With Tetsuya Naito out of block A, LIJ’s sole representative in the block in Shingo Takagi takes on Zack Sabre Jr. in today’s main event.

Quick Results
Tanga Loa pinned Yuji Nagata in 15:35 (***)
G1 Climax 31 – Block A: Great-O-Khan pinned Toru Yano in 11:32 (**½)
G1 Climax 31 – Block A: KENTA submitted Yujiro Takahashi in 15:49 (**¼)
G1 Climax 31 – Block A: Kota Ibushi pinned Tomohiro Ishii in 17:42 (***½)
G1 Climax 31 – Block A: Zack Sabre Jr. submitted Shingo Takagi in 27:19 (****¼)

We’re in Tokyo’s Ota City General Gymnasium for this, and we’re dealing with a five-match card – no Young Lion squash this time around… but we do have one non-tournament match, after Tetsuya Naito dropped out of the tournament with a knee injury. Kevin Kelly and Chris Charlton are on the call…

Tanga Loa vs. Yuji Nagata
With Naito out, his would-be opponents aren’t getting the night off. Tonight, it’s Yuji Nagata who steps into the breach as Tanga Loa’s opponent.

Of course, Nagata retired from competing in the G1 some four years earlier, and we’ve a prior meeting between these two with Nagata winning that in the 2017 New Japan Cup. Big year, was 2017 for ol’ Yuji. We start with Nagata grounding Tanga Loa, but he ends up on the defensive as Tanga rolled over for a pinning attempt, before we reset. A drop toe hold gave Nagata a way in with an ankle lock, but it’s instantly broken in the ropes, and Tanga quickly takes things outside so he could charge Nagata into the edge of the ring.

Back inside, a suplex and a senton atomico gets Tanga Loa a two-count, before Nagata came back with the stuttering dropkick that started the fight back. Tanga blocks an Exploder, but can’t avoid a butterfly suplex, before a Complete Shot from Tanga Loa put him on the deck, ahead of the OJK crossface… but Nagata rolls free and grabs another ankle lock. This time, Tanga Loa doesn’t instantly make it to the ropes, and ends up getting caught in the Nagata Lock I – the reverse Figure Four. Nagata keeps Tanga away from the ropes as he leaned back on the hold, but Tanga’s able to drag himself to force the rope break. Nagata stays on Tanga with a series of kicks in the ropes, but Tanga heads onto the apron and hangs him up in the ropes.

A spear and a powerslam follow as Tanga Loa nearly nicks the win, but Nagata’s back with more kicks. An enziguiri looked to have Tanga rocked, but he’s right back with a clothesline and Apeshit for the win in a decent opener – but one that was just beginning to outstay its welcome. That 2021 MO. ***

G1 Climax 31 – Block A: Great-O-Khan vs. Toru Yano
Yano beat O-Khan in this year’s New Japan Cup… and cost O-Khan a bit of his braided hair to boot, as these two have some rather pointed history.

Yano’s brought the hair he took from O-Khan earlier this year, and that just winds up O-Khan, who jumps Yano in the aisle. Whips into the railings leaves Yano on his knees, before one’s finally reversed. That gave Yano time to try and tie O-Khan’s hair in the rails again, but O-Khan fought free and choked Yano with the previously-cut hair. O-Khan sits on Yano in the corner, then pulled him down into a head-and-arm choke… but Yano gets to the ropes to break the hold. A bodyslam keeps Yano down for a two-count, before he’s fights back from O-Khan forcing him to kiss the boot.

Yano busts out his shtick in the ropes, then bops O-Khan on the head, before we get a Benny Hill chase. The spray blinds O-Khan briefly, who then reversed a whip to send Yano into the rails, before he revealed he’d smuggled some handcuffs under his entrance gear. He tries to cuff Yano to the rails, but the New Japan S&M hour continues as Yano grabs the cuffs, then ran into the ring to take some Mongolian chops. An inverted atomic drop stuns O-Khan, as Yano goes to take off a turnbuckle pad, but O-Khan grabs it and swiped the ref with it. Yano regains the pad and took O-Khan outside with it, before Yano went for some more handcuffs, tying one end to the rails while hoping to have the other on O-Khan’s wrist.

Of course that’s blocked as O-Khan pulls a switcheroo and cuffs Yano to the rails, but of course Yano has the key with him. O-Khan spots that and disarms Yano, but Yano manages to dismantle the security barrier and return to the ring just in time! Yano rushes in with flash pins, getting a bunch of two-counts, before a Sheep Killer and the Eliminator got the win. This was full of the same shtick you’d expect in a Yano match, but points for finding a new way to get free of the cuffs. The safe word is Ebrietas. **½

O-Khan tries to make Yano kiss the boot, but Yano punches him low and powders to the back…

G1 Climax 31 – Block A: Yujiro Takahashi vs. KENTA
Yujiro comes in with more points than he got last year, thanks to Naito’s forfeit… and we’ve our first Bullet Club vs. House of Torture match, for those trivia buffs in the future.

KENTA looks for a too-sweet from Pieter at the bell, but she backs off, as did Yujiro as KENTA seemingly didn’t learn? Yujiro grabs a side headlock, then charges down KENTA, who then rolled to the outside to try and neutralise things. Except Yujiro follows and whipped KENTA into the rails, before he stopped to do the Rick Rude hip swivel in front of Pieter. KENTA gets back up and hits a DDT on the floor, before he rolled Yujiro in at 19, rather than take the count-out. A kick to the back stings Yujiro, as a front facelock keeps things going low-and-slow. Yujiro tries to fight back, reversing a whip into the corner, then by sweeping KENTA’s leg ahead of a low dropkick.

Yujiro chops KENTA into the ropes, then hit a boot and a clothesline for a near-fall, with a Fisherman buster keeping us on track too. A DDT gives KENTA an opening, which he capitalises on with a flying Kane clothesline for a near-fall, before a STF took us past the ten-minute mark. It’s broken in the ropes, but KENTA throws in a draping DDT for a two-count, following up with a hesitation dropkick in the corner…

KENTA goes up top looking for a stomp, but Yujiro rolls away, only to run into a Kitchen sink knee. A double stomp off the top nearly puts Yujiro away, but a Go 2 Sleep’s countered into a DDT, before Yujiro pulls KENTA into an Incolle slam for a near-fall. A Miami Shine yields a similar result, before KENTA jack-knifes his way out of a Pimp Juice for a near-fall. Yujiro tries to nick it with a roll-up, but KENTA’s right back with a Busaiku knee before Yujiro slipped out of a Go 2 Sleep. He pushes KENTA towards the ref, but a low blow’s blocked as KENTA counters into a Game Over for the submission. This was okay picking up into the finishing stretch, but the pace in those first ten minutes was damn near interminable – and I doubt it’s all because I’ve still got Omega/Danielson on my mind from overnight! **¼

Post-match, Yujiro wants a too sweet… and gets it. All’s well that ends well, I guess?

G1 Climax 31 – Block A: Tomohiro Ishii vs. Kota Ibushi
After that first half, let’s get things rocking with this! Four prior meetings in singles matches, but Ibushi’s won the last three – ominously, all of those being in the G1. Of course, there’s still questions over Ibushi’s conditioning at the moment, so let’s see if Ishii can take the initiative.

We open with Ishii throwing chops, before an elbow sank Ibushi to the mat. More chops keep Ibushi in the ropes, before Ibushi looked to fight out of the corner… and got slapped. Ibushi hits back, taking Ishii down, while a ‘rana took Ishii to the outside, with a plancha keeping him down there. Back inside, a slam and a springboard moonsault gets Ibushi a two-count, before a search for a suplex sees Ishii almost dump Ibushi on his dome from a Saito suplex. Ishii POUNCES Ibushi into the corner ahead of a stalling superplex for a two-count, before both men missed a load of moves ahead of a low enziguiri from Ibushi. Some not-so-playful kicks from Ibushi on the mat rile up Ishii into fighting back, but a German suplex keeps Ibushi ahead, as did an overhand chop and a clothesline that left both men on the deck.

Ibushi looks to get back up first to hit a Kamigoye, but Ishii rises with a headbutt instead before he hauled himself up in the corner. Absorbing strikes, Ishii swats down Ibushi, then hit a German suplex… before charging down Ibushi after noticing he’d rolled free. Another lariat dumps Ibushi for a near-fall. Ishii clotheslines away a Kamigoye attempt, but Ibushi keeps swinging, missing a knee strike before grabbing the wrists. Another Kamigoye’s blocked with a headbutt, but eventually Ibushi hits it and that’s enough to get the win. I don’t know whether it’s the English feed maintaining it’s wonky audio mix, but a lot of the in-ring noise didn’t bleed through here, to the point where it took me out of the match. Scrappy, but enjoyable stuff as Ibushi’s opening day loss feels like a forgotten memory thanks to the forfeit. ***½

G1 Climax 31 – Block A: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Shingo Takagi
Sadly, Zack didn’t bring out a “I broke Naito’s knee” t-shirt… and this is only a second-time-ever meeting as we get a lot of talk of Oberhausen as English commentary brings up a sub-ten minute splattering as part of wXw’s 16 Carat Gold tournament in 2009.

Shingo and Sabre head into the ropes early on, but Zack rolls away from an attempted chop and tripped Shingo to the mat. An attempted pin is quickly kicked out of, as was Sabre’s bow-and-arrow hold, before an intermittently-applied cravat was pushed out of, with Shingo eventually finding a way through with a shoulder block to take Sabre outside. Running back in, Sabre’s flung with an armdrag, before a side headlock was pushed out of, as Sabre’s attempt at an armdrag was easily blocked. Repeated elbow drops see Sabre sucker in Shingo as a neck twist and a low dropkick took the champion outside, but Sabre brings Shingo back into the ring as uppercuts took things into the corner.

Sabre pulls Shingo back in a Japanese strangle hold, but it’s broken via the ropes as Sabre stays on him with a cravat. A slam attempt’s blocked as Sabre takes things to the mat, switching up with a Cobra Twist that Shingo threw his way out of ahead of a DDT to Sabre. In the corner, a clothesline splats Sabre, whose guillotine was thrown away as a Northern Lights suplex and a back senton led to a two-count as ZSJ at least lasted longer than he did in Oberhausen. A right hand knocks Sabre down, as did a chop, but Sabre slips out of a Fireman’s carry and ties up Shingo in the ropes with a Cobra Twist. Back inspire, Sabre looks to bar the arm, but Shingo rolls to the ropes, before he returned with a Dragon screw. A sliding lariat’s caught and turned into a twisting hammerlock from Sabre, before the pair looked to trade strikes.

Sabre leaps into a noshigami, then got hung up in the ropes for a chop block to the knee. Quickly recovering, Sabre’s satellites around Shingo as he rolled in for a cross armbar, but Shingo powerbombs free, then rolled in with a nasty STF. Sabre gets to the ropes, but is dumped with a wheelbarrow German suplex seconds later, before he countered Made in Japan into a half-and-half suplex… only for Shingo to hit back with a German suplex seconds later. Sabre kicks away the arm of Shingo, but still eats a clothesline, then a sliding lariat, before a Made in Japan was rolled up on for a near-fall. Sabre’s Euro Clutch almost puts Shingo away, before he PK’d Shingo back to his feet, with the champion quickly returning fire with a clothesline.

On the top rope, Sabre grabs a hammerlock, then relents as he flew with a swinging DDT out of the corner. A Mistica’s next as the Clarky Cat double armbar ends with Shingo getting to the ropes. Arm breakers from Sabre are pushed away, but he’s able to get back with a cross armbar… only for Shingo to push free and return with a sliding punch. Out of nowhere, a Zack Driver nearly gets the win, before Sabre rattled off some Danielson elbows. Shingo doesn’t register them and pops up Sabre into a death valley driver, before some forearms knocked Sabre back down to the mat. Shingo manages to tie up Sabre and pull him into a Made in Japan for a near-fall, before a Pumping Bomber left both men laying.

The pace intensifies as we hit the final five minutes, with Sabre escaping a Last of the Dragon, sliding into a rear naked choke instead… but Shingo breaks it up, and has to defend another submission as Sabre transitioned into an arm triangle. Shingo tries to powerbomb his way free… but Zack clung onto the hold, and out of nowhere, Shingo taps! A long, but keenly fought main event as Sabre’s G1 sees him claim both LIJ scalps in his opening matches, claim some 16 Carat Gold revenge… and potentially claim a future IWGP title shot later in the year? ****

Remember, the block A standings now have points awarded in advance given Tetsuya Naito’s withdrawal…

Block A
Great-O-Khan (3-0 / 6pts)
Zack Sabre Jr (2-0 / 4pts)
Kota Ibushi, KENTA, Shingo Takagi, Yujiro Takahashi, Toru Yano (2-1 / 4pts)
Tanga Loa (1-1 / 2pts)
Tomohiro Ishii (1-2 / 2pts)
Tetsuya Naito (0-9 / 0pts) * Naito withdrew after one match due to injury; all opponents were awarded a win via forfeit

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

We’re back tomorrow – also in Ota City – as the B block’s second round gives us Okada vs. EVIL in the top spot… This wasn’t a “fall flat on your face” show, but a definite stumble in terms of quality – and a show really for the cherry pickers. Avoid the first half, and perhaps just only swing by for the main event as that Ishii/Ibushi match didn’t really seem to land as block A is having to reshuffle plans thanks to Naito’s forfeitures.