New Japan Pro Wrestling
G1 Climax 31 Night 12
October 8, 2021
Kochi Prefectural Gymnasium
Kochi, Japan

Watch: NJPWWorld

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Champion El Desperado def. Kosei Fujita

This was the second singles bout for El Desperado on this tour, and after taking care of Ryohei Oiwa the night before in Hiroshima, he picked up an easy over Kosei Fujita (the other brand new young lion) here in Kochi. There was some back-and-forth grappling in the first minute or so, but then Desperado quickly took control. While Desperado worked over Fujita’s leg for a bit, Fujita was able to mount a brief comeback in the form of a back body drop and a dropkick. This flurry of offense didn’t last, however, as Desperado got in a leg lock, and forced Fujita to tap once he stood straight up with the hold still applied. A fine opening contest that was pretty much what you would’ve expected. These new young lions haven’t been around for very long, but it’s so fascinating that New Japan is already throwing them out there in singles matches with name talents. Obviously it helps with their development (that’s obvious), though it also shows a lot of confidence in them at this stage of their very young careers. **3/4

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

It’s been really interesting to follow the booking of the B Block this year. With Jeff Cobb and Kazuchika Okada both at ten points coming into this show in Kochi, almost two-thirds of the wrestlers in this block were either already eliminated, or on the verge of being eliminated. That means that this show (and other B Block events going forward) are going to feature multiple tournament matches with no real stakes attached to them, aside from moving up in the standings and (as Kevin Kelly mentioned a couple of times) proving that they deserve to be in the field next year. This was one of those matches, as YOSHI-HASHI picked up a win over Tama Tonga to move to four points. The bout went just over thirteen minutes, and it was a pretty solid one from start to finish. YOSHI-HASHI actually managed to have the early advantage, though Tama Tonga would respond with offense of his own, and it eventually became a more even affair down the stretch. Eventually, after an enjoyable closing stretch, YOSHI-HASHI managed to connect with Karma to score the victory. Even though he’s sitting at two points with a 1-5 record, I continue to be impressed by Tama Tonga in this tournament. While this was by no means his best match, he continues to put in the effort, and the absence of any interference from Jado (or any other Bullet Club shenanigans) is a welcomed change of pace when compared to the last time Tama Tonga was in the G1 Climax. ***1/4

G1 Climax 31 B Block
Hirooki Goto (4) def. Chase Owens (2)

The second tournament match on this card was another one where both competitors were pretty much out of it. I used the phrase “pretty much out of it”, because Chase Owens still had a small sliver of hope, since he hadn’t wrestled Okada yet, and theoretically could’ve forced a wacky tie if he won out (including a win over Okada) and if both Okada and Cobb lost out. Of course, we didn’t need to worry about any of that after this match, as Goto picked up the victory here after he managed to counter a Package Piledriver attempt into the GTR for the win. These two had a really enjoyable match that was packed with action right from the start, as Owens went right after Goto with a variety of dropkicks (a charging dropkick, one through the ropes, and a missile dropkick). Once Goto was able to fight back, it was a real back-and-forth affair, and I thought the amount of time it got (about twelve minutes or so) was perfect for these two in this spot. Owens did come close to getting the win, but as mentioned earlier, Goto came out with the win to get to four points. Owens continues to have a very solid tournament from an in-ring standpoint, and the same can be said for Goto. Unfortunately for the both of them, the only thing they can do at this stage is to get as many points as possible before the end of the tournament. ***1/2

G1 Climax 31 B Block
Jeff Cobb (12) def. SANADA (4)

This was a very crucial match for both competitors. For Jeff Cobb, he was looking to be the first person in either block to reach twelve points. As for SANADA, he desperately needed a win to just stay alive. When the dust settled, Jeff Cobb would emerge with the victory, which officially eliminated SANADA from the contention to win the block. It’s wild that last year’s B Block winner was eliminated this early, but it just goes to show that New Japan is fully committed to this story of Cobb and Okada being a level above everyone else in this block (more on Okada later). As for the match itself, I thought it was a really good bout. Cobb showed off his power in the opening minutes of the match, and just dominated SANADA aside from a few moments here and there. However, once SANADA managed to get an opening when he went after Cobb’s knee (which Kevin Kelly noted was an injury that Cobb had earlier this year). The second half of the match was a more back-and-forth battle, with both men trading big moves while finding counters to others. SANADA tried the Skull End and the O’Connor Roll, but Cobb was able to use his size and strength to keep the match going. The finish came when SANADA attempted to do the moonsault into the Skull End, but Cobb countered it into the Tour Of The Islands, and got the pin. Again, a very strong bout between these two. Not much else to say other than Cobb continues to run through the competition in this year’s G1 Climax. ***3/4

G1 Climax 31 B Block
EVIL (10) def. IWGP United States Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi (6)

The only other person in the B Block that’s been able to even remotely keep up with Jeff Cobb and Kazuchika Okada has been EVIL who, despite being two points behind the leaders, was also on the verge of getting to a double digit point total. To get to ten points though, he would have to defeat Hiroshi Tanahashi, and in the end, he would do just that. I feel very conflicted about this particular match. For the most part, I thought it was going along pretty well. Yes, the interference from Dick Togo and the cheating was a total drag on the match (of course, that’s the case with pretty much all of EVIL’s matches these days). That being said, for whatever reason, the bout seemed to be working for this crowd, who seemed to be very much into Tanahashi’s comebacks and Tanahashi fighting off the cheating.

Of course, I groaned as the cheating increased, but as the crowd got into Tanahashi fighting back, I was getting into the match a little bit more, pulling for Tanahashi to fight off the bad guys. Was the fact that this was a clear battle between good and evil (both figuratively and literally) play a role in the crowd’s reactions? I could definitely see that. Tanahashi fought hard to overcome the nonsense, but ultimately, he lost in the most deflating way possible. After the referee got taken out yet again, EVIL hit Darkness Falls, hit Tanahashi with the IWGP United States Title, hit Everything is EVIL, and then just casually went to get the ref, and gets the win while practically kneeling on Tanahashi’s body for the cover. When the three count came down, there was an audible gasp from the crowd for a brief moment, but then the crowd went dead silent.

It was a totally surreal moment. Not only was the finish as flat as flat can be, but I thought it made Tanahashi look really bad. I’ll give credit to Joel from the Super J Cast for making this comparison, but that finish gave off real “Triple H taking an eternity to pin Booker T at WrestleMania 19” vibes. I know that Tanahashi had just been on the receiving end of a belt shot and EVIL’s finisher, but it took an eternity for EVIL to pin him after all of that. It’s really the wrong kind of heat, and the crowd reaction was truly evidence of that. What’s such a shame is that, as I alluded to earlier, I actually enjoyed the match structure, and I’m sure the fact that it was Tanahashi opposing EVIL played a big role in that (Tanahashi is such an easy guy to root for against clear villains like this). Unfortunately, it was a match structure that could only work if Tanahashi managed to get the win. He didn’t, and the result was the reaction you got from this crowd. An audible gasp, followed by dead silence. In terms of rating, I struggled to decide what to go with, but I ultimately decided on the gentleman’s three. While there was enough stuff in here that I think worked, it was totally undermined by the finish. EVIL’s victory puts Tanahashi on the brink of elimination, as he would need a multi-way tie to even have a shot at winning the block. ***

G1 Climax 31 B Block
Kazuchika Okada (12) def. IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champion Taichi (4)

So with Jeff Cobb reaching twelve points earlier in the night, it was up to Okada to get a win here to keep pace with him. It wasn’t going to be easy for the Rainmaker, however, as he would have to get through Taichi, who (much like SANADA) was looking to stave off elimination with an upset win. Unfortunately for Taichi, he wasn’t able to get the victory he needed, as Okada put him away in just over twenty-three minutes after hitting the neckbreaker. I thought this was an awesome match from start to finish. For me, it’s been the best match in the B Block thus far outside of Okada vs. Tanahashi on Night 2. It was so great that I wish it was happening on one of the bigger shows in Tokyo or Osaka (not that the crowd in Kochi didn’t react to this one, because they absolutely did).

We were treated to some big moments early on, when Okada DDT’d Taichi on the floor, and Taichi would respond a few moments later by giving Okada a DDT onto the exposed floor after removing the mats! That was particularly brutal-looking. Once they got back in the ring, Taichi was in control briefly before Okada connected with a Flapjack that looked great. From there, it became a more back-and-forth affair, and the intensity picked up until we got to the closing stretch, which was fantastic. Both men traded big strikes, multiple counters, and the crowd was eating in up with each nearfall and near finish. Okada is always great in these closing stretches, and Taichi was right there with him. It’s been really incredible to see the evolution of Taichi over the last few years, as he’s gone from a junior that many people in the West didn’t like (for all of the cheating and shenanigans) to a heavyweight who can put together incredible singles bouts in the G1 Climax. I know some people dragged their feet on Taichi for a bit (most of those people have come around, to be fair), but at this point, if you still don’t recognize how much Taichi has improved, then I don’t think you’re ever going to get it/see it. He’s absolutely been a highlight in the B Block, but unfortunately, his chances of winning the B Block were ended by Okada on this night. A great match that’s absolutely worth seeking out. ****1/2

Final Thoughts

This was a very solid night of wrestling from the B Block. Even though the majority of the field in this block is already eliminated or on the brink of elimination, the majority of the matches on this show ranged from good, to really good, to flatout great (in the case of the main event). If Tanahashi had won his bout against EVIL, it would’ve easily been the best EVIL match of the tournament thus far, but the finish definitely takes it down a peg, if the interference and House Of Tortune nonsense hadn’t done that already. It’ll be interesting to see if EVIL can get involved in this fight for the block, because right now, it’s the Cobb and Okada show, and he’s the only other person who has a shot at catching them. I’m sure most of us (myself include) hope that he doesn’t catch them, but time will tell.

Here are the standings for the B Block, as of Night 12:

Kazuchika Okada – 12 Points
Jeff Cobb – 12 Points
EVIL – 10 Points
Hiroshi Tanahashi – 6 Points
Taichi – 4 Points
SANADA – 4 Points
YOSHI-HASHI – 4 Points
Hirooki Goto – 4 Points
Tama Tonga – 2 Points
Chase Owens – 2 Points

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