with the debuts of Charlotte, Becky Lynch, and Sasha Banks, as well as Monday’s edition of RAW!
– Ryan Clingman, Cubed Circle Newsletter Editor
NJPW Set for Colossal 25th G1 Climax
Prior to New Japan’s October 2012 iPPV debut, King of Pro-Wrestling, the supply of the product was generally left to uploaders on various file-sharing sites. Often times, major shows such as the Tokyo Dome show and the finals of the G1 Climax were only made available weeks or even months later — much of the 2012 G1 Climax was only made available a good year or so after airing. In fact, up until quite recently, various shows and matches from some of the more recent pre-2013 G1 Climax shows were lost to foreign audiences for what seemed to be the foreseeable future. Thankfully, however, with the success of King of Pro-Wrestling, and subsequent internet-pay-per-views, including the seminal 2013 Tokyo Dome show, New Japan made the 2013 G1 Climax the more accessible than it had ever been before.
For 150 dollars, fans outside of Japan could not only view every show of the 23rd G1 Climax — in a year that saw a widespread rise in the popularity of the product — but, could also view it live, as well as on-demand during the course of the month. Even with the steep price and inability for fans to purchase individual shows, the package was widely praised for supplying the non-Japanese audience a platform to view shows that would otherwise surface in a late and inconvenient fashion, if at all.
What received higher praise still was the tournament itself, which featured some of the best shows and matches of easily the last five years of Japanese pro-wrestling. Tomohiro Ishii and Katsuyori Shibata produced what some will remember as New Japan’s Frye/Takayama, with Nakamura and Ibushi following in the main event of what I regarded as the show of the year over the 2013 Tokyo Dome show, one of the better shows of the last several years. Naito and Tanahashi battled in a heated final, and Ishii upset Tanahashi in a classic outing. Many hailed this tournament as one of the greatest of the last several decades, perhaps even of all time. This was despite many criticising Gedo and Jado’s use of parity booking throughout the tournament — a criticism, which, given the modern booking history of the G1, may have been unwarranted — and injuries to both Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Hirooki Goto mid-way through the tournament.
When the 2014 schedule was announced, with bigger brackets and a highly ambitious final scheduled for the Seibu Dome, just out of Tokyo, several concerns crept up. The most obvious, at least at the time, was how the company was going to fill a 35,000 seat building, even if Sumo Hall had sold-out fairly quickly over the past couple of years. Another concern was that many of the participants, particularly the older and physically worn stars such as Satoshi Kojima, Yuji Nagata, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, and even younger performers like Tanahashi and Goto were going to handle an even more gruelling and intense schedule, and if they did, what kind of effect it would have on the company going forward with an injured roster. But, what followed during the 21 long day tour over 12 shows was a tournament that saw positive booking and layout amendments, and produced a bevy of the year’s best matches. Shibata and Honma had what may have very well been match of the 2014, whilst Styles and Suzuki, Nakamura and Okada, and a host of others did the same. Booking wise, the tournament saw a breaking from parity, distinct from years prior, which led to a welcome change, despite the success of the previous booking model.
This year, following the launch of New Japan World, the promotion looks to outdo themselves once more by upping the number of dates to 19, and only presenting five G1 matches per show, allowing for longer matches and competitors to rest in-between events. Each night will be exclusively A or B block, with non-active participants performing on the undercard in tags opposite their opponents for the next night. This model carries with it some strong advantages, not the least of which is that the performers, whilst being required to work 10 tournament matches minimum, as in 2014, will do so over 28 days, providing far more time to rest and avoid injuries. Aside from the obvious, this also produces several befits for fans, not the least of which will be longer, more memorable matches, with a lesser chance of a post-G1 malaise .
For as much as is said of New Japan’s lack of new talent, which may become a serious issue in future years if not rectified, this year’s tournament, as in years prior, begets a number of fresh, and in some cases original, match-ups. Katsuyori Shibata will battle Kota Ibushi on the 29th in Fukuoka (an admittedly unfortunate venue for an otherwise potential match of the year), Styles will too match-up with Shibata on the 20th’s opening night semi-main in Hokkaido, under Kota Ibushi versus Hiroshi Tanahashi! Naito will face one of my, admittedly, favourite wrestlers in Shibata, whilst Tomoaki Honma, who too is a member of that category, will work opposite Shinsuke Nakamura at Korakuen Hall on August 9th.
We have also been presented with rematches of some of the best matches of years past, Nakamura and Okada will do battle for only the third time on the second night at Sumo Hall, whilst Tanahashi and Shibata, who ended their rivalry last year, will reignite it for a single night in Yokohama on August 8th. AJ Styles will also work with two of his better G1 opponents from last year, Tetsuya Naito and Hiroyoshi Tenzan on the 29th and 8th respectfully. This will thankfully take place before the unfortunate inevitable demise of poor old Tenzan at the hands of Shibata on August 11th at Korakuen.
Unfortunately, the Killer Elite Squad and Minoru Suzuki are too preoccupied with their NOAH invasion to take part in this year’s tournament, which is a shame, as Suzuki always produces some of the better matches of the tournament with the most unexpected of opponents. Fortunately, whilst Doc Gallows, Toru Yano, and Bad Luck Fale will still be involved in the tournament, Michael Elgin will be brought in this year, and the aforementioned Kota Ibushi will appear alongside his replacement, Tomoaki Honma.
This year’s tournament will be a true test for Elgin, who has shown promise since his 2010 ROH debut, even producing a classic with Davey Richards in 2012, has never broken out as a great individual worker in the eyes of many, even though he can clearly be carried to a great match. If Elgin, who has been pushing for a New Japan run for well over a year, is able to pull out some great matches with the likes of Nakamura, Ishii, Nagata, Goto, Kojima, and Honma, then this may very well be a breakout period for him. Likewise, if he produces sub-par (by G1 standards), matches with these performers, and doesn’t connect with the audience, he may face New Japan booking problems in future. I doubt the later case will come to pass, however.
One of the biggest questions heading into the 25th annual G1 Climax is the same as most that have come before, and that is, of course, a question of who will win the tournament. The favourite, at least at this point, seems to be Shinsuke Nakamura. Nakamura-Okada, prior to last year’s G1 final seemed to be a match Gedo and Jado had been saving for a Tokyo Dome show following a long and involved build. But, with their G1 match delivering and leaving room for another match with a championship on the line, the 2016 Dome show may very well be the place for their first major title bout. The pair will, however, face one another on the first Sumo Hall show, which would strongly indicate the result of that match deciding the winner of the B block. They could book a draw, although a Nakamura win leading a Dome match is my strongest hunch.
An Okada victory would, at first glance, make little sense, but given that the Seibu Dome match was their first major encounter, and Okada came out the victor, the very long-term direction may be to have Nakamura go 0-2 against Okada in major G1 matches, leading to a 2016 G1 victory, perhaps a third match prior to that, and then Nakamura-Okada at the 2017 Tokyo Dome, in what depending on the state of the company at that point, may be their first Dome sell-out in well over a decade.
Taking the more probable scenario, I suspect to see either AJ Styles or Kota Ibushi win the A-block. There is already a pre-written story with Ibushi losing to Nakamura twice before going on to defeat him either in the finals of this year’s G1, or in a fourth encounter. However, a Styles/Nakamura match is fresh enough that it may be their final direction, especially given that Styles and Tanahashi will be headlining the first of three Sumo Hall shows in the last of the A block matches.
Last year I predicted an Shibata/Okada final, but it would seem that, at least for the time being, Gedo sees Shibata as an upper-tier star, but not one at the very top. Nakamura/Ibushi and Nakamura/Styles then seem to be the most likely finals, and given the placement of Styles and Tanahashi on the first Sumo Hall show I have to lean ever so slightly towards Nakamura/Styles in the finals, which is most certainly a tantalising final match, especially given the lack of interference in Styles’ G1 matches last year.
As for where this year’s tournament will rank amongst the great G1 tournaments of the past is difficult to say. There is definitely a potential for this tournament, given the ability for matches to be built to between shows, as well as the extra time for tournament matches, number of promising pairings, and three Sumo Hall shows, to surpass the spectacular tournaments of 2013 and 2014.
Next Week’s Issue
Next week we take a look at the first few nights of the 2015 G1 Climax, and what could be some match of the year candidates. Plus, we look at WWE Battleground, the fallout, and much more!
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