New Japan Pro Wrestling returns to AXS TV with a Bullet Club-heavy edition featuring the Kazuchika Okada vs. Prince Devitt match from the July 20, 2013 Akita Municipal Gymnasium event (part of the 2013 Kizuna Road tour).
We open the show with highlights of the eight man tag – Hiroshi Tanahashi, Captain New Japan, Togi Makabe, and Jushin Liger going against The Bullet Club’s team of Tama Tonga, Karl Anderson, Bad Luck Fale and El Terrible. Mauro Ranallo puts over the New Japan team calling Liger a man who “really helped put Junior Heavyweights on the map” and Tanahashi with “you can call him the Japanese John Cena if you want to… in terms of popularity.” Captain New Japan, wearing what could best be described as the remains of a 1970’s couch, got a less than stellar welcome to the show.
“…that is not Captain America, that is Captain New Japan.”
“I like to call him Captain Velour. It kinda looks like a mobster’s track suit.”
“One of these things is not like the other. I wonder if he is starstruck by his partners.”
This match was edited down to around five minutes, but unlike last week, Ranallo addressed the jump in the action much better. Simple lines like “Now we pick up the action later in the match…” helps tremendously. I understand that it removes the aura of sitting at ringside but the opening graphics already spilled the beans on this being a show from 2013.
The running theme of crapping on Captain New Japan continued as Ranallo and Barnett had some laughs at the NJPW whipping boy’s expense. After a Bullet Club beat down, Barnett wondered “maybe they wanted to rip up his (CNJ) outfit for themselves and add some gold chains” and after a kick out Barnett adds “Captain Santa Claus kicked out here and is trying to figure out what corner he is in”. Ok, that was actually funny.
Tanahashi pinned El Terrible with the High Fly Flow. What aired was fun. Light. Easy to digest. Some comedy. Names of the wrestlers were names many would recognize. It was a solid way to open the show.
After the break, the show returns with Kazuchika Okada in studio discussing his match with Prince Devitt and the Bullet Club later on the show.
“Well, I think it went well. I got the booing that I was expecting. CHAOS hasn’t been booed the same way so I think that a pretty good heel group has emerged. They broke the rules when the referee wasn’t watching. If it was just Devitt, the match would have ended normally. I was almost glad the others intervened the battle. I personally enjoyed that.”
Okada then went on to describe what it felt like to take on the top of the Junior Heavyweights.
“People say I’m quick but a Jr. Heavyweight Champion is on a whole different level. I felt that I needed to wrestle in my rhythm.”
A lot of the praise that Ranallo has received in his commentary centers on his ability to draw on wrestling history and sprinkle a match with facts and historic footnotes to help connect the dots for the viewer. Again, Ranallo shined here as he brought up the 90’s Shinya Hashimoto / Jushin Liger match being a non-title match even though at the time, Liger was the most decorated Junior Champion in NJPW history. It helped give this match extra importance – it doesn’t happen every day that a Junior challenges for the IWGP Heavyweight title and what Devitt is about to do is significant. Add the simple fact that Liger was just in the previous match , and his team defeated the Bullet Club, is just another simple, small detail that helped tie everything up for the viewer. God I love this show.
That is not to say that there weren’t segments of audio that I wished hit the editing floor. In a heated moment, 3/4 of the way through a solid four-star match, Okada finally wraps on the Red Ink. With Okada’s fingers interlocked across Devitt’s face, Ranallo asks Barnett to talk about why this hold is so important.
“Well, I think it is because he (Okada) doesn’t use toilet paper when he is in the bathroom. He’s got his hands wrapped right across his mouth.”
Come on Josh. I love humor. I love crass, dark humor. I love sophomoric humor. I love a good poop joke. This was not the time or place and killed the build. To make matters worse you had to sit and wallow with that line because 10 seconds later they cut to a commercial. Meh.
That aside, it was another gem by Ranallo and Barnett. With this being an early Bullet Club match, you knew you’d see a ton of interference and Ranallo was there to add his disgust and anger at the idea of the rule breaking. Heels being heels and Ranallo did a great job pointing out that this isn’t normally the case in New Japan. It was different from other shows because you had that added “American-style” aspect involved and Ranallo was able to switch up his call a bit and added that traditional-American pro wrestling announcing in getting over the cheating heels. Visions of Jim Ross 1989-90 WCW danced in my head.
After the usual BC interference and Gedo getting himself involved, Okada hits the Rainmaker on Devitt for the 1-2-3 and the scene cuts to Devitt in the post match presser.
“A wise man once said ‘When you find the devil you had better kill him quickly’. Well Okada, you may have beaten me today but you have not killed the real rock-n-rolla.”
Okada is next in a post-match celebration and is interviewed in ring.
“It seemed like a tough match. What do you think?”
“Well, getting supported by so many fans tonight I feel…well, just as usual.”
“In this series, it seemed you let Bullet Club do whatever they wanted. Any comments on Prince Devitt?”
“Facing four guys at once was hard but you know how I won? Who made this happen?”
The crowd goes nuts chatting for Gedo.
“Gedo, thanks man!”
“What went in your mind facing a Jr. Champion?”
“I wanted to show him that I still had more up my sleeve and that I am on a different level.”
“Will you give a message to the fans that came today?”
“I defended the IWGP today. I’ll say this as G1 Champion ‘Good luck bringing me down’. If you can’t I’ll retain it for another year.”
It is back to Okada and Gedo in the post-match presser.
“I can’t thank you enough for retaliating.”
“There is no need to say anything further.”
“Right. I was about to cry.”
“You’re hiding your face with your bandana.”
“Yeah, but I’m actually crying.”
“Are those tears of victory?”
“Damn right. Wasn’t that victory for me?”
“It was for the fans who came today.”
“So,it wasn’t for me?? Hey!” *laughing*
“You’re right. It was for you.”
“That’s what I thought.”
Okada is asked about the upcoming G1.
“I think fans’ expectations are getting higher and higher. What do you have to say about G1?”
“Don’t expect too much from me. Tanahashi, Makabe, and Nakamura – they all have to try harder to beat me down.”
We close the show with Okada in studio.
“Looking back on my match with Prince Devitt, the intervention was certainly there. I could see he didn’t have real opponents at the Jr. level. He liked to go quick, so I tried my best to take time. He was much stronger than I thought. I bet they got over themselves after forming the Bullet Club. They did whatever they wanted. It seemed like they were really enjoying each match. Dewitt attempted a Tope Con on me, so I felt why not do it too. I wanted to show that a heavyweight wrestler can do it too. They intervened a lot but Gedo helped me out so it was tough but it led to my victory. “
Another great show is in the books, but this one had something extra. It felt more like an awesome American pro wrestling show as opposed to the awesome Japanese pro wrestling shows in the previous weeks. The basic ingredients were all in the recipe but some added spice was definitely added to give this show a little bit of a different feel making this a much watch episode.