New Japan Pro Wrestling’s (NJPW) annual round robin tournament is underway, as twenty competitors contend to win 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.
[Please note: there may be spoilers for all previous days of the tournament so far. Please click here for my thoughts on Day 2!]
Night number three is the second round of action from the A Block of the tournament, but for the first time since 2015 a competitor has had to withdraw due to injury. Following his loss to Zack Sabre Jr. Tetsuya Naito has had to withdraw and has forfeited all his following matches, with his opponents gaining the 2 points. In the main event, the man who injured Naito, Zack Sabre Jr. has the unenviable task of facing Naito Los Ingobernables de Japon teammate, and the current IWGP World Heavyweight Champion, Shingo Takagi. In the semi main event, Kota Ibushi and Tomohiro Ishii will each be looking for their first tournament wins in what is sure to be a brutal contest, while two members of the Bullet Club also collide when Yujiro Takahashi and KENTA face off for the first time ever. Toru Yano and Great-O-Khan also renew hostilities for tournament gold, after Yano caused O-Khan to cut off his own hair in the New Japan Cup back in March this year. Finally, due to Naito’s forfeiture, Tanga Loa will not be facing Naito in a tournament match. However, to ensure Tanga Loa keeps in ring shape, he will face off with NJPW veteran, Yuji Nagata.
+ Shingo Takagi vs Zack Sabre Jr. (G1 Climax 31 A Block Match): hell yeah mates, this is the good stuff. An entirely different sort of match than Shingo’s banger against Ishii, this was still ever bit the main event match it was billed as, even as it called back to a WXW match from 2009. Sabre’s style is a double edged sword in some ways, as it just won’t work against everyone, but Shingo is the best wrestler in the world right now for a reason. The match had some good heat going in simply due to Sabre/Naito going the way it did, but that also meant Shingo could but out a few homages to his LIJ compatriot in a way we don’t often get to see Shingo act. Sabre looked silky smooth against the war machine that is Shingo, and I loved this from start to finish
+ Tomohiro Ishii vs Kota Ibushi (G1 Climax 31 A Block Match): this didn’t have quite the brutality that Ishii/Shingo had, but Ibushi is a special kind of beast in his own right. It’s almost a shame Ishii has faced Shingo and now Ibushi in subsequent weeks, because they were probably the two matches I was looking forward to most (and Ishii will be facing KENTA next, which was number three on that list). This was by no means either man’s best match but I really liked it. Ibushi/Naito would probably have been the best match of either man’s tournament, though I can’t say I’m sad that Ibushi won’t nearly died for my enjoyment. Then again, he did have to face Ishii…
+ Toru Yano vs Great-O-Khan (G1 Climax 31 A Block Match): I’ll admit it up front, I’m a sucker for this Great-O-Khan fellow. He didn’t impress against Tanga Loa, but much like the New Japan Cup this all stemmed from, O-Khan and Toru Yano just have some really smooth chemistry. This was fun
+ Tanga Loa vs Yuji Nagata: admittedly it’s really hard to have a bad match with Nagata, but I enjoyed this. It’s a shame we aren’t going to see Naito in any more matches, but if it means Nagata getting that last run of matches on G1 cards then I’m all for it
– KENTA vs Yujiro Takahashi (G1 Climax 31 A Block Match): I generally like the intra-faction warfare matches (with TAKA vs Taichi from the BOSJ whatever year it was a personal highlight) but this just wasn’t it. KENTA tried the comedy against Yano, and Yujiro had the upset over Ibushi behind him, but against each other it just felt lacking. I was surprised how behind Yujiro the crowd was, and I am a sucker for KENTA, but I just struggled to get into this
Should you watch this event: To the surprise of nobody, matches involving Shingo Takagi, Zack Sabre Jr., Tomohiro Ishii and Kota Ibushi are all fantastic. Go out of your way to see the Takagi/Sabre match, but truthfully you won’t go wrong with watching this five match, just over 2 hour show in full.