NEW JAPAN PRO WRESTLING
G1 CLIMAX 31 NIGHT 13
OCTOBER 9, 2021
EDION ARENA OSAKA
Watch: NJPW WORLD
“Mathematically eliminated” I scream, as I wake up early on a Saturday to review this show. There’ve been some hits and some misses throughout the G1, but overall it’s been solid and watchable throughout, if not a little dry. It’s worth remembering that we’re probably not supposed to watch everything, but you’re a lunatic and you do it anyway. I’m with you, brothers and sisters. Onwards, to night 13!
El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru def. Kosei Fujita & Ryohei Oiwa
I love Suzuki-gun. It’s unfortunate that the team of Desperado and Kanemaru have been capped by their position in the forgotten junior tag division, because there is little in wrestling more captivating than their hunting ritual when they smell blood. It’s quick, violent and intense.
Kanemaru and Desperado gave a lot more to the Young Lions than they needed to, but this was the dominant performance you would expect. Kevin Kelly added a nice little wrinkle about inexperienced wrestlers being hard to wrestle because that inexperience leads to unpredictability. I particularly enjoyed Fujita’s performance, especially when he booted Desperado’s back as he turned him over for the crab. He looks mean, and I hope he grows into that. **¾
Special Singles Match
Tomohiro Ishii def. Hiromu Takahashi
Like ice cream after a child’s tantrum, these special singles matches are the perfect tonic for Naito being injured. This match skips on paper; it’s the kind of exhibition that needs no build.
The opening exchange spoke to the greatest G1 matches. It was fast and violent. I loved the way Ishii’s neck was spinning trying to keep his eyes on the much faster junior heavyweight.
Hiromu took an absolute battering, including some sickening forearms to the throat. Ishii’s honour shone around him like a halo. The offense of being asked to wrestle a junior was palpable. He no-sold strikes beautifully, and was able to time his vulnerability perfectly. Hiromu dropped an excellent DVD on the apron, and his smiling expression was superb. They convinced me that Hiromu might just win.
I never fail to be amazed at the skill of Ishii. He can take us to the emotional limit every time. He’s the best of the working man, scratching and clawing his way to every victory he’s ever had. He’s the epitome of the value of hard work and an earned reward.
The final pin exchange was thrilling, with Ishii having to use every weapon in his arsenal to beat the firebrand junior. A great match, worth a watch for Hiromu’s brilliant slap alone. ****1/2
G1 Climax 31 A Block
KENTA (10) def. Zack Sabre Jr. (10)
This might sound like an oxymoron, but Zack Sabre Jr. is a love-or-hate wrestler that everyone likes. Everyone respects his style on some level, it’s impossible not to, but there are some of us who love what he does. For many, there’s a ceiling which is perfectly understandable. For me, his style feels like a tradition recognised while avoiding cliche. He reminds me of Gerry Anderson shows; it’s a bizarre vision of a future that never happened. He lives in an alternate universe where the world embraced World of Sport lightweight wrestling and elevated it to another level.
He’s also a cocky prick, so a sword fight with New Japan’s other massive prick, KENTA, is exciting alone, even without the tournament implications.
ZSJ was as dynamic as ever. Amazing strikes to the knees sent a cringe through me, and before I knew it, KENTA was tied up in a perfect bow and arrow. It’s the unexpected that makes Zack’s matches so exciting. KENTA brought the strikes, as expected, but it was Zack’s selling that elevated them. He may be a submission machine, but he’s established a clear weakness – he always loses strike exchanges. He begged for more, which hinted at a blue-eye leaning dressed up in his cocky arrogance.
I still love KENTA, but he’s fallen victim to time. He has to remove turnbuckles now. These make matches entertaining, but it makes star ratings difficult. That being said, he sprinkles his matches with so many interesting nuggets. A one-footed pin followed by a look of outrage from ZSJ is the exact kind of nuance that takes wrestling to the next level, big bumps be damned.
This was a match of intelligence. For all the strike exchanges, the late stages were dominated by the man who could think fastest. More often than not, this was Kenta.
When the true battle began, this match reached another level. ZSJ might have been mistaken to engage in a strikefest earlier, but KENTA wrestling on the mat was beyond. ZSJ changed his expression subtly as the confidence washed over him.
I loved Kenta slapping ZSJ into the mat and the ref having to check if he wasn’t dead. I loved the scrap for the G2S. I loved Zack’s face as he rolled out of the ring, defeated.
Zack dominated the submissions and KENTA dominated the strikes. This match was a reminder that wrestling needn’t be complicated. Let the story tell itself. Great. ****
G1 Climax 31 A Block
Toru Yano (8) def. Yujiro Takahashi (4)
Yujiro joined the party like a creepy uncle, daring us to ignore his sexism. While his tournament has been largely fine, it’s impossible to divorce him from his shocking inability to wrestle. Like a cheap steak seasoned with mouldy salt, his battle with Yano threatened to be the worst match of the tournament.
Arriving to the ring, barking about DVDs or something, Yujiro instantly raised his esteem by booting Yano in the face before wading through molasses to drop a suicide dive.
Unless you have an unbridled passion for ring tape, this was rubbish. It was a fever dream of untied turnbuckles, near-countouts and Yujiro’s vacant expression.
Pretend you enjoyed this if you want a wacky take on Twitter. For everyone else – SKIP. *½
G1 Climax 31 A Block
Shingo Takagi (10) def. Tanga Loa (4)
Trust is very important in pro-wrestling and is something that a lot of booking analysis neglects to mention. No wrestling company on earth is going to be perfect all the time, but it’s much easier to overlook speed bumps when intentions are good and things just miss the mark. Nobody personifies this more than Tanga Loa. I was calling for his banishment in the early days, but cleverer men than me saw something and kept pushing. It turns out, he’s pretty good. At least, he can rise to the level of his opponent, and there aren’t many opponents as good as Shingo Takagi,
The opening battle of masculine stupidity was great, the challenge being found in the no-sell rather than the offense. There was no catch-as-catch-can dance, just big elbows and blunt submissions.
There’s a lot to be said for matches with no fat on them. As Tanga Loa dropped Shingo onto the apron (reportedly the hardest part of the ring) before dragging him onto the floor, I recognised that this was probably going to hover at three stars but I was going to have a blast watching it. From slingshots to moonsaults, if you don’t confuse Tanga Loa with story or consequences, he is a very captivating wrestler. There’s a clumsiness to his work that heightens rather than diminishes. This was illustrated perfectly by a thrilling slip on a top-rope powerbomb that could have murdered both men.
While he could probably learn a thing or two about pacing and subtlety, he served as a great consolidating win for Shingo. This, while slightly long in the tooth, was a perfectly good match. ***¼
G1 Climax 31 A Block
Kota Ibushi (12) def Great-O-Khan (8)
It’s cliche to point out that Kota Ibushi isn’t working at his peak. There’s a step missing, and speculation is running rampant that he hasn’t fully recovered from his illness. While there will always be the stench of his recovery, compounded by the fart of the clap crowds, this is a match that I loved. I have a feeling this will be the most underrated match of the tournament.
Ibushi was in fight mode, dancing around the ring in an MMA style. The juxtaposition of styles was interesting, because while Kota might win the strike exchange, O-Khan has been built so well we believe he only needs one wild strike to even the odds. O-Khan adapted to this easily, and the silent strike to grapple exchange felt tense. He dropped the upper end of his gimmick, leaning into his amateur background.
As the grapple exchange continued, Ibushi started looking for the big bombs and the throbbing heartbeat of the match started to beat a little faster. The early stages had a great, deliberate rhythm that felt natural and powerful. Both wrestlers were very much in the moment, and O-Khan was arguably the better wrestler outside of kayfabe. His subtle, yet natural frustration when he was forced to go for a rope break was beautifully human, and his work in the following sequence had a wonderful sloppiness bred from disappointment.
When O-Khan finally found himself in control, it felt earned rather than planned backstage. Structure in wrestling is so important, and this was able to speak the language of many of the great matches. It hid contrived control periods or basic hairpin turns of dominance. It flowed, and as the match built into a crescendo, it really felt like a decisive blow could come from any man at any time.
I love kayfabe mistakes in wrestling, and there is perhaps no greater mistakes than inciting Murder Ibushi with strikes and slaps. I wish so much that this had a proper crowd, as the horrendous knees and strikes needed an ambience of shocked boos behind them.
As the blood trickled from O-Khan’s face, I wondered whether other people would love this as much as I did. I know I’m going to be the high man on this. It was a struggle that I felt part of, and I wonder if O-Khan’s name means many will skip. Don’t. If you don’t see what others see in O-Khan, you need to watch this match. He’s out of the tournament, but I hope this is a turning point for him.. ****1/2
As always, we find ourselves going into the final stages of the block with a few possible outcomes. Zack has the spoiler in Yano and lots of wrestlers are hovering around the top of the B-Block.
With three great matches, this was the G1 show that the tournament needed. The tournament, while no classic, has been watchable throughout but there was a sense of excitement to this that has been missing for many.
I know the best tactic is to skip wrestlers you don’t like, but I implore everyone to watch that main event. I have a feeling I might die alone on the hill, but that main event was excellent. If O-Khan carries on down this road, he’s going to be special. He rounded off the rough edges of his character and found a believability that he has been missing.