We’re continuing our look at all of the G1 participants at njpw1972.com, as we delve into B block.
Tetsuya Naito・10th entry, 10th consecutive・2013, 2017 winner・IWGP Intercontinental Champion
What some may call ultimate glory is to Naito a means to an end. The G1 Climax is a career defining victory, an achievement that shines as the highlight in the careers of Chono, Tenzan, Makabe and many more greats. Yet to Naito, it is a ‘launching pad’ to the IWGP Heavyweight Champion and the main event at the Tokyo Dome, a launching pad Naito has twice failed to convert to gold.
Naito does hold championship gold going into the G1, gold that defined the career of Shinsuke Nakamura in NJPW, gold that drove Kota Ibushi to dangerous lengths in order to retain, and drove Naito to dangerous lengths to poach from the Golden Star. Yet this too is a launching pad, one half of the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championship double set. Naito desperately wants to become New Japan’s first ever double champion, and the G1 Climax briefcase makes for a powerful means to a glorious end at Wrestle Kingdom 14.
Key Matches July 15, Hokkaido (vs Taichi)
The G1 Climax marks the last step in Taichi’s transition to heavyweight that began in March 2018. Naito was the impetus for that transition, and it was against Naito that Taichi had his first heavyweight singles match, bringing an aggression that few had seen from the ‘Holy Emperor’ before.
Nearly a year later, at new Beginning in Hokkaido, Taichi challenged for Naito’s Intercontinental Championship. Calling back to a decades old controversy in the building, Taichi would summon Takashi Iizuka to lay out Naito before the match started, and only continued to deal damage after the bell eventually rang. Naito makes Taichi pull out all the stops, and in this case, that may include the Iron Finger From Hell that Taichi inherited (but has not yet used) after Iizuka’s retirement.
July 24, Hiroshima (vs Ishii)
Hiroshima will see the tenth singles match between Tomohiro Ishii and Tetsuya Naito, with the record so far being a close 5-4 in Naito’s favour. The two have been incredibly closely matched for years, especially so in the G1, where they are meeting for the third consecutive year with a 1-1 tied record. Ishii bringing intense aggression is a given, but Naito knows just how to push his opponents’ buttons, and the Stone Pitbull seems to take extra delight in dishing out violence whenever El Ingobernable is in the opposite corner.
Tomohiro Ishii・7th entry, 7th consecutive・NEVER Openweight Champion
Ishii’s six prior G1 Climaxes have been emblematic of much of his career. His first run at six points aside, he has consistently produced 8 or 10 points, meaning that while he hasn’t factored in to conversations about the final, he has scored some impressive victories, and more importantly, had some of the most vicious wars of the tournament.
Ishii’s very first G1 Climax in 2013 put him truly on the map, and drew eyes from around the world. It was that year that Ishii flew at Katsuyori Shibata, and in just nine minutes, made himself famous with one of the best matches in tournament history. From there, Ishii became the man to look for when it came to explosive performances in the G1, against ZSJ, Okada, Ibushi, Omega and more.
Ishii will doubtless have some fantastic performances again this year. Can he put those performances together, and put himself into Budokan contention at last?
August 1, Fukuoka (vs Goto)
This all CHAOS clash will no doubt bring the high impact style that fans love, but may also be key in deciding the fate of B block. Frequently, Goto and Ishii find themselves on the bubble in the G1, and in 2016, a strong closing stretch narrowly put Goto into the final after he took advantage of an Okada and Tanahashi draw on the last block night. August 1 in Fukuoka sees the two men go into the final stretch of the tournament, and a win could become key as the last block matches are had. Last year Ishii came out on top of a real war in Korakuen against Goto, but the overall record in the tournament is 3-1 in his opponent’s favour; Goto will be looking to keep that advantage.
August 8, Yokohama (vs Takagi)
Another ‘hoss fight’ in this tournament sees Ishii go up against Shingo Takagi in Yokohama. Ishii rarely lets his environment or emotions impact him, but Ishii is just a stone’s throw from his Kawasaki home town, and the crowd will likely be on his side for this bout. In the opposite corner, Takagi will be looking to finish his G1 Climax strong. In order to prove his worth after suffering his first NJPW loss to Will Ospreay, Shingo demanded to be given heavyweight competition. At Dominion, that led to a hard hitting battle of arms and wills against Satoshi Kojima, and this match will have a similar heft to its action.
Juice Robinson・3rd entry, 3rd consecutive
While Juice doesn’t have the broken hand that hindered his 2018 G1 campaign this year, he does have mental scars that could either motivate or ruin his performance in 2019. Heading into his match on June 5 with Jon Moxley, Juice symbolically removed his trademark dreads, and debuted a short haircut; this was something he was always willing to do to put himself on a par with NJPW Young Lions when he entered the company from WWE, but was asked not to. Now, with shorter hair he was redoubling a commitment to the company that brought him fame, adulation and the IWGP United States Championship.
In retrospect it was like Samson removing his hair. Moxley defeated Robinson in a brutal battle, and one that left him distant, spitting fire at western press and public before taking a silent, rather less flamboyant approach teaming with Mikey Nicholls during Kizuna Road and Southern Showdown. Has he been preparing himself for a G1 tear that can put him back on the map? We’ll start to find out in his first group match on July 13.
Key matches August 8, Yokohama (vs White)
It was from an arrogant Jay White that Juice Robinson was able to snatch his first IWGP United States Championship, rolling up the Switchblade against the run of a tough, violent affair in San Francisco. Robinson would enter the G1 on an emotional high but with physical difficulties, only going to a 3-6 record. This year, Robinson’s thoughts before the tournament seem fraught, but without the hand injury that plagued him last summer, the anger he feels could be the spark to a perfect storm that would see him beat White at a critical stage in the campaign for both men.
August 10, Budokan (vs Moxley)
The normally verbose Robinson has been oddly quiet when it comes to discussing his G1 campaign. While every entrant is motivated by the prospect of a G1 trophy and a ticket to a main event in the Tokyo Dome, Robinson’s focus could well singularly be on revenge. Against Moxley in the Budokan, Juice may be even more vicious than he was in Ryogoku Sumo Hall June 5; he will need to be if he wants to even the score against the new United States Champion.
Toru Yano・14th entry, 13th consecutive・NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Champion
Toru Yano is not a bookmaker’s favourite to win the G1 Climax. If you pick Yano in your office pool to win the whole thing, people might think you insane. Yet when individual match picks are made for each stop on the tour, you could quite rationally put a circle next to Yano’s name regardless of his opponent. Toru Yano, on any given night, can beat absolutely anyone. He is the ultimate spoiler; could he be the ultimate victor?
It would be one of the stranger sights to ever take place in a New Japan ring, but is it really out of the question? A poor 3-6 record last year was really the result of Yano’s desperate desire to uphold the traditions of fair play prescribed by his alma mater Nippon University; when that tactic fell by the wayside, the devious Yano managed to scoop up the big wins. The real lesson might be for Yano to stay to himself, in every scheming way imaginable.
July 28, Aichi (vs Goto)
This bout against Goto should be an accurate gauge of both men’s mentality as we reach the midway point of the tournament. Goto and Yano have teamed together amicable many a time over the years. Yet Goto is looking to reset and head into the G1 with a new level of focus and viciousness. Will Yano try and use his amateur wrestling expertise against another collegiate wrestler and a man he should have a sportsmanlike rivalry with? Or is he going to try and cheat Goto? If it’s the latter, would Goto allow that to happen, or will he steamroll his CHAOS teammate?
August 1, Fukuoka (vs Moxley)
Every newcomer to the NJPW roster has a lot of curiosity surrounding them, especially when G1 season arrives. It’s always fun to guess just how each wrestler will adapt to the different circumstances in these tournaments. Moxley came into New Japan looking for a fight, and has quickly delivered a statement of intent in his two matches with Shota Umino and Juice Robinson. Yano though is a different beast, and will offer an altogether dirtier fight than any of his other opponents. Yano can absolutely brawl when the situation requires, but he’ll also be using environmental ingenuity to try and bog Moxley down. This is one of the most fascinating clashes of style in the tournament.
Hirooki Goto・12th entry, 12th consecutive・2008 winner
‘Make or break’ is a term that has often been applied to Hirooki Goto heading into big matches and tournaments. It was a term applied to him as he faced Jay White at Hi no Kuni; if Goto could have beaten the then recently deposed IWGP Heavyweight Champion, he would have recovered from a disappointing New Japan Cup and put himself back into the New Japan limelight.
Yet he lost. Goto, who won the G1 Climax on his first attempt in 2008 and went onto three New Japan Cup victories, none converted to IWGP Heavyweight Championships, knew that despite his considerable ability, his track record put him on the bubble of serious contendership, if not entry into the G1.
Goto would refocus with the best training partner he could find. He headed to the LA Dojo, and rigorously trained with resident Young Lions Clark Connors and Karl Fredericks, and their coach, Goto’s best friend, Katsuyori Shibata. Goto now seems more driven, and with one of the loudest crowd reactions for his name announced in the tournament, has the support of the NJPW faithful. A master at changing gears within a match will be looking to hit top gear in the G1 Climax.
July 13, Ota (vs White)
The first match in a tournament campaign is key for anyone, but for a Goto facing White in his tournament opener, what comes after White is almost as important as the match itself. His trip to America to refocus came after a crippling loss to White, one that saw the Switchblade run down his opponent both before and after the match. Goto stated that he’s driven to return, to ‘take (White) down’. Is Goto’s focus on the tournament as a whole, or on White specifically? That might be the story of Goto’s G1. At any rate, look for Goto bringing intensity to Jay White, but hopefully for the ‘Fierce Warrior’, an intelligent assault. In Shibata’s words ‘changing gears’ is the key to victory for Goto; changing the flow and pace of the match has been a Goto specialty, but something White is perhaps more adept at than anybody.
July 19, Korakuen (vs Naito)
Naito and Goto will revive a long running and deeply personal rivalry during the G1. At one stage in Naito’s career, Goto was the hurdle to overcome; when Naito was starting to make a break from tag team wrestling into the singles ranks, he tried to do so at Goto’s expense, and unleashed a barrage of trash talk in the process. Goto rebuffed Naito then, but after Naito made a dramatic shift from Stardust Genius to El Ingobernable, he would put Goto in the rear view mirror. Naito has often spoken of being above his Korakuen opponent, and made fun of Goto’s shifts in allegiance and attitude in the past. If Goto is truly refocused and going all out year’s G1, nothing would demonstrate that more than a victory over Naito.