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 time limit draw will grant both competitors 1 point (both men being counted out will result in 0 points given to anyone). 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 4!]
Day five once again sees the A Block take centre stage, as the highly anticipated match of Zack Sabre Jr. versus Kota Ibushi takes place in the main event. Sabre has been on an absolute tear through the first two rounds of the tournament, but Ibushi regained some steam after a slow start, which promises a huge match that both men will be giving their all to win. In the semi main, however, is the match I personally am looking forward to most for this show, as Tomohiro Ishii amd KENTA meet in what is sure to be a brutal affair. The two previously met for the NEVER Openweight Championship on two occasions, and it was KENTA who came out the victor in both instances. Also on the card, Tanga Loa will be looking to get his first tournament win when he faces the eternal bracket buster, Toru Yano, while Yujiro Takahashi faces the current A Block leaderboard, Great-O-Khan. Finally, due to Tetsuya Naito’s injury, we will not get to see Shingo Takagi vs Tetsuya Naito on this show. However, Shingo Takagi will not have a night of rest as he must face New Japan veteran, Yuji Nagata.
+ Kota Ibushi vs Zack Sabre Jr. (G1 Climax 31 A Block Match): Sabre is on the run of his life in big matches right now, and you’d have to think that there are few bigger matches available than a G1 main event against Ibushi. Honestly, Ibushi looked to be a step slower than usual, and after that rough and rugged brawl with Ishii that is understandable; I just hope it’s not something relating to his recent illness. This was a lot of fun, and another good main event in a run of good main events
+ Tomohiro Ishii vs KENTA (G1 Climax 31 A Block Match): I truly hope Ishii knows how much so many of us non-Japanese fans love him, because he is literally one of the all time greatest to watch. Meanwhile KENTA is willing to play the fool and the badass in the same match, which makes his offense that much more devious and devastating as required. This started relatively slowly, but it soon became exactly the type of match you’d expect, all the way to an ending that I really, really enjoyed
+ Great-O-Khan vs Yujiro Takahashi (G1 Climax 31 A Block Match): this match will definitely not be on anybody’s top matches list for this tournament, but it was so much more fun than I thought it would be. Yujiro is in great physical shape, and I just can’t not like O-Khan as a wrestler. I really want O-Khan to become another version of Ishii, with a bit more of a technical side, and I think he’s on the way there if the chops these two were trading are any indication
+ Shingo Takagi vs Yuji Nagata: hot damn this was great. Nagata can still go at such a high level that he never once looked out of place against the current top champion of the company. Shingo is a different beast, though. I really wish the crowd was allowed to make noise, because I reckon there are a few points they might have gone nuts
– Toru Yano vs Tanga Loa (G1 Climax 31 A Block Match): yeah, no. This was too long by almost half, and even if I liked the ending, I didn’t like anything in the build up to it
> young lion Kosei Fujita faced Master Wato in a preliminary match, but I was too late to see it live. Between you and me, I have no desire to go back and watch it after the fact
Should you watch this event: I missed the young lion match at the beginning, and came in just as the bell rang for Shingo/Nagata, and that made for very easy viewing. Shingo, Sabre and Great-O-Khan continue to be the ones I can’t help but enjoy, but leaving aside the expected Yano tomfoolery in his various matches, I am happy to say this G1 has not been nearly as bad as I and many others were expecting.