There are many traditions that have become synonymous with the G1 Climax tournament over the years. Some, like the raising of the G1 flag, are decades old. Others, like the winner earning a spot in the Wrestle Kingdom main event, are more modern.
One of the questions we get every single year when new fans start enquiring about the tournament is, “why does the champion compete?” The answer is simple: prestige. The G1 Climax is the tournament of kings. Its winners have gone on to become world champions, Tokyo Dome main-eventers, and future Hall of Famers. It also takes up an entire month of New Japan’s schedule, and the wrestlers make a ton of money in merch sale traveling across the entire country, so not having their top star in action every night is also somewhat of a business decision.
The champion – or champions, with the introduction of multiple heavyweight singles titles – are in actual throughout the G1, but the title is never on the line. It’s all about the honor and respect of the round robin tournament format. However, it stands to reason that if a member of the roster is good enough to defeat a champion in non-title action, they are deserving of a championship opportunity.
And so, every year in the four months between the end of the G1 and the annual Tokyo Dome show, the champion(s) will generally defend their title against anyone who defeated them in singles competition during the month-long tour. It’s not a strict rule, and not every match is guaranteed. This also goes for whoever becomes G1 Champion, as they are given a briefcase with a contract inside, which is defended much like a title on the road to Wrestle Kingdom.
This year, three heavyweight singles champions competed in the G1 Climax: Kenny Omega as IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Juice Robinson as IWGP United States Champion, and Hirooki Goto as NEVER Openweight Champion. Of course, Hiroshi Tanahashi also won the tournament, so his contract will be in play as well.
Tanahashi has the most simple path to project. He ended the series 8-1-1 with a single loss to “Switchblade” Jay White. He also tied Kazuchika Okada as the two fought to a time limit draw in their block finals. We have already seen a tremendous series between Tanahashi and White, and it is very likely that we will see them going at it one more time in the coming months, with the briefcase on the line.
Omega is also fairly straightforward. He lost Tomohiro Ishii – to be fair, all three champions lost to Ishii – as well as Kota Ibushi in the block finals. There was also a controversial loss to Toru Yano, but it involved a ton of outside interference and the Bullet Club OGz nearly being suspended for three months, so it’s unlikely his “victory” will merit a championship match. During the G1 Finals on Sunday, Ishii straight up raised the IWGP Heavyweight Championship over his head and got in Omega’s face, so that match will 100% be happening.
For Robinson and Goto, things get a bit more interesting. Both suffered a bunch of losses, and because all three champions somehow ended up in the same block, many of their losses came at the hands of the same people. They both lost to Ishii, Ibushi, Naito, Omega and Zack Sabre Jr. Juice had an additional loss to Tama Tonga, and Goto suffered an addition loss to Juice himself.
You can very likely scratch the idea of a champion vs champion match. I would also be surprised if Tama Tonga was granted anything after how hard the company has come down on him for his G1 antics. So that leaves potential title matches with Ishii, Ibushi, Naito and ZSJ for both guys. With the “Stone Pitbull” seemingly focussed on the major world title, that may scratch him off the list – although I wouldn’t be apposed to him running rampant and facing all three guys over the next four months.
I do no foresee a rematch between Omega and Ibushi happening so quickly, even though the “Golden Star” does possess a victory over the champion. Inter-faction matches only happen in G1 usually. They’re also best friends, and I don’t think they want to continue putting themselves through that kind of punishment.
In addition, the Guerrillas of Destiny and Taiji Ishimori defeated the Young Bucks and Marty Scurll to become the NEVER 6-Man Trios Champions. We’ll probably see a rematch between the two factions, and it looks like we’re headed towards Young Bucks vs. GoD for the IWGP Tag Team Championships down the line.
Here’s the schedule for the rest of the year:
— Destruction in Hiroshima on 9/15.
— Destruction in Beppu on 9/17.
— Destruction in Kobe on 9/23.
— Fighting Spirit Unleashed in Long Beach on 9/30.
— King of Pro-Wrestling on 10/8.
— Power Struggle on 11/3.
— World Tag League begins 11/17.