Youth block analysed
G1 Climax 33 gets underway on July 15, with a month of action seeing 32 of the world’s best heavyweight contenders vie for victory in the most prestigious tournament in all of professional wrestling. As we count down to the tournament of tournaments, a look at the A Block contenders starts our preview series.
8th entry, 8th consecutive. IWGP World Heavyweight Champion
Career PB: 2020 finalist
SANADA heads into his eighth G1 Climax this summer, his first as a singles champion, and the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion at that. In a block full of younger contenders looking to make a mark and change the guard at the very top of New Japan, SANADA heads into this tournament with a bigger target on his back then ever before. With a desire to win G1 Climax 33, and nominate Just 5 Guys teammate Taichi as his challenger, SANADA is not lacking in motivation in the tournament of tournaments.
Key match: July 25 Korakuen Hall vs Kaito Kiyomiya
Nowhere is the pressure higher on a champion, let alone one in their first reign, than having to wear their title into a clash with an outside contender. At All Together Again, the SANADA led Just 5 Guys side fell to the Good Looking Guys headed up by GHC Heavyweight Champion Jake Lee; a loss, or even a draw against another Pro-Wrestling NOAH contender in Kaito Kiyomiya won’t just create a challenger to SNADA’s crown but cast aspersions on his reign as a whole.
3rd entry, 3rd consecutive
Career PB: 2-4 (33.3% WR) 2022
Chase Owens heads into only his third G1 Climax, but by default the second most tournament experienced of the group. Having been around the block more than a few times, Owens’ experience should make him a trap game for most of the young guns on the list this year. Scoring two wins in each of his first two tournament efforts in 2021 and 2022, will this year see him set a new personal best?
Key match: July 15, Hokkaido vs Gabe Kidd
This is the first time we’ve seen Chase Owens in action in Japan since the David Finlay led BULLET CLUB War Dogs has taken full effect over the spring. With BULLET CLUB fragmented between the new War Dogs and HOUSE OF TORTURE in Japan, Rogue Army in Australia, and BULLET CLUB Gold in AEW, Chase’s position in the current era of the faction at large is still unclear. His opening match with the War Ready Gabe Kidd may answer that question, or it may leave us with more to ask.
Returning from excursion in earnest this past November, Shota Umino has perhaps kept the most consistently high profile in NJPW of all the debut entrants in this A Block. Not being afraid to butt heads with Kazuchika Okada, and bringing allies from AEW’s Blackpool Combat Club has kept the Roughneck in the headlines over the last several months, but with the exception of an impressive victory over Zack Sabre Jr. in the New Japan Cup, Umino thus far lacks a big trademark singles victory. The G1 Climax is just the place for that to happen, and with the potential of a brand new winner of the G1 higher than any othe rpoint in the last decade, Umino could potentially bring about the ‘paradigm shift’ he’s been referencing since coming back to Japanese rings.
Key match: August 5, Osaka vs Hikuleo
Umino’s physique, good looks and natural charisma have seen many a comparison to Hiroshi Tanahashi. The Ace’s ascent was fueled in part by matches against larger opposition like Scott Norton or Giant Bernard; Tanahashi would credit them for forcing him into the underdog position and wrestling from underneath, earning the fans’ and his competition’s respect in the process. Umino will attempt to cut down the huge tree that is Hikuleo on August 5, though with the match being his last in the group, this is less about earning respect as it is a critical last two points.
Since his return to Japanese action in October, Ren Narita has made it his mission to instigate a ‘changing of the guard’ in New Japan Pro-Wrestling. Alongside his Strong Style partners El Desperado and Minoru Suzuki, Narita was the first of his generation of talent to seize gold in the form of the NEVER Openweight 6 Man Tag Team Championships. Yet with Narita still to claim his first major singles win of 2023 having fallen short at the NJPW World TV Championship at Wrestle Kingdom and being eliminated in the first round of the New Japan Cup, it’s imperative for the Son of Strong Style to make his mark.
Key Match: July 15, Hokkaido vs Shota Umino
Both Narita and Umino have a shared desire to break down the old guard in NJPW and replace it with a new generation, but a shared goal does not an alliance make. The two young men clearly dislike one another, as evidenced by their butting heads through the New Japan Road tour, and in this one on one encounter the former Dojo rivals will be fighting to dictate the pace of the tournament at large.
He might have come up short of the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship on June 4, but Yota Tsuji’s presence post return from excursion has been hugely impressive. Tsuji led teams have racked up the wins on the New Japan Road, as Tsuji himself has rejected talk of a guard change put about by the likes of Narita and Umino. Rather, Tsuji has set his sights wider, on bringing NJPW as a whole to a bigger presence on the worldwide stage. What that may involve remains to be seen, but it all could start with Tsuji capturing the G1 Climax trophy on his first attempt.
Key match: Friday, July 21, Nagaoka vs SANADA
Tsuji exploded out of the figurative gate with an incredible performance in his first match back from excursion against IWGP World Heavyweight Champion SANADA, but he was unable to capture the title thanks to the champion’s expert timing. In Nagaoka on July 21, Tsuji will have another crack of the whip, and will look to show that he can finish the job.
The biggest younger brother of the Guerrillas of Destiny, Hikuleo seeks to make a major mark in his first G1 Climax. After leaving BULLET CLUB in September of 2022, Hikuleo defeated Switchblade Jay White this February to exile him from Japan, before defeating KENTA to lift the STRONG Openweight Championship at Dontaku. Yet his reign was cut short, after a terrifying spill from the bleachers in Long Beach saw KENTA to a speedy rematch victory and Hikuleo to a V0 reign. The big man declared that he would build himself back up from square one, and running through the young prospects of A Block would seem to be a good way of doing just that.
Key match: July 21, Nagaoka vs Chase Owens
When he jumped to join his brothers in Hontai, Hikuleo would be credited with sparking the downfall of Jay White’s BULLET CLUB that owuld eventually see the Switchblade exiled first from Japan and then NJPW entirely. Looping back round to a confrontation with his former teammate in Chase Owens then, this is a match that the big man simply cannot afford to lose. In a tournament where fans will expect statement wins from Hikuleo, this has to carry the biggest statement of all.
Debut entry. NJPW STRONG Openweight Tag team Champion
Having officially left LA Dojo behind for the BULLET CLUB War Dogs just moments before he was announced for the G1 Climax 33 lineup, Gabe Kidd heads into this first tournament with a violent disposition and a pronounced chip on his shoulder. As skilled in the ring as his attitude is bad, Kidd is determined to take what he feels is owed to him, starting with tag gold in Korakuen at Independence Day alongside Alex Coughlin, and moving on to the G1 trophy.
Key match: August 5, Osaka vs Yota Tsuji
On August 5, Gabe Kidd and Yota Tsuji could well decide A Block. Three years ago, in the midst of the COVID pandemic, G1 Climax 30 group matches were prefaced by singles bouts between Kidd, Tsuji and Yuya Uemura in what would be dubbed the Young Lion ‘C’ Block. with a 10-9-1 record in Tsuji’s favour, the two were evenly matched in prior encounters, and anticipation will be high for this reunion, even before the group implications are considered.
Pro-Wrestling NOAH’s Supernova Kaito Kiyomiya heads over to NJPW to compete in his first G1 Climax. The first NOAH competitor to enter the tournament of tournaments since Naomichi Marufuji and Katsuhiko Nakajima in 2016, Kiyomiya is looking to prove his and NOAH’s worth on the NJPW and global stage. The story of his year has been dominated by violent clashes with Kazuchika Okada where promotions have crossed over in Yokohama Arena, Tokyo Dome and Ryogoku; Kaito no doubt might feel disappointed he hasn’t drawn the Rainmaker in his block, or he might be all the more motivated to win his block and set up a potential knockout phase encounter.
Key match: August 5 vs Ren Narita
While Kiyomiya’s youthfulness puts him out of direct contact with the origins of Pro-Wrestling NOAH, he carries the green brand’s traditions proudly, and the influence of Mitsuharu Misawa and the King’s Road is no doubt as present as the more direct hand of mentor Keiji Muto. In this battle with son of Strong Style Ren Narita, we will see the next torch bearers of classic tradition do battle, and at a critical juncture for the tournament at large.