The ultimate guide to New Japan Pro Wrestling's 'G1 Special in USA' shows

So you've heard about this weekend's New Japan Pro Wrestling G1 Special in USA shows, which take place at the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center in Long Beach, California. You're eager to check them out, only you don't really know where to start, or you have a general sense of what's going on, but need a refresher.

Well, you're in luck.

We've got the answers to all of your questions in our comprehensive guide to NJPW, its biggest stars and why you should care, details on how to watch the festivities and much more. The company that gave us Shinsuke Nakamura, Finn Balor and AJ Styles is intent upon harnessing their current stars to bring their product to American shores -- and this weekend is just the beginning.

We're going to cover a lot of ground, but if you've got any additional questions or need any clarification, tweet @tim00 and he'll point you in the right direction.

How to watch the G1 Special in USA

American fans can enjoy the first-ever live NJPW broadcast on AXS TV Saturday at 8 p.m. ET/ 5 p.m. PT. As with the weekly NJPW shows on AXS, WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross and former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett will be on commentary. The first night's show will also be available on Fight Network in Canada and more than 30 other countries in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. For those outside of the United States, it can also be seen on NJPW World, their online streaming service.

Sunday's show will air live at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on NJPW World for all viewers, with a replay on AXS TV July 7.

Who are New Japan's biggest stars?

Kazuchika Okada

Billed height: 6-foot-3

Billed weight: 236 pounds (107 kg)

Age: 29

Career highlights: Four-time (and reigning) IWGP heavyweight champion; two-time G1 Climax winner (2012, 2014); seven career matches with 5-plus star rating from Wrestling Observer.

Matches to watch: Okada vs. Kenny Omega (Dominion [2017]); Okada vs. Omega (Wrestle Kingdom 11); Okada vs. Katsuyori Shibata (Sakura Genesis [2017])

Why you should care: Okada is New Japan's crown jewel. At just 29 years old, he's already well down the path toward becoming a Japanese wrestling legend. He's had three of the best matches of his career in the first half of 2017 (see above), and Okada has a habit of getting the very best out of every opponent who crosses his path. He'll be in the main event on Night 1 against Cody Rhodes, with his IWGP heavyweight title on the line, and it's not too crazy to think that by the end of the night Saturday, we'll have seen the best match of Rhodes' career.

Hiroshi Tanahashi

Billed height: 5-foot-11

Billed weight: 227 pounds (103 kg)

Age: 40

Career highlights: Seven-time IWGP heavyweight champion (most reigns, all time); two-time (and current) IWGP Intercontinental champion; 16 total title reigns in NJPW; two-time G1 Climax winner (2007, 2015); five career five-star rated matches from Wrestling Observer.

Matches to watch: Tanahashi vs Okada (Wrestle Kingdom 10); Tanahashi vs. Shibata (Destruction in Kobe [2014]); Tanahashi vs. Tetsuya Naito (Dominion [2017])

Why you should care: The parallels between Tanahashi and John Cena are staggering. Both long-time company aces, each holds the most world championship reigns in their company's history, and each is a baby face, through and through. Both are 40 years old, and questions are starting to mount about their long-term prospects. For now, Tanahashi is helping to carry on the legacy of the IWGP Intercontinental title, whose prestige was largely built up by Shinsuke Nakamura, during his five reigns as champion.

Kenny Omega

Billed height: 6-foot

Billed weight: 203 pounds (92 kg)

Age: 33

Career highlights: One-time IWGP intercontinental champion; G1 Climax winner (2016); two-time IWGP heavyweight champion; one-time IWGP junior heavyweight tag team champion (with Kota Ibushi); Two highest-rated matches in Wrestling Observer history (against Okada).

Matches to watch: Omega vs. Naito (G1 Climax [2016]); vs. Michael Elgin (Dominion [2016]); vs. Hirooki Goto (G1 Climax [2016])

Why you should care: Omega is one of the most sought-after stars in the world, but has to this point rebuffed the overtures of WWE. The Canadian-born star is the current leader of the Bullet Club (and sub-faction The Elite, alongside The Young Bucks) and continues to raise his profile with multiple match of the year efforts already in 2017. Omega's transition from junior heavyweight to heavyweight in New Japan has been astonishing, and his G1 Climax win in 2016 was a historic moment. While his attentions are turned towards the IWGP U.S. title tournament in Long Beach, most feel it's simply a matter of time before he becomes heavyweight champion.

Tetsuya Naito

Billed height: 5-foot-11

Billed weight: 225 pounds (102 kg)

Age: 35

Career highlights: One-time IWGP heavyweight champion; one-time IWGP Intercontinental champion; G1 Climax winner (2013); New Japan Cup winner (2016); two career five star-rated matches from Wrestling Observer.

Matches to watch: Naito vs. Elgin (New Beginning in Osaka [2017]); Naito vs. Okada (Dominion [2016]); Naito vs. Tomohiro Ishii (Wrestling Dontaku [2016])

Why you should care: Naito is essentially the actualization of the question many wrestling fans have asked over the past few years: What would happen if you took Roman Reigns and made him a devil-may-care heel? After winning the G1 Climax in 2013, popular opinion turned so far against Naito that his IWGP heavyweight title match was made the co-main event of Wrestle Kingdom 8 in deference to Nakamura and Tanahashi's match for the Intercontinental title. A tour of Mexico, during which he joined the faction Los Ingobernables, changed everything. His disregard for authority and the fans ironically made him a fan favorite, and until a few weeks ago when he lost the title to Tanahashi, his carefree flinging of his Intercontinental title -- the object that kept him from the Wrestle Kingdom main event -- was one of the most dynamic and unusual ideas in wrestling.

What are the factions and affiliations I should know?

* - Will compete at G1 Special in USA

Bullet Club

Leader: Kenny Omega*

Active members: Omega, Young Bucks* (Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson), Cody Rhodes*, Marty Scurll*, Guerrillas of Destiny* (Tama Tonga and Tanga Roa), Bad Luck Fale*, Yujiro Takahashi*, Hangman Page*, Chase Owens

Former members: Adam Cole, AJ Styles, Bone Soldier, Cody Hall, Luke (Doc) Gallows, Karl Anderson, Prince Devitt (Finn Balor)


Leader: N/A

Active members: Kazuchika Okada*, Tomohiro Ishii*, Hirooki Goto, Toru Yano, Will Ospreay*, Yoshi-Hashi, Roppongi Vice* ([Trent] Beretta and Rocky Romero), Jado, Gedo, Mark Briscoe*, Jay Briscoe*

Former members: Shinsuke Nakamura, Tetsuya Naito, Karl Anderson, Yujiro Takahashi, Alex Koslov, Black Tiger, Brian Kendrick, Davey Richards, Giant Bernard, Hideo Saito, Kazushi Sakuraba, Low Ki, Masato Tanaka, Takashi Iizuka

Los Ingobernables de Japon

Leader: Tetsusya Naito*

Active members: Naito, Bushi*, Evil*, Hiromu Takahashi*, Sanada*

Former members: N/A


Leader: Minoru Suzuki

Active members: Suzuki, Davey Boy Smith Jr. El Desperado, Lance Archer, Taichi, Taka Michinoku, Takashi Iizuka, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Zack Sabre Jr*.

Former members: Shelton Benjamin, Yoshihiro Takayama, Takashi Sugiura

Taguchi Japan

Leader: Ryusuke Taguchi

Active members: Taguchi, Hiroshi Tanahashi*, Michael Elgin*, Dragon Lee*, David Finlay*, Juice Robinson*, Kushida*, Manabu Nakanishi, Ricochet, Satoshi Kojima, Yoshitatsu*

Former members: N/A

Who are the current champions?

IWGP heavyweight: Kazuchika Okada

IWGP Intercontinental: Hiroshi Tanahashi

NEVER openweight: Minoru Suzuki

IWGP tag team: Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Roa)

IWGP junior heavyweight tag team: Young Bucks (Matt and Nick Jackson)

IWGP junior heavyweight: Kushida

NEVER openweight six-man tag team: Los Ingobernables de Japon (Bushi, Evil and Sanada)

I hear there's a new title that will be awarded at these shows. What can you tell me about the IWGP U.S. title? Who's in the tournament?

ESPN.com spoke to New Japan Pro Wrestling Chairman Naoki Sugabayashi about the creation and purpose of the new IWGP United States championship. The first-ever champion of this title will be crowned in Long Beach.

ESPN.com: From the beginning, when it was clear these events were going to happen, was it clear that there had to be a United States-based championship?

Chairman Sugabayashi: It was all part of our plans, which we've had for a few years now.

ESPN.com: What went into the design and appearance of the title?

Chairman Sugabayashi: Each of the belts we have in NJPW have their own distinct characteristics, and we wanted the U.S. title to be no different. The IWGP title is black, the Intercontinental title is white, so we decided on a different color for the US title, and used red as a basis for the design.

ESPN.com: Is the creation of this title another indication of just how seriously New Japan Pro Wrestling is taking their expansion into the United States?

Chairman Sugabayashi: We recognize the significance of moving into the U.S. market. We want this belt to be the cornerstone of our U.S. operations going forward.

ESPN.com Are there plans for how the title will be defended in the short term?

Chairman Sugabayashi: Whomever becomes the champion in Los Angeles, we would want the title to be defended both on future America based NJPW shows, and on shows held by our partners like Ring of Honor.

ESPN.com: How important is it that the first champion embody New Japan Pro Wrestling and what the company is trying to accomplish in the United States?

Chairman Sugabayashi: Wrestling came to Japan as an American import. For over half a century Japanese fans have been interested in, and embraced, American wrestlers and American wrestling. There is no doubt that this title represents New Japan Pro Wrestling having a closer relationship to America than ever before, and even after the LA shows, we will continue to advance into the American market.

What do the rest of the G1 Special in USA shows look like?

New Japan G1 Special in USA match cards

Night One (Saturday, July 1)

  • IWGP heavyweight championship: Kazuchika Okada vs. Cody

  • IWGP U.S. title tournament Rd 1: Kenny Omega vs. Michael Elgin

  • IWGP U.S. title tournament Rd 1: Tomohiro Ishii vs. Tetsuya Naito

  • IWGP U.S. title tournament Rd 1: Juice Robinson vs. Zack Sabre Jr.

  • IWGP U.S. title tournament Rd 1: Jay Lethal vs. Hangman Page

  • IWGP tag team championships: Guerillas of Destiny vs. War Machine

  • David Finlay, Jay White, Kushida and Tanahashi vs. Sho Tanaka, Yohei Komatsu, Yoshitatshu and Billy Gunn

  • Jushin Thunder Liger, Dragon Lee, Volador Jr. and Titan vs. Sanada, Bushi, Evil and Hiromu Takahashi

  • Beretta, Rocky Romero, Will Ospreay, Mark Briscoe and Jay Briscoe vs. Nick Jackson, Matt Jackson, marty Scurll, Yujiro Takahashi and Bad Luck Fale

Night Two (Sunday, July 2)

  • IWGP U.S. title tournament finals

  • IWGP U.S. title tournament semifinals (x2)

  • IWGP Intercontinental championship: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Billy Gunn

  • IWGP junior tag team championships: Young Bucks vs. Roppongi Vice

Remainder of card dependent on Night One.