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G-1 Climax 2008

Mid-August has become one of the highlights of my wrestling calendar. The reason for this is that it signals the start of New Japan’s G-1 Climax tournament. Since 1991 the G-1 has been provided classic matches, interesting booking and the emergence of several stars. This year’s edition looks to be, on paper, one of the best in recent years.

The format of the tournament has taken different forms over the years and this year what we’re looking at is two blocks of 7 wrestlers, with the winner in Block A facing the winner in Block B. The two blocks are stacked with potentially great matches, and the winners are not clear cut. Block A consists of Satoshi Kojima, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Shinjiro Ohtani, Giant Bernard, Manabu Nakanishi, Togi Makabe and Wataru Inoue. Block B will feature Shinsuke Nakamura, Yugi Nagata, Hirooki Goto, Toshiaki Kawada, Toru Yano, Yutaka Yoshie, and Hiroyoshi Tenzan.

There are a ton of interesting plots going into this. The biggest is probably that the winner will face IWGP Champion Keiji Muto, on Muto’s home turf in All Japan. This really adds intrigue to who the winner will be. If the plan is for Muto to retain in that match, then almost anyone in the G-1 could be the guy who gets the shot. If the plan is for the title to be won back by a New Japan guy then you’re probably looking at it being Nakamura, Nagata, Tanahashi or maybe even Tenzan. So there are a lot of possibilities in how this thing all plays out.

The big name outsiders this year are Kojima, Kawada, Yoshie and Ohtani. I think Block A could easily be set up for Kojima to win and make the final. He’s got a lot of steam behind him after coming back from injury and turning face so I don’t see him losing a lot of matches. Kawada can never be written off, but I think there are other guys in his block who are more likely to win out than him. Yoshie will probably be a middle of the road player. I pencil him in for 4 or 5 points. Ohtani is an interesting one because he’s been integral in the NJPW vs. Zero 1 Max feud. If the G-1 is being used as a vehicle to further that angle, then Ohtani could well be involved late in the day. It wouldn’t shock me.

Tanahashi will be making his comeback from injury in the G-1 so going by traditional Japanese booking style he’s unlikely to be too dominant a figure while he gets rid of the ring rust, last year’s winner probably isn’t going to make it a repeat. Nakamura has to be considered a favourite as he has yet to win a G-1 and he has the story of getting injured last year when most likely the plan was for him to win. However he’s in Block B which is stocked with potential winners so who knows.

Yugi Nagata is one of those potential winners. Mr. IWGP is always going to be there or thereabouts and when you’re looking at guys who would fit perfectly into the challenger role for Muto, he’s about as good a bet as anyone. If you were to force me to pick right now, I’d put my money on Nagata. One man who could well prove that pick wrong is Tenzan. He’s had a resurgence this year and he’s taken over Masa Chono’s mantel of Mr. G-1, winning in 2003, 2004 and 2006. Another man I will watch with great intrigue is Hirooki Goto. I doubt he’ll win overall but his performances in some of his big matches will be very interesting to see. He’s the breakout young star of the last year and this is his first crack at the company’s staple event.

Finally I just want to mention what I think are the matches to look out for. On the 13th in front of the always rabid Korakuen Hall crowd, Nagata meets Yoshie in a match with past G-1 history. These two have excellent chemistry. I just watched their 04 match the other day and it was really great. The 14th will see a rematch from the classic Tokyo Dome match between Nakamura and Kawada. At that time Kawada had too much for his younger rival. Almost two years on, will Nakamura be able to get one over on the legend? Then on the final day at Sumo Hall Nagata takes on Goto in the last match of the group stages. Goto has been unable to break through the Nagata wall so far in his career. This will be a great shot, on a big stage, to do so.

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