With the start of the G1 upon us, we take a fourth and final look at the participants, their prospects and key matches to come.
Jay White・2nd entry, 2nd consecutive
If there’s one lesson to learn from Jay White, whether one likes the man or not, it’s that he delivers on his promises. From wreaking havoc through his betrayal of CHAOS that sent shockwaves through NJPW, to defeating Okada in the Tokyo Dome, to seizing the IWGP Heavyweight Championship on his first try; all events Jay White promised would happen beforehand, and then made good on. It’s fair to say a declaration of G1 victory from the Switchblade carries a good deal of weight.
Even more so when one considers Jay’s almost spotless record so far in 2019. His IWGP Heavyweight Championship reign crashed to a halt at zero defences, but did so in front of a packed Madison Square Garden at the end of a match White wrestled flawlessly; his only downfall was a superhuman Okada who went above and beyond flawless. That one nagging defeat will eat at White, and drive him through a G1 that sees him hard to bet against.
Key matches: July 15, Hokkaido (vs Ishii)
Jay has earned a well deserved reputation over the past year and a half as one of the best defensive wrestlers on the planet. He is adept at changing gears, at allowing his opponent to take the match in one direction for a time before dramatically turning everything on its head. Yet against a master of pure, full steam ahead offense in the form of Tomohiro Ishii, how will White stack up?
August 11, Budokan (vs Naito)
White and Naito may well be the two bookmaker’s favourites in B block, and they’re meeting one another on the last night of group action. In one corner, a man in Naito who has been to the top and tasted G1 glory twice before. In the other, somebody who has tasted plenty of other success in his short career, and is full of confidence. One can easily imagine both men being in the mix in the final day of action making this first time singles confrontation all the more exciting.
Jeff Cobb・First entry
One of four debutants in B block, Cobb is a fascinating figure to watch during the tournament. Cobb made his New Japan debut during the 2017 World Tag League, but in 2019, NJPW fans have really sat up and taken notice of Cobb as a singles wrestler. A huge moment in Cobb’s year was in Madison Square Garden where he defeated WIll Ospreay to lift the NEVER Openweight Championship, a title he held along with the ROH World Television Championship.
His NEVER reign didn’t last long however, and he relinquished the title to Taichi in May at Dontaku. The world has seen just how effective Cobb is with his awesome power and dynamic motion. Cobb maintained an impressive nine month undefeated streak in ROH that only came to an end in late June at the hands of Matt Taven. Can he replicate that impressive consistency through the G1?
Key matches July 28, Aichi (vs Taichi)
On July 28, Cobb faces Taichi in Aichi but his mind will be in Fukuoka. It was in Fukuoka at Wrestling Dontaku in May that Taichi ended Jeff Cobb’s NEVER Openweight Championship reign without a successful defence. Back then, Suzuki-Gun was heavily involved during the match, and Cobb will be looking to make sure this bout stays one on one as he will try and avenge a lost title while seizing two valuable points.
August 4, Osaka (vs Goto)
One year ago, during the G1 Special in San Francisco’s Cow Palace, Cobb challenged for the NEVER Openweight Championship for the first time, coming up short against Hirooki Goto. Cobb wanted more of Goto however, and the feeling was mutual. After Cobb became ROH World Television Championship, Goto decided he wanted Cobb’s gold. Fate would intervene and ensure their second singles meeting didn’t occur until Honor Rising in Korakuen this February, a match Cobb won. Now, Osaka sees a rubber match as the tournament reaches a critical phase.
Jon Moxley・First entry・IWGP United States Champion
The self professed ‘international purveyor of violence’ has certainly lived up to his moniker thus far in NJPW. His quick dispatch of Shota Umino on June 9 at Dominion was certainly impressive, but it was four days earlier, and his unseating of Juice Robinson as IWGP US Champion in his debut match that let the world know Moxley was bringing his all to New Japan. Moxley has stated he would put absolutely everything on the line with every single match in the G1, and with his unique style, anything can happen; and likely will.
Key matches July 19, Korakuen Hall (vs Ishii)
Moxley presents a wildly unpredictable G1, and this match will be nothing if not wild and unpredictable. Moxley loves a fight, and Ishii will be absolutely delighted to give one to the Death Rider in Korakuen Hall.
July 24, Hiroshima (vs Takagi)
With the exception of Juice Robinson in the final night of block action in the Budokan, every opponent is a fresh one for Moxley. The first interaction between Mox and his opponents is one of the most exciting aspects of the tournament, but this is doubly the case with Shingo Takagi. The straight ahead, no nonsense stylings of Shingo should certainly pair intriguingly with Mox’s unorthodox approach, but these two aren’t exactly meeting for the first time. For a brief period, they were both in the same Kamikaze USA stable in Dragon Gate USA; though they never shared a ring as partners or opponents, they may have similar philosophies driving them.
Shingo Takagi・First entry
Takagi would have liked to come into this G1 as Best of the Super Juniors. Moreover, he would like to come into the G1 still undefeated. That didn’t come to pass, as on June 5, Will Ospreay handed Takagi his first pinfall defeat in NJPW. Takagi would reflect after his loss that a alck of experience with heavyweight competition was a contributing factor to his defeat; since then he has been testing the strength of both his arm and his jaw, as he prepares to hit and get hit harder than at any point in his career to date.
Key matches: August 1, Fukuoka (vs Cobb)
Shingo was, by some margin, the hardest hitter of Best of the Super Juniors. His powerful offense was effective against all his league opponents even as their style greatly differed from his own; Takagi was able to quickly assert himself and make his opponents wrestle his style of match.
Against Cobb, who marries unreal strength with a good deal of versatility and athleticism, Takagi faces one of the toughest challenges of his campaign. Takagi will have a hard time to make Cobb wrestle his way, and if he does, can a Pumping Bomber destroy a Suplex Party before it starts?
August 4, Osaka (vs Naito)
The second of two LIJ derbies in this G1 presents a fascinating clash. Coming toward the end of the campaign, Osaka is often the place for key victories that make or break tournaments. Both men will relish the chance to throw down with an ungovernable team mate, but there are personal stakes and history between Shingo and Naito in particular that make this match fascinating; while Takagi is the newest member of LIJ, he’s the one Naito has known for the longest, since his days rolling on the mats of the famed Hamaguchi Gym. Two points and a lot of personal pride are on the line here.
Long time coming? Taichi has been in NJPW for over a decade at this point, but only having transitioned to heavyweight in 2018, this is only the second year he has been in serious contention for a G1 entry. Last year, Taichi took badly to his exclusion from the tournament, an exclusion that gave his shoulder a sizable chip. That chip appeared to motivate Taichi to two NEVER Openweight Championships, and a series of impressive bouts against Tomohiro Ishii. Now in the G1, can the ‘black saint’ gain the recognition he feels he richly deserves?
July 24, Hiroshima (vs Goto)
Goto and Taichi first faced off way back in 2009, but it’s their clashes over the NEVER Openweight Championship in 2018 that will be freshest in the mind of the so-called ‘Holy Emperor’. Taichi regarded Goto with a typical amount of disdain en route to their first singles meeting in September, and would shock his opponent and the world when he landed Black Mephisto to claim victory and the championship.
Goto would demand a rematch Taichi refused to give, but when his scheduled first defence against Will Ospreay was affected by ospreay’s rib injury in the autumn, Goto wouldn’t be denied, and forced his way into the match. Goto would be triumphant that November night, sending the record at one win apiece for the year, and 2-1 Goto overall. How will their fourth singles meeting play out?
August 11, Budokan (vs Ishii)
The long history between Taichi and Ishii continues with a match at the culmination of B block in the Budokan. A decade ago, Ishii and Taichi (along with Tomoaki Honma and Milano Collection AT) were two of what Taichi calls the ‘four black saints’; individuals who chose to come from other promotions and make their name for themselves in NJPW even while the company was facing its most challenging period.
After years of toil, it was the G1 Climax in 2013 that finally saw Ishii become notorious and respected on a global scale, earning recognition Taichi feels he deserves but has never gotten. Bitterness brewed in Taichi for another six years before the two met in the New Japan Cup, Taichi’s pride being provoked by the Stone Pitbull, and the two having a memorable match. That bout was followed by a second war at Dominion; ultimately though, Ishii won both times. On August 11, Taichi seeks to finally make his mark on Ishii, Ishii seeks to finally bring the proud fighter in Taichi, and both seek to earn two critical points.