G1 Climax 31 Day 18 Report: Kazuchika Okada vs. Jeff Cobb

Bruce Lord reviews the final night of the B Block from Budokan Hall as Kazuchika Okada meets Jeff Cobb to determine the block winner.

Photo Courtesy: NJPW

G1 Climax 31 Day 18 – B Block Final

By: Bruce Lord

POST Wrestling’s written coverage of the B block winds to a close today with a report on the final night of regular G1 competition, on the eve of tomorrow’s show which will crown the 31st winner of what is still, despite a decline in worldwide interest, pro wrestling’s most celebrated tournament.

As everyone who watched Monday’s A block final knows, Kota Ibushi’s eventual victory emerged from a field of four contenders still in play to potentially win the block, with all manner of tie-breaker and run-off scenarios stymieing even the man who wrote the book on NJPW, Chris Charlton. No such calculus is required in the B block, in which everything hinges upon the main event: a win by either Kazuchika Okada or Jeff Cobb will send them to the finals tomorrow to face Ibushi, while a time-limit draw or no contest will fall in Cobb’s favor.

There are plenty of discussions to be had as to whether the A block or the B block has had more satisfying stories or impressive matches. While it’d be easy to do some quick ratings comparisons once the dust’s settled on both blocks, some recent upsets and impressive performances in both blocks instead are recalling to mind a question I investigated two weeks ago, at the tournament’s halfway mark. Namely, which G1 contestants are outperforming expectations?

I won’t rehash the entire background on the math I’m running (feel free to read the fine print in that Day 10 report), but I’m once again comparing each wrestler’s average G1 match rating on Cagematch to their overall rating as a wrestler to get a sense of whose tournament showings exceed or fall below the standards they’ve already established. As I previously noted, these ratios perhaps do a disservice to all-time greats like Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi, who simply can’t have perfect matches to keep pace with their overall accolades every day, and so for further context, I’m also providing the same ratios for each wrestler who fought in last year’s G1 as well and noting the differences between each year, clarifying year to year changes in performance. It’s of course possible that some overall Cagematch ratings were submitted after last year’s G1, but to be frank I don’t expect that tournament drastically changed many people’s opinions of Okada (or Yujiro Takahashi, for that matter). Once again, the Naito replacement matches and any less than five-minute matches (looking at you, Yano) are not factored into these numbers, which include all matches from the first seventeen cards of this year’s tournament. I’m keeping the blocks separate in the final list once again, to somewhat adjust for differences in each block’s qualities of competition.

A Block

Tanga Loa – 2021 ratio: 1.217 (5.743 average match vs 4.71 overall rating). Did not compete in 2020.
Great-O-Khan – 2021 ratio: 0.956 (6.32 average match vs 6.61 overall rating). Did not compete in 2020.
Yujiro Takahashi – 2021 ratio: 0.95 (5.471 average match vs 5.76 overall rating). 2020 ratio: 0.997 (5.454 average match). -.047 this year.
Zack Sabre Jr – 2021 ratio: 0.891 (7.82 average match vs 8.78 overall rating). 2020 ratio: 0.840 (7.455 average match). +.051 this year.
Shingo Takagi – 2021 ratio: 0.807 (7.523 average match vs 9.32 overall rating). 2020 ratio: 0.852 (7.941 average match). -.045 this year.
Tomohiro Ishii – 2021 ratio: 0.804 (7.626 average match vs 9.49 overall rating). 2020 ratio: 0.989 (8.523 average match). -.185 this year.
Kota Ibushi – 2021 ratio: 0.79 (7.456 average match vs 9.44 overall rating). 2020 ratio: 0.941 (8.882 average match). -.151 this year.
Toru Yano – 2021 ratio: 0.731 (4.57 average match vs 6.25 overall rating). 2020 ratio: 0.853 (5.333 average match). -.122 this year.
KENTA – 2021 ratio: 0.714 (6.433 average match vs 9.01 overall rating). 2020 ratio: 0.712 (6.411 average match). +.002 this year.

B Block

Chase Owens – 2021 ratio: 1.11 (6.108 average match vs 5.5 overall rating). Did not compete in 2020.
YOSHI-HASHI – 2021 ratio: 1.057 (7.016 average match vs 6.64 overall rating). 2020 ratio: 1.051 (6.979 average match). +.006 this year.
Taichi – 2021 ratio: 1.018 (6.983 average match vs 6.86 overall rating). 2020 ratio: 1.092 (7.488 average match). -.075 this year.
Tama Tonga – 2021 ratio: 1.009 (6.409 average match vs 6.35 overall rating). Did not compete in 2020.
SANADA – 2021 ratio: 0.893 (6.976 average match vs 7.81 overall rating). 2020 ratio: 0.877 (6.85 average match). +.016 this year.
Jeff Cobb – 2021 ratio: 0.842 (7.045 average match 8.37 overall rating). 2020 ratio: 0.821 (6.874 average match). +.021 this year
Hirooki Goto – 2021 ratio: 0.793 (6.755 average match vs 8.52 overall rating). 2020 ratio: 0.81 (6.9 average match). -.017 this year.
EVIL – 2021 ratio: 0.782 (5.508 average match vs 7.04 overall rating). 2020 ratio: 0.936 (6.588 average match) -.154 this year.
Kazuchika Okada – 2021 ratio: 0.774 (7.503 average match vs 9.69 overall rating). 2020 ratio: 0.765 (7.413 average match). +.009 this year.
Hiroshi Tanahashi – 2021 ratio: 0.71 (6.875 average match vs 9.68 overall rating). 2020 ratio: 0.767 (7.428 average match). -.057 this year.

Some conclusions we can draw from this data:

-Somewhat predictably, most first-time G1 participants see their stock rise, whether due to the quality of competition or due to the athletic and storytelling opportunities a tournament like the G1 affords.

-The narrative of both members of Guerrillas of Destiny outperforming people’s expectations for them seems to have been borne out.

-Tomohiro Ishii may, in fact, be human and on the decline. This year he hasn’t been able to single-handedly churn out 4-star matches on a whim like he used to. That said, he still had the second-highest average match rating this year, just being edged out by ZSJ.

-ZSJ and Ishii leading in the average match rating category is especially impressive given that they share a block with Yano, whose average match rating is nearly a full point lower than anyone else’s, and Yujiro, who has the next lowest average.

-While Jeff Cobb has been booked incredibly strongly this year, that hasn’t resulted in a massive increase in his match’s ratings compared to last year (though these numbers don’t take today’s block final with Okada into account).

-Whether a shoot or storyline, the early hampering of Kota Ibushi’s performances this year has given him a clear arc but has affected fans’ enjoyment of his individual matches.

-The participants whose stock more or less stayed even from last year to this tend to be long-term NJPW vets (Okada, YOSHI-HASHI, Goto).

-I was stunned by the sudden drop in Tanahashi’s average match rating, and actually crunched the numbers three times to ensure I hadn’t made an error. The egregious booking of his match with EVIL is almost entirely to blame, however; if it’s not included in this year’s matches the Ace’s ratio is 0.741, much closer to last year’s.

-Speaking of which, In the past year EVIL’s shtick has more than worn out whatever welcome it might have once enjoyed, with no one else’s ratio save Ishii’s suffering as much from last year to this year.

-My own personal opinion that this has been a breakthrough year for Taichi clearly doesn’t match up with most people’s view, as they gave him much higher ratings for last year’s performance.

I hope folks have enjoyed these deep statistical dives I’ve been adding to the reports here and there. This sort of mathematical analysis of what are ultimately subjective evaluations of a form of story-telling might seem like it’s missing the forest for the trees, but I think it can lend some credence to trends and narratives running through the tournament, and can maybe prompt people to think about how they’re perceiving G1 booking or their own thoughts about individual wrestlers’ paths.

Today’s card comes from the world-famous Nippon Budokan in Tokyo’s Chiyoda ward. If it’s good enough for Cheap Trick it’s certainly good enough to host a YOSHI HASHI/Chase Owens match with absolutely nothing at stake. We have a rewind of Day 16’s Young Lion tag match to lead into the tournament’s final five-block matches.

Spoiler-free Recommendations
1. Kosei Fujita & Ryohei Oiwa vs BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi: A mirror image of Friday’s match, albeit with a bit more offense from the Young Lions.
2. G1 Climax B Block: YOSHI HASHI vs Chase Owens: Short and decent, albeit wholly inessential.
3. G1 Climax B Block: Hirooki Goto vs Tama Tonga: Pretty fun and fast-moving, and a good recap of both men’s arcs in this G1.
4. G1 Climax B Block: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Taichi: An exciting match with an engaging story, capping off a tournament-long arc. RECOMMENDED.
5. G1 Climax B Block: SANADA vs EVIL: The same old, same old from EVIL, with nothing speaking to the history between these two.
6. G1 Climax B Block: Kazuchika Okada vs Jeff Cobb: A worthy payoff to the clash the whole block has been building towards, with a couple of incredible spots. RECOMMENDED.

Kosei Fujita & Ryohei Oiwa vs BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi

Fujita and BUSHI start, with the Young Lion getting a good number of forearms and even a two count off before BUSHI gains the upper hand and hands things over to Hiromu, who of course goes back to lighting Fujita up with chops. Back to BUSHI, who follows suit with the chops (and whose LiJ shirt likely softens Fujita’s return blows) and a half crab. Hiromu tags in and Fujita finally gets a tag to Oiwa, who goes on a run with dropkicks, shoulder checks, and a gut-wrench suplex to both opponents. The Young Lions get some double team offense in, and Oiwa gets the full crab on Hiromu before a handful of chops turns the tide and a full Boston crab from Hiromu finishes things.

BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi defeat Kosei Fujita & Ryohei Oiwa via pinfall at 7:52.

The takeaway: The timing and even a number of the spots here were essentially an inversion of the previous tag match between these four, with each person swapping spots and ring time with their partner, though both Lions did get a bit more offense in, and neither suffered as many chops as poor Oiwa did on Friday. Speaking of Oiwa, Hiromu seemed to be going a bit out of his way to target him specifically, even on the floor.

After a break, JAM Project, the band behind “Max The Max”, is out to karaoke along to the tune to open the show proper, with Charlton noting the main songwriter’s bona fides in video game and anime soundtracking. Not sure if I’d noticed before, but the video behind the theme at the beginning of each show was being updated day-by-day with new tournament footage, putting the focus on that day’s main event.

YOSHI-HASHI (4 points) vs Chase Owens (4 points)

YOSHI-HASHI has his shoulder wrenched in the ropes, giving Owens control. He hits a double axe handle from the top rope, but YOSHI-HASHI counters a second attempt with a shot to the breadbasket. A Headhunter sets up some strikes and dropkicks, and Owens responds with a neckbreaker combo and a short running knee. YOSHI-HASHI fights out of the package piledriver, blocks a C trigger, and delivers a weird-looking neckbreaker variant (an Ushigoroshi delivered to a horizontal opponent?), but can’t pull off Karma. Owens gets a C trigger, but after a short series of counters does succumb to Karma.

YOSHI-HASHI defeats Chase Owens via pinfall at 10:28.

The takeaway: Each man was fighting for very little other ensuring they wouldn’t finish last in the block (unless Owens and a couple of other Bullet Club members want to target the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Titles), but both had a fair amount of pep through this short match. This was a match no one was looking forward to which still moved along at a fair clip, which is all that can be asked of it.

Hirooki Goto (4 points) vs Tama Tonga (6 points)

Tama is trying to stick and move to evade Goto’s power, and things start fast with crossovers, shoulder blocks, hip-tosses, and lariats. Goto tries to slow things down, but Tama evades him with leapfrogs and hits some jumping elbows, before slowing things down himself with a headlock, which he cinches in deeper after Goto tries to escape via snapmare. Goto fights out and hits a bulldog and a series of standing kicks which Tama invites, giving him some fighting spirit heat. Goto goes to the top rope but Tama gains control and hits a Tongan Twist. He follows it up with a Complete Shot, SRC, and Supreme Flow for two. He goes for the double underhook a number of times but Goto counters with an Ushigoroshi and a draping neckbreaker for two. Goto follows up with a reverse GTR and a big lariat. Goto evades a par of Gun Stuns, there are a number of quick reversals for Tama gets a Bloody Sunday for two. Another Gun Stun is blocked, and Goto rolls Tama up with the Goto Shiki pinning predicament for the three-count.

Hirooki Goto defeats Hirooki Goto via pinfall at 15:20.

The takeaway: After what was handily the best singles match of his NJPW tenure (if not his entire career), Tama could perhaps be forgiven if he’d phoned this one in. But instead, this was a fun and fast-moving match which consolidated Tama’s reinvigorated moveset and pace. For his part, Goto felt like he was fighting for his future, with the question looming of whether his power-based offense would still have enough oomph to keep him in next year’s G1.

Hiroshi Tanahashi (8 points) vs Taichi (4 points)

Taichi immediately hits a Dangerous Backdrop for a near flash pinfall as we’re right off to the races. The pants are off, Taichi delivers a big head kick but is unable to lift the Ace up for Black Mephisto. An Axe Bomber sets up another attempt at the finisher, but Taichi’s midsection’s taken too much damage during the G1, and Tana hits a couple of gut punches to add insult to injury. Tana works the midsection and the knee, getting a Muta Lock for a short while and keeps torquing Taichi’s knees. Taichi gets some breathing room with a hook kick as Miho Abe is rallying the crowd. Taichi gets some kicks in but is draped in the tree of woe and takes a dropkick to the ribs. More strikes are exchanged as a gamengiri gives Taichi another moment of hope, but Tanahashi gets a Twist and Shout and moves into the cloverleaf. Taichi makes it to the ropes but is clearly spent and even gets checked by the doctor.

Taichi tries to lift Tana three times to no avail and instead eats a Sling Blade, but immediately pops up to hit a Dangerous Backdrop and hook kick. He’s too hurt to deliver the pin in time, and moves to the corner for a sumo stance. Both men charge, and Taichi wins the strike exchange with a big forearm. Taichi gets Tana up into Black Mephisto position, but Tana replies with a Twist and Shout and Sling Blade for two. Aces High connects, but Taichi rolls out of the way of the High-Fly Flow and catches Tanahashi in the Gedo Clutch for a desperation pinfall.

Taichi defeats Hiroshi Tanahashi via pinfall at 14:59.

The takeaway: It’s 2021, and Hiroshi Tanahashi, the Once In A Generation Talent, is clearly working in the heel spot against that valiant underdog babyface fighting to overcome a crippling injury…Taichi. Of course, Tana’s quietly donned the black hat for a day to give the rub to Okada, Naito, SANADA, and others in the midst of a face turn, but the sheer amount of punishment Taichi had taken in the tournament and in this match underlined the roles here even further. The desperation in Taichi’s fast start set up the whole story of this match, and the fact that Taichi had been using not just individual All Japan moves but the King’s Road style itself throughout the tournament made this a very enjoyable end to what ended up being, much to my surprise, one of my favorite G1-spanning stories.

SANADA (8 points) vs EVIL (12 points)

EVIL grabs the mic and says there’s no point in this match, rings the bell, and goes to leave before SANADA rolls him back in and hits the bell for good measure. We get the exposed turnbuckle spot to start, EVIL chokes SANADA with a shirt and then heads outside to do the perfunctory home run chair spot. We get one Togo attack on the outside, and after taking an eye gouge SANADA hits a vertical drop brainbuster and fires up. Both EVIL and Togo take kicks while in the Paradise Lock, but as SANADA tries to press the advantage with a plancha he’s tossed into, sigh, the timekeeper’s table (there are lots of things I’ll miss about writing these reports when the tournament’s done, but the itemizing the checklist of EVIL spots is not one). Togo grabs SANADA to try for the countout, but SANADA’s back in time to eat a Darkness Falls for a two count at the ten-minute mark.

EVIL chases SANADA into the corner and crashes into the exposed turnbuckle, and SANADA follows up with a backdrop. A top rope dropkick sets up the TKO for a two-count. As SANADA goes for the moonsault Togo tosses a chair into his hands for the Eddie Guerrero frame job spot, but SANADA kicks Togo off the apron and puts EVIL in the Skull End. EVIL gets the knees up to block the moonsault. EVIL feigns a fair exchange of blows in the middle but goes for another eye gouge. There are more ref and Togo pratfalls which end with Togo accidentally helping SANADA deliver a Magic Killer. SANADA hits a low blow while the ref’s distracted, but Togo pulls the ref out to stop the count and do the garrote spot. More chairs are tossed back and forth with EVIL eventually clocking SANADA with one to set up Everything Is Evil.

EVIL defeats SANADA via pinfall at 17:48.

The takeaway: This replay of last year’s final B block match certainly didn’t have the same juice going in as its predecessor, and not only because it wasn’t sending the winner to the G1 final to face Ibushi. As much as I’d like to solely blame EVIL for this, the fact is that SANADA’s been unable to bring the sort of fire and animosity to confrontations with his former LiJ tag partner that a betrayal on the level of EVIL’s should generate. Neither of their singles matches since EVIL’s defection to Bullet Club has felt like part of a legitimate blood feud to me. That said, SANADA barely had a moment in the usual flurry of EVIL bullshit to do anything which might have distinguished this match from any of EVIL’s other G1 matches. From a booking perspective EVIL getting a win back against SANADA after those two losses make a measure of sense, as it’s onward but not upward for House Of Torture-era EVIL, who had some words with Shingo Takagi at the commentary desk after the match. Let’s hope that was just some incidental trash talk and not a sign that we’re getting a replay of NJPW’s worst title match of the year.

Kazuchika Okada (14 points) vs Jeff Cobb (16 points)

None of Okada’s feeling out and grappling sequences to start, with big blows, lariats, and a feint at Tour of the Islands to start before Okada hits a neckbreaker. Cobb is selling the stinging effects of the neckbreaker hard, and Okada targets the neck with a dropkick. Things slow down with a chinlock before Cobb fights out and hits a shoulder tackle. Cobb grinds away at Okada outside of the ring for a minute but is still selling the neck stinger. Back inside, Cobb holds Okada up in the brainbuster for a lengthy period but tosses Okada away as he has with several other opponents, and follows up with two belly-to-belly suplexes for a two count. The carried turnbuckle slams and the carried backdrop get another two count, but Cobb misses with the standing moonsault, and Okada hits a flapjack, some strikes, and a DDT for two. Okada attempts the Money Clip but can’t lock it in on the burly Cobb, so instead sends him outside the seated dropkick. Cobb catches Okada in mid-air on the plancha attempt and counters a DDT attempt with a release suplex.

Back inside, Cobb tries to press the advantage but is still selling the neck and back. Cobb is sent back outside with another dropkick, and the 6’3″ Okada hits a tope con hilo. Back inside, Okada hits a beautiful shotgun dropkick from the top rope and follows up with a top rope elbow drop. Okada does the Rainmaker pose, but Cobb counters the Rainmaker attempt with a Spin Cycle at the fifteen-minute mark. Cobb hits the Oklahoma Stampede and a standing moonsault for two. Cobb ducks another Rainmaker attempt and hits a German. A Tour of the Islands and a Tombstone are reversed by each man, and Cobb hits a Tombstone of his own, somehow holds onto Okada, and lifts him back up to hit a repeated Jumping Tombstone! Cobb does a Rainmaker pose of his own and goes for the Tour but Okada counters with a Spinning Rainmaker. A big dropkick sets up the Money Clip, which Okada punctuates with a Jumping Tombstone before reapplying the hold. Cobb escapes and there are some quick backslide reversals, a Tour attempt, and a near fall for Okada via his seated roll-up at the twenty-minute mark.

Cobb sets Okada up in the ropes to hit a seated dropkick of his own, which ties Okada’s knees in the ropes. The two battle on the second rope, with Cobb attempting an insane version of the fallaway moonsault slam he hit on Shingo at Wrestle Kingdom, only for Okada to counter mid-air into a DDT. Wow. Cobb ducks another Rainmaker, lifts and tosses Okada into Tour of the Islands position, but Okada escapes to hit another dropkick. Cobb immediately pops up, no-selling the dropkick, but eats a Landslide Tombstone. Okada quickly follows up with a full Rainmaker and pins Cobb to hand the Olympian his first and only defeat in the G1, and set a date with Kota Ibushi tomorrow.

Kazuchika Okada defeats Jeff Cobb via pinfall at 23:39.

The takeaway: Cobb being able to take the block with a draw made a time limit tease seem like an inevitability, but that never really materialized. Instead, the story here was the early injury to Cobb’s neck and some truly incredible sequences which seemed as though they could dash either man’s hopes in an instant (namely those repeat Tombstones from Cobb and the incredible second rope spot), which made for a thrilling match which bested its A block counterpart for my money.

Upon Okada’s sole G1 defeat, I argued that that plot element didn’t make up for forsaking the possibility of two undefeated wrestlers facing each other in the block final. While I still stand by that, Okada needing the tie-breaker victory to get past an absolute beast in Cobb makes for a fine enough story to cap off a B block which was, ultimately, always going to be about this final match.

Final G1 B Block Standings
Kazuchika Okada: 16 points (W)
Jeff Cobb: 16 points (E)
EVIL: 14 points (E)
Hiroshi Tanahashi: 8 points (E)
SANADA: 8 points (E)
Taichi: 6 points (E)
Hirooki Goto: 6 points (E)
YOSHI-HASHI: 6 points (E)
Tama Tonga: 6 points (E)
Chase Owens: 4 points (E)

Final Thoughts
The strong booking of Okada and Cobb has obviously been the lifeblood of these B block shows, which have had their fair share of middling matches and cards. That said, keeping those front-runners so far ahead of the pack allowed some also-rans to craft their own stories in this year’s G1. Owens ably shone in the spots given to him, and a revitalized Tama Tonga will be bringing a whole new style to World Tag League when he and his brother reunite. And Taichi earned plenty in a series of brave defeats which saw him finding new guts, stamina, and valor in his All Japan heritage.

Apart from the tournament’s Ibushi/Okada finale, which seemed the safe bet upon the announcement of the blocks, the long-term positioning of Jeff Cobb in NJPW moving forward is by far and away the most intriguing story emerging out of this block. Cobb’s been given a tremendous amount of stature, and New Japan can more than makeup for his loss to Okada if they find the right stories and feuds for Cobb moving forward. Before the tournament Cobb talked about seeking out a US Championship opportunity should he beat Tanahashi, and there’s also the looming question of Ospreay as the leader in absentia of the United Empire. These and plenty of other opportunities hopefully await the Imperial Unit, even as he watches Okada fight in the spot he hoped would be his tomorrow.

That’s a wrap on my coverage of the 31st G1! On a personal note, I’d like to thank John and Wai for tagging me in to cover the written portion of the B block beat. POST’s coverage of the G1 played a huge role in my burgeoning NJPW fandom in 2015, and it was a privilege to be able to add a few observations of my own to that larger body of work.

About Bruce Lord 28 Articles
Bruce Lord lives in Vancouver where, between AEW and NJPW binges, he blogs and podcasts about industrial and goth music at idieyoudie.com.