The full list of 20 entrants to G1 Climax 29 have been revealed. This year, six out of the 20 are new entrants; ever since the current two block format for the tournament was settled on in 2001, only 2010 and 2016’s field has seen as many debutants. Here, then, is a guide to each individual entrant, from newcomer to multiple winner. Will this information guide you to your picks?
Kazuchika Okada・8th entry/8th consecutive・2012, 2014 Winner・IWGP Heavyweight Champion
Okada enters the G1 as IWGP Champion, but being the best in NJPW on a day to day basis doesn’t always, or even often, translate to victory over the most intense summer weeks. In fact, the reigning IWGP Champion hasn’t won a G1 Climax since Kensuke Sasaki in 2000.
Records mean little to the Rainmaker though, even as he smashes every one in existence. Okada will be looking to grab his third tournament win; this would make him the first ever to win the New Japan Cup and G1 Climax in the same calendar year, and as champion to boot.
Key Matches: July 6, Dallas (vs. Tanahashi)
This is the fourth time the old rivals Tanahashi and Okada have met in the G1, but the first time for them to meet outside Japan, and the first time they’re meeting at the start, not the end, of their campaigns. Every G1 result for them so far has been a time limit draw. Could that happen again in Dallas? If so, could that one point be the difference maker when the finalists are decided?
July 27, Aichi (vs. KENTA)
Okada has been known to struggle with tournament newcomers. In 2018, Jay White beat Okada out the gate on day one of the G1, and in 2016, it was KENTA’s friend and former Pro Wrestling NOAH running buddy Naomichi Marufuji who scored an early tournament win on the Rainmaker. Okada could be in peril of a KENTA upset as the tournament reaches its midway point.
Zack Sabre Junior・3rd entry, 3rd consecutive・RevPro Undisputed British Heavyweight Champion
In 2017, Zack Sabre Junior became the first British born entrant into the G1 Climax in two decades, and with a landmark victory over Hiroshi Tanahashi, quickly established himself as one of the most dangerous tournament wrestlers in NJPW. ZSJ would follow up on a strong initial G1 campaign with a win in the following year’s New Japan Cup, and was still a factor in the 2018 G1 until the very last night, where a loss to Naito put him out of the running. Zack has proven he is capable of beating everybody in this year’s field on any given night, and if he can string those results together, he’ll be walking out of the Budokan on August 12 with the winner’s briefcase.
Key matches: July 14, Ota (vs Okada)
In 2018, ZSJ rode a wave of momentum to take the New Japan Cup, but was unable to convert his cup win into an IWGP Heavyweight Championship victory, losing to Okada at Sakura Genesis that April. Learning from that defeat though, and taking advantage of an Okada that had fallen into a slump after losing the IWGP title, ZSJ was able to beat the Rainmaker three months later on home soil. The rubber match happens in Ota; a win would not only make a huge difference to Zack’s campaign, but book himself a potential title shot down the road.
August 7, Hamamastu (vs Ibushi)
ZSJ and Ibushi meet for the third year in a row in the G1 Climax, and so far, it’s a wash. Ibsuhi beat Zack in 2017 and 2018, both times in Korakuen Hall, and while ZSJ has managed to reduce the deficit in the New Japan Cup these past two years, Ibushi has the upper hand in the rivalry all told. Sengoku Lord in Nagoya saw the two meet for the first time outside of a tournament environment, and Ibushi ended up victorious when he defended the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. The Golden Star now has the decided upper hand, but the Briton will not allow Ibushi to keep it long.
Hiroshi Tanahashi・18th entry, 18th consecutive・2007, 2015, 2018 winner
With 18 consecutive apperances, Tanahashi is the elder statesman of the G1 Climax. His long legacy is one of success, too; his third G1 win in 2018 brought him level with Hiroyoshi Tenzan in terms of career victories, a joint second only to Mr. August himself, Masahiro Chono.
Tanahashi holding the G1 Trophy high and waving the famous winner’s flag is a familiar sight, but of late, equally familiar is the story of a man redeeming the top spot after a debilitating injury. Tanahashi has talked himself about the cycles he tends to go through; injured in the spring, wary in early summer, triumphant by the end of August. Last year’s victory completed a long struggle back to the pinnacle of professional wrestling after being injured by Minoru Suzuki that February. This year, could his surgically repaired elbow be one injury too many? Or could it be ‘Aces high’ by August 12?
July 18, Korakuen (vs ZSJ)
Any questions over the status of a wrestler’s injuries quickly get answered with a match opposite Zack Sabre Junior. The British submission master will find any weakness at all to exploit, and if he’s unable to find one, he’ll create one. Three times now, Tanahashi has been on the losing end of a submission clinic from Zack. The most recent loss in Madison Square Garden was the match that put him on the shelf. A victory for Tanahashi will prove to the world Tana’s arm is where it needs to be. A loss could effectively eliminate him from the tournament after only five nights of action.
August 7, Hamamatsu (vs Fale)
While the overall record for Tanahashi against him in the G1 stands at 4-2 Tanahashi, the Ace has often regarded Fale as one of his toughest opponents. The monster that lies beneath the cool exterior of the Rogue General somehow always gets brought out in full force whenever he shares a ring with Tanahashi, and it should be noted that two of Tana’s four victories were not via clean pinfall. Tanahashi had to resort to environmental ingenuity to beat Fale by countout in 2017, while 2018’s clash saw Fale lose via disqualification; the brutal assault laid on the Ace made sure Tanahashi didn’t feel like a winner. As the tour reaches its final stages, Tanahashi will no doubt be hurting, and Fale loves to add injury to injury.
Kota Ibushi・5th entry, 3rd consecutive
Ibushi makes his fifth appearance in the G1 this year, but the first since signing a lifetime contract with New Japan Pro Wrestling. How does that make his approach different? Last year, after meeting Tanahashi in the tournament final, the Ace questioned Ibushi’s ‘resolve’. Ibushi would refute those comments at the time, always feeling he had resolve when it came to putting on the best performances possible. Yet on signing his contract, Ibushi stated that he finally understood Tanahashi’s definition of the word. To the Ace, ‘resolve’ carried an air of responsibility, and Ibushi now has a new sense of responsibility; to the fans, the company and himself.
Ibushi has wrestled like a man possessed in 2019, as he feels the responsibility of broadening professional wrestling at large and NJPW in particular falls squarely on his shoulders. This has led to the Golden Star putting his body on the line even more than is usual in this profession; concerns over whether Ibushi might push the envelope just a little too hard are often raised. Yet with high risk comes the highest of rewards, and now having experience under the bright, harsh lights of the G1 Climax final, he could well be the A Block favourite.
July 18, Korakuen (vs Ospreay)
Will Ospreay’s phenomenal 2019, the year that has seen him dominate the junior heavyweight division, and elevate its status to one on even footing with heavyweights, all started at Wrestle Kingdom. It all started, to be precise, with defeating Kota Ibushi.
It was a dream match for Ospreay to face a man he idolised; so much so that he was introduced to many Japanese fans with the elevator pitch of ‘the British Kota Ibushi’. Yet in 18 minutes and 13 seconds in the Tokyo Dome, Ospreay seemed to set himself on a level above Ibushi, with a focused brutality that granted the Englishman the NEVER Openweight Championship, and granted Ibushi a concussion induced two month absence.
For Ibushi to stake a solid claim at his first G1 victory, he not only wants, but needs to redress the balance against Will.
August 3, Osaka (vs Tanahashi)
The G1 record between Tanahashi and Ibushi stands at 2-1 in the Ace’s favour, yet the most painful loss for Ibushi came last year in the G1 Climax final. The Golden Star battled the man he regards as a god for over half an hour, but was denied entry to heaven when Tanahashi landed the decisive High Fly Flow. Ibushi would reject a handshake from the Ace immediately afterward, as doubts over his resolve and future direction circled. Yet Ibushi’s NJPW contract signing seemed to coincide with an epiphany of sorts for him. Kota would cite Tanahashi’s words as a motivation for him committing the rest of his career, saying he finally understood the Ace’s message. Does Ibushi now truly know his opponent? If so, he could truly ‘surpass god’ with Kamigoye in Osaka.
EVIL・4th entry, 4th consecutive
EVIL’s three prior entries in the G1 have displayed to the world just how versatile the ‘King of Darkness’ is in the ring. The G1 demands an adaptable competitor, and EVIL has been able to use his pure striking ability in the ring, and environmental awareness when brawling outside of it to put in solid performances each year.
Those solid performances have included some key victories that have changed the course of the tournament. In 2017 in Osaka, his defeat of Kazuchika Okada changed the course of the block, and played a huge role in Okada ultimately not reaching the finals. In 2018, he would beat Jay White on the last day of block action, and ensure that Okada and Tanahashi were the only two in the conversation for A Block victory.
This year, EVIL seeks a step up, and to become more than a spoiler. Nearly four years on from his first appearance in Los Ingobernables De Japon, EVIL seeks to control his own dark destiny.
July 18, Korakuen (vs SANADA)
The first of at least two intra-LIJ matches of the G1 takes place almost two years to the day, and in the same venue as the first singles meeting of EVIL and SANADA. Back then, it was SANADA with the victory, and a decisive one at that; EVIL just barely forced a rope break from Skull End, but the hold was quickly followed by a Moonsault.
With a loss to Tetsuya Naito in 2016, EVIL has never won an LIJ derby match in his G1 career. This is something that no doubt plays heavily on EVIL’s mind, and certainly played a huge part in his rejection of the traditional LIJ fist bump before entrants and cards were announced during the Kizuna Road tour. EVIL’s been keeping his distance from his tag team partner, and will only close it when they face off with two points at stake.
August 10, Budokan (vs Archer)
With every G1 there are the matches that instantly get highlighted; the clashes between champions, the faction members facing off, the two block favourites going at it. Then there are some first time meetings that might be passed over on first inspection but that become dark horse pitches for matches of the tournament. EVIL and Archer is just one of those bouts. Two big, fearsome beasts that have a reputation for brutal brawls, EVIL and Archer are familiar with one another in a tag team environment, but have never wrestled one on one, and this will appeal to any fan with a penchant for violence.
Stay tuned to njpw1972.com as comprehensive coverage of the G1 continues!