Say you are one of those people. You run with the popular crowd. The brilliant crowd. But you never felt like you belonged in there. As you make your way to another living room or patio where you don’t really want to go, full of people you can easily come and curse, you stop in front of a dive bar or a small concert hall, and you you linger just a second. , you might be wondering what it would be like to enter. Would you feel more comfortable? Do they play the music that you listen to and that your “friends” laugh at you? But can you just step into this world? Is it just a little too intimidating to begin with?
Perhaps the competition between WWE and AEW has piqued your interest in wrestling. Maybe just the buzz about everything AEW does that WWE doesn’t. Maybe you have to see why Bryan Danielson left the ship. But it might seem like just the surface for you. You hear terms like ‘forbidden door’ or see a guy like Minoru Suzuki coming up, but you don’t really understand why that’s a big deal. Everyone around you seems to be losing their shit, and you want to get in, but where do you start?
Well I’m here to tell you the starting point starts on Friday, and it’s New Japan Pro Wrestling High point G1.
What is the High point G1? This is a month-long tournament featuring the top 20 wrestlers in the NJPW, and the winner takes home a title at the NJPW’s Biggest Show of the Year, Kingdom of Struggle, January 4 and 5 at the Tokyo Dome (it’s actually adding a third night next year, but let’s leave that for now). The 20 wrestlers are split into two “blocks” of 10, and they run a two-block round robin style tournament over four weeks, with each wrestler participating in nine matches. The winners of each block then go head to head in the final, which takes place at the Budokan, which will mean something to all of you. Cheap tip fans there.
It might sound a little simple, and that’s kind of what makes it special. Four or five times a week for the next month, fans are treated to cards with three or four top-notch matches between some of the world’s biggest stars. Simplicity is what makes, or at least makes, NJPW a staple for wrestling fans. The stories are clear, easy to understand and yet enveloping.
And they’re all on display during G1. Sometimes it’s former tag team mates that go head-to-head in the round robin. Sometimes it’s the current partners of the tag team that face each other. Sometimes it’s long-standing rivalries that are renewed, like Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahshi – whose matches have bolstered NJPW’s profile – and who this time will headlining the Block B kickoff. Sunday (Saturday night here). Sometimes the G1 spawns new rivalries and stories that will last for months and years. Everything that happened in NJPW for the previous year ends in G1, so the “climax”.
And it’s a great introduction to all the artists you didn’t know before. By the time you’ve watched them all for seven, eight, nine matches, you’ll know all about their characters and what makes them special in the ring. You will understand how the whole company is divided into factions and how the schisms between them determine their intrigues. Sometimes G1 matches involve two members of the same faction, and you can see how this interacts with the dynamics and sometimes the struggles within those factions.
Most importantly, what you get is a month of great games. Much like AEW, NJPW contains a wide variety of styles, and watching those styles change from match to match is where the majority of the fun is. For example, an aging veterinarian Tomohiro ishii is constructed as and possibly of the same consistency as a fire hydrant. He’ll start the tournament against heavyweight champion Shingo Takagi, and the two will absolutely fight each other with plenty of swapped strikes and brutal slams and suplexes. But later in the tournament, Ishii has to face Kota Ibushi, perhaps the most acrobatic artist in the world today. And then, at another point, he’ll have a straight-up comedy match with Toru Yano, the biggest blunderer in the industry. Whichever person you decide to follow, you’ll see them run the gamut of art.
What are the names to know? This list probably begins with the aforementioned Okada and Tanahashi. Okada is widely regarded as the best in Japan, possibly the world, and it is he who, along with Kenny Omega, author of two matches which are considered by many to be the best to have ever taken place. Tanahashi is the beloved and older veteran. Think of John Cena, if John Cena never went to Hollywood and lost on occasion as well. What if John Cena loved Motorhead and tried his best be a real Ziggy Stardust.
Shingo Takagi has spent the past two years putting on some of the best games in the business, earning him the first title. He can have a great match with anyone of any size and style, and this tournament last year was something of his release party. It is the definition of “built like a brick shithouse”But has no problem going with voltigeurs. Or maybe you will be drawn to Tetsuya Naito, the coolest guy in the world that doesn’t really fit into the heel / face dynamic but everyone loves it anyway. Or Zack Saber Jr., whose matches are just a series of submissions and takes that only he can make and unlike any other wrestling match you’ve ever seen. Or maybe Kota Ibushi, what would Norrin Radd look like if Norrin Radd were real.
Is this the best time to catch the G1? Well no. Japan is still heavily shut down by COVID, so these shows have reduced the crowds that are only allowed to “”scream in their heart, ” which spoils the mood a bit. But there are certain matches that take the audience beyond protocol, which is always a pleasure to see (it’s usually Ishii). Also thanks to COVID, the tournament will be absent from the special guests outside the company that it usually presents, like Jon Moxley in the past or Bryan Danielson this year if that was possible.
Second, the pandemic has made some reservations of NJPW really weird and inconsistent. But we can put that aside for now, as the G1 always resets everything and the tournament itself cannot be totally ruined. There are just too many good things.
Then how ? Well, you download the NJPW World app, and there is always an English version of every show that will help explain everything that is going on. Don’t try to stand, or you’ll squint in a week. Don’t even try to attend the 19 shows, or feel pressured to do so. Make it part of your day, as the important parts only last about an hour each time. And in a month you will be completely overtaken by everything. And you will be one of us, in the dark corners and the smoky sections that you feel like you’ve always belonged to, but are afraid to approach.