So another G1 has come and gone and once again we were treated to some breathtaking matches throughout. Much like last year however, it wasn’t just great matches that made this tournament so incredible, but the multiple narratives and storylines that played out over the course of the tournament, from Juice Robinson’s injured hand, to Okada’s new attitude, to the Bullet club civil war and more. With that in mind let’s take a look at some of the biggest talking points coming out of this year’s G1.
The Ace Has Returned
While traditionally a favourite, not too many people had Tanahashi down to win this year’s G1, and even fewer would have had him vs. Ibushi as the final. Not only did the ace defy the odds, but he did so in style, finishing with an 8-1-1 record and capping things off with two of the greatest G1 matches of all time against Okada (where he got by with a draw) and then Ibushi. Tanahashi has had a difficult few years since his fall to Okada back at Wrestle Kingdom 10, suffering several big bout defeats and struggling through multiple injuries. Many believed Tanahashi’s time within the main event picture was coming to a close, if not already over, which makes his tournament success here even sweeter. The big question now is can he turn this G1 victory into a Tokyo Dome success? Truthfully, it seems unlikely that he actually takes the belt at Wrestle Kingdom, and it’s likely his success here is designed to give someone else (probably Omega) a big Wrestle Kingdom victory. Of course, he has to actually make it to the Dome first, and he’s already pencilled in a contract defence against arch rival Okada, a man he hasn’t defeated since January 2015.
Jay White Becomes a Star
One of the biggest talking points coming out of the early stages of the G1 was Jay White’s runaway success. Not only did he manage a victory over chaos stablemate Okada on night one, but he followed that up with a victory over the ‘Ace’ Tanahashi in his very next G1 match. White’s G1 would slow down from there, until he was eliminated by EVIL in the A-Block finals, but he undeniably left the G1 a bigger star then he went in. His victories over Tanahashi and Okada give the Switchblade the unique distinction of holding victories over three of the top four guys in New Japan within the course of a year, having also defeated Kenny Omega back at New Beginnings for the US title. This also means that Jay White has a shot of stealing Tanahashi’s spot in the Tokyo Dome main event, since G1 winners typically have to defend their Wrestle Kingdom title shot on route to the Dome, against those who were able to defeat then in the G1.
Two Very Different Blocks
There was a stark contrast match quality wise in this year’s G1. The A-block was decent, even great at times, but the B-block was on fire throughout, producing Match of the year contenders almost every night. Tomohiro Ishii may well have to be considered the tournament MVP in this regard, but everyone in that block impressed, bar Tama Tonga (oh we’ll get to that in a bit). The B-block also benefited from having all the belts, which helped keep matches meaningful once people started being eliminated, since future title shots were still on the line. Speaking of which…
Title Shots Inbound
The general rule in New Japan (and pretty much all of Puroresu for that matter) is that if you get a direct pinfall or submission victory over a champion, then you earn the right to challenge that champion for a title shot in the future. As a result, G1 matches involving champions are about more then just points, and can have big implications down the line. With that in mind here’s a list of who each champion lost to during the tournament
IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kenny Omega: Kota Ibushi, Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano
IWGP United States Champion Juice Robinson: Tama Tonga, Kota Ibushi, Tetsuya Naito, Kenny Omega, Tomohiro Ishii and Zack Sabre Jr.
NEVER Openweight Champion Hirooki Goto: Kenny Omega, Tomohiro Ishii, Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi, Juice Robinson and Zack Sabre Jr.
It’s interesting to note that both Ibushi and Ishii have the unique distinctions of having beaten all three champions in this year’s tournament (Jericho and his Intercontinental championship were not present for the G1) and both men may end up making more then one challenge. Of course not everyone will go after a title shot, and it’s unlikely we see the likes of Naito or Omega go after the Openweight title for example. Still, both Robinson and Goto have a slew of potential challengers now gunning for their belts, with the likes of Cody and Taichi also looking for title shots as well. Omega meanwhile has just three potential challengers in Ishii, who has already laid down a challenge, Yano, who’s victory of Omega is perhaps the biggest upset of the whole tournament, and Ibushi, Omega’s closest ally and the man he’s never been able to defeat.
The Bullet Club OG’s Wreck Havoc
Cheating was a big theme in this year’s G1, especially when it came to the Bullet Club OG’s. Practically every Tama Tonga and Bad Luck Fale match involved some kind of shenanigans, often leading to the two men, who cared little for actually progressing in the tournament (and would end up finishing last in their blocks), getting disqualified. The disrespect shown towards the G1 tournament drew a lot of heat on its own (but whether it was the right kind of heat is very much up for debate), but then Tama took things a step further with a series of controversial tweets, where he berated fans and got into a heated exchange with WWE superstar Roman Reigns. The aim it seems is to bring Bullet Club back to its roots as a faction at odds with the New Japan brass, and indeed the group would find themselves being threatened with suspensions and forcibly removed from the arena during the B-Block finals. The question is though, can an old school Bullet Club faction work in modern day New Japan, and if so, does this new incarnation have enough talent and charisma to make it work? The tournament setting arguably didn’t do the group any favours, since the countless non-finishes and cheating made the matches predictable and rather skip-able. The group would end the tour on a high however, with the G.O.D and Taiji Ishimori defeating the ‘Elite’ Bullet club team of Marty Scrull, Nick Jackson and Matt Jackson for the NEVER Openweight six man titles, before throwing said titles in the direction of new NJPW president Harold Meiji, in an act of disrespect and defiance.
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