Section 1- Results
All Japan: Kojima retained the Triple Crown against Mutoh on 7/26. Also on that show, Sasaki & Nakajima won the All Asia titles from Kondo & YASSHI.
Section 2- News
All Japan: Four title matches were announced for the next tour. TAKA’s next junior title defense will be against Mazada on 8/21. Jamal will get a shot at the Triple Crown on 9/1, after his win over Kojima in the Champions Carnival semi-finals. Also on that card will be a junior title match, with the 8/21 winner facing someone to be determined. Sasaki & Nakajima will put the All Asia tag straps up against Arashi & Hijikata.
BIG MOUTH: Akiyama vs Shibata will be a part of the tournament, as will be the added match of Suwama vs The Predator. Also on the card is a very unique tag match, with Terry Funk and Mil Mascaras facing Honma and Nakajima. The second show, with round 2 of the tournament, will be on 10/2.
New Japan: The biggest news of the last two weeks by far was the addition of Kawada to the G-1, replacing Josh Barnett. Josh learned this news over the internet, and you can listen to him discuss it on the latest Puroresu Power radio show (at www.puroresupower.com). Kawada was added thanks to renewed ties between New Japan and PRIDE after Hashimoto’s death. Kaz Fujita was officially added to the G-1 as well. Blue Wolf is injured, to be replaced by Tatsutoshi Goto in a last hurrah for the veteran.
NOAH: Misawa challenged Rikio for a title shot on the upcoming 9/18 Budokan show. NOAH has also booked the Budokan for 11/5, which will mean that NOAH is running the most ‘big’ shows this year since it began five years ago (Tokyo Dome plus 5 Budokan).
Section 3- G-1 Preview
There are several things to point out when it comes to the G-1. First, it has been won by a New Japan-based wrestler every year. Second, it has tended to follow a pattern such that on odd-numbered years new wrestlers are put over. Third, after the initial tournament it has never been won by someone in his first G-1. Thus we have some categories which the wrestlers fall into.
Goto, Yoshie, Yano, Makabe, Kashin- No chance of winning whatsoever. With such a large pool of undercard wrestlers, this year’s field is the most diluted it has been since 2000. If they kept one of these five and reduced the blocks to 6 men each, there would be more big matches per night of the tournament and thus more appeal.
Kawada, Fujita, Minoru Suzuki- Outsiders who have a good chance to reach the finals, but are unlikely to win. Kawada’s booking was too abrupt for him to get such a push, while Fujita winning would ruin the purpose of the tournament (creating IWGP title challengers). Suzuki doesn’t have the stature (in more ways than one) to get a big push.
Chono, Fujinami- Veterans who are simply too far gone to be a serious threat to win. Chono’s win in 2002 was a shock, and he doesn’t have enough in the tank to do it again. Fujinami is more of a novelty act than a centerpiece.
Nakanishi, Nishimura- Midcard role-players who lack the serious fan interest to get a big push. Nakanishi was a pet project for Choshu in ’99 and ’00, but no longer gets that sort of attention. Nishimura is well-liked by New Japan fans but hasn’t generated buzz in the last couple of attempts to push him. Nishimura could be a dark horse if he’d been given more booking attention over the last few months, but he hasn’t.
Nagata, Tenzan- Upper-card veterans with prior G-1 wins. In an even-numbered year I’d say that Nagata had a strong chance due to his role as the leader of Team Japan, but between the fact that Fujita is the IWGP champion (I doubt they’d book that given the storylines) and Nagata already having won before, I see him more as a potential finalist. Tenzan… who the hell knows when it comes to how he’s being booked? He won the last two years, I can’t imagine three in a row after all the aborted title reigns.
Nakamura, Tanahashi- The favorites, far and away. New Japan born and bred, never won before, being groomed as main-eventers down the line. Tanahashi is very banged up and almost didn’t make it to the tournament, which is a blow against him. Nakamura on the other hand won the 1/4 Dome show main event, took Kojima to a draw, and is hinting at doing another shootfight. He also wasn’t beaten handily in the middle of the NOAH Dome show like Tanahashi was. In terms of the bottom line “who’s winning?”, I’d place Nakamura’s chances at 60%, Tanahashi’s at 25%, Nagata/Tenzan/Fujita at 5% each and the rest of the field at 5%.
As far as quality goes, the G-1 has been remarkably consistent over the years. I was very worried about this year until the addition of Kawada, who should get a good effort out of everyone he faces and who will help raise the bar for everyone else. Replacing Takayama, Sasaki, Shibata, Kanemoto, Tenryu and Blue Wolf from last year with Kawada, Fujita, Fujinami, Goto, Yano and Kashin is unfortunately a step down and it will take several unexpected standout matches for this year’s tourney to keep up.
Section 4- Ditch in Japan
Tickets are secured for the final nights of the G-1 and NOAH’s Korakuen Hall show on the 19th. I have no idea how much internet access I’ll have between this Saturday and Tuesday the 23rd when I get back, so this might be the last column for three weeks. I’ll do my best to recount the events when I get the chance.