Originally published at G1 Climax 31 Final Report: Okada vs. Ibushi, Katsuyori Shibata returns
G1 Climax 31 Final Report: Okada vs. Ibushi, Katsuyori Shibata returns
By: Mark Buckeldee
Welcome to this POST Wrestling report for day 19 of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s G1 Climax 31, the finals for this tournament. Like day 18’s show, this event comes from Nippon Budokan. That show drew 2,088, the lowest attendance at Budokan in the COVID era. The attendance was 3,861, the biggest attendance for any COVID era G1 Climax show. Like all finals since the 2016 G1 Climax, this was essentially a 1 match show by design. At least, it was on paper.
- Kosei Fujita & Ryohei Oiwa vs El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru – A decent Young Lion match, lots of fire
- Great O-Khan & Jeff Cobb vs Yuji Nagata & Toru Yano – The usual Yano antics, focused more on Yano vs O-Khan than making Cobb look like someone who went 8-1 in the G1.
- Yoshi-Hashi, Tomohiro Ishii & Hirooki Goto vs Sho, Yujiro Takahashi & EVIL – A basic match full of EVIL’s usual antics.
- Tiger Mask, Tomoaki Honma, Togi Makabe & Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Chase Owens, Tanga Loa, Tama Tonga & KENTA – A house show special to build a US Heavyweight title match.
- Bonus Zack Sabre Jr segment – Watch this. I won’t say why but watch this. – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
- Master Wato, Ryusuke Taguchi, Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs BUSHI, Hiromu Takahashi, SANADA & Shingo Takagi – A fun, banter-filled mid-card match. Nothing special but much more enjoyable than I expected.
- G1 Climax 31 Final: Kota Ibushi vs Kazuchika Okada – A very good match that was cut short due to injury – Borderline RECOMMENDED
Kosei Fujita & Ryohei Oiwa vs El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru
Oiwa started off with El Desperado, delivering some big forearms when he had Desperado on the mat. Oiwa tagged in Fujita, who focused on Desperado’s arm. When Desperado tried to regain control with a headlock the Young Lions worked together and Oiwa used a scoop slam and a double leg takedown. Desperado fought back with a knee crusher and tagged in Kanemaru. The veterans homed in on Oiwa’s leg, working it over with holds and kicks. Oiwa blocked a vertical suplex and hit a dropkick, letting Fujita tag in. Fujita got a two-count with a dropkick, but Desperado attacked when Fujita went for the Boston Crab. The Young Lions hit a double dropkick on Kanemaru and Fujita applied the Boston Crab. Kanemaru reached the ropes, hitting a dropkick and a backdrop suplex before Fujita got a near fall with a small package. Kanemaru then hit a vertical suplex and locked in the Boston Crab, forcing Fujita to tap.
Yoshinobu Kanemaru submitted Kosei Fujita via Boston Crab via (8:36)
This was a good Young Lions tag match. Fujita and Oiwa already look good, partly because of their great grappling skills. This was more about them showing a lot of fire, and they did that. Nothing must-see but proof that Oiwa and Fujita are growing and already at a decent level for Young Lions.
Great O-Khan & Jeff Cobb vs Yuji Nagata & Toru Yano
Within the first minute, we had exposed turnbuckles, ear-grabbing, brawling on the outside, and choking. O-Khan and Cobb isolated Yano, who tagged out after grabbing Cobb’s hair. Nagata got the better of Cobb until Cobb hit a big dropkick. O-Khan’s Iron Claw was blocked, and Nagata hit an exploder suplex before tagging in Yano. Yano showed off his wrestling with a belly-to-belly suplex and a pair of fireman’s carries before being double teamed by the United Empire, who threw him around with gut wrench suplexes. O-Khan tried to make Yano lick his boot (a throwback to their A block match) but Yano hit a low blow and rolled O-Khan up for the three-count with the NU2.
Toru Yano pinned Great O-Khan (8:29)
A basic Toru Yano tag match. The United Empire had some moments to show what they can do but you wouldn’t know that Jeff Cobb had gone 8-1 in the G1 based on how he was booked here. What could have been a chance to further establish Cobb’s dominance instead was focused on a payoff to a spot from a Toru Yano match.
Yoshi-Hashi, Tomohiro Ishii & Hirooki Goto vs Sho, Yujiro Takahashi & EVIL
Before the match, Sho stomped on a CHAOS towel. This match started aggressively and went to a brawl on the outside in the first minute. O-Khan and Cobb isolate… Oh sorry, that was the last match. The House of Torture isolated Hirooki Goto using an exposed turnbuckle and Goto’s taped-up shoulder. Goto eventually took down Sho with a shoulder tackle and tagged in Ishii. The Stone Pitbull fought off three on 1 odds, partly by using Yujiro as a weapon against EVIL. Ishii hit multiple chops to Sho’s throat, but Sho fought back using cheap tactics. Yoshi-Hashi helped Ishii out and came in as the hot tag against EVIL.
The much-maligned CHAOS member went on a tear against the Bullet Club trio until Dick Togo and his garotte got involved. Hirooki Goto helped out and he and Yoshi-Hashi hit the GYW, but Togo distracted the referee. This led to a ref bump, sticks, German suplexes, and Yoshi-Hashi getting hit in the head with a chair. EVIL then hit the EVIL to win the match. After the match, the House of Torture attacked their opponents, with Sho hitting the Shock Arrow on Ishii and they posed with the CHAOS trio’s NEVER Openweight 6-man titles.
EVIL pinned Yoshi-Hashi via EVIL (11:20)
Well, this was a typical EVIL tag match. The opening minute felt like they were given the script for the previous match. The CHAOS team looked good at times but the shine period for Yoshi-Hashi was short before the antics took over. The only silver lining is that it looks like they may be keeping EVIL in the 6-man tag division. Although that’s like saying that your freezer breaking down isn’t bad because it’s empty.
Tiger Mask, Tomoaki Honma, Togi Makabe & Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Chase Owens, Tanga Loa, Tama Tonga & KENTA
We often get build-up tags on these shows. Sadly, this one was designed to build up Tanahashi vs Owens. The Guerrillas of Destiny combined to isolate Honma, but Honma showed off his power with a stalling suplex to Tonga. So, they isolated Tiger Mask instead. Tiger Mask fired back with a Tiger Driver on KENTA and he tagged in Tanahashi. The Ace came in hot, and KENTA relied on low blows and a blind tag to Owens to turn the tables.
The Tanahashi and Owens segment were brief as Honma tagged in and hit a Kokeshi. Makabe took out both of the GOD and KENTA broke up a cover after Honma hits the Kokeshi rocket. Owens hit the V Trigger and the Package piledriver to win the match. After the match, KENTA hit Tanahashi with the IWGOP US title and Owens & KENTA argue over the title before Owens decides to let KENTA challenge Tanahashi for the title.
Chase Owens pinned Tomoaki Honma via Package Piledriver (10:41)
This was a build-up tag match that turned out to be building up to a different match, as KENTA jumped in front of Owens to challenge Tanahashi for the IWGP US Heavyweight Title. This was the kind of nothing tag match that we have seen dozens, if not hundreds, of times this year. I appreciate that these shows have been one-match shows for years but this felt like a house show match with the payoff of another 20 minutes plus KENTA match. At least they avoided exposing a turnbuckle for the third match in a row.
5-minute grappling rules exhibition match: Zack Sabre Jr vs Katsuyori Shibata
We got an unannounced segment after intermission as Zack Sabre Jr came out. Katsuyori Shibata followed, and we had an unannounced 5-minute grappling rules match. The crowd came unglued for this, easily the loudest vocal reaction in the COVID era from a Japanese crowd. I made no notes during this, and it ruled. This was the best surprise that New Japan has done in years. The match was built brilliantly, and the crowd was really engaged. I had no problem with the short length, this was something that I never expected, and I was so happy that I got to see this spoiler-free. Seeing Shibata and Sabre Jr go at it in a traditional New Japan-style grappling match was an absolute treat and completely made my week. It felt like pure soul food for me.
Zack Sabre Jr vs Katsuyori Shibata went to a time limit draw (5:00)
After the match, Shibata thanked Sabre Jr and supposedly said “Next time I get in the ring, it’ll be a match.” I don’t know if I’m comfortable with that. I loved this grappling match but that is a hugely different thing to a match, especially with Shibata’s pre-retirement style. Then again, we felt similar things with Bryan Danielson. Speaking of the American Dragon, my new dream match is him vs Shibata in a 5- or 10-minute grappling match.
Master Wato, Ryusuke Taguchi, Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs BUSHI, Hiromu Takahashi, SANADA & Shingo TakagI
Taguchi and Hiromu started things off with some air Mongolian chops that led to Taguchi pulling his shoulder. Pure good-hearted silliness ensued as Taguchi made Hiromu tire himself out and Hiromu slapped himself in the face. Kojima and Tenzan double-teamed Hiromu and Wato tagged in, becoming the fourth person on his team to do the Mongolian Chops. Takagi tagged in and dominated Wato, with the rest of LIJ isolating Wato.
Kojima tagged in and used Machine gun chops on BUSHI, Hiromu, and SANADA. The Sekigun team ganged up on BUSHI and Tenzan applied the Anaconda Vice, with Hiromu making the save. Takagi then tagged in and the LIJ team triple-teamed Tenzan. Wato came in with a diving European uppercut and the match broke down. Tenzan use the Mongolian Chops and Takagi used some of his own. Takagi pinned Tenzan with the Pumping Bomber.
Shingo Takagi pinned Hiroyoshi Tenzan via Pumping Bomber (12:17)
This was a good, fun 8-man tag. There was nothing special, but it felt more fun and entertaining than any of the other tag matches on the card so far.
G1 Climax 31 Final: Kota Ibushi vs Kazuchika Okada
The match started with grappling, and it was fascinating to see how much Shibata and Sabre Jr did with 5 minutes of grappling compared to how little Okada and Ibushi did with it. This felt like it was going long. Almost as soon as the 5-minute mark hit, they teased hitting their big moves and Ibushi floored Okada with a kick. Okada used a flapjack and targeted Ibushi’s neck. The Rainmaker was firmly in control, using a senton atomico before going back to the neck. Eventually, Ibushi hit a big dropkick and used his speed and agility to keep on top of Okada. This was literally the case when he used a standing Moonsault for a two-count.
The match spilled to the outside, where Ibushi hit a half nelson suplex on the floor. Back in the ring, Ibushi hit a swan dive missile dropkick, but Okada managed to dropkick Ibushi off the top rope and out of the ring. The match went back to the outside where Okada hit a DDT in the entranceway. Okada didn’t want the count-out, throwing Ibushi back into the ring and using the shotgun dropkick before locking in the Money Clip. Ibushi fought back but ran into a Dropkick, letting Okada reapply the Money Clip. When Ibushi tried to reach the ropes, Okada hit a spinning tombstone piledriver and again reapplied the Money Clip.
Ibushi kept trying to escape the hold and Okada again used a power move to stop Ibushi. This time, Ibushi managed to reach the ropes. Okada called for the Rainmaker, but Ibushi threw his entire body into a Lariat, flooring Okada. It looked like Ibushi was going for a Kami-Go-Ye, but Okada started a forearm exchange, where Ibushi came out the victor. Ibushi followed that up with a top rope Quebrada to the outside. Okada kicked out of the sit-out Last Ride Powerbomb and Okada went for a backslide-style Rainmaker. Instead, Okada hit a high kick and a jumping knee while holding onto Okada’s wrist. Ibushi hit the Kami-Go-Ye, but Okada kicked out. Okada reversed another Kami-Go-Ye into his sit-out pinning move, but Ibushi kicked out and hit another Lariat.
Ibushi climbed the top rope and hit a Phoenix Splash, but Okada moved out of the way. Red Shoes Unno then went over to Ibushi and called the match as a referee stoppage, with Okada looking utterly shocked.
The ring doctor and trainers then came into the ring to look after Ibushi in genuinely concerning scenes. It looked like Ibushi broke something in his arm, possibly his wrist, on the Phoenix Splash. Understandably they took a long time to get Ibushi out of the ring, as they loosened the bottom rope to let Ibushi leave.
This left the G1 to end on a very down note. Backstage they shot an angle with Tama Tonga challenging Okada for the IWGP World Title shot briefcase. Expect that for Power Struggle. As an added wrinkle, Okada claimed that he was now the IWGP Heavyweight Champion as the G1 Climax means that you challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight title, not the IWGP World Heavyweight Title. So, he appears to be completely sidestepping the title held by Shingo Takagi.
Kazuchika Okada beat Kota Ibushi via referee stoppage (25:37)
This was a very good match up until the tragic ending. The opening mat work was a bit by the numbers, but the match grew as it went along. Using the Money Clip as a mid-match control sequence that Okada can use to transition into big power moves is probably the best use of the Money Clip. I expect to see more matches structured like this from Okada going forwards.
The action in the last 5 minutes was very good but of course, this one ended early. I think 90% of people expected Okada to win the G1 Climax but it feels like a depressing note to end things on, although in some ways it felt tragically fitting.
This show was a mix of highs and lows. The attendance of 3,861 was a success for New Japan considering that it was the highest attendance of any COVID era G1 Climax show. The Katsuyori Shibata vs Zack Sabre Jr match captured the fan’s attention and was a great feel-good moment. On the other hand, you had the tragedy of Ibushi’s injury, which is probably the end of a truly cursed year for Ibushi. The other matches on the card were good at best and Tanahashi vs KENTA & Okada vs Tama Tonga are not matches that will set the world on fire. The main event is probably worth your while depending on your stance on watching matches with injuries. The Sabre Jr vs Shibata segment is definitely worth your time.
G1 Climax summary
Last year’s G1 Climax has a combined attendance of 36,620. This year the combined attendance was 28,123. That is just over 75% of last year’s attendance. By that metric, this year’s G1 Climax was a disappointment.
Unless Dave Meltzer really loved Taichi vs Tanahashi or Okada vs Cobb, this G1 Climax will only have one WON ***** match, the lowest since the 2015 G1 Climax. That’s despite Meltzer giving out 10 ***** matches to New Japan this year. By that metric, this year’s G1 Climax was a disappointment.
There was a distinct lack of buzz to the G1 Climax on Western social media. This was easily the least social media chatter that I have seen for a G1 Climax since the G1 Climaxes were easily accessible via New Japan World. Rating sites like Cagematch or Grappl had very low levels of engagement compared to previous years. By that metric, this year’s G1 Climax was a disappointment.
As a longtime New Japan follower, this felt like the worst G1 Climax since 2013. I’m not going any further back because my memory is too fuzzy to make a fair comparison. It’s definitely the worst G1 Climax with the current 20 wrestler format.
There have been some great matches. There have been wrestlers who have exceeded the expectations or who have used this as an opportunity to lay down the foundations for growth. Wrestlers like Shingo Takagi and Zack Sabre Jr have had great tournaments. The likes of Tanga Loa and Great O-Khan exceeded my expectations. Ultimately, this tournament did little to change the mind of the naysayers.
The G1 Climax had 2 main roles for New Japan. The first was that it was a spectacle, one of the jewels in the crown for the promotion. It used great matches to draw people in and was a big subscription seller for New Japan World. It felt like a treat for wrestling fans. The second role was that it was a distraction. In 2020 and 2019 it was a way to distract you from the booking problems. It reminded you of how good New Japan could be. You could even argue that this was the case in 2018, where the G1 Climax overshadowed a lackluster 2nd half of the year where Kenny Omega’s title reign failed to inspire and live up to expectations. This year the G1 Climax failed in its 2 roles.
There will be fond memories from this G1 Climax, but they are fewer than they used to be. Ultimately, I think that the next G1 Climax is crucial for New Japan. With the expectation that non-native wrestlers will be more available, and that crowds will have fewer restrictions, New Japan needs to do something different. They need to show change. There are many names that need to be missing from the G1 Climax next year. Ultimately this year’s G1 Climax could best be summed up with 1 word: stale. Next year’s G1 Climax doesn’t necessarily need to feel good, but it definitely needs to feel fresh.