Part two of our comprehensive look at the G1 lineup sees as round out A block with two monsters, two newcomers, and one man having a breakthrough year.
SANADA・4th entry, 4th consecutive
SANADA has consistently delivered two things across his three G1 outings. The first is a huge positive; big results in high pressure scenarios. In 2016, he started his very first G1 with a win over Hiroshi Tanahashi. 2017 saw him defeat tag partner EVIL with the world’s eyes glued on the first singles meeting between the two. In 2018, there was a win over block favourite and eventual finalist Kota Ibushi.
The second thing SANADA has consistently brought is a negative; a losing record and eight points across his campaign. SANADA’s immense ability and strength under pressure has not managed to turn itself into enough victories for him to factor into the end of the tournament. Yet 2019 could be the difference maker. In the New Japan Cup, SANADA came achingly close to glory, only falling at the final hurdle to Okada after reaching the finals. In four consecutive matches, SANADA matched a record that took him nine bouts to reach in his G1s. Pundits have posited that this is SANADA’s breakout year as a singles star since January; now past the midway point, a strong G1 could make or break that claim.
Key matches: July 27, Aichi (vs Tanahashi)
The first match of SANADA’s first G1 in 2016 resulted in the first singles win for him in NJPW, and all at Tanahashi’s expense. While Tanahashi would redress that win loss record at Power Struggle that year, SANADA would take another step forward during the New Japan Cup, defeating Tanahashi in the semi-final with a landmark performance in front of his home prefecture crowd in Niigata.
SANADA and Tanahashi both worked closely to the legendary Keiji Muto at young stages in their respective careers. The influence of their mutual mentor is always a talking point when it comes to singles matches between the two, but will the same be true in Aichi?
August 3, Osaka (vs Okada)
The third meeting this year between Okada and SANADA is critical. While both men have the conditioning to wrestle for hours, they won’t have that luxury in the 30 minute confines of a G1 tournament match. SANADA has never beaten Okada yet, but has pushed him harder and harder for longer and longer with each passing match; in 2019 so far that has resulted in a 33 minute New Japan Cup final and a 38 minute IWGP Heavyweight Championship match. That kind of time would result in a draw and only one point at a stage in the tournament where the importance of two is most sorely felt. SANADA must beat Okada for the first time, and must do so faster than current form suggests.
Bad Luck Fale・6th entry, 6th consecutive
Before 2018’s G1 Climax, Bad Luck Fale’s press conference statement was one and a half words, just six letters long, but spoke volumes about his plans for the tournament. It’s safe to say that last year, Fale neither held the tournament, nor its entrants in high regard. He only ended the G1 on six points with three wins and six losses, but was never pinned or submitted in his entire campaign. Instead, interference, violent attacks and disqualification followed disqualification. Fale’s toughness is unquestionable, but it isn’t just Fale his opponents have to keep an eye on; should the rest of Bullet Club be involved in Fale’s matches, the result may be two points lost, but the damage done could clear a path for an easy final for Jay White over in block B.
July 6, Dallas (vs EVIL)
Fale’s campaign starts in Dallas with a rematch against one of the many disqualified himself against last year. Every opponent Fale recorded a DQ loss against last year will be coming at him with furious vengeance in 2019, and EVIL will be doubly eager to record his first two points fairly this time. EVIL is not afraid of taking on all comers, nor is he afraid of a brawl; these two could fight all over the American Airlines Center.
July 14, Ota (vs Archer)
Speaking of brawls, the one time Archer and Fale met each other in singles competition, during the 2018 New Japan Cup, it was a brutal one. The two fought their way through the Aichi crowd, before charging one another like giant bulls in ring. Fale and Archer would each try to one up the other in terms of strength during the match, a battle Fale won when he delivered an emphatic Grenade. Can Fale make history repeat against a highly motivated Archer making his return to G1 competition?
Lance Archer・5th entry, first in 5 years
Archer’s long association with tag team action in Killer Elite Squad has often seen him overlooked as a singles competitor. After Suzuki Gun’s 2017 return to New Japan from a two year crusade in Pro Wrestling NOAH, Archer was passed up for two G1 Climaxes. Yet he is one of the most feared super heavyweights on the New Japan roster, and rightfully so. His athleticism, immense power, and frankly terrifying chokeslams make him a serious dark horse contender that is hell bent on defying expectation.
Key Matches: July 6, Dallas (vs Ospreay)
This year’s New Japan Cup saw Archer advance past the first round of the single elimination tournament for the first time, but his path was stopped short in round two by Ospreay. The match, though, was a dazzling display, and Archer did everything right on the night, short of actually winning. Comfortably making the shortlist of best matches in the entire tournament, Archer and Ospreay left many a fan wanting more. Now they have it, and Archer gets the chance to secure the result he feels he deserved back in March. His home town of Dallas will give Archer extra impetus, and make him extra dangerous.
August 3, Osaka (vs ZSJ)
Another Briton gives Lance Archer another match to watch out for. Even setting aside the Suzuki Gun versus Suzuki Gun nature of the match (The King’s army always seems to relish the prospect of fighting like all good brothers do), there’s the matter of styles making fights, and a tremendous clash of styles on display. Can ZSJ grab a hold and do damage to Archer’s gigantic limbs? Will Archer be able to keep the perpetually in motion ZSJ long enough to power him to the mat? It’s one of the most fascinating head to head meetings on the schedule.
Will Ospreay・G1 debut・IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion・Best of the Super Junior 26 winner
One of two junior heavyweight entrants in this year’s G1, Ospreay joins the likes of Jyushin Thunder Liger, Koji Kanemoto, Milano Collection AT and Prince Devitt as junior heavyweight G1 participants. Where he stands in a field of one however, is in being the very first to compete in the New Japan Cup, Best of the Super Juniors and G1 all in the same calendar year, and he does so as the BOSJ winner.
Ospreay’s goal is to prove that the junior heavyweights can compete on a level footing with the heavyweights, and that his weight class deserves a level billing. With a win opening the door to a junior heavyweight wrestler headlining in the Tokyo Dome for the first time in history, it’s an opportunity too big for Ospreay to pass up.
Key matches July 20, Korakuen (vs Okada)
In 2015, Ospreay’s first singles match against Okada at RevPro’s Global Wars event so impressed the Rainmaker that a personal invitation was made for Will to join NJPW and CHAOS, an invitation that would change Ospreay’s life. Since then, two more high profile matches, at 2018’s anniversary event and 2019’s New Japan Cup has seen fans wowed but Ospreay ultimately defeated. A win for the standard bearer of the junior heavyweights over the standard bearer of heavyweight wrestling would truly cement Ospreay in the upper echelons of NJPW, and achieve his career goals in one fell swoop. That’s a tall order, however.
July 30, Takamatsu (vs ZSJ)
This year’s G1 Climax and its field makes history in many ways; one that may be overlooked by many is that this is the first time in tournament history two British wrestlers are in the field. As Ospreay and Zack follow Lord Steven Regal before them, this match is the first British derby in G1 Climax history.
It’s also the first time the two will have met in singles action in Japan. They are very familiar with one another, of course; in the UK scene, as well as Battle of Los Angeles in PWG, the two have a singles record of 6-4 in ZSJ’s favour. That said, some 19 months will have gone by between singles meetings by the time Takamatsu rolls around, and Ospreay has undergone a lot of change over that period.
‘I want to show my pro wrestling to the world’. That was the motivation behind KENTA departing the NOAH promotion he had called his home for 14 years to head to America. In NOAH rings, he had held and defended the GHC Junior Heavyweight Championship three times, and held the GHC Heavyweight Championship for close to a year; an undeniably impressive resume. Stylistically, his aggressive strikes and intimidating attitude was years ahead of his time, and made him a key player in NOAH during their peak years of popularity. Yet after four and a half years of struggle, KENTA was unable to find himself in American rings. In NJPW, there’s the chance to have global visibility, but as himself, as KENTA. An attractive proposition, but can he bring the success he had in the emerald green over to the cerulean blue?
Key matches: July 14, Ota (vs Tanahashi)
The 2018 G1 final saw winner Tanahashi paraded on the shoulders of Katsuyori Shibata. It was a tale that had come full circle. These two men once had the future hopes of a company pinned upon them, but Shibata would leave New Japan, and Tanahashi would shoulder the responsibility of being the Ace. After Shibata’s return, it took years for wounds to heal, and bridges to be rebuilt. Yet in his time away, Shibata had crafted a new bridge, one with KENTA. It was KENTA that invited Shibata to NOAH after his departure from New Japan, KENTA who teamed with him several times through 2005 and 2006, and KENTA with whom Shibata developed a kinship, and a similar no-nonsense, hard hitting style.
Some 14 years on, Shibata returned the favour, and opened the door for KENTA to stand in a New Japan ring. To those new to the G1 debutant, it might help to think that this is the closest we may get to Shibata versus Tanahashi one on one once more. It’s perhaps more accurate to think of this as a dream match of two icons of Japanese wrestling in the 2000s, together shaping what we might expect from the 2020s.
August 7, Hamamatsu (vs Ospreay)
During the popularity boom the promotion went through in the early 2000s, KENTA was every bit as synonymous with Pro Wrestling NOAH as the likes of Kenta Kobashi, Mitsuharu Misawa despite his status as a junior heavyweight. In 2013 he won the GHC Heavyweight Championship and held it for close to year, at a weight of 80kgs. He was, to his promotion, exactly what Will Ospreay seeks to become for New Japan. KENTA then, makes an intriguing obstacle for Ospreay as the two head toward the final stretch of the G1. KENTA may be seeing a younger version of himself in the man he seeks to make Go 2 Sleep.