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Hamilton’s NJPW G1 Climax 30 Preview

September 12, 2020 | Posted by Ian Hamilton
NJPW G1 Climax 30 Logo

In normal times, the G1 Climax is in the books by this time of year. By the time the G1 Climax opens up in Osaka on September 19, we’ll have passed 400 days since Kota Ibushi won last year’s tournament, and set the ball rolling for the Double Gold Dash at the Tokyo Dome earlier this year. Yeah, WrestleKingdom last January feels like a whole different lifetime, and not in a good way.

Somehow by the grace of God, New Japan has managed to put together almost a full-strength G1 line-up – with five surprise names being brought in for the first time since the promotion went into lockdown in February. So that’s almost normal… but unlike prior years, they’re restricting the cards. We’ll not be seeing everyone on every show – the A block shows won’t feature anyone from the B block, and vice versa, as instead a sole Young Lions’ match will open each show.

Let’s take a look through the G1 Climax 30 blocks…

Block A

Kota Ibushi
Last year’s winner was the first name out of the hat… and after leaving the Tokyo Dome last January without any titles, he’ll be looking to book a spot in the WrestleKingdom main event by being the first man to win back-to-back G1s since Tenzan in 2004.

The rest of 2020 has been a mixed bag – a run with the IWGP tag team titles stretched over the New Japan lockdown period, but that team with Hiroshi Tanahashi quickly became a millstone for Ibushi, who seemingly toyed with the idea of turning on the Ace. With that team history, can Ibushi refocus on himself?

Kazuchika Okada
At least Okada’s 2020 hasn’t seen him lose his mind and prat around with balloons. Since dropping the IWGP heavyweight title at the Dome, Okada’s slipped down the card and has suspiciously been second on the card a lot lately. Being the storyline inventor of the KOPW 2020 gimmick worried some, but since that trophy’s gone to Yano, the way is cleared for a revitalising G1.

The question is: is now the time to go back to Okada teasing for the title? He’s not won the G1 since 2014, and last year lost the block on tie-breakers to the eventual winner Ibushi… was the summer in the undercard (and a New Japan Cup final loss) the precursor to another run at the gold?

Tomohiro Ishii
Always a tournament favourite, even if he’s yet to even reach the block finals. Last year he ended up with a share of joint-last place in his block. Ishii’s one who’s always good for some absolute crackers of matches – and when you look at the names in this block, there’s at least four more you’ll probably be able to add to the list.

Unfortunately, Ishii being in this block probably means he’ll be closer to the bottom than the top, but it’s the hope that kills you…

Shingo Takagi
Joining Tomohiro Ishii with a 4-5 record last year, Shingo’s back for a second crack at the G1 – and coming into this without the NEVER title could open him up for a surprise run. The thing is, being part of a loaded block could muddy the waters. Of course, Shingo’s got another year under his belt in the heavyweight division – but I feel that winning this block would be an overachievement.

Yujiro Takahashi
Well, it was on the cards. We shouted “add Takahashi,” and weren’t specific enough. Having been out of the G1 fields since 2015, Yujiro’s inclusion is a bit of an eye raiser given that his recent involvement in New Japan has been that of “reliable winner on the undercards” and little else.

Barring injuries and forfeits, he’s a shoe-in to finish bottom, you’d think?

Taichi
Also returning for a second year, Taichi finished joint bottom in the insane block B last year with a 4-5 record. Since then Taichi’s become quite formidable in tags, having picked up the IWGP tag titles earlier in the year.

You’d think that the G1’s not going to be won or contested by a tag team champion, and perhaps the Iron Fingers from Hell will make an appearance.

Minoru Suzuki
Suzuki wasn’t in last year’s G1, which was a massive bone of contention for him at the time. Since then, Suzuki’s pushed Okada to the limit when he talked his way into a title shot at Royal Quest last summer… and more recently has been one of the brighter spots in the post-restart New Japan, with scraps against Yuji Nagata shining brightly.

Of course, winning the NEVER title from Shingo at Jingu perhaps puts a curse on Suzuki, who may match his 5-4 record from two years ago and come out with some new challengers to boot.

Jeff Cobb
The first surprise name, Jeff Cobb had last been seen on the NJPW Strong shows – wrapped up in a feud with KENTA coming out of the New Japan Cup USA. He’s another one in the “back for a second season after going 4-5 last year” mob, since Cobb was last in Japan at the end of last year he’s appeared in 16 Carat Gold, New Japan Cup USA, and had outings for the likes of AEW and Rev Pro.

Given the strength of the block, if Cobb’s able to match his points from last year, it’ll have been a good run.

Jay White
Also not seen in Japan since the shutdown, Jay White’s gone from a time-killing spell on NJPW Strong to getting back into the country. Interestingly, he’s in the opposite block from EVIL, as they’ve kept block A free of any Bullet Club storyline shenanigans – and should clear the way for White to try and win his block two years running.

Could we see an all-Bullet Club final, or will that story be touched upon in other ways?

Will Ospreay
Oh boy. Speculation over Ospreay’s inclusion began to mount when people noticed his social media activity was falling in with the Japanese timezones. His involvement in the Speaking Out movement – in the form of fresh, accompanied-by-evidence accusations of blackballing Pollyanna – has led to his name being rather toxic among sections of the fanbase.

Early reports suggested that, before Covid, New Japan were looking to use the G1 to propel Ospreay into the main events… it’d be an extremely brave move to follow through with that plan. Having gone 4-5 last year in his G1 debut, I’d not be looking for much more than parity on that this year, especially as part of this block.

Block B

Hiroshi Tanahashi
2020 has been a rough year for the Ace, with 2018’s G1 win being a distant memory among weeks of having his knees torn apart by Taichi and Zack Sabre Jr. Last year’s G1 wasn’t great as Tanahashi finished joint third, losing to Will Ospreay on the final night – and the fall of the Ace has generally continued from there.

A first time away from block A in 13 years (like that means anything), Tanahashi will do well to remain in the running before the final night if his recent form is anything to go by.

Hirooki Goto
Coming out of the New Japan Road tour still as one-third of the NEVER trios champions may well remove Goto as a potential favourite – and the fact that he’s only got one main event (against Tetsuya Naito in Korakuen Hall) perhaps cements that. Yeah, the halcyon days of Goto in the block finals are probably a distant memory, but surely the mixture of the covid-break and months almost exclusively in tag matches should give us a fresh Goto?

Toru Yano
The night off for the block, Yano’s recent G1s have been characterised by him trying to be all serious… but let’s be realistic. Short matches are the order of the day for Yano, and something tells me that won’t change in 2020’s G1.

He’ll get some points to screw up everyone’s pick ‘ems, but Yano will do well to avoid being trapped in the lift at Korakuen Hall for a second time this year.

YOSHI-HASHI
Finally getting the monkey off his back, part of the current NEVER trios champions YOSHI-HASHI is back in the field after being left out last year due to poor performance. While some perceive block B as “weak”, I don’t think that’s going to translate into YOSHI-HASHI being a surprise package this year.

I’d expect him to better the 3-6 record he had in 2018, but not by much!

SANADA
Finishing off the pace last year, SANADA’s year since has been a little hit and miss. A loss to SANADA at King of Pro Wrestling last October was followed up with an agonising World Tag League run that saw he and EVIL fall at the final hurdle. A loss to then-Rev Pro British Heavyweight Champion Zack Sabre Jr. at WrestleKingdom kept the Ls coming, and while the New Japan Cup looked to be a sign of recovery, a loss to EVIL in the semis was overshadowed by what EVIL did in the finals.

Going 4-5 in the G1 last year – I’d not be shocked if SANADA bettered that, but he’s visibly second fiddle in the LIJ/Bullet Club story in this block alone.

Tetsuya Naito
Winning the double gold at Jingu Stadium takes a lot of pressure off of Naito – who otherwise would have needed to win the G1 for the first time since 2017 in order to guarantee a shot. Of course, if Naito wins the G1 he gets to pick his opponent… but given that he’s in the same block as EVIL, I fully expect there to be a lot of shenanigans to keep that story alive.

Last year, a loss on the final night to Jay White cost Naito a spot in the finals – and I’d expect a similar second-placed finish for the double champ this year.

EVIL
Having had a brief run with the double gold, you’d bet that EVIL’s still got eyes for those titles. That being said, the landscape around Bullet Club has shifted suddenly with the returns of Jay White and KENTA for the G1. Will EVIL still hold onto his defacto role as Bullet Club leader – or will the returns of big names cause friction?

Finishing joint third in block A last year, EVIL will need to beat his personal best in order to guarantee another shot at Naito – or the double gold.

Zack Sabre Jr.
Another one sharing third place in block A last year, ZSJ’ll be looking to improve on that 4-5 record – and get closer to his 2018 form where he tied for first. That being said, 2020 has been mixed for Sabre, who dropped the Rev Pro title to Will Ospreay before going on to winning the IWGP tag titles with Taichi.

Like with Taichi, holding the tag titles may limit Zack’s G1 – and given that both LIJ and Bullet Club have “teams” in this block, that may spin off into a fresh tag title feud coming out of the G1 instead.

Juice Robinson
Another return to the roster, Juice hasn’t been around New Japan at all since lockdown in February. Having taken time out to heal a leg injury has meant that Juice also missed the New Japan Cup USA – along with the remainder of the NJPW Strong shows.

Last year Juice was tied for last in that feast-or-famine B block, and given that circumstances have taken him out of the picture since he and David Finlay dropped the IWGP tag titles back in February, I really don’t have a read on how he’ll fare this year. Much like Jeff Cobb, I would suggest it depends on whether they plan for him to stay in Japan, or whether this is a one-tour deal…

KENTA
…the surprise to end all surprises. KENTA originally stayed in the States, and emerged on the New Japan USA shows, winning the New Japan Cup USA, which earned him a TBD title shot at Jon Moxley’s US championship.

Of course, last year was KENTA’s debut G1, finishing in joint third in block A, but the most memorable part of that tour for him was on finals night, where he joined Bullet Club and laid waste to Katsuyori Shibata to lead to a match that sadly isn’t able to be paid off any time soon.

So, those are the names… what about the schedules?

September 19 – Edion Arena, Osaka [Block A] – Shingo Takagi vs. Jay White, Kazuchika Okada vs. Kota Ibushi, Tomohiro Ishii vs. Minoru Suzuki, Jeff Cobb vs. Taichi, Will Ospreay vs. Yujiro Takahashi

September 20 – Edion Arena, Osaka [Block B] – Zack Sabre Jr. vs EVIL, Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Tetsuya Naito, Hirooki Goto vs. KENTA, Toru Yano vs. SANADA, Juice Robinson vs. YOSHI-HASHI

September 23 – Hokkai Kitayell, Hokkaido [Block A] – Tomohiro Ishii vs. Will Ospreay, Kota Ibushi vs. Jay White, Minoru Suzuki vs. Taichi, Kazuchika Okada vs. Yujiro Takahashi, Jeff Cobb vs. Shingo Takagi

September 24 – Hokkai Kitayell, Hokkaido [Block B] – YOSHI-HASHI vs. EVIL, Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Tetsuya Naito, Juice Robinson vs. EVIL, Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Toru Yano, Hirooki Goto vs. SANADA

September 27 – Kobe World Hall, Hyogo [Block A] – Will Ospreay vs. Shingo Takagi, Kazuchika Okada vs. Jay White, Kota Ibushi vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Jeff Cobb vs. Minoru Suzuki, Taichi vs. Yujiro Takahashi

September 29 – Korakuen Hall, Tokyo [Block B] – Hirooki Goto vs. Tetsuya Naito, EVIL vs. Toru Yano, Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Juice Robinson, Zack Sabre Jr. vs. KENTA, YOSHI-HASHI vs. SANADA

September 30 – Korakuen Hall, Tokyo [Block A] – Tomohiro Ishii vs. Shingo Takagi, Will Ospreay vs. Jay White, Kazuchika Okada vs. Taichi, Kota Ibushi vs. Jeff Cobb, Minoru Suzuki vs. Yujiro Takahashi

October 1 – Ao-re Nagaoka, Niigata [Block B] – Tetsuya Naito vs. SANADA, EVIL vs. KENTA, Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. YOSHI-HASHI, Hirooki Goto vs. Zack Sabre Jr., Juice Robinson vs. Toru Yano

October 5 – Takamatsu City General Gymnasium #1, Kagawa [Block A] – Kota Ibushi vs. Will Ospreay, Taichi vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Kazuchika Okada vs. Minoru Suzuki, Jeff Cobb vs. Jay White, Shingo Takagi vs. Yujiro Takahashi

October 6 – Sun Plaza Hall, Hiroshima [Block B] – Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. KENTA, YOSHI-HASHI vs. Tetsuya Naito, Juice Robinson vs. EVIL, SANADA vs. Zack Sabre Jr., Hirooki Goto vs. Tetsuya Naito

October 7 – Sun Plaza Hall, Hiroshima [Block A] – Kota Ibushi vs. Shingo Takagi, Taichi vs. Jay White, Will Ospreay vs. Minoru Suzuki, Kazuchika Okada vs. Jeff Cobb, Tomohiro Ishii vs. Yujiro Takahashi

October 8 – ZIP Arena, Okayama [Block B] – Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. EVIL, Juice Robinson vs. Tetsuya Naito, SANADA vs. KENTA, Toru Yano vs. Zack Sabre Jr., Hirooki Goto vs. YOSHI-HASHI

October 10 – Edion Arena, Osaka [Block A] – Kazuchika Okada vs. Shingo Takagi, Kota Ibushi vs. Minoru Suzuki, Will Ospreay vs. Taichi, Jay White vs. Yujiro Takahashi, Tomohiro Ishii vs. Jeff Cobb

October 11 – Prefectural Gymnasium, Aichi [Block B] – Tetsuya Naito vs. EVIL, Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Hirooki Goto, Juice Robinson vs. SANADA, KENTA vs. Toru Yano, YOSHI-HASHI vs. Zack Sabre Jr.

October 13 – Hamamatsu Arena, Shizuoka [Block A] – Kazuchika Okada vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Minoru Suzuki vs. Jay White, Shingo Takagi vs. Taichi, Kota Ibushi vs. Yujiro Takahashi, Will Ospreay vs. Jeff Cobb

October 14 – Yokohama Budokan, Kanagawa [Block B] – Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. SANADA, EVIL vs. Hirooki Goto, Toru Yano vs. Tetsuya Naito, Juice Robinson vs. Zack Sabre Jr., YOSHI-HASHI vs. KENTA

October 16 – Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo [Block A finals] – Kota Ibushi vs. Taichi, Jeff Cobb vs. Yujiro Takahashi, Kazuchika Okada vs. Will Ospreay, Tomohiro Ishii vs. Jay White, Shingo Takagi vs. Minoru Suzuki

October 17 – Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo [Block B finals] – Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson vs. Hirooki Goto, Toru Yano vs. YOSHI-HASHI, EVIL vs. SANADA, Tetsuya Naito vs. KENTA

October 18 – Ryogoku Kokugikan, Tokyo [finals]

All of that points to some tantalizing scenarios on the final nights – Naito/KENTA and EVIL/SANADA tells us that there’s bound to be some Bullet Club interplay in block B, with those two matches likely to be eliminators… while in block A, that Okada/Ospreay match sticks out like a sore thumb on that final night, while Jay White and Kota Ibushi also have tough final-night matches as well, as I can see block A potentially being a four-way tie. I’ll not be predicting every match – given what those final nights point to, I wouldn’t be too shocked if the G1 finals were between the winners of that Ospreay/Okada match and KENTA or EVIL.

Yeah, there’s going to be a lot of matches with shenanigans. Plenty of opportunities to bust out Larry’s favourite “Red Shoes flipping the bird” screenshot, and perhaps even the GIF too.

There’s gonna be a lot of early starts (that September 20 show in particular is evil for the UK), and in total, we’ll have nineteen shows. All on New Japan World (albeit not in English, at least live). Join us here on 411 for coverage throughout, with the first show starting at 9am BST/4am EST on September 19, and it all rolls on from there!

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G1 Climax 30, NJPW, Ian Hamilton