New Japan Pro Wrestling
G1 Climax 31 Night 9
October 3, 2021
Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium
Aichi, Japan

 Watch:  NJPW WORLD 

The G1 Climax 31 has had some very good highs, some very good surprising performances, and it’s also had some lows and some nights that didn’t hit the mark. It hasn’t been a bad tournament, in fact, I’ve been mostly satisfied, but I’d be lying if I said it hit some of the highs of years past. But ah, the Magic Writing Girl isn’t trying to be a Debbie Downer. In fact, she is quite excited, for the top two matches of tonight have her interest at a pretty high peak. Zack Sabre Jr and Ishii duking it out and then the main event of Ibushi versus Shingo? What’s not to like. G1 magic is still in the air, there are still sparks to fly, chests to chop, and body parts to tie into knots. I put my trust in the G1 and I hope to be rewarded in the end.

Non-Tournament Matches
Yoshinobu Kanemaru def. Kosei Fujita
Toru Yano def. BUSHI

Not going to review Yano/BUSHI, but can I take a moment to say no one needed this, and the reality is Yano is awful, and it’s time to stop pretending he isn’t. Okay, now on to the G1 review.

G1 Climax 31 A Block
KENTA (8) def. The Great O-Khan (8)

Two competitors who excel at body language, character work, and non-wrestling aspects of their craft going against each other potentially set up for a fun time. This started very slow and methodical and if I’m being honest, I was starting to lose focus, but then they started to pick up at least marginally so and they ended up having a slap fest against each other I really enjoyed. I’m getting REALLY tired of Ref bump scenarios in the G1, and we got that here allow KENTA to do chair strike damage, and O-Khan getting falsely accused of using a bat which allowed KENTA to get the rolls up the cheap victory (With inflation going around, I’m glad KENTA can find cheap things at least).  A beginning and ending that did nothing for me which is a shame cause the middle was fine. Before the match, they agreed the loser would bow deeply to the winner. O-Khan was very dramatic about having to bow, but it was a ploy to attack KENTA and make him pay. REALLY disappointing match, I expected better out of this pairing. Still better than anything Yano puts out, which is damning with zero praise. **

G1 Climax 31 A Block
Tanga Loa (4) def. Yujiro Takahashi (4)

If this was several years ago I would be wondering what I had done to deserve this fresh slice of hell (probably a lot). In presence, it doesn’t light my world on fire, but I don’t want to shut off my feed either. I guess that’s progress? I’m not as high on Yujiro’s G1 performances as quite a few people, but the man is TRYING. He seems motivated, as if “how dare you to question my inclusion once more!”. It’s not great performances, but they are solid and don’t make you wish you were doing something else. Tanga Loa who has been improving throughout also has much to prove and statements to make, which makes for two very motivated wrestlers clashing against each other. A standing moonsault from Loa that caught me off guard really set a good tone for this match. Yujiro hit a dive through the ropes and was pleased with him elf the same way I’m pleased when I successfully flip an omelet without breaking it. Screw it, this is a good match and you’ll enjoy it. Keeps a good pace, both men are gamed to perform, and Tanga Loa gets his first win. This was good, no point in pretending otherwise. *** 1/2

G1 Climax 31 A Block
Tomohiro Ishii (6) def. Zack Sabre Jr. (8)

One man will beat your body raw, the other will twist it into many knots and pretzels. This is the kind of combination I absolutely love. Zack Sabre Jr has been on a tear this G1, terrorizing everyone he faces and being a dick about getting rid of Naito. Ishii doesn’t always win, often he doesn’t, but you will not forget you were in the ring with him. This was wonderful. Zack doing all he can to torture Ishii’s right arm, and Ishii being that stone pitbull and hitting and throwing Zack as hard as he can. This match had a wonderful pace that would pick up when it needs and slow back down at the right times. They work well together, their styles mesh, and their focus was there. Zack’s counter wrestling and Ishii’s straightforward in-your-face style were both on a fine display and made for enjoyable viewing. Zack has been on a dominant roll, but Ishii performs in the “odds are against him roll” very well and it gets you rooting for him and wanting him to pull it out.

So much traditional Ishii offense Zack would have an answer/counter to, and it led to some good near falls and situations. Zack keeps going back to the right arm which is appreciated. I always appreciate limb work that actually goes in a direction and plays into the match at hand. Watching Ishii struggle and do his best to escape/get to the ropes is well done. At one point Ishii attempts to power out of a triangle choke spot only for Zack to roll through and keep him in it in a spot that I enjoyed. Ishii sells being damage really well, using his right arm for offense but never letting us forget it’s damaged after the fact. Then Ishii gets the brainbuster and ISHII GIVES ZACK HIS FIRST LOSS. This was a war, a clash of styles that turn into dance partners in the end. Ishii stands over Zack at the end of a match to make a statement. That rules as well. Watch this. Ishii might be one of the best at selling in NJPW. ****1/4

G1 Climax 31 A Block
Kota Ibushi (8) def. Shingo Takagi (6)

Ibushi hasn’t been at top peak performance this tournament as he still recovers from illness. Shingo though has been having his share of bangers and deeper into the tournament we go you can see Ibushi recovering and improving, and his performances go higher and higher. Going in I felt this could be something special. I wonder what Ibushi’s neck has done to him, he clearly hates it. Early in the match, he takes a vicious pumping bomber and needlessly lands on his head. Ibushi hits a BEAUTIFUL Asai Moonsault at one point and it’s lovely. Both men just go at each other in this match, and it’s what I want out of this main event. Ibushi is looking better and better as he continues to recover, and thankfully he seems to be mostly back to where he needs to be. The match is paced well and never gets to the point of a crawl.

There are moments when both men refuse to back down and swing at each other. At one point Shingo and Ibushi go back and forth taking turns with chops and kicks to see who can withstand it the most. Both men do a good job of being tough but also making it clear they are hurting each other. Little touches and not just giving off an impression of “This has zero effect” make differences in how you get into things. As we get to the halfway point of the match you can feel the “We will unload on each other” portion is getting heated up, which is saying something since they haven’t gone easy. At one point Ibushi is sitting with a goofy “shit-eating grin” on his face as Shingo comes from behind. If that’s not memeable I don’t know what is.

At one point as we approached the end game Shingo hits a brutal-looking knee as an answer to Kota attempting the Kamigoya and it lifted me off my couch. Both men hit hard, and get hit hard, and you start to feel the offense from the comfort of your own living room. Ibushi hits a reverse Kamigoya and a straightforward one (knee sleeve down on both) and is able to defeat Shingo in one hell of a main event. THIS FUCKING RULED. As I go back over my review I feel like I downplayed how awesome this was. This, this is the high-stakes, hard-hitting, huge impact matches you want out of your G1. Neither man giving an inch, both trying to take miles. This was excellent, a top match of the tournament for both men and an announcement from Ibushi that he is at top form, and a reminder from Shingo that he’s one of the best (if not THE best) and deserves the belt around his waist. Top-notch pro-wrestling that reminds you why you love it so much. ****1/2

Final Thoughts

A meaningless, worthless, and insignificant first half of the show instantly forgotten about thanks to the second half of the show coming to save the day. Zack/Ishii and Shingo/Ibushi in particular are both must-watch matches if you are nit-picking throughout this tournament.

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