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NJPW G1 Climax 26: What wrestler & match are we excited to see?

The call went out to all corners of the F4W contributor universe for two simple questions related to the NJPW 2016 G1 Tournament: 

- What wrestler are you the most excited at seeing?

- Which match are you looking forward to the most?

Here's what they had to say:

Mike Sempervive, Wrestling Observer Live & Big Audio Nightmare co-host:

Wrestler: Individually, and hopefully this isn’t too much of a cop out, I’m most interested in seeing which NOAH outsider - Naomichi Marufuji or Katsuhiko Nakajima - finishes in a better position. Either way, considering both sides in the working relationship could benefit from some freshness, I’m interested to see if, or rather when, we see Nakajima back working for the Lion.

I wouldn’t mind seeing Marufuji on a regular basis in New Japan either, but, at this point, how much upside could there be? For the record, I think it will be Marufuji who ends up finishing better as I could see him winning Block A before losing in the finals.

Match: I have to admit that while I've never been a flag carrier for either guy, Nakajima and Katsuyori Shibata on July 24 (Block B, day two, fourth overall) in the Adam Summers Big Mouth LOUD reunion match is too tempting a spectacle for me not to pick. With Tomohiro Ishii in more of a "pro wrestler" block, this bout has the capability to be the tournament-stealing hard-hitter. Taking place so early, it may also play a major factor later on in a block that's overloaded (Nakajima, Shibata, Elgin, Naito, Omega) with post-tourney storyline possibilities.

Jeremy Peeples, Lucha Underground TV recapper:

Wrestler: SANADA’s New Japan run hasn’t quite gone as planned, but he is someone who should do very well in the G1 this year. He came in with a fair amount of hype being used as a main event-level henchman, which should be a good role for him. He hasn't been used very well though and has lost some questionable matches. SANADA is young enough and certainly good enough to excel in at least a NEVER Title-level role now, if not an IC Title role in a year - but he needs to look strong against every top guy he faces. 

I wouldn’t expect a win over Okada - but a win over Tanahashi with the story being that Tanahashi is recovering from an injury would help him out a lot. They could also go back and forth and the more he’s in there with the ace of the promotion, the more credibility he gains over the short and long-term.

Naomichi Marufuji

JJ Williams, NXT roving reporter:

Wrestler: Naomichi Marufuji (seen above) being involved in the G1 itself was a surprise as he is one of the best outside talents NJPW has brought in for the tournament in recent years. The entire block has fresh match-ups with him involved and a good performance could open the door for a transition from NOAH to NJPW. In past visits to NJPW, Marufuji was mostly involved with the junior division or tag team matches. This is a major opportunity to work with some of the company’s best veterans in the A Block.

Match: Tetsuya Naito vs. Kenny Omega is the most intriguing match and with its placement on the last day of the B Block, it’s expected to be an important one. These are the two leaders of the top heel factions in the promotion, both with their own unique crowd reactions. Naito would be the crowd favorite yet deep down, the people do enjoy Omega and knowing that The Elite will be full of surprises, this one could have a few twists and turns.

Bryan Rose, NJPW & WWE Cruiserweight Classic recapper:

Wrestler: I think one person I am looking forward to seeing in the G1 tournament is Katsuhiko Nakajima for one main reason: I haven’t seen a lot of him! I always try and watch Pro Wrestling NOAH whenever I get the chance, but it isn’t often. I always like it when new people enter New Japan to test their skills, and Nakajima has a big opportunity this year to impress. I’m looking forward to seeing what he does. I’m also looking forward to seeing him take on Katsuyori Shibata - I hear he’s a hell of a striker, so it’ll be interesting to see how he matches up with Shibata!

Match: As for the match I’m most looking forward to, I have to say the battle between Los Ingobernables members Evil and Tetsuya Naito should be really interesting. This will be the first time both members face off in a singles match against one another since the group was formed, so it’ll be interesting to see what will happen. Will they have a great match? Or will someone lay down for something else? Los Ingobernables seems so different from other stables, they might just surprise someone by what they do during this match.

Paul Fontaine, Bellator & UFC recapper:

Wrestler: Anyone who ever read my ROH reports here in both 2014 and 2015 would know that I was not a fan of Michael Elgin during that time. When he was announced for last year’s G1 tourney, I had the same reaction as most people at the time: WTF? Well, it turned out that he impressed me more than anyone last year and by the end of the tourney, it was his matches I was most looking forward to. I made a point of watching every tourney match, which was hard to do, but I found myself even watching his non-tourney matches.

This year, he’s got a fresh batch of opponents and the crowd is that much more familiar with him. He’s had a great first half of 2016, winning a tournament in Mexico and also recently defeating fellow B-block competitor Kenny Omega for the NJPW I-C title. I don’t expect him to win the tourney but I am anticipating another series of great matches, particularly the Omega rematch as well as tournament bouts with Shibata, Honma and Naito.

Kenny Omega

Alan "Alan4L" Counihan, Dr. Keith Presents co-host & Japanese/indy wrestling expert:

Wrestler: With the keyword to this years G1 being “freshness” there’s a lot of scope for which wrestler I’m most interested in and what match I’m most looking forward to. I think the wrestler I’m most interested in, having watched the G1 presser is Kenny Omega (seen above). In his match with Hiroshi Tanahashi in February, Kenny looked like the best all-around performer in the business.

Since then, it’s been an up and down year. Sometimes he’s great, and sometimes he’s messing around (which is fine for his character in fairness). But watching this press conference, Omega looked fired up, he seemed excited about the matches he was getting to have in his block and he seemed very focused. If we get a clean Omega G1 run like we did with AJ in 2014 and 2015, then watch out.

Match: For this, I’m staying in the B Block: Katsuyori Shibata vs. Katsuhiko Nakajima at Korakuen on July 24 (the most packed day of wrestling in Japan all year by the way). For me, this is the stand-out match of the G1 blocks. It’s at the hottest venue, features two guys who are the perfect matchups for each other, and it’s going to be stiff as all hell. They wrestled once before, way back in the Big Mouth Loud promotion. Shibata had yet to leave for MMA, and Nakajima was still a teenager. It was heated then, and it’s likely to be even more so now! Expect the hardest kicks you’ve ever seen in this one. It’s going to be great!

Mike DellaCamera, Wrestling Observer writer

Wrestler: The wrestler I am most excited about in the G1 this year is the wrestler I’m always most excited about: Kenny Omega. Aside from just being a massive fan of Omega in general, I’m fascinated to see how he is booked in the tournament this year. This is the first time in recent memory where he doesn’t have some gold around his waist, having recently dropped both the IWGP Intercontinental Championship and the NEVER 6-man-tag titles.

With his contract (along with the contracts of The Young Bucks) expiring relatively soon, his booking in the tournament could be telling as to what his next move will be. The dropping of the belts could be a sign of NJPW preparing to let The Elite move on and finally get into the feud with The New Day they’ve been building on social media seemingly forever. Or, you know, one of the best wrestlers in the world could just win the whole damn thing. Either way, it’s going to be fascinating.

Match: I personally can’t wait to see Michael Elgin go up against Shibata in Block B. I never thought I would look forward to an Elgin match like this, but BIG MIKE in New Japan is a whole different animal. Shibata’s kicks will cave in anyone’s chest, but not many living creatures have a chest the size of Elgin’s. Something has to give.

Chris Aiken, ROH recapper:

Wrestler: Katsuyori Shibata is the participant I am most interested in following within this year’s G1. Likewise, Shibata is in the B block and that block itself is the most interesting to me of the two groupings with all of its various participants. With the departures earlier in the year, there appear to be openings at the top of the cards for fresh main event stars. My thinking is those rising stars are more than likely in the B block.

Tetsuya Naito has already risen to new heights and upped his stock in the company as he unleashed tranquilo. I look for Shibata to have a chance at doing something similar this year, and the G1 could be another step in a climb to the top of the cards, albeit without tranquilo though.

In comparing Naito and Shibata, a difference between the two is Naito overhauled his character and reinvented himself while Shibata is still just “The Wrestler” like always. Being simply that has its own uniqueness in 2016 and is actually refreshing in a way with today’s landscape of more grandiose characters.

Shibata has remained the same in continuing to build an impressively stiff body of work. Still, something does seem different with him nowadays. Maybe it is his presence or possibly his intensity. Partly the reason watching Shibata in the tournament intrigues me the most is trying to figure out what is different with him this year.

Match: Choosing one particular match that most interests me is a more difficult choice since the tournament is loaded with impressive match-ups. The opening night of the tournament features an interpromotional match of sorts with Kazuchika Okada vs. Naomichi Marufuji in the A block. That should be great and could likely set the bar very high for the rest of the tournament. It can only get better from there.

Tetsuya Naito

Kyle S. Johnson, Wrestling Observer columnist:

Wrestler: Trying to winnow the entire G1 field down to one must-watch participant is a difficult task indeed, but I would have to say I am the most excited to see what Tetsuya Naito (seen above) does in the tournament. This G1 seems to be Naito’s to win, and with good reason: the leader of Los Ingobernables de Japon has been hot all year long, with his belt-tossing antics during his IWGP title run making him one of the most entertaining performers in all of wrestling.

Naito has earned his spot in the main event at the Tokyo Dome in January, and I expect that he will make good on that with some exceptional matches (bouts against Kenny Omega, Katsuhiko Nakajima, and Katsuyori Shibata promise to be contenders for match of the tournament) and a victory in the final.

Match: There are so many great matchups in this year’s G1 to look forward to, but one that stands out to me as being particularly compelling is Katsuyori Shibata vs. Michael Elgin in the main event of the July 27 show in Nagano. Elgin has been doing great work for New Japan, up to and including his recent ladder match with Kenny Omega, and he is clearly a guy who rises to the level of his opponent in the hopes of putting on the best performance possible.

Shibata is a guy I always really enjoy watching, and a good showing in the G1 would likely put him in a position to ascend into the IWGP championship picture by next year. Shibata vs. Elgin promises to be a hard-hitting affair that should tear the lid off the Big Hat and set the tone for two of New Japan’s likely big-time players moving forward.

Joseph Currier, Wrestling Observer editor & news reporter:

Wrestler: In a tournament where everyone is excited about fresh faces getting a chance to prove themselves, I’m looking forward to the return of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s most familiar talent. 

I was legitimately disappointed when it was announced that Hiroshi Tanahashi wouldn’t be able to compete in the scheduled ladder match against Kenny Omega at Dominion. And even though Michael Elgin filled in admirably, I still wish we got a chance to see that match.

Tanahashi is my favorite active wrestler in the world and among my favorites ever. He isn’t the most athletic in the field or the most ferocious striker, but there is no one in this tournament, or the entire world, that better understands how to construct a wrestling match.

Nearly every movement that Tanahashi makes inside of the ring is precise and everything he does has meaning. His timing is almost flawless and he always seems to know the right thing to do. He maximizes his opponent’s strengths while minimizing their weaknesses. And no one knows how to read a crowd and get a reaction better than Tanahashi.

So when it was announced that Tanahashi wouldn’t face Omega in that ladder match, I was really bummed out. Ladder matches are still a fresh concept in NJPW and I was looking forward to seeing how Tanahashi would use the added element to work a match that we’ve never seen him have before. But I was also disappointed because it reminded me that the ace of NJPW is mortal.

There will come a time when he, like so many before him, is out of the main event spotlight and thrust into an undercard role, only getting by on name value and wit.

And it disappointed me because there was an actual chance that we wouldn’t get to see Tanahashi compete in the G1 this year. I understand why some are tired of Tanahashi’s shtick. Everyone has a shelf life and NJPW has been far too slow to elevate fresh talent into main event slots. But the G1 is where Tanahashi shines brightest. You have to be clever to work so many matches in such a short period of time. And the format provides the opportunity for more show-closing air guitar sessions in a month’s time than were thought possible.

Match: Tanahashi has a chance to give almost everyone in his block their match of the tournament and I’m most excited about his match with SANADA on the opening night.

Tanahashi kicked off last year’s G1 with an incredible match against Kota Ibushi, and I’m hoping for something similar against SANADA this time around. SANADA is one of the fresh faces in this year’s field that everyone is excited about and there is no better statement to be made than tearing down the house with Tanahashi on night one.

Tetsuya Naito

Alan Boon, British UK columnist:

The inclusion of the two NOAH guys will go a long way towards bringing some fresh matchups to this year’s tournament and that’s always welcome. But there are two things I’m particularly looking forward to - one match, and one competitor.

Wrestler: First up, and this may come as a surprise to some, I’m excited about Tama Tonga’s participation in the tournament (seen above). He missed out last year and instead worked his behind off in the prelim matches - which are always worth watching for that very reason, non-tournament guys with a point to prove - and it will be intriguing to see his very definite style against a variety of opponents.

Match: And second, that match: Tetsuya Naito versus Kenny Omega. I don’t think they’ve met before (and I’ve certainly not seen it if they have), and it will be a delight to see two pricks go at it, each trying to out assh*le the other. It’ll be pretty good, wrestling-wise too, I reckon!

Zach Dominello, Wrestling Observer columnist:

Wrestler: I don’t know if excited is the word I’d use to describe how I feel about this wrestler partaking in the G1, but I did get a warm feeling in my body at the announcement of the Los Explosion himself, YOSHI-HASHI.

As far as deserving one’s spot goes in this meticulously booked and thought out tournament which we all love more than Christmas, nobody deserves one as much as YOSHI-HASHI. CHAOS’s resident “job guy” has been slowly evolving into New Japan fans’ favourite underdog. A title previously held by “Tanner Than Ever and No, I’m Not Going Bald” Tomoaki Honma. He’s even managed to scrape out a couple of big wins over Los Ingobernable’s SANADA as of late.

Things finally seem to be coming up YOSHI-HASHI. No, he’s not going to win, he’s not even in the conversation, but I am expecting big crowd reactions for the man who’s going to want to prove he belongs with this esteemed group of competitors.

Match: Geez, man! I can only pick one match? In the annual New Japan tournament that produces more MOTY contenders than other promotions produce in a year, you expect me to pick just one match I’m excited for? The things I do.

Instead of going for something which we know is going to be crazy good before it even happens, like say Shibata vs. Naito on July 30, I’m going with something that may be more of a sleeper hit. I doubt it’ll go down in G1 history as one of the greatest ever, but I think Toru Yano and Kenny Omega are going to put on one of the most fun and unique matches of the tournament on July 24 from Korakuen Hall.

Two of New Japan’s biggest personalities and most prolific rule breakers in a match together. It’s like the Batman vs. Superman of wrestling, if Batman and Superman were both shameless tricksters. I guess the Joker vs. Deadpool might be more accurate. Kenny Omega is totally Deadpool in this analogy. Point is, this should be a very ridiculous match, and in a very serious tournament with endless 4+ star matches, ridiculous isn’t such a bad thing.