G1 Climax 31 Day 12 Report: Okada vs. Taichi, Tanahashi vs. EVIL

Bruce Lords review of Friday's B Block show from Kochi featuring Kazuchika Okada vs. Taichi and Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. EVIL.

Photo Courtesy: NJPW

G1 Climax 31 Day 12 Report: Okada vs. Taichi, Tanahashi vs. EVIL

By: Bruce Lord 

Welcome to POST Wrestling’s report on the sixth night of the G1’s B block, the twelfth overall night of the tournament. Tuesday’s B block show received widespread acclaim and currently stands at an 8.10 rating on Cagematch (for comparison, all other cards from this G1 range from 5.56 to 7.61). While I wasn’t nearly as high on the battle between CHAOS stablemates YOSHI-HASHI and Hirooki Goto as many, by any measure it was a successful and enjoyable show which communicated the intensity and gravity normally associated with the G1. There’s no point in reiterating why COVID era shows have been somewhat lacking in that department, but a hot crowd at Korakuen did everything in their power to make those of us at home forget about the pandemic and bring back some classic G1 excitement.

In comparison to the Day 10 report, I don’t have much in the way of sustained statistical analysis leading into today’s report. I suppose an attempt could be made at creating a power ranking for each of the idiosyncratic English phrases which appear in “Max The Max”, the tournament’s theme song, but it’d be a fait accompli with “Real Muscle Live” at the top and “Fighting With A Real Sword” comfortably in second. If you’ve been skipping over the opening montage for the tournament shows thus far, you owe it to yourself to listen to “Max The Max” at least once.

While lacking a marquee match like SANADA vs Okada, today’s card pits two competitors now on the cusp of effective elimination (SANADA and Taichi) against the clear leaders in the B block (Jeff Cobb and Kazuchika Okada). If there’s to be any momentum for anyone save EVIL heading into the ninth and final night of the B block, one or both of our front-runners are going to have to stumble, and soon. With their G1 destinies in their own hands today, will either Cold Skull or The Holy Emperor be able to buy themselves some time and hand Cobb or Okada their first losses? Read on and find out.

Kochi Prefectural Gymnasium hosts today’s B block card. New Japan runs smaller shows about once a year in the city of Kochi, but some cursory research suggests that this is the first time it’s ever hosted the G1. We have one Young Lion prelim match on the docket, making for a six-match card.

Spoiler-free Recommendations

1. Kosei Fujita vs El Desperado: Much more mat and grapple work than we normally get from Young Lion showcases.
2. G1 Climax B Block: YOSHI-HASHI vs Tama Tonga: A fun enough back-and-forth, with both men quickly gaining and ceding control in a better than expected contest.
3. G1 Climax B Block: Hirooki Goto vs Chase Owens: A decent match with Owens trying to press his luck after his win over Tanahashi.
4. G1 Climax B Block: SANADA vs Jeff Cobb: Adequate, but unremarkable except for how it prefigures Cobb’s next match.
5. G1 Climax B Block: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs EVIL: The most rote and generic EVIL match of the tournament thus far, made all the more pointless due to the stature of his opponent.
6. G1 Climax B Block: Kazuchika Okada vs Taichi: A great and intense match that consolidates Taichi’s much more serious presentation in the G1. RECOMMENDED

Kosei Fujita vs El Desperado

Fujita tries his luck with some grappling on the ground but is unable to get full control of any of Desperado’s limbs. Standing up, Desperado targets one of the legs and smothers Fujita for multiple two counts. Fujita manages a hip toss, backdrop, and dropkick, but can’t lock on a Boston crab, and Desperado smoothly transitions over to a standing leg lock for the submission.

El Desperado wins via submission at 8:27

The takeawayThese Young Lion showcases have been split between opportunities for the rookies to go 50/50 with the vets before being put away and completely one-sided affairs in which the Young Lions’ selling and ability to absorb punishment is in focus. This very much felt like a replay of yesterday’s A block prelim, with Fujita getting the opportunity to focus on mat grappling and being given a couple of fiery offensive moments in the same way Ryohei Oiwa did with Desperado, who’s getting to show off his ground game (and his new leg lock submission) in preparation for the Super Juniors.

YOSHI-HASHI (2 points) vs Tama Tonga (2 points)

Grappling to start, with YOSHI-HASHI aiming for a side headlock and Tama Tonga a head scissors. YOSHI-HASHI’s in control once things get moving, with a Headhunter and draping dropkick. Tama takes over with strikes and a quick series of elbow drops to a prone YOSHI-HASHI. After breaking out of a headlock YOSHI-HASHI’s able to rally with a neckbreaker for two. Tama’s back in charge with a corner splash, Tongan Twist, Death Valley bomb, and his Supreme Flow diving splash for a near fall, as the crowd begins to get into things. The Gun Stun attempt is countered with a fairly messy lungblower. Y-H sets up Kumagoroshi with a lariat. Tama blocks Karma but is once again unable to get into full Gun Stun position and instead receives a dragon suplex and a nifty thrust kick. Another lariat leads to Karma for the win.

YOSHI-HASHI defeats Tama Tonga via pinfall at 13:15.

The takeaway: While there’s still been some of his characteristic ‘stalking and mocking’ character shtick. Tama’s been quietly showcasing quick explosions of stick and move striking in this tournament. That, in combination with the quick exchanges of control, made this a fun and tidy little match. Rather than constantly fighting from underneath, YOSHI-HASHI looked good when he took control of the match. It won’t be anything I’ll be likely to remember by the tournament’s end, but this was definitely more engaging than I expected it to be.

Hirooki Goto (2 points) vs Chase Owens (2 points)

Owens charges at Goto with a trio of dropkicks, including one through the ropes to the floor and a missile from the top. Guardrail spots reverse control of the match, and back inside Goto hits a backdrop for multiple two counts. Owens headbutts Goto after begging off and applies the Texas Twister neck submission. Owens somewhat foolishly initiates a mid-ring striking contest, and receives lariats and spinning heel kicks for his trouble. Goto hits a belly to belly and transitions to an armbar, and Owens replies with the Last Shot ushigoroshi. There’s a package piledriver attempt on the apron, and another mid-ring striking sequence, which Owens takes with a spinning elbow. Another fast sequence sees Owens hit a German and Jewel Heist, but Goto blocks the C Trigger and hits a reverse GTR. A successful C Trigger gets Owens a hair’s breadth from the package piledriver in a callback to his win over Tanahashi, but Goto escapes, and swiftly delivers the GTR.

Hirooki Goto defeats Chase Owens via pinfall at 12:42

The takeaway: Coming off his shocking win over Hiroshi Tanahashi, Owens looked to keep playing the hot hand by running a very similar playbook against Goto. While it was a bit surprising to see Owens being given so much in striking exchanges with a hitter as heavy as Goto, the story here seemed to be that Goto wasn’t taking Owens lightly, had studied his tactics against Tana, and had formulated successful counters. This packed a good amount of offense into a short run time and worked to give Owens a bit more credibility as he heads towards a challenge for Tanahashi’s US Championship, which was offered backstage by Tanahashi after his loss on Monday.

It should be noted that Owens’ high-profile win has led to a resurgence in the discussion of the allegations levied against him last year as part of Speaking Out. While Speaking Out has had very little effect on New Japan’s booking of talent within Japan itself, its stateside efforts have been less insulated from accusations of sexual misconduct, as demonstrated by Marty Scurll’s aborted appearances at New Japan STRONG tapings earlier this year. If Owens’ challenge of Tanahashi is booked for an American show, New Japan could face increased scrutiny for its continued relationship with Owens.

SANADA (4 points) vs Jeff Cobb (10 points)

Cobb manhandles SANADA to start, but the latter avoids any serious damage and takes things outside for his customary rallying/polling of the crowd. Back inside, suplex attempts go awry for LIJ’s most handsome member, with Cobb simply falling forward on SANADA out of the clutch. Cobb’s in control, following up his carry and run turnbuckle spots with a trio of ‘walking’ backbreakers. SANADA gets some daylight by targeting Cobb’s knee, which Kevin Kelly points out was injured previously this year and was attacked by Taichi in their contest on Monday. A rana sends Cobb to the floor, but Cobb catches SANADA on the plancha attempt and slams him into the ring post, following up with a backdrop and standing moonsault inside the ring. SANADA rallies with a missile dropkick, standing moonsault of his own, TKO, and Magic Screw. Cobb hits a Croyt’s Wrath but can’t follow up with the Tour Of The Islands. There are some Skull End reversals, leading to an awkward O’Connor Roll by SANADA. Cobb evades the moonsault, counters a rana, and after an exchange of kicks officially ends SANADA’s G1 hopes by countering a second rope moonsault into a Tour Of The Islands

Jeff Cobb defeats SANADA via pinfall at 14:17

The takeaway: In addition to being booked like a monster and finding the right in-ring rhythm compared to his previous G1 showings, Cobb’s really grown into his sneering, cocky heel presentation who knows that his amateur background and pure power always give him the edge. The targeting of Cobb’s knee, leading to him being unable to deliver a few power moves, was the first real challenge to that confidence in this tournament. To be honest, I hadn’t noticed the knee being a factor in any of Cobb’s previous matches in the tournament and felt as though ‘hot shotting’ that injury (if that makes sense) to give SANADA a win would have made for a forced end to Cobb’s run. That being said, this is a perfect set-up for Cobb’s match on Tuesday: look for Tanahashi to Dragon Screw that knee to hell and back in a desperate attempt to halt Cobb’s momentum. For his own part, this match didn’t feature SANADA at his most fluid or charismatic, and while there weren’t any major slip-ups, neither man ever got an especially impressive run of offense, nor were there any truly great exchanges or reversals.

Hiroshi Tanahashi (6 points) vs EVIL (8 points)

Tanahashi works a side headlock before loosening things up with the springboard crossbody, complete with air guitar follow-up. EVIL crotches Tana on the second rope after a Togo distraction, and grinds on Tana’s knee with a chair on the outside. Tana fires up after some forearm strikes, hits a somersault senton, misses the Sling Blade, and gets gut-punched by Togo while trying to skin the cat. The usual drive into the timekeeper’s table comes just before the ten-minute mark, so it turned out to only be a one EVIL match reprieve for Makoto Abe. EVIL tosses the Darkness Scorpion on the outside trying to work a countout, and while Tana’s trying to get back in the ring he’s tossed again into poor Abe’s table by Togo for good measure. EVIL hits a fisherman’s buster back inside, Tana dives into an exposed turnbuckle, and EVIL hits a lariat for two. Tana reverses Everything Is Evil into Twist And Shout and follows up with a Sling Blade despite another swipe at his legs by Togo. Tana hits a High-Fly Flow to EVIL’s back and locks in the cloverleaf just in time for Togo to pull Marty Asami from the ring on cue. Togo and EVIL double-team Tana while Asami’s still on dream street. Togo’s dispatched with an Everything Is Evil by Tanahashi (Everything Is Ace?), EVIL hits a low blow, and Tana gives EVIL a nut shot of his own. Asami’s back in the ring just in time to see both wrestlers in the semi-main clutching their testicles. There’s yet ANOTHER ref bump, with Asami thrown into Tana as he’s going for a Sling Blade. EVIL hits Darkness Falls, clocks Tana with the US belt, delivers Everything Is Evil to Tana, and wakes Asami up in time to count the three.

EVIL defeats Hiroshi Tanahashi via pinfall at 17:21

The takeaway: The commentary set this matchup as a literal battle between good and evil after the last B block card, and while that might make for a very straightforward pitch for the match, it also makes the expected EVIL tomfoolery feel even more predictable. That pitch also takes away from the sports tournament presentation of the G1, not to mention Tana’s desire to stay in contention, by turning both men into abstracted avatars of morality rather than grounded wrestlers with normal human motives.

This match wasn’t especially “better” or “worse” than the average EVIL match, but what does that even mean at this point? Did it make kayfabe sense that EVIL had to rely on Togo more while facing Tanahashi than he did against, say, YOSHI-HASHI? Sure, I guess, but what’s the point of even trying to care about kayfabe in matches where we’ve all long since learned that our suspension of disbelief won’t be met halfway? There was a bit of a gasp after the pinfall here, if only because the delay after Everything Is Evil teased a kick out for Tana, but it was a gasp of resignation rather than indignance. Every EVIL match being the same wouldn’t be a problem if those matches pointed towards something: revenge, a rematch, comeuppance for the most generic, Snidely Whiplash-styled heel in a major company today. But they don’t point towards anything, and they never will, because EVIL isn’t getting heat, he’s checking off a list of heel signifiers to everyone’s indifference rather than indignation.

People will pay money to see MJF finally get the beating he deserves. For decades they showed up in throngs across NWA territories, hoping that their local hero might be the one to shut up the Nature Boy for good. And they’ll rally around a classic, heroic wrestler like Tanahashi and vociferously boo a heel like Jay White who knows how to goad them after he hands their hero a tainted loss, as they did at the NJPW show in Long Beach I attended back in 2018, hoping that the Ace will once again rise to the challenge laid to him. But they will not care about EVIL’s rote pantomime, because there is nothing to cheer for and nothing of substance to rail against. After the match, Kevin Kelly expressed concern that EVIL winning the G1 would lead to NJPW World cancellations. There’s many a shoot word spoken ostensibly in kayfabe.

Kazuchika Okada (10 points) vs Taichi (4 points)

There’s a lengthy staredown after the bell, and Taichi’s face is sober and bereft of his usual shit-eating grin. This match is serious to him: he’s facing elimination from tournament contention and knows he’s the underdog. While Okada has the side headlock on, Taichi tries to turn it into a Dangerous Backdrop to no avail. Taichi’s sent into the guardrail outside, followed up with the now customary DDT. Okada rolls back out at the fifteen-count to bring Taichi back in, but Taichi’s likely been baiting Okada and takes him by surprise. Taichi pulls aside some mats and gives Okada a DDT of his own on the exposed floor. Back inside, Taichi works the Greco-Roman throat hold, switching over to a blatant choke when Unno questions the amateur pedigree of the first hold.

Okada gets some breathing room with a flapjack, then hits a DDT for two ten minutes in. Taichi responds with a nice hook kick, then starts delivering kicks to the chest which Okada invites. A kick to the temple sends Okada to the mat and the trousers out of the ring, but Okada applies the Money Kick, punctuated by a roll-up and dropkick before it’s reapplied. The crowd’s rallying behind Taichi as he’s starting to froth at the mouth, eventually making it to the rope. Okada hits a top rope elbow, and it’s Rainmaker Pose time. Taichi ducks the Rainmaker and nearly dislocates Okada’s head with an on-point thrust kick. The two begin to exchange kicks to the face (the final night of the N-1 Victory seems to have made some impressions well outside of NOAH itself) A forearm drops Okada, but Okada uses the roll-up with which he beat Goto for a near fall. Taichi ducks another Rainmaker and hits an Okada-styled dropkick. A gamengiri sets up the Dangerous Backdrop for a two count as Miho Abe rallies the crowd behind Taichi (not that they need much encouragement). Okada awkwardly escapes a Black Mephisto and hits a rolling Rainmaker but Taichi’s only staggered, and has enough in him to respond with an Axe Bomber. Okada replies with a dropkick and spinning Tombstone. Taichi ducks the Rainmaker yet again and gets a near fall with a Gedo Clutch. Taking a sumo-styled pose, Taichi gamely meets his fate and charges Okada who meets him with a landslide Tombstone and Rainmaker.

Kazuchika Okada defeats Taichi via pinfall at 23:11

The takeaway: Taichi’s standing at 4 points heading into this match belies the strong tournament showing the Holy Emperor has had thus far, with his matches against Goto, SANADA, and Cobb all showing off a much more direct and hard-hitting style, so the possibility of Taichi handing Okada his first loss of this G1 didn’t seem too far fetched at the end of the last B block card. A backstage comment from Okada (“To be honest, I don’t have any feelings about that match”) seemed to resonate with Taichi, but rather than attacking Okada with fury and indignation, he took a calm, measured, and calculated approach to the first half of the match, beginning to dig into his All Japan lineage and passion for sumo towards the end. Okada understood that he’d effectively be the heel and played the hits while leaving a bit more space between them, allowing Taichi to sell to the crowd.

Before the bell, Taichi took some extra time to calm and prepare himself, as if to separate the mic and mask silliness from the match itself. It was a fitting gesture to demarcate the best Taichi match I’ve ever seen.

Current G1 B Block Standings

Kazuchika Okada: 12 points
Jeff Cobb: 12 points
EVIL: 10 points
Hiroshi Tanahashi: 6 points
Hirooki Goto: 4 points (E)
YOSHI-HASHI: 4 points (E)
SANADA: 4 points (E)
Taichi: 4 points (E)
Chase Owens: 2 points (E)
Tama Tonga: 2 points (E)

Final Thoughts

After one of the tournament’s most enjoyable cards, the B block delivered what was effectively a one-match show today. I won’t rehash my EVIL rant, but after a middling undercard and the EVIL/Tana match, I was pinning my hopes on Taichi and Okada to deliver something impressive and was ably rewarded. It was great to see the more serious Taichi presented so effectively and credibly, and Okada continues to hone his talents as a switch-hitter who can play heel when called upon.

Looking ahead to Tuesday’s B block card, we look to have another top-heavy event, with the still barely in contention Tanahashi being placed in a must-win position against Cobb. Again, look for Cobb’s knee to be the story of that match. Okada should have a much easier day of things with Owens, EVIL will get to ply his shtick against Goto, and in the matches now with no bearing on the block’s winner, we’ll see Taichi vs Tama Tonga and YOSHI-HASHI vs SANADA. I’ll have a full report for you then.

About Bruce Lord 25 Articles
Bruce Lord lives in Vancouver where, between AEW and NJPW binges, he blogs and podcasts about industrial and goth music at idieyoudie.com.