We are going to release a special 2015 G-1 Climax Match Guide at the conclusion of this year’s tournament. The format will be a wrestler by wrestler look rather than match by match format. We will look at the matches and the booking in the context of each individual wrestler, rather than looking at the wrestler and booking in the context of each individual match.
Below is the pre-tournament outlook for each wrestler that will be the starting point for each wrestler’s section in the forthcoming Match Guide. We are putting this up now because I make some predictions and throw out some possible scenarios. To the extent those come true – or more likely, don’t come true – I figured I would lock them in before the tournament begins. The rest will be released with the special edition Match Guide immediately after the conclusion of the G-1.
The clubhouse leader for Wrestler of the Year, Styles will see a lot of familiar faces in Block A and only one notable first time singles opponent. He has been around the block with Naito and Tanahashi a few times each and when he faces Ibushi during round robin, it will be a re-match of their April title bout. Familiarity with three of his four biggest opponents could be to his advantage when it comes to overall match quality. Styles’ most intriguing match on paper is a first-time match with Shibata on opening night. In the past, Styles has looked good when working a stiffer or more aggressive style so it will be interesting to see him work a Shibata-style match. A.J. was the champion in last year’s tournament, which greatly reduced his odds of winning his bracket. He has a much better shot this year and feels like a favorite to take Block A. His match with Tanahashi on the first Sumo Hall show seems destined to decide the bracket.
bad luck fale
Fale is a solid role player – a big guy who is credible enough if protected – which makes booking him in the G-1 somewhat problematic. How do you book a guy like that in a tournament where he almost has to lose 4-5 matches? The answer last year was for three of Fale’s four losses to come at the hands of the also-rans (Shelton Benjamin, Doc Gallows and Satoshi Kojima) while picking up noteworthy wins over Hiroshi Tanahahsi, Tomohiro Ishii, and Katsuyori Shibata. The idea was that the losses would be overshadowed by the big wins. Does New Japan go the same route this year or do they simply leave Fale in the middle-of-the-pack while throwing him one or two “big” wins along the way? Fale faces Yano on the final day so it is unlikely he will factor into things at the end like he did last year. Like always, Fale’s matches will likely be short and generally inoffensive. He does wrestle Naito, Styles, and Ibushi, all of whom are adept at working big man/small man matches so there is some potential upside to his tournament from a match quality perspective.
Gallows is essentially filler in the tournament this year, although his position as one-half of the heavyweight tag team champions will see to it that he wins three to four matches. Gallows’ strength include punches, brawling, and well-timed bigger bumps so his best shot at a memorable round robin match would appear to be against a fellow brawler. There is Makabe but having a good match with Makabe won’t be easy. His match with Shibata last year was not anything special. Perhaps the Styles match could surprise. Styles is a good southern style brawler when given the opportunity to work that style so if those two work a match in that style, it definitely has potential.
One of the biggest matches of the tournament – both in terms of being a first time match and for potential match quality – takes place on the tour opener when Tanahashi wrestles Kota Ibushi. It will be interesting to see how well those two gel. It is easy to envision the match going south if they go all flashy and the execution is not top notch. It is also easy to envision a memorable match built on the strength of believable near falls and a “passing the torch” storyline. Elsewhere, Tanahashi has two notable re-matches with Shibata and Styles. The previous Tanahashi-Shibata matches have been good, while the Styles matches have been somewhat disappointing. Tanahashi-Naito could be an interesting one to see how Naito’s character shift will alter the dynamic. I could see a long-term feud coming out of their match in fact.
If nothing else, the shift to a longer tournament with more downtime in between matches will hopefully go a long way towards keeping poor Tenzan’s body in one piece. Tenzan worked extremely hard in last year’s G-1 despite the physical limitations. I would expect the same this year in terms of pulling out bigger offense and bumps than he otherwise would. It is difficult to see him producing much from a quality match standpoint, however. Tenzan will likely be the recipient of an upset win. If that match is wrestled in an interesting fashion it could be his best shot at a memorable match during in what has to be one of the last – if not the last – G-1’s he participates in.
On paper, nobody else in the tournament has a pair of first-time singles matches as intriguing as Shibata does. The Styles and Ibushi matches will be first time pairings and both have a tremendous amount of upside. A completely healthy Shibata will do a lot for the overall quality of the tournament. From a booking standpoint, Shibata has a chance to stick around until the final days. New Japan is pushing him much harder now that he is working full tours. A finals appearance still feels like a long shot, however. Hopefully Shibata’s injury does not limit him in any noticeable way because he has a chance to be part of the two best first-time matches in the entire tournament.
Ibushi is second only to Shibata when it comes to first-time matches in this year’s tournament. Of the two matches (Shibata and Tanahashi), the Shibata one has the most potential. Ibushi’s transition from junior to fulltime heavyweight has seen him ditch many of his less-endearing junior heavyweight tendencies in favor of quality striking. Shibata is an ideal opponent for Ibushi since striking will no doubt be at the forefront. In addition, Ibushi has never been shy about taking a wicked bump on his neck or eating the full brunt of a strike so in a lot of ways, he’s the perfect opponent for Shibata’s high impact offense. Ibushi was given a big win when he captured the New Japan Cup in March so it is unlikely he’ll win the G-1. However, Ibushi is likely to stick in contention the entire time and a finals appearance (particularly if Nakamura is his opponent) would appear to be a possibility.
The big questions surrounding the 2013 G-1 Climax champion pertain to his new association with CMLL’s Los Ingobernables group. Rush went from a top 10 wrestler in the world candidate in 2013 and through most of 2014 to somewhat of an afterthought in the time since. It would be unfair to blame that decline in quality matches entirely on the Los Ingonernables concept but at the same time, a gimmick centered on drawing heat through acting arrogant and disinterested certainly has not helped. The same goes for La Sombra. For Naito’s sake, hopefully he can find a little more balance than his friends from Mexico have (to be fair, the gimmick has made Marco Corleone much more interesting so there is no telling which direction Naito will go in). From a booking side, just how behind Los Ingonernables is New Japan? Was it simply convenient to freshen up Naito by having him ape his tag partner’s (La Sombra) mannerisms or is this the beginning of a new push for Naito? If Naito ends in the middle of the pack (8-10 points) then for now at least New Japan’s intentions are probably the former. However, it wouldn’t be surprising if Naito picks up 12 points and stays in things to the final days, kicking off a slightly bigger push than what he has been given through most of 2015.
Makabe is easily the worst pushed wrestler in New Japan going into the G-1. If He cannot have a watchable match with Styles, there is truly no hope for him. Makabe’s NEVER title reign is going nowhere and hopefully he will simply serve as a transitional champion to get the title from Ishii to someone else. Makabe’s losses during the G-1 could be used to set up a title defense or two with Ibushi, Shibata, and Naito all being possible candidates. Makabe has a tendency to be sloppy so if nothing else, hopefully he can avoid injuring anyone too badly.
As the 2015 New Japan Cup demonstrated, Yano is a tremendously useful tournament role player. New Japan spent most of the past six months hammering home the idea that Yano can win a match at anytime with a roll up. That’s a great thing to have during a tournament because it leaves the outcomes to his matches far more up in the air than they otherwise would be. Yano will almost certainly pull off one upset sometime over the nearly month long tournament. His comedic shtick is also a valuable tool for a long tournament in terms of breaking up the monotony.
One would assume that the IWGP Intercontinental champion would be protected in the G-1 and I think Goto will be to a certain extent, but over the last few years New Japan has not necessarily gone out of their way to do so. Goto’s most interesting match up will be his August 1st meeting with IWGP Heavyweight champion Kazuchika Okada. Since the IWGP Intercontinental title came into existence in 2011, the Heavyweight and Intercontinental champions have never been in the same block; until this year, that is. It can certainly be inferred that the reason for keeping the champions apart during the G-1 is to avoid having to put one champion over the other. If there is a 30-minute draw this tournament, money is on that happening when Okada and Goto meet in Osaka. A draw is a tricky thing to get right. Okada and Goto do not seem to be the best pair to pull that off. However, they did have a very good 22-minute match in February 2014 that utilized a slow start (six minutes give or take), so maybe they are better equipped for that task than one would initially think.
Karl Anderson does not offer much as a singles wrestler so it is hard to imagine him having a standout match. Anderson has perfected a couple of routines with both Okada and Goto, both of whom he’ll face during round robin. Goto and Anderson’s counter/reverse rope running routine is one of those heavily choreographed spots that tends to be rather divisive. New Japan will often give Anderson a big win during block play (he beat Tanahashi, Nakamura, and Okada in 2012, 2013 and 2014, respectively), so a win over Okada, Nakamura or Goto could very well be in the cards.
The IWGP Heavyweight champion is unlikely to win the G-1 or reach the finals for the obvious booking reasons. If Okada wins, New Japan needs to come up with another way to set up the Dome main event. If he reaches the finals and loses, they miss out on an opportunity to put someone else over by occupying a spot in the finals. Okada will almost certainly be in the running until the final days, as Okada versus Nakamura at the second of the three Sumo Hall shows is likely to decide Block B. The Nakamura match and the champion versus champion match with Goto are easily his two signature matches of the tournament. As mentioned, the Goto match will be interesting in terms of how they handle the finish. The Nakamura match has the chance to be one of the best and most dramatic matches of the tournament if their match in last year’s G-1 finals is any indication.
Michael Elgin is not a good pro wrestler. The fact that participating in this tournament is a dream of his and therefore he will be working his hardest is of little consolation. Elgin’s problem has never been effort. In fact, it is probably the opposite in that he has a tendency to do too much. He generally wrestles matches that are filled with mediocre (at best) offense and little else. Elgin is seemingly in the tournament at ROH’s request so it will be interesting to see how hard New Japan pushes him. It wouldn’t be surprising for Elgin to leave with only 1-2 wins or with 4-5 wins. Maybe he surprises but I cannot imagine that a guy who has zero grasp of in ring psychology and pacing will do better in the current New Japan environment.
Kojima is capable of having watchable 10-minute matches with just about everyone in his block. His ceiling is low but besides for Yujiro and Elgin, Kojima should be able to have okay matches every time out. Like Anderson, Gallows, and his partner Tenzan, Kojima will probably pick up one signature win while trading wins with the rest of the field. If Nakamura wins the G-1, Block B will probably be used to establish post-tournament challengers for the Tokyo Dome contract winner, the IWGP Heavyweight champion, and the Intercontinental champion. Kojima has as good of a chance as anyone in getting one of those shots; perhaps an upset win over Okada to setup a title match this Fall?
On paper Nakamura’s match ups look like the best of Block B. Nothing new but the Okada and Ishii matches will be heated and both have a shot of being good. Nakamura-Honma could be a really, really fun and heated underdog match. Goto, Kojima, and Nagata are also fine opponents for him. Nakamura will almost certainly avenge his two consecutive losses versus Goto. Those losses felt like classic “beat a guy before a big push” booking, which is one reason why Nakamura has a very good shot at winning the tournament. Nakamura defeating Okada on the final day and then winning the tournament would make them 1-1 versus one another over the last three years. That would be a decent set up for a Namaura-Okada title match at the Dome in January.
New Japan is likely to go one of two ways with how they book Honma. They could treat him like a normal lower card wrestler and give him 2-4 wins throughout the tournament. The second option is to continue the underdog booking of Honma that they used in last year’s tournament and have him lose all of his matches before capturing a big win late. That second option might be the better way to go. If Honma beats Nagata in his first match, the rest of Honma’s matches are going to have the same general feel as all other matches involving mid-carders who have no chance at winning the tournament. If last year’s losing streak bleeds into this year’s tournament, Honma’s matches will at least be heated as the fans root for him to pick up the elusive victory. It will help Honma’s match quality and provide intrigue to otherwise bland undercard matches. Honma’s last match of the tournament is against Yujiro. Maybe Honma picks up his win there but that almost feels anti-climatic. What about defeating an in-contention Ishii at Korakuen Hall in his second-to-last round robin match? There is symmetry between Ishii’s and Homna’s rise as cult underdog favorites, those two have worked well together in the past and the reaction at Korakuen would be one to remember.
If there is one tournament match that frightens me, it is Ishii-Elgin. If those two start throwing bombs it could turn into an ugly, ugly match very, very quickly. On the bright side, Ishii/Nakamura matches tend to be fun and will get another round here. Ishii/Okada is an intriguing match for several reasons as well. Ishii seems like a prime candidate to pick up a win over Okada, Nakamura, and/or Goto to set up a title match this fall. We know Ishii is going to work hard during the G-1 since he always does. The meeting with Nakamura in Osaka should have great heat. If he can keep himself healthy and avoid letting his bad habits (tough guy no-selling) he should have his fair share of quality matches.
Nagata’s presence in the 2015 G-1 is no different than his general presence in New Japan these days. He’s totally inoffensive in everything he does and fun at times, but he is simply taking up space at this point. Nagata’s matches should be watchable more often than not but it will classify as a surprise if he does anything that is truly memorable. I would expect Nagata to win between 2-4 matches while having watchable performances. Anything else – good or bad – would be a surprise.
Like Nagata, Yujiro is not much more than a warm body to fill out the tournament field. Unlike Nagata, there is little justification for Yujiro’s presence. Nagata is an over veteran who will have solid matches more often than not. Yujiro is an un-over, sloppy wrestler with little to no upside. Yujiro-Elgin has to be the odds-on-favorite for worst match of the tournament. Yujiro will win a few matches as he always does, but there is not one intriguing Yujiro match on paper.