The greatest tournament in wrestling starts this weekend. The G1 Climax 28 kicks off on Saturday in Tokyo. A 20-person, four-week, slog through to a final that will decide who challenges for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Wrestle Kingdom 13 in January 2019.
The field is one of the most stacked in years, with legends like Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada battling against up and comers like Jay White and Juice Robinson. Before the tournament starts, we should look at who has a chance to win the whole thing and why. We start with the freshly dethroned Rainmaker himself, Kazuchika Okada.
The New Ace
Okada has been firmly atop New Japan for a while now. The last time he wasn’t in the IWGP heavyweight championship match on January 4 was in 2012. He has had three matches with Tanahashi, two with Tetsuya Naito, and one with current champ Kenny Omega in the Tokyo Dome, and him not being involved in the title showpiece in 2019 is kind of unthinkable at this point.
The Rainmaker comes into the G1 after an incredible, record-smashing, 720-day reign. Okada has truly supplanted Tanahashi as the ace of New Japan Pro Wrestling, and in your biggest show you tend to have your biggest star in the main event.
Okada has already had four outstanding one on one matches with Kenny Omega, their first of which was the best Tokyo Dome main event in history. Each one of their matches has somehow managed to top what came before it. The match in which Okada was finally dethroned was 65 minutes of brilliance, and the most anticipated match in the wrestling world is Okada-Omega V. Do New Japan want to pull the trigger on it in January? Maybe.
The stage matters
Okada was in his third reign before he finally beat Hiroshi Tanahashi in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom. Tetsuya Naito has won two G1’s and held the title, but he is yet to win a Tokyo Dome Heavyweight Championship match. New Japan have very clearly established that the stage a match is on matters. You can be a champion in New Japan, but you can’t be THE champion in New Japan until you win the main event of Wrestle Kingdom. Okada has won the last three. He is the roadblock that people need to go through at the Tokyo Dome, that Kenny Omega and Tetsuya Naito need to go through. Whoever is champion going into Wrestle Kingdom 13, it is all for nothing if they can’t beat the Rainmaker on the biggest stage. That’s why he should win the G1 this year.