I submitted my picks in the Voices of Wrestling G1 Climax pick ‘em contest this afternoon. As usual with these things, I made my picks more based on what I would do rather than what New Japan might do. I know what I would do. I don’t have a clue what Gedo might do. I stick with what I know. Maybe a lot of people are thinking the same as me and I am not going out on a limb at all. I don’t know. But in any case, I put some thought into how I see this playing out so I figured I would at least explain some of the major decisions that impacted how I filled out the bracket.
In general, I did follow the usual booking pattern where most of the field is bunch up and everyone gets at least a couple of wins. I only had one wrestler with less than three wins and both blocks had at least 4 wrestlers in the mix on the final day.
(1) Tenzan Goes on a Run
After an angle where Tenzan was left out of what might his final shot at the G1 and Kojima gave his spot to his longtime partner, New Japan would only be telling half of the story if Tenzan gets four wins and finishes in the middle of the pack with everyone else. Maybe they still do that, but I’d like to see them go a step further and have him make an unexpected run.
I have Tenzan racking up the victories right out of the gate. I have him winning his first six matches, including a victory over Okada. Six matches in, he is 6-0 (12 poiints) which puts him two wins (4 points) above the closest competition in his bock. In my bracket, poor Tenzan tires out down the stretch and drops two matches in a row to stiff competition (Goto, Tanahashi) but still enters the final night with a chance to win his block by beating SANADA. A win against SANADA would give Tenzan the A Block title outright without the need of any additional help. Of course, his bid to win it all in his final G1 ends in heartbreak when SANADA pulls the upset
This accomplishes a few things. One, Tenzan is usually over in front of the G1 crowds and I imagine that will only increase as he sprints out of the gate. The “is he running out of steam?” story creates drama for the final day. SANADA’s win over him becomes a much bigger deal than it would be otherwise. Even though Tenzan loses in the end, New Japan can still capitalize on the momentum he will theoretically gain by running him versus Okada for the title in the fall (by virtue of beating Okada during the tournament). Most importantly, it is a tournament long storyline (which are always nice to have) that makes sense given the pre-tournament angle.
(2) A Draw for Okada and Tanahashi
I am confident that Okada and Tanahashi will both still be alive in the tournament when they face on the final night. That seems to be a given. It is the biggest match of the tournament and it should have finals implications. The problem is the path forward isn’t as clear.
If Tanahashi wins that should set up a title match and I really don’t believe it would be in their best interest to go that route again so soon. Not because I think the matchup is stale necessarily, but more because I think it becomes a bigger draw the longer they wait to do another title match. I guess Tanahashi could beat Okada without any follow up but that logic gap bothers me. I can’t see Okada entering the final day without a chance to win the block, which means if he beats Tanahashi, he is probably winning the block. I don’t like the idea of the champion losing to his future Dome opponent in the finals nor do I really think they will have the champion win the tournament.
In other words, I needed a scenario where Tanahashi and Okada are both alive the final day but neither advance to the finals. There are ways to do that other than a draw (for example, Tanahashi could win but someone else could win later to bump him out of the finals) but I like the draw idea. It has been several years since the G1 has had a draw and this match feels like a good time to do one. It would also give the promotion a memorable match on the Block A semi-final show which is something they focused on last year.
The way my blocks work out, I would have the draw in the semi-main leaving Marufuji versus Goto in the main event to decide the Block A champion.
(3) Setting Up Title Matches
Some singles title matches always fall out of the G1 so I took that into account when beating the singles champions (Okada, Elgin, Shibata).
Okada’s losses are to Marufuji on the first night, Tenzan midway through the tournament, and Ishii. As mentioned above, I see the Tenzan title match as obvious when paired with the angle of him making a run before losing steam. I’d also do that Marufuji title match in the fall sometime. I sort of like the idea of running that match in NOAH as a way to try and draw a bigger house. An Ishii/Okada match would obviously be intriguing but even if they don’t do the title match it still make sense for Ishii to be one Okada’s losses. It’s a guy he can realistically lose to and there is a ready-made reason for no follow up (the fact that they are stablemates).
I have Elgin losing to Yano, Naito and Omega. There is not much of a point in running a Yano/Elgin title match but obviously the Omega win would set up a re-match of the recent ladder match.
Shibata loses to Elgin, Naito, and on the final night Evil. I could see either Elgin or Naito being a Dome opponent for Shibata assuming he is still the Open Weight champion come January. Elgin could drop the IC title back to Omega and then challenge Shibata. There are no impediments to running Naito/Shibata. Shibata is getting a sustained push for the first time now and I think his ascent is coming, so I wanted to protect him some by having his two losses be to two pushed guys who would make sense as big opponents for him down the road. Evil feels like a throwaway fall opponent. In any event, I see Shibata being in the running to the final day which necessitates that Evil beats him to keep out of the finals.
(4) What to do with Marufuji (and Nakajima)?
Although not so much recently, New Japan has in the past pushed outsiders hard in the G1 (Takayama, Akiyama, Kawada, Kojima) and I think Marufuji will get that treatment. I toyed with the idea of putting him in the finals but decided against it because ultimately I think New Japan looks to spotlight their guys first and foremost these days. I have Marufuji beating Okada to set up a title match. I also have him in the main event of the A-Block final round robin show where a win versus Goto would get him to the finals. He finishes with 12 points (tied for most in the Block with Tenzan and Goto) but finishes third on tiebreakers.
I gave Nakajima 5 wins (10 points) which might be one too many, but in any case I think he ends up in the large middle pack these tournaments usually have. I don’t see the point in bringing him in rather than using one of their own guys if he is only going to win 3 matches, so 4-5 feels right.
(5) Hirooki Goto – G1 Climax Champion?
There is not an obvious G1 winner this year. So I decided to take a risk and pick the guy I would pick. The guy I would pick is the one who makes for the most interesting story AND has some level of upside (sorry, Tenzan). And that guy is Goto. I already know this decision is going to kill my bracket but with no obvious winner, I decided to go with how I would book it based on how things have been booked so far this year.
Goto lost to Okada in a title match in February. In Match, he finished runner up in the New Japan Cup tournament for the second straight year, this time losing to Naito in the finals. Goto has a history of coming up short in big matches, particularly in IWGP Heavyweight title matches. The the story that Goto needed to do something different to get to where he wanted to be was pushed pretty hard. That something ended up being accepting Okada’s offer to join Chaos. Since then, Goto has done suspiciously little. He joined Chaos – the group that is led by the IWGP Heavyweight champion – because he kept coming up short in his attempt to win that title. That set up is rife for tension and I decided to go with the idea that New Japan will bring that to a head starting with the G1.
I have Goto have an inauspicious tournament. He loses to Ishii early, to set up a fun match for the briefcase prior to the Dome. He loses to Okada yet again and also comes up short against Tanahashi. He takes care of business elsewhere but enters the final night as a long shot to win his block. He needs SANADA to be Tenzan. Goto needs to take care of his own business by defeating Marufuji. Most unlikely of all, he needs Okada and Tanahashi to draw. I like the idea that nobody suspects Goto to win going into the final day but when the dust clears, he’s the last one standing.
This sets up a Goto vs. Naito final which is a re-match of the New Japan Cup finals. I liked that symmetry and I also think it’s a sensible finals pairing. Naito has had a breakthrough year as the promotion’s top heel he should be in the finals. Naito and the Ingobernables have feuded rather extensively with Chaos so there is some history to it. It creates a scenario where Okada backs Goto to keep his current arch enemy out of the G1 match, knowing full well that an uncomfortable situation will be created if Goto does indeed get the Dome show title shot.
Goto wins and suddenly finds himself one step away from achieving his ultimate goal yet again. Only problem is that he has gotten there on Okada’s side and now has to face him. That unspoken tension – Goto siding with the IWGP Champion in order to improve so he can become champion – finally comes to the surface. I think its an interesting story and with no obvious opponent for Okada in January, seems as good as anything else.
Obviously that is all fantasy booking and what I would like to see happen, not exactly how Gedo has historically booked. Goto/Okada is not a huge money match nor would it create a new star. Most recent Tokyo Dome main events have been one or the other, if not both. Short of Shibata vs. Okada – which would be a major marquee match but Shibata seems a year away from a G1 win – this is as good as anything else. If nothing else, that match would payoff a year-long storyline and could draw if the latest turn in the story resonates with fans.