It’s in the autumn again, but this year’s G1 Climax shoots out of the gates with Shingo Takagi and Tomohiro Ishii headlining our first night.

Quick Results
SHO submitted Ryohei Oiwa in 6:15 (**¾)
G1 Climax 31 – Block A: Yujiro Takahashi pinned Kota Ibushi in 11:32 (***)
G1 Climax 31 – Block A: Great-O-Khan pinned Tanga Loa in 17:45 (***)
G1 Climax 31 – Block A: Toru Yano pinned KENTA in 11:06 (**)
G1 Climax 31 – Block A: Zack Sabre Jr. submitted Tetsuya Naito in 27:05 (****)
G1 Climax 31 – Block A: Shingo Takagi pinned Tomohiro Ishii in 27:56 (****½)

We’re in the Edion Arena in Osaka for the kick-off of this year’s G1 Climax… it’s the sixth one I’ll have covered from end-to-end, and I’d be lying if I was saying that this was eagerly anticipated. Also as a head’s up, going forth I’ll not be throwing in screenshots in these reviews – no, TV Asahi haven’t reached out, but given how those DMCA notices have been thrown around in recent weeks, I’m going to play it safe.

We’re fighting with a real sword, and English commentary on the tour comes from Kevin Kelly and Chris Charlton.

Ryohei Oiwa vs. SHO
We’re looking at just the one undercard match on this tour – and only on some shows.

SHO’s now calling himself the “Murder Machine,” and he starts out with a cravat after having taken some shots from Oiwa. A hammerlock ends in the ropes as SHO went to work the fingers for good measure… and now we’re on the outside with Oiwa tasting the guard rails. SHO tries to wipe out the English commentary table a la EVIL, before he chopped Oiwa in time to the ref’s 20-count. Back inside, SHO puts the boots to Oiwa, then the forearms, before Oiwa hit back with a dropkick. The feint hope continued as a shoulder tackle has SHO down, as does a slam, before an eye rake stopped a Boston crab.

Oiwa caught a kick and went back to the forearms, but SHO just lariats his head off before the Snake Bite gogoplata forced the submission as SHO made light work of the new Young Lion. **¾

G1 Climax 31 – Block A: Yujiro Takahashi vs. Kota Ibushi
Yujiro only got one win in last year’s tournament, but question marks over Ibushi’s fitness will persist you have to think.

Ibushi locks up with Yujiro into the ropes, but a hair pull leads to Yujiro slapping the two-time G1 winner, before a dropdown and a dropkick gave Ibushi the early lead. Yujiro pushes Ibushi down off the top rope to prevent a springboard, and now we end up on the outside as Ibushi gets posted. Pieter distracts the ref as Yujiro chokes out Ibushi with his pimp cane, before some punches back inside keep Ibushi down. Yujiro keeps going with a whip into the corner and a big boot for a two-count, only for Ibushi to return with a leaping kick that looked to turn it around.

A snap ‘rana has Yujiro down, but after he rolled outside he was able to stop Ibushi from hitting a Golden Triangle moonsault. We’re back in the rails as a reverse DDT downs Ibushi, before we return to the ring as Ibushi eventually took the Incolle slam for a near-fall. Ibushi wriggles out of a Miami Shine and hits a head kick, before the sit-out Last Ride almost got the win…

From there, a bicycle knee strike drops Yujiro, as a Kamigoye almost got redirected to the ref. With the ref unsighted, a low blow caught out Ibushi, who then fell to the Pimp Juice as we almost had a super mega mass upset on our hands. A Gangrel-ish implant DDT followed – tagged the Big Juice – and there’s the WOAH from the crowd as everyone’s pick ‘ems were blown out on match one. They kept this one at a low pace, presumably because of Ibushi’s wind, but Yujiro controlled more of this than you’d think as Ibushi’s notoriously-slow starts cost him. ***

G1 Climax 31 – Block A: Tanga Loa vs. Great-O-Khan
It’s a G1 debut for Tanga Loa, who had Jado out with him… along with an EC3 t-shirt and themed face-paint?

We’ve a shoving match to start as an elongated lock-up that ended in the ropes before O-Khan’s reverse bear hug lifted up Tanga Loa. Shoulder blocks have O-Khan ahead, with Tanga Loa rolling outside for some respite. O-Khan joins him, but gets distracted by Jado before going back to the ring to throw some right hands and Mongolian chops. Tanga retaliates with a spear, then a legdrop for a two-count, before a hair-assisted chinlock ends in the ropes. O-Khan’s thrown outside, where Jado jabs him with a Kendo stick, before a suplex on the outside from Tanga leaves O-Khan laying. Beating the count, O-Khan rolled back into the ring and gets booted, before Tanga stomped and worked over O-Khan’s right hand.

A spinebuster’s good for a two-count, but O-Khan returns with a Gourdbuster as chops followed ahead of O-Khan lifting up Tanga for the Tree of Woe and a baseball slide into the corner. Jado eats a Mongolian chop after he popped up on the apron, with Tanga getting a facebuster afterwards, ahead of the return of the Mongolian chops. Back-and-forth elbows see Tanga Loa fire up, but another kick stops him before Jado cracked O-Khan with the Kendo stick. A clothesline’s next for a near-fall, before the OJK crossface has O-Khan down, but O-Khan’s able to drag himself to the ropes for the break. From there, Tanga Loa mocks O-Khan’s Mongolian chops, but gets caught in the Sheep Killer submission, before my feed dropped.

We’re back as Tanga almost nicked the win with a powerbomb, before O-Khan cut him off a the pass with an Eliminator for the win. This took an age to get going, and when it did, it didn’t set my world on fire. ***

G1 Climax 31 – Block A: Toru Yano vs. KENTA
Expect shenanigans. Yano’s washed out the hair dye, while KENTA has prepared his own entrance spiel, a la Yano.

Both men hid tape in their ring gear – but the ref confiscated the contraband before the bell – as we get going with KENTA rolling to the outside as they weren’t allowed to tape trade. KENTA rolls back in as Yano went to give chase, as we wash, rinse and repeat… The ref finally starts counting as Yano went to walk out in disgust, but rolls back in to some stomps. KENTA rolls outside to grab Yano’s disinfectant spray… and sprays it in his eyes. It’s not a DQ though, as the pair head down the aisle as they called back to KENTA taping Yano to the entrance way last year.

KENTA’s hidden more tape in the staging, but Yano throws it away… there’s another roll that KENTA got to use, as he tapes Yano to the entryway, then sprinted back to the ring to take the count-out. Yano manages to free himself, rather than pull down and drag the entrance back to the ring, eventually beating the count. Back in the ring, Yano removes a corner pad, then slings KENTA into the buckle ahead of a roll-up for a near-fall. KENTA fought back with a hesitation dropkick, then a double stomp off the top, before a Go 2 Sleep was stopped with both men pulling hair. Yano’s thrown back to the outside, where he reverses an Irish whip to take KENTA to the rails… before we’ve more tape. A shove sends Yano into the ref, as KENTA instead gets even more tape and hog ties Yano at ringside, then threw him under the ring, before waking up the ref to start the count-out,

Except Yano rolls out the other side of the ring and creeps in with a low blow and a roll-up, before a mule kick and an inside cradle (called the Fully Roasted KENTA on the New Japan site) nicked the win. Your mileage will undoubtedly vary, but you know what you’re getting with Toru Yano in the G1. Shtick. **

G1 Climax 31 – Block A: Tetsuya Naito vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
Neither Sabre nor Naito launch into each other at the bell, as the search for a hold ended with both men reaching a stalemate.

Naito trips Sabre into a toe hold, but Zack gets free before he had to escape headscissors, keeping things on the mat as we again hit the stalemate. The pace quickens as a ‘rana takes Sabre to the floor, but Sabre recovers with a dropkick that had Naito on the outside as things looked to simmer. Back inside, uppercuts drop Naito, before a version of the DOUKI Chokey has Naito in trouble, with Sabre starting to flick through his big mental book of submissions, ending in the ropes. A straitjacket choke wears down Naito some more, in spite of Naito’s attempts to escape, before Naito finally did so, leading to a hiptoss and a dropkick.

Combinacion Cabron follows in the corner from Naito, before a leg full nelson had Sabre on the deck. Sabre got to the ropes, but the ref takes his time breaking the hold as “Naito couldn’t,” before Naito took him into the corner in search of a hanging reverse neckbreaker. Instead, Sabre counters with a guillotine in the ropes, before finding a way back in with a series of uppercuts. A swinging DDT from Naito’s pushed off, as Sabre’s bridging Dragon suplex nearly leads to the win. Swings and misses lead us to a swinging DDT from Naito, before an Esperanza out of the corner spiked Sabre on his head. A low dropkick stops Naito from running for Destino, as some bodyscissors rolled Naito into a heel hook, then a modified ankle lock, but that all ends in the ropes.

Sabre drives Naito’s knees into the mat as we head towards the 20-minute marker, as a knee breaker attempt from Sabre was fought out of, with Naito launching himself into a slingshot DDT. Naito tries to escalate with a top rope ‘rana, but he’s caught in an Octopus stretch on the ropes, then a sunset bomb for a near-fall, before Sabre rolled back in for a heel hook, only for that to end in the ropes again. Naito tries to fight back with chops, but an enziguiri’s ducked as Sabre goes back to the knees, only for Naito to spin in for a Destino in response. Sabre’s tornado DDT puts him back in it, before a Valentia (Snow Plow) cuts off Sabre’s momentum in a hurry, while a Euro clutch almost snared Sabre the win.

The tempo races up as a leg sweep and a stomp to the knee had Sabre back on top, before a Zack Driver was turned into a nasty reverse DDT. From there, Sabre returned with a mash-up of a deathlock and an Octopus stretch, and with Sabre not messing around holds like he usually does, Naito eventually submits to the hold that the New Japan site name-checked as “YES! I AM A LONG WAY FROM HOME”. A cracker of a match as Sabre played the long game here. They perhaps went too close in aping last year’s match – in that they bided time until the final moments of the time limit – but it’s an early loss and a lot of damage to Naito on match one. ****

After the match, the English commentary acted as if Sabre had compromised Naito’s knee – thinking out loud that the injury could bring a real premature end to Naito’s G1.

G1 Climax 31 – Block A: Tomohiro Ishii vs. Shingo Takagi
Shingo edges their prior three singles meetings, 2-1, but Ishii did manage to beat him during last year’s G1…

We start with the hoss fight shoulder tackles and elbows, as it’s Shingo who drew the proverbial first blood, knocking Ishii off his feet. They head outside, with Shingo throwing Ishii into the rails, before the favour was returned… with Shingo rebounding into a powerslam as Ishii left him laying. Back inside, the lads trade chops, which pushes Ishii ahead… he knees away a slam attempt from Shingo, then chopping the IWGP champion into the corner, including with a shot that felt a little high…

The Shingo combination of a jab and an elbow leads to a DDT that had Ishii down, before a series of mocking kicks and a meatier one to the back woke up Ishii. He calls for more strikes, and gets them, walking through Shingo’s forearms as he proceeded to knock Shingo back into the corner. Chops and forearms from Ishii sink Shingo to the mat, who’s then jabbed with some kicks for good measure. A kick to the back has Shingo on his feet as it was Ishii’s turn to get knocked back to the corner, with Shingo’s chops and forearms wearing down Ishii in return. A back elbow off the top rope leads to a two-count for Shingo, before the pair found another gear, trading Saito suplexes for whatever passes as fun. That leads to a sliding lariat from Shingo as Ishii couldn’t get to his feet to respond with anything.

Things escalate further as Ishii’s lifted to the top rope for a heavy duty superplex, followed up with a strong lariat that dropped him to his knees. Ishii shrugs off another one to deck Shingo, which drew some loud murmurs from the crowd, before a lariat from Ishii looked to put him ahead. Ishii loses Shingo on a superplex, which fortunately didn’t go as awkwardly as it could have, but Ishii gets back up to hit the superplex for a near-fall. Shingo blocks a sliding lariat and maneuvers Ishii for a Made in Japan, but that’s escaped… so Shingo drops Ishii with a lariat instead. As you do. We get clonking headbutts after that, leading to Made in Japan for a near-fall, before Ishii rebounded with a German suplex.

Ishii can’t follow up, and almost lost to a lariat, before a crucifix bomb and an enziguiri led to Shingo bumping into the ref. Red Shoes recovers to count a two-count from a powerbomb, then again from a sliding lariat, before a pop-up death valley driver almost spiked Ishii. Somehow, Ishii pops up, but has to slip out of a Last of the Dragon as he hits another lariat for a near-fall as we hit the final five minutes. Shingo slips out of a brainbuster and hits a Dragon suplex, then a sliding punch to a downed Ishii, before a Pumping Goddamn Bomber drew a near-fall as the crowd started to come (relatively) unglued. Headbutting the mat, Shingo fires up once more, but Ishii chops him in the throat… we’re back to headbutts again, with the big clonkers leading to a Last of the Dragon shuts the door on an absolute slugfest. Exactly what you expected from these two, going almost the limit with a hard hitting match that’ll likely be high up on the match-of-the-tournament polls come October. ****½

After the match, a groggy Shingo drops an elbow on a sore Ishii… and after one round, we’ve a two-tier A block:

Great-O-Khan, Zack Sabre Jr., Shingo Takagi, Yujiro Takahashi, Toru Yano (1-0 / 2pts)
Kota Ibushi, Tomohiro Ishii, KENTA, Tanga Loa, Tetsuya Naito (0-1 / 0pts)

You’re going to get three types of fans for this G1 – ones like me who’ll watch everything, those who cherry pick, and those who need to be convinced to watch any of it. You’ll likely be better off in the middle here, especially with the top two matches from today, but this opening night at least has shown that the current state of New Japan isn’t quite as bad as the naysayers make out with their soundbites.