New Japan Pro Wrestling
G1 Climax 31 Night 1
September 18, 2021
Osaka, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

SHO def. Ryohei Oiwa

While not every show on this year’s G1 Climax tour has a non-tournament match, the majority of them do, including this one. Seeing this bout on the lineup reminded me of how awesome the G1 Climax shows were last year, in terms of their layout. I know they’re doing this primarily because of the pandemic, but these shorter cards are so much easier to digest (and I didn’t necessarily mind the undercard tags they were doing for the G1 events before COVID). Anyway, SHO picked up a win over Ryohei Oiwa in a fine singles encounter to start off the show. Oiwa went after SHO right out of the gate, but aside from a late offensive flurry from the new young lion (including a very nice dropkick), SHO was in control for the majority of the bout. He would end up putting Oiwa away with his new submission finisher, called the Snake Bite. Again, this was perfectly solid for what it was. I know that The House Of Torture is meant to be this new subfaction within Bullet Club that’s heavily reliant on cheating, but this was a match that SHO should’ve won clean, and fortunately, he did. There’s no need for him to cheat to beat a brand new young lion. ***

G1 Climax 31 – A Block
Yujiro Takahashi (2) def. Kota Ibushi (0)

The very first match of this year’s G1 Climax tournament saw its first major upset, as Yujiro Takahashi defeated Kota Ibushi, who had just made his return to wrestling following a severe bout with Aspiration Pneumonia. With Yujiro being a member of EVIL’s House Of Torture, I was expecting a ton of cheating and interference (probably from SHO) to turn this match into an absolute mess. To my surprise, there wasn’t nearly as much cheating as I was expecting, and we barely got any outside interference. There was a point about midway through when the lovely Pieter distracted the referee so Yujiro could use his walking stick, and we did get a low blow that eventually led to the finish. Aside from those two instances, we got a pretty straightforward bout here that would’ve been on par with any of Yujiro’s matches during last year’s G1 Climax.

Ibushi managed to run through his usual slate of offensive, while Yujiro nearly emptied the tank in terms of his signature moves. At one point, Ibushi went for the Kamigoye, but Yujiro managed to get out of the way, leading to Ibushi nearly taking out the referee, and with the opening that was provided, Yujiro hit a low blow while the referee wasn’t looking. Ibushi kicking out of the first Pimp Juice got a big reaction from the clap crowd in Osaka, but a second Pimp Juice (a lifting version that I would say is closer to the Impaler DDT that Edge uses) manages to put Ibushi down for the count. I suppose it’s possible they’re telling the story of Ibushi struggling after coming back from his illness, but regardless, it seems like we’re already setting up a big Ibushi comeback through the standings late in the tournament. ***1/4

G1 Climax 31 – A Block
Great O-Khan (2) def. Tanga Loa (0)

The second tournament bout of the night featured two men who were making their debuts in the G1 Climax, as Great O-Khan went up against Tanga Loa, with Jado in his corner (yes, it looks like the Master Heater is, unfortunately, going to be with, at least, Tanga Loa on this tour). In the end, Great O-Khan would score the victory after hitting Tanga Loa with The Eliminator. As a whole, the wrestling from start to finish was perfectly fine, but my biggest issue with this bout was the length (not a new issue with New Japan cards since their return from the shutdowns last year). This did not need to go seventeen minutes. That’s entirely too long for this particular combination. We did get a couple of interference attempts from Jado, but aside from that and the length, the actual action in the ring was decent enough. Following the initial exchanges, O-Khan was quickly placed in the underdog babyface role as Loa took control, which is interesting, since we obviously haven’t really seen O-Khan in that role yet in New Japan (and he’ll be in that role again later in the tour, with two other Bullet Club members in his block). The finish did seem to come a bit out of nowhere, as Loa had just nailed a series of offensive moves before O-Khan put him away. Nothing much else to add about this one. It probably would’ve been a little better if they shaved a few minutes off, but not by much. **3/4

G1 Climax 31 – A Block
Toru Yano (2) def. KENTA (0)

These two had one of the worst matches of the tournament last year, so my expectations coming in weren’t exactly high. After turning back the clock to his MVP days in his I Quit Match with Chase Owens at Wrestle Gram Slam, Toru Yano was back to being his usual self. Meanwhile, KENTA took the chance to mock Yano by having his own, absurdly long introduction from the ring announcer. There was a lot of stalling from both men after the opening bell, but once things got going, this turned into your typical Toru Yano comedy match. I guess the only interesting aspect of it is that it pretty much exclusively revolved around the wrist tape. As they brawled up the entranceway, KENTA kept pulling out various rolls of tape that he had stashed by the stage, and eventually used the tape to tie Yano to the set, which led to a countout tease.

We did get some wrestling in the ring (mainly when KENTA was on offense), but once again, the tape became the main focus. KENTA managed to tie Yano’s hands together, and managed to roll him underneath the ring. He insisted that the referee count out Yano, as as the count started to get closer to twenty, Yano came back in from the other side, and hit a low blow before nearly getting the win with a rollup. His hands were still taped together through all of this, but Yano managed to hit another low blow, followed by another pin attempt to finally get the win. This was slightly better than their bout from last year, but not by much. With KENTA scheduled to face Ibushi on the final night, I presume this loss is also setting up KENTA for a bigger run as the tournament continues. **1/4

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G1 Climax 31 – A Block
IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champion Zack Sabre Jr. (2) def. Tetsuya Naito (0)

Finally, we get to the business end of this card, as Zack Sabre Jr. goes one-on-one with Tetsuya Naito. Of course, these two have been going back-and-forth throughout the summer, as LIJ (represented by Naito and SANADA) battled Dangerous Tekkers for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Titles. That feud included an encounter between these two in this very building (the EDION Arena) on July 23rd that was won by Tetsuya Naito. This was also a rematch of an incredible bout from last year’s G1 Climax, which was also won by Naito. Sabre’s been on the wrong side of these singles bouts with Naito over the last year, but ultimately, he was able to reverse that trend on this night, as he managed to tap out Tetsuya Naito for the victory. He appeared to use a brand new submission hold to get the job done, and I believe it’s name is “Yes I Am A Long Way From Home”.

These two always seem to have great matches, and this latest encounter was certainly no exception. After an entertaining opening exchange, it seemed that both had the exact same strategy…..go after the neck of your opponent. A big moment for Sabre happened early when he stopped the Combinacion Cabron with a cravat, followed by a snap suplex and a dropkick (a move you don’t really see him use) to the back of the neck. Later on, Naito would return the favor by continuing to do damage to the neck of Sabre, with moves like Esperanza and the rope-assisted DDT. Later on, Sabre would actually start working over the historically bad knees of Naito, slamming them into the mat at one point (much like Jonathan Gresham has done in the past). The pace picked up in the closing minutes as the two inched closer to the thirty minute time limit. Naito would nail a pair of Destinos (one came off much better than the other), while Sabre got some nearfalls of his own, with the European Clutch nearfall getting a particularly big reaction. Then Sabre locked in the aforementioned submission hold with the unique name to secure the win. The first truly great match of the tournament. ****1/4

G1 Climax 31 – A Block
IWGP World Heavyweight Champion Shingo Takagi (2) def. Tomohiro Ishii (0)

When the blocks were announced, I immediately searched for the night where Shingo Takagi and Tomohiro Ishii would face each other. I was overjoyed to see that they would be main eventing the first night of the tournament, in the EDION Arena in Osaka (one of New Japan’s best venues in one of their best cities). Their first few encounters, once in 2019 and in early 2020 (before the pandemic) were both excellent, though their third meeting in last year’s G1 was seen as slightly disappointing by some.

When the dust settled, these two had an absolutely awesome bout that was filled with kickass action from start to finish. Of course, they charged right after each other straight away, and the fight was on. Shoulder tackles, forearm strikes, vicious chops (to the chest and to the throat), huge lariats, headbutts, and everything in between. It was truly a war, as they just went back and forth in the ultimate display of toughness. There was one awkward moment where an attempted deadlift superplex by Ishii ended in a pretty significant botch, but Ishii wasn’t going to let that stop him. The stubborn Stone Pitbull willed himself back up, and nailed the deadlift superplex on the second try. Of course, the intensity just picked up as they went down the stretch, and they continued to trade big moves and big shots, each one more devastating than the last. As they approached the thirty minute time limit, the two started trading headbutts, but Shingo got the better of that exchange. He followed up with Last Of The Dragon to pick up the win. It should be noted that Ishii seemed to have some sort of issue with his right hand, as it was pointed out by Kevin Kelly and Chris Charlton that the right hand was swollen up by the end of the bout, so we’ll see if anything comes of that in the near future. I would say that this match wasn’t quite as amazing as their G1 bout between this pair from 2019, but definitely better than their meeting in 2020. Shingo and Ishii are two of the best wrestlers in the world, and when they face off, you usually get magic. ****3/4

Final Thoughts

The first night of the 31st edition of the G1 Climax is in the books, and as a whole, it was a pretty solid show from start to finish. The first three tournament matches were on the weaker side (by the standards of the G1), but that wasn’t a total surprise, given who was in those particular matchups. Out of those three, KENTA vs. Toru Yano was the only bout that I would call below average. Meanwhile, the top two matches definitely delivered, and absolutely met the standard of the G1. Naito vs. Sabre was pretty great, while Shingo vs. Ishii was nothing short of spectacular, and will be hard to top in terms of the best matches of the tournament.