SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
It is an exciting time for New Japan Pro-Wrestling fans as G1 Climax 30 is set to begin. In the 30th edition of the Grade One Climax tournament, 20 of New Japan’s finest wrestlers will be split into two groups of ten where they will compete in a round-robin style tournament. The winner of each group will face off in the finals to win the G1 Climax trophy and the right to challenge the IWGP Heavyweight Champion at New Japan’s biggest show of the year, Wrestle Kingdom.
What sets the G1 apart is that every wrestler involved give their all in their matches since the stakes are so high. You are treated to great in ring action and the drama of pulling for your favorites. You get to see different wrestling styles plied against each other. I can go on but know that the G1 is a true sight to behold.
As many people chose this time to sample the New Japan product, the following is a list of all the New Japan talent as listed on NJPW1972.com and what their place is on the roster. I separated the wrestlers into four main tiers. Top Tier consists of the wrestlers who are currently in the main event of their biggest shows and the current driving forces of the company. This is the realm of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Second Tier consists of wrestler who are usually either in the semi-main event of the biggest shows, or on the main event of their secondary shows. The top of this tier is the realm of the IWGP Intercontinental Championship and can include the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight and IWGP Tag Team Championships. Third Tier consists of wrestlers who are usually found on the mid-card and occasionally in the main event of smaller shows. This is the realm of the NEVER Openweight Championship, IWGP United States Championship, and usually, the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship. The last main tier is the Fourth Tier where you will find the wrestlers of the undercard, usually newer wrestlers seeking to prove themselves, or veteran with something still left to give. The NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship is usually in this tier. Finally, for completion, there are the Young Lions (trainee/rookie wrestlers) and Free Agents (wrestlers not signed by NJPW but are current or have been involved with the promotion)
Kazuchika Okada (Chaos – Leader): This man deserves to be in a category all of his own. He is indisputably the top wrestler in NJPW and arguably, the world. It is not just his wrestling acumen but the way he’s been presented and protected that’s allowed him to reach this lofty height. While recently he’s been mired in a feud with the lowly Yujiro Takahashi and involved with his controversial brainchild, the King of Pro-Wrestling 2020 title, it doesn’t matter. He is willingly involved in these things simply because he’s bored after conquering the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. From a booking perspective, those were ways to get him out of the championship picture, to give him something worthwhile to do, while a new crop of opponents is created for his eventual next reign.
Tesuya Naito (LIJ – Leader): The current holder of both the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and IWGP Intercontinental Championship belts, the first to ever accomplish that feat. While Los Ingobernables de Japon don’t have an officially recognized leader, he serves as the gravitational center of the faction, an idea reinforced when they helped Naito recapture the title from their former stablemate, Evil.
Evil (Bullet Club): Evil is the former holder of the IWGP Heavyweight and IWGP Intercontinental Championships that he gained after betraying Los Ingobernables de Japon and joining Bullet Club. This act catapulted him into the top tier of the rankings. While I am doubtful that he’ll stay in this tier too long after losing both belts to Naito at Summer Struggle, he has undoubtedly been NJPW’s top heel for the last few months.
Jay White (Bullet Club – Leader): Spiteful, hateful, wily, and smarmy are all adjective you want to use describing the top heel of your company, and these are all qualities Jay White has in spades. Once the most hated heel in NJPW, he is still a solid number two (after his stablemate Kenta). (Currently appearing on NJPW Strong in the U.S. due to travel restrictions. Will return at G1.)
Kota Ibushi (NJPW): Make no mistake, Kota Ibushi is NJPW’s next top star, assuming he stays healthy. Ibushi already has one foot in the Top Tier but he won’t fully arrive until he either wins the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, defeats Okada (in their series), or both. This has been done on purpose so that the moment he arrives at the top can be met with the proper celebration to catapult him further for years to come. The most recent signpost of his climb was the passing of the torch from Hiroshi Tanahashi during their recent tag team run. My timeline? Ibushi will be champion on or by Wrestle Kingdom 2022.
Kenta (Bullet Club): Own the fans distaste for you and betray and attack the beloved and retired Shibata and you have solidified yourself as the most hated wrestler on the roster. He is currently the holder of the number one contender contract for the IWGP United States Championship (Currently appearing on NJPW Strong in the US due to travel restrictions. Will return at G1.)
Taichi (Suzuki-gun): Taichi has been on an upward trajectory since his feud with Naito and is a current coholder of the IWGP Tag Team Championship along with Zack Sabre Jr. Victorious after a personal feud with Kota Ibushi and Hiroshi Tanahashi, the Dangerous Tekkers have solidified themselves at the top tag team in NJPW. Don’t be surprised for his faction to become Taichi-gun sooner rather than later.
Zack Sabre Jr. (Suzuki-gun): Zack is a wrestler who is hard to pin down (literally and figuratively) due to his unorthodox wrestling style. As a submission specialist he can beat anyone on any given night and as such is often used as a spoiler against wrestlers higher on the depth chart than him. That list of wresters above him grows ever shorter. (Personally, he is currently one of my favorite wresters.)
Hiroshi Tanahashi (NJPW): Time catches up with us all, and this is true for the former “Ace” of the NJPW roster (but still “Ace” in our hearts), Hiroshi Tanahashi. His legacy still carries enough cache that he can help other, younger wrestlers move up the card, and his career may have one last gasp left in it, but I expect to continue to see him slide down this list.
Shingo Takagi (LIJ): These next two can be interchangeable as to the ranking but Shingo seems to have more momentum than Sanada so he edges out his stablemate. Until recently Shingo was the NEVER Openweight Champion making him the de facto second highest individual title holder. Losing the title to Minoru Suzuki seemed more of a way to clear the deck for him to move further up the roster than slide back down it.
Sanada (LIJ): Neck and neck with Shingo, Sanada is poised to always be in the hunt for NJPWs secondary title and seems to be earmarked as one of Okada’s main rivals, a prestige that helps solidify his position in the second tier.
Will Ospreay (Chaos): Will Ospreay finds himself in a similar position as Kota Ibushi since Ospreay has one foot in the Second Tier just like Ibushi with the Top Tier. My argument is thus the same. Ospreay is one big win away from fully entering Second Tier. Being another rival of Okada’s, albeit with more of a senpai-kohai (mentor-student) dynamic, certainly helps him.
Taiji Ishimori (Bullet Club): The new IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion just leapt over Hiromu Takahashi with his win over the former champ at Summer Struggle. Ishimori is one of the top guys in the Junior’s division and an important part of Bullet Club.
Hiromu Takahashi (LIJ): If Naito is the gravitating force behind Los Ingobornables, Hiromu is the one who galvanizes them. Eschewing the “traquilo” aspect of the rest of the group, Hiromu is the one who brings the fire and emotion. He is another of the Junior divisions top guys and was their champ until losing to Ishimori at Summer Struggle. He also had a recent shot at capturing the two championships held by Evil when he sought revenge for Evil’s betrayal.
Minoru Suzuki (Suzuki-gun – Leader): Minoru Suzuki is something of a spoiler, lurking in the Third Tier feasting on all the prey around him, occasionally snapping up a higher tier wrestler when he wants to slake his thirst for violence. On any given night, he can defeat any wrestler. Now that he is the new NEVER Openweight Champion, challengers have to come to him. This plays into his secondary roll, that of gatekeeper. Successfully surviving Suzuki is a mark that you can be taken seriously and a ready to move up the depth chart.
Guerrillas of Destiny (Bullet Club): This is a little bit of a cheat as Tanga Loa and Tama Tonga are an example of the whole being greater than the sum of their parts. They are the top pure tag team specialists on the roster right now and are usually found lurking around the title. (Currently appearing on NJPW Strong in the US due to travel restrictions.)
Hirooki Goto (Chaos): Currently one of the coholders of the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship belts, the NEVER division might as well be called the “Goto Division” as he always seems to be the holder, or on the hunt for one of those titles.
Tomohiro Ishii (Chaos): Coholder of the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship belts, the “Stone Pitbull” lives up to his moniker as he absorbs or shrugs off blows and keeps coming. He is another gate keeper usually used to prove the toughness of another wrestler.
Sho (Chaos): Forced to relinquish the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Titles due to this teammate Yoh’s injury, The remaining member of Roppongi 3K, Sho has been seeking to carve out a career wrestling as a singles wrestler with recent rivalries with Shingo and Sanada and participating in the recent King of Pro-Wrestling 2020 tournament.
Yoshi-Hashi (Chaos): The perennial underdog finally gets his first taste of gold, winning the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team championship with Chaos stablemates, Hirooki Goto and Tomohiro Ishii. It looks like Yoshi-Hashi might finally be moving up the card, but is what he holds just fool’s gold?
Bad Luck Fale (Bullet Club): Bad Luck Fale is another spoiler who can win at anytime due to his sheer size. Otherwise he is usually just used as a nuisance that other wrestlers have to deal with. (Currently inactive due to travel restrictions.)
El Phantasmo (Bullet Club): El Phantasmo is a foil for Will Ospreay and one of the top Junior Heavyweights. (Currently inactive due to travel restrictions.)
Ryu Lee (NJPW): Formerly Dragon Lee, he is the eternal rival to Hiromu Takahashi and a top Junior Heavyweight. He, along with his rival, served as Jyushin Thunder Liger’s final opponent for Wrestle Kingdom 14.
Jeff Cobb (NJPW): It’s hard to pin down where Cobb really deserves to be on this list since it looked like he was poised to make some waves in the New Japan Cup 2020 tournament before the pandemic lockdowns. Now he’s been wrestling on NJPW Strong in the US and has a program with Kenta where he is trying to win the contract for the right to challenge for the IWGP United States Championship from Kenta. (Currently appearing on NJPW Strong in the US due to travel restrictions. Will return for G1.)
Toru Yano (Chaos): The ultimate spoiler. He can defeat anyone on the roster at any time with his shenanigans. He just pinned the number one wrestler on this list, Kazuchika Okada, in the King of Pro-Wrestling 2020 tournament to capture the trophy. He is the most important tool when booking the G1 Climax as no one is safe from him.
Yujiro Takahashi (Bullet Club): Pulled from the bottom of Tier Four to the top thanks to his personal feud with Okada, Yujiro has more to prove if he ever wants to move into Tier Three.
Juice Robinson (NJPW): Former IWGP United States Champion has had a hard time holding on to any momentum gained after his feud with Jon Moxley due to untimely injuries and the current pandemic. (Currently inactive due to injury. Will return for G1.)
David Finlay (NJPW): He finished second in the New Japan Cup USA 2020 tournament, losing to Kenta in the final round. (Currently appearing on NJPW Strong in the US due to travel restrictions.)
Bushi (LIJ): He is the LIJ member designated to take the pin whenever LIJ needs to lose a multi-man match. He occasionally rises to challenge for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title.
Tama Tonga (Bullet Club): One-half of the Guerillas of Destiny, Tama Tonga usually serves to absorb losses in tournament while in singles competition. (Currently appearing on NJPW Strong in the US due to travel restrictions.)
Tanga Loa (Bullet Club): The other half of the Guerillas of Destiny, he too serves as a body to absorb losses in tournaments. (Currently appearing on NJPW Strong in the U.S. due to travel restrictions.)
Chase Owens (Bullet Club): The designated fall guy for Bullet Club.
Yoh (Chaos): Former IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team champion who was forced to relinquish his title due to injury. (Currently inactive due to injury.)
El Desperado (Suzuki-gun): No longer the bottom of Suzuki-gun’s depth chart, Despy has the opportunity to become a more solid contender in the Junior Heavyweight scene. He recently made it to the finals of the King of Pro-Wrestling 2020 tournament. His promos are an absolute treat to watch.
Robbie Eagles (Chaos): Leaving Bullet Club when it wasn’t a right fit for him, he now serves as Will Ospreay’s sometime tag team partner in Chaos.
Yuji Nagata (Seigi-gun – Leader): Nagata rises to the top of the veterans by really going after his opponents, always seeming like he has something to prove. He recently main-evented a show with Minoru Suzuki and the match delivered.
Togi Makabe (Great Bash Heel – Leader): Fading veteran used to test Young Lions and occasionally absorb losses in tournaments.
Yoshinobu Kanemaru (Suzuki-gun): Usually there at ringside to cheat and take the pin when needed.
Master Wato (NJPW): I presume he is the inheritor of Yoshi-Hashi’s “lovable loser” role having just lost to Kanemaru at Summer Struggle.
Satoshi Kojima (NJPW): Fading veteran that can still rise to the occasion when called to. Recently participated in the King of Pro-Wrestling 2020 Tournament.
Rocky Romero (NJPW): Rocky claims to have one last run in him and I for one hope he is right. For now, he shepherds the younger LA Dojo guys and performs on Strong. (Currently appearing on NJPW Strong in the US due to travel restrictions.)
Toa Hanare (NJPW): A recently graduated Young Lion who still has to make a name for himself.
Ryusuke Taguchi (NJPW): A spoiler in the Junior division and comedy act. He can still pull together an excellent match should he choose to.
TJP (NJPW): Currently appearing on Strong helping the younger wrestlers. Amazing body control and one of my favorite wrestlers to watch. (Currently appearing on NJPW Strong in the US due to travel restrictions.)
Douki (Suzuki-gun): A fall guy for Suzuki-gun and nuisance for the Junior division.
Hiroyoshi Tenzan (NJPW): Fading veteran and really showing his wear and tear. Currently mentoring Master Wato.
Mikey Nicholls (Chaos): Fairly recent addition to Chaos.
Taka Michinoku (Suzuki-gun): Usually serves in a manager capacity for Suzuki-gun
Tiger Mask (NJPW) – Surly veteran who feeds on Young Lions.
Tomaoki Honma (Great Bash Heel) – The original lovable loser. Kokeshi makes you happy though.
Karl Fredricks (NJPW) – Recent graduated from LA Dojo Young Lion and participated in the New Japan Cup USA 2020.
Hikuleo (Bullet Club) – Recently graduated from Young Lion.
Alex Zayne (NJPW) – Currently wrestling on NWPW Strong
Gabriel Kidd – Getting a lot of exposure as the only LA Dojo guy currently working in Japan.
Shota Umino – Currently on excursion to the UK.
Ren Narita – Currently on excursion to the LA Dojo.
Tomoyuki Oka – Currently on excursion to the UK, wrestling as the Great O-Kharn
Yota Tsuji – Young Lion. Noge Dojo Captain.
Yuya Uemura – Young Lion.
Clark Connors – – Young Lion. L.A. Dojo Captain.
Free Agents/ Mercenaries/Others
Jon Moxley – Moxley is the current IWGP United States Champion and is a special attraction wrestler. When he wrestles for NJPW, I slot him into Tier Two.
Chris Jericho – Jericho tends to make his feud personal. I slot him into Tier Two.
Jado, Gedo, and Dick Togo (Bullet Club) – Jado, Gedo, and Dick Togo are mainly used in a manger capacity while occasionally wrestling themselves. As such, these three are usually involved in main evets cheating on behalf of Jay White, Evil, or Kenta.
Marty Scurll (Villain Enterprises – Leader)– Ring of Honor talent that usually makes waves in the Junior Heavyweight Division. He usually slots into Tier Three when active.
Flip Gordon (Villain Enterprises) – ROH Wrestler. Wrestles on New Japan Strong.
Jay Briscoe – ROH Wrestler. The Briscoes are rivals of the Guerillas of Destiny.
Mark Briscoe – ROH Wrestler. The Briscoes are rivals of the Guerillas of Destiny.
Amazing Red – Veteran high-flier and friend of Will Ospreay.
Volador Jr. – CMLL Wrestler.
Dalton Castle – ROH Wrestler.
Jay Lethal – ROH Wrestler.
Jonathan Gresham – ROH Wrestler. Participated in the Best of Super Juniors 26 tournament.