With the 32nd installment of the G1 Climax looming, more like a dreaded rainstorm than the summer heat wave it once felt like, it’s time to predict a seemingly predictable tournament. A quick glance at the blocks gives an indication of who is most likely to win each, and advance to the semi-finals and final. It seems unlikely that New Japan Pro-Wrestling will pull a rabbit out of the hat and give an outsider a spot in finals, as the rearranged configuration of the G1 Climax 32 tournament is a big change from the status-quo in itself.
Instead of the two blocks of ten wrestlers we’ve come to know and love, NJPW has enlarged the field by eight to include seven wrestlers in four separate blocks. This has included the surprises of Lance Archer, Tom Lawlor, and JONAH, but also the entries of some wrestlers who may bring the quality of this G1 down.
These wrestlers were often called “night-off” wrestlers, where the front-line stars could have a less intensive match to break up the attritional schedule. However, if they’re “night-off” wrestlers this year, then there wouldn’t be a whole lot of “nights-on” for the upper echelon wrestlers of the tournament field.
There are plenty of disappointing entries, but there are also some clear choices for the G1 Climax 32 tournament victor.
Potential G1 Climax 32 Winners
1. Kazuchika Okada
The Rainmaker is always a safe bet when it comes to winning in NJPW. He might not be the Ace, but he is the golden goose of the company. With that comes a weight of responsibility, as well as a host of championships and tournament glory. Whenever Okada walks into a G1 without the top title (IWGP World Heavyweight Championship) around his waist, there is a good chance he could win the tournament. He looks like the sole potential winner of A Block, with Jeff Cobb being a distant second.
A Jay White vs Kazuchika Okada Tokyo Dome main event is a distinct possibility, given their history, stunning in-ring chemistry, and immense selling power. It would be firmly characteristic of NJPW to go for this match at Wrestle Kingdom – a tried and tested match that will draw big and deliver in-ring.
Having won the G1 only last year, an Okada victory is put under a little bit of doubt. However, this hasn’t stopped NJPW before. Sometimes the safe bet isn’t a bad option. Okada is certainly that for the G1 Climax 32.
2. Tetsuya Naito
The list of usual suspects continues, as it isn’t outside of the realm of possibility that Tetsuya Naito stands tall at the end of the G1 Climax in 2022. Given his injury worries and ever-increasing age, it may seem odd to suggest that Naito is a firm candidate for this year’s tournament.
Yet, he has had time to recuperate and definitely has enough in the tank to challenge for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship in another headline-grabbing Wrestle Kingdom main event. Naito joins Okada as the most obvious choices for the tournament’s victor. The Ungovernable One is a sturdy fan-favorite, and is destined to have a long run at the top. He’s not one to be halted by a title change or prohibited by bad booking. Rather, he may enjoy a true, lengthy reign as New Japan’s upper-most champion.
Jay White vs Tetsuya Naito isn’t a match that has been overdone; it is fresh. It would be a great Wrestle Kingdom main event for 2023, something that the Tokyo Dome certainly needs if its seats are going to be occupied. In a time where NJPW fans aren’t fully on board with the product, it would be a push in the right direction to have Naito claim victory. It would be an instant success story for the masses.
3. Will Ospreay
This is more of an outside bet for a few reasons, but Will Ospreay is a potential winner of this year’s G1 Climax.
Ospreay is currently the IWGP United States Heavyweight Champion. This is the main indicator that he won’t go on to win the tournament, although it might not stop NJPW. Wrestle Kingdom continuing in its two-night form means it wouldn’t be impossible for the United States Heavyweight Champion to defend his title while also challenging for the top prize, but it would be a strange move.
Also, Ospreay may have a program with the captivating Katsuyori Shibata on the way after their brief interaction at the Forbidden Door PPV. This would dispel any chance of him winning the tournament, as Ospreay vs Shibata is a Wrestle Kingdom-level match if it does come to fruition.
Ospreay is the favorite to win the D Block, with Shingo Takagi marginally behind in an obvious two-horse race. For NJPW to go beyond this, and have Ospreay enter the final or even win the G1, would be a very bold move. It isn’t fully out of the picture, but it’s teetering on the edge.
4. Jay White
Another dark horse option for G1 winner is the reigning IWGP World Heavyweight Champion, Jay White.
NJPW has tried to stir the pot, with Jay White winning the Rights to Challenge briefcase from G1 Climax 30 winner Kota Ibushi a clear example. The Switchblade could make history again by being the first champion to win the tournament – forcing him to pick his own challenger for Wrestle Kingdom, rather than the tournament winner getting that spot.
It would fit the Jay White story to win the G1 Climax 32 as champion, though there are plenty of better stories that could be told. This could be a route to get to a Kenny Omega return match for the title, against White at Wrestle Kingdom. Realistically, this isn’t going to happen.
Jay White is an outside bet for a reason. It’s unlikely that the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion wins the G1 Climax. With the field being seemingly as predictable as ever, it is almost clutching at straws to suggest anyone other than Okada and Naito. Yet, it is worth a thought that New Japan may cast away the book of conventions and likelihoods and instead plow on with a wild pick as G1 winner.
5. Shingo Takagi
Finally, a more reasonable and somewhat more likely possibility – Shingo Takagi.
The Dragon has risen up the NJPW ranks quite astonishingly, cementing himself as a top-line star in the promotion. This isn’t something many non-homegrown wrestlers can say. Takagi is an immense fan favorite, with a spellbinding track record in New Japan already under his belt. He reigned as IWGP World Heavyweight Champion, shepherding NJPW through the jeopardous nights of the pandemic.
The former Dragon Gate man is a possible G1 Climax 32 winner. He is someone NJPW has grown to trust. Shingo Takagi delivered in every high-level match that he has had. He has proven himself to be one of the best wrestlers in the world. In my mind, Takagi is the third most likely to leave the Nippon Budokan on August 18th with the glorious G1 trophy under his arm. A few years ago, this would’ve seemed a pipedream, much like a Tomohiro Ishii G1 triumph, but Shingo’s elevation has made him a serious contender on the lofty New Japan stage.
That being said, Kazuchika Okada and Tetsuya Naito remain the most likely candidates to be victorious come the tournament’s end. However, the G1 Climax 32 has the opportunity to provide a major shift in New Japan booking, with a number of dark horses making possible an unpredictable result.
Only time will tell if NJPW stick with the tried and tested, or if they divert course and opt for a G1 winner plucked out of left-field.
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