G1 Climax 31 Day 10 Report: Okada vs. SANADA, Goto vs. YOSHI-HASHI
By: Bruce Lord
Welcome to POST Wrestling’s report for the tenth day of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s G1 Climax 31. Following up on a B block card which failed to do much to impress the larger NJPW fanbase (I seem to be on something of an island in my effusive praise for the Hiroshi Tanahashi/SANADA main event, today’s show looked from the outside to have a number of middling undercard matches but also the possibility of a repeat classic in the main event. As always, spoiler-free match recommendations and analyses of each match can be found below, but I’ve also included some additional statistical deep diving in this report. If you just want to get to the nuts and bolts, though, feel free to scroll on.
With the tournament half over heading into today’s card, I thought it’d be fun to do a bit more playing around with statistics related to match ratings (with the end of regular season baseball, and thus also fantasy baseball, I need something to occupy the sabermetric portion of my brain). Like I said in my Day 4 report, comparisons of the two blocks’ respective mean average match ratings are somewhat unbalanced by the absence of Tetsuya Naito on all A block cards save the first, and so I started chewing over the narratives which are beginning to emerge regarding which wrestlers might be outperforming expectations and which might be falling beneath. Given that Cagematch allows its users to provide an overarching rating for individual wrestlers out of 10 as well as rating individual matches on the same scale, I decided to compare the mean average of the ratings given to each wrestler’s matches thus far with their extant individual ratings. Obviously, these ratios will be heavily influenced by the quality of the particular opponents a wrestler has had thus far and the actual comparative qualities of each block overall. Still, these ratios do provide some data regarding whether or not the prevailing narratives of the moment (“Woah, ZSJ’s really stepping it up!”, “Was Ibushi’s slow start a storyline or the actual effects of his illness?”) are reflected in the perceived quality of the matches thus far. Who knows, maybe I’ll re-crunch these numbers along with some overall block comparisons at the end of the whole G1.
Again, the ratio I’m sorting each block’s competitors by is the mean average of their matches’ ratings thus far divided by their overall rating. Theoretically, a wrestler with a ratio of “1” would be performing precisely according to existing expectations, while those with ratios above and below that number would be exceeding and falling below expectations, respectively. A further caveat should be given regarding wrestlers now past their prime whose overall ratings are based on a standard of work they’re likely unable to meet today (namely KENTA).
A Block (Non-tournament, Naito fill-in matches were not included in these calculations, nor was Yano/Ibushi, which was shorter than Cagematch’s 5-minute minimum threshold for rating)
- Tanga Loa – 1.079 (5.08 average G1 rating vs 4.71 overall rating)
- Zack Sabre Jr. 0.978 (8.58 average G1 rating vs 8.77 overall rating)
- Yujiro Takahashi – 0.955 (5.51 average G1 rating vs 5.77 overall rating)
- Shingo Takahi – 0.942 (8.77 average G1 rating vs 9.31 overall rating)
- Tomohiro Ishii – 0.843 (8 average G1 rating vs 9.49 overall rating)
- Great-O-Khan – 0.834 (5.48 average G1 rating vs 6.57 overall rating)
- Kota Ibushi – 0.828 (7.815 average G1 rating vs 9.44 overall rating)
- KENTA – 0.695 (6.266 average G1 rating vs 9.01 overall rating)
- Toru Yano – 0.619 (3.87 average G1 rating vs 6.25 overall rating)
B Block (Average G1 ratings do not include today’s matches)
- Chase Owens – 1.093 (6.045 average G1 rating vs 5.53 overall rating)
- YOSHI-HASHI – 1.090 (7.228 average G1 rating vs 6.63 overall rating)
- Tama Tonga – 1.033 (6.583 average G1 rating vs 6.37 overall rating)
- Taichi 1.011 – (6.903 average G1 rating vs 6.83 overall rating)
- SANADA – 0.865 (6.763 average G1 rating vs 7.82 overall rating)
- Hirooki Goto – 0.847 (7.208 average G1 rating vs 8.51 overall rating)
- EVIL – 0.825 (5.85 average G1 rating vs 7.09 overall rating)
- Jeff Cobb – 0.823 (6.928 average G1 rating vs 8.35 overall rating)
- Kazuchika Okada – 0.777 (7.528 average G1 rating vs 9.69 overall rating)
- Hiroshi Tanahashi – 0.751 (7.28 average G1 rating vs 9.69 overall rating)
Again, I want to stress that these ratios are heavily skewed by the competition each wrestler has had thus far, and may also disproportionately punish legitimately legendary wrestlers. It seems reasonable to rate both Okada and Tanahashi as perfect 10s in terms of their overarching careers, but it’s impossible to expect them to have literal five-star classics every time they work a singles match. That said, I do think there’s something of interest here in that it quantifies the ideas that Owens and Tanga Loa are punching above their perceived weight, and that the B block cards have been better than many of us expected when the blocks were revealed (with four ‘overachievers’ compared to the A block’s one), even if the A block is still objectively stronger. And as for Sabre, well, he’s probably just always been this damn good. Vegan Tekkers all the way.
Okay, enough bean-counting. We’re back at the legendary Korakuen Hall for the third and final time in the tournament, and Chris Charlton’s back on the call with Kevin Kelly on the English commentary after a couple of days off, and this is yet another show being made freely available without an NJPW World subscription. No Young Lions today, so let’s jump into today’s five tournament matches.
1. G1 Climax B Block: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Chase Owens – A simple and decent match with some potentially intriguing fall-out.
2. G1 Climax B Block: EVIL vs Tama Tonga – Some slight advancement of the House of Torture storyline. The most enjoyable EVIL match of the tournament thus far, but that’s a low standard.
3. G1 Climax B Block: Taichi vs Jeff Cobb – A densely packed and hard-hitting contest that did a lot for both competitors. RECOMMENDED
4. G1 Climax B Block: Hirooki Goto vs YOSHI-HASHI – An adequate but not especially remarkable match between tag partners trying to out-maneuver one another with signature moves.
5. G1 Climax B Block: Kazuchika Okada vs SANADA – Although slow to get going, a worthy enough chapter in one of NJPW’s most frequently played-out rivalries. RECOMMENDED
Hiroshi Tanahashi (6 points) vs Chase Owens (0 points)
After some wrist and headlocks, Owens gets some strikes to the breadbasket in and replays Tanahashi’s springboard crossbody and air guitar sequence immediately after the Ace does it. Owens works over Tana’s always vulnerable knees, but Tanahashi’s soon in charge, and a somersault senton gets two. Owens plays prone to break up the Ace’s rhythm, though, and some turnbuckle spots and a Jewel Heist have him attempting the package piledriver. Tana hits a Dragon Screw in the ropes and a Sling Blade for two, then Aces High. The High-Fly Flow is blocked by Owens’ legs, though, and a quick roll-up with Owens’ legs on the ropes gets two. Owens then hits a pair of C Triggers and the package piledriver for, yes, you’re reading this correctly, the win.
Chase Owens defeats Hiroshi Tanashi via pinfall at 10:59
The takeaway: The commentary team started the match by talking about Owens seeking out advice on facing Tanahashi from Jay White, and riffing on some of White’s familiar spots was very much Owens’ focus throughout the match. While the match itself was no classic, it adds a bit of color to the story of Bullet Club’s sub-factions, and the legitimately shocking finish shows that Owens’ handy work in the G1 hasn’t gone unnoticed. After the match, Owens proclaimed to the camera that his “first G1 points [came from] Hiroshi Tanahashi and you can never take that away from me.” And, well, he’s right. Look for Owens to shortly challenge Tana for the US Heavyweight belt, likely on American soil.
EVIL (6 points) vs Tama Tonga (2 points)
Dick Togo and Jado exchange words before the bell and a four-man too-sweet is observed, but EVIL tries to hit Everything is Evil while shaking Tama’s hand. Tama lights EVIL up with some strikes to the body but splashes into the exposed turnbuckle after the usual Togo hijinx. EVIL gets a two-count with a fisherman’s suplex, but Tama gets some breathing room after EVIL hits the exposed corner and receives a neckbreaker. Tama fires up and hits a flurry of dropkicks and a corner splash for two. Tama counters the Darkness Scorpion with the Tongan Death Grip and applies EVIL’s own submission. EVIL gets to the ropes and executes a ref-assisted Magic Killer before finally getting the Darkness Scorpion on. Tama counters Everything Is Evil into a Tongan Twist, blocks EVIL’s low blow attempt, and hits a Death Valley Bomb and Supreme Flow (diving splash) for two. As the crowd’s getting behind Tama’s efforts, the lights go out for about five seconds. Once they’re back on, we can see the ref laid out and Togo garotting Tama. Jado dispatches Togo with the kendo stick but that’s all EVIL needs to hit a low blow and Everything Is Evil.
EVIL defeats Tama Tonga via pinfall at 13:47
After the match SHO emerges from the wings, effectively taking responsibility for switching the lights.
The takeaway: In addition to the obvious shortcomings of EVIL’s matches themselves, part of the issue with the House Of Torture storyline is that immediately after joining the sub-faction, SHO had been absent save for a pair of Young Lions matches. With Yujiro over in the A block being his usual self and EVIL and Togo carrying on as they had before, there hadn’t been much to give the House Of Torture any clear definition in the G1 until this match. While I can’t say that this did much to get me to care about House of Torture, this at least moved the intra-Bullet Club storyline along more than the EVIL/Owens match (or any of Yujiro’s matches). What was by far and away the most enjoyable bell to bell EVIL match of the whole tournament was of course marred by the usual hinky finish, but Tama had definitely eaten his Wheaties and capitalized nicely on playing de facto face. Also, a hearty congratulations to timekeeper Makoto Abe on getting through at least one EVIL match unscathed.
Taichi (4 points) vs Jeff Cobb (8 points)
Some early lock-ups and rope breaks play a bit into Taichi’s sumo fandom, but some kicks to Cobb’s thighs and the cable strangling spot on the outside likely wouldn’t pass muster in a traditional sumo context. Back inside, Cobb plucks Taichi half out of the air while the latter’s attempting an gamengiri and tosses him across the ring. Cobb works the back and even grabs Taichi’s mic to try his hand at karaoke. Cobb keeps playing cocky with the repeated running turnbuckle sequence and a sumo-styled pounce. Taichi begins to rally with some kicks, Cobb escapes a Cobra Twist attempt but Taichi finally hits the gamengiri. A high dropkick from Cobb and a kick to the back from Taichi has both men winded and spent in the middle of the ring.
Cobb invites Taichi to kick him (“Right here, motherfucker, come on!”) and Taichi obliges, putting Cobb down for a moment but the big man counters the Axe Bomber with a lariat of his own and a Spin Cycle in a classic King’s Road ‘take five to give one’ sequence. Cobb follows up with a standing moonsault as the crowd’s getting behind Taichi. Taichi escapes Tour of the Islands, but the damage to the back keeps him from following up with a Dangerous Backdrop. Taichi throttles Cobb to escape another finishing attempt and is able to execute the backdrop for two, and a Gedo Clutch for another near fall. His back is still too damaged to pull off Black Mephisto, but Taichi avoids the Tour with an Axe Bomber. There’s another Black Mephisto attempt with Taichi actually getting the big man up, but a deadlift German and Tour of the Islands seals Taichi’s fate.
Jeff Cobb defeats Taichi via pinfall at 15:15
The takeaway: The rematch of a 2019 NEVER Openweight Championship contest and the rubber match of their two previous G1 encounters had the potential to be a bit of a sleeper given Taichi’s recent run of straightforward, hard-hitting matches, but this really did go above and beyond expectations. A simple and hard-hitting story of attrition packed a lot into the time given, was cut through with some impressive counter sequences, and the new and improved Taichi was a game opponent for the monstrous Cobb. Midway through this match, it seemed inevitable that the heart of Taichi would win out (especially given how much disrespect Cobb had dished out with his new cocky confidence), but Cobb’s juggernaut run continues.
Hirooki Goto (0 points) vs YOSHI-HASHI (2 points)
Things start fast with the tag team partners exchanging intense forearm sequences. There are some guardrail crashes outside, and YOSHI-HASHI hits a neckbreaker for a lengthy count-out tease. A Headhunter gets a two count at the five-minute mark, but Goto gets some recoup time with a lariat. Goto hits a bulldog and eventually hits an ushigoroshi after YOSHI-HASHI scurries out of an initial attempt, and follows up with a reverse GTR for two as the match downshifts to measured power attempts as opposed to the frantic opening pace. YOSHI-HASHI reverses another GTR attempt into a Shouten Kai, somewhat showing up his tag partner with his own move. Standing strikes are exchanged mid-ring, eventually leading to YOSHI-HASHI dropping Goto with a headbutt to the sternum and hitting double knees for two and a Kumagoroshi for the same. Goto escapes a Karma attempt and floors YOSHI-HASHI with a headbutt of his own and hits a GTW for two. A Shouten Kai from Goto sets up the GTR, and Goto is finally on the board.
Hirooki Goto defeats YOSHI-HASHI via pinfall at 16:57
The takeaway: This quickly shifted from a sprint into a decent little measured match which focused on the two men having the answers for one another’s signature moves. Cobb’s win in the preceding match had officially eliminated the winless Goto from B block contendership, and YOSHI-HASHI’s loss here quashed his tournament hopes, but even taking that into account the focus of this match was always going to be on the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team champs and occasional traditional tag team members facing one another for bragging rights. Kelly and Charlton were waxing philosophical about each man’s future in subsequent G1s given their lack of success (as always, the job those two do of not talking down to the NJPW audience while still keeping their discussions rooted in kayfabe performance and records is appreciated). While I have to hope that freer global travel in 2022 will give us a stronger G1 field, the tournament always needs pin eaters. As Pynchon said, “if you cannot sing Siegfried at least you can carry a spear.”
Kazuchika Okada (8 points) vs SANADA (4 points)
Wrist and neck control is traded between the combatants to start. It’s a classic leisurely Okada opening pace, putting the possibility of a time-limit draw right in the open. Things speed up a bit at five minutes, with shoulder checks, hip tosses, and dropkicks. A rana gives SANADA the momentum to tie the Rainmaker up in the Paradise Lock, which he follows with a snap suplex. Okada evades a standing moonsault and takes control, hitting a DDT and backbreaker. A dropkick sends SANADA to the floor, but Okada doesn’t press the advantage and allows SANADA to return.
SANADA eventually builds some momentum and takes Okada outside with a backbreaker. He doesn’t return Okada’s gesture, and hits him with a plancha, giving him the chance to poll the crowd, who are definitely favoring the Cold Skull as we hit the midway point. Okada once again sends SANADA outside with a dropkick and follows up with a DDT on the floor, not offering SANADA the same breathing room as before. Okada can’t quite cinch the Money Clip in, but after a monkey flip, SANADA lands awkwardly and begins selling the knee, which Okada immediately targets. He follows up by applying the Money Clip, the idea being that SANADA’s knee is preventing him from making it to the ropes, though he eventually does. Okada hits a top rope elbow and the Rainmaker pose as the twenty-minute mark nears.
SANADA has a burst of energy and hits a TKO for two, following it up with Skull End. Another moonsault is evaded, again doing damage to SANADA’s knee, but a nifty Destino-esque transition gets SANADA the Skull End again. Okada evades a Magic Screw and hits a dropkick, but SANADA quickly hits a pop-up TKO. He hits the follow-up moonsault, but a damaged knee prevents a timely cover and Okada kicks out. SANADA kicks out of the sit-down/roll-up maneuver with which Okada pinned Goto but gets caught by the spinning Tombstone, and both men are laid out with four minutes left. There’s an exchange of forearms, Okada hits a dropkick, and German but SANADA ducks the Rainmaker and gets an O’Connor Roll for a very near two which has the crowd pumped. SANADA turns the landslide Tombstone into a Skull End attempt which he tries to parlay into a Destino, but Okada has the answer with a landslide and a Rainmaker.
Kazuchika Okada defeats SANADA via pinfall at 29:15
The takeaway: There’s an incredible amount of history behind this match, and I’m on record as being completely in the tank for these men’s 2019 G1 nail-biter, in which the longest G1 match which didn’t go to the 30-minute time limit saw SANADA finally besting the Rainmaker with a moonsault with only 13 seconds left on the clock. It was arguably the high point of SANADA’s NJPW tenure thus far; a match that seemed to signal his breakthrough to the main event at the time but which has become somewhat bittersweet since then as that potential’s failed to materialize.
The time limit was the story of this match before the bell even rang, and while there was some entertaining stuff in the first twenty minutes, it was never quite spectacular enough to cause you to forget that the clock was both men’s real opponent. Still, this was towards the higher end of this rivalry’s matches, and the transitions down the closing stretch, including the homages to SANADA’s injured stable-mate, made up for the slow start. Okada’s patronizing of SANADA helped to ensure the crowd would be on the latter’s side, though without some larger success after the G1, the Cold Skull could very well be in the same holding pattern by the time the 32nd G1 rolls around.
Current G1 B Block Standings
Kazuchika Okada: 10 points
Jeff Cobb: 10 points
EVIL: 8 points
Hiroshi Tanahashi: 6 points
SANADA: 4 points
Taichi: 4 points
Hirooki Goto: 2 points (E)
Chase Owens: 2 points (E)
YOSHI-HASHI: 2 points (E)
Tama Tonga: 2 points (E)
This was a show which I felt slightly outperformed its on-paper potential (which again, has been the story of the humble B block), with Cobb/Taichi really helping to take things up a notch. A sold-out Korakeun added some energy after some relatively dead houses, even taking the restricted capacity and clap crowds into account. Cobb’s win today single-handedly eliminated nearly half of the field, as in addition to his ten points he holds tie-breaker wins over each of the competitors with only two points, with only four matches remaining. Friday’s B block show will feature Cobb taking on SANADA and Okada facing Taichi. I’ll be back then to report on whether or not either undefeated streak survives the day.