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NEW JAPAN PRO WRESTLING G1 CLIMAX 31 – DAY 1
SEPTEMBER 18, 2021
OSAKA, JAPAN AT OSAKA PREFECTURAL GYM
AIRED LIVE ON NJPWWORLD.COM
Welcome to the first day of G1 Climax coverage on the Torch! I’ve got four nights this year, but this is my only time covering A Block action, so here’s hoping for a big night. Let’s get the best tournament on the planet started.
(1) RYOHEI OIWA vs. SHO
Oiwa is one of two new Young Lions to have just hit TV, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a Young Lion that I was so sure about so quickly as I am Oiwa. He projects as an obvious heavyweight and he’s already somewhat jacked to the gills. Sho is fresh off his heel turn on his former partner Yoh, and is now part of Bullet Club as part of the “House of Torture” subgroup.
Oiwa charged in with forearms then ran the ropes for a couple of blocks, which Sho largely no-sold. Oiwa threw a couple more forearms, but a forearm by Sho leveled him. Oiwa got back up and Sho battered him with some forearms again. Sho took Oiwa down and worked a wristlock behind his back until Oiwa reached the ropes. Sho took Oiwa outside the ring to introduce him to the steel barricade a couple of times. He ran Oiwa across the way to the other barricade. Already Sho’s act is downplaying his awesome technical style in favor of the Bullet Club nonsense. He threw Oiwa to the barricade one last time, then hit palm strikes against Oiwa’s chest along with the ring announcer to the count of twelve. Sho reentered the ring and Oiwa made it at the 18 count.
Sho took Oiwa to the corner for some strikes and then leaned in with his feet until the ref broke it up. Oiwa fired himself up and met Sho in the middle of the ring. Sho got the better of a forearm exchange, then ran the ropes right into an Oiwa dropkick. Oiwa with a tackle and a takedown for two. Oiwa attempted a Boston Crab but Sho used his wrist tape to rake Oiwa’s eyes. Back to their feet and Sho ran the ropes and took Oiwa down with an ax-handle. Sho trapped Oiwa in the Snake Bite for the quick tap.
WINNER: Sho at 6:15. (*)
(Wells’s Analysis: Very brief match, even for the Young Lion spot. I miss Sho’s former ring style terribly, but I understand he has to work this way in the Bullet Club context. Oiwa didn’t get to show much tonight. Sho gets the other Young Lion tomorrow night)
(2) KOTA IBUSHI vs. YUJIRO TAKAHASHI (w/Pieter) – A Block match
Yujiro once again makes the Climax with some help from likely travel restrictions. He figures to bottom-feed this block throughout, and will probably be in the opener of the block matches most nights, if not all. Ibushi comes off two straight G1 Climax wins (and three straight trips to the final match).
Kevin Kelly commented that Ibushi is 2-4 in G1 opening matches, which isn’t surprising as big names are often given large hills to climb in the G1. Ibushi powered Takahashi to a rope and broke clean. Takahashi threw a chop and a few rights. He charged into a boot but threw one of his own, then ran the ropes into a dropkick. Ibushi gave a golf clap to his own work. Ibushi hit a forearm from the apron, then tried a springboard but got shoved down and to the floor. Takahashi followed Ibushi out and tossed him into a ringpost, then used his walking stick to choke Ibushi while the ref got hung up with Pieter. Referee Marty Asami broke it up and sent the action back to the ring.
Inside, Takahashi mounted Ibushi for a few rights and lifted him up for a body slam. Legdrop, elbow drop and a falling headbutt by Yujiro. He covered for a one count. Takahashi put Ibushi in a corner for some more rights and whipped him to the opposite corner and charged with a big boot. He covered for another one count. Takahashi stomped Ibushi a couple of times. Ibushi started to fire himself up and got to his feet. Takahashi put some knees to his midsection but ran the ropes into a thrust kick. Both guys sold for a moment.
Quick palm strikes and a kick by Ibushi. He motioned for the crowd to keep up the clapping. Huracanrana by Ibushi sent Takahashi barreling out of the ring. Ibushi hopped the ropes to a buckle for a springboard move, but Takahashi caught him and yanked him to the floor. Takahashi put Ibushi into a barricade, then hit a reverse DDT. Back inside. Takahashi ran and hit a boot on Ibushi, then hit a fisherman buster for a two count. Ibushi missed a big kick and Yujiro snatched him up for a side suplex and covered for two. Takahashi lifted Ibushi into a fireman’s carry, but Ibushi wriggled free and hit a big kick to the head. Sitout powerbomb by Ibushi got two. He motioned for Kamigoye. Takahashi fought it off, then attempted Pimp Juice, which Ibushi blocked. Takahashi got the referee turned around and hit a low blow. Takahashi hit Pimp Juice and covered for a very convincing near-fall. He then hit Pimp Juice from a higher position and covered for the three. Oh. My. God.
WINNER: Yujiro Takahashi at 11:32. (**)
(Wells’s Analysis: Block winners typically lose one or two early to keep them out of the lead right away, but I thought Takahashi was a bridge too far. A wild result, though it’s kind of a trudge when Takahashi is on offense for the near-total length of a match, as he was here)
(3) GREAT-O-KHAN vs. TANGA LOA (w/Jado) – A Block match
Very cool to finally see Tanga Loa get into this tournament along with his brother, though the Bullet Club stuff is going to be a lot to handle on these A Block nights. Great-O-Khan is also in his first G1, and I’d love to see the stats on how rare it is for debuting G1 participants to face each other on the first night. I figure both of these guys to be lower-to-middle of the standings, but I also wouldn’t be shocked to see O-Khan with as many as ten points. Chris Charlton said these are the 115th and 116th men to enter the G1 Climax tournament. It was also mentioned that Tanga Loa has only had three singles matches in his entire New Japan career.
The two jawed a little to open. Khan gave a little shove and invited one back, and Tanga Loa obliged. They locked up and neither got a quick advantage. They rolled across the ropes for a relatively clean break. Loa missed a swing and Khan lifted him into a reverse bearhug. Loa broke free and ran the ropes for a block that didn’t take Khan down. Khan invited another block and still didn’t go down. Khan asked for another, but Loa invited Khan to take a turn. Khan flattened Loa with a tackle, then another. Loa exited the ring to have a quick talk with Jado.
Khan went out, worried about Jado. He cautiously reentered after Loa, then hit one of his Mongolian chops. Khan ran the ropes into a spear by Loa, who followed up with some stomps and some ground & pound. Referee Kenta Sato wanted to get back to wrestling and Loa pretended to be nice about it. Loa stomped Khan some more and hit a body slam, then a leg drop for a two count. Loa worked a choke hold and Sato broke it up. Loa chucked Khan to the outside and hung up the ref while Jado got in some cheap shots with his kendo stick. Loa went out and charged Khan into the apron, then hit a wicked snap suplex on the mat outside on the concrete. Loa entered the ring and waited for Khan to answer the call at the 16 count.
Big boot by Loa, followed by some stomps to Khan’s right hand, sold by the announcers as a way to keep him from his Eliminator finisher. He choked Khan on the bottom rope until Sato broke it up. Cover for two. Loa pulled up Khan by his beard and said he expected more from him. “Who’s great? Not you! Not you! Show me…” Loa went for a suplex but Khan fought it up and lifted Loa and slammed him down. Mongolian chop by Khan. Another. Chops by Khan. Whip to the opposite corner and a lariat by Khan. Loa ended up in the tree of woe and Khan leaned in with a boot to the neck until Sato broke it up. Khan charged in with a dropkick with Loa still in the tree of woe. Jado tried to intervene and Khan dealt with him quickly. Khan slammed Loa again for two.
Loa tried to fight back into it and Khan hit another Mongolian chop. Loa hit some body shots and finally got to his feet again. Forearm exchange. Loa got the better of it, then ran the ropes into a bicycle kick. Khan ran the ropes and Jado used the kendo stick. Loa covered for two. Loa worked a crossface and rolled Khan back to the center of the ring to keep it on. Khan teased a tap, but made it to a rope with his foot to break.
Loa whipped Khan, then hit a Blue Thunder Bomb for two. The ring announcer mentioned the passing of the fifteen minute mark, which I didn’t think this match would see. Loa hit a few Mongolian chops of his own on the “owner” of the move. Khan tossed Loa with a backdrop, blocked a chop and worked a sleeper until Jado ran into the ring. Khan used Loa to clear out Jado. Loa broke free and hit a powerbomb for a very long two count. The two reversed a few holds and Khan hit the Eliminator to finish.
WINNER: Great-O-Khan at 17:45. (**1/2)
(Wells’s Analysis: The two did some decent character work, mostly at the outset of the match. The Bullet Club shenanigans were minimal by their standards, which was great since we were in our third straight match involving one of their guys. Decent enough action, though it’s a little much to give this match almost eighteen minutes)
(4) TORU YANO vs. KENTA – A Block match
Yano is fresh off of regaining the King of Pro Wrestling trophy from Chase Owens in a match where he dyed his hair blond to signify a return to violent Yano. He’s back to black hair tonight, so I expect comedy in this tournament. I forgot Kenta was in this block until now; this block is going to be excruciating with the relentlessness of the Bullet Club act. Kenta gave a pamphlet to the ring announcer to match the length of Yano’s long introduction. Bilingual Chris Charlton said it was primarily a biography of Kenta’s life, with some lies sprinkled in.
Both guys forced the ref to check the other for foreign objects, and both guys were caught hiding a roll of athletic tape in a long pre-bell sequence. Kenta bailed shortly after the bell and the two continued to jaw at one another. Kenta entered and Yano left. Yano entered and Kenta left. Repeat. Finally the ring announcer started a count as Yano was walking up the ramp. He walked back to the ring and we finally got contact about two and a half minutes in when Kenta threw some shots. Eye rake by Kenta. Kenta missed a lariat and hit the ropes and mocked on of Yano’s taunts, then bailed to the floor. Yano followed and Kenta sprayed an “alcohol bottle” in Yano’s eyes. The two fought up the ramp all the way to the top, and Kenta – in control – had a roll of tape hidden there. Yano intercepted it and threw it away. Kenta found another one he’d hidden and taped Yano to the steel structure at the head of the ramp and ran to the ring. Yano struggled as the announcer counted generously slowly and he reentered the ring.
Kenta stomped Yano, but Yano took Kenta to a corner and took off an opposite corner pad. He hit a monkey flip on Kenta into the exposed buckle and covered for two. Kenta reversed a whip on Yano into the buckle, then flew in with his corner dropkick. He covered for two. Kenta went for Go 2 Sleep but Yano fought it off. Kenta threw Yano to the outside and the referee followed and got bumped when Kenta threw Yano into him. Kenta found yet another roll of tape under the ring and taped Yano’s wrists together. He then lifted the ring skirt and threw Yano under the ring. Kenta went into the ring and helped the ref to his feet to start the count. Yano made it back in behind the two and he hit a low blow, then another, and covered for the win.
WINNER: Toru Yano at 11:06. (1/4*)
(Wells’s Analysis: Oh boy, this was a long way to get where we were going. Kenta figures to be reasonably high up the standings at the end of this, so he’s getting the hill to climb as well. I’m perfectly fine with the occasional comedy match in this tournament, but this had long stretches of total non-action and it’s a huge relief to finally get to the final two matches of the night)
(5) TETSUYA NAITO vs. ZACK SABRE, JR. – A Block match
Naito won his fourth and eighth attempts at the G1, and this is his twelfth. The announcers invoked some classic battles between these two, including a tapout victory by Zack in the 2018 New Japan Cup tournament, which Sabre won.
Early taunts were followed by rapid mat exchanges. Naito worked a leg lock and Sabre tried a few holds to counter it. Sabre countered his way to his feet and worked into a bow and arrow, but Naito broke free and hit his laying-down taunt to applause. There’s probably already more contact in this match than the last one.
Arm drag by Sabre, who ran the ropes. Jockeying for position and Naito hit an armdrag, a back elbow and a rana to send Sabre to the outside. Back inside and Naito worked a cravat. Sabre worked his way free and hit a couple of suplexes and a dropkick to the back of the head on Naito. Naito bailed for a second and Sabre rolled him inside. European uppercuts by Sabre. Sabre worked a submission with his legs trapping Naito’s head, and Naito tried to roll Sabre up for a pin but Sabre redirected. Naito reached a rope to break. Kevin Kelly mentioned that Sabre has won nine G1 matches by submission, which is more than anyone else in the tournament.
Sabre worked another submission, this time crossing Naito’s arms to cut off blood to his own neck. Reversal attempts repeatedly ended with Sabre reapplying the hold. Naito got free and hit an inverted atomic drop and a neckbreaker on Sabre, and both guys sold for a moment. Basement dropkick by Naito. Combinacion Cabron by Naito. Naito applied a full nelson with his legs on Sabre, but Sabre reached a rope to break. Naito worked toward Gloria, which Sabre blocked. Sabre worked a guillotine over the ropes and the ref broke it up. PK by Sabre. Cover for two. Sabre sold amused frustration.
European uppercuts by Sabre. The fourth laid Naito out on the mat. Sabre charged but ate boots. Naito tried a slightshot DDT but after a series of reversals, Sabre hit a dragon suplex for two. Sabre threw some kicks at a grounded Naito, but Naito caught the third and the two had another reversal extravaganza and Naito took down Sabre with a DDT. Naito got to his feet first and waited for Sabre to get up in a corner. He charged in with a few back elbows. Naito went up to the second rope and hit Esperanto to lay Sabre out. Naito wanted Destino but Sabre snatched him from his run and worked a leg submission. Naito reached the bottom rope to break.
Sabre snapped Naito’s knees to the side a few times. Naito fought from underneath a few forearms, then hit a big swinging DDT to get back in it. Sunset Bomb by Sabre got two. Sabre worked another leg submission and Naito rolled to the ropes to break. Sabre stomped Naito a couple of times. Naito got to his feet and Sabre absorbed some palm strikes and took some more shots. Out of nowhere, Sabre ran the ropes and Naito hit Destino. Naito couldn’t follow up as he was laid out on the mat. Both guys hit their feet and Naito controlled with some forearms. Zack hit some European uppercuts but Naito took him down again. Zack hit a dragon suplex and a short DDT from the corner. Naito countered the Zack Driver into Valencia. Sabre countered Destino into a trap pin for a very long two count. Sabre stomped on the side of Naito’s knee as the match passed 25 minutes.
Zack Driver was again countered into a…sort of Destino?…it was an awkward fall to the mat. Sabre countered another Destino into an Indian death lock. Naito tapped!
WINNER: Zack Sabre Jr. at 27:32. (***3/4)
(Wells’s Analysis: A great panacea after a questionable run of matches to this point. As a Suzuki Gun guy, Sabre can definitely work a heelish anti-wrestling style when necessary, but after a show like this they can’t afford to have him do so. Naito is yet another top guy who has a hill to climb, so they’re not giving anything away in the A Block just yet)
(6) TOMOHIRO ISHII vs. SHINGO TAKAGI – A Block match
IWGP Heavyweight Champion Shingo Takagi got just 8 points in this tournament last year as he was still on his way up. Ishii also only had 8 points last year, though that’s right around his usual. Last year, Ishii beat Takagi in the main event of night 7.
Forearm exchange to start. The crowd clapped along as the pace quickened. They went at it for about a minute. Both guys tried blocks and Takagi took Ishii down. Takagi dumped Ishii and followed, then charged him into the apron. Takagi whipped Ishii into the barricade, then leaned on Ishii with a boot. Takagi smashed Ishii’s head into the apron a couple of times. Ishii no-sold and whipped Takagi into the barricade, then powerslammed him to the floor on the rebound. Referee Red Shoes Unno exited the ring to check on Takagi. Ishii put Takagi back into the ring and followed. Ishii put forearms to the small of Takagi’s back. Ishii threw some chops and Takagi fired up and tried one of his own, but an Ishii chop leveled Takagi.
Takagi tried to get back into it and Ishii chopped him a few times against the ropes. Ishii backed Takagi into a corner and no-sold some chops, then chopped some more. Ishii kept at it with the chops and begged for some in return. Takagi tried some forearms and Ishii chopped him to the mat. The two traded trips to the corner and Takagi hit a back elbow and a DDT. Takagi took a few moments to recover and blocked Ishii to the mat, then hit a senton for two. Takagi hit a knee drop on a grounded Ishii and kicked dismissively at Ishii’s head. Ishii popped up angrily and no-sold a few forearm shots, leaning in further with every Takagi shot. He backed Takagi to a corner and alternated cops and elbow smashes. He elbowed Takagi down to the mat in the corner, then threw some dismissive kicks of his own. Shingo asked for more, then hit his feet.
Takagi took Ishii to a corner and threw his own combination of shots. He went up and hit a back elbow from the top and covered for two. Ishii ducked a basement lariat but Takagi hit a suplex. Ishii ducked a lariat and hit a suplex of his own. Both guys missed some shots and Ishii hit a side suplex. Takagi popped up and hit one also. Ishii with a Saito suplex. Basement lariat by Takagi. Both guys ran out of adrenaline and sold on the mat.
Both guys hit their feet and Takagi hit a corner lariat. They went up in the corner and Takagi threw some headbutts, then hit a superplex. He covered for two. Again, both guys sold on the mat for a minute. They got to their feet again and Takagi put Ishii down with a lariat. Ishii fired up and another Takagi lariat had little effect. Ishii threw a forearm and Takagi went flying to the mat. Rope run and each ducked a lariat, but Ishii hit one to put Takagi down again. Ishii took Takagi to the corner and tried to deadlift Takagi, and through miscommunication or whatnot, Takagi went over and fell awkwardly in a moment that looked like it could have gone much worse easily. The two repeated the spot and Ishii hit a deadlift superplex this time.
Ishii missed a sliding lariat and Takagi went for Made in Japan, which Ishii blocked. Ishii hit a sliding lariat instead and both guys sold again. The two threw headbutts at each other simultaneously and neither would back down. They hit their feet and exchanged shots, and Ishii got the better of this exchange and hit several in a row. Takagi surprised Ishii with Made in Japan and got a long two just before the twenty minute mark. Takagi hit a lariat to the back of Ishii, then ran the ropes but got hit with a German suplex. Takagi returned with a huge lariat, eliciting a gasp from the audience, and got two.
Takagi went for Last of the Dragons, but Ishii turned it into a Crucifix Bomb and got two. Both guys struggled to their feet. Rope run and they exchanged some shots. Shingo got tossed into the referee, who sold some pain but it was likely an incidental bump that he had to oversell. Ishii hit a powerbomb and got two. Ishii ran the ropes and hit a sliding lariat for two. Ishii set up the Vertical Drop Blockbuster but Shingo fought out of it. Shingo almost hit Last of the Dragons again, but Ishii hit a dragon suplex instead and the match reached 25 minutes.
Running lariat by Ishii got two. Ishii fired up and tried his finisher again, but Shingo rolled through. Dragon suplex by Takagi, followed by a sliding forearm. Huge Pumping Bomber by Takagi got a convincing near-fall. Both guys got to their feet and threw chops and headbutts. The crowd was alive with every big shot. Takagi was able to hit Last of the Dragons.
WINNER: Shingo Takagi at 27:56. (****1/4)
(Wells’s Analysis: As hard-hitting as you’d hope, although the quicker gear didn’t kick in for a while. Very few matches in the entire tournament will be as brutal and mean as this one, so if you like your G1 matches to have extreme violence, you may already have seen your favorite match of the tournament. Sitting champions usually start off with a bang in the tournament, then fade late; I don’t expect Takagi to come out of the block but I definitely expect him to be alive going into the final day)
FINAL THOUGHTS: This is my fifth straight tournament watching in real time, and although the last two matches provided an excellent one-two punch, this block is going to have a lot of brawling outside the ring and a maximum of nonsense from Yano and the Bullet Club, so we’ll see how long it takes before the block drags a little bit. B Block has its own challenges (and three more Bullet Club members at a time they’re going full-bore with the interference, cheating and brawling outside the ring), and I’m not sure yet which block will come out feeling like the more exciting one, assuming one steps forward as usual. New Japan is really missing some of its international talent right now, and could use some exciting visitors in the tournament, but the G1 is still the G1, and we’ve got a whole 18 more shows to go. I’ll be back for the third, fifth and final B Block shows, and tomorrow night, Rich Fann will cover the first of the B Block offerings. Cheers.