NJPW G1 Climax 31 Night 5 Review: Like a Squid Out of Hell

Previously on NJPW‘s G1 Climax 31: In A Block, Zack vs. Shingo! It happened! It was amazing! In B Block, Okada is still wrestling like he’s in his stem cell era, and it’s also very exciting.

It sounds like a bad thing when I say that Night 5 is the worst night of the G1 so far, but the tournament has been so strong so far that this is far from an insult. Three of its six matches are pretty much duds, but Ishii vs. Kenta, Ibushi vs. Sabre, and the non-tournament match between Takagi and Nagata are all entertaining and make this third night of A Block worth watching. If the planned Takagi vs. Naito main event had gone through and the last three matches on this show had been Ishii-Kenta, Ibushi-Sabre, and Naito-Shingo, this could have been a really special event, but the show we actually got was still good.

So without further ado, let’s break down how NJPW’s September 26 G1 event went down, starting with the non-tournament action.

Master Wato def. Kosei Fujita

The show opens with Wato vs. Fujita, which is a fine warmup for the rest of the night’s action and also spotlights how babyish Wato still is a year after coming back from CMLL. The thing where he’s Tenzan’s Young Ward and the maknae of Hontai is working for him, but it feels like he shouldn’t look so proud of himself for beating a guy who debuted last month. Congratulations on having a better Boston Crab than someone who learned how to do it a week ago!

Wato continues to be unintentionally funny backstage by revealing that he thinks one of Sho’s comments that was specifically directed at Yoh applied to him as well, basically inserting himself into the Roppongi 3K breakup. If you haven’t watched this promo or this match it might seem like I’m hating on Wato here, but the amount of airheadedness he delivers through his very small role on this show is actually great.

NJPW

Shingo Takagi def. Yuji Nagata

Yuji Nagata’s last Naito Replacement Match made him look over the hill, but his Night 5 match with Shingo Takagi makes him look like an old man who can still do some damage. It’s put together in a smart way, with the Exploder off the apron making sure the audience is hooked early on, then focusing around Nagata focusing on Shingo’s arm (not the taped-up one, but it still works.) Shingo sells the heck out of everything, and while it’s never believable that Mr. IWGP could earn a spot back in the IWGP title picture, it’s believable that Nagata’s putting Shingo through the ringer. The fist bump after the match is a nice touch too, a rare sign of respect between hontai and L.I.J. to put over the new-ish world champ a little more. Overall, Nagata vs. Takagi is definitely worth watching and on the level of G1 tournament matches.

Great-O-Khan def. Yujiro Takahashi

Heel vs. heel matchups in NJPW tournaments can be great. They tend to be made up of rare pairings, so these bouts are opportunities to see fresh in-ring work and new character interactions. Plus, one or both guys usually gets some kind of satisfying comeuppance or taste of their own medicine. Last year’s G1 gave us some quality additions to this genre with Jay White vs. Minoru Suzuki and White vs. Taichi, and Kenta vs. Suzuki, and this year’s New Japan Cup delivered in the same way.

In contrast, the all-villain match of Great-O-Khan vs. Yujiro Takahashi does not deliver. At first, it seems like they might have chosen an interesting direction for their match, going with an opening that references both of their accomplished amateur wrestling pasts. But then they choose the dynamic of a very heely Yujiro dominating a more respectable O-Khan for a while, which is odd considering that Yujiro is clearly the lower power-level wrestler and we just saw the ultimate Sympathy For Yujiro match versus Kenta. Maybe the less villainous O-Khan works better for the Japanese audience because he is definitely over with the crowds, but I thought this match with this dynamic felt awkward and pointless.

O-Khan’s promo backstage is about how fans shouldn’t skip any G1 matches, but this is one of this year’s most skippable so far. No one needs to see O-Khan get hit in the back with a pimp stick and struggle to build up to a comeback. His G1 run so far has been going undefeated against Tanga Loa, Yano, and Yujiro, so he should have way better matches in his near future, anyway.

Toru Yano def. Tanga Loa

Toru Yano vs. Tanga Loa is kind of a mess, and not in the fun way many Yano matches over the years have been a mess.

They start with the solid gag of Yano bringing a bag of tape and handcuffs as his “second,” then move to Yano committing to wrestle the match normally – but then Tanga cheating and Yano cheating back, but also doing more serious wrestling moves than normal. This could have worked as a story for the match, but nobody seems to commit hard enough to their bits to make it work. There’s a part where Yano gets his shirt pulled over his head and seems to forget he can just pull it down. There’s a part where Tanga Loa yells “I want the two points!” in Yano’s face. The ending of Yano outsmarting Jado and Tanga’s attempt at kendo stick sabotage is executed too slowly and awkwardly to have any kind of comic timing.

Overall, the majority of the jokes don’t land and the serious wrestling stuff isn’t substantial enough to make up for it. This match is just a dud, but at least it’s a short one.

NJPW

Kenta def. Tomohiro Ishii

One of Tomohiro Ishii’s great strengths as a wrestler is his ability to bring out the best in others, and folks, he does it again in Kenta’s first match with a high-level guy this G1. The best of post-WWE Kenta is not the best of Kenta’s career as a whole, but post-WWE Kenta can still be very entertaining in the ring, and not just when he’s turning his backstage promos into live-action visual novels. This match starts with Entertainer Kenta drawing out the wrath of Ishii, then bringing his own ferocity when he gets back on the attack. The aggression behind the forearms and slaps in this match is top-notch, and the match as a whole always pulls the audience along.

I have more mixed feelings about the ending, which is Kenta countering a brainbuster and then outright cheating for the first time since the beginning of the match by shoving Ishii into the exposed turnbuckle headfirst, then rolling him. This worked in the moment, but a second later made me think, “Wait, didn’t they used to re-cover corners that got exposed at one point? Why don’t they do that? Didn’t the ref see all this turnbuckle pad stuff in this match, so why was this allowed?” I guess understanding the minds of NJPW refs is a lost cause sometimes, but it would be nice if it wasn’t.

A more unusual thing about the end of this match is that it makes Ishii this year’s first wrestler to take the third loss that means mathematical elimination from the G1 Climax. He didn’t seem like a finalist, even with Naito gone. He’s a perpetual Best Supporting Actor in NJPW tournaments, always there to have consistently good-to-great matches and sometimes to be narratively important, but he never reaches the trophy and flag. Usually, New Japan pairs this with at least a little more lip service to the idea that Ishii could make it further in the tournament, so it’s a bit surprising to see him out this early – but it’s not that surprising. But still, a moment of silence for all the G1 Finalist/IWGP Champion Ishii dreams since 2013.

Screencaps taken moments before disaster (NJPW)

Zack Sabre Jr. def. Kota Ibushi

Zack Sabre Jr. and Kota Ibushi have wrestled many times in matches that tend to be good-to-great and also tend to get people excited on social media the same way the Uemura-Suzuki feud gets people excited. I think this pairing got a little stale for a bit, but any staleness is gone when they meet for the first time since June 2020. This match is a clash of styles between two people who really want to hurt each other and have very different methods of doing that. In the process, it brings out the best of Ibushi and Sabre, with Ibushi bringing exciting high flying and strikes, while Zack breaks out the kind of submissions that make it seems like he’s been possessed by the spirit of a vengeful squid.

This match is the latest in a streak of Sabre regaining the energy he had around his 2018 New Japan Cup win, bringing back even more of that monster quality that started to emerge in his match against Shingo, but it also shows how he’s evolved since then. Basically, he’s put on enough muscle that he can pull off the sequence when he and Ibushi have a short kick battle, then he steals Ibushi’s powerbomb soon after. Zack becoming a “well-rounded” wrestler instead of a master of body horror would be boring and disappointing, but I think the mass he’s put on (combined with being one of the tallest guys on the New Japan roster) helps sell the non-submission part of his moveset that he already had. Like, he should never be able to beat Ibushi in a kick battle, but this makes his PKs and uppercuts look better.

(By the way, please don’t take this physique chat too seriously! It’s only being discussed here as part of the performance of pro wrestling and has nothing to do with anyone’s value as a person.)

G1 points tracker:
A Block:

  • 8 points – 4-0 – Great-O-Khan
  • 6 points – 6-0 – Zack Sabre Jr.
  • 6 points – 3-1 – Kenta, Toru Yano
  • 4 points – 2-1 – Shingo Takagi
  • 4 points – 2-2 – Kota Ibushi, Yujiro Takahashi
  • 2 points – 1-2 – Tanga Loa
  • 2 points – 1-3 – Tomohiro Ishii

A Block looks wonkier than ever as the forfeit points from Naito clash with the amounts of real tournament matches people have wrestled, but Great-O-Khan and Zack Sabre Jr. still clearly sit at the top of the block, both lossless with three (real) wins apiece. Conveniently, their next match is against each other, so soon only one undefeated streak will remain.

Sabre definitely has the stronger record going into their match, with his wins over the ’82 line of Ibushi, Naito, and Takagi. Meanwhile, O-Khan’s have been over the block’s lowest-level guys. ZSJ beating O-Khan would make him look unstoppable, while O-Khan’s would, I think, feel like more of a red herring. (But early G1 (or BOSJ) winning streaks seem to rarely lead to tournament victories, so they could easily both be red herrings.) However it plays out, New Japan has done a great job of building up intrigue and tension behind Sabre vs. O-Khan, which would otherwise just be an interesting new match. Naito’s absence is still a big blow for A Block, but this is still a group with a good amount of strong matchups and drama.

Match recommendation: Kenta vs. Ishii is a strong contender for tonight’s recommendation, but if there’s a match most worth watching from this show, I think it’s Ibushi vs. ZSJ.

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Emily Pratt

Emily Pratt is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. She used to study, write about, and make theater. Now she writes a lot about pro wrestling. Pratt is a regular contributor for Fanbyte, with other bylines at Uproxx, Deadlock, Mind Games, Orange Crush, and FanSided WWE.

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