NJPW on AXS
March 6, 2015
New Japan Pro Wrestling is back on AXS TV with two matches from New Japan’s Kings of Pro Wrestling PPV from October 2013. The King of Pro Wrestling show was headlined by Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi’s battle over the IWGP heavyweight title but tonight we had two other matches make the AXS-TV broadcast – Yujiro Takahashi looked to take Tetsuya Naito’s NEVER Title and Shinsuke Nakamura defended his Intercontinental Title vs. NOAH’s Naomichi Marufuji in a classic four-star match.
Yujiro Takahashi and Tetsuya Naito kick off the show with an edited match that was good but not great. Takahashi strolls to ringside accompanied by two young ladies that would settle right in the Rich Kraetsch / Damon McDonald wheelhouse. With Takahashi I fully expect, embrace, and demand Josh “The Jokeman” Barnett to make an appearance. It is the perfect circumstance and Josh and Mauro don’t disappoint. As the attractive valets/strippers/escorts bump and grind in the ring, Ranallo delivers a joke that may win the prize for line of the night.
“Takahashi defeated Tanaka to capture the NEVER Openweight Championship. The title was originally envisioned as the championship for the younger stars of NJPW to fight over and it hasn’t exactly turned out that way…not that you are paying attention to anything that I am saying right now.”
He might be right about that.
Anywho, Ranallo gives us the back story on the NEVER Title, the spilt up of the Takahashi and Naito tag team, Naito’s knee injury, as well as reminding us about last week’s episode where Hiroshi Tanahashi worked over that injured knee. I love these call backs from week-to-week and it is these small things that help keep us stay invested each Friday night. It also helped set the tone for the match itself as Takahashi went for Naito’s knee right out of the gate. Ranallo went into his comfort zone as the match moved along, name dropping Brian Pillman, Wataru Inoue, MVP, and even Joe Stecher got a shout-out from Josh Barnett. None of them seemed forced and the fit well in telling the story of the Naito/Takahashi break-up and the action in the ring.
It must be very difficult for Ranallo and Barnett to call clipped matches in a studio. Truth be told they are usually my least favorite segments and seem a bit disjointed. I prefer the shows when they feature just one match, but that is of no fault of AXS-TV, Ranallo, or Barnett. They are doing a voiceover on a show that was produced years ago. It is a tough spot for them and they do make the most of it. The majority of this match made the cut, but there were edits to save on time. That being said, the call of this match lacked the usual fire from Ranallo and Barnett couldn’t make up the slack. The call wasn’t bad by any stretch but there were times when there wasn’t the usual fire from Ranallo. Maybe they were just letting the match breathe? Look, the match itself wasn’t a five-star classic and what aired was good ( Takahashi’s suplexes in particular were really nice) , but Ranallo and Barnett just couldn’t weave their magic to make it worth a re-watch.
After Naito retained the NEVER Title, he addressed the media on his post-match press conference. For me, I really look forward to seeing Naito’s interviews because, for the first time, English speaking fans finally get a true taste as to why Naito has fallen from NJPW grace. He comes across whiny and begging for the fan’s love. I’ve never listened to a wrestler be so…so..passive-aggressive before. Does anyone else feel this?
“I’ve won steadily up until now but the more I win, the more tasks I see for myself. I wanted to pump up the crowd more. It wasn’t a big game, but I wanted to stir it up. I feel that I had been indulged by the fans. I’m the type of wrestler who always just tries my best so everyone would cheer me on like I’m a little kid. I finally feel that I’m a rank higher. Some might finally criticize me for my performance. I might end here or maybe bounce back. My life as a wrestler depends on the outcome of that. I might be under adversity, but I will definitely bounce back and become the star of New Japan Pro Wrestling.”
Back from break, and we are in studio with Shinsuke Nakamura as he sets the table for his match with NOAH’s Naomichi Marufuji. During this interview, clips of the 2012 Tokyo Dome match with Yano vs. Marufiji & Shiozaki are shown. Truth be told, I could watch an hour of just translated Nakamura interviews. He doesn’t disappoint.
“Even though Marufuji is a junior wrestler he fights equally as strong, if not stronger, than a heavyweight wrestler. He can wrestle professionally as well as do tricky moves. He has the imagination that no other wrestlers have. Concerning the match at Tokyo Dome, I think we both felt it was going to be an interesting match.”
At this point a clip of Marufuji and Nakamura stare down is shown. They’re looking right into each other’s eyes.
“That moment, I asked him who is whiter,Yano or Shiozaki.”
“I’m serious. *laughter* Please don’t cut this out. I was actually asking him that.”
“We formed a tag at NOAH in August 2013 and we had KENTA and Sugiura as opponents who were doing well. I thought it’d be more interesting to match up with them. I said that after the match but I didn’t think he would show up in Kobe after the match.”
Clips are shown of Marufiji in the ring at Kobe challenging Nakamura.
“I came up on this ring for just one reason. I want Shinsuke Nakamura’s head.”
“I thought ‘How interesting’. It was taken lightly in a good way. For Marufuji and for me. How should I put it? We had taken away the borders of heavyweight and the junior divisions. I don’t think it mattered to us that we belonged to different groups. In a way it was a way to get away from the traditional way. I think the match showed just that. Regardless of the belt, he was one of the opponents I wanted to face. I was pumped up the moment he appeared in front of me.”
Ranallo and Barnett are back to call the action they introduced the viewing audience to NOAH’s Naomichi Marufuji. The GHC titles, his shooting background, his training with Satoru Sayama…it is all touched upon and they did a good job with the limited time they had before the bell rang. During Nakamura’s entrance, Josh and Ranallo were strong, highlighting the fact that Nakamura has established the Intercontinental Title as a major championship right behind the IWGP crown. They even had time to take a dig at a certain “sports-entertainment” brand in the United States.
“Belts are really only worth as much as the people who hold them and the people who are defending them.”
“Unlike in other organizations, the championship means everything. Whether it is the Heavyweight Title, the Intercontinental Title, the Junior Heavyweight Title, the Tag Team Championship, or the NEVER Title, the championship is that brass ring.”
The first half of the match was classic Ranallo and Barnett. Both fed off of each other, let the other breathe and take control of the play-by-play, and did a great job of calling the in-ring action. Barnett scored top marks during the mat work segments, and more importantly, Ranallo knew when to back off and let Barnett do his thing. How refreshing is it to hear a professional broadcaster know when to shut-up and let his partner shine? I cannot stress enough how well these two work together when they call a pro wrestling match as a sport. Look, I know I am at times overly critical of Barnett’s spats of ill-timed humor, but lets all be honest here. No one is touching these two for Announcers Of The Year. Etch the award now because no team is even close and they are joining rare company with some of the greatest pro wrestling announcing teams of all time. Yes, they aren’t calling action live. Yes, they don’t have to get over angles or performers, or long term storylines. Yes, the have the benefit of calling some of the greatest matches of all time…but no other announcing team can touch them.
The closing stretch was red hot. As Nakamura and Marufuji began to pick up the pace so did Ranallo and Barnett. That’s not an easy thing to do considering they were coming back from a commercial break and they are in a studio doing a voice over. I cannot stress just how difficult that is to do and do well. Not more than a minute after a commercial break, Nakamura connects with a double Boma Ye and gets the fall on Marufuji. To be able to jump out of a commercial and go right to calling a finish is more than difficult but Ranallo was up to the task.
After the match, Marufuji answers the Japanese media’s questions.
“I lost. That’s all there is to it. The only thing I can say is the puzzle between Nakamura and I are not complete just yet. Just tell him that.”
In the ring, Nakamura celebrates in front of the New Japan faithful until Minoru Suzuki hits the ring to challenge Nakamura.
“Hey…You want more, don’t you? You guys here at Ryogkoku, you want more too, right? I’ll get you pumped up. Wrestle me wearing that belt. It’s exciting, huh? I’ll get you pumped up even more. You…If you lose, I’ll have you join the Suzuki Army. Isn’t that exciting? Hey Nakamura and New Japan – this isn’t a request. It’s a way to get you excited. You know the answer, don’t you? What are you going to do? Hey guys, don’t you want to see Minoru Suzuki face Shinsuke Nakamura? You can take all the time you want. “
“Sorry. I wasn’t listening. Just kidding! What should I do? Can I make the decision? It sounds good. It’s exciting. It’s exciting, isn’t it? Hey Suzuki Army and Minoru Suzuki! Of course…Yeah-O!”
Nakamura then holds court in the press area after the match.
“Its an exciting turn of events. With all of my respect, I guess I’ll listen to NOAH’s Marufuji.”
“About that Marafuji, he says that the puzzle between him and you isn’t complete yet.”
“Right? I totally agree. Wouldn’t he be excited to face me? To be continued. I’m counting on him. But my next prey is pretty big. He’s not just Minoru Suzuki. Should I quit CHAOS and join Suzuki Army? What should I do? I’ve never been asked that. Well I said it. I said I’ll do it. Damn right. I know, Suzuki. I know that you’ve survived in this industry and you’ve survived with your arrogance. But the real reason is that you’re a ‘Yeah-O’”.
The show closes with Nakamura in studio.
“I’ve fought against many wrestlers in the past but it was very refreshing to fight Marufuji. In the midst of grabbing each other, punching, kicking, and wrestling I was excited to see what would happen next. In that single match, a title defending match, the result turned out to be what it is but i don’t know how it would turn out the next time I face him. My own wrestling style was brought out. I think he is a fantastic wrestler but I can’t praise everything he does. It got more fun as the match went on. He was easy, though. That’s why it was so fun for me. *laughter*
This was a real solid show. There was really nothing that I would change nor was there anything I would have wished to be edited. I would say it was close to – just a hair behind – last week’s show, but not quite on par with some of the best AXS-TV shows reviewed including the Okada / Tanahashi edition. Should you watch? Yes, especially if you never saw the main event before. If you have, I wouldn’t say the English broadcast is enough to have you drop everything to see, but the show is without question a “thumbs-up.”