Following a rare few days off, the G1 Climax returned on Monday.
New Japan Pro Wrestling’s most vaunted tournament typically takes place in the heat of the summer but was moved to the fall this year after the pandemic upended NJPW’s schedule. The two-block, 20-man round-robin tourney opened on Sept. 19 and runs through Oct. 18, with the winner all but assured an IWGP heavyweight title shot at January’s Wrestle Kingdom.
Seeking to win his first-ever G1 Climax is “Switchblade” Jay White, a former IWGP heavyweight champ and current Bullet Club member. Only 27, White has already built an impressive résumé in wrestling, and he opened this year’s G1 in memorable fashion, defeating Shingo Takagi, Kota Ibushi and Kazuchika Okada, before dropping his next two matches, including Monday’s bout against Jeff Cobb in Kagawa.
Speaking with Sports Illustrated, White discussed the opportunity presented to him in the G1 Climax, as well as important topics outside of wrestling, particularly Black Lives Matter.
The G1 is such an incredible opportunity for talent, and there is a reason the tournament is so highly renowned throughout the industry. This year’s A Block is loaded with star power, including yourself. You’ve had standout wins against Shingo Takagi, Kota Ibushi and Kazuchika Okada. That’s an incredible slate of talent. What has been your in-ring highlight so far in this year’s tournament?
You just said it right there, beating those three guys in a row. I plan to prove that I’m better than everybody else in it, whether that be A Block or B Block. But the best part was our reunion with Okada in Kobe, beating him in the same arena where Gedo and I changed the entire landscape of pro wrestling two years ago.
In terms of travel, with this year’s G1 taking place all over Japan, with featured stops in Osaka, Sapporo, Kobe, Tokyo, Hiroshima and Yokohama, will you travel by bus or train?
Bus. Due to the current climate we’ll be doing what we can to limit public transportation use. I ride with Bullet Club.
You would make history and further elevate your standing by winning the G1. What is your earliest memory of the tournament? And does it feel different considering this year’s G1 is taking place in the fall instead of the summer?
I’ve never dreamed of winning; I just plan to each year that I’m in it. So I’ve planned to since my first G1 in 2018, and my earliest memory of it was being ringside as a Young Boy in 2015.
And the timing does slightly feel strange, seeing as there’s going to be much less time between the end of the G1 and Wrestle Kingdom, but not in terms of it not being in the summer. It’s actually a lot better as it’s not nearly as hot as it usually is. Another thing that’s better this year is that we only have the singles matches, which makes it less taxing on the body, instead of having to do tag matches in between the singles. This year, we have the time off to recover.
After stopping events at the end of February due to the pandemic, New Japan returned to action in June. Were you in New Zealand during the majority of the off time? And your return took place in August in California at NJPW Strong. What was your biggest takeaway from your time away from wrestling during the pandemic?
I live in the United States, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to get to California at that time. I don’t know if you’d consider it a takeaway or not, but during it I just made sure to make the most of the time off and look after my body, seeing as that’s the longest time off that I’ll ever have, assuming we don’t have to deal with such extreme circumstances again.
You were on camera during NJPW Strong wearing a Black Lives Matter shirt that was creatively designed in a Bullet Club design. The shirt is available on Pro Wrestling Tees, with all proceeds going to BlackLivesMatter.com. What gave you the idea for the shirt? And why is it so important for you to raise awareness and let the world know you care about Black Lives Matter?
Me letting people know I care isn’t the important part, doing the right thing is. The idea came from simply feeling the need to do something to help, no matter how small it is, and the need to do what’s right. It’s not complicated—Black lives matter, and the fact that people try to argue that just shows you the injustice and racial issues that we are surrounded by today. That statement, Black lives matter, can’t and should never be argued.
Another passion of yours is basketball. What have been your highlights of this year’s NBA playoffs?
My pick all along has been the Lakers. I’d like LeBron to get another ring, as people are constantly looking for excuses to discredit his greatness. Once the Clippers were out, though, I would have been OK with any of the final four teams winning. The Nuggets had been the most exciting to watch and deserved it, Boston winning with their young leaders in Tatum and Brown would have been great, and of course the Heat winning behind Jimmy Butler would be just as good.
If given the opportunity, who are the NBA five players you would welcome into Bullet Club?
My five? LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Jimmy Butler, Damian Lillard, and CP3.
Has the G1 served as a reminder of how much you missed wrestling?
No, but it has served as a reminder of how much wrestling has missed me, and how bad it so desperately needs me. People may want to open their eyes and realize that before it’s too late, because you never know when I may just up and walk away.
In New Japan, does proving you are the best in the G1 show that you’re ready to carry the company as IWGP heavyweight champion?
For others it may be that way. For me, I already know that. I’m way past being ready. I carry this company with or without the championships, having them just makes it that much sweeter when I can see the pain in everybody else’s faces when they see me holding them up. And I will get back to that place.
The G1 finals take place on Oct. 18 at Ry ō goku Kokugikan in Tokyo. The joy of the G1 is consuming so much compelling wrestling between now and then, but why should fans expect to see “Switchblade” in the finals? And who would you like to meet from the B Block?
Why shouldn’t they expect me to be there? Why would anyone doubt me with my résumé? They should expect it because I said so. And I’d love to see Yoshi Hashi in the finals, since he would be the easiest win ever.