Section 1- News & Results
All Japan: Arashi has been canned following an arrest for pot possession. Sasaki & Nakajima defend the All Asia tag titles on the 30th against Rosey & Buchanan. Three matches were made official for 8/27- Kea vs Kawada, Great Muta vs Tajiri, and Kondo vs Hayashi for the junior title.
Dragon Gate: Not a whole lot to report about the US indy-laden WRESTLE JAM tour aside from Austin Aries getting a win over Ryo Saito, then Susumu Yokosuka pinning Aries in return. The WAR junior tag titles will be brought to Dragon Gate with a one-night eight-team tournament on 8/6. Doi has a serious injury and will not be able to wrestle in the contendership match with Ryo Saito on the 29th.
New Japan: Gedo & Jado reclaimed the junior tag titles from Samurai & Taguchi on Saturday, and there is speculation that Samurai is banged up (which in turn meant the titles had to change hands). Koshinaka & Makabe make a quick first defense of the temporary tag titles on the big Monday show against the Nakanishi/Omori tandem. Akebono was unable to work the G-1 due to a shootfight just before the tournament.
NOAH: Kobashi’s kidney cancer surgery last week was a complete success, with no sign of spreading or complications. There’s a ‘get well Kobashi’ thread on the ROH board and ROH has arranged to have the messages translated and relayed to the man himself. There has been quite a lot of talk about Samoa Joe coming in to challenge Akiyama on the 9/9 Budokan, or some future date. How this would work given Joe’s TNA schedule is up in the air, but I would tend to think that a lot of it revolves around Joe potentially winning the NWA title.
Section 2- G-1 2006
How do you know a G-1 field is weak? It can be about the number of G-1 virgins, as demonstrated by the bloated 2000 tournament’s 6 newbies. That isn’t the case here, however, as 8 of the 10 entrants were in a previous iteration of the annual event and 7 were in at least two. Well, how about the number of wrestlers? Wrong again, 1991 and 1995 were the smallest in quantity yet arguably the height of quality. 2006 is only as small as 1996, which was another successful outing. How about previous winners? This year has three, which despite being small didn’t get reached in one tournament field until 1998. Ex-IWGP holders? It’s three now and could be four by next week.
The lack is of any first or second-generation heavyweight trueborns/icons. No Choshu, Fujinami or Sasaki. No Chono, Mutoh, Hashimoto or Hase. Even among third and fourth generation names there is a drop-off from previous years, as Nakamura, Fujita and Shibata are all elsewhere at the moment. G-1 1991 was an elite field, as was 1995. 1996 had a good mix of legends and young lions. 2006 doesn’t have icons, and its use of Liger and Kanemoto smacks more of filler than anything else. It’s that or choose from Iizuka, Yano, Ishii, Tyson Tomko and Junji “Strong Machine” Hirata. There’s something to be said for not using freelancers as a crutch; the field could no doubt get beefed up with Sasaki, Suzuki, Koshinaka and Omori, but that would add plenty to the cost and arguably little to ticket sales.
The thing I’m most interested in is whether the final night will be a legit sell-out. Last year was thanks to a loaded final four of Chono, Fujita, Kawada and Nakamura. This year we’ll probably see Tenzan, Nagata, Tanahashi and Kojima, which isn’t on the same tier for name value or dream matchups. If New Japan can’t get 11,000 butts in the non-seats of Ryogoku Kokugikan, or if they need to give away comp tickets, it will mark a darker day than did New Japan’s announcement earlier this year that they’ve given up on the Tokyo Dome. At the same time they can turn a profit without a sell-out given this roster, so while the business declines further Yukes would have a silver lining.
Below are my outlooks for each wrestler. Percentages given are for reaching the semi’s, reaching the finals, and winning the tournament. Going from least to most likely to advance…
-Yamamoto (5% / 1% / 0.1%). He has a very outside chance to go 2-1-1 and advance, but even that would take three big upset results. Yamamoto has shown a lot of fire over the last year and has made up for the departure of Nagao and Anzawa from the young lion ranks simply by improving himself in the ring. Choshu giving him some booking attention didn’t hurt either. Yamamoto can afford to get 0 points and still come out ahead through spunky losing efforts; points are gravy.
-Liger (5% / 1% / 0.1%). A legend to be sure, Liger can be counted on for a good effort and crowd support. The matchup with Kojima especially could be a show-stealer. Liger is in the ‘tough’ block and won’t be expected to win anything, so as with young Naofumi even a draw would be good.
-Kanemoto (12% / 1% / 0.1%). Koji has a solid following and the junior title. In 2004 he not only had fun matches but also managed some wins, not the least of which was a cradle pin on Nakanishi. This year he should be happy with a win, and two wouldn’t be out of the question either, but anything more would be quite a shock. Especially with Choshu In Charge. Hey that would be a badass sitcom.
-Bernard (15% / 5% / 0.7%). The less-hairy, pierced-to-the-gills and shockingly competent gaijin monster is a booker’s dream to use in round-robins. If Liger rolls him up for a fluke 1-2-3 after getting dominated, well, there’s no shame in a loss to Liger. If he can knock Kojima, Nakanishi or Tanahashi out of the semi’s, well, he’s the biggest guy in the promotion and he beat Kensuke Sasaki soundly just last year. Thus he can play the spoiler, put people over and be totally unpredictable for the fans.
-Makabe (23% / 5% / 1%). He shouldn’t be ahead of Bernard in theory, but I have him up higher based on the weak block and his “tag title” win. Makabe won’t be winning it all or getting a title shot but he just might get in as a dark horse, to say nothing of the outside chance that an injury in his block makes him a near-default pick to advance.
-Nakanishi (25% / 5% / 1%). Perhaps I’m underestimating him just a tad. He’s long overdue for a title challenge, and it might take a G-1 win to increase his profile enough to make that worthwhile. That said he’s in the tougher block, and with a time limit draw unlikely that means beating two of Kojima, Bernard and Tanahashi. That isn’t too likely, especially with no pre-tournament attention being given to him.
-Tanahashi (65% / 37% / 30%). An odd situation here, and odder still I don’t know that the result of his title match on Monday would effect things too much. If he loses to Lesnar, he’s still got a good chance to get a G-1 win on the rebound much the same way that Tenzan did in 2003. If he wins the title, the G-1 can be used either to make him look like a credible champ or it can be used to set up title challenges. Nakamura was the pre-tournament favorite the last two years but didn’t win, and though the ‘new musketeers’ seem overdue for a G-1 victory now it’s far from a sure thing.
-Tenzan (75% / 33% / 20%). Shouldn’t be ahead of Tanahashi, but he’s in an easier block. Tenzan benefits quite a lot from Lesnar retaining the title, since that makes Mr. Headbutt the top name left unbeaten by the manster. Tenzan winning the final and then challenging Tanahashi would play off the Tenzan vs Tanahashi final two years ago, but Tenzan doesn’t have any pre-tournament momentum (and there’s no X-factor like Chono winning for Hashimoto last year). I’ve lamented the way New Japan booked Tenzan more than enough over the years, so I’ll make this short but sweet: after four IWGP reigns, two G-1 wins, tons of tag title runs and several other high-profile matches, Tenzan should be a lot more than just another heavyweight on the New Japan roster, which he has been since losing the title to Fujita. That he isn’t says more about the company than Tenzan.
-Nagata (85% / 40% / 33%). Mr. Saikyo has looked the best of all NJ native heavyweights this year, showing fire again and also a lot more consistency than his ’04 or ’05 campaigns. It made sense to put him on the back-burner after his dominant IWGP reign, yet by now it’s gone a bit overboard with no title shots in three years since he lost to Takayama. Even outsiders like Sasaki, Fujita and Minoru Suzuki have had multiple shots in that span. No time like the present to pull the trigger and give him a G-1 win so he can go on to either take the strap afterwards or at least have regular title shots in the coming years. If Lesnar beats Tanahashi, Nagata is absolutely the one who should topple the gaijin obstacle. Choshu seems to appreciate Nagata’s effort so I think he should be the slight favorite to win it all.
-Kojima (90% / 65% / 10%). Placed in the role of Akiyama and Fujita, Kojima is the strong outsider destined to advance from the block stage and put a New Japan loyalist over on the final night. Decent chance that he’ll lose in the semis, and next to no chance that he wins because the G-1 winner is always always always a babyface New Japan regular.
-Other thoughts: At least it should be better than the Champions Carnival again, and it remains the biggest tournament in puro by a country mile. At the same time it has managed to fall a long, long way in the last couple years and I don’t know if there’s much hope for improvement in future G-1s.
Section 3- Shillage and shillitude
My new column on FightOpinion. In it I give my thoughts on Kobashi, Arashi, and even the RVD/Sabu drug bust.
Go vote in the Best Comedy Ever poll. Some good matchups there, some that you don’t care even a little bit about. It’s like a NOAH Budokan card. Speaking of which…
Next Week: New Japan & NOAH big show results; Samoa Joe/NOAH speculation