Kota Ibushi looks to keep his charge at the top of block A going against the Great-O-Khan, as the G1 rolled into Osaka.

Quick Results
El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru submitted Kosei Fujita & Ryohei Oiwa in 9:32 (***)
Tomohiro Ishii pinned Hiromu Takahashi in 18:13 (****)
G1 Climax 31 – Block A: KENTA pinned Zack Sabre Jr. in 22:23 (****½)
G1 Climax 31 – Block A: Toru Yano defeated Yujiro Takahashi via count-out in 10:21 (**½)
G1 Climax 31 – Block A: Shingo Takagi pinned Tanga Loa in 19:07 (***½)
G1 Climax 31 – Block A: Kota Ibushi pinned Great-O-Khan in 20:21 (***¾)

We’re back in the Edion Arena in Osaka for the first time since the start of the G1… Kevin Kelly’s flying solo on English commentary this time, after our intro which blends that Max The Max music video in with live crowd shots.

Ryohei Oiwa & Kosei Fujita vs. Suzuki-gun (El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru)
I don’t expect this one to last too long… as this was the first time Oiwa and Fujita had tagged together.

Oiwa and Kanemaru start us off, with Oiwa working a hammerlock on the deck as Desperado sarcastically applauded. Fujita’s in for a side headlock takeover, and keeps hold of Kanemaru in a chinlock, before Oiwa tagged back in. You could sense the Young Lions figuring it out as they went, but Kanemaru’s able to stop Oiwa in his tracks as Desperado got the tag in. I bet he goes for the Indian deathlock at some point. A slam drops Oiwa as Fujita’s knocked off the apron, before Kanemaru came in to wishbone Oiwa’s legs. We’ve a suplex from Kanemaru too, then a series of slams as the Young Lions were firmly in trouble. Desperado’s back, but so is Fujita, who cleared house before he decided to go for a pin, getting a two-count… then it’s Boston crab time.

Desperado makes it to the ropes, then flung Fujita with a back body drop. A bodyslam’s good for a two-count, and then Desperado ties up Fujita in an Indian Deathlock… except Oiwa comes in to break up the hold before Desperado got another submission to it. Kanemaru clears Oiwa out, while Fujita nearly nicked a win with an inside cradle… before Desperado punched him out and snatched the instant tap from Numero Dos. Some progression from the Young Lions this week, but Desperado continues to impress as the Best of the Super Junior tournament looms. ***

Hiromu Takahashi vs. Tomohiro Ishii
Remember last year’s cracker in the New Japan Cup? It was the only time Hiromu’s beaten Ishii, but I’m extremely hopeful of a repeat here.

Hiromu tries to charge out of the gate, but his shotgun dropkick misses, as did a series of clotheslines as we reached an early stand-off. Getting back up, Ishii charges down Hiromu, sending him outside… but Ishii has no time for that, and just rolls Hiromu back into the ring for a series of chops. Yes, Ishii crashed through Hiromu with a big one.

Hiromu fights back with some overhand chops, before some headscissors finally had Ishii down. Clotheslines and a low dropkick push Hiromu ahead, before he did the deal with a Falcon arrow for a near-fall. Forearms from Hiromu seem to have little effect though, before Hiromu sidestepped Ishii’s charge and countered with a rebound German suplex. Another shoulder tackle knocks Hiromu down, but he’s right back with a dropkick before Ishii clung onto the ropes to block a sunset bomb. Instead, Hiromu joins him on the apron for a low dropkick ahead of a death valley driver onto the edge of the ring. Back inside, Ishii’s able to sneak out a German suplex as he kept Hiromu at bay.

Swatting away a clothesline, Hiromu looks for a reverse ‘rana, but had to make do with a superkick before a Dynamite Plunger almost got the win. A headbutt from Ishii decks Hiromu as he again made sure Hiromu couldn’t pull too far ahead, while a clothesline left Hiromu in a heap, before a wheelbarrow bulldog dumped Ishii awkwardly. Ishii shrugs it off to hit another German suplex, but Hiromu’s right back up for a series of superkicks, eventually sinking Ishii, before a Victory Royal caught Ishii on his face again. Right where his face lives. A running death valley driver sticks Ishii into the corner, before Time Bomb planted Ishii for the nearest of near-falls!

Hiromu gets close again with a clothesline, before Ishii kept searching for that brainbuster. Instead he got to clothesline Hiromu instead, then hit a leaping enziguiri, before another clothesline drew a near-fall. An inside cradle nearly nicked it for Hiromu, but in the end Ishii dumps him with the sheer drop brainbuster for the win. Almost as good as last year… and look… if we’re still dealing with the pandemic at this stage next year, get the juniors in the G1. On this evidence alone, I guarantee, it’ll raise interest levels. ****

G1 Climax 31 – Block A: KENTA vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
We’ve three prior meetings, with matches in Tokyo and, erm, Wolverhampton. KENTA’s won two of them, but they split the difference in G1 matches.

KENTA and Sabre are toe-to-toe before the bell, and test each other out with strikes before Sabre grabbed a knee bar that ended in the ropes… before some more of the same on the outside seemed to irritate KENTA more than anything else. Sabre waits for KENTA in the ring, only to get slapped… which prompted Sabre to go back to the knee, tying him up in a deathlock’d bow-and-arrow hold before resorting to a Muta lock variation. A Kitchen Sink knee clips Sabre after the rope break, as KENTA looked to push on, taking things outside as Sabre ends up meeting the guard rails. Back inside, KENTA removes a corner pad and chucks Sabre into it, only for Sabre to come back with a suplex and a low dropkick as KENTA was back on the defensive.

Uppercuts weaken KENTA again, before he was faked out for a neck twist… but Sabre got a little too cocksure as KENTA shut him down. A flying clothesline gives KENTA a two-count, before Sabre escaped a Green Killer draping DDT and stomped on his bad shoulder instead. Sabre charges at KENTA but ends up eating that Green Killer, along with a running kick and a hesitation dropkick. A double stomp off the top nearly gets the win, but Sabre’s right back with a Cobra Twist… which KENTA countered by rolling in for Game Over, only for Sabre to counter the counter into a triangle armbar. KENTA deftly rolls free and back into Game Over, but the counters continue until KENTA got a foot to the ropes.

KENTA tries for a Go 2 Sleep, but Sabre sneaks in with a double leg clutch for a near-fall, before he just stomped KENTA’s knees into the mat. A leg sweep dumps KENTA again, but a Busaiku knee stops Sabre in his tracks… KENTA goes for a second one, but Sabre caught it and turned the hold into a knee bar, but KENTA’s able to grit through and get to the ropes. Sabre goes back to the knee, tying up KENTA in a wacky grapevined version of Orienteering with Napalm Death, but we’ll never find out what it’s called as KENTA managed to get to the ropes. Kicks from Sabre looked to lead to a Go 2 Sleep from KENTA, but it’s countered into a Euro Clutch for a near-fall, before KENTA just went ham with palm strikes, leaving Sabre laying.

Sabre caught Go 2 Sleep, eventually rolling it into an ankle lock… only for KENTA to roll free to send Sabre to the exposed corner. One Go 2 Sleep later, and KENTA’s gotten the win in an absolute fire cracker of a match. I’ve been down on this G1 (as have a lot of folks), but my word that was one of the matches of this tournament thus far. Stick this in your notebooks! ****½

G1 Climax 31 – Block A: Yujiro Takahashi vs. Toru Yano
Yano’s got the 5-1 edge in prior singles meetings, but Yujiro won their last meeting in the G1 back in 2014. Please be short…

Yujiro boots Yano as he gets to the ring, then hit a tope as he really didn’t want to know how far it was to Ebrietas today. Emptying Yano’s S&M bag, Yujiro ties up Yano in tape, then booted him out of a chair as the count-out continued, but Yano gets free and rolled into the ring… where Yujiro does a Yano and went to remove the corner pads. Those knots are hard work. Yano’s chucked into the exposed corner, as Yujiro continued to earn his reverse Scouts badge by untying more knots as he looked to expose every corner. We’re outside as Yujiro clocks Yano with the pimp cane, getting a two-count out of it, before Yujiro kicked him in the ropes.

A Manhattan drop from Yano looked to turn it around, before Yujiro ran into an exposed corner and got rolled up for a near-fall. Yujiro blocks a low blow, then shoved Yano into an exposed corner, before a rebound belly-to-belly put Yano back on top. At least until Yujiro dived in with a clothesline. Yano unsights the ref for a low blow and roll-up, but Yujiro threw down the ref, so there’s no pin counted. Instead, Yujiro hits a low blow of his own as everyone’s down. We’re back outside as Yujiro cuffs Yano, but Yano elbows free and crawls under the ring. Yujiro joins him, as the ref just gets fed up and starts counting.

We hear Yano’s screaming under the ring, but he rolled free and back into the ring as Yujiro came out with his hands cuffed behind his back, obviously unable to beat the count. I popped for that, but this didn’t need to go ten minutes for that pay-off. **½

G1 Climax 31 – Block A: Tanga Loa vs. Shingo Takagi
I bet you’re shocked… this is a first-time meeting.

We open with elbows in the corner, with Tanga Loa seemingly edging ahead until Shingo hit the ropes for shoulder blocks. Elbows and a back senton barely get a one-count, before Tanga Loa hit back with a dropkick to put Shingo down. They battle on the apron, with Tanga Loa hitting a high back suplex onto the edge of the ring, before a standing moonsault back in the ring nearly put Shingo away. Tanga keeps Shingo on the deck with a headbutt, following in with more clotheslines into the corner as a OJK crossface looked to get an unlikely stoppage. Shingo gets free though, then began his comeback as he suckered Tanga into a DDT, before a clothesline into the corner looked to lead to a suplex.

Shingo only gets a two-count from that, as Tanga Loa returned with a Blue Thunder Bomb for a near-fall. A back body drop and a back suplex puts Shingo back in it, but he’s quickly met with an Exploder, as a clothesline and a powerbomb dropped the champion for another two-count. Shingo’s taken up as Tanga Loa almost spiked him with a powerslam off the top, before a sliding lariat from Shingo reset things. We’ve a superplex from Shingo next, but a spear cuts off Shingo’s Pumping Bomber, as Tanga then called for a running powerbomb, which Shingo ‘rana’s out of.

A Pumping Bomber finally puts Tanga down, but Shingo can’t make the cover, and we’re back to the trading of elbows… until Tanga snuck in with a headbutt. Shingo borrowed from Hirooki Goto’s playbook with a draping GTR, and then a Last of the Dragon gets the win as Tanga Loa put up more of a fight than expected – even if the result went the way of the formbook. ***½

G1 Climax 31 – Block A: Great-O-Khan vs. Kota Ibushi
Another first-time meeting here, and a loss for O-Khan would end his G1 tournament (and everyone below Tomohiro Ishii).

O-Khan takes Ibushi to the ropes from the initial exchanges, before O-Khan looked to ground the two-time G1 winner, only for Ibushi to counter with a cross armbar that instantly went into the ropes. More scrambling on the deck ends with O-Khan escaping into the ropes as the first five minutes passed without much incident. Both men try backfists, but it’s Ibushi’s that passes through as he looked for another cross armbar. Instead, O-Khan escapes and grabbed one of his own, before Ibushi got free and took things to the ropes. A strike exchange sees a lot of blocks as Ibushi instead goes for the legs, almost taking O-Khan through the ropes as the referee called for the break.

Finally O-Khan finds a way through with a takedown, grabbing a leglock in the process, before a head and arm choke led to O-Khan taking Ibushi down. He doesn’t immediately let go in the ropes though, so it was no surprise when O-Khan stayed on Ibushi on the mat… until Ibushi found a way in with a Figure Four. The ropes save O-Khan, who’s back with a Judo throw and a straight up right hand to KO Ibushi. Big Unit. A kick drops Ibushi for a two-count, before O-Khan tied up Ibushi and rolled him in for a calf slicer. Palm strikes seemed to wind Ibushi as he tried to break it up, and it’s clear where O-Khan’s going – to remove the wind from Ibushi’s sails.

After he took a clubbering in the corner, Ibushi rose up and returned the favour, leading to a Bomaye knee for a two-count, but O-Khan’s back with an ankle lock, which Ibushi countered with a Pele kick. O-Khan runs towards Ibushi, but eats nothing but Kota’s knee in return. An attempted Kamigoye misses, as O-Khan ends up blocking it with a claw… but he’s not long for this world as a Kamigoye laid out O-Khan, ending his G1 in the process as Kota climbed to top spot. O-Khan looked uncomfortable in those early exchanges, but once he was able to take control of proceedings it was the usual story, only for Ibushi to blitz his way through to the win – and put him in pole position to win the block again. ***¾

Your latest standings, as we’re hitting the home stretch: remember, block A dished out points up front after Naito’s withdrawal.

Block A
Kota Ibushi (6-2 / 12pts)
KENTA, Zack Sabre Jr, Shingo Takagi (5-2 / 10pts)
Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano (4-3 / 8pts)
Great-O-Khan (eliminated) (4-4 / 8pts)
Tanga Loa (eliminated), Yujiro Takahashi (eliminated) (2-5 / 4pts)
Tetsuya Naito (withdrew) (0-9 / 0pts)

Block B
Jeff Cobb, Kazuchika Okada (6-0 / 12pts)
EVIL (5-1 / 10pts)
Hiroshi Tanahashi (eliminated) (3-3 / 6pts)
Hirooki Goto (eliminated), SANADA (eliminated), Taichi (eliminated), YOSHI-HASHI (eliminated) (2-4 / 4pts)
Chase Owens (eliminated), Tama Tonga (eliminated) (1-5 / 2pts)

The G1’s taking Sunday and Monday off… so we’ll be back on Tuesday from the Xebio Arena in Sendai, as Jeff Cobb looks to keep his perfect run alive against Hiroshi Tanahashi in block B. Save for that speed bump at the start of the second half, this felt like the closest this G1 tour has gotten to the heights that people expect modern G1s to reach.