New Japan Pro Wrestling’s (NJPW) annual round robin tournament is into the second half, 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 8!]
As we enter the second half of the tournament, the A Block once again takes centre stage, including Shingo Takagi and Kota Ibushi in the main event. The two were scheduled to battle for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship back in July, but Ibushi was forced to withdraw due to illness, but with Ibushi getting back to his best, the reigning champion might be in trouble. In the semi-main event, the undefeated Zack Sabre Jr. comes up against a Stone Pitbull in Tomohiro Ishii and while it has happened before, if there is one man in NJPW on whom Sabre’s submission style might not work, it is Tomohiro Ishii. Also in tournament action, Tanga Loa and Yujiro Takahashi continue the run of intra-Bullet Club contests in their first ever meeting, and KENTA and Great-O-Khan will kick of the tournament matches for the night. Due to Tetsuya Naito’s injury, Toru Yano will instead face BUSHI in a non-tournament match, and young lion Kosei Fujita will contend with Yoshinobu Kanemaru in the opening match of the show.
+ Shingo Takagi vs Kota Ibushi (G1 Climax 31 A Block Match): I suppose Ibushi must be feeling better, because he was well and truly back to his old self as he landed on his head all over the place. I guess against a monster like Shingo you don’t really have much of a say in the matter, if he doesn’t want you to – but of course Shingo is a professional, and a damn good one at that. It is interesting that this match was now, as Shingo doesn’t really have any more big matches to come, and I would have saved this for later in the tournament, if not the final night. Still, gosh this was good, and well worth watching
+ Tomohiro Ishii vs Zack Sabre Jr. (G1 Climax 31 A Block Match): hot damn what a banger. Ishii really is one of the most easily invested in wrestlers in New Japan, in all of wrestling right now, and perhaps all of wrestling, period. Sabre’s run in this tournamnet has been awesome, and whether that was the plan before Naito’s injury was known, or whether it was a by-product of real life rearing its ugly head, we are all better off for it. I don’t think I’ve heard Ishii scream like he did for Sabre’s submissions, but it just made everything so much more gripping
+ Tanga Loa vs Yujiro Takahashi (G1 Climax 31 A Block Match): surprisingly, this was pretty good. I know I’m repeating myself when I say Yujiro has had a really strong personal showing and Tanga Loa is an underrated hoss, but was very apparent when they faced each other. This won’t blow you away, but I’m a fair reviewer, and this was one of the better matches on the show
– Great-O-Khan vs KENTA (G1 Climax 31 A Block Match): I was really looking forward to this one, to see if O-Khan could continue his run of good matches in different styles. This was probably the weakest of O-Khan’s matches so far, and even KENTA looked like he was working at half speed. Maybe it’s the competitors’ mid-tournament funk or maybe it’s my own, but I was really disappointed by this one
– Toru Yano vs BUSHI: I live BUSHI, but I did not care for this. Yano’s shtick doesn’t work so well if there are no tournament points, titles or grudges on the line, especially against a junior heavyweight
– Kosei Fujita vs Yoshinobu Kanemaru: I’ll be completely honest, I was barely paying attention to this. I’ve strongly preferred Oiwa to Fujita in these young lion contests so far, and this looked to be more of the same
> As Tomohiro Ishii walked forward through Zack Sabre Jr.’s uppercuts, I realised I cannot exaggerate how much I want to see Ishii vs Bryan Danielson, since Danielson recently did almost the same thing against kicks from Nick Jackson
Should you watch this event: Surprise, surprise, Shingo Takagi, Kota Ibushi, Tomohiro Ishii and Zack Sabre Jr. are awesome. Basically, watch the second half of this show and you will have a banger 90 minutes or less. Don’t bother with the rest, which as a fan of BUSHI, KENTA and especially O-Khan is tough to say.