Bringing the famed G1 Climax tournament to the United States is a massive step for New Japan Pro Wrestling.
New Japan Pro Wrestling has returned to America.
The company delivering the best pure pro wrestling in the world will open the 29th edition of its heralded G1 Climax tournament this Saturday night at the American Airlines Center in Dallas. The show will be aired live on AXS TV, whose CEO and president is Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.
In honor of the occasion, Bullet Club leader “Switchblade” Jay White extended a rare invitation to Cuban to join wrestling’s version of Shark Tank.
“Mark Cuban has some resources that Bullet Club can use,” said White, who just returned from New Japan’s tour of Australia. “All of us will welcome Mark. Bullet Club can have front-row tickets to Mavericks games to watch Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.”
Ever the businessman, Cuban recognized the value of the offer.
“I love the idea,” responded Cuban. “As you know, I’ve taken and given a few bumps in my life. Unfortunately, I have an NBA meeting in Vegas or I would.”
Cuban has entrusted the future of pro wrestling on AXS TV to Andrew Simon, who used his vision to bring live New Japan events to the network, as well as air NJPW matches from venues such as the Tokyo Dome and Madison Square Garden only days after taking place.
“Wrestling fans are detailed in their knowledge of the different promotions and their desire to have as much choice as possible,” said Cuban. “And Andrew Simon loves and lives the industry.”
Saturday’s show is so significant because it is the opening night of the G1 Climax.
The G1 is a 20-man round-robin tournament that ends with a championship match on August 12 in Tokyo at the famed Nippon Budokan venue. A legitimate grind for its performers, the G1 ensures a contract for a title match at next January’s Wrestle Kingdom pay-per-view, which is New Japan’s signature event.
Saturday’s live special on AXS is headlined by a clash of titans in the main event, as IWGP heavyweight champion Kazuchika Okada squares off against New Japan “Ace” Hitoshi Tanahashi. Although the world title is not on the line, this match is a first round G1 encounter. It offers an opportunity for Tanahashi to stake his claim to the G1 for a second straight year.
“Okada has a strong mind,” Tanahashi said through a translator. “No matter how big the event is, he can keep his mind as calm as usual. Also, his physical ability is exceptionally high. When I got his drop kick, I saw the sole of his boot coming from far above my eye level. And he is tough. But there will be a time during the match that I can find a big chance for me, and I will grasp that chance.
“There are going to be many fans outside of Japan watching the NJPW live for the first time, I am very conscious of that factor.”
The card also includes a G1 opener featuring Will Ospreay against Lance Archer, as well as appearances from Jay White, Tetsuya Naito, the Guerrillas of Destiny, Zack Sabre Jr., and Kota Ibushi.
Following a win in June over future WWE Hall of Famer Chris Jericho, the match against Tanahashi marks another opportunity for Okada to continue to prove he is the most elite talent in the world.
“I want to show a New Japan Pro Wrestling match to America, and a match against Tanahashi-san is especially one that I want to show,” Okada said through a translator. “Once in Chicago [for Ring of Honor’s Global Wars pay-per-view in May of 2016] we did a tag match and when I just faced Tanahashi-san on the ring, Okada vs. Tanahashi, the crowd was shouting ‘This is awesome!’
“I’ve wanted to show this match for a long time. And as our matches have ended in draws for three times in a row, I absolutely want to win this time.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.