G1 Climax 31 - Day 2 Report: Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi

Originally published at G1 Climax 31 - Day 2 Report: Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi

G1 Climax 31 – Day 2 Report: Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi

By: Bruce Lord

Welcome to the first of POST Wrestling’s B block reports for this year’s G1 Climax tournament! In addition to John & Wai’s always fantastic audio coverage of the entire tournament, Mark Buckledee (who’s covering the A block) and I will have written breakdowns of each and every one of the tournament’s 90 block matches, including spoiler-free recommendations for those looking to skip to some of the best New Japan matches of the year. If you’re trying to quickly get caught up with the state of the B block, I just wrote a preview of each of its contenders. That being said, let’s dig into the tournament’s second card!

The day after the 31st G1 Climax kicked off in Edion Arena, Osaka, the tournament’s B block competitors headed into the same venue for a show that had its work cut out for it. This show needed to generate excitement for a block that was widely viewed as having a less impressive roster than the A Block and featured more G1 rematches than might be preferable, given the lack of fresh blood in both the B and A blocks. Three of the pairings on this card had happened in at least three G1s previous to this one (for those curious, Jeff Cobb vs. first-timer Chase Owens is the only new G1 pairing on this card). But New Japan was counting on a rematch no one’s ever unhappy to see in Okada vs Tanahashi to carry the day. Would this prove to be a one-match card, or would some of the other matches rise above expectation?

Spoiler-free Recommendations

Surprising no one, Okada vs. Tanahashi was a fantastic headliner which you should absolutely watch if you haven’t already. Goto vs. Taichi started unevenly but should still be quite enjoyable, especially to those invested in Taichi’s development. Similarly, Sanada vs. Tama Tonga has some erratic moments but outperformed expectations. Cobb vs. Owens is enjoyable but by no means necessary for those skimming through the tournament. EVIL vs. Yoshi-Hashi was fine but doesn’t really exceed what it appears to be on paper. The non-tournament opener is inoffensive, but really only needs to be seen by completists or those seriously interested in SHO’s new change of character.

Non-tournament match: SHO vs Kosei Fujita

SHO bails to the floor upon the bell and quickly suckers Fujita outside for some guardrail and ringpost work. Back inside, SHO delivers slow and methodical strikes in the corner, with SHO measuring and grinding down Fujita with ease. After a handful of forearms that SHO no-sold, Fujita actually rallies for a second with a nice dropkick, then mounts SHO for more forearms. Showing a lot of fire, Fujita gets a powerslam in and goes for a Boston crab before SHO regains control. A pair of German suplexes sets up the new Snake Bite submission, and Fujita immediately submits. SHO defeats Kosei Fujita via submission at 8:10.

After the match, SHO taunts Ryohei Oiwa, New Japan’s other brand-spanking-new Young Lion and his victim yesterday, as the latter tends to Fujita.

The takeaway: In his second official match as a member of Bullet Club’s new House Of Torture faction, SHO worked a methodical, out-of-ring heavy match yesterday (dare I say with “EVIL” intent?), and this match was a near mirror of its predecessor. Fujita got in a bit more offense than Oiwa, but this was another match meant to let SHO field-test his new moveset and in-ring approach, which is definitely that of a slower, methodical, and sadistic heavyweight than the power-junior style SHO has used for years.

As John noted in his audio report on the first night of the G1, last year’s G1 was able to get a lot of mileage from various combinations of a Young Lion trio featuring Yuya Uemura, Yota Tsuji, and Gabriel Kidd. For whatever it’s worth, whether due to COVID concerns or Oiwa and Fujita’s relative inexperience, that won’t be the case this year: upcoming G1 cards have the Young Lions facing Master Wato, El Desperado, and Hiromu Takahashi as well as teaming together against Suzuki Gun & LIJ tag teams, but Oiwa and Fujita will not face each other as they did in the opening slot of several Summer Struggle shows.

Yoshi-Hashi vs EVIL

EVIL is accompanied by Dick Togo, but no other members of House of Torture. Togo baits Yoshi-Hoshi outside for a Bullet Club beatdown from EVIL, including a guardrail spot that takes out the timekeeper just as at Wrestle Grand Slam. Back inside, Yoshi-Hashi fires up and hits a Headhunter and a neckbreaker for a count of two. Yoshi-Hashi’s once again baited outside for another two timekeeper guardrail spots. Inside again, Darkness Falls gets a two count. Yoshi-Hashi’s tossed into an exposed ringpost but fights through the pain for a lariat. He delivers a hook kick and applies the butterfly lock, hits a lung blower, and reapplies the lock just in time for a Togo run-in. Yoshi-Hashi dispatches Togo quickly, and after EVIL hides behind the ref, he’s hit with a pump-handle backbreaker, a seemingly new move for Yoshi-Hashi. The ref actually slaps EVIL after he attempts to grab onto him, and Yoshi-Hashi hits a dragon suplex and Kumagaroshi for a very near pinfall. EVIL’s quickly rolled up for a visual pinfall, but Togo’s in for the ref distraction. Low blow from EVIL, Darkness Falls, and we’re done. EVIL defeats Yoshi-Hashi via pinfall at 17:16.

The takeaway: This was a somewhat ‘spacious’ match with a good amount of time between spots allowing for the very simple story and characters to be communicated. Everything hinged on the crowd biting on the Kumagaroshi pinfall, and by that measure, the match succeeded. This was one of the less egregious EVIL matches of late as far as ref spots and suspension of disbelief are concerned, but that’s a very skewed standard at this point. That said, there’s still not a lot to specifically recommend here unless you’re a Yoshi-Hashi die-hard interested in the expansion of his arsenal.

Jeff Cobb vs Chase Owens

Owens tries to bait Cobb outside, but Cobb isn’t buying. Owens begs off in the ropes, and after some quick running exchanges, things head outside, where Owens is swiftly greeted with a release belly-to-belly suplex on the floor. Back inside, Cobb is in full control, hitting targeted strikes and stomps. Cobb mocks Owen’s crouching handgun pose before repeatedly carrying and slamming him into opposite corners. Chase gets some offense in including an enziguiri and top-rope dropkick. A neckbreaker allows Owens to foolishly attempt a package piledriver to no avail. Owens gets a V-trigger in before Cobb counters the Jewel Heist and goes to town. Belly to belly, pop-up Oklahoma stampede, and a standing moonsault (which got a slightly audible gasp from the clapping crowd). More taunting of Owens (“Crown Jewel my ass!”) leads him to fire up and hit the Jewel Heist for two. Some fast counters and a thrust kick sets up a Tour Of The Islands and Cobb pins Owens with ease. Jeff Cobb defeats Chase Owens via pinfall at 12:12.

The takeaway: Owens’ first G1 match allowed him to show off some nice enough transitions and sequences, but more importantly it served to establish Cobb as a beast of a contender in the B block who was never in any danger of losing the match and barely needed to get out of second gear to win. And hell, we got a bit of brute jock character work from the normally stoic Cobb. Not a match you need to go out of your way to see, but an easy enough one to watch that’s necessary for the larger arcs of the G1.

Sanada vs Tama Tonga

Tama’s accompanied by Jado and the requisite kendo stick. The crowd’s clapping in time to Sanada’s name, as Chris Charlton reminds us that this is where Sanada had his incredible G1 victory over Okada in 2019. Tama uses a handshake to bait Sanada into a headlock and we’re off. Quick crossovers, and while Jado’s grabbing on to Sanada’s legs on the apron Sanada leaps over a sliding Tama, who takes out Jado. Tama takes his vest off after another quick exchange, and the crowd seems to believe both guys came to work. Tama says as much to Sanada (“We just did an amazing spot together!”), baits him into posing for the crowd on the post, and sends him to the floor. Tama slows things down with a tour of the ringposts and a snap suplex. Back inside, Tama sucks the air out of the room with some slow and methodical vertical suplexes and chin locks. Sanada fires up with arm drags and planchas to Tama and Jado alike. Milano approves of Tama getting trapped in the Paradise Lock. Tama gets some time to catch his breath with a Tongan Twist. Sanada hits the moonsault to try to lock in the Skull End, and a few more counters eventually result in Sanada hitting a Magic Screw and TKO for two. Tama responds with a big double-underhook piledriver for two. A Gun Stun attempt is awkwardly countered into Skull End, and after it appears to put Tama out Sanada goes for the moonsault, but Tama’s playing possum, gets the knees up and rolls Sanada up for two. Another series of quick counters of finishers leads to Sanada catching Tama with an O’Connor Roll for a three count. Sanada defeats Tama Tonga via pinfall at 19:04.

The takeaway: Tama getting heat by denying the crowd the hot, fast-paced match he was promising at the top added some interesting metanarrative to the match but also resulted in some stop/start pacing issues. Still, Sanada having the crowd behind him gave this match some extra juice, and despite a few awkward transitions he came across as someone who can perhaps still be a legitimate block contender if he’s able to bring fire to each of his matches. To use Kevin Kelly’s analogy, not the A+ Sanada everyone’s always hoping for, but not the underwhelming B- performance we often get, either.

Hirooki Goto vs Taichi

Taichi taunts Goto with his tag team belt after his and ZSJ’s recent retention of the championships against Goto & Yoshi-Hashi (as well as Sanada and Naito). Things quickly head to the floor, where Goto uses a camera cable to choke Taichi after the latter introduces it. Goto retains control back in the ring, and for all purposes effectively continues working heel. Back outside, it’s Taichi’s turn to do some guardrail spots and go to work with the camera cable. Inside, Taichi stays in control with Kawada Kicks, before both men reach out and choke one another. Goto delivers an Ushigoroshi, and then there’s an exchange of forearms from Goto and kicks from Taichi. Lariats are traded, Tachi hits an Akira Taue-styled chokeslam, and the pants are off. After some quick counters, Goto pulls out a mean-looking Shouten Kai, getting the crowd into things. Taichi responds with a Dangerous Backdrop and head kick. Black Mephistos and GTRs alike are countered, and Taichi continues the Four Pillars tributes with an Ore Ga Taue. A Black Mephisto’s hit a minute later to cinch a pinfall for Taichi. Taichi defeats Hirooki Goto via pinfall at 18:28.

The takeaway: This started a bit flat but the big counters and finishing exchanges in the latter half really drew the crowd in. Goto having to play heelish felt a bit awkward and didn’t do him any favors but was evidently viewed as a necessary element in giving Taichi a clean, babyface win earned via tribute to his All Japan predecessors. It’s clear that New Japan’s been slowly and steadily pushing Taichi up the card for the past couple of years, and while his continued preening lip-syncing and the adoration of Miho Abe seem aesthetically at odds with someone paying homage to arguably the greatest and purest era of puroresu, there’s no denying that this new, traditionalist style of Taichi’s in-ring work is helping to cement him as a fan favorite.

Kazuchika Okada vs Hiroshi Tanahashi

The legendary rivals start with the expected exchanges of some smooth wrist and neck grappling. A classic clean break from Okada in the ropes after faking an attack kicks off some running exchanges and takeovers, but Tanahashi slows things down again with a side headlock which is held for a few minutes. Okada reverses it at the eight-minute mark and takes Tana to the ground. Ten minutes in, objectively very little has happened save for the testing and feeling out of each man’s will and strategy, but the combined presence of both men in the ring is more than enough to carry it.

After a neckbreaker and a sliding kick from Okada, Red Shoes Unno refuses to count a cocky ‘foot on chest’ pin. Tana cannily baits Okada into some exchanges of kicks which he uses to hit a Dragon Screw. A somersault senton gets a two-count, and Tana zeroes in on the knees by hitting another Dragon Screw to the other leg. We head to the floor, where Okada reverses his fortunes with a quick DDT. Back inside, Okada follows a flapjack up with a neckbreaker and we have a simple but elegant story of each man targeting a different body part of their opponent’s. Okada seats Tana atop the ring post and sends him crashing outside with a dropkick. Tana manages another Dragon Screw on the floor, and Okada breaks up the tease of a High Fly Flow to the outside only to get another Dragon Screw in the ropes for his troubles, giving Tana the opportunity to hit the HFF to a standing Okada on the floor.

Back inside, Tana hits three Twist And Shouts and a Sling Blade at the twenty-minute mark. After another standing High Fly Flow, Okada manages to roll through and apply the Money Clip. Tana’s able to make it to the rope, but after some countering Okada hits a spinning Tombstone and nearly pins Tanahashi with a flash roll-up at twenty-five minutes. A top rope elbow drop from Okada sets up the Rainmaker pose, but Tana ducks the Rainmaker itself and hits a pair of Sling Blades. A prone Okada manages to get the knees up as Tana attempts yet another High Fly Flow. Okada hits two non-ripcord clotheslines, Tana nearly gets a pin with an inside cradle and hits German and Dragon suplexes. Both men exchange forearms and there’s only a minute left. An Okada dropkick and landslide Tombstone give Okada the time he needs to set Tanahashi up for a proper ripcord Rainmaker which delivers him the win with twenty-four seconds left on the clock. Kazuchika Okada defeats Hiroshi Tanahashi via pinfall at 29:36.

The takeaway: On commentary, Chris Charlton and Kevin Kelly introduced the match by putting Okada/Tanahashi over as the greatest rivalry in the history of professional wrestling, and between some compelling comparisons, the citing of the 806 days since the pair last fought, and an allusion to “Henry V”, they make a damn compelling case. Was the fifth G1 contest between the pair one of the greatest chapters in their saga? Not at all, and yet it was still one of those gripping performances which caused half an hour to melt away as they effortlessly played the hits with minor variations in rhythm and key. As far as the actual tournament is concerned, many people, myself included, thought that a tie leading to Okada having an odd number of points on the last night might produce some interesting scenarios, but if the B block is intended to reaffirm Okada as the perennial face of New Japan itself, a win against its declining yet still marvelous Ace is a fitting start to that story.

Current G1 B Block Standings

Kazuchika Okada: 2 points
Taichi: 2 points
Sanada: 2 points
Jeff Cobb: 2 points
EVIL: 2 points
Hiroshi Tanahashi: 0 points
Hirooki Goto: 0 points
Tama Tonga: 0 points
Chase Owens: 0 points
Yoshi-Hashi: 0 points

Final Thoughts

What looked like a one-match show ended up having some entertaining enough moments on the undercard, though certainly nothing that rose to the level of ZSJ and Naito’s semi-final match on the first night of A block competition. Speaking personally, this card managed to stir up a bit of new interest in Taichi’s path, and most of the matches slightly exceeded my expectations. Still, with Okada/Tana off the board, this block has a tough row to hoe in terms of maintaining interest for the shows which don’t feature matches anywhere near as prestigious. I’ll be back this Friday with a report on the second B block show, headlined by Okada vs EVIL.