Note: This article includes results for all G1 shows, including today's Yokohama B Block show
For the purposes of deciding who will compete in the G1 Climax 28 finals on Sunday, August 12, only four of the final ten matches have meaning. The final nights of A and B block action, taking place at legendary Nippon Budokan on Friday and Saturday. Only six of the twenty competitors can make it.
We know who they are. We know what they need to do to make the final. But what’s going to happen? Let’s take a look at the scenarios and storylines leading into the last three shows of the best tournament of the year.
Hiroshi Tanahashi - 14 points (7-1, lost to Jay White)
Kazuchika Okada - 12 points (6-2, lost to Jay White, Bad Luck Fale)
Switchblade Jay White - 12 points (6-2, lost to Minoru Suzuki, Bad Luck Fale)
On Friday, Jay White faces EVIL in the undercard. If White wins, that eliminates Okada, as Switchblade defeated Okada the first night of the G1. Perhaps intriguingly, the only way White can still make it to the final if he wins is via an Okada win over Tanahashi. If Tana wins or draws, he eclipses White in points and waltzes into the final without having to worry about tiebreakers or the like. When you consider the added wrinkle of White’s attempts to terrorize his CHAOS brethren, perhaps wrenching leadership of the faction from Okada by hook or by crook (definitely by crook) and the idea of an Okada win accomplishing nothing but getting this bratty kid who cheated to beat him night one and seems hell-bent on ruining his life into the G1 final seems like it would be pretty fun. Hey, maybe Okada doesn’t try as hard as he could and ends up losing. Sure seems like that would further ignite the feud between Switchblade and the Rainmaker leading into the fall.
If White loses, he’s out of the race and it comes down to the two men set to square off in the final A block match, Tanahashi and Okada. This is the marquee feud of the modern New Japan era, a long story of Okada’s repeated attempts to prove himself better than the Ace over multiple Wrestle Kingdom main events before finally getting the win and the unofficial title of Ace of New Japan at Wrestle Kingdom 10 in his third attempt. Since then, Okada’s gone on a tear, including breaking every record in the book along his legendary 720 day reign as IWGP Heavyweight champion. The last major record he broke, that of the most title defenses in a single reign, was held by one Hiroshi Tanahashi. And he went through Tanahashi to do it back in May at Wrestling Dontaku, dispatching him with just one Rainmaker to presumably shut the door on their feud.
Of course, that Okada’s a pretty far fly from the Okada we’ve seen in the G1. Ever since losing his title to Kenny Omega at Dominion, Okada’s been lost in the wilderness. He’s left his garish, golden Rainmaker robe behind, dyed his hair red and runs around the ring with a bunch of balloons during his ring entrance (much to the dismay of CHAOS stablemate and G1 English commentator Rocky Romero, who’s met the balloons head on more than once during the tournament). People say his identity was tied to the title in more ways than we may have considered, and the way he’s deteriorated since losing the belt seems to lend credence to that concept. And going into the G1 with two straight losses to Jay White and Bad Luck Fale meant he hadn’t won a singles match in a month and a half (he also lost in rather surprising fashion to Zack Sabre Jr at one of the Strong Style Evolved UK shows).
And Tanahashi’s been barely the man we’ve known for so long as the shining star of New Japan Pro Wrestling. Since Minoru Suzuki gleefully tore his leg from his body at New Beginning in January, Tanahashi’s made some strides here and there but has had little to show for it. A loss in the finals of the New Japan Cup to Zack Sabre Jr. meant he only really had the Okada match at Dontaku as his sole big main event of the year, and has otherwise been relegated to tag matches on all the big shows. But he’s come into the G1 with a vengeance and a point to prove, only losing one match (to White) all tournament. He has the most points of anyone in either block going into the Budokan shows.
Tanahashi hasn’t main evented a Wrestle Kingdom show since 2016. He had main evented 8 out of 10 Wrestle Kingdoms up to that point. Age, a beaten body and a move toward younger, flashier talent seems to point to Tanahashi perhaps approaching joining the New Japan Dads, the folks early on in the card like Yuji Nagata, Nakanishi, Kojima and Tenzan who put on some fun matches early on in the card but aren’t considered threats for any titles any time soon. It seems fitting Tanahashi might have one last Wrestle Kingdom main event in him before he passes into memory as the superstar he is. But will that be this year? We’ll find out on Friday, and perhaps Sunday.
Kenny Omega - 12 points (6-2, lost to Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano)
Tetsuya Naito - 12 points (6-2, lost to Kenny Omega, Kota Ibushi)
Kota Ibushi - 10 points (5-3, lost to SANADA, Toru Yano, Tama Tonga)
I don’t think many expected both Omega and Ibushi to take losses on today’s G1 show, but the constant interference of the Tongan faction of Bullet Club managed to ensure both men were looking at the lights as their matches ended. That’s the best possible news for Naito, who dispatched stablemate SANADA to move even with Kenny Omega on points at 6-2. The problem for Naito? Those two losses were to Omega and Ibushi, who will face off in singles competition for the first time in six years since their legendary DDT match that saw Ibushi banned from Budokan forever for doing a moonsault off the balcony after he was expressly told NOT to do a moonsault off the balcony (Hey, Ibushi gonna Ibushi). The ban has since been lifted, but it's hard not to notice that Ibushi's been going out of his way to moonsault off balconies throughout this tournament. Is he getting it out of his system now, or is another lifetime ban imminent in his future?
Earlier in the night, Naito faces off against Zack Sabre Jr. Zack, like Ibushi, is also on 10 points, but his losses to both Ibushi and Omega mean there’s no possible way he could make the final. If Naito loses, his hope for the finals is dashed. If he wins, that eliminates Ibushi from the running and would allow Naito to sneak his way into the final with either an Ibushi win or a time limit draw that would keep Omega below 14 points.
All Omega has to do is something he’s never done. Defeat his best friend and Golden Lover Kota Ibushi in one on one competition.
It seems to me that there’s about a 50/50 shot of Naito winning his match against Zack, but I would think the likelihood is a bit higher than that. Zack beat Naito in the first round of the New Japan Cup earlier this year, so this would be an opportunity for Naito to avenge that loss. He’s also the most popular wrestler in the company and has had a bit of a down year, losing to Okada at Wrestle Kingdom, failing to impress in a meaningless IWGP Intercontinental Championship reign that ended at the hands of Chris Jericho, who hasn’t even been seen in the company since. A second straight G1 finals appearance (after winning it all last year) would do quite a bit to put him back on the path to stardom.
It also would have interesting implications for the Omega/Ibushi match, as they would go into it knowing that Ibushi can’t possibly make the final. Should Ibushi just lay down for Kenny, giving his best friend a spot in the final when he himself can’t make it? How would Omega react if Ibushi gives it all and beats him (or they draw), and he’s been shut out of making a third straight G1 finals appearance (a record) for no gain on Ibushi’s end but pride. Could this perhaps be the chink in the armor of the Golden Lovers that leads to a split and singles feud down the line, perhaps if Omega loses the IWGP Heavyweight title at Wrestle Kingdom?
The Omega/Ibushi saga’s been going on for literally a decade. And there’s no way this match at Budokan on Saturday is the final chapter. They’ll have much more to say before that. And hopefully there won’t be any Tongans trying to say it for them on Saturday.
My current prediction? White loses to EVIL, freeing up the Tanahashi/Okada match to be a winner take all battle. Tanahashi succeeds, continuing Okada’s post-Rainmaker breakdown, especially after Okada successfully (and with finality) beat him for his title defense record at Dontaku. The six straight wins that seemed to point to Okada recapturing some of that Rainmaker magic blows up in his face and he remains lost in the wilderness with no way to get back the title that made him a king.
On the B block side, I think Naito has to beat Zack to set up the moral dilemma underpinning the Omega/Ibushi match. Granted, I thought Ibushi was winning the block before the tournament started (and beating Okada to set up another Omega/Ibushi matchup at Wrestle Kingdom), but with the way things have played out, that doesn’t seem to be in the cards anymore. I do believe that Omega and Ibushi will draw to preserve the mystique of that matchup in a New Japan ring when they get to do it again for real this time (as it were). I also don’t think it’s the best look to have Omega lose his last three G1 matches, even after rattling off wins in the first six without too much trouble.
So that means Naito versus Tanahashi for the G1 title. And I think the Ace gets one last chance, picking up his third G1 title and setting up a head-on clash with Omega at the Tokyo Dome, the ultimate case of Old School versus New School.
Will that happen? Who knows? Well, Gedo does. We’ll find out this weekend.