G1 Climax 31: matches of interest
September 17, 2021
By: Lou Pickney
New Japan Pro-Wrestling's G1 Climax round-robin tournament is an annual favorite, often providing some of the top matches of the entire year in the span of a couple of weeks.
Because of the ongoing pandemic-related fan reaction restrictions (essentially no mouth noises allowed), living up to the past will be difficult.
You can't expect 2018. You can't expect 2019. But y'all already knew that.
I've made a list of matches that have my attention in the upcoming G1 Climax 31 tournament.
This originally wasn't going to be a blog post, but it turned into one. Thus the American-style date listings and short-hand. And I refuse to stylize names in ALL CAPS unless there's a good reason for it.
Block A: Great-O-Khan, KENTA, Kota Ibushi, Shingo Takagi, Tanga Loa, Tetsuya Naito, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano, Yujiro Takahashi, Zack Sabre Jr.
Block B: Chase Owens, EVIL, Hirooki Goto, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Jeff Cobb, Kazuchika Okada, Sanada, Tama Tonga, Taichi, Yoshi-Hashi
9/18 1- Naito/Sabre; Ishii/Shingo
Great opening night combo.
9/19 2- Cobb/Chase; Goto/Taichi; Tanahashi/Okada
This tournament isn't designed to spotlight Chase, yet he will receive more attention than usual as Chase hasn't had many chances to work top NJPW heavyweights in singles matches of any importance.
9/23 3- Ibushi/Ishii; Shingo/Sabre
There are some things from 2018 that I don't want back, like Ibushi and Ishii going to such extremes in G1 Climax 28 that the match got docked a quarter-star in its Wrestling Observer Newsletter rating for being too dangerous.
Shingo vs. Sabre should be spectacular.
9/24 4- Tanahashi/Goto (weird spot on the card); Sanada/Taichi
Very odd to see Tanahashi vs. Goto as the opener. This isn't an episode of AEW Dynamite. Sanada and Taichi tend to work together well.
9/26 5- Ishii/KENTA; Ibushi/Sabre; Shingo/Naito
Shingo vs. Naito 2, trying to build on their 2019 G1 match. I'd argue was the best match to not get even an honorable mention in the Observer awards. Every bit of five stars. A different tone now with Shingo as the top guy.
9/29 6~ Goto/Cobb; Tanahashi/Tama; Okada/Yoshi-Hashi
The squiggle in my notes indicates Korakuen. Goto vs. Cobb works much better when Cobb can work heel.
Tanahashi vs. Tama Tonga might be Tama's best match of the tournament.
*UPSET ALERT* with Yoshi-Hashi in a Korakuen main event.
9/30 7~ Ishii/Tanga Loa; Sabre/O-Khan; Shingo/KENTA
Ishii vs. Tanga with the Korakuen crowd should work. Sabre vs. O-Khan interests me, maybe a spot for O-Khan to get a spotlight win.
10/1 8- Okada/Goto; Tanahashi/Sanada
Okada vs. Goto is interesting. How much does Goto, 42, have left in the tank?
Tanahashi vs. Sanada should be excellent, as Tanahashi is perhaps better than anyone else in face vs. face matches with crowd restrictions.
10/3 9- Ishii/Sabre; Ibushi/Shingo
Ishii vs. Sabre was fun in Long Beach in 2017 and should be fun here as well. Ibushi vs. Shingo looks to be a tremendous match.
10/4 10~ Tanahashi/Chase (opener!); Taichi/Cobb (Cobb on heel side); Goto/Yoshi-Hashi; Okada/Sanada
Now's your chance, Chase. A singles match against Tanahashi at Korakuen. Taichi vs. Cobb caught my attention with Taichi listed on the left, meaning the face side. NJPW has great attention to detail with that.
Goto vs. Yoshi-Hashi will meet in a friends hit each other harder match, and then Okada vs. Sanada which will be hard-pressed to top their incredible beat-the-clock ending from 2019. One of my all-time favorite finishing sequences, full stop.
10/7 11- Ishii/O-Khan; Naito/KENTA
I believe that Ishii can beat a ***1/2 or better match out of O-Khan. We'll see.
10/8 12- Sanada/Cobb; Tanahashi/EVIL; Okada/Taichi
Sanada and Cobb should be great. Tanahashi vs. Dick Togo's Bad Booking Advice and somehow Tanahashi will make it work.
10/9 13- Sabre/KENTA; Shingo/Tanga Loa; Ibushi/O-Khan, Ishii/Naito
If nothing else, you're going to have a great main event.
10/12 14- Yoshi-Hashi/Sanada; Okada/Chase; Tanahashi/Cobb
Tanahashi vs. Cobb should be outstanding.
10/13 15- Ishii/Yujiro; Shingo/O-Khan; Ibushi/Naito
This will be match #8 of 9. Yujiro might want to take it easy but Ishii only works one speed. Ibushi vs. Naito frightens me somewhat as they're prone to bring out the crazy in each other.
10/14 16- Goto/Sanada; Tanahashi/Yoshi-Hashi; Cobb/EVIL; Okada/Tama Tonga
Cobb performing feats of strength with EVIL has potential. Cobb has exceptional power, which creates video game like moments when guys like BUSHI go flying.
But it also means Cobb can yoke up EVIL and throw him around easier than most.
10/18 17- Ibushi/KENTA; Ishii/Yano; Shingo/Yujiro; Naito/O-Khan (match order TBD)
Yujiro's gauntlet of pain ends with Shingo.
Gedo's boomerang booking play (L, L, L, bunch of wins in a row) might be dangerous given the pandemic.
But they've never switched the G1 briefcase before Wrestle Kingdom, and they have that as their emergency exit if real-life COVID-19 problems derail any brackets.
10/20 18- Sanada/EVIL, Tanahashi/Taichi, Okada/Cobb, Sabre vs. Tanga Loa (match order TBD)
Okada vs. Cobb main eventing at Nippon Budokan would really be something.
10/21 G1 Final strongest possibilities...
Block A: Ibushi, KENTA, Naito
Sabre (Tanga Loa), Ishii (Yano), and Shingo (Yujiro) all have opponents unlikely to be in strong contention at the end. Goto 2016 showed that it's not 100% (advancing after the Tanahashi/Okada draw) but usually it's a reliable indicator.
Block B: Cobb, EVIL, Okada, Sanada, Tanahashi
Less defined here. Cobb vs. Okada winner (absent a draw) seems most likely to advance.
Tanahashi (Taichi) and the Sanada/EVIL winner are viable possibilities as well.