It’s that time of year again. After being delayed due to a little thing called the Olympics, New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) one again hosts the annual round robin tournament, the G1 Climax 31. Two blocks of ten competitors face each other once, and for each match up, the rules are simple: a win will earn the winner 2 points while the loser earns nothing, and a draw of any kind will grant both competitors 1 point. Once everyone has faced each other once, the two overall winners meet with a Wrestle Kingdom main event up for grabs.
This first night of action overall is the first round of battles in the A Block side of the tournament, which will include the current, reigning IWGP World Heavyweight Champion, Shingo Takagi go to war with Tomohiro Ishii in the main event. In the semi main, long time rivals with a heated recent history, Zack Sabre Jr. and Tetsuya Naito will do battle one on one, while Toru Yano looks to use his wits against the dangerous striker, KENTA. Two first time G1 entrants will also collide, as the United Empire’s Great-O-Khan and Tanga Loa of the Bullet Club face off, and Yujiro Takahashi of the Bullet Club must contend with last year’s winner, Kota Ibushi. All throughout the tournament tour, two new young lions will be making their debuts, with Ryohei Oiwa drawing the first match as he battles the newest member of the Bullet Club’s House of Tourture, SHO.
+ Shingo Takagi vs Tomohiro Ishii (G1 Climax 31 A Block Match): did you know I love big meaty men bumping meat? Because god almighty, that’s what this was. I love a match like this at the main event of the first night, because there is always an upset or two, and what bigger upset than the defeat of the current top dog in NJPW? Ishii is one of the best wrestlers I’ve ever seen, and I have had nothing but praise for Shingo over the past what feels like two years. One small slip up actually added tot he overall match, because it seemed to really fire up both guys anew. I loved this match so much, and I wish they could just face each other eight more times
+ Tetsuya Naito vs Zack Sabre Jr. (G1 Climax 31 A Block Match): not much about this match will surprise you, but it was just as good as you’d expect. Sabre and SANADA are always special matches, but I think Sabre and Naito might be even better in the way they always put on something special. I think it’s also because so much of Naito offense can come from any position, but still has such a notable build up that when Sabre does counter it, it’s immediately obvious. Maybe that didn’t make sense, but the match was really good
+ Kota Ibushi vs Yujiro Takahashi (G1 Climax 31 A Block Match): hot damn I didn’t expect it to go the way it did. I’m a bit surprised to say that Yujiro looked really good, and the crowd let out some accidental gasps a few times at some of the things they saw. Ibushi is still Ibushi, though, and the two together really put on a great match. Also, Pieter is well and truly back in all her glory and yes please
– KENTA vs Toru Yano (G1 Climax 31 A Block Match): I like the idea of someone playing spoiler in a wrestling tournament, and Yano always fills that role nicely, but I don’t like it when his matches go so long. KENTA is a great wrestler who I get the feeling really likes being able to have a match like this now and then. Unfortunately, this wasn’t a good showing of that kind of match
– Great-O-Khan vs Tanga Loa (G1 Climax 31 A Block Match): there was a lot of screaming and grunting in this match, which I admit did help to fill the sound of silence since the crowd can’t cheer. I’ve had some praise for Tanga Loa as a singles guy in his very rare solo outings, and something about O-Khan still interests me, but this one didn’t do it for me
– Ryohei Oiwa vs SHO: as the commentary so aptly pointed out, this was not about winning for Oiwa, and against the newly sadistic SHO that was made terrifyingly clear. This was my first time seeing Oiwa so I won’t make any judgments just yet, but SHO is great so I imagine all of these young lion showcases are going to be more than watchable
Should you watch this event: It’s that time of year again where the NJPW guys put on the best wrestling on the planet, and it’s that time again for me to say how god damn much I love anything that Ishii and Shingo do. Not every match is going to be good, but the ones that are great are going to be GREAT. IShii/Shingo might be the match of the tournament already, but even Sabre/Naito and Ibushi/Yujiro are worth your time.