Over the past five years, New Japan Pro Wrestling has had more than a few defining moments that have helped develop this current run of success. In 2013, their annual G1 Climax tournament was top-of-the-class when it came to these defining moments and specifically the August 4th show from Osaka would go down as one of the greatest shows ever. If you have yet to see the entire show (or for that matter the complete 2013 G1) please do yourself a favor and watch. Go out of your way to do so. You can read our reviews of this show (as well as the entire 2013 G1), right here. So, it came to much delight that pieces of this show would construct tonight’s New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS TV with the classic Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Kota Ibushi V1.0 leading the charge as tonight’s main event. Nakamura, Ibushi, Ranallo & Barnett. What a great way to spend a Friday night, right?
I feel I need to give a full disclaimer as to my pro wrestling tastes. Usually, with a few exceptions, I am not a huge fan of comedy in pro wrestling. In the ring, on commentary and play-by-play, as a character – comedy in pro wrestling really isn’t my thing. That is not to say that comedy doesn’t have its place. Jim Cornette 1980’s interviews with Jim Crockett are funny. Buddy Landel and Bill Dundee taking over the Memphis studios was funny. Kurt Angle driving a truck, hosing down the ring with milk and one-upping Steve Austin’s famous bit was funny. The situation has to be right. The character needs to be right. You can’t just chuck “funny” any old place in pro wrestling. Trust me, this rant serves a purpose.
We open the show with highlights of the Karl Anderson vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan B Block G1 match up. Ranallo, in true Ranallo form, gives us a detailed introduction as to the history of the G1, the tournament format, and the importance of the annual event. Barnett, on the other hand seemed a step behind, speaking in generalities about Tenzen even though the two have had an in-ring history.
“I have had the pleasure of being in the ring with that individual and let me tell you he is one of the toughest around. He has been through various injuries but don’t count this guy out.”
Josh, we haven’t. The bell hasn’t rung yet. No one knows what injuries he may or may not have had. No one is counting anyone out. Moments later, Josh jumps into his bathroom humor bag-of-tricks when explaining Karl Anderson’s wrestling style.
“You’re never going to get a clean break (from Anderson). You’re not even going to get clean underwear out of a guy like Karl Anderson.”
He is no Louis C.K., but what Barnett does well is explain why holds hurt and the reasons why a wrestler does what he does. When Tenzan has Anderson in the Anaconda Vice, Barnett is perfect as he gives his feedback on how well the hold is applied and pointing out subtle things that sell the hold as being not only painful but also a finisher. If Barnett just stuck to this on color commentary, and tried not to be a funny guy, he would be so good. Sadly, as we will find out later in the show, he doesn’t take my advice.
After Karl Anderson gets the pin on Tenzen with a “out-of-nowhere” Stun Gun, and a commercial break, the show returns with the Davey Boy Smith Jr. and Satoshi Kojima match. This is where things start to slide off the rails a bit when it comes to the commentary. Ranallo is a student of the game and as we’ve addressed a million times here, loves to name-drop and weave familiar names to the casual viewer so that those watching at home can connect with the wrestlers that might be unfamiliar to them. This a good thing but here, in this match, Davey Boy Smith (The British Bulldog) is mentioned so often I began to think it was the Bulldog in the ring. Time and time again, we all heard about The British Bulldog. We heard about the Jr tournaments, we heard about getting stretched in Stu Hart’s basement, we heard about the Bulldog’s relationship with Bret Hart. We get it. Junior has historic pro wrestling bloodlines.
But the name dropping didn’t stop there as Rene Dupree, The Cobra, Jumbo Tsuruta, Bret Hart, Riki Choshu, Kenta Kobashi, all got a mention in this match. It’s almost like a drinking game at this point: what wrestler will Ranallo tie into this match? If he finds a way to tie in Satoru Sayama everyone takes a shot!
Guess what? We all drank.
An actual funny moment (that sounded 100% organic) was when DBS caught Kojima on the top rope and slammed him. Barnett’s tongue-tied delivery and Ranallo’s cover-up gave me a chuckle.
“…slowing down Kojima and giving Harry-err-Davey Boy Smith the opportunity to get that press slam.”
“It is a hairy situation for Kojima”
“Very hairy indeed!”
It is very hard to find fault with Ranallo’s play-by-play call of a pro wrestling match. The spot where DBS and Kojima traded forearm and elbow strikes was amazing as Ranallo made sure to mention “the sweat flying off the chest”. It is the filler and the background information where you feel like you are at an all-you-can eat buffet. The food is delicious but after the third plate how much prime rib and crab legs can one person eat? This was a real good match but , truth be told, I don’t know if the English commentary made me enjoy it any more than I originally did with the Japanese commentary.
So after a break, we are treated to an in-studio interview with Shinsuke Nakamura. In maybe the most interesting segment, Nakamura goes on to describe how driven he was to top the five star Tomohiro Ishii vs. Katsuyori Shibata match from earlier in the night. He also details why working with Ibushi is such a pleasure. Very interesting that this interview took place in 2013, months before the five-star rematch held earlier this year.
“I’d say my rival was Tomohiro Ishii who was in a different G1 block. The quality of his match and the way he pumped it up, was the most powerful at that point. I was on the watch for his next move. The Ishii vs. Shibata match was on my mind and I thought ‘Damn, they made it that exciting how could I top that?’ That’s what I thought not just for the audience but for myself too. As long as they made me the main act, there was a part of me thinking I could use Ibushi to show myself off. As for Ibushi, it’s a waste for him to be in the Jr. heavyweight (division) only. So him being a Jr-class wasn’t important. He showed potential in his techniques and reflexes. I strongly felt that. I tried him once in a tag, and I thought he was an interesting guy.
Ibushi had won a couple of Heavyweight matches before facing me but I thought there was more to him than that. If not, he’d just be boring. I guess I had high expectations. Within the Heavyweight matches I’ve fought, he’s an unusual type. His character is established. There’s no one like him. That is why he is interesting.”
If you are a visitor to this site, I feel very confident that you not only have watched this match before but that you enjoyed/loved/salivated over it it as well. It is required watching for anyone with even a slight interest in Japanese professional wrestling. Seeing what we all saw in January, this match helped set that table and began what we hope will be many more matches to come. It is one of those matches that you could watch multiple times and still pop for spots you knew were coming. It is one of my favorite matches of all time. I say this because I need you to understand the “rare-air” I hold this in. In my eyes it is five-plus stars and the English broadcast could only push it higher. So I believed.
I want to move to the middle of the match where Nakamura begins his taunting slaps and strikes to a beaten-up Ibushi. The drama has built and Nakamura is beginning to toy with Ibushi leading to Ibushi beginning to fight back. Two open-hand strikes stun Nakamura and it wakes Shinsuke up. He is going to kick Ibushi’s ass for even thinking about what he did. Nakamura delivers two hard knees and backs up Ibushi into the corner. It is forearm strike time and Nakamura lays them in knocking Ibushi to the mat. Right now, it is “classic” Nakamura with the “vibration” leg to the face and Shinsuke backs up and thrusts his midsection right into Ibushi’s face. It was violent and hard hitting. But that is not how Barnett saw it.
“ …he is taunting him. He is just rubbing it in. Literally, right there. He put his ‘mushroom helmet’ right in his forehead.”
When I watched the AXS TV show live I could not believe what I just heard. I had to rewind my DVR. I played it again. 4 times. I had my wife listen. Her exact words were “I think he said ‘mushroom helmet’ but that can’t be right’. If I am wrong I will issue a full-written apology, but if Josh Barnett used the term “mushroom helmet”, I am sorry but that is just garbage. Not because its a dirty word — I couldn’t care less about that — it is because within context of what was going on the comment was real lazy broadcasting. It was so inappropriate given the context of the match. It didn’t offend me because he referenced a penis. It angered me that Barnett couldn’t feel that a comment like this was so left-field for this match. It was a joke that bombed. A real stinker. And I hate to say it but it lost me for the remainder of the match.
Luckily, the post-match interviews made up ground and had me by the neck. This alone was amazing and seeing the English subtitles had me rocking. Kota Ibushi is spent and he can barely move lying face down in the press area. He is a dead man and can just about get the words out of his mouth.
“I apologize. I gave everything I had in me but I should say my opponent had more to spare. I couldn’t win. I gave it my everything. Absolutely my everything but I could not win. Setting the group aside, as an individual, I want to keep chasing Nakamura. Thank you.”
“What do you think of Nakamura after actually fighting him?”
“I thought he’s on a whole different level. I had fun.”
“Tell us about the scene where you completely lost it.”
“Losing it wasn’t any good. It was no good. I gave it my all but it wasn’t enough.”
“Do you want to get revenge even more now?”
“Of course I want revenge. This is not the end”
Shinsuke Nakamura is exhausted as well as he gives his post match presser.
“This is the 4th day of G1. Four matches in a row and it was just the right stimulation to wake me up. I can’t help asking for seconds. It’s no wonder my stomach sticks out. Ibushi, you have good stuff. Everyone admits you have potential but it is how you use your potential. The three qualities of a wrestler are balance, physique and heart. To me, that’s everything.”
Nakamura, dressed all in black, returns to the studio for his final words on the match.
“Looking back on the 2013 August Ibushi match, I have to say this. It was fun but also, how should I say, I had Ibushi right where I wanted him. He must have not thought this but I felt the danger of Ibushi’s keenness. I was in danger from time to time. It felt nostalgic. More like I could relate to his sense of rhythm. That might be a wrestling factor or Ibushi might have had that from the beginning. That was a fun aspect of the match for me. My greed for winning played a part in how Ibushi performed at the end. He wanted the same thing but his expectations must have grown too big.”
I feel the same way, Shinsuke. I figured it was a slam dunk that this show would be extra-amazing and the English commentary would take it to another level. This is the first time that I am disappointed in the AXS TV broadcast. The actual wrestling makes it a much watch…but if you are already a fan I would suggest keeping the memories alive and turn down the sound as you watch.