OCTOBER 1, 2021

Watch: NJPWWorld English/Japanese

Welcome to the halfway point of the G1 Competence. Not much is being said about this tournament, and what little is out there seems increasingly discontented. I’m here to counter-balance the balderdash, though some things can’t be ignored:

The second four nights of the tournament were significantly inferior to the first four, even if they were, ultimately, pretty good shows.

To emphasize this, allow me to dig into my stats, which I’ve shared in the last two ebooks and in a number of articles that previewed this year’s G1 Climax as well as last year’s. What do they show? A small but still clear drop in both GRAPPL ratings and match times.

The GRAPPL ratings maintained the median, while the average dropped. Basically, the proportion of matches above and below the average stayed the same, thus the same median, but the stuff below the average has been much lower since Night 4. Basically, the stuff that people didn’t like in Nights 5-8, they really didn’t like.

I’d point out that GRAPPL has been progressively stingier, amplified by the pandemic, but they’ve been consistently miserly. Sure, they seem intent on never acknowledging how good Tanga Loa has become, but it’s always at the same level of cluelessness every time: somewhere in the 3’s, within a relatively narrow range.

Korakuen Sucks.

Once the G1 hit Korakuen, the fatigue crept in… just like last year. I’m not sure if people remember this as vividly. Last year, Osaka’s Edion Arena hosted two raucous opening nights, two nights which gave us the very unfounded hope that the G1 was immune to pandemic condition complications. Then there were two pretty good shows in Hokkaido, a really fun show in Kobe… and then we dug in for an arduous siege during a two-night stint at Korakuen.

This year, simply replace Hokkaido with Ota City Gym. Being another of their best venues during the pandemic, having Nights 3 and 4 there subsequent to Edion probably put the opening phase of G131 ahead of G130. By GRAPPL numbers, people evaluated the matches essentially the same, with G131 having a minutely smaller average but a slightly higher median. Unfortunately, Kobe this year was a very uneven card dependent on two otherworldly main events, and one of them was cancelled because Naito’s knee finally gave out for good.

Even so, Korakuen is uniquely odious at the moment. Last year, the G1 took place before New Japan’s strategy, whether it be voluntary or de facto involuntary, to scorch this fucking place. They’ve run 119 shows this year… 53 at Korakuen Hall. How many aired on New Japan World? Every goddamn one of them, that’s how many. How could a G1 show possibly seem idiosyncratic, or even tolerable, at that place?

And sure, for the first time since December they put 600+ on consecutive nights in that building, but the atmosphere was tragic, powerless against the robust ennui and disenchantment that permeates anything associated with this company at that venue. Consider the N1 Final that aired in between Nights 8 and 9 of the G1. It was also in Korakuen. Totally different feeling.

That brings us to the point of contention some have had with this show: the crowd was even worse than the Korakuen’s. I don’t agree with that perspective, not entirely. The crowd was somewhat jejune, absolutely. Some of that you can blame on the mix; I had this turned up as loud as I possibly could in my headphones, and I still felt a distance between myself and the crowd. But that doesn’t account for the amount of clapping and reactivity this crowd had, which was firmly adequate. And that’s not complimentary. There was a perfunctory amount of response from this crowd. It’s understandable. Some crowds end up observing more than participating, But this is the Grade One Climax, and adequate crowds get lambasted every year. This year is especially pronounced; adequate crowds beget agony. The heavy hitters of this very podcast matrix fell in a wide range of exasperated and apoplectic because of this crowd.

I reiterate my stance: an adequate crowd, but not good enough. And not good enough is corrosive in this environment, when we desperately yearn for even the faintest spark to alight, as George Carlin put it, our nostalgia for a little whole ago.

If you want to know the difference between good clap crowds and mediocre ones, there’s an example in this very show. Listen to the way the crowd reacts after Tanahashi gets the knees up on SANADA’s rounding body press. That’s good clap crowd material. Listen to pretty much the rest of the night for comparison. My position: perfectly fine, but not good, either.

The pundits were accurate enough in their assessment of the crowd. The action? Now that’s quite a different subject.

Yoshinobu Kanemaru def. Ryohei Oiwa

The two new Young Lions, Oiwa and Kosei Fujita, are so novel they haven’t truly had a chance to differentiate themselves from each other. At every step of their public initiation into the performance side of the business, they’ve acted in parallelism. If you watch their opening series, you’d notice that it  essentially functions as a sequence of two-match mirrors. For instance: match one, Oiwa worked Fujita’s leg, while Fujita worked Oiwa’s arm, resulting in Oiwa catching Fujita in a Boston Crab that was held until the time limit elapsed. In the next match, the converse happened: Fujita worked the leg, Oiwa worked the arm, and Fujita held a crab on Oiwa until the bell.

The same thing happened in the SHO matches to kick off the year’s G1 Climax. SHO beat the fuck out of these guys, in almost identical ways, in almost an identical sequence. The endings were different, so there is slight alterations between these matches, but the general armature remains consistent.

That is to say, this Night 8 match will probably occur again on match 9. It will be interesting to evaluate the miniscule differences, because if there is one thing different between these two YL’s (and there probably is only one thing), it’s that Fujita has shown himself to be extremely more high strung than Oiwa. That’s the intriguing part, how will that play off of the sublimely disinterested sour detachment of Kanemaru.

I certainly hope Kanemaru shows less emotion, or at least he presents a more faithfully supercilious disdain than he did here. There were times where he fired up! I had forgotten the sound of Kanemaru’s fighting spirit roar, and I didn’t ever want to hear it again.

This is not the Kanemaru I want to see. Kanemaru is supposed to aloofly cringe at his opponents, the fans, and the wrestling industry as a whole. He is one of the few reliable audience surrogates we have left in wrestling.

This doesn’t get said often or explicitly enough: Yoshinobu Kanemaru is an honest-to-God legitimate living legend. The man debuted during peak Pillars era for fuck’s sake. He’s a walking connection to history. This would be like having someone that was a rookie during the early 70’s Oakland A’s dynasty walking around.

This one was fine, with Kanemaru targeting the leg and showing absolutely zero appreciation for Young Lion sincerity by raking the poor kid’s eyes in response. ***

G1 Climax 31 B Block
Jeff Cobb (8) def. Tama Tonga (2)

These two have never faced off before, which is a shame. Considering that these are two of the most successfully tweaked personalities on the roster, it would be a pleasure to have something from earlier to compare to how they are now. This might be premature in the case of Tonga, but this match was also a distinct example of his capabilities.

I can see the Tama Tonga match. He’s not there yet, but this match certainly seemed like Tama facing a fully realized version of what he could be, conceptually. Tama’s been anchored by some dreadfully putrid material in the last 18 months, which reached it’s unfortunate zenith earlier this year when he had to portray some kind of Mad Hatter character, possessed by Taichi’s Iron Fingers and perpetually laughing like the dentist in Toejam and Earl. Let alone the endless multi-man matches between G.O.D., a feud which lasted over seven moths and involved over two dozen encounters of some kind.

His 2018 G1 was a disaster, requiring him to enact a wholly distasteful cavalier loose cannon act, one entirely repudiated by the fans, one of which Tama decided to charge in the fucking stands. He also littered, the truly unforgiveable offense. That month-long fiasco certainly highlights how Tama’s been shackled by drivel, but emphasizing G128 also ignores that Tama had been in the two G1’s prior, and didn’t exactly blow the doors off. Being such a dirty rotten scoundrel in 2018 might have been a bridge too far, but the general sentiment that he should not be invited back after it wouldn’t have taken hold so easily if the groundwork hadn’t been set by two underwhelming years in 2016 and 2017.

Cobb, of course, used last year’s G1 to fully exhibit the alarmingly incredible strides he had made in fully realizing his capabilities in a New Japan ring. Tama has shown more modest gains this year, but considering the nadir from which he’s emerged, his progression has probably produced a larger gap between current and previous selves than Cobb’s.

Tama’s not entirely there. For all his blustery gasconade, there’s still a jaggedly undulant nature to his matches. It’s smoother than his tag stuff, where he and his brother often annihilated match momentum with transitory periods that were long, drab, sometimes entirely vacant. Jeff Cobb, as displayed beautifully in this match, had the opposite problem. His transition periods needed to be a bit longer, and desperately needed magnitude, which his magnetically peremptory persona now provides.

Tama’s still tweaking this. In this match, his blithe self-assurance was insanely potent at times. There were sometimes I wish he projected it a bit more to carry the sinews of the bout. I think he’s onto something with the idea of jocular emulation. For all I know, he actually means for the Randy Orton stuff he does leading into the Gun Stun to be sincere homage, and it’s absolutely shrewd and astute to work something like this into his formula. These are the things he’s doing that I believe are going to pay off if they give him more singles time. But there’s also a sense that he is being slightly pejorative, as he was explicitly mocking in his previous match against Tanahashi.

Tama shouldn’t make that a characteristic; that would age rapidly and doesn’t have much staying power. But the emotional and physiological undergirds of that, of being a recklessly demonstrative fuckface in that way, seems like a key to unlocking the Tama Tonga match.

This one was a cool match-up of a guy that excels in combinations versus a guy so preternaturally strong and huge that he packs the wallop of a combination in one strike. I’m not sure why Cobb started some nonsense vituperation of Tama as “tag team boy,” which was funny but one of those things where you wonder why the wrestler is so intent on wasting time and giving their opponent a breather. I guess wrestlers assume that listening is as exhaustive an activity as the speaking?

Like many matches in this year’s G1, this one has a fluid and sudden ending. Tama simply got caught and reversed, straight into Cobb’s versatile finisher. ***1/2

G1 Climax 31 B Block
EVIL (6) def. Chase Owens (0)

So, they started with a literal retread of Jay White and Yujiro from last year’s G1. The “leader” exhorts the prelim guy to lay down and bequeath the two points. Requests turn into adjuring, cajoling, and increasingly amplified bitterness, until the underling explodes in antipathetic defiance.

The problem here is that last year, this one-act play arrived near the end of the G1, on Night 13. Jay White was trying to secure his standing at the top of A Block heading into the final two nights. Yujiro was 0-6 and desperate to avoid getting shut out. Match 7 is definitely crunch time, and dilemma time for some.

This match was Match 4 for these guys. Who gives a fuck about match 4. Certainly not the fans. I’ve tried to make a point across my reviews this year to emphasize that EVIL might, indeed, be much more popular in Japan than the Western fanbase would like to acknowledge, accept, or even realize. There’s been several points this year that I believe firmly supports this. The recent Wrestle Grand Slam match against Shingo, for instance, I would assert is clear evidence that suggests this might be the case.

Add this match as counter evidence, and proof that EVIL is a big fucking mess. When things go wrong with EVIL, its almost literally hell on Earth. As in, the fundamentalist notion that hell is the absence from God. I envision a spatially blank void, deprived of all sensory stimuli, especially sound. And even that, the ultimate nightmare of deprivation, would be deafening compared to the long, grueling stretches of torpor from this audience in response to EVIL vs. Chase Owens.

What’s unfortunate is that this stands as irrefutable proof to any doubters. Any attempt I’d like to make in proclaiming EVIL one of the best wrestlers of the tournament (up to the balderdash, because up to the Bald Pumped Up Politicking Motherfucker getting involved, EVIL has looked legitimately great)… completely futile. This match exists to dispel it.

Any chance you had at converting people to Chase Owen’s incredible work ethic and fervor in the ring? Well, beyond the unfortunate ways that was already impossible, it’s infinitely impossible now because this match exists.

I would counter that sentiment by reiterating that, perhaps, this is the sort of palette cleanser the G1 needed, of mid-length matches that simply follow a straightforward path and end, without fanfare or intricate sequences. This was competently worked.

It’s also been an amusing part of the tournament hearing Milano get excited for any late-match Chase Owens flourish. The best one was against Tama, with Milano screaming, “Yes! YESSSSS!” when Chase fired up (right before getting put way by a Tama reversal). In this case, the amusing part is that both of these guys have moves that the announcers literally scream with prolonged syllables. So the sequence near the end where Chase was trying to hit the C-Trigger and EVIL was trying to hit the move that he named after himself, we just had a string of sounds as the guys reversed and dodged each other until Chase mercifully hit the knee: “Shhhheeeee… EEEEEEEE… SHHHHHHEEEEEEE… EEEEEEEEEE…. SHHEEEEE TRIGGGGGERRRRR!!!!” ***1/4

G1 Climax 31 B Block
YOSHI-HASHI (2) def. Taichi (4)

The venerable Chris Samsa and I were talking about YOSHI-HASHI after this one, because we were sure the YSH has put in an incredible amount of ring time this year, and particularly long matches. We figured he had to be pretty high up there when it comes to average match lengths this year. Our hunch was correct.

YOSHI-HASHI, the YOSHI-HASHI, the Bag of Socks, the guy that was unceremoniously dropped from the G1 after 2018, simply because he was too uninspiring for G1 prelims… he’s had quite the turnaround this year.

He’s 2nd overall in average match time, combining both singles and tag team matches. And quite frankly, you could consider him 1st. #1 is Hiromu, with a 17:59 average… over 16 matches. YOSHI-HASHI average 16:53 over 46. Technically, that’s tied with SANADA, who averages the same time over 60 matches. Even so, would you expect YOSHI-HASHI to scale that list.

Now, obviously this is heavily tag based. YSH-HSH falls to 25th in singles match average times.

But not in the Grade One Climax. After 8 nights, YOSHI-HASHI ranks 6th, at 19:59 per match. If this holds, which it won’t, but if it did, YSH-HSH would finish with a total of 2:59:59 ring time. That would be the most ever by anyone outside of Okada and Naito. Though, ranking 6th, he’d have company.

That company: Okada, Sabre, Tanahashi, Ishii, and SANADA. That’s his company. Two of the greatest wrestling in the history of the business, a main event level guy, a guy that’s getting the rocket strap in this specific tournament, and the greatest G1 performer ever. YOSHI-HASHI isn’t the MVP, but whatever the Sixth Man equivalent in wrestling is, he’s locked that up.

Of course, Taichi rules. He’s only added the coolest fucking move in wrestling to his arsenal, the Hakuho elbow, that thing he does where he puts both fists to the mat and charges his opponents with a devastating forearm strike. It rules, and it especially rules that he only uses it in victory. He’s not wasting that move.

Taichi also has been having very… intimate moments with his opponents after the matches. Unlike Ishii, who has been trying to maul his opponents after the bell, Taichi has loving caressed SANADA after their match, and, after this match, grabbed YOSHI-HASHI’s hair in such a way that… it’s aggressive, but fujoshi-bait aggressive. If a doujinshi artist was writing this instead of a colony of bald junior heavyweight tag team specialists, this would have taken a very different turn, and Miho Abe would not be invited. Except to maybe be a background decoration.

Incredibly, this is the first singles match these two have had. It was exactly what you’d want: fervent, intense screaming and spirit; well structured modulations of action; earnestness vs. pomposity; interesting transitions, with several redirects, always ending with a thunderous lariat; and a finish right at the peak, definitive without being tortured and stretched to a molecular level. We’ve seen these two have entire match length stretches after a match has peaked and they should have gone home. This certainly wasn’t brief, going well past 22 minutes, but it was the correct point to finish the match. ***3/4

G1 Climax 31 B Block
Kazuchika Okada (8) def. Hirooki Goto (0)

Its been over five years since Kazuchika Okada successfully neutered Hirooki Goto and dragged him into CHAOS. Since then, they’ve had one match: a decent affair in the 2016 G1 that, assuredly, would have gone at least 23 minutes in 2021 (it went 16:11). Being a semi-main event, this one was kept relatively short, a rare sub-20 minute match from Okada who, incredibly, is on pace to beat Naito’s astound ring time record from G130. Okada currently sits at a remarkable 24:06 average match time.

Okada is intent on ending CHAOS by crippling his underlings. He certainly appeared determined to at least put YOSHI-HASHI in the ICU after the two floor DDTs he administered in their match, and he wasted no time here, planting Goto’s waterfall pressure-tested scalp on the floor within the first 5 minutes.

Otherwise, this was a fairly standard match. They busted out their usual tricks and hit all the standards moves. The finish was pretty cool, though.

At an early stage in the match, Goto avoided a front kick from Okada by spinning out of the way and nailing the Rainmaker with a stiff, swift lariat. At the end here, Okada feinted the kick, and when Goto spun Okada was ready for it. He back body dropped Goto and then trapped him in the folded over pin he uses, the one with which he famously pinned Omega in their Dominion 2018 showdown. The little nuance here is tremendous, very sportsy in the way Okada used an invite, in fencing terminology, to goad his opponent into making the attack when he wanted to be attacked.

After the match, Goto once again exquisitely portrayed the frustration and exasperation of a man beaten by a goddamn pin like that. Remember, he spent an awful long time trying to make sense of things after Tanahashi rolled him up a couple of matches ago. This seems far too deliberate to be happenstance. Maybe they finally found an idea for Goto. ***1/2

G1 Climax 31 B Block
Hiroshi Tanahashi (6) def. SANADA (4)

I spoke about parallelism with the Young Lions. In this match, the entire story revolved around these two attempting to one-up each other and prove to the other that they are capable of being a better version of them than they are. If that makes sense.

Let’s list them out. Keep in mind, each moment of one upmanship produced an expression in both (especially Tanahashi) that was very reminiscent of Anton Newcombe’s acridly indignant “Fucking Broke My Sitar, Motherfucker” face.

Pants: they both wear pants. This was a battle of the pantsed. Elaborate, eccentric, outlandish pants.

Paradise Lock & Air Guitar: Tana obviously busted his air guitar out early, but he was once again betrayed by his hubris. He went for a paradise lock, pathetically, and SANADA returned the favor successfully, a very early time in the match for him to break it out. And so, he placed his foot of Tanahashi’s back and busted out his own air guitar.

I’m convinced that SANADA can make the next step by being allowed to talk just a slight but more. My evidence? First, the charisma with which he executed the air guitar, being a fuckface but still intensely likable. Second, his utter demolition of poor Chase Owens:



Basement Dropkicks: both went for the legs in this one, trading basement dropkicks early on. Still an odd strategy for SANADA who has no submissions even close to the legs, but I suppose… it’s harder to escape the neck crank without proper… leverage… attained through the power of your legs?

Catching Each Other’s Leg and Doing That “You first! No, YOU first” Comedy Bit: Self-evident… accept that SANADA did this against Chase Owens. In this same tournament. In fact, the preceding match to this one… it’s not really a spot I think plays well when you do it more than once every, I dunno, 5-6 years? SANADA was the goat against Owens, so he paid that villainy forward by doing the same against Tanahashi, abrogating two things: a sense of ethics so inherent to the SANADA character, and the absent-minded himbo lack of foresight, active memory, or critical thought that is probably the cause of those ethics, moreso than any deliberate choice.

The Skull End: At one point, Tanahashi reversed it and executed the standing version for a few seconds. He looked like he was about to literally burst apart.

Over-the-Top-Rope Planchas: SANADA delivered his impeccable, smooth, seamless, majestic plancha. Tanahashi returned the favor later on in the match. He landed on SANADA and basically stumbled over, like a horse collapsing on its rider. I’d hate to see what Sugabayashi would do if Tanhashi broke his leg there. I’d hope they’d do the decent thing and put a screen up to protect the children from seeing the gruesome aftermath.

Getting the Legs Up: SANADA got the legs up when Tanahashi attempted to complete his trademark High Fly Flow arc. To capitalize, he immediately went for the rounding body press; Tanahashi got his knees up.

The ending was really great. SANADA went for his bridging roll-up, which Tanahashi couldn’t exactly emulate, or else his brittle spine might literally snap. Tanahashi rolled through a second attempt and nailed a dragon suplex, followed by the HFF.

As has been the case with this G1, the finish was administered in quick and emphatic succession, and that is a welcome aspect of this G1, derided as it is. ****1/4


There is nothing essential on Night 8. You could skip it and still be on top of the G1 schedule. You’d also miss a lot of flavor and high-effort matches that breeze by. That is, if clap crowds don’t bother you. If they do, as always, you’re not missing anything that you could tolerate.

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