After an off-week, New Japan Pro Wrestling returned to AXSTV with a new broadcast Friday night featuring the 2013 Dominion main event: Kazuchika Okada vs. Togi Makabe. The match itself was widely praised ( ****1/2 from Wrestling Observer) and helped strengthen Okada’s reputation as one of the best wrestlers on the planet.

The show opened with Prince Devitt, riding the shoulders of Bad Luck Fale, against Hiroshi Tanahashi. So you might be thinking ‘Ok, Devitt vs.Tanahashi? How could this not be fantastic’? Well, for starters, the match is joined in progress around 13 minutes in and begins moments before Tanahashi’s High Fly Flow to the floor on Devitt and Fale. Two replays are shown and then the sloppy edit takes you to a spot where both Takahashi and Devitt are in the ring. It was really awkward editing. But it gets worse.

Devitt tries for a Bloody Sunday but Tanahashi reverses it into a full nelson. Devitt and Tanahashi trade strikes until Devitt finally hits a Pele´ kick. The camera shot is of Tanahashi selling the kick, but then the next frame is of both guys back on their feet trying to position themselves to gain an advantage until Devitt hits a reverse Bloody Sunday for a two count. Again,this was really poorly edited. This brought us to the finish with Fale’s interference leading to Devitt pinning Tanahashi after a Bloody Sunday. Of a sixteen minute match, less than five minutes actually aired. Disappointing as the match is a real good one.

Back from break and Kazuchika Okada is in studio discussing what led to his match with Togi Makabe (with misspelled graphics for Togi as “Tougi”)

“I had beaten Togi Makabe at G1 and ever since I came back I hadn’t fought him much in the IWGP. My impression was that he wasn’t one of the top wrestlers. Well, the image of him being powerful is all I have. I had a debt back from the Minoru Suzuki match, so after that was paid, I just faced whoever came out. I mean it was a title match after all.”

Makabe is shown in the ring challenging Okada at the 2013 show in Fukuoka.

“Hey you! Mr. Big Shot Champion. Your name won’t be known to the world. The world won’t hear you. I will personally show you what real pro wrestling is all about.”

Back to Okada in studio.

“I doubt that’s real pro wrestling. I am a genuine pro wrestler so I think my wrestling is the real deal. So, I can’t tell if Togi Makabe’s pro wrestling is real or not.”

Ranallo, in his first real misstep in my eyes, made a point to downplay the challenge Togi was bringing and built the show around Makable making an impossible run at glory. During the entire broadcast, Makabe was portrayed as a wrestler that was a step slower, a few years past his prime, and was gunning for one last crack at the top. He was a brawler that was outclassed by Okada’s skill. It was obvious that Ranallo and Barnett needed a way to sell the match and they chose the route of the aging veteran making a last push at his twilight.

“A lot of people aren’t sure as to the type of challenge that Togi Makabe will be giving him (Okada). He is a veteran and he has tasted gold before but in Okada he is facing a man who is at the top of his game. A man who is at the top of the pro wrestling mountain – not just here in Japan but the entire world.”

Ranallo wasn’t finished there as he had more to say about Makabe’s shot at winning the IWGP title right before the match went to commercial.

“He (Makabe) has a count of twenty to make it back in the ring to continue his pursuit of a second title reign – in what would be a major shock if he succeeds against the younger, faster and dare I say more talented Kazuchika Okada.”

It was this, along with Ranallo pounding away with familiar talking points, that the shine may have faded a tad when it comes to the near perfect announcing. Once again Ranallo brought up the failed Okada run in TNA, Big Van Vader being the first “gaijin” champion, and the mention of Brock Lesnar winning the IWGP title in the past. These were all points made numerous times on previous broadcasts and it seemed a bit tired and to hear these facts once again. The other major annoyance has become Ranallo’s pronunciation of names and the fact that he randomly changes the way he pronounces these names. During the majority of the match, Ranallo pronounced Togi’s name as “Mak-a-bay” but later he changes it to “Ma-KA-bay”. Pick one and stick with it.

Now things weren’t entirely disappointing with the announcement by Ranallo and Barnett. In fact, there were many outstanding moments. The sequence where Makabe laid in massive clotheslines on Okada was outstanding as Ranallo got fired up with the brutal nature of Makabe’s shots. His call of Okada’s dropkick had me on the edge of my chair.

“Okada…how is able to take these shots? The champion showing his resolve! Wow! There is only so much any human being can take…Makabe comes off the ropes…DROPKICK!”

…and then they went to commercial break? Again, these shows were made years ago but some of these commercial breaks happen at the absolute worst time.

Luckily, Ranallo and Barnett found their groove after this commercial and they started to turn on the jets. Ranallo makes slower moments exciting and exciting moments over-the-top. Near falls are amazing to listen to and he hit it out of the park once again with this match. This is his wheelhouse and right now there is no one better in the business in calling a professional wrestling match. Even lines like “a powerslam on the outside…and that has got to jack the back and realign the spine” are delivered in a way that only he could get away with it. Imagine, JBL using that line as the cringe-worthy chills run down your neck. Ranallo finds a way to make it work. Sadly, the same couldn’t be said for Barnett as many of his attempts to add wit and humor fell flat and seemed awkward at best. It’s a minor negative, but I wish Josh would hold back on the “silly” and stick with what has worked so well in the previous shows.

As has been well documented before, Okada hits the Rainmaker and scores the pin on Makabe. He is shown after the match addressing the media.

“A close match? You should ask him. You’d know if you saw. Well, I lost the match. It’s too bad. I’ll just try again. That’s how I’ve survived. That bastard Okada, I won’t accept him but that’s because others accept him. Until I crush him, I won’t accept him. Why would I? That’ll never happen. So in the end, I’ll kick him out with my King Kong Knee Drop? That’s not a possibility, that’s why I keep on chasing. What’s wrong with that? My neck took it hard, it’s no good. It’s too bad. Everyone has their baggage. Such a brisk comment came out after a match that must mean I’m partially satisfied. I think I am more satisfied than unsatisfied. Satisfaction isn’t the right word. The dumb audience must’ve understood a little about me by now. Right? You’re hopeless if you don’t notice unless I tell you. I’ll keep doing my own wrestling. I’ll brainwash the audience.”

The show moves to Gedo and Okada inside the ring.

“Hey Osaka! Did you see what real pro wrestling means? Hey Makabe! I won’t say you’re not real but it’s just he’s on a different level, damn it.”

With that, out comes Prince Devitt along with the Bullet Club setting up Devitt’s challenge to Okada. The five minute-edited highlight win over Tanahashi helped set the table for the challenge.

“I am the best of the Super Junior 2013. I am the IWGP Junior champion and I just beat Tanahashi and next is you.”

Okada responds.

“Please tell Devitt in English. Devitt, if you want this belt there is one condition. Let’s have you bet that IWGP Junior belt too. However, as you all know I am in the heavyweight class so I can’t challenge for that belt…but…Gedo will fight for your junior belt. if you accept that condition I’ll accept your challenge.

After the in-ring challenge, the show goes back to Okada in the studio for his thoughts on the match with Makabe.

“Looking back at winning the match in 2013, there were so many people watching and the view from the ring was superb. Each of his punches were heavy and some really rough ones. The table piledriver did some damage but all-in-all that had no effect on me. That day Prince Devitt challenged me, he beat Tanahashi. It wasn’t often I fought with a Junior class so it was refreshing and I found it to be interesting. It’s not like I could challenge him so I thought Gedo could do it. I lost to Makabe in the 2013 G1 because I underestimated him but since I have defeated him twice in a row. I’ll easily win the next time I face him. If he wants the belt again I am ready to take him on.”

Overall, the broadcast was very good as far as modern pro wrestling broadcasts but not as good the previous week’s show ( but the bar is quite high for that show). Of the four shows shown on AXSTV, this was my least favorite but that is certainly not to say it is a bad show. It is a very good show and you should watch it but if I had to rank them all, this would get my last place vote.

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