When AXS TV announced the line-up of matches they would be broadcasting, Friday night’s airing of the 2013 G1 Final between Tetsuya Naito and Hiroshi Tanahashi stood out to me and was quickly logged in my calendar. Not only was this match a classic — you can read our review here — but there was a certain behind-the-curtain element that I had to see (and hear) with the English commentary.
You see, this was the match that began the fall-from-grace for Tetsuya Naito. The match itself was a classic, but it was in Tanahashi’s book where Hiroshi went out of his way to thumb his nose at Naito’s post-match interview. Many believe it was this moment that casted doubt in New Japan’s eyes as to the future of Naito as a top guy. The English translation of Tanahashi’s book is provided by M.I.A puro-merch supplier Yottsume.
Fans’ expectation for Naito has been rising recently. The fans’ expectation of “This guy will do something (beyond our imagination)!” is important for a wrestler to go to the next level. And yet, Naito himself always expresses negative thoughts in his promos.
For instance, when he won the 2013 G1 Climax, his first words were “I was thinking that you might not remember me-”. This line was unnecessary. Everyone in the venue was informed of his injury and anxiety in the pre-match promo video. But he starts out with self-denial. May be some female fans would feel for Naito, but if he’s going for the top, I think he should make his statement more clear-cut and stronger.
Safe to say, Hiroshi-san wasn’t a fan of the post match interview. Regardless, we open the show with Naito in studio speaking about the G1 Finals match-up.
“It was physically really tough. I was hurt all over. When I heard I was going into the finals I was relieved and I wanted to get some rest before the finals. I felt like taking my costume off and relax in a bath before the main event – the championship finals.
When I heard I was matched up with Tanahashi…personally, he is a very special wrestler to me because I was a fan of his. I actually transferred to heavyweight (division) because I wanted to follow Tanahashi’s footsteps. I would never say this to his face but he is the wrestler I admire most. Now that I’m becoming busy with the promotion and all, I know that you have to train properly even when you are busy. He cares about his diet and he takes care of his condition. It makes me realize how professional he is.
Because I’ve admired him for a long time, I’ve always said that it is my duty to bring him down. He’d be my most favorable opponent to win the championship. I knew that I’d be facing a tough opponent because it is the finals. I know that he’s tough. It is evident from the status. But again, I was super excited when I got in the ring with him.”
Mauro Ranallo and Josh Barnett open the broadcast by getting everyone up to speed on how Tetsuya Naito made it to the finals. A real good job here from Ranallo as he makes mention of Naito’s knee injuries and the struggle that was the 2013 G1. Josh, being Josh, makes sure he gets in another stinker of a joke.
“Naito wants to make this his coming out night. Ohhhh. <awkward pause>”
I get it! A pun! ‘Cause homosexuals come out of like a closet or something? Right, Josh?! They probably trip over their coats coming out of a closet?! Thankfully, Ranallo doesn’t take the bait, bulldozes forward and, thankfully, this is the last of Josh “The Jokeman” Barnett. In fact, for the remainder of the broadcast, Barnett delivers what I feel is his best color commentary yet. He shines that brightly tonight.
That is not to say that Ranallo falls behind because, aside from the second Takahashi vs. Okada broadcast, Ranallo performs at his highest level as well. The small annoyances that have plagued him in recent broadcasts seemed to fade and he was able to maintain a perfect balance between informing, educating and entertaining his viewing audience. It had almost become a joke as to Ranallo’s Random Pro Wrestling Name Generator name-dropping ( for the record, I had Akira Maeda), but on this show he sprinkled them in instead of blasting us over the head with them. Sure, we had a Ricky Steamboat and Volk Han mention but they fit. He wasn’t shoehorning them in. They fit like a glove.
After a brief commercial break, Barnett seemed to really find his groove taking over the play-by-play. Here he explained the chain wrestling, counter holds and the painful leg lock submissions. Josh went into great detail as to why these moves hurt, what Hiroshi could do to make them hurt more, and how Naito could reverse these holds. Barnett hit a home run in just thirty seconds. More please.
It didn’t stop there as one of the more enjoyable elements Ranallo and Barnett brought was a change in their broadcasting pace. This show started without the adrenaline-fueled call that we are so used to hearing from these two. The pace was a little slower and their call matched what was going on in the ring. The action was deliberate and the announcing matched that pace – so much so that Ranallo and Barnett spent a decent amount of time putting over the fact that Tanahashi and Naito were bruised, battered, and exhausted leading up to the finals. Outstanding job. More please.
Another highlight was midway through the match where Tanahashi has Naito wrapped up in a variation of a figure-four leg lock. As Naito struggles to get to the ropes, Tanahashi takes full advantage of the five count from Red Shoes. Ranallo, channeling his inner Lance Russell, gives a bit of a scolding to the “heel-ish” Hiroshi. It was subtle but it was perfect.
“Naito desperately makes it to the ropes… oh, COME ON. Tanahashi has to break the hold!”
This is not to say that the energy and the passion that we all know and love from Ranallo took a vacation. During the slap exchange midway through the match, Ranallo fired up as well and began to find his higher gears. He built his call of the match and his pace perfectly. It was in-sync with the build and pace of the match. While Naito and Tanahashi worked their magic, Ranallo and Barnett were there to complement the match. Tanahashi’s High Fly Flow was a thing of beauty and so was Ranallo’s choice of words used to describe the action. It might seem silly, but the words he used perfectly described one of the most outstanding High Fly Flows Tanahasi has ever delivered. More please!
“We’ve seen him do this on other occasions. He has a wounded Naito…A High Fly Flow wiping out Naito!!”
It was announcing like this, littered through out this entire classic match, that made this a much watch episode. Less was more and, by God, Ranallo’s call was a thing of beauty. The elbow strike spot with both guys hammering each other and Naito’s “swinging for the fences” hand strikes were fantastic. The call was equal to the task. Naito’s miss of the Stardust Press and Ranallo’s call were fantastic. Hell, for some reason, Red Shoes was even more awesome during this broadcast. All the things that went wrong with the Ibushi vs. Nakamura call were washed away during this match. More PLEASE!
In what may be a series highlight, Naito has a Koji Clutch locked onto Tanahashi. As Naito applies more pressure, Josh questions if Naito has enough energy to really lock it in.
“I don’t know. Do you think he has the energy to really put the crank on this…?”
Ranallo, in a Joe Lanza-style stand-up-out-of-your-chair explosion, yells back.
“LOOK AT TANAHASHI! It looks like he is out!”
God Damn! MORE PLEASE!
Tanahashi hits the Styles Clash then climbs the ropes for a High Fly Flow. Ranallo thinks it is over but Hiroshi climbs the ropes again for another HFF and Ranallo’s mind almost explodes.
“WHAT IS HE DOING?!? I think his adrenaline is getting the best of him… and it does! He went to the well once to often. Major mistake from Tanahashi!!”
The finish? The call of the Stardust Press and a pinfall on Tanahashi? It is exactly as you’d expect. Energy, passion, excitement, surprise all wrapped up in a near perfect pro wrestling call. One of the best I have ever heard and when you add the element of surprise and excitement on Naito’s face you have yourself a five-star pro wrestling moment. All of my Friday nights should be this good.
After the match, Tanahashi is gasping for air as he tries to address the media in his post match presser.
“I was close. I was so close. It was a great stage and a great honor. But it is all right. I’m not tired at all.”
Naito, on the other hand, is in the ring ready to collect some trophies. I am not certain who the younger gentleman was who handed over the G1 Trophy, but man he was into it. Little did he know this was the beginning of the downward spiral for Naito. Here is where Naito gave his infamous post-match speech that helped to pull the rug out from his rise to the top of New Japan.
“When I took time off from the ring, I thought that everyone would forget about me. I knew nobody would talk about me and you’d all watch New Japan Pro Wrestling as usual. I didn’t trust my fans enough. Even after coming back I was still shaky. I went through many injuries and showed my fans disappointing matches. But even so, I received lots of support each and every match. Seriously, thank you. My worries of these last few months are completely gone. This has been a great moment.”
An emotional Naito is joined in the post-match presser by Bushi, Honma, and Yuji Nagata.
“I don’t know what to say. It was tough. I couldn’t wrestle in my way so it was painful. This may sound cliche but I think my fans supported me greatly. I want to thank all the fans here and the rest of them who gave me power. There is one more thing. Tanahashi…no, Mr. Tanahashi… I’m glad I was able to wrestle you in the finals. I’m proud to have won the championship, defeating you.”
From there, we close the show with Naito in studio.
“I was relieved when the G1 Climax ended. I gave my all these last 11 days. I was worried about my knee throughout the G1. I’m glad I fought until the end. I was relieved more than anything. The support from the fans really helped me. My right knee was in pain as he kept attacking me. I felt crushed. I was supported by the fans’ voices which made me fight until the end. It felt really good. I wanted to stand there forever. I wanted to wrestle forever and ever. After seeing that view, I wanted to see it again and even a greater view. I’ll never forget about that view I saw. Being able to wrestle in a fully packed stadium and win…I was able to learn a lot from that. It was a really tough match and a tough series but winning the championship elevated my rank as a wrestler. From that, I’m now able to see a whole different view as well as new obstacles I must overcome. I joined NJPW to rise to the very top. I overcame the injury on my right knee so I could be the star of this league. I think this was an unforgettable summer for me.”
Outstanding. One of the best hours of professional wrestling I have had the pleasure of watching. The match (that we knew was excellent) was made even better. The team of Ranallo and Barnett are magic when they do what they do best — calling a professional wrestling match as a sport. Five stars. You must watch this broadcast.
I’d love to know what you thought. Feel free to follow me @mcdonaldmichael.