As we count down to wrestling’s greatest tournament, our complete guide to the participants
September 19 will see wrestling’s greatest tournament get started in Osaka. 20 of the world’s best heavyweights will do battle in 19 events in the coming month, all heading toward three days in Ryogoku Sumo Hall. Let’s look at the names involved.
19th entry, 19th consecutive. 2007, 2015, 2018 winner
The ironman of the G1 Climax, Hiroshi Tanahashi has already wrestled and won more matches in G1 Climax competition than anyone else, and with his 19th consecutive entry, ties Yuji Nagata for most years in succession at the top flight of wrestling tournaments. The question is whether The Ace has a fourth overall victory in him.
Tanahashi was not the pick of many in 2018 when his G1 entry came off the back of a debilitating knee injury but time and again Tanahashi pulls out all of the stops in order to compete at the very top of his game during the G1. In 2020, though, singles success has proven elusive. The year started with a loss to Chris Jericho in the Tokyo Dome, and on NJPW’s return to action for the New Japan Cup, a first round exit to Taichi was the result. In the ensuing IWGP Tag Team Championship feud with Dangerous Tekkers, Tanahashi proved to be the weaker link of the Golden ☆ Ace team before Kota Ibushi elected to break the duo up at least on a temporary basis after Summer Struggle in Jingu; can G1 Climax 30 once again spark a Tanahashi resurgence and prove that the Ace’s time isn’t over yet?
Key match Ryogoku October 17 vs Zack Sabre Jr.
Tanahashi and ZSJ have been all but joined at the hip over the last two years; their tag team wars through the summer of 2020 the continuation of a singles feud that saw five matches in 2019 alone. Now meeting one on one for the ninth time, the win:loss record stands at 4:4. A win over the British submission master would not only put the Ace ahead in their feud, but would also be a key indicator of Tanahashi being back in peak form if he can use victory to book his place in the final.
4th entry, 4th consecutive
Juice Robinson heads into his fourth G1 Climax looking to prove a point. A middling record of eight, then six, then eight points is something Juice will badly want to improve on, and helping the Flamboyant One’s case this year is being unimpeded physically or mentally. In 2018, a hand injury meant Juice spent the bulk of the tournament wrestling with a cast that he couldn’t use as a weapon. In 2019, he was wholly consumed by the prospect of wrestling Jon Moxley at the end of the tournament and gaining revenge for the loss of his IWGP US Heavyweight Championship earlier in the year. No such obstacles exist in 2020, though ring rust might.
On September 19, Juice Robinson will wrestle his first match in almost seven months, after a leg injury meant he was unable to join the initial roster of wrestlers competing on NJPW STRONG Friday nights. Robinson will be fresher than most in the tournament, factor in his trademark energy and could he be a dark horse contender?
Key match September 24, Sapporo vs KENTA
Juice will head into his first ever singles match with KENTA not just eyeing two points in the standings, but eyeing the bright red briefcase the BULLET CLUB member holds. A win over KENTA in the G1 would be revenge earned on behalf of his tag team partner David Finlay for his loss in the New Japan Cup USA final, and would also no doubt set up a chance to meet with the case, and therefore a shot at arch nemesis Jon Moxley, at stake.
13th entry, 13th consecutive. 2008 winner, NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Champion
It’s been 12 years since Hirooki Goto made his G1 Climax debut, and with the assertion that ‘The G in G1 stands for Goto!’ became the first outside of the inaugural 1991 tournament to win the G1 on his first attempt. Hopes were high in the summer of 2008 that his G1 Climax victory would put Goto on a fast track to the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, but Goto was unable to wrest control of the title in the coming years, nor has he won another G1 tournament.
Yet Goto is always in the mix, and capable of putting together hot streaks that make him a clear and distinct threat. In 2016, he would make the final after Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi wrestled to a draw ahead of him in the block, and in 2019, despite questions over whether he would check out after defeating his rival Switchblade Jay White in his first match, he was present until the bitter end. Overlooking the fierce warrior would be a grave mistake indeed.
Key match Yokohama October 14 vs EVIL
When EVIL first debuted in NJPW as Tetsuya Naito’s pareja in what would become Los Ingobernables De Japon, EVIL was his first singles opponent, in a match that ended in disqualification. Almost five years later and many would argue that a disqualification should have been the result in the quarterfinals of the New Japan Cup, and a vicious assault from the King of Darkness that served as a prelude to EVIL’s betrayal of LIJ to join BULLET CLUB. There’s certainly a lot of history between EVIL and Goto, and all of it dominated by bad blood. Yokohama will see the next chapter.
15th entry, 14th consecutive. Provisional KOPW2020
If there’s one philosophy that drives Toru Yano during G1 season, it’s that he isn’t paid by the hour. The master producer once proudly sang to the strains of the classic G1 tournament theme that he would ‘get the match out the way/get back home and drink some booze’, but that doesn’t mean for a second he cares not for the results. After all, the winner’s purse has its attractions to Yano, as does, at times, even personal pride that sometimes sees him promise to live by the credo of fair play… if only for a second.
And seconds are the key to victory for Yano. For the last six years running, Toru Yano ha recorded the shortest time on that year’s record, although his personal best of 50 seconds over Kota Ibushi isn’t near the all time 37 second victory record. Could he approach that this year? And what level of personal responsibility to perform will Yano bring as the provisional KOPW 2020?
Key match Hiroshima October 6 vs Hirooki Goto
Goto and Yano find themselves in the same G1 Block for the third year running, and Yano will be keen to redress the balance with his CHAOS teammate after losing to Goto for the last two years straight. In no epics either; 2018 and 2019 saw Goto beat Yano in just 3 minutes and 59 seconds. Altogether. Goto seems to have been able to defuse Yano’s antics in recent years, but does the KOPW2020 have a trick up his sleeve that even the fierce warrior doesn’t know about?
4th entry, first in two years. NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Champion
2019 was a rough year for YOSHI-HASHI. Unable to build momentum after returning from injury, he didn’t make the G1 Climax 29 lineup and failed in his dual challenge to Zack Sabre Jr. for both the British Hevayweight Championship and his G1 slot. In the ensuing months though, the Headhunter was able to find some momentum, most notably with Tomohiro Ishii as his tag team partner. That carried through into a hot start in the New Japan Cup against Hiroyoshi Tenzan before his campaign was cut short by EVIL and a knee issue. Bouncing quickly back though, he became an integral part of a trio with Hirooki Goto and Tomohiro Ishii that finally secured him his first championship in 12 years of trying this August. Still living on that high as he heads into his first G1 since 2018, could all of NJPW change in an instant with a YOSHI-HASHI hot streak?
Key match Yokohama October 14 vs KENTA
When KENTA’s defection to BULLET CLUB last summer saw him and the Guerrillas of Destiny in what could generously be called a mutually beneficial business arrangement through NEVER and IWGP Tag Team Championship matches in the autumn, KENTA and YOSHI-HASHI would have more than their fair share of runins, in rings in Japan and America, and both on and offline. The Pacific Ocean might have helped KENTA remain socially distant from YOSHI-HASHI, but KENTA has shirked that distance when it comes to social media, with no end to his trolling and derisory comments. Yokohama will see YOSHI-HASHI attempt to shut KENTA up and score two points in the process.