G1 Climax 31 Day 5 Report: Kota Ibushi vs. ZSJ, Tomohiro Ishii vs. KENTA
By: Mark Buckeldee
Welcome to this POST Wrestling report for night 5 of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s G1 Climax 31. The trend after 4 days of the G1 Climax is that Block A had higher highs (mostly thanks to Shingo Takagi) but much lower lows. B Block was much more consistent. The lowest rated match for B Block (EVIL vs Kazuchika Okada) had a 6.18 rating on Cagematch. Of the 10 A Block matches so far, half of them (five) had a lower rating than that. It would be interesting to see if this trend continued
G1 Climax 31 Night 5 was from Kobe World Hall in Kobe. This venue hosted 2 great Dragon Gate shows earlier this year. Those shows are highly recommended, especially for the two Open the Dream Gate Title matches. I didn’t expect this show to be anywhere close to those two events.
In terms of attendances, the smaller one of those Dragon Gate shows drew 2,396. Last year’s G1 Climax show in this venue drew 2,548. That show featured Kota Ibushi vs Tomohiro Ishii, Shingo Takagi vs Will Ospreay, and Jay White vs Kazuchika Okada. This show drew. This show drew 2,250, which was honestly more than I expected. While it shows that interest is down, it also suggests that the issue is more of a problem in the more overused markets like Tokyo and Osaka.
- Master Wato vs Kosei Fujita – A decent Young Lions match, with Kawato firmly in Young Lion mode
- Yuji Nagata vs Shingo Takagi – Nagata targets the arm in a very good match with a bomb heavy second half – RECOMMENDED
- G1 Climax 31 A Block: Yujiro Takahashi vs Great O-Khan – Better than expected, a decent match with one or 2 good flourishes from O-Khan
- G1 Climax 31 A Block: Toru Yano vs Tanga Loa – Not bad, just dull
- G1 Climax 31 A Block: Tomohiro Ishii vs KENTA – Better than expected as KENTA targeted the arm and Ishii did Ishii things. One of KENTA’s better matches in his New Japan run.
- G1 Climax 31 A Block: Kota Ibushi vs Zack Sabre Jr – A very good match pitting Sabre’s arm work against Ibushi’s striking. Did a good job of hiding Ibushi’s limits but they have had better matches. – RECOMMENDED
Master Wato vs Kosei Fujita
Master Wato’s darker blue entrance jacket was an improvement on his earlier gear, which was bright enough to light up highways at night. This started with Young Lion style mat work and Wato looked so much more comfortable in this match from the very start. He dominated Fujita, bringing the intensity and aggression you want from a veteran in these matches. Fujita fought back with a dropkick and a body slam before turning Wato over with a Boston Crab after kicking the back.
Wato fought back with a dropkick of his own and locking in the Boston Crab. Fujita crawled towards the ropes, but Wato dragged him back and made Fujita tap out.
Master Wato submitted Kosei Fujita via Boston Crab (6:21)
This was an interesting one. Fujita looked good with his aggression and offense, but Wato was where the intrigue came from. He looked so much more comfortable in this match than anything else I’ve seen from him since his return from Mexico. It felt like he stuck to his comfort level, as he used none of his big moves and it showed how much more comfortable he felt wrestling like a Young Lion. An interesting look at his mindset.
Yuji Nagata vs Shingo Takagi
The referee for this was Taito Nakabayashi, one of 2 new referees for New Japan. The match quickly devolved into a forearm exchange and Shingo Takagi established his power advantage. Takagi dragged Yuji Nagata to the apron, where they teased an apron spot. Instead, Nagata hit Takagi with an Exploder Suplex on the floor. Nagata dominated in the ring and attacked Takagi’s left arm, not the heavily taped right one that Sabre Jr targeted in Osaka. The veteran brought the aggression with a series of hard kicks and a Fujiwara armbar. Takagi got a comeback with his Yukon Lariat combo, but his arms still bothered him.
Takagi caught a kick and used a unique transition into a DVD. Nagata fought back with the Dai Nakanishi German and Takagi ran into a knee ala Shinsuke Nakamura. That was followed by a Twisting Brainbuster and the Nagata Lock 2 by Nagata. Takagi fought back with a Dragon Screw, but his Figure Four attempt led to Nagata applying the seated armbar. The crowd fired up behind Takagi, but Nagata hit a spinning wheel kick to down the Champion. Nagata and Takagi had a test of will on the turnbuckle, ending with a 2nd rope exploder by Nagata for a near fall. Takagi blocked Nagata’s Backdrop suplex hold, hitting one of his own and the Pumping Bomber. However, Nagata had enough left to hit a release Backdrop suplex. A vicious strike exchange ended with a Takagi sliding Lariat. Nagata managed to kick out of the Pumping Bomber before falling victim to the Last of the Dragon. After the match, Takagi cut a promo promising that he would fight Naito very soon when his teammate is back from injury.
Shingo Takagi pinned Yuji Nagata via Last of the Dragon (16:51)
After a slightly bumpy start, this evolved into a very good match. Based on the standard of the A block so far, it’s one to watch. It felt a little forced at points, especially the apron spot, but it built well. There was a lot of aggression and some great action, especially the striking. Nagata looked great in the second half, and this was the kind of match that you want from these Naito replacement matches. You could nitpick here and there but it was a good use of Nagata and gave you what you would want from these two.
G1 Climax 31 A Block: Yujiro Takahashi vs Great O-Khan
O-Khan laid on the mat to start like he was Antonio Inoki and caught Takahashi with a leg lock. This was followed by an exchange of grappling which devolved into hand biting and ear-grabbing. Takahashi attacked O-Khan on the outside with his stick, sending O-Khan tumbling down the ramp. Takahashi dominated O-Khan before O-Khan used a Takahashi esque leg trip and a gut wrench suplex to mount a comeback. O-Khan needs to drop the contrived tree of woe dropkick. He made up for it with a lovely belly-to-belly suplex before applying a head and arm submission.
Takahashi fought back with a Fisherman’s buster and the Olympic slam. The Miami Shine earned Takahashi a near fall. The Pimp Juice DDT and Eliminator were teased but Yujiro hit a Lariat for another near fall. The Big Juice was escaped, and O-Khan hit the Eliminator to win the match and jump to the top of A Block with 8 points.
Great O-Khan pinned Yujiro Takahashi via ELIMINATOR (14:15)
The quality of most O-Khan and Takahashi matches will depend on the strength of their opponents. That said, this exceeded my expectations a little. It was a good, decent match thanks to the finishing stretch. It won’t dissuade their detractors, but it was more tolerable than a lot of the other matches in this G1 Block. O-Khan constantly shows glimpses of promise with his Inoki-inspired start, the grappling, and the belly to belly. The issue is that the gimmick and the contrived elements overshadow it. Ultimately, he feels like a Roast Beef sandwich with too much Horseradish and not enough attention being given to the Beef. Yes, that last sentence was me mangling Terry Pratchett’s Horseradish analogy from Making Money.
G1 Climax 31 A Block: Toru Yano vs Tanga Loa
Toru Yano brought a bag containing a Police Station’s worth of handcuffs. Things started with a forearm exchange, which momentarily confused Yano. Both wrestlers tried to weaponize T-shirts on the outside and Yano only just avoided a count-out. Tanga Loa controlled the match, getting a 2 count with an Exploder suplex. Yano regained some momentum and hit a belly-to-belly suplex. He then hit Loa repeatedly with a turnbuckle pad, to no effect. Loa fought back with an Enziguri and a John Cena-style Protoplex before locking in the crossface.
Yano got speared for a near fall but came back by catapulting Loa into the exposed turnbuckle. A Yano low blow was stopped by referee Marty Asami, leading to the match’s 2nd ref bump. Jado and his stick ran in, but Yano made it look like Jado hit Loa with the kendo stick. This allowed Yano to hit a low blow and roll up Loa for the win.
Toru Yano pinned Tanga Loa via Schoolboy (10:46)
This was a better match than I expected, and a better match than Loa vs Nagata. It was still dull and longer than it would have been pre-COVID. Loa’s strengths are his striking and keeping things simple. There were some fun spots but ultimately this was a plodding, pedestrian Yano match.
G1 Climax 31 A Block: Tomohiro Ishii vs KENTA
KENTA started by mocking Yano’s body language and rolling out of the ring, acting like a matador. Tomohiro Ishii had enough of that, so he threw KENTA around the outside, only to be clocked in the head with the ring bell and rammed shoulder first into the ring post and guardrails.
KENTA targeted Ishii’s right shoulder with kicks and arm breakers. A turnbuckle was exposed but it was KENTA who went back first into it. Ishii fired back with big chops, but his arm bothered him. As usual Ishii’s selling was on point with its balance of selling the damage while also letting him do stuff. KENTA came back with the rope snap tornado DDT and a diving clothesline. He then used mocking kicks to Ishii’s head to lure Ishii into a Fujiwara armbar, although Ishii quickly grabbed the ropes.
KENTA used the hesitation dropkick, but Ishii avoided a top rope double stomp and hit a German suplex into the corner. Ishii and KENTA traded forearms, a strike exchange that was won by a rolling Lariat by KENTA. The Bullet Club member landed the double stomp for a near fall. Ishii regained momentum with a big shoulder tackle, and he got the crowd behind him. KENTA avoided a powerbomb and locked in the GAME OVER, only for Ishii to eventually crawl to the ropes. An aggrieved KENTA repeatedly elbowed Ishii in the head, but the Stone Pitbull caught a penalty kick and hit a German suplex.
Ishii won a forearm exchange, but his arm was in a bad way. Despite that, Ishii hit the stalling superplex for a near fall. That was followed by an Ishii Lariat, but KENTA countered a second one with the Busaiku knee. A Busaiku knee to a grounded Ishii earned KENTA a near fall. Ishii blocked a Go to Sleep, but KENTA followed that with repeated slaps to the face. This was not enough, as Ishii again escaped the Go to Sleep and hit a gnarly headbutt to the jaw. A sliding Lariat by Ishii came close as we got a flurry of counters. Ishii got a near fall with a big Lariat, shaking out his arm after the impact. KENTA escaped the Brainbuster and rammed Ishii head and shoulder first into the exposed turnbuckle to steal the win with a schoolboy.
KENTA pinned Tomohiro Ishii via schoolboy (21:08)
This was better than I expected thanks to KENTA using the arm work. The finish worked perfectly for KENTA and was dramatic in a different way than you would expect. Compare and contrast this to EVIL matches. Ishii did another great job, with his selling again helping to carry this match. This was a very good match, one of KENTA’s better matches in New Japan. Again, there were limitations, but this had a good balance. Then again, it’s the kind of match that will soon be forgotten thanks to the nature of the G1 Climax. In past G1’s this would have been even more quickly forgotten.
G1 Climax 31 A Block: Kota Ibushi vs Zack Sabre Jr
The match started with fast-paced grappling, with Ibushi trying to rely on a head scissors. Tempers flared and Sabre Jr took a break after only just dodging an Ibushi high kick. Sabre Jr tried to use his trickery, but Ibushi repeatedly had him scouted and scared Sabre Jr with high kick attempts. Ibushi went on the attack with leg kicks as they both looked for openings. I don’t think that I had ever seen someone escape a courting hold with a kip-up before. Ibushi used a range of leg kicks but Sabre Jr regained momentum by tying his opponent up in the rope and then attacking the arm.
Sabre Jr was vicious with how he attacked the arm, and I loved the level of cockiness and aggression here. Ibushi’s comebacks were cut off by Sabre Jr going back to the arm. Ibushi finally got back into things with a leg lariat. That was followed by a flurry of strikes and a standing Moonsault. A Frankensteiner by Ibushi set up a Plancha to the outside. That was followed by a swan dive dropkick from Ibushi. Sabre Jr then replied with a divorce court and Ibushi nearly landed on his head. Ibushi did his best to avoid a dragon suplex and Sabre Jr mockingly kicked the shoulder.
This led to an exchange of middle kicks, with Ibushi having the stronger kicks. Ibushi somehow countered a European uppercut into a modified Rainmaker. Sabre Jr got a near fall with a powerbomb before going back to the arm with a modified Octopus hold, only for Ibushi to get his foot on the ropes. Ibushi fought back with a Half Nelson suplex, but his Powerslam-Moonsault combo was cut off when Sabre Jr blocked the Moonsault. A Sabre Jr Penalty Kick earned a 2 count, but Sabre Jr transitioned into an ankle lock. So of course, Ibushi punched his way out. Sabre Jr again tried to go back to the arms, but Ibushi nailed a running knee strike and the Boma Ye for a near fall. The Kami-Go-Ye was countered into a Jujigatame attempt, but Ibushi hit a high kick to escape. Sabre Jr countered another Kami-Go-Ye attempt into an Octopus stretch. That was transitioned into a more complex and nonsensically named submission and Kota Ibushi passed out.
Zack Sabre Jr now has consecutive wins over Naito, Takagi & Ibushi. After the match Sabre Jr boasted about his successes and claimed that he would win the G1 Climax.
Zack Sabre Jr submitted Kota Ibushi via Clarky Cat (Bad Balloon Remix (19:55)
Again, Kota Ibushi was not at his best. Despite that, they did a great job in covering that here. Sabre Jr focusing on the arm, Ibushi relying more on striking and the match structure meant that this felt like a great match without needing Ibushi to push himself too hard. These two have great chemistry and this was more of the same. It was not their best match, but it did a good job of being an acceptable main event, although it didn’t meet the level of Takagi vs Ishii or Takagi vs Sabre Jr.
I felt that Ibushi was more comfortable here, and he did a great job of using his facial expressions here. His arm selling was not as flashy as Takagi or Ishii were earlier in the night, but there was nothing glaringly bad about it. In previous years this would have been disappointing, but I was pleasantly surprised at what they managed to achieve considering Ibushi’s limitations.
Low blow count – 1/5 matches
Ref bump count- 1/5 matches (2 in 1 match)
People getting hit with sticks count – 2/5 matches
The loss of Naito vs Takagi was a huge blow to this show, considering Ibushi’s current limitations. I will give them credit that they kept the weaker-looking matches shorter than I feared, and those matches were better than I expected. They were still only decent to good, but I will take that in this year’s G1 Climax. Takagi vs Nagata was a very good match, showing that Nagata can still go with the right opponent. The last 2 matches both exceeded my expectations. KENTA’s limitations are well known but he had a very good match with Ishii thanks to Ishii’s selling. Ishii is always one of the MVPs in the G1, and we got more of the same here.
I’m not sure if Sabre Jr vs Ibushi was a main event level match compared to nights 1 and 3, but they did a great job of working around Ibushi’s limitations and hiding them. Yes, it felt like there was a slower pace from Ibushi but the match pacing and the story from Sabre Jr made this work. I liked this one but even I will admit that it’s in the bottom half of the matches between these two.
This year’s G1 is full of limitations and today was the most consistent and solid A block so far. Nothing was actively bad, although the best stuff was understandably limited. All in all, probably the least offensive A block show while also being the most skippable.