Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Which WWE Wrestlers Would Do the Best in the G1 Climax?

Cena in the G1? FUCK AND YES, PLEASE
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For most American wrestling fans, the G1 Climax is about as foreign as the female climax is to your average men's rights activist. For others, it's the reason why sleep is scarce in the mid-to-late summer. The G1 is New Japan Pro Wrestling's round-robin tournament that sets out to crown a number one contender to the IWGP World Heavyweight or Intercontinental Championships at WrestleKingdom. To call it NJPW's answer to the Royal Rumble is disingenuous because it is far more involved, and the prize itself becomes a de facto title between tournament's end and January 4, which is a good five month time period. Either way, every major New Japan wrestler ends up working at least nine matches in a two week period, some against unusual opponents, and it produces some of the best wrestling of the year across any promotion. One of the highlights from 2014 featured AJ Styles battling Minoru Suzuki, widely regarded as the best match in the company that year.

WWE doesn't have an answer to the G1 in size or scope. In fact, I would be willing to wager a sizable sum of money WWE hasn't run a round robin tournament in its history. However, WWE's history of friendliness with New Japan in the '80s meant that some of its stars in the past have competed and even won forerunner tournaments to the G1. Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant, for example, each have an International Wrestling Grand Prix tournament title to their credit. Wrestlers on the roster nowadays, however, don't have that experience.

However, that doesn't mean its roster isn't built to have one or that it doesn't have wrestlers who'd kick ass in the actual NJPW G1. Hell, the company has actually signed people who've competed and won in the tournament. So I scoured the whole roster and gauged how much I'd want to see them in the G1 Climax. Requirements are that they have to be active male members of the main roster. Even among them, I disqualified a few competitors for reasons I gave below:
  • Kane - NJPW already has Satoshi Kojima. Why give it the inferior WWE equivalent?
  • Brock Lesnar - LOL he barely works nine shows in a year now. You think he'd work nine shows in 18 days?
  • Daniel Bryan - You know in your heart this is going to happen when his WWE contract is up and he gets back into the ring. If you're like me, you're going to cringe with every strong bump he takes to his upper body.
    You have no need to imagine it, because the horror story is already working out in your mind.
  • AJ Styles, Karl Anderson, Doc Gallows, Shinsuke Nakamura, Gran Metalik, Finn B├ílor - They've already been in the dang tournament, or at least had big tours in NJPW. No need to imagine how they'd do.
  • Triple H - Oh god fuck Triple H.
Now that those guys are out of the way, the WWE roster, in alphabetical order, rated on the Dave Meltzer Five Star Scale, because hey, it feels appropriate. However, I will only be issuing stars in positive integers. SO HERE WE GO:

Aiden English - He seems like a nice guy and a decent tag wrestler, but I'm not sure I'd be down with him getting the spot over the rest of the roster. Then again, I didn't think I'd be clamoring to see a full slate from CJ Parker/Juice Robinson either, but still. *

Akira Tozawa - I debated on whether I wanted to include wrestlers who'd probably work Best of the Super Juniors before the G1, but Jushin Liger and Prince Devitt have worked both. Anyway, Tozawa in New Japan is probably a white whale for puroresu fans who both like NJPW and Dragon Gate (which in turn may be a white whale given how much pushback DG gets from people, *shrug*). Tozawa's frenetic energy would pair well with several NJ guys, including but not limited to big lugs like Tomohiro Ishii and Hirooki Goto as well as fellow smaller weight guys like Hiroshi Tanahashi. All-in. *****

Apollo Crews - Tozawa's fellow Monster Express/Titus Brand (?) teammate elicits less excitement because his WWE run has been a bit underwhelming so far. However, he was at his best in Japan and in Japan-influenced American indies, so I'd be willing to give him a shot. ***

Ariya Daivari - I'm still a bit in the woods on whether or not I like Daivari as a worker. He feels like a worker that could benefit from working a diverse roster of opponents over a short period of time, but plenty of other guys feel more must-see in that setting than him. **

Austin Aries - When A Double is good, he's really goddamn good, but he's also been unable to handle Nakamura in a prime setting. He feels like a guy who'd have the best match in the tournament on Day 2, but by Day 7, he might be out of tricks. ***

Baron Corbin - A lot of Corbin's charm comes with things outside of a match setting. He's had good, sometimes great matches in a WWE ring, but he hasn't really stoked the kind of excitement that would make me want to see him in the G1 grind. **

Big Cass - He's not even the best worker in his tag team, and few WWE tag workers set themselves apart enough in their mandatory singles matches to grant excitement for something like this. *

Big E - Amazing that in the time he's been on the main roster, his singles showcase lasted all of what, two months? Vince McMahon's alleged obsession with body guys should have made a spot for E open up, but hey, his work with New Day helped make it the greatest stable in company history. He would open some eyes in a G1 setting, especially against the big mountains of manmeat that populate NJPW like Ishii and maybe even Togi Makabe or Bad Luck Fale. ****

Big Show - Show is strange, because sometimes, he just phones it in completely like a veteran of his stature in the company might, but then he pulls out random classics here and there, like the last man standing match vs. Roman Reigns at Extreme Rules '15 or both Braun Strowman matches on RAW. He wouldn't be my first choice to send over, but man, seeing him pull off some old man classics here and there would be intriguing. ***

Bo Dallas - I weep for how main roster WWE squandered the potential of end days NXT Bo Dallas. He's still real young and has some Juice Robinson potential in him though, I guess. **

Braun Strowman - MY FUCKING GOD YES YES YES. Sure, Strowman isn't near his peak as a worker, but the fact that he's grasping pro wrestling in ways that many people can't do in their entire careers this early and that he's this exciting lends him as a candidate worth overrating, in my opinion. If you even passingly like Strowman and don't wanna see him in the G1, you're not alive. *****

Bray Wyatt - As underwhelming as Wyatt has been in his main roster career in the ring, I always look back to big feel matches like Daniel Bryan at the '14 Rumble or the Hell in a Cell match vs. Roman Reigns and think a great worker is locked up in there, screaming to get out. He wouldn't be a first choice, but I get the feeling maybe he'd have a sleeper banger against Kazuchika Okada on Day 3 that would get everyone all hot and bothered. ***

Cedric Alexander - Having followed Alexander's career since before Ring of Honor started booking him extensively, I know he has an explosive G1 run in him. Like, he's at the point where I want WWE to let him go if all it's going to do is put him in cuck angles against fucking Noam Dar and let him spread his wings. Then again, he could be the American answer to Gran Metalik/Mascara Dorada, the super talented guy no one has any idea how or desire to push hard. Either way though... *****

Cesaro - Cesaro is that motherfucking dude, man. Like, this is the easiest thing in the world to write. Everyone knows he'd kill it in the G1. Writing effluent praise for a hypothetical run in a round robin tournament for this guy is like when Meltzer takes time out of his day from quote-tweeting people with 63 followers to dunk on them to point out a GLARING FLAW in WWE storytelling that half of Wrestling Twitter had already noticed, mocked, and was over a half-hour earlier. What I'm saying is this entry is too easy to write, low-hanging fruit. I mean come on. COME ON. ******

Chad Gable - Chad Gable came into the collective hearts and minds of NXT faithful like a vision of Three Is from the year 2000. Some of the bloom has come off the rose, booking or lack of reaction or whatever, but American Alpha remains one of the few regular tag teams in WWE that could split up and do well in singles based even just on their component portions in tag matches. Gable hasn't proven to be the savant to the pro game like Kurt Angle did when he first jumped in, but I'm at least slightly intrigued by the possibility. ***

Chris Jericho - Jericho has had a grand total of two great matches in his last return, and both were against Kevin Owens. But I still get a flicker of intrigue when imagining him returning to the cradle country of his career for a final big run. It's not too much of a flicker, but enough to keep him from the very bottom of the barrel. **

Curt Hawkins - Face the facts. No. *

Curtis Axel - Axel feels like he can do so much more, and he has high Juice potential, but at this point, I mean, I can't care more than I do now, which is at a flatline. *

Darren Young - I swear Young was good as a singles competitor once on D-shows, but his downturn plus his absence put the kibosh on my desire to see him run a full gamut. *

Dash Wilder and Scott Dawson - Look, if this exercise were to find the best WWE imports for Tag League or something of that nature, the Revival would be in Cesaro territory. In fact, the one area where WWE has it over New Japan, at least right now, is tag teams. But again, neither guy really has a singles oeuvre that screams PUSH ME! PUSH ME TO THE MOON! It'd be more interesting to see them take the plunge in the G1 than, say, Big Cass, but for now, let me at the premiere singles guys in the G1, okay? **

Dean Ambrose - I struggle with Ambrose, because he is a perfectly cromulent television wrestler who shows up big for pay-per-view matches on the reg. But he also has this tendency to fall off the rails for extended periods of time for reasons unbeknownst to the general, non-speculating public. I don't know. I may be going high, but I'm one of the last bubble Ambrose fans so ***.

Dolph Ziggler - I don't wanna see Dolph Ziggler shine my windshield anymore let alone wrestle. I don't care if he had a good match with Nakamura at Backlash. Just go away. *

Drew Gulak - Gulak is the most versatile wrestler I've ever seen with my own two eyes, and he should compete in every tournament. King of the Ring? Yes. Best of the Super Juniors? You bet. Tournament of Death? He'll clean it up well. King of Trios? Fuck yes, every year. Gulak is the fucking man. *****

Elias Sampson - I have high hopes for the Drifter, but a lot of what is great about him now is his ability to draw heat from terribly singing and playing guitar and glowering at the crowd. I'm not sure the G1 is the right venue for him. **

Enzo Amore - Amore is an interesting case. I don't necessarily think he's a great wrestler or anything, but the dude makes everything he takes look like death. He'd be incredible in a setting like this if just to provide everyone in his block a breather match where they got to beat him up, look good, and provide a buffer between EPIC MATCH A and EPIC MATCH B. ***

Epico and Primo Colon - I know that Primo is a decent singles wrestler. I'm less sure about Epico, but at this point, the team is damaged goods. Maybe something like the G1 would give them renewed focus, but I'm not seeing it. **

Erick Rowan - Poor guy feels like he could be good, but it's like he gets injured every other month. Sad pass. *

Fandango - Once upon a time, Johnny Curtis looked like he could be a sleazy, scumbag antagonist with in-ring chops to back it up. Then, he was given a one-note character that flopped, and since then, he's worked his way back to respectability while keeping from taking himself too seriously. Whether as Durty Curty or the current incarnation of Fandango, he could totally slide into the G1 in NJPW. Karl Anderson showed that kind of character could thrive over there, and in my opinion, Fandango is a better worker. All in, baby. ****

Goldust - You bet your ass I'd be up for Goldust taking one last ride into the sunset with a series of dope matches. ****

Heath Slater - Slater is a guy who could fill a Tomoaki Honma-esque lovable loser role in the tournament and do it well. That alone makes him worthy of going over, although I don't think he's best option to fill that role. ***

Ho Ho Lun - Pass. *

Jack Gallagher - He's a bit typecast in 205 Live, but I feel like he'd be given a nice chance to break out of his mold and embrace the legit toughman aspect of his in-ring history a little more. Plus, the Gentleman histrionics would provide nice fodder for opening round antics and to cleanse the palate from the last super-serious match finish before going into his own. ****

James Ellsworth - He might be worth a slot for hilarity's sake, to be honest, but really, really? *

Jason Jordan - Jordan might fit in better in the G1 than Gable because his offense feels ready for a bigger singles spotlight. I don't remember much about his singles matches in NXT, but I also think that his hot tag offense and power moves are better extrapolated into a main event New Japan match. ****

Jeff Hardy - God bless Jeff Hardy, and I want to see him wrestle some high profile singles matches before he invariably retires for health reasons. That being said, I think the toll of a G1 might be greater on him than his brother, and he might gas out by the end. Still, the beginning portion would be pretty cool. ***

Jey and Jimmy Uso - Much like with the Revival, if this were Tag League? I'm all in, especially for the prospect of Usos/Young Bucks. But again, as singles competitors, I don't get up for them. **

Jinder Mahal - He had the worst possible good match with AJ Styles one can have without it entering Brian Myers at Battle of Los Angeles levels. Not everyone in NJPW is AJ Styles. *

John Cena - I said this on Twitter the other day, and it was kind of the impetus for this post, but John Cena working the G1 would be this planet's best shot for attaining worldwide peace. It would be the confluence of so many things: the crowd dynamics, his inhuman strength, the resume of sheer excellence in the ring especially in the last seven or so years. He's at best the most talented in-ring performer WWE has ever had as a company ace ever, and at worst in a conversation that includes Steve Austin, Bret Hart, and Shawn Michaels. Cena vs. Tanahashi, Okada, Tetsuya Naito, Kenny Omega, even Big Mike Elgin would feel like legitimate dream matches. If Cena ever had the chance to do the G1, it would be the biggest slam dunk in wrestling history. *****

Kalisto - At times, Kalisto feels like the best worker in WWE, and at others, he just stinks it up. He'd be worth a shot in the G1, but I wouldn't put him at the top of any list. ***

Kevin Owens - I feel like Owens could be himself in the G1, not that he's not himself in WWE but that he's a more restrained version of himself there. HE could be really violent in a G1 setting and elicit flashbacks to the Kevin Steen days where he was a relentless pitbull unleashing his fury on Pro Wrestling Guerrilla shows twice, three times a night. But I still have a nagging feeling that he might headlock it up a bit too hard, hence the four instead of five stars. ****

Kofi Kingston - Kingston has improved himself by leaps and bounds while in New Day, or maybe the better term is rehabilitated his image. But I'm still not salivating over him working all those singles matches over that short period of time. **

Konnor and Viktor - To be honest, I'd be here for a Viktor singles run based on the limited FCW, pre-Ascension stuff I saw him in, but man, WWE has beaten the Ascension down so hard that they're on the bottom of the feature list overall. *

Lince Dorado - He wasn't my favorite guy in Chikara, and he came to WWE and was decent, but not someone I would get excited to hit the grind. **

Luke Harper - Harper needs a venue to break out and just have bomb matches against dudes in his weight class. The G1 is that venue, brothers and sisters. ****

Mark Henry - I know Henry is busted and winding down, but letting him throw dudes around for a couple of minutes in cooldown matches wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. What I really want is 2011 Mark Henry to be in a round robin tournament setting and just bust skulls like he was born to do. Alas, it's 2017 now. ***

Matt Hardy - Matt Hardy has really turned out to be an outstanding pro wrestler over the years. His first singles pushes felt a bit underwhelming. He wrestled this methodical, non-Hardy pace, and it felt like he was a wrestler people felt they had to like to appreciate the art on a real level. Doing the Broken stuff was the best thing to happen to him though, because he really became a complete package. Him in the G1 would be an interesting experiment to carry out. ****

Mojo Rawley - I like Rawley overall, and someday, he'll make a serviceable hand in the ring. Right now, the idea of him doing a full G1 slate is scary. *

Mustafa Ali - Much like Daivari, I'm still trying to figure out if Ali's just a glue guy or a really excellent wrestler trying to find his voice. The difference is more people seem to be touting Ali, especially on his pre-WWE work. So while I wouldn't go hog wild endorsing him to hit the G1, I'd be interested to see him there if he did go. ***

Neville - Watching him in WWE has been frustrating because of booking, but amazing because the dude, from the Sami Zayn title match at R-Evolution through now, has become an elite wrestler. Every chance he gets, he's killing it, and he's doing it in many styles too. He can work big against smaller or similarly sized dudes. He can fly. I can see him blowing up Twitter with a Day 1 main event against Okada like it was nothing. *****

Noam Dar - I respect all my Scottish/BritWres fan friends who have seen him do theoretically good things, but what he's shown in WWE overall doesn't give me the warm and fuzzies. *

R-Truth - I don't think Truth is as bad as his reputation in the ring. He's just weird, but weird might fit in with New Japan. I think a potential match between him and like one of the LOS INGOBERNABLES DE JAPON dudes like Tetsuya Naito would be fun. But he has limited novelty overall. **

Randy Orton - Much like with Ziggler, I can't even with this fuckbag anymore, even if he can sometimes be dragged to a decent match. *

Rhyno - Rhyno is awesome right now for two reasons: the spear out of the hot tag and shoveling crackers and spray cheese into his mouth. He can do neither of those things in a G1 setting. **

Rich Swann - Not only would Swann kill it in the G1, he'd be the unofficial mascot for American viewers since they'd be staying up ALL NIGHT LONG. *****

Roman Reigns - I almost went full five on Reigns, especially because I think the range of opponents for him in the G1 would be closer to guys like Brock Lesnar or AJ Styles for him than other opponents against whom he hasn't looked as good. But something just doesn't click completely for me with him, and I feel like he could have like seven or eight really good matches and the remainder being him just being unable to handle someone like Togi Makabe and the like. ****

Rusev - Rusev has all the tools to be a solid wrestler, but outside of his WrestleMania match vs. Cena, which was fuckin' excellent by the way, he hasn't had the spotlight to show how elite he could be. I blame WWE booking for that completely. But his week-to-week high level matches are enough for me to want to see him in the grind. ****

Sami Zayn - You really don't know me very well or you don't see me hooting and hollering on Twitter during every Zayn match if you're surprised by this. *****

The Singh Brothers - I haven't seen them work in such a long time I forgot if they're good or not. *

Samoa Joe - Joe wrestled fuckin' Kenta Kobashi and Mitsuharu Misawa, man. If anyone is a safe bet to rock the G1, it's him. I don't know how high his ceiling is because of years of being pounded down by TNA and the damage on his body, but I doubt it would be anything less than good. ****

Seth Rollins - I'm getting visions of watching him do matches ten minutes too long with dudes too eager to engage in his main event bullshit thirst instead of being the best possible sympathetic bump machine babyface. Hard pass. *

Sheamus - Honestly, if Gedo and Jado had found Sheamus first and not John Laurinaitis, he'd be a beloved household name among puro dorks and wrestling nerds right now. He's the most criminally underappreciated talent in WWE solely because the company tried to Roman Reigns him before it even thought to do the same to Reigns and without the benefit of an 18 month run in a boss stable, and it flopped. He can brawl and work underneath better than 99 percent of the fucking roster. Put him in the G1, and people start talking about him like the unnaturally talented pro wrestling beast he is. *****

Sin Cara - Not gonna lie, this three stars is given solely because I wanna see if him and Minoru Suzuki would just shoot beat the fuck out of each other.***

The Brian Kendrick - Three stars feels like a lowball rating for Kendrick, because I think he could just go ape with a bunch of guys with whom he shares a common lineage, or for a few, for whom he was a mentor. But the dropoff between his work from the Cruiserweight Classic and 205 Live feels indicative of the kind of effort he'd give. ***

The Miz - Miz isn't a guy anyone thinks about as being a dream NJPW target, but he's been slowly and steadily growing into a great worker to match his gargantuan character work. I think he'd make up for his lack of workrate so to speak with playing the crowd. He doesn't get the full five, however, because NJPW has a lot of dives, and, well, yeah. ****

Titus O'Neil - I'd give him an extra star if he R. Bruce Tharpe'd his ass over there as Crews' or Tozawa's manager, but as a worker? Enh. *

TJP - He's admittedly a lot better outside of a WWE setting than inside of it, but man, like, does anyone need to be dragged down a road where he's going far in a tournament full of better options? **

Tony Nese - Nese can probably get some mileage out of his Acrobatic Adonis shtick he's doing on 205 Live right now, but not a whole lot. I wouldn't hate it though. ***

Tye Dillinger - Dillinger is a guy who's more character than wrestler right now, and that's alright. He's serviceable for an upper midcard role in WWE, but that probably translates to a decent if underwhelming run in a tournament like the G1. Like, he's perfectly entertaining in an interstitial, but his ceiling feels like his Takeover opener matches vs. Robert Roode and Andrade "Cien" Almas, good matches but otherwise unspectacular. Granted, a big tournament needs those, but New Japan already has Goto, right? ***

Tyler Breeze - Breeze actually has an important, headline-worthy match under his belt unlike Fandango, but right now he feels too cute or in the fade as a comic relief guy. Not that that's a bad thing, because comedy can be great and just as valuable as prestige broadway graps, but I'm not sure his current in-ring oeuvre fits the G1. Obviously, he could slide back into a more serious role and thrive though, which is why I'm not too down on the prospect. ***

Xavier Woods - Much like Kingston, he's not the guy in the New Day I wanna see doing singles matches, but not so much because he's been noticeably bad in the past, but noticeably nondescript. I feel like that's a worse crime for the G1 than being bad. However, I will take him tromboning his ass off for Big E during his matches. **

Zack Ryder - Ryder has already done the rags to riches underdog story twice in WWE's main narrative, and unlike Honma, he doesn't have problematic bullshit in his personal life to take away from his feelgood nature inside of the ring. ****

Honestly, the days of fantasy booking these kinds of things coming to fruition are past without releases. For example, Cody Rhodes will get his chance to run the G1 gamut this year, whether or not one was looking forward to that scenario (some were, I'm not). WWE and NJPW are becoming global rivals, so this is all just a dream. However, dreaming and imagination are the backbone of commentary blogging, along with criticism. I will imagine all day Cena or Zayn getting a chance to run with the stallions in the G1. Maybe once capitalism falls and socialism reigns, the world will get that kind of collaboration. Maybe.