Photos (c): New Japan Pro Wrestling/TV Asahi

New Japan Pro Wrestling is back with this weeks edition on AXS-TV and, on paper, it looks like a good one. The show kicks off with the first of three consecutive AXS-TV broadcasts covering the Dominion event held on June 21,2014 in Osaka and the opening match on tonight’s show is a doozy – The Time Splitters going up against The Young Bucks. When pro wrestling “experts” talk about hooking people in with a quick paced, high flying opening match this is exactly what they had in mind. At the time, our own Joe Lanza loved the match (****1/2) and Meltzer was just a quarter snowflake away from giving this match his highest praise of five stars. I mention this because the AXS-TV version is edited for time ( around 11 minutes of a 17 minute match is broadcasted ) so that might leave a little bit on the table for those watching this match for the first time.

If you remember from last season, it seemed Josh Barnett had a particular interest in pointing out that The Young Bucks looked, in fact, young. This time Barnett looked to highlight Matt and Nick’s skill and the fact they were defending the championships.

“The Time Splitters are going to have a size and strength advantage with The Young Bucks. As much as I like to rag on them (The Bucks), I have seen their talent up close and personal and I’ve seen in in the New Japan Pro Wrestling ring. These guys are a serious threat and they are the one’s walking in with the gold.”

Sadly, things went back to “Wacky Barnett” soon after. Mauro Ranallo, who did in outstanding job with this match, helped deliver a great call when KUSHIDA delivered a Thesz-like Press to Jackson on the floor. Barnett however took all the steam and juice out of that rather quickly with his first stink-a-roo joke of the season. You knew it was a matter of time, folks.

Its one thing to be cocky. Its another thing to have it in your face.

Lucky for us that was it with the comedy. The second half of the match was brilliant from the match itself to both Ranallo and Barnett doing what they do best – calling a professional wrestling match as a sport with The Young Buck’s Indytaker, Buckle Bomb and 450 splash spot being a highlights. Just an outstanding last five minutes with all parts of the engine working together to give a near perfect professional wrestling experience.

KUSHIDA gives his take with the media after the match.

“I’m glad I got to tag with Alex Shelley again. Thank You. From next year on Super Junior won’t be talked about only when the match is on. I won’t let anyone talk lightly of Super Junior. Super Junior isn’t a supporting role.”

We come back from break with Minoru Suzuki & Takashi Iizuka taking on Kazushi Sakuraba & Toru Yano. Yep, this match. I had trouble finding any reviews giving this anything above two stars and you will miss nothing if you skip this match. The one slightly interesting factor for me was how Ranallo and Barnett would handle the “shoot / MMA” elements when Sakuraba and Suzuki were working together. It was fine but nothing that would make me recommend watching this match ever again. Ranallo and Barnett aren’t miracle workers and can’t be expected to save this shite (Suzuki aside).

After this “classic”, Suzuki addresses the media in the post-match presser.

“Sorry. I just think Sakuraba and I are on completely different gears. I couldn’t keep up. I was going on low or first gear, maybe even first or second gear,  but he was going on top gear from the start. But you know what? He can’t keep up in that mini-car of his. I’m the fastest in the business. I’m the fastest in history. Nobody can get past me. Who surprised me in the past? Tell me who it was. There was none, right? Be grateful to be in the same ring with me. Grovel before me. Lick my shoes, Kazushi Sakuraba. Underlings like you shouldn’t show up in front of my presence. I’ll fight you again if you want.”

At the time, the Kota Ibushi vs. Ricochet match-up at Dominion was all the buzz. Both wrestlers had really started to hit their strides in the business with Ibushi’s IWGP Junior Title win, his work in DDT, and Ricochet being mentioned and discussed as a potential Wrestler of the Year at the halfway point of the year. In hindsight, the match had no possible way of matching the expectations many had placed on it, but it still delivered in a massive way. Four star matches don’t grow on trees and when you find a match that blasts past that four star mark it is a very special thing.

The show returns from commercial break and Kota Ibushi is in studio discussing his match with Ricochet.

“Ricochet was very different when I saw him in Super Jr. His body was bigger and he had a lot more power. His aerial moves were the only impression I had of him, to be honest, but his kicks are powerful and I felt that his style was similar to mine. His moves are extraordinary as you can see. So I was a bit threatened. He brought back memories of when I won the championship a few years back. I had momentum at the time, just as Ricochet does now. So, I felt rather scared than feeling excited before the match that day.

Yes, people were saying they had high hopes for me and kept telling me that. I was imagining what the match would be like with fear in my mind. Sometimes, I felt things have gone too far. I wasn’t able to…I couldn’t enjoy it at first.”

It is difficult, at times, to constantly and consistently heap praise upon the New Japan AXS-TV shows and I find myself nitpicking and mentioning the smallest things that rub me the wrong way just to counter-balance to man-crush I have on the majority of these shows. The last thing I want is to bore a reader into submission with these reviews, but I have to remain true and honest with the words I put to print.

The match, already a high-four-star classic, was made even better by Ranallo and Barnett. They did it again and the greatness of these shows is becoming common place. Ranallo was on fire the entire match and there were just too many “moments” to type out…but rest assured the spot where Ricochet lands on his feet after a springboard hurricanrana by Ibushi was something you’ll want to search out. The missed Phoenix Splash? Also, another great moment and call. The near falls? You’ll be on the edge of your sofa. I really wish I could find something wrong with this match. I can not. Five Stars.

After, Kota Ibushi met with the media to discuss the match.

“I knew Ricochet was good but he was truly amazing.  Especially his power.  His aerial moves were good of course, but so were his technique.  I learned a lot about him.  

I was most surprised with his resilience and power.  Now I know that his resilience to begin with is abnormal.  I thought I had resilience but his was on a whole different level.  He’s like an animal.  Ricochet was amazing.  It was a short while but I took many hits.  I took three more than I expected.  I was afraid during the match.  But when I was done I was glad I fought him.  I realized I had fun, afterwards.”

Then, in studio, Ibushi talks about how he came up with the Phoenix Plex.

“My finishing attack was the Phoenix Plex, because I can’t compete with Ricochet’s aerial moves.  And the Phoenix Plex can’t be dodged.  That’s the only attack I have that can’t be dodged.  That’s why I chose the Phoenix Plex. I think it was “Weekly Pro Wrestling”, but I saw it in a magazine.  It was Kenta Kobashi’s Jackknife Powerbomb.  After he did a Powerbomb, he did a Jackknife hold.  It was a photo so it looked like he did a Jackknife hold.  But next to the photo, it said the name of the attack was Powerbomb.  It said it was a Jackknife style, but with a different name.  So I assume he lifted with a Powerbomb and threw backwards.  I thought that was an actual attack for about a year.  I used this on a couple of people. “

Final Thoughts: So, in one hour , you have a clipped 11 minute four-plus star tag match with two of the best tag teams in the world, a pretty blah tag match that goes by quick, and a five star match between two of the best in the world, English commentary that is second to none and all in beautiful HD. I defy anyone who claims to enjoy professional wrestling to thumbs down this hour because if they do they either don’t really like it or they need their head examined. This was pro wrestling perfection delivered in a beautiful box. You might never leave the house on Friday nights again.