Beginning Sept. 18, New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) will kickoff their biggest event of the year. G1 Climax 31 will officially start as the worldwide fan-favorite round-robin tournament will have a different look this year than possibly ever before. With COVID-19 still limiting NJPW from having their complete roster, they will lean on some of the lower names that make up their roster to fill out the field. Jay White, Will Ospreay, Juice Robinson, and Minoru Suzuki are the major names missing the tournament this year as they set themselves as part of the NJPW Strong roster in the United States. However, the favorites remain as the back-to-back reigning champion Kota Ibushi will take part as well as the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion, Shingo Takagi.
Here’s a preview of each competitor and their odds of winning as G1 Climax 31 approaches.
G1 Climax 31 — A Block
For the first time in his career, Great-O-Khan will enter the G1 Climax. A huge spot for the wild card of The United Empire. Great-O-Khan has worked well alongside Jeff Cobb since Will Ospreay got injured, allowing him to continue his steady rise to the top of the card. His biggest win thus far in his career is against Tetsuya Naito, who he defeated earlier this year in the New Japan Cup. Coincidentally, they will face off on the final day for the A Block, which means this first tournament for Great-O-Khan could be one of the finest showings a first-timer has had. Expect him to get some major wins and be one of the breakout wrestlers in the entire tournament.
KENTA is the dark horse of the A Block. As someone who has already shown that he can compete in the G1 Climax at a high level, this year could be his chance to take the next step and potentially represent the block. In his pre-tournament interview, he stated that YOSHI-HASHI was one of the opponents he was looking forward to facing. Of course, he soon learned that would not be happening due to the fact that they are in different blocks. Tough look for KENTA, who now has to get his head back in the game in a hilarious manner. That being said, let’s not think this is more of a mind game by KENTA than anything else. A final day matchup with back-to-back winner Kota Ibushi could be a sign that he will be in contention come the final day.
Kota Ibushi is striving to make some more history. The back-to-back G1 Climax winner will look to make it a third win in a row, which would make him the first man to do so in history. If he manages to make it to the finals, then that would be four years in a row for that as well. That’s a lot to ask from “The Golden Star” but he is on the run of his career. As the proving ground of the A Block, he is going to have to put together a herculean effort to make history and finally get back to the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship that he created. We do not expect him to win this year but he’s is never out of the question with so much uncertainty in NJPW.
Tanga Loa will make his first appearance in a G1 Climax, getting an incredible opportunity to show what he is made of outside of tag team wrestling. His brother, Tama Tonga, will be in the B Block, allowing Loa to stand out on his own for what will really be the first time. The Bullet Club member is going to have help, that’s for certain. But more than anything, this should be a shot for Loa to show the world that he is much more than one-half of Guerrillas of Destiny. He will finish towards the bottom of the block seeing that this is the more star-studded of the two but expect him to steal a win or two against top competitors.
There may be no bigger name to bet on in the A Block than the leader of Los Ingobernables de Japon, Tetsuya Naito. The two-time G1 Climax winner has his eyes back on the Wrestle Kingdom main event after competing in it for the last two years straight. His shortcomings in title matches this year include him losing the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships to Kota Ibushi, losing an IWGP Intercontinental Championship match against Ibushi once again, and losing the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship in his first defense alongside SANADA. It hasn’t been a banner year for Naito but as we know from his past, he can heat up very quickly. A meeting with stablemate Shingo Takagi is enticing and most will agree he is a favorite to win the entire tournament this year.
NJPW fans dream that one day, somehow, someway Tomohiro Ishii is able to break through and win the top championship in the company. The G1, of course, is the best way to do that but takes a run that Ishii has never been able to put together in his career. “The Stone Pitbull” is sure to have some matches that are considered some of the best in the entire tournament, but the likelihood of him doing anything more than finishing in the middle of the block isn’t too high.
The ultimate tournament spoiler will return to the G1 Climax once again this year as it is time for Toru Yano to shock the world. Of course, it’s impossible to think that he could pull off enough stunning wins to seriously contend, but those at the top are likely to have a Yano upset circled on their lineup as they try to avoid it. He’s not going to win but as we saw with Jon Moxley two years ago, he can change the direction of this tournament dramatically.
No one has been better in NJPW this year than Shingo Takagi. In what many people consider a down year for the promotion, the reigning IWGP World Heavyweight Champion has brought his game to an entirely new level. Whether it be his feud with Will Ospreay, two classics with Hiroshi Tanahashi, or becoming the world champion in NJPW for the very first time, it has been the “Year of the Dragon.” So why would it be so crazy to think that Takagi could continue to stun everyone and change what many believe to be an automatic loss in tournaments by the world champions? Takagi has had the power all year long. All signs point to him possibly making some magic in this tournament and shocking the world in his efforts to win. He likely won’t win but this is a weird year for NJPW.
Yujiro Takahashi returns to the G1 Climax field for the second year in a row and will look to have a better showing than in 2020. Last year, Takahashi was only able to pick up one victory, acquiring two points in doing so. His win came on the final day for his block as he defeated Jeff Cobb. While he is in the tougher block, Takahashi could prove to be a spoiler for his Bullet Club allies as well as his former NO LIMIT tag team partner in Tetsuya Naito. It will be interesting to see how many points Takahashi can put together this year. We expect it to be more than two.
Zack Sabre Jr.
Zack Sabre Jr. never fails to be one of the more interesting guys to look at when the G1 comes around. First off, he manages to weaken competitors in his block unlike any other with his submission prowess and technical savvy. The problem, however, is that he can get so caught up in what he’s doing that his opponents often take advantage and steal wins, even if he dominates. It’s an odd case to deal with, but it is the truth. Yet, Sabre Jr. has a chance to be the first gaijin to win the G1 since 2016 when Kenny Omega snatched the victory and went onto Wrestle Kingdom. His knowledge of many wrestlers’ weak points may be what gives him a shot at winning this, but expect him to finish in the middle of the block.
G1 Climax 31 — B Block
Chase Owens is one of the six members of Bullet Club making an appearance in the G1 Climax. This will be his first time ever participating in the round-robin tournament. He will not be winning and is likely to finish at the bottom of the block.
EVIL is a contender. With the House of Torture on his side, who knows what the ceiling is for the “King of Darkness.” Many have become sick of his matches as the Bullet Club, specifically Dick Togo, have managed to aid him in efforts to win. He is fresh off a loss in to Shingo Takagi, so this will be his only chance to get back to an IWGP World Heavyweight Championship match for the time being. Looking at the rest of the field, it would not surprise anyone to see EVIL come near the top. He should at the very least play spoiler to the likes of Hiroshi Tanahashi or Kazuchika Okada, who may need a win over EVIL to be contenders at the end of the G1.
2008. It’s been a long time since Hirooki Goto won the G1 Climax but that has not stopped him from being one of the tournament’s best performers year in and year out. Goto is a special talent who might be one of the more underrated in the history of NJPW but without an IWGP World Heavyweight Championship reign to his name, it will probably stay that way. We aren’t saying that this is Goto’s last shot to accomplish the goal of winning the big one, but it very well could be. Goto has had one of the best runs of his career teaming with Tomohiro Ishii and YOSHI-HASHI. Maybe he can use the momentum from defending the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Titles time and time again to get through this and win his second G1 Climax. Not all that likely but never say never in pro wrestling.
The IWGP United States Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi has had a resurgence this year. As a three-time winner of the G1 Climax, Tanahashi could put together one last all-time performance to main event Wrestle Kingdom one more time. Seeing that many began to doubt the “Ace” last year, this year has been nothing but eye-opening. Winning multiple titles, having a countless amount of match-of-the-year-caliber bouts, and showing the world that he is still NJPW’s God makes us believe that even when it seems unlikely, it’s better to bet with the “Ace” than against. Tanahashi is going to find some challengers in this one and will get to relive his historic rivalry with Kazuchika Okada, but expect him to finish towards the head of the block once more. Forever the “Ace.”
Without Will Ospreay around, Jeff Cobb has done everything in his power to take over as The United Empire‘s leader in Japan. In doing so, he has managed to pick up the biggest singles win in his career by defeating Kazuchika Okada right before this tournament kicks off. A wave of momentum that few others have makes us believe this could be the year Cobb has his best finish ever. Cobb managed to finish with eight points a year ago but again, the momentum has to drive him to his best finish this year. How many people will be taking a Tour of the Islands? More than ever before. Cobb finishes behind the obvious favorites as a potential player to win the block, but that makes him the B Block dark horse in our book.
“The Rainmaker” must be on a mission. Having not won the G1 Climax since 2014, Kazuchika Okada is in dire need of a major win. It was earlier this year that he was eliminated in the first round of the New Japan Cup. Okada lost the match against Shingo Takagi to crown a new IWGP World Heavyweight Champion. His last major match at Wrestle Grand Slam saw him lose to Jeff Cobb. There’s a lot going wrong here for “The Rainmaker” and the only thing he seems to be missing is red hair and his balloons from when he lost the IWGP Heavyweight Championship to Kenny Omega. The sky is falling for Okada and yet he never ceases to get caught up in the noise. Instead, he turns it around and shows why he is can still be one of the best in the world.
Okada is not only a favorite to win the G1 Climax this year but very well should be the odds on favorite to reclaim his glory. It’s long overdue and the time is coming for “The Rainmaker” to get back to the summit of the NJPW mountain.
Can this be the year of SANADA? Time and time again, “The Cold Skull” has been a name that so many consider as a future world champion. Now at 33 years old, the clock is ticking on when that potential becomes “what if?” It was only a year ago that SANADA won his block but it was also a reminder that despite all the opportunities, he continuously comes up short. In a block that on paper looks top-heavy, this might finally be if for SANADA. Both EVIL and Shingo Takagi have skipped in front of him in terms of wrestlers expected to win the world title, something that SANADA has to have in the back of his mind. “The Cold Skull” stated that he would retire if he didn’t win this year before turning back on it seconds later. The consideration to say that means this is everything for SANADA.
Taichi, like YOSHI-HASHI, is in an interesting situation this year. Over the last 365 days, Taichi has shown that he is far more of an overall wrestler than many gave him credit for. His teaming with Zack Sabre Jr. of the Dangerous Tekkers has managed to show people how good he is. Looking further to what he could do in the G1 this year, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him get some huge wins and finish closer to the top of the block than ever before. He finished with eight points last year, the same as current IWGP World Heavyweight Champion, Shingo Takagi. Taichi has a decent track record and could be a potential name to hit double digits for the first time ever.
2021 will be the first time that Tama Tonga enters the G1 Climax since 2018, where he tied for last place in his block with six points. The entry for him this year will likely seem him finish towards the same spot this year as well with few wins expected to come for one-half of the Guerrillas of Destiny. He will have to compete with two other Bullet Club members as well which should be an interesting thing to see for some. Don’t expect Tonga to total more than eight points at the most.
YOSHI-HASHI’s improvement as a competitor continues to show match after match, leading to his entry into the G1 to be a special one. He’s no favorite but when you take a look at the rest of the block, his name jumps off the board as the one who could finish remarkably high all things considered. It’s going to take a couple of upsets, but the beauty of what YOSHI-HASHI is in this one is that a win wouldn’t be a surprise nor would a loss. Expect a solid showing from YOSHI-HASHI who could hit four wins in the tournament if all were to go right.
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