Inside Pulse 12

Metalhead Previews NJPW’s G1 Climax 2016, Block B (Elgin, Naito, Omega, Shibata, Nakajima)

In the second part of my G1 climax 26 preview, we will take a look at the Block B entrants. Lots of things to talk about so let’s dive right in:

Michael Elgin:

It’s interesting to remember that last year, around this time, Michael Elgin’s career seemed completely dead in the water; Indeed, ROH fans at best reacted with indifference to his matches and some observers openly questioned the wisdom of putting the seemingly stale as last year’s bread wrestler in a tournament as high-profile and demanding as the G1. But the doomsayers would quickly   change their tune. Elgin not only impressed friend s and foes in last year’s tournament with his string of solid performances, he also almost immediately made that all-important connection with the Japanese crowds with his intense, power-moves-based style. From there, Big Mike went from strength to strength, continuing to impress every-time he appeared, to the point he is now one of the most over wrestlers in NJPW. Of course, his alliance with top dog Tanahashi didn’t hurt either. After signing a long-term contract with the promotion earlier this year, Elgin wasted no time in gaining his first singles championship gold, defeating IC champion Omega at Dominion. So, what can we expect from Big Mike this year? Well pretty much the same as last year with the difference being that Elgin  now enters the tournament a Champion, meaning he has a big target on his back. His changes of actually wining are slim, but NJPW always protects his champions in such tournaments, so he should end up near the top. More importantly we should learn who his next challengers for the IC title will be. Anyone who manages to pin him will have earned the right to challenge him in the coming months, and, let’s not forget, Omega is still hell-bent on avenging his Dominion loss. So, interesting days ahead for Michael Elgin.

Prediction: Top 4.

EVIL:

The G1 debutant is another one who has completely silenced his doubters in recent months. After a rather unimpressive ROH run, Watanabe came back to NJPW last as EVIL, a character that was deemed unconvincing at first by most observers. But then, after a shaky start, the magic happened. Aided by a great chemistry with his Los Ingobernables stable-mates Naito and BUSHI, EVIL grew into his role and displayed great skills in the ring, to the point that he has now grown into a very solid performer, over with the crowds, and right on the verge of taking that next step up the card. Does that mean he has a chance to win this thing? Well, no, but winning the G1 is not the objective (yet) in his case. As stated above, EVIL is right on the verge of taking that next step, meaning, that, after his well-received feud with CHAOS’ Goto, EVIL is now ready to go after his first singles championship gold. And lo and behold, he just happens to be in the same block as NEVER title holder Shibata and IC title holder Elgin. Now isn’t THAT interesting? This will be the real purpose behind EVIL’s participation this year, finding out which scene Gedo has chosen for him, the IC title scene or the NEVER title scene. Do keep an eye on him though, as he’s in a block where there are plenty of guys he can have great matches against.

Prediction: Middle of the pack.

Tomoaki Honma:

Back in 2014, Kota Ibushi was originally scheduled to take part in that year’s tournament. Unfortunately, Ibushi suffered an injury just before the start, forcing him to forfeit and prompting NJPW to select Honma as a rather underwhelming replacement. But, in another case of the magic happening, 10 loses and countless missed headbutts later, Honma had suddenly become a cult hero, the famed heroic Loser Character Japanese (and other) fans are so found of. Indeed, Honma’s desperate and never-ceasing efforts to bag that one, elusive, victory struck a chord with the fans and HonmaMania was born. The fact that Honma was also able to assemble 5-star efforts against the likes of Ishii (for example) didn’t hurt either. Last year, Honma finally got his first G1 victory, against none other than Ishii himself. And believe me, the crowd pop for that one, was at least as great as the one they reserved for the eventual G1 winner Tanahashi. Which brings us to this year and the question of what Honma can achieve here. Here and there, there are voices saying that Honma should have a bigger run, with some more victories, but I don’t see that happening. One of the particularities of the Heroic Loser Character is that he CAN’T win too often, otherwise he’s not really and heroic Loser anymore. So this will pretty much be like last year I think, they will build up towards that one big victory. Question is, against whom? One of the champs? EVIL? Omega? Naito? Nagata? Take your pick…

Prediction: Bottom three

Tetsuya Naito:

When Okada beat Naito for the latter’s IWGP Heavyweight Title at Dominion, many observers disagreed with that particular decision. Indeed, Naito had been so effective in his role as heel champion that many expected him to keep the title until Wrestle Kingdom 11. Gedo obviously thought differently, which puts Naito in a rather interesting situation. There is no doubt that he’s the top favorite to win this whole thing (as most expect a Naito/Okada match for WK11 anyway), but, as said in part one of my preview, that doesn’t necessarily mean Okada will be the Champ and Naito the challenger. In a way, there was a certain logic in Okada beating Naito at Dominion. Indeed, throughout their feud, Okada has been portrayed as the better wrestler while Naito as the guy who would go that extra mile to get what he wants. So, when Okada tricked Naito into a one on one match WITHOUT outside interference, it gave him an edge, perhaps for the first time since the feud began. But now, Naito is the chaser once again, and, in the case we indeed have the Naito/Okada final that many seem to be expecting, mark my words, it will be Naito’s turn to trick Okada into putting his title on the line. If Naito then wins, we will have a very different post-G1 dynamic from usual (Champ defending his title, challenger defending his contract) since all of a sudden we will have a NEW champ and no clear challenger (yes I know, we all know it will be Okada but it’s the story on how he gets there that will be interesting). But things will not be simple for Naito, with both Shibata and Nagata in the same block, two wrestlers with whom he most definitely has unresolved issues, the journey will be very though. But also very interesting to watch I think. Oh and keep an eye on his match against Nakajima as I think this might be the start of quite a few storylines for the coming months.

Prediction: Winner

Katsuyori Shibata:

In previous editions, Shibata was always singled out by fans and observers as the one wrestler they hope would finally get that big push during the tournament. Said push never materialized, due to a variety of reasons, but this year, everything is different for Shibata. Indeed, after finally receiving a long-overdue contract, Shibata entered a very-well received feud against NJPW veterans and legends Nagata, Kojima and Tenzan. That feud culminated at Dominion, where Shibata not only regained his NEVER title but also gained the respect of the aforementioned legends. Afterwards, in a touching moment, Nagata acknowledged that Shibata is the only true heir to Nakamura’s King of Strong Style crown. And believe me, that’s’ a huge thing. So, after a feud that was specifically designed to put him over and present him as a new, dominate force in NJPW, What’s next for Shibata? Can he win this thing? Well, I don’t think so, the cards are simply not in the right place for him (yet) to play a role in the IWGP Heavyweight title scene. Not a direct one at least. But that does not mean Shibata will get a figurant role, as in previous years. Indeed, all eyes are pretty much on him this year, since this G1 will determine whom he’ll feud next. And there are no shortage of candidates here, with EVIL, Nakajima, Naito and Omega all in the same group. As stated below, I would be very surprised if they don’t make something out of Shibata’s and Nakajima’s natural rivalry. And, as said above, there are still unresolved issues between Naito and Shibata. Add to that the facts that Naito just loves pissing people off, that Shibata has a notoriously short fuse AND that EVIL needs someone new to play with, and I think it’s safe to say Shibata will be VERY busy in the coming weeks and moths. Should be awesome.

Katsuhiko Nakajima:

The announcement that Nakajima was going to participate in this year’s G1 was met with excitement by all wrestling fans who follow NJPW Indeed, Nakajima is widely considered to be one of the best wrestlers in Japan right now and was expected to become NOAH’s number 1 draw in the coming years. Was, because his participation in the G1 might have some very interesting implications. but first, for those unfamiliar with the man, let me point out that Nakajima’s wrestling style is very close to that of wrestlers like Nakamura… Or Shibata. And here is the thing, you have a guy that has been making waves in another promotion, uses the same hybrid wrestling/MMA style guys like Nakamura, Shibata and KENTA or Nagata, and all of a sudden we find him in a group including two of the four mentioned, including one that has been crowned the new King of Strong Style. Coincidence? I don’t think so. That being said, I’m not going to speculate about Nakajima’s future with NJPW right now, as it’s a bit too early to do so, but, suffice it to say that all nine of Nakajima’s matches will be VERY interesing to watch (especially his matches against naito, Shibata and Nagata of course). OK, just one little bit of information, considering what I’ve said above, just imagine what would happen if Naito were to recruit Nakajima… Just saying…

Prediction: Top 5

Yuji Nagata:

If any wrestler deserves the tag “icon that can still go” nowadays, it has to be Nagata. Indeed, the 48 (!) years old still displays a work-rate and work-ethics that put many (much) younger wrestlers to shame. The best prove of that was his extraordinary drive to put Shibata over during their most recent feud. Indeed, after defeating Shibata for the NEVER title, Nagata immediately accepted a re-match which he lost in another excellent and emotional match (see the Shibata entry for details). And that is the Nagata we will once again see this year, he will go all out to prove (if needed) he can still go, but, most importantly, to make his opponents look has good as he possibly can. Keep an eye on his re-match with Shibata, his match against Nakajima and his long-awaited showdown against Naito (a feud has been brewing between those two for months now), because those matches are all sure-fire barn-burners.

Prediction: Middle of the pack.

Kenny Omega:

At the start of the year, almost everybody was expecting Omega to be pushed towards the top of NJPW. But, after winning the IC title and the NEVER six-man title (alongside The Young Bucks) his push seemed to falter a bit. With only sporadic appearances and after having lost the IC title to Elgin at Dominion, one has to wonder where Omega stands in the NJPW hierarchy right now. Of course, the fact tha Naito vs Omega is scheduled for the last day of competition in Block B suggest that Omega might play a major role in this tournament, but, I’m not so sure. The problem with Omega is that he has been teasing a feud with WWE’s The new Day for months now (on social media and his Youtube channel mostly) and, after blasting the WWE’s developmental methods for years, have been rather positive about NXT in recent times. Add to that the fact that his NJPW contract will end in a couple of months and you can see why there are a lot of speculations surrounding him. Now could all that have an influence with the way NJPW books him? After what happened with Styles and Nakamura, you can be damn sure of that.I don’t think NJPW will do much wit Omega until they’re sure he’s planning on sticking around. So expect some good matches from the Bullet Club leader, expect him to end up amongst the chasing pack, but don’t expect him to win or even to play a major role in developing storyline. NJPW simply won’t risk that under the current circumstances.

Prediction: Top 5

Toru Yano:

While I know some can’t stand Yano’s sometimes repetitive comedy antics, One must admit he’s an useful guy to have around in such tournaments, especially from a storytelling point of view. Imagine you are planning to have 4 or 5 guys going neck and neck towards the final stretch. You do have to eliminate one or the other at some point, but you can’t have them lose to just anyone, because the fans wouldn’t accept it. Enters the Sublime Master Thief who has made a career out of stealing victories from some of NJPW’s top dogs (see Tanahashi in last year’s J-cup). And will more than likely be Yano’s role. He will probably lose more than win at fist, until he trips one of the leaders and snatches away any chance said wrestler had to win the G1.

Prediction: Bottom three

YOSHI-HASHI:

NJPW’s second resident Heroic Loser, though somewhat less popular than Honma. Despite NJPW teasing a feud between him and SANADA, YOSHI-HASHI has mostly taken up the role of cannon-fodder during the on-going CHAOS/Los Ingobernables war. Well that and, just like Tama Tonga, making others look good of course. This will be pretty much his role during this tournament also, don’t expect much more from him, but do keep an eye on his matches against Naito and EVIL.

Prediction: Bottom three

 

Conclusion: a very interesting Block with Naito as favorite but also with tons of possibilities for future feuds involving Elgin, Shibata, Omega, Nagata, Nakajima and EVIL. This block should be fireworks.

Below you can find the full schedule for Block B:

July 22 at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo (5:30 AM ET)
BLOCK B: YOSHI-HASHI vs. Kenny Omega
BLOCK B: Toru Yano vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima
BLOCK B: Michael Elgin vs. EVIL
BLOCK B: Katsuyori Shibata vs. Tomoaki Honma
BLOCK B: Yuji Nagata vs. Tetsuya Naito

July 24 at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo (5:30 AM ET)
BLOCK B: Toru Yano vs. Kenny Omega
BLOCK B: Michael Elgin vs. Tetsuya Naito
BLOCK B: Yuji Nagata vs. EVIL
BLOCK B: Tomoaki Honma vs. YOSHI-HASHI
BLOCK B: Katsuyori Shibata vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima

July 27 at Nagano Big Hat (5:30 AM ET)
BLOCK B: Katsuhiko Nakajima vs. EVIL
BLOCK B: Tomoaki Honma vs. Kenny Omega
BLOCK B: Yuji Nagata vs. YOSHI-HASHI
BLOCK B: Katsuyori Shibata vs. Michael Elgin
BLOCK B: Toru Yano vs. Tetsuya Naito

July 30 at Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium (5AM ET)
BLOCK B: YOSHI-HASHI vs. EVIL
BLOCK B: Tomoaki Honma vs. Toru Yano
BLOCK B: Yuji Nagata vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima
BLOCK B: Katsuyori Shibata vs. Tetsuya Naito
BLOCK B: Michael Elgin vs. Kenny Omega

August 1 Takamatsu City General Gymnasium in Kagawa (6AM ET)
BLOCK B: Kenny Omega vs. EVIL
BLOCK B: Katsuyori Shibata vs. Toru Yano
BLOCK B: Yuji Nagata vs. Michael Elgin
BLOCK B: Tomoaki Honma vs. Tetsuya Naito
BLOCK B: Katsuhiko Nakajima vs. YOSHI-HASHI

August 4 a Fukuoka Citizen Gymnasium (5:30 AM ET)
BLOCK B: Yuji Nagata vs. Toru Yano
BLOCK B: Tomoaki Honma vs. EVIL
BLOCK B: Katsuhiko Nakajima vs. Tetsuya Naito
BLOCK B: Katsuyori Shibata vs. Kenny Omega
BLOCK B: Michael Elgin vs YOSHI-HASHI

August 7 at Shizuoka Act City Hamamatsu (3AM ET)
BLOCK B: Michael Elgin vs. Toru Yano
BLOCK B: Yuji Nagata vs. Kenny Omega
BLOCK B: Katsuyori Shibata vs. YOSHI-HASHI
BLOCK B: Katsuhiko Nakajima vs Tomoaki Honma
BLOCK B: Tetsuya Naito vs. EVIL

August 10 at Yamagata City General Sports Center (5:30 AM ET)
BLOCK B: Toru Yano vs. EVIL
BLOCK B: YOSHI-HASHI vs. Tetsuya Naito
BLOCK B: Katsuhiko Nakajima vs. Kenny Omega
BLOCK B: Katsuyori Shibata vs. Yuji Nagata
BLOCK B: Tomoaki Honma vs. Michael Elgin

August 14 at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo (5:30 AM ET)
BLOCK B: Toru Yano vs. YOSHI-HASHI
BLOCK B: Michael Elgin vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima
BLOCK B: Yuji Nagata vs. Tomoaki Honma
BLOCK B: Tetsuya Naito vs. Kenny Omega
BLOCK B: Katsuyori Shibata vs. EVIL

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