Bad Luck Fale: He beat Tanahashi and Shibata last year, and closed with a 6-4 record. Hasn't done much since. I'm looking forward to seeing him wrestle Makabe, who will sell Fale like a beast and aim to slay him.
Doc Gallows: Went 4-6 last year, his biggest victory being against Shibata. He's since lost and regained the tag titles, in a series of matches which are arguably his best in Japan. I expect him to do better this year, but the match I'm looking forward to most is against Fale, because last year it was the worst match in the entire tournament. Of course, their being stable-mates isn't conducive to your typical big-guy-versus-big-guy dynamic, so there isn't much they can do about it.
Kota Ibushi: Couldn't compete last year due to injury, so I'll be looking forward to all of his matches. At least three of them will be worthy of the main event, but I'm looking forward to his match against AJ Styles the most! After winning the 2015 New Japan Cup, I don't think Ibushi will win this tournament also, but I expect he'll come out with a very good record.
Togi Makabe: The reigning NEVER Champion went 4-6 last year, with no major upsets. He'll have to do better this year, considering his champion status. I'm looking forward to his match against Naito, for reasons listed below.
Tetsuya Naito: Recently came back from a heel turn in Mexico, and has been walking away from the ring with his too-cool-for-school attitude. I wonder if he'll get some sense knocked into him, or if his new persona will cost him wins. He was 5-5 last year with wins over Styles and Okada. (He won G1 the year before!) I'm looking forward to his match against Tanahashi, who, as New Japan's resident workhorse, will be aiming to teach Naito a lesson.
Katsuyori Shibata: A contender last year, a contender this year, but probably fated for another year on the upper-midcard without really getting close to the Heavyweight Title. The Intercontinental Title, on the other hand... well. He went 6-4 last year with wins against Nakamura and Tanahashi. I'm looking forward to his match against Ibushi because they seem like they're on about the same level but have totally different styles. I will be rooting hard for Ibushi on that one!
AJ Styles: A contender to win. Held the Heavyweight Title for about 7 months of this year. Tied Nakamura and Okada's 8-2 records in last year's G1, but one of his losses was to Okada, so he didn't qualify for the finals. I'm looking forward to his match against Ibushi the most. I already said that, but this is the one I'm anticipating the most out of all of them!
Hiroshi Tanahashi: Another contender, and recent Heavyweight Titleholder. Went 7-3 last year, defeating Nakamura and then losing to Davey Boy Smith, Jr. That's the kind of statistic that makes me love this tournament! His match against Shibata was one of the best and most talked about matches from last year's G1. I'm looking forward to his match against Doc Gallows because they can both use a little humor in a match really well, and they might have fun with it. Or Tanahashi might just be out for Bullet Club blood after last year, we'll see.
Hiroshi Tenzan: Went 4-6 last year, his biggest win being against Karl Anderson. He's the NWA Heavyweight Champion, but I don't know what that means anymore. I can't say I'm really looking forward to any of his matches. I'm only going to say that about one other wrestler. Sorry, Tencozy.
Toru Yano: The merry trickster also went 4-6 last year, his most memorable upset being against Minoru Suzuki. Now that his program with Tanahashi is wrapped up, I think he'll be shuffled down the card a bit. I'm looking forward to Ibushi flying in circles around him as he plots to cheat.
Karl Anderson: Has been super entertaining this year, even if he is the most obnoxious part of his own obnoxious podcast (which I listen to and love anyway). His angle with Maria was one of the highlights of the past several months. He beat Okada last year, and ended with a 5-5 record. I'd expect him to finish similarly this year, and I'm looking forward to that rematch.
Michael Elgin: Must be so freakin happy. Since this is his first time in NJPW, they'll probably have him win his first few matches, then lose the rest. Even though I'm not a fan of him in ROH, I'm curious to see how this goes for him. I'm most looking forward to his match against Ishii, so they can settle once and for all which one of them is shorter.
Hirooki Goto: The Intercontinental Champion. He's a cool wrestler, but he needed that rub from Nakamura because he was really fading as a dynamic challenger. He had an unremarkable record at last year's G1 with 4-6, with no big upsets. This year he'll do a lot better. I'm looking forward to his match with Nakamura, to see the smile on Nakamura's face when he finally (I assume) defeats him.
Tomoaki Honma: Despite (or because of) not winning any matches in last year's G1, Honma has skyrocketed in popularity, and it's reflected in his placement on the card. Will we finally see Honma score a point? Is he more lovable because he always loses? I will be rooting for him to win every match, and when he gets pinned, I'll say "Darn it!" then shrug and say "Oh, Honma. When will you catch a break?" and then laugh. That's the life of a Honmaniac. I'm most looking forward to his match against Okada, because I've never seen Honma in a singles match against a World Champion.
Tomohiro Ishii: Went 5-5 last year, with no major upsets. He's got about the same spot now that he had then, both years he's lost the NEVER Championship just weeks before the start of the G1. I'm looking forward to his match against Goto, to see how he measures up against the current Intercontinental Champ.
Satoshi Kojima: Also went 5-5 last year with no big upsets. Fits in that category with his Tencozy mate Tenzan as being prominent ex-champions who no longer pose a threat. Maybe this year the chops-in-the-corner spot will grow on me... but I doubt it.
Yuji Nagata: The opposite side of that coin, because Nagata is a non-threatening ex-champion, but unlike Tencozy he still seems relevant. I feel that way because his matches are consistently entertaining, and he's got that huge charismatic aura that makes good wrestlers into great wrestlers, and makes great ones amazing. Last year he went 4-6, his biggest win against Shibata. I'm looking forward to his match against Okada, because when Okada is selling it will briefly tease the idea that Nagata can still challenge for the World Title, and that will be fun.
Shinsuke Nakamura: Even though there are at least five guys who will make every one of their matches awesome, Nakamura stands out among them. The charisma factor mentioned above is through the roof, and his bare bones wrestling skills are fantastic to begin with. Nakamura is so popular that it's easy to forget that he's a villain. I'm most looking forward to his match with Honma, because as the babyface underdog of Block B, he may bring some more heelish behavior out of the King. He went 8-2 last year, his losses being against Shibata and Tanahashi.
Kazuchika Okada: The winner of last year's G1, he had a 8-2 record with losses to Naito and Anderson. If Okada wins this tournament, he will challenge himself for his own Championship. This being the case, does it seem a foregone conclusion that he will not win? Last year, AJ Styles had the World Title, and was a hair away from going to the finals. It seems likely that Okada's record for this tournament will be similar, so a big question throughout the G1 will be who can hand him those critical losses? I have a guess for one of them, which is why I'm looking forward to his match with Nakamura so much!
Yujiro Takahashi: Makes Tama Tonga look like Shawn Michaels. Well, maybe he's not that bad, but in New Japan he sticks out as being way towards the bottom of their talent pool. Went 4-6 last year, his biggest win was against Naito. Takahashi hasn't done anything since he lost the NEVER belt last October, so it seems weird for him to be a contender in this tournament. Maybe he can lose to Honma. I am looking forward to his match with Ishii so that Ishii can make an example of how unworthy Takahashi was of the NEVER Title. I wish Tonga had this spot.
And that's a wrap! Yeah! Who's pumped? This took me a few writing sessions, I'm actually at work now as I finish this up. Since I started this post, I've watched several NJPW on AXS shows which focus on aspects of last year's G1. They're awesome shows, less for the matches (which are edited, but still watchable) and more for the educational aspect, filling in the backstory which helps illuminate the landscape of characters.
I hope the colorful text made this more enjoyable to read. I never realized how many of these fellows wear red. I would be cool to get together with both of you to watch this stuff, and especially the finals. My work schedule is in flux right now, so I'm not sure how available I'll be, but hopefully we can figure something out.
I won't say who my pick to win is, but... I don't think the Poncho Man will be texting me a frowny face about it.