Metalhead’s Riff: G1 Climax 2015 preview (AJ Styles, Bullet Club, NJPW)

g1-climax-25

Finally, one of the most anticipated events of the year is upon us. Last year’s event was considered the best ever, no doubt NJPW will be eager to top even those lofty standards for the anniversary 25th edition of the G1 Climax. Given who is entering the event, I wouldn’t even be that surprised if they pull it off. let’s take a look at the participants and try to predict what their chances are:

 

A Block:

A.J Styles:

Last year, in his first G1 tournament, Styles amazed the Japanese fans (and quite a few others) with one stand-out performance after another. Narrowly missing the final, he will be looking at doing even better this year. And things look rather good for him. One of two absolute favorites to win this, it will be difficult to keep him from finishing on top in his block. Furthermore, having lost the IWGP title to Okada at Dominion, Styles will be out for revenge and to prove that he is still the best, with or without titles. On a side note, it might be interesting to keep an eye on his matches against fellow Bullet Club members, Fale and Gallows. Some hints of dissension were sown in recent months. Just temporary irritations or signs of things to come? Wait and see. Odds-on favorite in this block.

Kota Ibushi:

If anyone can beat the odds and top Styles, it has to be Ibushi. After a fantastic start of the year (amazing matches against Nakamura and Styles and winner of the prestigious New Japan Cup), it has grown rather quiet around Ibushi in recent months. That doesn’t mean he has no chance, on the contrary. His second participation in the G1 (first one was in 2013 and he had to forfeit his spot last year due to a real life injury) could be the right one. Having already proven he can hang out with the best and having showed he has impressive drawing power, Ibushi must be poised to make this one his definitive break-trough towards the very top of NJPW. All depends on what NJPW’s long term plans are. For now, most observers reckon Nakamura vs Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 10 is set in stone, with Nakamura being the one putting Ibushi over for the Heavyweight Title later in 2016. If that is the case, this tournament isn’t Ibushi’s to win. But, even then, with his capacity to have great matches against anyone and his current popularity Ibushi should end up very high in his block. He might be the only one capable of foiling Styles’ plans to make it into the final. After that? Who knows. Ibushi’s first match is against Tanahashi and the result of that one will undoubtedly set the pace for the rest of his tournament. If he wins, all bets are off.

Hroshi Tanahashi:

Vacation is over for Tanahashi. Participating in his 14th consecutive tournament (he won in 2007), the 7-time IWGP World heavyweight Champion spend the last months battling Toru Yano in a feud designed to hide his back problems trough comedy. While that feud was moderately successful and achieved what it intended to, it’s crunching time. When on his game, Tanahashi is still amongst the very best in the world, if not THE best. Can he still go the distance in a tournament of this level? Can he still deliver those amazing matches on a regular base? In other words, has his back recovered enough to play at the level he has accustomed us to? We’ll soon know. As for his chances, given his resume Tanahashi is always a favorite, but others seem to have better cards than him this year. Regardless, still one to watch.

Katsuyori Shibata:

Shibata is a strange case. Fans always expect him to win such events, or at least go far, but he seldom delivers. Given his standing in NJPW’s office has changed little over the years, despite delivering consistently strong performance, this tournament (his fifth) shouldn’t be his to win. On the bright side, Shibata himself seems to enjoy going all out during during the g1’s  and has first-time ever matches against Styles and Ibushi who could very well blow everyone away. Also, following his well received win against Sakuraba at Dominion, he’s coming in at his strongest. Will deliver some outstanding performances but outsider at best.

Tetsuya Naito:

That Naito can deliver good matches against anyone is well known by now, this year should be no different. In what will be his sixth participation, the 2013 winner is always a force to be reckoned with. But even more interesting to follow will be how his slow burn heel turn will continue. As things stand now, Naito has little chance of winning, but, if they continue handling his personality change the same expert way they did in the weeks prior to Dominion, he could very well be the character to watch this year.

Hiroyoshi Tenzan:

Tenzan holds the record for most participations (20) in an event he has won three times (2003, 2004 and 2006). One of the most decorated wrestlers in NJPW’s history, you cannot take him lightly. His days as main-eventer might be over, but Tenzan is always eager to prove he can still go, despite his many injuries and revels in putting over the younger stars in the best way possible. He won’t win, of course, but he’s a believable challenge to any favorite and this year there might even be a side bonus for him. More on that in a bit.

Toru Yano:

Beating Tanahashi at the new japan Cup has strengthened the Supreme Master Thief’s gimmick as one who can steal away victory from anyone and by any means neccessary. It  is now conceivable that Yano might be the one who crushes the dreams of one of the favorites. He’s done it before after all. While he won’t have the best matches of this tournament, that element of unpredictability is what will make his bouts interesting.

Togi Makabe:

Having finally vanquished Ishii and with a firmer grip than ever on his NEVER Openweight Championship, Makabe will be looking to leave his mark by beating some of the top names. Unfortunately for him, the fact he is a title-holder also makes him a target. Anyone who picks up a victory against him will have reason to challenge him for the title later on. I would say that Naito and Shibata would be the most likely candidates for that (guys like Styles and Ibushi have their sights on another prize). For the rest, the hard-hitting and physical style of the 2009 winner will undoubtedly provide some spectacular matches.

Bad Luck Fale:

NJPW’s top Gajin Monster Heel, Fale’s profile has lowered somewhat since his loss against Okada. Last year, in his first participation, he ended up third in his block, with a big victory over Tanahashi. While he can still form the proverbial brick wall for any of the favorites, I don’t see him ending up that high this year. Most interesting match for him will be the one against his leader, A. J. Styles for reason explained above but also because, since it’s Styles, this might become the best match of his career. Will need to be carried by everybody else, but I guess he’s used to that by now.

Doc Gallows:

Gallows participates in his second tournament and it’s difficult to see what he can achieve, aside from making up the numbers. That being said, like I hinted when talking about Tenzan, there might be a side story to his participation. Any Champion entering the tournament runs the risk of being challenged later on by whomever manages to beat him. Now, Gallows is the current heavyweight tag team champion (alongside Karl Anderson). And Anderson is in Block B with one Satoshi Kojima. That’s right, the current tag team champions will, individually, face the members of TenCozy, one of the most decorated tag teams in NJPW history. Isn’t that interesting? NJPW’s tag team scene is in a slump right now, and they don’t really have good teams available. While not  a long-term solution a Tenzan/Kojima reunion would actually make sense at this point and buy NJPW some time to prepare for their big tag Team tournament later this year. If Tenzan beats Gallows and Kojima beats Anderson, you know what’s next.

 

B Block:

Shinsuke Nakamura:

The odds-on favorite to win this one. Since losing the IC title, fans have been anticipating the return of Nakamura to the Heavyweight title picture. As said above, rumors about Okada vs Nakamura at WK 10 are very insistent so this is Nakamura’s to win. Or is it? Traditionally the winner receives a contract for Wrestle Kingdom and then spends the rest of the year fending off challenges in order to keep that contract. So even if Shinsuke doesn’t win, there is still a way for him to bring himself back in the main event at WK. The reason I mention this are the hints about Nakamura going full-on heel on Okada. This might actually be a good way for an heel Nakamura to keep fans guessing as to what he will do next. Regardless of what road NJPW’s bookers have chosen, Nakamura remains THE one to watch. If he wins, relationships between the various CHAOS members will become strained as we get closer to WK. If he somehow fails to win, expect whomever kept him from victory to experience his wrath in the coming months. Watch out for his clash against Okada on the very last day of this event.

Kazuchika Okada:

It is perhaps strange to note that the current IWGP Heavyweight Champion, two time winner of the G (in three participations, this will be his fourth), and wrestler with the most momentum right now has no chance of winning. But the facts are there. Most on-going story-lines were neatly wrapped-up at Dominion, meaning the G1 climax will determine who does what in the coming months. Having Okada win this one would, therefore, make no sense at all. As with all little holders, the big question remains if anyone not named Nakamura can beat him during this event. If anyone can, you will know the name of his first challenger for the Heavyweight title.

Hirooki Goto:

The current IC champion and former winner of the g1 (2008) should also know the name of his  next challenger once the event is over. While Goto should end up high, him winning is very unlikely. What is likely is him picking a win over Nakamura or Okada or both. Doing that creates a very viable challenger for the IGWP Heavyweight title somewhere down the line.

Tomohiro Ishii:

The Stone Pit-bull always goes all out in such events but years of hard-hitting matches and subsequent injuries raises questions about how long he can keep this up. It is unclear where Ishii goes next after losing the NEVER Openweight Championship to Makabe, but, as a fellow CHAOS member, he  possibly has a role to play in the upcoming Nakamura/Okada drama. Should be game for some more amazing performances IF his body holds up.

Michael Elgin:

First time ever that Elgin sets foot in Japan and he’s immediately in for a very big test. Elgin has always expressed his hopes of one day participating in this very tournament and his style of wrestling, while often criticized in the States, is actually tailor-made for NJPW. An absolute wild-card, there is no telling what Elgin is capable of here. One thing is sure though, he should have good to great matches against most of the guys here, and I, for one, can not wait for his clash against Ishii.

Yugi Nagata:

The 47 year old veteran has already proven this year he can still go against the very best, so don’t expect him to stay in the shadows during this one. No chance of winning, but watch out for his matches against the top guys. Legend that still delivers whenever he is between those ropes.

Satoshi Kojima:

Pretty much the same observations as with Tenzan for Kojima.

Tomohaki Honma:

Honma’s legend was cemented in last year’s tournament. The Heroic Loser managed to come out of the tournament with tons of momentum despite losing every one of his matches. Honma has continued to shine this year, in the role of perpetual loser who always goes all out to pick up that elusive wins. Always in for amazing performances and one of the crowd favorites in new Japan, I expect some upset wins from him this year. Winning against Okada to challenge him later on might be a stretch but IC Champion Goto is another matter entirely. Always one to watch for his extremely entertaining matches.

Karl Anderson:

Pretty much the same thing as with tag team partner Gallows in Block A, only difference is Anderson doesn’t need to be carried to good matches.

Yujiro Takahashi:

The most exiting thing about Takahashi will be the entrance of his scantily clad girlfriend. Cannon fodder.

 

For those who are interested, I will remind everybody that every day of the tournament will be available on the Ne japan World network for a mere 8,50 dollars a month. Just don’t forget to choose English as language, it will make things much easier for you.

I will make regular updates as soon as the results come in and try to review the most relevant matches as soon as possible.

Finally, as match of the week, I have chosen the amazing Okada vs nakamura final from last year. Enjoy!

That’s all from me this week, see you all very soon and have fun!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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