HEYDORN’S TAKE: The G1 tournament is here, enjoy the grind



So, who else is ready for New Japan Pro Wrestling’s annual heavyweight tournament? To hell with raising your hand – all those in favor, take a stiff back bump where you stand. I kid, but the G1 Climax tournament is back and the wrestling world needs it.

When the event kicks off on Saturday, it will mark the 30th G1 tournament in New Japan history. If you’re a first-timer, the G1 is a round robin affair that features the best heavyweight wrestling that New Japan has to offer. Two blocks of 10 wrestlers each face off in the round robin action on a night-by-night basis with the winners of each block colliding head on in the finals. The victor earns a main event match for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at New Japan’s biggest show of the year, Wrestle Kingdom.

Do the math. Ten wrestlers in each block all wrestling each other, plus the finals? That’s a lot of wrestling. Preach! The tournament is a grueling physical grind for the wrestlers involved, but what about us, right? That’s 19 shows in less than a month. The grind! I can feel my eyes slowly withering away due to screen time already.

Who needs eyes though! The grind is necessary and a fun part of the madness. It builds lasting relationships among the wrestling community and a bond forever unbroken. Shared viewing strategies and psychological check-ins are regular occurrences among fans to make sure that all are well and emotionally fit as the tournament goes on. Moral support is included and available for those unfortunate souls that fall behind on shows as we’ve all been there before. I’ll say it now: We pray for you. The grind is real, but the grind is what makes the G1 great.

If you put a plan together, stick to it, and shed your life of key responsibilities for a month, the reward is a beautiful array of masterful pro wrestling. Not only do you get the style clashes of a Will Ospreay vs. Minoru Suzuki match, but you get big name stars like Kazuchika Okada, Kota Ibushi, Tetsuya Naito, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Ishii, Jay White, and others facing off head to head with major stakes on the line. The result is matches that stand the test time and highlight the year’s best bouts.

Speaking of Ospreay, he’s the one black mark on this tournament. Allegations around him and the #SpeakingOut movement from earlier this summer should force fans to look at him differently. He’s an amazing performer, but I’d rather see him take the time and address those allegations seriously instead of gallivanting around the ring – as artful as that may be.

Now, remember, we’re still in the middle of a global pandemic. Because of that, this year’s G1 will obviously be a little different. Fan reactions are a key part of any wrestling match and especially important to major G1 moments throughout history. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, New Japan’s venues won’t be filled. Those who do attend the shows must wear masks, stay socially distant, and quiet their usual reactions so as to mitigate any spread of the virus.

The environment will be an obstacle for the wrestlers to work around, but the restrictions could have been much worse for New Japan. It’s hard to believe, but 2020 actually worked out in this regard. Because of the Olympic games that were scheduled to take place in Tokyo, New Japan was forced to move the dates of this tournament from the summer where it normally resides to early fall where it sits now. I’ll never write this again, but thank you 2020. Had the G1 been slotted into its normal timeframe, the tournament probably would have been scrapped all together. In addition, the timing allowed for New Japan to work through various travel restrictions and lockdowns to get key international talent like Ospreay, White, Cobb, and others back into Japan in time to quarantine and perform.

In a year full of painful uncertainties, abnormal behavior, and unaligned stars, the stars aligned for the G1 — and it’s happening in two days’ time! It’s a small and relatively meaningless token of normalcy in the big scheme of things, but wrestling fans need this. After all, it’s been a year of the Royal Rumble occurring on the same day as the tragic passing of Kobe Bryant, an entirely crowd-less WrestleMania, Rob Gronkowski, the sudden halt of popular promotions like ROH, the NWA, and countless other independents throughout the world, and much more.

So, enjoy this. You deserve it. Just stretch and get those eyelids ready to go.


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