G1 CLIMAX DAY 4: Okada vs EVIL, SANADA vs Taichi, Tanahashi vs Goto
By: Bruce Lord
Welcome to the second B block report from the 31st G1 Climax tournament. If you haven’t already caught up with John & Wai’s podcast review of yesterday’s A block show or Mark Buckledee’s written report, I suggest doing so before digging into this write-up; after the break between the first two pairs of G1 cards, there aren’t going to be too many days off between now and the tournament’s close on October 21st, and trust me, you don’t want to fall behind this early in G1 season!
The unfortunate injury which has taken Tetsuya Naito out of commission for the rest of the tournament has obviously been the major story from the first week of the G1. While there are plenty of interesting matches on the slate of replacement contests NJPW will be adding to A block cards, there’s no question that Naito’s charisma and popularity with Japanese crowds will be sorely missed as the tournament rolls on. That being said, there’s perhaps a silver lining to the fact of his injury happening so early in the tournament. As has been reported by Joe Lanza of Voices Of Wrestling, concerns about the possibility of COVID removing competitors from the tournament prompted NJPW to plan ahead in anticipation of last-minute booking changes should they prove necessary further on in the tournament (which, practically speaking, will likely result in a much tighter race for points amongst both blocks’ major competitors). A big player like Naito being removed from action is definitely unfortunate, but such a removal happening so early should give Gedo & company enough time to come up with an alternate path to the A block’s completion.
A much smaller story coming out of the first two cards was the general consensus that the B block, initially viewed as having the weaker field of the two, not only outperformed expectations but may have outshone the A block itself. A quick comparison of tournament match ratings on GRAPPLgives an average (as of Friday morning) of 3.64 stars per match to the B block versus 3.26 stars for the A block. Similarly, Cagematch ratings give a slight edge to the B block in terms of overall show rating (7.38 to 7.27) as well as a wider lead in mean average of all matches (7.27 vs 6.55). That said, both sites give a slight nod to A block main event Shingo Takagi vs Tomohiro Ishii (4.60 and 9.25) over the B block’s match between Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi (4.45 and 8.98) in terms of the best individual match of the first two cards. As a bit of a stats geek, I was planning on keeping a running comparison of such ratings throughout the tournament, though Naito’s absence moving forward will likely throw things out of balance.
B block competition comes to you from Ota City General Gymnasium in Tokyo, once again following on the heels of the previous day’s A block show. Like that show, we have no Young Lion or other non-tournament content, just five matches of pure G1, available for free on New Japan World even without a subscription! After yesterday’s A Block card which featured a stellar and unique main event, let’s see how the B block fared.
Sanada and Taichi had an excellent match which builds upon the solid work both men put in on their first night of G1 action. Hiroshi Tanahashi versus Hirooki Goto was the enjoyable and well-structured match you’d expect from both competitors. Tama Tonga versus Chase Owens and Yoshi-Hashi versus Yoshi-Hashi are both adequate but unremarkable matches, though the former did somewhat exceed expectations. Kazuchika Okada versus EVIL is about as good as one could hope a formulaic, by-the-numbers EVIL match to be, which is to say still not worth the time it takes to sit through.
Hiroshi Tanahashi (0 points) vs Hirooki Goto (0 points)
After some quick grappling exchanges result in a stalemate, Tanahashi gets control and goes to work on Goto’s knees. This includes a modified version of the cloverleaf with which Tana submitted Goto immediately after Goto returned from excursion, a historical note given to us by Chris Charlton, of course. A clothesline and a bulldog briefly turn things in Goto’s favor, and after a somersault senton by Tana and a nifty series of running evasions, Goto hits the Ushigoroshi, but the damage taken to the knees earlier in the match makes it something of a Pyrrhic victory. Goto sets Tana atop the turnbuckle and hits a draping neckbreaker, followed by a top-rope elbow drop for two. Back on the top ropes, Goto sets up for the rare avalanche Ushigoroshi, but to no avail. Tana hits Twist and Shout Sling Blade, and Aces High, but the High Fly Flow misses. Goto gets a reverse GTR, but Tanahashi reverses the attempt for the traditional GTR and gets a roll-up for an out of nowhere win. Hiroshi Tanahashi defeats Hirooki Goto via pinfall at 14:14.
The takeaway: This was a solid, meat and potatoes match which did a nice job of drawing the crowd in from the beginning (speaking personally, yesterday’s crowd in the same venue sounded pretty quiet during the first half of last night’s card). The story here was Goto trying to use pure power to overcome Tanahashi, even if it came at a serious cost to himself (the avalanche Ushigoroshi tease was effective in that regard), while Tana had to rely on wily veteran wits to work around the stronger man’s offense. Fun and straightforward stuff to begin the card.
Tama Tonga (0 points) vs Chase Owens (0 points)
Before the bell, the too-sweet is put up cleanly by both men at Jado’s behest, and twice afterward to signal clean rope breaks. After some opening grappling, there are quick teases of both the Gun Stun and package piledriver. After some striking from both men, Tama has control at the five-minute mark and works Owens’ right arm (Charlton and Kevin Kelly do a nice job of threading the kayfabe needle commenting on this break from the tradition of working the left side). Owens fires up and hits a couple of neck breakers, Tama gets a Death Valley Driver off and teases the double underhook piledriver he used in his first match, but Owens nails a Tiger Driver and transitions into an STF. Tama gets to the ropes and gives himself some breathing room with a Tongan Twist. Some quick strikes and counters result in Owens using the Jewel Heist and a pair of V triggers to set up his finishing package piledriver, but it’s handily countered as Owens lifts Tama up into the Gun Stun, and Tama gets the pin. Tama Tonga defeats Chase Owens via pinfall at 11:59.
The takeaway: During the entrances, Chris Charlton opined that both men were keen to prove wrong those who’d dismiss this match out of hand as skippable filler. While it might not have been a show stealer, this did exceed my expectations and finished with a nifty reversal. This won’t be a match anyone will be talking about by the tournament’s close, but it continues the trend of the B block slightly overdelivering.
Yoshi-Hashi (0 points) vs Jeff Cobb (2 points)
Cobb easily overpowers Yoshi-Hashi in opening tie-ups, but Yoshi-Hashi makes up some ground sending Cobb into guardrails outside. Back inside, Cobb quickly reestablishes control with power spots, including a delayed vertical hold, after which he just throws Yoshi-Hashi away rather than bothering to complete the suplex. A Dragon Screw sets up an offensive run from Yoshi-Hashi, but Cobb swiftly counters an ill-advised destroyer attempt and goes on a tear. He delivers chop and lariat combos in the turnbuckle, a belly to belly, Spin Cycle, and a standing moonsault for two. Yoshi-Hashi manages to respond with a dragon suplex and hits the destroyer on his fourth attempt. Yoshi-Hashi turns a Tour of the Islands attempt into a roll-up, but it’s to no avail – Cobb hits the maneuver on his second attempt for a decisive pin. Jeff Cobb defeats Yoshi-Hashi via pinfall at 13:21.
The takeaway: The one match on this card between a first-night winner and a first-night loser was a fait accompli for Cobb. Much like his first night pairing with Owens, this match was meant to swiftly establish Cobb as a dominant force at the top of the B block in the tournament’s early days. Yoshi-Hashi’s hope spots never felt credible, and while he continues to play around with some new offense, some of its execution was hampered by the awkwardness which has dogged his in-ring work for his entire career.
Sanada (2 points) vs Taichi (2 points)
Both men popping their pecs (even to the time of the crowd clapping) starts things on a goofy note before we get down to business. Taichi establishes and maintains control with a double arm hold, then a cobra twist. Sanda creates space and strings some offense together, including a plancha to the outside ten minutes in. Back inside, Taichi evades a Paradise Lock attempt and hits some Kawada Kicks. Some quick counters lead to Sanada delivering a Magic Screw for two. Taichi transitions a Skull End attempt into more Kawada homage with a stretch plum, but damage to his back keeps him from cinching it. Taichi powers through a Tiger Driver and delivers a Dangerous Backdrop. Sanada replies with a Tiger Suplex as we hit the All Japan segment of the match.
Both men spill to the floor and take a count of 19, selling the shared wear and tear of the match. Having reset, they square off in the middle with a sequence of forearms from Sanada and kicks from Taichi, and a rolling elbow from the latter wins the exchange. An Axe Bomber prompts Taichi to drop trou, and after some exciting counters and roll-up attempts, Sanada hits a TKO. Taichi gets the knees up to counter the moonsault attempt. There’s an awkward second rope moonsault-into-Skull-End attempt, but a knee strike and head kick sends Sanada down with the crowd really getting into things. A bridging Dangerous Backdrop gets a two count. Sanada attempts another moonsault, but Taichi hits a big Misawa-styled running forearm, setting up a Black Mephisto for the win. Taichi defeats Sanada via pinfall at 25:15.
The takeaway: It was apparent from the early going that this match was going long, the only question was whether it’d be building to something which justified the invocation of both men’s All Japan backgrounds, especially after Taichi’s first tournament match leaned so heavily in that direction. Apart from the introductory pose-off (which seemed completely off-the-cuff), this was a solid and hard-hitting match bereft of any cartoonish villainy, pointless guardrail spots, or even the Paradise Lock. After their last singles match got lost amidst the barrage of Summer Struggle cards, this was a very good showing from both men, especially Taichi, who is rising to meet the role of All Japan throwback he’s taken on in this tournament (and even nobly paid respect to Sanada after the match). Additionally, having Taichi and ZSJ start their G1 paths off so well subtly tells the New Japan audience that IWGP Tag Team success is at least somewhat correlated to singles success.
Kazuchika Okada (2 points) vs EVIL (2 points)
A quick Togo distraction gives EVIL a short-lived advantage before Okada gains control. It’s a slow pace to start before another Togo distraction gives EVIL the chance to send Okada outside, and we can begin marking off our EVIL bingo card as he sends Okada into the timekeeper’s desk. Back in the ring, Okada’s sent into an exposed turnbuckle as Charlton and Kelly savvily note that it’s not just a shot at the title Okada’s fighting for, but everyone in NJPW’s paychecks as another EVIL title reign would lead to another decline in international interest in the promotion. Okada’s swiftly back in control, though, with the story being that EVIL’s unable to build any steam without overt cheating.
EVIL takes a powder at the ten-minute mark and Okada follows him for, you guessed it, ANOTHER wipeout of the timekeeper’s desk (that’s five so far in about 23 minutes of EVIL G1 ring time if you’re curious). EVIL smacks Okada with a chair, with Red Shoes Unno clearly in the pocket of the parking lots and concession stands, the only entities who stand to profit from this match continuing. Okada drop toeholds EVIL into the chair, and we’re back in the ring. Okada uses a dropkick to set up a Money Clip. After EVIL gets to the rope, Okada hits a top rope elbow drop and does the Rainmaker pose. Togo gets a chairshot in while EVIL’s distracting Unno (but again, why bother at this point?), which EVIL follows up with a superplex for a two count while grabbing the tights for good measure. Okada evades Everything Is Evil, hits a short arm clothesline, dropkick, and Tombstone combo, but the proper Rainmaker is ducked as EVIL sends Unno crashing into Okada and hits a low blow.
Okada applies a standing Money Clip, there’s another ref bump and Togo’s in for the double team. Okada quickly turfs Togo, but EVIL executes Darkness Falls for a two count. Okada responds with his own Everything Is Evil, hits the same landslide variation of the Tombstone as he used against Tanahashi, and delivers a Rainmaker for the pin. Kazuchika Okada defeats EVIL via pinfall at 21:47.
The takeaway: You couldn’t get a clearer demonstration of the wide-ranging responsibilities Kazuchika Okada shoulders in NJPW than you did in his first two G1 matches. Against Tanahashi, he had to remind audiences of the reasons why he remains the face of the company in a match that paid tribute to his rivalry with Tanahashi without outshining their previous classics, while also reintroducing the official Rainmaker presentation of his work. Today, he was tasked with filling in the gaps between a series of utterly predictable and boring EVIL spots in an attempt to make this match as tolerable as possible, something even he struggled with.
Make no mistake: EVIL has pure go-away heat, and the rote checking off of played-out interference, low blow, chair, and table spots does neither him nor his opponents any favors. The narrative that EVIL can’t beat anyone, not even Yoshi-Hashi, without cheating, doesn’t just make his matches formulaic, it makes his defeats meaningless. Now with three consecutive defeats of EVIL after falling to the King of Darkness in the 2020 New Japan Cup Final which signaled EVIL’s turn to the dark(er) side, let’s hope that Okada won’t be sullying his hands with any more of this nonsense.
Current G1 B Block Standings
Kazuchika Okada: 4 points
Taichi: 4 points
Jeff Cobb: 4 points
Hiroshi Tanahashi: 2 points
Tama Tonga: 2 points
EVIL: 2 points
Sanada: 2 points
Yoshi-Hashi: 0 points
Chase Owens: 0 points
Hirooki Goto: 0 points
After his win over Tanahashi in the B block’s first main event, Okada stated that the Rainmaker was back (condolences to those of us who enjoyed John and Wai’s psychoanalysis of his tortured love triangle with his longtime finisher and the new fling of the Money Clip), and Okada’s presence atop the first two B block cards has been a welcome and familiar presence (today’s EVIL antics aside). With Cobb powering through early competition as predicted by most, the one significantly surprising element on these two shows has been the ascent of All Japan Taichi, who’s already outperformed my middling expectations. Wednesday’s B block show has a lot of lop-sided contests, with Okada versus Yoshi-Hashi as an awkward main event fit, though Cobb versus Goto should provide some high-impact excitement in the middle of the card. I’ll be back then with a full report on the third day of B block action.