The best tournament in wrestling starts this weekend. The G1 Climax 28 kicks off this Saturday in Tokyo. A 20-person, four-week, festival of wrestling through to a final on August 12 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. Today we look at the leader of the most popular faction in New Japan, and maybe the world… Tetsuya Naito.
Twice before Tetsuya Naito has won the G1 climax, and twice he has been defeated in the Tokyo Dome for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. His first G1 triumph was met with derision and so much disinterest that his title match was relegated to the semi-main event in 2014. His second, last year, was welcomed with huge applause.
As the leader of Los Ingobernables de Japon, Naito found first a huge amount of heat with the crowd for his disrespect and heelish antics. But it didn’t take long for the stable’s quality and unique swagger to turn the jeers into cheers. He lost a decisive G1 match to Kenny Omega in 2016, only to defeat him in the 2017 final in an epic match.
Naito went into the Wrestle Kingdom 12 main event as the fan favorite to dethrone Okada, only to fail once again in a terrific match. The ungovernable one clearly has unfinished business with the Tokyo Dome, the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, and New Japan’s fans. Is January 4, 2019 the moment he finally triumphs though?
Establishing his name
Okada had a 720-day reign as champion. Tanahashi is the most beloved wrestler in the company. Kenny Omega was the man to finally beat Okada and is the current champion. The rest of New Japan’s “big four” all have their identifying feature and unique claim to prominence within the company right now. What does Naito have? Well, he has the adoration of the audience, but that can be fleeting.
What he could do with another tournament win this summer is surpass Tanahashi and Okada for G1 wins. Both have two, and neither have won back-to-back tournaments. In fact, the last person to successfully defend the G1 crown was Hiroyoshi Tenzan in 2004. That is a huge gap, and another win from Naito would cement him as a serious player in New Japan in his own right and on a level with Okada, Tanahashi, and Omega. That is why Tetsuya Naito should win the G1 this year.