New Japan Pro Wrestling
G1 Climax 31 Night 18
October 20th, 2021
Nippon Budokan
Tokyo, Japan

Watch: NJPWWorld

Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi) def. Kosei Fujita & Ryohei Oiwa

Hiromu Takahashi has been getting very familiar with these new young lions over the last week or so. He had singles matches with both of them on the two Sendai events, and teamed with BUSHI to defeat both of them on Night 16 in Yamagata. The LIJ juniors had another tag team encounter with the young lions here, and it was pretty solid for what it was. I’ve really enjoyed the interactions that Hiromu has had with Fujita and Oiwa thus far (even if their aforementioned singles matches from Sendai were pretty much identical). The young lions did manage to get in some double teams late, but they were eventually defeated after Hiromu got Oiwa to tap out to a Boston Crab. A perfectly enjoyable opening contest. ***1/4

In between the young lions match and the first actual tournament match of the night, we got a live, in-ring performance of Max The Max by Jam Project, which is the official theme song for this year’s G1 Climax. This one didn’t connect with me quite as much when I first heard it over a month ago (especially compared to some of the themes from previous years), but it’s definitely been growing on me a little bit.

G1 Climax 31 – B Block
YOSHI-HASHI (6) def. Chase Owens (4)

With the Cobb vs. Okada match being the only one that actually mattered in terms of deciding the B Block winner, that meant the other four tournament bouts were mainly just for positioning in the final standings (aside from EVIL, who had a very clear hold on 3rd Place). Up first was Chase Owens vs. YOSHI-HASHI in a battle to determine who would finish last place in the block, as both men came into Night 18 with only four points. This bout only went about eight minutes or so, and in the end, YOSHI-HASHI connected with Karma to pick up the win. A relatively solid match from these two. It was perfect for its spot on the card, and that’s all I can really say about it. Presumably (unless next year is also pretty crazy), this will likely be the only G1 appearance for Chase Owens, as you have to think that out of everyone in this year’s field, he’d be the first on the chopping block come next year when guys like Will Ospreay and Jay White (and maybe other foreigners if Japan is more open come next Summer) are available to participate. He had a very solid run in this year’s tournament, and will always have that upset win over Tanahashi in Korakuen Hall as one of the biggest moments of his career. ***1/4

G1 Climax 31 – B Block
Hirooki Goto (6) def. Tama Tonga (6)

It’s still hard to believe that, in terms of the standings, Hirooki Goto was a total non-factor in this tournament. Not that I expected Goto to be in contention on the final night, but having only four points going into the final night of block play is well below what we usually see from Goto in the G1. I guess that just goes to show where Goto is slotted these days. Anyway, he managed to get up to six points in this bout when he defeated Tama Tonga after catching him with one of his wacky pins. This went about fifteen minutes, and I largely enjoyed it. Good action from start to finish, with some fun exchanges in the closing stretch. Goto had a pretty solid tournament this year as a whole, though he didn’t really have that one truly standout match (I thought his Night 10 bout with YOSHI-HASHI was easily his best of the tour, though I know that’s not an opinion shared by all). As for Tama Tonga, I thought he had a very strong tournament, especially when you consider his previous G1 outings. He was perfectly solid in 2016 and 2017, but his last tournament appearance in 2018 was not good at all (that was back when he and Bad Luck Fale were doing a lot of bullshit and DQ finishes because they “didn’t care” about winning the tournament). Tama probably wouldn’t have been in this year’s field under normal circumstances, but both he and his brothers showed up to play and absolutely put forth the effort. Much like Chase Owens, I don’t know if we’ll see Tama Tonga or Tanga Loa in the G1 next year. However, the two of them definitely deserve some praise for the effort both of them put into their matches all throughout the tour. ***1/2

G1 Climax 31 – B Block
IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champion Taichi (6) def. IWGP United States Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi (8)

Taichi started off this year’s G1 Climax with a 2-0 record, but then dropped his next six bouts. To make matters worse, he picked up a rib injury in his incredible match with Okada on Night 12, and those injured ribs had played a key role in his defeats to both Tama Tonga and Chase Owens on Nights 14 and 16 respectively. I would say that Taichi being this low in the standings coming into the final night of block play is even more surprising than Goto. At least with Goto, you can kind of understand it since he’s a guy who isn’t pushed as a top guy anymore (even though he’s still very good). Taichi is slotted much higher than Goto in the pecking order at this point, and is one-half of the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions. Perhaps he (like SANADA, in a way) was just a victim of how his block was booked this year, with two guys (three if you throw in EVIL) being booked much stronger than everyone else.

Anyway, despite coming in with a losing streak, Taichi managed to close out his tournament with a win over Hiroshi Tanahashi after catching him with the Gedo Clutch. I thought this was a great match that told a very good story with Taichi throughout. Taichi went after Tanahashi straight away, nailing a backdrop driver within the first few seconds, and immediately tore off the pants to show that he meant business. It was very clear that, because of his rib injury, Taichi wanted to end the match as quickly as possible (Kevin Kelly and Chris Charlton did a good job pointing this out on the English Commentary). When that quick victory didn’t come however, Tanahashi took control of the bout, and from there, really worked Taichi over. Taichi did a very nice job playing the role of underdog here as he tried to fight through the rib injury to get this win and, when the dust settled, he just managed to sneak away with the victory. I thought both of these men had very good outings in this year’s G1 Climax. Of course, you always expect Tanahashi to deliver, but Taichi has really turned it up over these last few years (though that’s not news if you’ve been paying attention). It’s wild that he went from being this detested junior that nobody liked, to a heavyweight that has proven to be a reliable competitor in whatever G1 block he ends up in. You can’t knock the effort he’s put forth over these last three years. ****

G1 Climax 31 – B Block
EVIL (14) def. SANADA (8)

What a difference a year makes, as they say. Last year, these two former tag team partners were fighting it out to determine the winner of the B Block. This year, they’re facing off again on the final B Block night, only this time, both men have been firmly eliminated from contention. At first, EVIL didn’t even want to wrestle, as he grabbed the mic and basically said that there was no point to this match. SANADA went after EVIL as he tried to leave, the match was on. This got a lot of time (almost eighteen minutes), and eventually, EVIL picked up the win after hitting Everything Is EVIL. Of course, there was a ton of House Of Torture nonsense with Dick Togo constantly getting involved, and that played a huge part in EVIL getting this win. I’m really torn on this match, to be completely honest. Obviously the interference was super annoying (as it always is), and even though he’s still a very good wrestler, I’m over EVIL at this point. On the other hand, at least EVIL was no longer a contender to win the block, so that made this, I guess, a little more enjoyable. Plus, I thought SANADA actually did a really good job playing off of EVIL, in terms of taking the fight to EVIL, and managed to counter the interference attempts a number of times (even though they got him in the end). This was definitely one of EVIL’s best matches in the entire tournament, though that’s not exactly high praise. With this win, EVIL does get a measure of revenge for SANADA knocking him out last year, and finishes in a firm 3rd Place in the block behind Cobb and Okada. ***1/4

G1 Climax 31 – B Block
Kazuchika Okada (16) def. Jeff Cobb (16)

Of course, not only would this match decide who would take the B Block, but it also served as the rubber match between Jeff Cobb and Kazuchika Okada. In their first meeting in the Tokyo Dome back in July, Okada only barely escaped with a win after catching Cobb in his sit-down cradle pin, but Cobb would come back and get a definitive win over the Rainmaker in the Metlife Dome in early September. While it looked as though both of these men would come into this bout undefeated in the B Block, Tama Tonga threw a monkey wrench into things with an upset win over Okada on Night 16 in Yamagata. While it looked strange on the surface, it did put much more pressure on Okada. Since he came into this two points behind Cobb, that meant he had to beat Cobb to win the B Block, while Cobb could’ve gone through with a win or a time limit draw.

Ultimately, Okada would emerge victorious over Cobb in what was an incredible bout from start to finish. This match got off to a hot start, and while it did slow down a bit after the first minute or so (mainly because Okada had done damage to Cobb’s neck), the pace would eventually pick back up. The last half of this match was absolutely awesome, with some great back-and-forth action as both men tried to put the other way. Cobb would show off his amazing strength in a variety of ways, including hitting Okada with a tombstone, and then picking him back up while still in the tombstone position to connect with his own version of the spinning tombstone. As for Okada, he continuously found ways to avoid Cobb’s Tour Of The Islands finisher. At one point, Cobb tried for a super Tour Of The Islands off the top, but Okada managed to counter in mid-air, turning it into a DDT. That was an awesome spot. Eventually, Okada put Cobb away with the Landslide Tombstone followed by the Rainmaker. While the crowd that was there in Budokan Hall was definitely into this match, this was a case where this would’ve been elevated greatly if circumstances were normal. Do this exact same match, move for move, but two years ago, and I probably give it the full five stars…..easily. Alas, that’s not the current situation. Even with that taken into account, this was still an awesome bout, and a great way to close out the B Block. I thought Shingo was the best wrestler in the tournament, in terms of match quality, but Okada isn’t that far behind. He had some absolute bangers in this year’s G1 Climax, and this was one of them. ****1/2

Final Thoughts

Even with an unexpected bump in the road (Tama Tonga beating Okada), the B Block turned out pretty much how everyone hoped it would once we all realized that Cobb and Okada dominating the B Block all the way to Night 18 was a strong possibility. In terms of Night 18 itself, I thought it was a really solid show from start to finish. You closed out in an epic way with the main event, and there was good wrestling throughout the rest of the show as well. Even the EVIL match with SANADA was one of EVIL’s better matches in the tournament (though, as I said earlier, not a high bar to clear). I know there was a lot of discussion going into the G1 this year about how the B Block didn’t look nearly as good as the A Block (especially when Naito was still involved). In the end, however, I thought the B Block largely delivered. There weren’t a ton of super standout matches (though there were some), but the predictions of this block having a relatively high floor definitely turned out to be true. In some ways, I thought this show was sort of a microcosm of the whole B Block. There was one great match, while the rest of the matches all ranged from solid to good. It was far from the greatest block in G1 Climax history, but I felt it turned out much better than I was expecting.

Here are the final standings for the B Block, with each wrestler’s final record:

  • Kazuchika Okada – 16 Points (8-1) – B Block Winner
  • Jeff Cobb – 16 Points (8-1)
  • EVIL – 14 Points (7-2)
  • Hiroshi Tanahashi – 8 Points (4-5)
  • SANADA – 8 Points (4-5)
  • Taichi – 6 Points (3-6)
  • Hirooki Goto – 6 Points (3-6)
  • YOSHI-HASHI – 6 Points (3-6)
  • Tama Tonga – 6 Points (3-6)
  • Chase Owens – 4 Points (2-7)

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