The Max has been Max’d. We’ve the mother of all surprises, while Kota Ibushi and Kazuchika Okada’s month of matches boil down to this – the G1 Climax final, for a spot in one of the three nights of next year’s WrestleKingdom.

Quick Results
Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado submitted Kosei Fujita & Ryohei Oiwa in 8:39 (***)
Toru Yano & Yuji Nagata pinned Great-O-Khan & Jeff Cobb in 8:29 (**¾)
EVIL, Yujiro Takahashi & SHO pinned YOSHI-HASHI, Tomohiro Ishii & Hirooki Goto in 11:20 (**¾)
Chase Owens, Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa & KENTA pinned Tomoaki Honma, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Togi Makabe & Tiger Mask in 10:41 (***)
Grappling Rules: Zack Sabre Jr. and Katsuyori Shibata went to a draw in 5:00 (****¼)
Shingo Takagi, Hiromu Takahashi, SANADA & BUSHI pinned Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, Ryusuke Taguchi & Master Wato in 12:16 (***¼)
G1 Climax 31 – Final: Kazuchika Okada defeated Kota Ibushi via referee stoppage in 25:37 (***¾)

We’re back at Budokan Hall for the finals of this year’s G1 – a tournament that ended up coming down to the final matches in both blocks. Funny how that works. We overdose on Max the Max as they air several highlight clips back-to-back-to-back before the pre-show starts…

The upper decks mercifully seem somewhat occupied today, so we’ll not be touching the 2,000-level crowds that hit new lows for covid-era wrestling in Budokan yesterday. Kevin Kelly and Chris Charlton are on commentary, wrapping up a long and much-appreciated stretch of work.

Ryohei Oiwa & Kosei Fujita vs. Suzuki-gun (El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru)
We open with another pre-show match as the Young Lions are going to take a hiding. Sorry, “a learning experience.”

Desperado and Oiwa start, with Desperado working the arm before Fujita tagged in and worked an armbar. The pair roll into the ropes as stomps from Fujita led to a kimura and a cross armbar that was escaped. Oiwa tagged back in and knocks Kanemaru off the apron as Desperado was stomped on in the corner.

Another takedown, this time from Oiwa, has Desperado down… but Desperado breaks free and that’s where the tables turn. Kanemaru’s in to wishbone Oiwa’s legs, before Kanemaru trapped Oiwa in a toe hold… ending in the ropes, albeit by Desperado.

Oiwa blocks a suplex, then cracked Kanemaru with a dropkick before Fujita came in with one of his own for a two-count. The Young Lions are starting to “get” tag team strategy here, but unfortunately it’s not much beyond “knock the other guy’s partner off the apron” as Desperado’s quickly in to stop a Boston crab.

Despy runs into a back body drop from Oiwa, as the Young Lions double team Kanemaru… but a dropkick from Kanemaru takes Fujita back down, only for the flurry of flash pins to spark some fear in Kanemaru… who ends up hitting a vertical suplex, then a Boston crab for the eventual submission. The progression is always going to be gradual as this step, but the Young Lions continue to inch forward as the former junior tag team champions were made to work for their win here. ***

United Empire (Jeff Cobb & Great-O-Khan) vs. Toru Yano & Yuji Nagata
Cobb’s got his neck taped up as the Empire looked to get some frustrations out for their curtailed tournaments.

Yano and O-Khan start off with O-Khan raking the eyes of Yano, before he booted Yano away from the ropes, then sent him to the outside. O-Khan bops Yano with a corner pad on the floor, before some choking in the ring led to Cobb tagging in to headbutt Yano.

Cobb charges Yano into the not-exposed corner, with Kevin Kelly explaining that it was to protect his own hands. Logical explanation is logical! Yano returns with a hair-pull as he made the tag out to Nagata, who cracks Cobb with an enziguiri ahead of a step-up knee and a backdrop hold attempt that Cobb blocked.

Instead, Cobb reverses an Irish whip and hits a dropkick as O-Khan returned, but Nagata avoids the double-teaming and fights off a head claw to boot, opting instead to hit a low dropkick. An Exploder followed, as Yano tagged back in, only to get charged into the exposed corner.

Yano returns with a rebound belly-to-belly suplex, but Cobb helps maul Yano, throwing him towards O-Khan with a gutwrench suplex, as O-Khan then hit one of his own for a two-count… before O-Khan demanded Yano kiss his boot, only to get caught with a low blow and a roll-up as Yano escaped with the win. Business as usual, as I guess the tolls of the G1 restricted Cobb here? **¾

House of Torture (EVIL, Yujiro Takahashi & SHO) vs. Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI
This wasn’t for the NEVER trios titles… we’re not getting that on a day’s notice! SHO’s gotten a CHAOS towel, which he stomped on. Mad Mikey Nicholls is surely disgusted.

We’ve a jump start of course, as the House of Torture trio pulled ahead, while Dick Togo removed a corner pad as he’s want to do. On the outside, the CHAOS lads end up in the rails, before SHO whipped Hirooki Goto into the exposed corner as everyone took turns to have a pop at Goto. Yujiro wraps up Goto’s taped-up arm in the ropes, but Goto’s able to charge back out as he took out SHO, then tagged out to Ishii.

Ishii never looks pleased at the best of times, so you’d expect him to leather SHO straight away… but EVIL and Yujiro try to intervene, but it backfires as SHO ends up taking over as he choked Ishii into the corner. My feed dropped, but recovers with EVIL taking a back suplex, before YOSHI-HASHI came in. He’s quickly choked in the ropes by Dick Togo’s wire as a Parade of Moves broke out, leading to running double knees from YOSHI-HASHI to EVIL.

From there, the double-team GYR drops EVIL, but Dick Togo runs in to distract for the hell of it. There’s a visual pin as Yujiro then helped on a ref bump as more bollocks breaks out. SHO lays out Ishii with a chair, then popped the seat off of the head of YOSHI-HASHI, and it’s elementary from there as Everything is EVIL leads to the win. Business as usual. **¾

Post-match, EVIL grabs the NEVER trios title as he seemingly wants another shot at the belts he chucked away a little over a year ago…

Bullet Club (KENTA, Chase Owens & Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa)) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma & Tiger Mask
This part of the Bullet Club did much better than expected in the G1, with Tama, Tanga and Chase all picking up headline-grabbing wins at various stages of the tournament… and this line-up makes me suspect we’re going to Chase Owens vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi for the US title.

Tomoaki Honma looked to make an early impression, but he’s quickly charged into the Bullet Club corner as Tama Tonga and his shiny new gold-and-black gear took control with slams and elbow drops. Tiger Mask tags in to hit a crossbody, before he kicks away KENTA and Tanga Loa… then swept Chase Owens’ legs.

Eventually Tiger Mask finds himself isolated by the Guerrillas, with Tanga’s senton atomico leading to Chase Owens picking up a couple of pinning attempts. Tiger Mask’s kept in the Bullet Club corner, with KENTA coming in to hit a back elbow as Tiger Mask was forced to fight back to his feet.

Right hands lead to a rear spin kick from Tiger Mask, before dualling roundhouses lead to a Tiger Driver on KENTA. Tanahashi gets the tag in as he cleared house, knocking down Chase and the Guerrillas before a Dragon screw spun down KENTA. A flip senton’s next out of the middle rope for a near-fall, before KENTA’s roll-ups led to some near-falls. An eye rake from KENTA buys time as Chase Owens tagged in to hit a high/low, before a Jewel Heist lariat was countered into a Twist and Shout.

Tomoaki Honma tags in and hits a bulldog and a Kokeshi, while Togi Makabe ran wild with clotheslines. He’s heavily taped up, and I have no bloody idea what’s caused it… eventually Chase Owens comes in with a C-Trigger to Honma, then a package piledriver, and that’s the win. Yep, they’re teasing a US-title feud for Tanahashi… but KENTA jumps Tanahashi with the belt afterwards as he’s jumped the queue. ***

They announce the Strong Spirits video game has been shifted to 2022…

Zack Sabre Jr’s music starts the second half… apparently Taichi’s taking time off to heal, and holy shit… out comes Katsuyori Shibata. In his gear?! We have a special unadvertised match! Goosebumps, I have them…

Grappling Rules: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Katsuyori Shibata
You are not seeing things. 1657 days after he was forced to crawl out of Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan, Katsuyori Shibata is back in the ring, albeit for an exhibition match. We’ve a five-minute time-limit, but we start with some tentativeness as Shibata eventually takes Sabre down.

Taking the mount, Shibata looked to follow with a Figure Four on Sabre as we hit the two-minute mark, but Sabre escaped with headscissors that Shibata easily handstands out of. A toe hold keeps Sabre down, before he rolled free…

The pair trade straitjackets, with Sabre pulling Shibata into a surfboard… but it’s escaped as we hit the final minute, with Sabre grabbing a side headlock. Shibata pushes off, but locks in a rear naked choke, then a Cobra twist that Sabre counterd out of, only for Shibata to reapply the hold as time expires. I don’t give a toss about the star ratings here, I’m beaming from ear to ear from this surprise. Shibata, clearly, still has something left in the tank… as Shibata then talked about “next time, it’ll be a match.” YES. ****¼

Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, Ryusuke Taguchi & Master Wato vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Shingo Takagi, SANADA, Hiromu Takahashi & BUSHI)
Right, time to get grounded again after that bombshell…

Hiromu and Taguchi start us off, but Taguchi threw out his shoulder while trying to do a Mongolian chop, as we instead get wacky cross-crossing to tire out Hiromu. We get some “Budokan Bonkers” (or is it Budokan Blasts?) from Tenzan as he tagged in to his the rebadged Mongolian chops on Hiromu, before Master Wato came in to hit a rear spin kick.

LIJ flood the ring to clear out the apron, as everyone gangs up on Wato. Shingo’s suplex lands for a two-count, before BUSHI came in for some t-shirt choking. Wato manages to get free to tag in Kojima, who lit up SANADA with Machine Gun chops, then Hiromu, before Kojima built up to a top rope elbow… only to get thrown off the apron.

SANADA misses a standing moonsault and eats a DDT from Kojima. A low dropkick stuns Kojima, who returned with a Koji Cutter to BUSHI before tagging Tenzan back in. Tenzan clears the apron, then took down BUSHI for an Anaconda Vise as Hiromu Takahashi ran in to break it up. Headbutts keep BUSHI rocked, but he’s back with a dropkick as Shingo tagged in.

LIJ gang up on Tenzan, with a death valley driver from Shingo nearly putting him away, before Master Wato made a save to spark a Parade of Moves. BUSHI takes care of Wato with a tope suicida, leaving us with Shingo and Tenzan in the ring, trading Budokan Bonkers and Mongolian chops, until Tenzan stopped Shingo with a headbutt.

Tenzan goes up top, but is easily stopped by Shingo, who brought him down with a superplex, before a sliding lariat drew a two-count. A Pumping Bomber follows, and that’s the lot as LIJ pick up a pretty by-the-numbers win. ***¼

G1 Climax 31 – Final: Kazuchika Okada vs. Kota Ibushi
Ibushi’s looking for his third G1 Climax win in a row – something that’s never happened before – while Okada beat Jeff Cobb to book his first final since 2014. In prior singles matches, Okada’s got the slight edge, with wins at WrestleKingdom 14, New Japan’s 42nd Anniversary show in 2014 and, erm, DDT’s Ryogoku Peter Pan in 2013. Both of Ibushi’s wins have come in G1 block matches.

Their longest match was last year’s WrestleKingdom title match, going 39:16. There’s no time limit today, so settle in…

We start on the mat with Okada looking to work over Ibushi’s legs, then kept him seated with a side headlock. Ibushi escaped and grabbed one of his own, before Okada took him to the ropes for a clean break. That’s the first five minutes, by the way, if you’re wondering of the pace they were going. They quickly turn it up a notch as Okada went for a Rainmaker, but to no avail.

Ibushi slows things down as he looked to crossface Okada on the deck. When Okada gets back to his feet, he flapjack’d Ibushi, before he hit a neckbreaker for a two-count. A senton atomico follows from Okada for just a one-count, as a chinlock takes us to the ten minute marker.

Ibushi returns with a dropkick, then a diving mid kick ahead of a standing moonsault for a two-count. Okada heads outside for respite, baiting in Ibushi who’s sent into the rails. Okada blocks a reversal, but eats a half-and-half suplex on the floor, before a springboard missile dropkick back inside kept Ibushi ahead.

Okada snaps back as he lifted Ibushi up top and dropkicks him to the floor, giving Kota a nasty landing, before the pair headed into the aisle, where Okada stacked him with a DDT. Okada stops the count-out so he could roll Ibushi back in – not wanting to overdo it like on Monday – as Ibushi looked to be on those jelly legs.

A Money Clip traps Ibushi, but he’s able to back into the corner to break it up, only to get wrecked with another dropkick. Okada reapplies the hold on the mat, breaking it to hit a spinning tombstone before putting the Money Clip back on a sleepy Ibushi. A backbreaker stops Ibushi as he tried to go to the ropes, as Okada again puts the hold on, but this time it ends in the ropes.

Resuming, Okada slams Ibushi then went up top for the flying elbow… crushing Ibushi as we get the ol’ zoom-out. Out of nowhere, Ibushi struck back with a lariat to counter a Rainmaker, as he was having to start from behind square one as we crossed the 20-minute marker. The pair trade elbows as Okada finally looked to be on the defensive, rushing into a ‘rana to take him outside as Ibushi followed with an Asai moonsault into the aisle.

Back inside, Ibushi comes close with a sitout powerbomb, before he lost a backslide… and recovered with a ripcord roundhouse. Ibushi keeps Okada close with a leaping knee, then a Kamigoye… but Okada gets his shoulder up at two! Okada tries to nick it with a sit-down pin from a back body drop, before a rolling Rainmaker was countered with another Ibushi lariat.

Ibushi heads up top, but crashed and burned on a Phoenix Splash… and the bell rings to stop the match. Ibushi had his left arm tucked in on the impact, as it looked like he’d broken his arm or wrist, forcing the referee to stop the match right there and then. I feel bad throwing some asterisks next to this, because this was on the path to your typical “good” New Japan match, but this was absolutely not the way anyone wanted to have this tournament. ***¾

The cameras stay rolling as doctors tended to him. Ibushi, of course, wanted to continue, but they had to undo the bottom rope so he could get out of the ring without causing any further issues. You’d have to think they’ll go back to this if Ibushi heals before the Tokyo Dome, as the tournament ended on a flat note, with the trophy presentation being secondary.

… and that’s it for the G1. New Japan’s got a quick turnaround as the road to Power Struggle kicks off on Sunday from Korakuen Hall (for a run of three back-to-back nights, no less), but I’ll be shuffling back a little for those Road to shows. My reports will still come, but don’t expect them to be as detailed or online as soon after the final bell as usual. New Japan’s running upwards of thirty shows in Japan between now and the end of the year, including the joint Best of the Super Junior/World Tag League tour that everyone looks forward to… so I hope you’ll forgive me for trying to stave off burnout.

A microcosm of New Japan’s 2021 – a lot of running on the spot, on what we all thought was a one-match show, some sourness, along with a big surprise out of left field… and this time it was a good one. Katsuyori Shibata’s return to action was the big surprise for this year’s finals, and while it’s not going to be the magic bullet to fix all of the company’s woes, it’s absolutely sparked something. There’s still issues, but it’s nice that people are chattering about New Japan.