G1 Climax 31 Day 1 Report: Shingo Takagi vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Naito vs. ZSJ

Mark Buckeldee reviews the opening night of the G1 Climax from Mark Buckeldee reviews the opening night of the G1 Climax from Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium in Osaka featuring Shingo Takagi vs. Tomohiro Ishii. in Osaka featuring Shingo Takagi vs. Tomohiro Ishii.

Photo Courtesy: NJPW

Welcome to this POST Wrestling report for the first show of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s G1 Climax 31. For this year’s tournament, I will be handling A Block, with Bruce Lord handling B Block.

 

The interest for this year’s G1 Climax is low, due to New Japan’s many problems in terms of both creative and business decisions. These A Block reports are designed to make it as easy as possible for you to cherry-pick the best matches. To do that we have spoiler-free reviews for each match at the start of the report

 

G1 Climax 31 Night 1 hails from Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium in Osaka, which is New Japan’s hottest market outside of Tokyo. Watching this on the Japanese commentary I thought this was very receptive and loud crowd for current New Japan considering the restrictions of clap crowds. The attendance was 1,963 people. Last year the G1 Climax started in the same venue and had an attendance of 2,401. That show was main evented by Kazuchika Okada vs Kota Ibushi. It will be worth comparing the 2021 attendances with the 2020 attendances.

 

  1. Ryohei Oiwa vs Sho – A decent young lions match against heelish heel Sho
  2. G1 Climax 31 A Block: Kota Ibushi vs Yujiro Takahashi – A standard heel-face match where Takahashi controlled an Ibushi who appeared to be only at 75%
  3. G1 Climax 31 A Block: Great O-Khan vs Tanga Loa – A decent match, slow at times with some questionable execution with O-khan as the default face
  4. G1 Climax 31 A Block: Toru Yano vs KENTA – Over long shenanigans, where the “best” stuff was before the bell rang
  5. G1 Climax 31 A Block: Tetsuya Naito vs Zack Sabre Jr – A long match but full of changes in pace, great chemistry, and more impact move focused than most New Japan Sabre Jr matches – RECOMMENDED
  6. G1 Climax 31 A Block: Tomohiro Ishii vs Shingo Takagi – A long, hard-hitting battle with hard striking, emotions, and big bombs – RECOMMENDED

 

Ryohei Oiwa vs Sho

 

Ryohei Oiwa is one of the latest batch of Young Lions. Some shows on this G1 Climax tour will pit Young Lions against wrestlers who are not in the G1. In this case, it is Sho, the newest member of the Bullet Club.

 

Oiwa showed good fire early on, but Sho unsurprisingly took control and threw Oiwa around on the outside. During the 20 count, Sho chopped Oiwa in time to the count. The crowd rallied behind Oiwa, who eventually hit a dropkick to start a flurry of offense.  Sho went to the eyes to block a Boston Crab and nailed Oiwa with a standing Lariat before locking in the Snakebite submission to make Oiwa tap out.

 

Sho submitted Ryohei Oiwa via Snakebite (:)

 

This was a by-the-numbers Young Lion vs veteran match. Oiwa showed good fire and the structure did its magic as the crowd got behind him. Sho leaned into the heel antics a lot here, using eye pokes and a lot of brawling on the outside. A decent match but it did little to remove my fear that Sho was being positioned as EVIL-lite. Sho is good as a bully, but I fear that he leans more into over-relying on cheating when he could easily have done this match without it.


G1 Climax 31 A Block: Kota Ibushi vs Yujiro Takahashi

 

There were questions coming into this tournament after Kota Ibushi’s match against Hiroshi Tanahashi at Wrestle Grand Slam in MetLife Dome night 1. That match suggested that Ibushi was still recovering from his bout of aspiration pneumonia.

 

Takahashi kept Ibushi off balance before running into a dropkick. Ibushi tried for a springboard, but he got pushed off the apron before Takahashi used his cane as a weapon. Takahashi used a series of attacks on a grounded Ibushi, dominating but unable to keep Ibushi down for more than a 1 count. Ibushi fought back with a signature kick and standing Moonsault combination before going for the Golden Triangle Moonsault. Takahashi saw it coming and dragged Ibushi off the ring post before hitting a reverse DDT on the outside. A fisherman’s buster inside the ring earned Takahashi a 2 count and the crowd rallied behind Ibushi. An Olympic slam by Takahashi got another near fall.

 

Ibushi turned the tide with a head kick and nearly won the match with the Last Ride Powerbomb. Yujiro kicked the knee to avoid the Kami-Go-Ye. A second Kami-Go-Ye was redirected towards the referee, letting Yujiro hit a low blow and the Pimp Juice DDT for a massive near fall. Sadly, that was followed by a lifting DDT called the Big Juice and Takahashi pinned Ibushi.

 

Yujiro Takahashi pinned Kota Ibushi via Big Juice (11:31)

 

Ibushi was clearly not at full strength. To hide that, Yujiro dominated this match with Ibushi getting some flashy comebacks and hope spots. The pace was slow, but the structure did a good job of hiding Ibushi’s limitations and getting the crowd behind Ibushi. The Pimp Juice DDT near fall and the crowd’s shock at the finish showed how much the crowd cared about Ibushi in this match.  In terms of the match itself, it was decent but should indicate that we are not going to get the usual standard from Ibushi in the G1 this year, for understandable reasons. I will be surprised if Ibushi doesn’t have one of the five lowest average match times in this year’s tournament.

 

G1 Climax 31 A Block: Great O-Khan vs Tanga Loa

 

This was the G1 Climax debut for both Great O-Khan and Tanga Loa. It is also the only match on this show that didn’t take place during last year’s G1 Climax.

 

It started with a long, meandering lock up before O-Khan showed his strength with a rear waist lock. The match started with a series of shoulder tackles that O-Khan won so Loa took a breather on the outside. The crowd was surprisingly appreciative of both men here. Loa used a spear to gain some control before relying on a lot of choking. Jado got involved on the outside, attaching O-Khan with his stick. That made it 2 consecutive matches with people getting hit by sticks.

 

Loa used a suplex on the outside and a Spinebuster in the ring, mocking O-Khan. That fired up O-Khan, who hit a standing Gourd buster and a flurry of Mongolian Chops. He used his convoluted basement dropkick before an awkward Mongolian Chop spot. Loa fought back with a series of forearms and Jado used his stick to let Loa hit a Lariat. That was followed with a Crossface, where Loa initially rolled O-Khan away from the ropes. Loa got a near fall with a stalling Blue Thunder Driver. O-Khan blocked a powerbomb and applied a modified Abdominal stretch. Jado tried to interfere, so O-Khan hit him with Loa. The Eliminator was escaped and turned into a powerbomb by Loa for a near fall. O-Khan escaped the Apeshit and hit the Eliminator (Iron Claw Slam) to win the match.

 

Great O-Khan pinned Tanga Loa via Eliminator (17:45)

 

This was a slow match where O-Khan was the default face. It eventually built up to a decent finish, but the pace was slow and there were some questionable choices and execution. That’s before you add the excessive interference from Jado. The crowd seemed appreciative of O-Khan but both men need time to hone themselves as singles acts. There is potential with O-Khan, but he needs to be more critical of his move set.

 

G1 Climax 31 A Block: Toru Yano vs KENTA

 

Toru Yano was back to his usual goofy self. Gone was the blond hair, back was the QR code emblazoned red chair. The ring announcer was in super shill mode with Yano’s intro. KENTA stopped his ring introduction and gave a script to the ring announcer. It was reminiscent of Steve Corino vs CM Punk from Ring of Honor. Before the match referee, Marty Asami made a thorough search of both wrestlers, finding rolls of tape on both wrestlers.

 

KENTA immediately took a powder on the outside. Yano and KENTA traded places repeatedly before KENTA attacked Yano. KENTA mocked Yano and used many of his tactics against him. When they brawled outside KENTA grabbed a previously hidden roll of tape and taped Yano to the entrance set. Yano managed to untie himself before the 20 count and he got a near fall by catapulting KENTA into an exposed turnbuckle. Both wrestlers grabbed each other’s hair and Yano retrieved another hidden roll of tape before KENTA caused a ref bump. KENTA then tied Yano’s hands together and threw Yano under the ring. Yano emerged from behind KENTA and used a low blow and a cradle for a near fall. KENTA kicked out but Yano used another low blow and roll up to win the match.

 

Toru Yano pinned KENTA via roll-up (11:07)

 

The benefit of Toru Yano G1 matches is sometimes you get fresh ideas and most of the time it’s short. This one had neither of those positives. This went way too long and, while we had some fun moments, most of the match was things that we have seen before. I hope that the rest of Yano’s matches aren’t this long. The one highlight was the dueling ring introductions.

 

G1 Climax 31 A Block: Tetsuya Naito vs Zack Sabre Jr

 

They traded holds in the early goings, with Naito initially focusing on Sabre Jr’s left leg. Naito came out on top during these exchanges, constantly outthinking Sabre Jr even when the pace increased. Soon Naito went back to his favorite target, the neck, with a series of neck locks. Sabre Jr turned the tide by countering the Combination Cabron with a half hatch suplex and a dropkick to the head.

 

The Brit used a series of strikes before a modified head scissors to ground Naito. He applied a Japanese stranglehold, which Naito spent a long time trying to escape. The escape was more functional than flashy, and Naito downed Sabre Jr with a neckbreaker. Naito was now in full flow, using his signature neck-focused offense. Sabre Jr escaped the Gloria and fought back with a Guillotine choke in the ropes and a Penalty kick.

 

Sabre Jr used a series of European Uppercuts and countered a flying forearm into a Dragon Suplex for a near fall. Naito and Sabre Jr anticipated each other, countering in a slightly scrappy way that felt more natural than the often uber-slick style that has become so common in New Japan. Naito hit the Esperanza off the second rope, but Sabre Jr countered with a desperate dropkick to the knee and a rolling kneebar. Sabre Jr then proceeded to repeatedly slam the knee into the mat. Naito managed to counter a knee crusher into a DDT, but Sabre Jr still had enough left in the tank to hit a sunset flip powerbomb. When Naito kicked out Sabre Jr turned it into another kneebar.

 

Sabre Jr was very cocky as he targeted the knee, which he paid for when Naito hit a Destino out of nowhere. Naito couldn’t capitalize and the match broke down into a series of strikes and Naito’s elbows to the neck. Sabre Jr hit a Release Dragon Suplex, but Naito hit the Valentina. Naito only just escaped the European Clutch and Sabre Jr desperately attacked the leg at the 25-minute mark with a double stomp. Naito just about turned the Zack Driver into a Destino, but Sabre Jr locked in a modified Prison Lock-Double Wristlock and Naito tapped out.

 

Zack Sabre Jr submitted Tetsuya Naito via Yes, I Am a Long Way from Home (27:05)

 

While the match had its fair share of holds, the periods where the pace increased made this a breath of fresh air compared to what came before it. This was easily the best match on the show so far. These two have great chemistry and I loved the constant changes in pace. The leg work came in at the right time, as it was a key part without limiting what Naito could do in terms of his signature offense. The way they countered felt more natural than usual and this felt fresher than I expected. There was a sense of scrappiness and desperation that I loved here, and this was honestly better than I expected.

 

One of the criticisms of Sabre Jr in New Japan has been how his style forced wrestlers to wrestle his match. As the years have gone on, he has become more balanced in terms of less dominant and adding more high-impact moves while retaining the submission element. You could argue that this was one of Sabre Jr’s more accessible matches in that regard. Easily the first match that I will recommend from this year’s G1.

 

G1 Climax 31 A Block: Tomohiro Ishii vs Shingo Takagi

 

New Japan decided to start things off with a bang with this main event. So did Ishii and Takagi, who slammed into each other with shoulder tackles and then started exchanging elbows from the get-go. After a brawl on the outside, Ishii hit a Powerslam on the floor. The Stone Pitbull absorbed Takagi’s strikes, controlling the Champion through force of will. Takagi’s attacks hurt but Ishii kept managing to outlast the Champion.  It took a surprise DDT for Takagi to gain the upper hand.

 

Takagi kicked Ishii in the back, which woke up the Stone Pitbull. Ishii mocked Takagi with niggly kicks to the head, but it was a kick to the back which woke up the Champion. Takagi regained control with Genichiro Tenryu-inspired offense like the punches and chops in the corner and the Yukon elbow. Ishii and Takagi traded vertical suplexes and backdrop suplexes. This was maybe a little excessive but the stagger sell at the end made up for it.

 

Ishii absorbed a big Lariat from Takagi and knocked out his opponent with a huge elbow. Ishii then nailed Takagi with another Lariat. Ishii went for a superplex, but his shoulder gave out and both men fell to the mat. Ishii then went to do it again and landed the jumping 2nd rope superplex.  He avoided a Made in Japan but ate a big Lariat. They traded headbutts and double forearm flurries. Takagi won the exchange with Made in Japan, but Ishii kicked out. Takagi just about fought through a German Suplex and smashed Ishii with a Pumping Bomber for a near fall. Ishii countered a Last of the Dragon with a Crucifix pin for a near fall.

 

They traded Lariats and an Ishii Enziguri saw Takagi collapse onto referee Red Shoes Unno. An Ishii powerbomb got another near fall, as did a Sliding Lariat. Takagi used a knee to escape a Brainbuster. Ishii returned the favor but got caught with a desperate Death Valley Driver by Takagi. Ishii hit a release Dragon Suplex and a big Lariat for big near falls. The crowd was well into this, stomping their feet repeatedly. The Champion again escaped the Brainbuster, hitting a Dragon Suplex of his own and the Sliding D. At this point the effort meant that it was taking the wrestlers longer and longer to get back to their feet. Takagi hit a colossal Pumping Bomber for a near fall, earning an audible gasp from the crowd. Ishii tried to regain control with chops to the throat, but Takagi won a series of headbutts and hit the Last of the dragon to win the match.  After the match, Ishii clutched his right shoulder. Hopefully, that isn’t a significant injury.

 

Shingo Takagi pinned Tomohiro Ishii via Last of the Dragon (27:56)

 

This was the match that you expect from these two. Action-packed, hard-hitting, brutal, great selling, and a little bit reckless. There were some things to worry about, like the superplex which suggested that Ishii has hurt his shoulder. Despite that, this had everything that you could want from these two. While it went long it didn’t feel padded out. The longer time spent on the mat near the end felt like the result of an absolute battle of attrition. The match was a battle of wills, which perfectly suits these two. The crowd was well into this by the end, which shows that Takagi delivers for the fans in attendance.

 

Was this as good as their first match? Probably not.

Was this a great match that’s worth your time? Yes?

Was this a sign that New Japan is turning things around? No. New Japan is capable of pulling out this kind of match, especially in the G1. Honestly, it’s been these kinds of matches in the G1 that made New Japan’s prospects in 2018 & 2019 seem rosier than they were.

 

Show Summary

 

Low blow count – 2/5 matches

Ref bump count-  3/5 matches

People getting hit with sticks count – 2/5 matches

 

If anything sums up how stale the G1 Climax has become, it’s the fact that 4 of these 5 matches all happened in last year’s tournaments. The first 3 G1 matches were decent but not much more. They had their moments but will be either forgettable or memorable for the wrong reasons. There are concerns about Ibushi in this tournament, and his match did not alleviate those concerns.

Both Sabre Jr vs Naito and Takagi vs Ishii were great matches. If I used stars, I’d say that both were 4+. I think the former showed how much more accessible Sabre Jr is these days as he has adapted his style significantly compared to his first G1 Climax. So, you will enjoy matches from this show, but there is also that sense that you have seen these matches before. That those earlier versions were probably better.

This year’s G1 Climax will deliver some very good matches. Most of those will be rematches. The question is, is that enough?

About Mark Buckeldee 51 Articles
Hailing from Oxfordshire in the UK, Mark Buckeldee writes show reports for POST Wrestling.