DG – Hi all and welcome along to the G1 Climax 25 preview column with myself, Dave Green, and the far more interestingly named Senor Lariato. How’s tricks, Lari?
SL – Yeah, not bad at all, definitely looking forward to the G1 tournament this year, there’s some great matches ahead.
DG – Well of that there can be no doubt! Before we begin the preview, I thought we could talk a bit about our interest in New Japan and Japanese wrestling in general. So where and when did it all begin for you? What’s your first memory of Japanese wrestling?
SL – The infamous/ridiculous BJW grocery store deathmatch – I had a neighbour who was into tape trading and he showed me a lot of Japanese deathmatch stuff. I also got introduced to AJPW & NJPW through him, but I was much more of an All Japan fan at the time.
DG – Oh my word, that’s something I feel I should look up!
SL – It’s a really odd match – BJW did a lot of deathmatches in odd places at that time, a bath house and a disused TV set of a house, most memorably. How about you?
DG – I’m showing my age here when I say that my first memory of Japanese wrestling was catching early 90’s New Japan somewhere between 1992-1994, when it used to be shown on Eurosport. I remember seeing an eight-man tag involving junior heavyweights of the time such as Liger, Tiger Mask and Super Delfin all taking turns to dive over the top rope and was immediately hooked. There was also the added highlight of seeing guys that were, in the then present day, in WWF or WCW, such as Owen Hart, Chris Benoit and, randomly, Ludvig Borga, in totally different surroundings.
SL – Yeah, the Super Jr’s stuff in the 90’s was just amazing and was pretty much all I sought out from NJPW for a while. Took me longer to get into the heavyweights like Hashimoto, Hase, Chono, etc. I remember the Eurosport show, or at least watching recordings of it – shame it didn’t last longer, I’d love an English NJPW show nowadays!
DG – Well there’s the AXS show in the States, but you’ll already have seen those matches. With the internet being what it is now, it is a lot easier to catch the Japanese grappling.
SL – Yeah, definitely. It’s crazy that we can watch the entire G1 compared to how difficult it used to be to find this stuff.
DG – Regarding the current product, it would be fair to say you’re light years ahead of me in your knowledge. Anyone that follows you on Twitter and sees the huge amount of GIFs you post can tell that.
SL – Yeah, I try and follow New Japan pretty closely – I’d say it’s been my favourite promotion for a good four years now.
DG – What other Japanese promotions would you recommend?
SL – All Japan’s doing stuff good stuff recently, they’re rebuilding after a few fairly calamitous years and have a good stock of talent coming through. I also really enjoy Dragon Gate, but that crazy fast-paced style’s an acquired taste. DDT & BJW are getting really popular, both have Sumo Hall shows coming up and I see a lot of buzz for them online, definitely worth checking out.
DG – I must say my watching of Japanese wrestling has depleted slightly in 2015 just due to the huge of wrestling you can now watch from all over the world. My avid New Japan watching really started from I think 2013 – the Wrestle Kingdom event that had Okada/Tanahashi, Shibata/Makabe, Devitt/Ibushi/Low Ki, to name a few, and was really impressed with what I saw. So I am quite a newer devotee to it in comparison.
SL – I’m pretty much in the same boat, I used to watch a lot more Japanese wrestling than I do today. I mostly stick to NJPW & Dragon Gate and check out select matches from others. That’s mostly because of how much content’s readily available and affordable, what with so many VOD & streaming services.
DG – Thank goodness for NJPW World!
SL – I guess I got in to New Japan proper around 2011, when Naito & Nakamura had that amazing match in the G1 final.
DG – Well a G1 memory seems as good a place as any to start talking G1! For those of you that do not know, the tournament works as follows. Between July 20th and August 16th, two blocks on ten wrestlers each will face each other in a series of round robin matches, with 2 points accumulated for a win, 1 for a draw and 0 for a loss. The men with the most points in their block then face other in the finals, with the winner being granted a title shot at Wrestle Kingdom, January 4th at the Tokyo Dome. The blocks look like this:
Bad Luck Fale
So, looking at those blocks, Lariato, my first main topic question is this. Which matches from previous tournaments sum up the G1 to you and which from this year’s line-up do you think will likely do the same?
SL – The final is usually the most memorable, for obvious reasons, but often there’s a match on the penultimate night that’ll be a real defining moment of the tournament. Tanahashi having to defeat his old rival Shibata to get to the 2013 final, for instance. This year one of those matches will likely be Okada vs Nakamura, I think that’ll be a definite decider of their block and a huge match.
DG – I found it interesting that they’ve immediately destroyed the idea of the final being a rematch from last year, with Nakamura & Okada being in the same block. There’s always some match up that comes out of nowhere that has a magic about it such as Ishii/Shibata from 2013 and Styles/Suzuki from last year. With those two matches fresh in my mind when it comes to the G1, I have to say that Styles vs Shibata is one I’m really looking forward to.
SL – Definitely. I’m very excited to see which match kinda shocks everyone with how good it is. My money’s on Shibata vs Styles, very intriguing first-time ever match there. That one just screams “styles clash” (pardon the pun), I think a lot of people are really looking forward to it for sure.
DG – Also it must be said I’m very much looking forward to Tanahashi vs Ibushi – that has showstealer written all over it.
SL – Yeah, that’s going to be a really big main event to set the tone for things to come – also, another first-time match. Shibata vs Ibushi as well. And Shibata vs Naito.
DG – A lot of first time matches for Shibata, that’s an interesting stat.
SL – While there’s a lot of really exciting matches on paper, how about some of the more under-the-radar matches? Any you’re particularly interested in?
DG – That’s an interesting one, as I think with those type of matches the surprise isn’t always one you expect. Last year, Karl Anderson and Toru Yano had a match that was by no means a technical classic, but it wasn’t supposed to be – it was incredibly entertaining and funny. The aforementioned Ishii vs Shibata wasn’t meant to anything more than a card filler, but they stole the show, and arguably the tournament. This year, I think it may have more to do with the story. Tomoaki Honma’s situation last year with no wins was a heartbreaker, but he had some incredible matches along the way, so I think he’ll be one to watch and that maybe his match against Goto could be interesting.
SL – Honma should have a great match with Goto. I’ll also be watching his match vs Yujiro on the penultimate night with interest, as in all likelihood it’ll be his last chance to score points in the tournament. I’m also kind of intrigued by AJ vs Fale – firstly because it’s a Bullet Club vs Bullet Club match, but also because how on earth is AJ going to get him up for the Styles Clash?
DG – I can’t say I’m looking forward to any of the Bullet Club vs Bullet Club matches, they seem to have chosen the least interesting combinations.
SL – I’m probably more of a fan of Fale than most, I think he’s rather unfairly maligned and a lot better than most give him credit for.
DG – Which is a good place to bring up my next question – which of the tournament competitors do you think should be nowhere near the G1 and who should be in their place?
SL – It’s got to be Yujiro for me. A lot of the Japanese fans on twitter were disappointed that YOSHI-HASHI didn’t get a place and I’d personally say he’s more deserving than Yujiro on a performance basis. Yujiro’s had a largely forgettable G1 for the past three years in a row and I don’t see this year being any different. YOSHI-HASHI’s not the greatest wrestler, but he as two major upsides over Yujiro: he looks like he’s trying and the fan’s get behind him.
DG – Yujiro is one of my picks too. I find him dreadfully dull to watch.
SL – He just seems to suck the life out of a match whenever he’s in the ring, one of my least favourite guys to watch in New Japan.
DG – I have to say that I don’t get much joy out watching Hiroyoshi Tenzan anymore. I enjoy him in a tag with Kojima, but unlike Kojima, he never seems to have that certain intangible to keep me hooked into his matches.
SL – Tenzan, on his best day, is a fantastic heavyweight singles wrestler, but that day comes very rarely as of late. He kind of stunk up the 2013 G1, but had some surprisingly exciting performances last year. I’m not excited about his inclusion, but I’m not writing him off for sure. Kojima’s much more reliable, I’m happy to see him wrestling Ishii for the 3rd year in a row. They’ve had some sneaky good matches on some of the smaller shows of the past two G1’s.
DG – I’m sure you’ll tell me why, but I don’t really understand the reason behind keeping the junior heavyweights away from the G1. With that in mind, I’d have replaced one of them with whoever the champion of the division happens to be at the time of the tournament, who in this case happens to be Kushida.
SL – I guess that in the past there was a much broader divide between Jr’s and heavyweights, the Best of the Super Jr’s was a much bigger deal, a real international tournament, so it’s only in the past 15 years or so that Jr’s have been included and rarely at that. I think Liger was the first in 2000. I think they do it now when they’re ready to move a Jr up to the heavyweights, as with Devitt & Ibushi.
DG – I notice that neither of us mentioned a certain Mr Elgin in that last question, where a lot of people would have him as their answer. Why the hate towards him, do you think?
SL – Part of it is backlash because of how hyped he was initially on the US indie scene, but part of it’s also because I think he struggled to be that big main eventer ROH needed him to be. He was fine when he was the up & coming strongman from Canada, but once he took up the mantle of champion I don’t think he made the transition well. A lot of his matches felt very formulaic or needlessly lengthy. That being said, he has improved in the past year or so and I’m looking forward to seeing how he does. This is something of a trial by fire for Elgin, the biggest opportunity of his career to date and it’s definitely going to be intriguing to watch him this G1.
DG – Agreed. The weird quasi-shoot situation with him and the circumstances around losing the ROH title didn’t help his presentation in the eyes of the fans. I thought he had a stellar match against Tanahashi during their recent joint shows. Fans are very quick to criticise when nothing has been proven yet. It’s a massive step for Elgin, for himself and for being the first ROH representative to be in the G1, so wait and see how he does. I think his matchups with Honma, Ishii, Kojima and Nakamura will be particularly intriguing.
SL – Yeah, I’m definitely looking forward to his matches with the heavy hitters in New Japan. The match with Okada should be pretty interesting as well. So, any predictions for the tournament as a whole?
DG – I’m thinking Naito will do something to avenge Ibushi for the New Japan Cup loss (and for practically killing him with that driver move). Fale and Gallows will hopefully have a very short match. In Block A, I can see Tanahashi, Styles, Ibushi and Shibata being in with a chance, certainly in the top four. Block B top placings to go to Goto, Nakamura & Okada.
SL – I made an early prediction that it’d be Tanahashi vs Okada at the Tokyo Dome for Wrestle Kingdom 10, so I’m thinking Tanahashi will be in the final. I’m not as confident as I was of it a month or two ago, I think there’s a chance that Shinsuke wins the whole thing. So yeah, I think it’ll be a Nakamura vs Tanahashi final, but I wouldn’t rule out someone like Naito or Shibata or even Ibushi making a good run for the final.
DG – See that’s the thing – the recent title change has thrown everything around! Okada being champion again opens the door for Tanahashi to be in the challenger role, with Okada finally getting the big Tokyo Dome win, which was of course hinted at due to the end of this year’s event. Beforehand, I was sure Nakamura was winning this to make Nakamura vs Styles for the first time, but now I’m not sure.
SL – I definitely see Okada vs Tanahashi happening at the Tokyo Dome, be it this year or the next. It’s probably not the match that will most excite the internet fans, but to my mind beating Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom for the title has got to be the end of Okada’s current story arc. Plus, I’m thinking it’d be cool for Tanahashi to win the G1 for what’d probably be the last time.
DG – OK well just for the sake of clarity in storytelling, I too will go with Tanahashi winning – but only if we get Styles vs Nakamura at Wrestle Kingdom as well. Otherwise I’ll sulk.
One more question from me: there’s always a big upset result in the G1 – who will it be this year?
SL – I could see Okada winning all his matches only for Nakamura to beat him in the final block match, but the Honmaniac in me would love to see Honma ruin Okada’s perfect run by defeating him on the 4th night of the tournament. Not so sure it’ll actually happen, but I’m sure Honma will manage to make me believe all the same.
DG – That’s very bizarre as I have a similar situation with Okada, but with Ishii getting the upset (if Ishii winning can be considered an upset anymore). I think with him upsetting one of the main guys in the same faction as he, it may be an interesting dynamic on the road to WK. I’m also going with a totally nonsensical upset, but only due to the fact that he’s got to beat someone – Yano over Styles!
SL – Haha, Yano beating Styles would be awesome. I was wondering how their match this year would go, as Styles will be more aware of Yano’s tricks. Ishii beating Okada would be an interesting dynamic and maybe a good way to elevate Ishii beyond the NEVER title picture.
DG – Just one quick question before we wrap up. With my limited knowledge and viewing of the G1, I thought 23 and 24 were great tournaments overall. Do you see this year keeping the quality at a high level? As I must admit to be a bit disappointed at seeing most of the same faces appearing again.
SL – I think the G1 matches themselves should be of the same quality. Even if the line-up for this year’s isn’t the most exciting, there’s some amazing talent there and it should provide for some awesome matches. With the new format I don’t know if the shows will retain the same feel that the last two year’s did, with one G1-style match after another, but I’ve little doubt that the tournament’s going to deliver. It’s a very ambitious year for New Japan and this is the biggest G1 for quite some time, with more shows and a return to running the last three nights back-to-back at Sumo Hall. It’ll be interesting to see if ticket sales can live up to NJPW’s ambition. The final night is already sold out.
DG – And at the end of the day, quality wrestling is all we really want and the G1 should provide it in droves. Thank you so much Senor for your time and input into this project. Anything you want to plug before we finish up?
SL – I guess it’d be appropriate to plug NJPW World, it’s kind of amazing that the whole G1’s available for so little compared to the prices we paid in the previous years. They’ve got a trial period at the moment that runs right up to just before the G1 begins. And my twitter account, I guess @SenorLARIATO.
DG – And you can follow me @dagreeno. Thanks everyone for reading and wherever you are, enjoy the G1. Much like Christmas, it comes but once a year!