Our regular New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS TV reviewer Damon McDonald wasn’t available this week so I offered to fill in because why not? There’s not an hour of wrestling on TV (save for maybe NXT) that’s as good as NJPW on AXS. Sure, they are cheating in a sense that they are showing some of the greatest matches in wrestling over the last few years but that’s not fair. NJPW on AXS is a great hour of television because the production. It’s top-notch all the way from the pre-match promos (translated in English, finally giving us insights into what’s being said) as well as without a doubt the top commentary team in pro wrestling (Mauro Ranallo and Josh Barnett). I have no doubt that even if they showed lackluster matches or at least just “good” matches, it would still be one of the best hours of television.
Tonight’s episode focuses on the Wrestle Kingdom 8 main event between Intercontinental Champion Shinsuke Nakamura and Hiroshi Tanahashi. Our original review of the event and match can be found here: http://www.voicesofwrestling.com/2014/01/04/new-japan-pro-wrestling-wrestle-kingdom-8-review/
If you’re new to NJPW or don’t recall this match was a big deal. Not only because it was two of New Japan’s biggest stars over the last decade battling in the main event. Instead, it was what was on the line: the Intercontinental Championship. As Damon discussed at length last week, New Japan had reservations about Kazuchika Okada/Tetsuya Naito being able to handle the main event spot. Yeah, it was for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship but would fans react well to Okada/Naito headlining about Nakamura/Tanahashi.
New Japan found out quickly when a fan poll showed overwhelming support for Nakamura/Tanahashi as the headline. It doesn’t need to be said that this was completely unprecedented. Thankfully, Ranallo and Barnett hit this point home throughout the hour making sure you knew just how big of a deal this was.
Ranallo and Barnett discussed the history of the belt and more importantly, how it got to this main event level. The easy answer is Shinsuke Nakamura. He took the IC Belt literally from the doldrums to the main event on the biggest show of the year.
Like Damon does with his reviews, I’m going to avoid recapping much of the match. Either you’ve seen it or you should go see it, it’s a year old so I’m not giving you a run-down. Instead, I’ll focus on the announce team, the narratives they put across as well as the ever-important post-match translated promos where we finally get an idea of what these guys are saying and what they are trying to get across.
If you’re racking your brain trying to remember this match, well, you remember the entrances. This was Shinsuke Nakamura’s famous Michael Jackson-esque entrance with the bevy of exotic dancers. Not to be completely outdone, Hiroshi Tanahashi had his theme performed by Megadeath guitarist Marty Friedman. You can bet Tanahashi air-guitared his way to the ring on this night.
As mentioned, Ranallo/Barnett set the stage not only for how important of a spot this was for the IC Championship but also the Tokyo Dome lineage for both Tanahashi and Nakamura (11 matches apiece coming in). We also get a great nugget from Ranallo who points out that Tanahashi only has one loss all-time in Wrestle Kingdom events. That one loss? Shinsuke Nakamura.
The match was all about vicious offense from both men. Nakamura focused on the ribs of Tanahashi with a series of knee strikes to the gut while Tanahashi worked over the leg of Nakamuara, presumably reducing the effect of the Boma Ye finishing move. The finish was Tanahashi hit a High Fly Flow to Nakamura who was sitting up. This grounded Nakamura and gave Tanahashi the chance to get to the top and hit another High Fly Flow and win the Intercontinental Championship.
Joe Lanza originally gave this match ****½ and while I don’t recall my thoughts at the time, I’d have a hard time going that high on re-watch. Was it really good? Absolutely? Was it nearly 5* good? In my mind, no. I’d be comfortable with **** for this, maybe as low as ***¾ but honestly, who cares? This was a big moment and was a beautiful way to end the Wrestle Kingdom 8 show.
Post-match, we cut to Shinsuke Nakamura in the backstage area talking about his defeat:
“Hiroshi Tanahashi…he was a super exciting opponent. The Intercontinental Championship which I held on to and evolved, it changed history. It went out on incredibly bright light today. I tried to shine the light but I was actually blind sighted by it.
Everyone is hoping for new things, they’re looking for something that’s beyond ordinary. Even today a preconceived idea was shattered. Today is the day a new era starts.”
Back to the ring, new IC champ Tanahashi has a mic:
“To the fans who come all the up to the third floor, I’m glad I kept you believing in my way of wrestling. Thank you!
I’ll continue to energize the wrestling industry so you guys follow me — Thank you very much!”
Ranallo and Barnett sell the incredible amount of damage Tanahashi took as he falls to the mat from exhaustion:
“He is a champion but he has been in a fight tonight! When that adrenaline runs off, he’s going to be feeling it.”
Tanahashi yells Marty a few times, you guess it, Marty Friedman is back out, guitar in hand. He proceeds to shred as Tanahashi continues air-guitaring in the ring and eventually making his way to the entrance ramp where Marty is at:
“My last words for today. Everyone in the Tokyo Dome, I LOVE YOU!”
This was a cool moment — as Tanahashi said “I LOVE YOU” and the entire Tokyo Dome audience joined him. I love seeing the type of relationship Tanahashi has with the audience.
We wrap up with an interview segment featuring Tanahashi talking a little about the match but more about his relationship with Nakamura as well as his faith in wrestling.
“I never lost faith in wrestling, I always had it.”
“Nakamura is a wrestler I admire. This IC championship was a starting point, it started from zero and came all the way to be held at the Tokyo Dome and I thank Nakamura for that… It’s not like I followed his footsteps but we both kept believing in wrestling.”