Previously on NJPW’s G1 Climax 31: Ishii brought out the best of Kenta and ZSJ continued his tentacle monster hot streak.
New Japan Pro Wrestling‘s September 29 show at Korakuen Hall closes out the first third of the 2021 G1 Climax with what’s probably the tournament’s least appealing card so far. If the G1 was part of the plot of a movie or TV show, the audience would see a lot of it in montage form, and the middle stretch of the G1 tends to contain shows that would be featured less in that montage. Night 6 (the third night of B Block) would probably be one of those. The Okada vs. Yoshi-Hashi main event is dramatic and Cobb vs. Goto delivers quality action, but this does feel like a winding down from the excitement of the first five nights.
While this show ends strong, it starts on an odd foot with…
Evil def. Taichi
You could look at the match graphic for Evil vs. Taichi a mile off, nod your head, and go “This one’s going to have shenanigans.” And a shenanigans-filled heel vs. heel match can be good, and Taichi’s been in several of them, like his match with Jay last year and his legendary BOSJ bout with Taka Michinoku a few years earlier. But this match did not really deliver on the potential of an all-villain battle. The many shenanigans aren’t particularly entertaining, and there’s a surprisingly small amount of normal wrestling alongside them. There are moments when Taichi starts to make a comeback and it seems like there’s going to be some more action along with all the eye raking and stuff, but then there’s barely any. It’s not really surprising this match turned out this way, but it’s still unsatisfying, like a chicken wing with barely any meat on it.
Sanada def. Chase Owens
Sanada vs. Chase Owens is a comedy-leaning match that calls back to the bit about Chase trying (and failing) to master the Paradise Lock. I think this match might have gone over pretty well with international fans a few years ago before Owens’ standing fell by a lot. As it is, this match probably takes a smart direction for the Korakeun crowd, setting up Sanada to outwit or outmaneuver a heel (like his recent Tama Tonga match) while still giving Owens the opportunity to show his non-B.S. wrestling skills (like his recent Tama Tonga match.)
.@510njpw "Front Suplex"
— njpwworld (@njpwworld) September 29, 2021
Jeff Cobb def. Hirooki Goto
After two not-great opening matches, Night 6 of the G1 hits its stride with Cobb vs. Goto. It’s always great to watch Jeff Cobb throw dudes around, but it’s especially great to watch him through around another solid heavyweight dude like Hirooki Goto. And Goto gets absolutely clobbered in this match in a way I feel like we’ve rarely seen in New Japna recently. Cobb catches Goto out an attempted kick in the corner; he throws him after picking him up and slamming him down on his knee; he carries him from corner to corner just banging him into the turnbuckle pads. Meanwhile, Goto both sells and bumps like a pro for Cobb and shines in his own moments of offense, in which his game plan is to weaken Cobb’s arm.
It’s kind of sad in a very Goto way to see Goto get eliminated from the G1 (mathematically) in a match like this, but both performers work really well in this match and it’s a fantastic installment in Cobb’s undefeated streak. This streak is finally the type of consistent presentation as a powerhouse—and one could actually beat anyone one-on-one—that it’s always felt like Cobb could be getting in NJPW but wasn’t getting before his win over Okada. Whenever he ends up getting his first loss, hopefully this kind of angle means that New Japan wants to regularly use Cobb at this level in the future, because he’s owning it.
Hiroshi Tanahashi def. Tama Tonga
Tanahashi vs. Tama Tonga has a very “TV match” feel, a top babyface struggling with a midcard heel for a while in between bigger things. It’s sandwiched between more memorable matches, but it does have entertainment value that comes from Tana being Tana and Tama going on this weird Icarus journey.
Tama starts this match going full scummy heel, then hits a slingblade and seems to get a rush of power (From doing the Ace’s move? From realizing that Tama and Tana are only one letter different?) and breaks out an amazing frog splash. But all this is undone by one of the most dumbass match endings this side of a WWE musical distraction, with Tama hitting a Gun Stun, getting way too hyped up about it and covering late, and then Tanahashi turning over his pin for the win. It’s an incredible ending in the literal sense, as in I could hardly believe what I was seeing.
This has to be the kayfabe explanation for why Tama has all tag accomplishments and no singles ones. But viewing it from the non-kayfabe world, this match is alright.
Kazuchika Okada def. Yoshi-Hashi
The first Okada vs. Yoshi-Hashi match in three years comes when both of them are on upswings. Since the G1 began, Okada has revived the old, IWGP title record-breaking version of himself and since winning the trios titles last year, Yoshi-Hashi has unlocked a new, more confident version of himself. This turns out to be the perfect combination for a highly dramatic wrestling match, and for unlocking a part of Rainmaker Okada that hasn’t really shown up in a long time, the cold-blooded killer.
One of the most exciting parts of Okada’s big-match act (against babyfaces, before he went full babyface himself) was when he would go dead-eyed in a match and look like he was planning to Rainmaker somebody’s head off. This was just one of many exciting parts, but it was pretty great! And after the match with Tanahashi saw the return of prime Okada and the match with Evil reminded us how much of a higher tier that Okada is on than other top guys, it’s fighting Yoshi-Hashi that brings out not just Okada’s killer instinct, but Okada’s premeditated murder disposition. He and Yoshi-Hashi are friends, as they movingly talk about after this match, but something about Yoshi-Hashi stepping up to him at all makes Okada want to squash him like a bug.
This kind of performance from Okada pitted against the increased confidence and improved in-ring work we’ve been seeing from Yoshi-Hashi adds tension to everything they do in their match, making it all feel important. I don’t think they convinced a lot of people that Yoshi-Hashi could win (there weren’t any super loud nearfall reactions) just seeing him put up such a good fight against Okada is exciting. If this match has a weak point, though, I do think it loses steam when they do the back-to-back Butterfly Lock and Money Clip sequences and never fully recovers the level of hype it had beforehand. But overall, I think this is the kind of match that makes a much bigger impression on people through its strengths than its weaknesses.
G1 points tracker
This third B Block show puts the group in a similar position to A Block after its third show, with two undefeated guys at the top. Cobb and Okada aren’t on course for a collision until much later than Sabre vs. O-Khan and have much more of an established rivalry, but that’s how the numbers shake out. And while Cobb and Okada are looming large over their block, the September 29 show saw three people mathematically eliminated from a shot at the final: Owens, Goto, and Yoshi-Hashi. The whole block looks like this:
- 6 points – 3-0 – Jeff Cobb, Kazuchika Okada
- 4 points – 2-1 – Evil, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Sanada, Taichi
- 2 points – 1-2 – Tama Tonga
- 0 points – 0-3 – Chase Owens, Hirooki Goto, Yoshi-Hashi
Going into the second third of G1 31, we also have a few more potential title shots on the board:
- IWGP World Heavyweight Championship: Zack Sabre Jr.
- IWGP U.S. Championship: Kazuchika Okada
- IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Evil
- KOPW 2021: Great-O-Khan
- NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship: This whole record-setting team started the G1 by losing three matches in a row! Maybe Goto, Ishii, and Yoshi-Hashi are like a Dugtrio now and shouldn’t be separated. Anyway, I’m not even going to keep track of who beats these guys when that’s already eight different people.
Match recommendation: Both Goto vs. Cobb and Okada vs. Yoshi-Hashi are worth watching from this show, but I’ll recommend Okada vs. Yoshi-Hashi just a little bit more for the Drama and Okada’s performance.