G1 Climax 31: The Good and The Bad.
It was a very different G1 Climax this time, with many ups but also lots of downs. It’s been an emotional rollercoaster ride. Although the G1 started with the usual bang that New Japan Pro Wrestling is known for, it sank to a middle period of insignificance and then barely rose for a few days that were utterly disappointing.
There were many highlights throughout the tournament, including a pair of MOTY contenders on the opening weekend and the incredible crusade by Zack Sabre Jr. at the end. The highlight of the tournament was Katsuyori Shibata’s return.
It couldn’t match the quality of its predecessors because it lacked the excitement that has punctuated recent G1s. Instead of a detailed play-by-play analysis of the tournament I will be focusing my thoughts on three categories: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
G1 Climax 31 offered some highlights and positives that gave NJPW at least some hope for the months ahead. The company has helped some of their starving stars, first and foremost.
You don’t need to look far for this – Zack Sabre Jr. or Jeff Cobb put on stunning G1 performances. Cobb’s Tour of the Islands saw him achieve a 8-1 record, which was the first time that he had ever reached 8-0 in G1 history. Although his perfect tournament was ended by Kazuchika Okada, eventual winner of B Block’s final match; the remarkable record Cobb compiled was proof that New Japan higher-ups have a lot faith in Cobb.
ZSJ was a scintillating performer in the opposing block. Every match featured the technical, submission-centric style of ZSJ. Shingo Takagi, also known as ‘The Dragon’, produced a MVP performance that was unlike any other. He had a number of outstanding encounters during the tournament, including against Tomohiro Ishii and Kota Ibushi Night 9.
The tournament was not the best part of the G1 but it did contain some great points. It was in the Budokan Hall, where “The Wrestler” Katsuyori Shibata shocked everyone by returning to in-ring competition with ZSJ. This was in detail and I will only mention it here because it was a great way to generate interest at the conclusion of a G1 which couldn’t do that by itself.
Cobb and ZSJ were the stars of the tournament, as well as wrestlers such Great O-Khan and YOSHI–HASHI. NJPW has positive direction in mind. There are still hope – with a roster like the one New Japan hosts, it is impossible – but the company must make changes in the future.
For me, the most negative aspect of G1 Climax 31, 31 is the outpouring of disappointment by the G1 in the NJPW fanbase. They opted for the safe option and booked Kota Ibushi in the fourth consecutive G1 Climax final. Ridiculous. It is absurd.
Although there were many exciting options before them, NJPW chose to take the least inspiring route. It’s like a manager choosing “park the bus”, ultradefence football, when their players can execute a modern, attacking style. This promises new excitement.
It looked as though the G1 would pale in comparison to previous years. However, the line-up that didn’t impress wasn’t the end. Although the G1 has high expectations, even though it wasn’t possible to reach them before Yujiro Takahashi & Kota Ibushi kicked off the tournament on September 18, it is still a negative point.
NJPW faced a difficult battle this year, but it speaks volumes about the tournament’s quality. A returning Shibata is a head and shoulders above any G1 competition.
This is a “cursed G1”, as some have said, and I agree. It’s been a bumpy ride, from the Tetsuya Nairo injury on the opening night, which certainly broke the booked, to the Kota Ibushi injuries that marred Okada’s final victory. These injuries prevented the tournament from reaching its potential height.
Ibushi will be out of action for two months due to what NJPW has confirmed as “right posterior dislocation of shoulder and joint lip damage.” However, Naito, the leader of L.I.J., has not been granted a return day from the left knee injury he sustained.
Injuries happen, and there’s no way to prevent them. While the promotion’s poor booking is not to be blamed, it is understandable that New Japan’s plans for the opening night were canceled by Naito’s injury. This doesn’t excuse many of the tournament’s odd choices.
Overall, it has not been a G1 comparable to the top-echelons of the past years. It wasn’t even close, but there were some highlights, including the very impressive opening weekend, great matches throughout, and the shock of Katsuyori Schibata’s unexpected return, which lit up the otherwise dull closing night.
It has been difficult to see the positives despite the overall disappointment. G1 has not delivered match-quality at the high level of recent years nor has it provided an interesting close (which it should have done given all the organic directions it was given). G1 Climax 31 is going to be remembered for this – an underachieving tournament that offered little glimpses of what NJPW can achieve.