G1 Climax 31 Day 16 Report: Okada vs. Tonga, Cobb vs. EVIL

Bruce Lord reviews Thursday's B Block featuring Kazuchika Okada vs. Tama Tonga and Jeff Cobb vs. EVIL in the top matches from Yamagata.

Photo Courtesy: NJPW

G1 Climax 31 Day 16 Report: Okada vs. Tonga, Cobb vs. EVIL

By: Bruce Lord

As the G1 begins to wind to its close, welcome to POST Wrestling’s written report of the penultimate B block card. With everything today hinging on whether or not Jeff Cobb will be able to steamroll past EVIL and Dick Togo’s tired shenanigans in order to head into his confrontation with Okada as an undefeated monster on the rise, much like the previous B block card, this looks to be a one-match show as far as tournament standings go…or is it? After facing Chase Owens, Okada is once again positioned to roll through a long-since eliminated opponent in Tama Tonga. Wins by EVIL and Tama today would not only hand our frontrunners their first loss but would have the B block sitting at a three-way tie heading into its final night.

As John and Wai have talked about several times on their G1 POST Shows, the perception that this year’s G1 hasn’t met the standard of previous tournaments, even last year’s similarly COVID-hampered G1, is definitely circulating amongst wrestling fans. But are people just forgetting last year’s clap-crowd malaise, or is there something amiss about this year’s G1 in terms of the actual matches? Let’s dig into some data.

Measuring the ratings given by Cageside users to the overall shows, the first fourteen G1 cards of 2020 averaged a score of 7.305 out of ten, while this year’s first fourteen shows have averaged notably worse at 6.55. Getting a bit more granular than overall shows, though, the data doesn’t necessarily support the idea that this year’s tournament has been any more lacking than its predecessor in noteworthy matches that those who are only casually cherry-picking the tournament’s highlights need to see (don’t worry, my spoiler-free recs are below).

Crunching the ratings given on Grappl to each night’s highest-rated match, the first fourteen cards of the 2020 G1 could guarantee that on average you’d see at least one match which earned 4.07 stars out of five, while this year’s best matches averaged a very comparable 4.05. (By the way, if you’re curious as to what degree Tetsuya Naito’s 2020 matches are a factor here, the answer is ‘not much’: Naito appeared in four of 2020’s highest-rated matches, with an average rating slightly below the overall mean, 3.995.).

Furthermore, without getting into the weeds of adding up and averaging the scores of every single match in both tournaments before I’ve had my coffee (and I also have a whole G1 show to watch and write up, dammit!), a quick count shows eleven matches from the 2020 G1’s first fourteen shows with a 4-star or higher rating, the exact same number as 2021’s first fourteen shows.

We’ll have to wait until after the tournament’s completion to have a full picture (if you didn’t see Grappl’s own breakdown of the 2020 G1 it’s well worth a look), but based on these numbers I’m tempted to say that this year’s lack of buzz has more to do with viewer burnout and a lack of interest in another G1’s worth of clap crowd matches than the actual matches themselves.

Today’s B block card comes from Yamagata, which hasn’t seen G1 action since 2016 when the tournament also came through on its sixteenth day and was headlined by Michael Elgin defeating Tomoaki Honma. A lot’s changed since then, with only four of that year’s G1 field fighting in this year’s tournament (three if you don’t count Naito). Let’s get to the matches, including one non-tourney Young Lion tag match.

Spoiler-free Recommendations

1. Kosei Fujita & Ryohei Oiwa vs BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi: More chop-based pillorying of the Young Lions.
2. G1 Climax B Block: Taichi vs Chase Owens: A middling continuation of Taichi’s injury story marred by the intrusion of real-world issues.
3. G1 Climax B Block: Hirooki Goto vs SANADA: Adequate, but not worth checking out unless you’re seriously invested in either wrestler’s move sets.
4. G1 Climax B Block: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs YOSHI-HASHI: Solid and fun enough if you enjoy this specific pairing.
5. G1 Climax B Block: Jeff Cobb vs EVIL: The match the last few days of B block competition have been building towards isn’t an in-ring classic by any stretch, but should be seen for the larger purposes of G1 booking and NJPW pecking orders. RECOMMENDED
6. G1 Climax B Block: Kazuchika Okada vs Tama Tonga: A surprisingly excellent main event that overcomes its seemingly low stakes and has some excellent finishing sequences. RECOMMENDED

Kosei Fujita & Ryohei Oiwa vs BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi

Oiwa and Hiromu start, with the Time Bomb selling very little of the Young Lion’s offense, even when Fujita comes in for some double teaming. Hiromu chops Oiwa to hell, with BUSHI following suit. Oiwa finally creates the space to make a tag with a dropkick five minutes in, and Fujita’s able to apply the Boston Crab and even eats a couple of Hiromu’s kicks before the latter breaks it up with chops. Fujita and Hiromu seem to get their wires crossed and have an awkward mid-air collision before BUSHI gets the Crab on Fujita.

BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi defeat Kosei Fujita & Ryohei Oiwa via submission at 7:12.

The takeaway: As with his preceding two matches, Hiromu put the Young Lions, especially Oiwa, through a chest-shredding chop assault. Are we going to see more striking from Hiromu in the Best of the Super Juniors or is this just the usual Young Lion hazing?

Taichi (4 points) vs Chase Owens (2 points)

Chase challenges Taichi to a sumo confrontation, and after stalling is handily tossed to the mat for what a quick bit of research tells me would be a <em>uwate-nage</em> win in an actual sumo contest, but here just sets up Taichi’s cable throttle. Taichi’s ribs are still heavily taped, and Chase targets them using the guardrail and kicks. Chase stays in control for a while back in the ring, slowly working the midsection. Taichi has very little on his kicks as he tries to rally, and the pants come off without the usual confidence. A gutbuster has Taichi writing in agony. Chase repeatedly asks Miho for a kiss, incredulously saying “No?” when she refuses, which is…unpleasant. That’s the opening for Taichi’s comeback, hitting some kicks and a Dangerous Backdrop after a failed first attempt. Taichi fights out of the package piledriver attempt, but Chase hits two C triggers and a Bobby Eaton Alabama Jam to set up the piledriver for the win.

Chase Owens defeats Taichi via pinfall at 12:06

The takeaway: After a five-match losing streak, during which he was regularly one of the work rate highlights on the card, I expected some face-saving for Taichi down the final stretch. Instead, we’re getting a newly valiant but consistently defeated Taichi who may be forced to rethink things after the G1. His closing match with Tanahashi could be a real sleeper on Day 18, and give him one last shot at redemption.

Frankly, it’s tough to talk about the qualities or work rate of this match given that it featured Chase Owens creeping on Miho Abe in a manner that eerily mirrors the accusations levied at him. It’s one thing to try to focus on the in-ring and kayfabe presentation when watching the matches of wrestlers accused of sexual harassment and misconduct, but when they’re going out of their way to remind you of the very real-world accusations they’re facing, that becomes impossible. As I mentioned earlier in the tournament, NJPW needs to be aware of what they’re doing in giving Owens an elevated position within their company, and allowing Owens to brazenly flaunt those accusations in their own ring is categorically disgusting.

Hirooki Goto (4 points) vs SANADA (6 points)

Things get going at a fair clip, with crossovers, hip tosses, and lariats giving Goto the early advantage, but SANADA regains it after taking Goto outside. The Paradise Lock is used to get the crowd clapping, Goto fights his way to the ropes to escape a headlock and fires up after some punches to the head. He hits a lariat, spinning heel kick, and GTR for two, but SANADA replies with a dropkick and plancha to the floor. Back inside, Goto hits an Ushigoroshi at ten minutes and we get a nice little forearm exchange. SANADA pulls out an Ushigoroshi of his own, and Goto repays the theft with a Skull End attempt which SANADA reverses into a draping TKO. He misses with the moonsault, and both men are laid out for a good while. SANADA tries his “moonsault into Skull End” combo which never quite looks as smooth as it should, and Goto goes for a similarly awkward inverted draping TKO. Some quick reversals give SANADA a pair of roll-up two counts, and Goto gets one after escaping a Skull End attempt. He follows up with a reverse GTR, but SANADA ducks the follow-up lariat for a successful roll-up.

SANADA defeats Hirooki Goto via pinfall at 15:33

The takeaway: Unlike Taichi’s injury, there wasn’t much in the way of the story heading into this match between two long-since eliminated contenders. Like I noted a few days ago, the Cobb & Okada freight trains have left a large number of matches directionless, and while the pilfering of each other’s moves gave the second half of this match a bit of a throughline, it never felt especially exciting, and suffered from some of SANADA’s awkward transitions.

Hiroshi Tanahashi (6 points) vs YOSHI-HASHI (4 points)

YOSHI-HASHI works a headlock and gets some striking in before the springboard crossbody puts Tanahashi in charge, working the left knee with strikes and leglocks. YOSHI-HASHI’s hobbling about but manages a Headhunter and a vertical suplex. The hold is maintained after the suplex and Tana counters with a Twist And Shout. Another suplex from YOSHI-HASHI and two Twist And Shouts from the Ace is traded before the hold’s broken. Forearm striking and standing switches eventually nets a Dragon Suplex for YOSHI-HASHI at ten minutes. YOSHI-HASHI replies to a slap from Tana with a lariat, but can’t follow up with Karma, instead of hitting an awkward neckbreaker. Double knees and Kamigoroshi earn a two count, and Tanahashi once again evades Karma, this time with a Twist And Shout. YOSHI-HASHI fires up after receiving a Sling Blade, but a second one sends him down for two. Aces High sets up a High-Fly Flow for the win.

Hiroshi Tanahashi defeats YOSHI-HASHI via pinfall at 14:13.

The takeaway: Those with long memories will recall that there was a story a’brewing between these two in 2018, with Tanahashi intimating that Okada and CHAOS didn’t have YOSHI-HASHI’s best interests at heart and that the perennial underdog might actually gain some traction was he to part ways with his running mates, and join the Hontai crew as Tanahashi’s understudy. Of course, that all went out the window when YOSHI-HASHI injured himself running to the ring to break up a Bullet Club attack on both Tanahashi and Okada, meaning that it never became clear to which one he was demonstrating his allegiance. I say all of this because it’s difficult to find much to say about a match fourteen shows into the G1 ostensibly build around a long-since eliminated YOSHI-HASHI’s knee. This was solid enough wrestling in keeping with both men’s abilities and standings. Tanahashi’s taken some high-profile losses in this G1, giving the rub to some newer faces, but we’re not at the ‘losing to the Loose Explosion’ period of the graceful autumn of the Ace’s career.

Jeff Cobb (14 points) vs EVIL (12 points)

Cobb looks wary rather than confident as this crucial match starts, and he has every right to be. A quick Togo distraction gives EVIL a quick opening flurry, but Cobb sets him down with a dropkick. Standing on EVIL’s chest some of that confidence comes on as he mocks Togo: “Too sweet me, bro!” EVIL is selling for each of Cobb’s strikes like he’s been shot, but the favor isn’t returned. The early story is that EVIL is clearly going to need the grease from Togo to win. Hell, Cobb barely acknowledges being driven into the guardrail (albeit in front of the Japanese announce team rather than the timekeeper). EVIL breaks out the swinging chair baseball spot which has been in short supply this G1 – there wasn’t any postseason ball yesterday but I could’ve held out until the Dodgers/Giants finale tonight, EVIL. Togo stands on Cobb’s foot while ref Marty Asami starts the twenty count, and back inside EVIL gouges the eyes. We’re back outside as EVIL sends Cobb crashing into the timekeeper’s table as per usual, but Cobb quickly throws both EVIL and Togo off him. Next, Cobb sets up EVIL at the timekeeper’s table spot, even propping the hammer in his hand and tosses Togo into the guardrail, sending EVIL crashing in a legitimately inspired ‘taste of his own medicine’ spot. This might be the only time I’ve ever been invested in EVIL getting his just desserts: this almost made up for all of the timekeeper spots thus far and was also funnier than anything Yano’s mustered in the A block.

Back inside Cobb lifts EVIL up for a handy backdrop and nails a standing moonsault for two. EVIL gouges the eyes again to forestall Cobb’s travel plans for him and sends Cobb into the inevitably exposed turnbuckle. A strong lariat gives EVIL a two count, and Cobb quickly counters Everything Is Evil into his running carry turnbuckle sequence. He tries to drive EVIL into Togo on the apron, but it’s Asami who takes the blow. Togo slides in for a chair shot during the visual pinfall and helps EVIL deliver a Magic Killer. EVIL hits Darkness Falls as Asami’s back up to count two. Cobb powers through being driven into the exposed turnbuckle and hits a lariat, but is soon tripped into the ropes and takes another punch from Togo. He gets a Spin Cycle but takes out Asami in the process, so Togo’s in for the garotte. Cobb avoids Everything Is Evil, dispatches Togo, but takes a low blow. Cobb ducks a chair shot, kicks the chair EVIL’s holding into his face and then hits a German to set up EVIL’s Tour Of The Islands and elimination from the G1.

Jeff Cobb defeats EVIL via pinfall at 16:46

The takeaway: The match that the entire arc of the B block had appeared to hinge on for the past few days went exactly as you’d expect for its first fifteen minutes, though this may have been the best in-ring EVIL match in the G1, as the power spots both big men pulled off outside of the Togo biz were legitimately impressive. Much like the old cliche about NBA games, only the closing moments mattered here, apart from the legitimately funny timekeeper spot. Say what you will about EVIL, and I’ve said a lot, but New Japan found a way to make one of his rare defeats matter, and it was by establishing Cobb as a legitimate star who’s above his petty tricks. Does that justify the two hours, three minutes, and twenty-two seconds of EVIL match time I had to endure leading up to his elimination? Certainly not, but at least we’ve learned that there is a ceiling to House Of Torture-era EVIL’s push in the company.

Kazuchika Okada (14 points) vs Tama Tonga (4 points)

Tama adjusts to Okada’s style and pace, with both men trading wrist and leg holds to start. Tama doesn’t wait to see if Okada’s going to bluff on the clean rope break, and elbow strikes Okada to set
off quick flurries of strikes on both sides. A neckbreaker gives control back to Okada, and he slaps a
rear chin lock on, the story being that Tama is having difficulty building steam against Okada’s
smooth and almost laconic offense. Okada takes things outside, but a Gun Stun/jawbreaker type
move sends Okada’s neck onto the guardrail. Okada’s back in at eighteen, where Tama hits a
vertical suplex for two. Tama locks in a sleeper for a minute or two, and Okada fights out to deliver
a big flapjack. More fast crossover and turnbuckle work lets Okada deliver a DDT, and he dropkicks
Tama from the top rope to the floor. Tama can’t hit a Gun Stun on the guardrail and instead eats a
draping DDT. Back inside, Tama turns a Money Clip attempt into a snap mare, but a dropkick quickly quells his momentum and the Money Clip is applied. Tama makes it to the rope but eats a top rope elbow and looks up at the Rainmaker Pose. Tama handily counters a Rainmaker attempt into Veleno, which is dusted off for the first time this tournament if I don’t miss my guess, as the match moves into some very fast-moving counters.

Tongan Twist, landslide Tombstones, and Gun Stuns are all reversed, with Tama ultimately tipping the hat to Gedo with a Complete Shot and doing the Twist for two. Okada counters the Gun Stun with a spinning Rainmaker, laying both men out at twenty minutes. After some fast dodges, Tama hits a Death Valley Bomb and Supreme Flow for two. After fighting out of a double underhook position, Okada uses a dropkick to set up a spinning Tombstone, but the Rainmaker is countered into an also countered pair of Gun Stun attempts. Tama ducks another Rainmaker and avoids a dropkick, a third Gun Stun is reversed into another Rainmaker attempt which Tama turns into Bloody Sunday! Tama desperately tries the Gun Stun twice from the same grab, and turns a landslide attempt into a flatliner-esque move, and returns to the double underhook hold to deliver a piledriver and pin Kazuchika Okada.

Tama Tonga defeats Kazuchika Okada via pinfall at 24:45

The takeaway: Was the possibility of Okada needing a win, rather than a tie, in Wednesday’s block final enough to justify putting this match in the headlining spot? Not at all. Did Tama Tonga do everything he could in his first NJPW (let alone G1) singles main event to overcome that perception and deliver a main event performance? Absolutely. The story for much of this match was that Tama Tonga, of all people, was desperate to generate some exciting offense against a ‘dry’, almost Randy Orton-esque Okada, and was then able to go toe-to-toe with New Japan’s standard-bearer in a great series of closing reversals and sequences. As I noted midway through the tournament, Tama seemed to be punching a bit above his weight in this G1, and he’s certainly kept climbing since then. A G1 show closing with a tearful, victorious Tama Tonga in the de facto babyface spot is not anything anyone could have predicted when the blocks were announced. The Good Bad Guy, indeed.

Current G1 B Block Standings

Jeff Cobb: 16 points
Kazuchika Okada: 14 points
EVIL: 12 points
Hiroshi Tanahashi: 8 points (E)
SANADA: 8 points (E)
Tama Tonga: 6 points (E)
Chase Owens: 4 points (E)
Hirooki Goto: 4 points (E)
YOSHI-HASHI: 4 points (E)
Taichi: 4 points (E)

Final Thoughts

Sometimes the simplest stories are the best ones, and that’s what the B block has been leading towards. Has this meant that there have been more matches irrelevant to the finals than a G1 block normally has in its closing days? Yes. Has the EVIL storyline sucked up far more time and goodwill than it could ever payback? Emphatically, yes. But the Cobb and Okada storyline has also allowed for some other, more low-key stories to emerge, namely the more serious presentations of Taichi and Tama Tonga, and today the latter of those stories was writ large. I’ll be back on Wednesday with a report on the last day of the 31st G1’s B block.

About Bruce Lord 10 Articles
Bruce Lord lives in Vancouver where, between AEW and NJPW binges, he blogs and podcasts about industrial and goth music at idieyoudie.com.