New Japan Pro Wrestling
G1 Climax 31 Night 17
October 18, 2021
Yokohama Budokan
Yokohama, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

Abraham: Here we are on the finals of the A block in what was a weird show with decisions that will make you think about what’s going on in New Japan. There were more than 10 scenarios to determine who was going to win the block, so who succeeded in the end? Was it Zack Sabre Jr. on his hot streak? KENTA being KENTA? Did Shingo squash Yujiro and go on to the finals? Was it Ibushi going for his fourth G1 Final? Was it a 4-way tie? Keep reading to find out. But first, let’s remember one of the best NJPW feuds from the beginning of the year.

Meet our reviewers: 

Brandon Gordon: Brandon knows, writes and talks about pro wrestling, because he loves pro wrestling! Follow him on Twitter at @EstablishWres.

Abraham Delgado: Abraham Delgado is a contributor of Voices of Wrestling, where you can see his name mostly on book reviews and NJPW tournament shows. He also contributes to the podcast Los Lucha Jobbers, a Spanish podcast focusing on wrestling worldwide.

Great-O-Khan def. Satoshi Kojima

Brandon: The match started with a somewhat lengthy O-Khan control period but became more competitive when Kojima fought back. Even with a pretty decent closing stretch, this match was nothing to write home about. Sometimes you get the openers that amaze or overperform, and then you have openers that exist. O-Khan vs. Kojima was the latter. ***

Abraham: If you were watching NJPW after Wrestle Kingdom, one of the hottest feuds was The Empire taking on TenCozy and just fighting both men and stealing the show. Remember when O’Khan beat Tenzan and won the rights to do the Mongolian Chops? Good times. With those good times in mind I went into the match excited to see both men mix it up, and it did not dissapoint. 

The match started fast with O’Khan not even letting Kojima enter the ring, which was a presage for the rest of the card. O’Khan was just dominating the man inside and outside of the ring until Kojima was able to escape, hit his signature spots, but then get destroyed with the Eliminator. This was a dope 10-minute match that was perfect to open the show with, since these opponents have a history together and anytime they are together, it’s good stuff. Just two professionals having a good opener. ***½

G1 Climax 31 – A Block
Toru Yano (10) def. Tomohiro Ishii (10) 

Brandon: Yano pulled out several dirty ticks early on against Ishii, but Ishii countered each attempt. The Stone Pitbull was wise to his stablemate’s tricks, forcing Yano to wrestle him. Ishii’s toughness and versatility held off Yano’s cheap tactics and made this contest a fun watch. Even though Yano won the match, Ishii was the star. Even in defeat, he’s just such a badass, and he’s so good at what he does in the ring. I like Yano’s serious side appearing now and then, but it could be more consistent in execution. ***1/2

Abraham: One line of commentary caught my attention, which was when Chris Charlton mentioned that this has been the longest in-ring time that Yano has had in the G1. No wonder people aren’t talking about him, and when they do, it’s negative. His matches aren’t making reviewers here at VOW salivate either. It’s Toru Yano extending his gags for far longer than they are supposed to be. The positive thing I can say about Yano is that his output has been better than Yujiro (more on him later). If Yano is coming back next year, just make him have 6-7 minute matches, please.

The theme of the night was wrestlers starting before the bell rang, so Yano tried covering Ishii’s face and did a fast roll up count before the bell rang, but Ishii kicked out. Ishii answered with a clothesline, and what followed was the same Yano match we have been watching in the G1. We got the obligatory “Yano can wrestle like a pro” in the middle of the match and he even hid under the ring until the 19-count (another theme of the night). At least this was one of the better Yano matches. Ending happened when Yano threw Ishii headfirst into an exposed turnbuckle and rolled him up for the pin. Both men have 10 points, you don’t care, I don’t care either. **½

G1 Climax 31 – A Block
Shingo Takagi (13) Yujiro Takahashi (5) ends in a draw via double count out

Brandon: Topé from Yujiro to start this match, crazy! Both Shingo and Yujiro got the best out of Yujiro here. This match felt competitive from the beginning, and there weren’t too many times that it slowed down. The count-out at the end was a bummer, and usually, I would hate it. But the way Shingo and Yujiro were beating the crap out of each other was a thing of beauty. Also, Yujiro can say that he bested the IWGP World Champ, costing him the victory. It was a fun, mid-card brawl with a wonky finish. ***1/2

Abraham: I probably was not the only one thinking “Yujiro ain’t beating Shingo. No way in hell”. Apparently, the bookers thought the same, and since they wanted a clean result in the final match, they went with the count out fuckery. I mean, I get it. Do I like it? Not at all. But I get why they did it. Did they need to treat Shingo better as a champ? Obviously. 

Like the previous two matches, the action started before the bell rang with Yujiro jumping on Shingo while he entered. Tonight the faces so far are 0-3 in completing their entrances. What followed was a game of tag in an NJPW ring with lots of count out teases. I knew some count out fuckery was coming when Kevin Kelly and Charlton kept talking about the 20 seconds outside and when they mentioned that Yujiro’s goal was to make it easier for KENTA in the main event. The story makes sense, but still, I would prefer to not watch tag in my pro wrestling (more on this topic when we get to the main event).

The match itself was fine, nothing to write home about. Even if they telegraphed it, the count out teases were well done and Shingo made Yujiro’s offense look effective. Ending was Yujiro hitting the Pimp Juice DDT on the outside, and on the 15 second count Shingo gets up, grabs Yujiro, hits Enter the Dragon, but Yujiro keeps holding his leg until the 20 second count for the double count out. There was chaos at ringside wondering if they got any points. They got 1 point each. 

Shingo deserved a better ending in the G1. *** for making the chaos look fun even if it was stupid.

G1 Climax 31 – A Block
Tanga Loa (6) def. Zack Sabre Jr. (12) 

Brandon: Presented as being hard for Sabre to keep down using his submissions, Tanga Loa would resit or power out of these attacks with barely any damage. Sabre would weaken the Silverback with a neck twist and several striking combinations. The match would rev up as both men looked to use their skill to put the other away. The intensity revved up as the audience started to become invested. In the end, Loa scored the dirty pin to take it. Another mid-card contest that I enjoyed with another Bullet Club member cheating to win. The second half of the match into the closing stretch was good and surpassed the first half. ***1/2

Abraham: Talking about dissapointments, what a sad state of affairs that Zack Sabre’s run in the G1 started with such promise and it slowly went away. This could have been the year to try something different for the G1 Finals (more on this in the Final Thoughts section of the review). Tanga beating Sabre was obvious when Tama beat Taichi on a B block show, so obviously we are getting a Tekkers vs GoD tag match. I literally don’t know a single fan that cares about that tag match. Sabre went back to the same spot after people fantasized about what was after for him. 

Instead of the match starting before the bell rang, it started immediately after it rang with Sabre running into Tanga trying to finish the match as fast as he could. Maybe he saw the previous three matches when the heels just went after the face before the bell rang. To be able to pass to the finals he needed to win, so it makes sense for Sabre to go all out at the beginning. They went outside, and when Sabre had Tanga on an Abdominal Stretch, he broke it and armdrag the hell out of Sabre. 

Tanga dominating Sabre in the ring was fun and well done, and as always, Sabre countered with his submissions. Something that Sabre did more than on the other matches was more pinning attempts than submissions attempts. In the end, this sense of desperation caught up to him since Tanga countered a package pin attempt into one of his own for the 3-count. Sabre was surprised and dissapointed that he was completely eliminated from the G1. Not a great match, but a good one. ***½ 

G1 Climax 31 – A Block
Kota Ibushi def. KENTA (12)

Brandon: For the third match that involved Bullet Club rule-breaking, Ibushi vs. KENTA proved to be pretty entertaining. Ibushi fought through every shortcut KENTA threw at him, determined not to lose in that fashion. There were enough hard hits and combination attacks from both men to keep my eyes glued to the screen. Ibushi was worked hard as always. While I feel KENTA has acclimated himself as a BC Rudo, watching him wrestle properly is always welcomed. Even Ibushi couldn’t take KENTA’s extreme actions without going down to his level. Ibushi bringing out a table and splashing a prone KENTA, even though one of the legs had collapsed, was remarkable. The closing stretch was great. Ibushi and KENTA let loose with exciting action, ending with Ibushi putting KENTA 2 sleep with two Kamigoyes. When two true greats like Kota and KENTA do battle, the viewers usually have a good time. This match gave me that good time. It just falls short of four stars, but only just. ***3/4

Abraham: Well, what can I say about the main event? It was a mess. This is an example of two amazing performers having a weird match that was off. It was good, it was bad, but the bad was so weird that that is what you will remember after it’s over. It’s one of those experiences that if you go in blind, you will have no fucking idea what’s going. Was the match good? It’s an experience, for sure.

Let’s start with the bad, which was egregious: the count out teases. In theory, it is smart to tease a count out finish since a) it already happened to Shingo on the show and b) it would mean that KENTA passes to the finals with minimal effort. What was wrong? Apparently, Ibushi forgot how to count. There were three moments, the worst one being when Ibushi was taken backstage through the ramp, when the 19-second count lasted like 5 seconds. It is so weird seeing Red Shoes go “19!…………He’s in!”. Ibushi lost the match by count out like three times and I don’t know how he missed the spot so much. It was like two kids playing tag and one just letting the other win so he could feel better. It was weird and took me out of it.

Let’s go with the weird: the table spot. Ibushi takes out a table, puts KENTA on it to jump on top of him from the top rope. What happens? Table breaks down before Ibushi gets to the top rope. At least he still jumped into KENTA instead of trying to fix the table. This was none of their fault, but between the count out and the table, you are like “Okay, what’s going on?”.

The good thing is that parts of the match were decent. KENTA has been winning some G1 matches with the exposed turnbuckle and he teased it here perfectly. KENTA was a badass just like Ibushi, even if Murder Ibushi was teased like three times and nothing came of it, making me wonder why he even brought it up. The work between the ropes was fine, but not all of it was exciting, and one just wonders if they were just having an off night. Match finished with the obligatory double Kamigoye since one is never enough, something that Ibushi forgets every time he steps into the ring. If he forgets that, maybe that explains why he forgot the 19-second count. *** Not a good final match to end the A block on.

Final Thoughts

Brandon: The final A Block matches were solid across the card. Nothing made it past the three-star range, the show was an easy watch with some great action throughout.

Abraham: Ibushi is going to the finals for the fourth time and I don’t care. Apparently, I’m not the only one online feeling this way. Since the Double Dome shows, the G1 result matters less, which is why I thought that they should have mixed it up and do something different this year instead of going with the safe formula. Shingo, KENTA or Zack Sabre Jr. would have been more interesting opponents for Okada on the final night (yeah, Okada is winning the B block). Going back to Ibushi feels like a retread. It’s boring. Of all the years, this could have been one to experiment on. Who knows if Naito was the option at first, but when Naito was taken out they should have gone with Zack Sabre or Shingo, especially since Sabre was hot at the start and Shingo has history with Okada.

I’m not mad at the results, I’m just disappointed. Just like I was disappointed with this show. The best match was the opener and the rest was either simply good or weird.  Let’s hope that the B Block ending is better with the winner-take-all scenario (that Okada is totally winning).

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