Coming into Friday’s New Japan Pro Wrestling broadcast on AXS-TV, one could argue that the lineup scheduled to air was quite possibly the least attractive of the season. The second of three shows from a loaded Dominion 2014 event, this show cherry-picked two matches that might have been the least memorable.
On paper, the idea of an IWGP Tag Title defense from Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows against Hiroshi Takahashi and Togi Makabe and a NWA Tag Title match with Tencozy vs. Davey Boy Smith Jr. and Lance Archer wasn’t going to have wrestling fans flocking to their televisions to tune in. This is not to say the matches were bad. In fact, our own Joe Lanza found the Tencozy/DBS & Archer match to be one of their better matches…although Mr. Lanza had mixed feelings with the IWGP title match. Those reviews aside, it did feel like a show that didn’t have a big-time blow-away match in the lineup.
The NWA Tag Title match opened the show and Mauro Ranallo does his best to provide a quick history lesson on the NWA tag titles. I was hoping to hear a random Dennis Coralluzzo reference but sadly Ranallo failed me. Maybe next time, Mauro? That as it may, this match was different in many ways from that of a “normal” AXS-TV match. Ranallo, usually the lead voice, seemed to take a back seat during this match and at times allowed Josh Barnett to drive the bus. This is not to say that Barnett took over as the head announcer on the match, but during many moments, Barnett seemed to do a lot more of the play-by-play and called more in-ring action than I can ever recall. It felt like a test run to allow Barnett more time on the mic to iron out his delivery. Look, there were times where you could almost hear the gears grinding as Barnett struggled to finish a thought, but overall he did well. When given more room, he did as well as any number of current play-by-play announcers on NXT and TNA shows.
With Barnett smoothing out his broadcasting wrinkles, Ranallo gave his shot on a comedy call and hit a truly laugh-out-loud home run. As the first segment came to break, Archer and DBS delivered a big-splash/big leg drop combo that had Ranallo belt out “a leg drop of doom…but it only amounts for a count of two…BROTHER!” The delivery was so over-the-top Hogan that I spent the next 10 minutes cleaning up the iced tea I had spit all over my MacBook. Where should I send the bill, Mauro?
Coming back from break, Ranallo switched gears and gave maybe the most memorable call of the show. With Archer climbing the ropes, Mauro was shocked to see the big guy ready himself for a moonsault.
“Wait a minute. Archer isn’t going to do what I think he is going to try to do? Archer has gone all the way to the…MOOOONSAULT!! Taking a page out of Tenzan’s playbook! Will this be it?!”
I sorta wished it was. The match itself was a good, not great, and upon second watch I think four stars is very generous. The English play-by-play was solid and had its fair share of decent moments but it’s nowhere near the level of previous weeks. If you’d like to track Josh Barnett’s progress as a broadcaster, by all means give it a watch, but otherwise you’re not going to hear me complain if you skip it.
Returning from commercial break, Togi Makabe is in studio giving us his take on the IWGP tag team challenge and his jaw injury that played a big factor in the match. This interview, while not over-the-top, was special because it went deeper into the wrestling code of working through an injury. It was almost troublesome to hear Makable explain his somewhat nonchalant views of working with pain and injuries and the sobering fact that in this profession it is almost expected. To do otherwise, and take time off, would put “his spot” on the line.
“That’s professional wrestling. I’ll say it again. That’s professional wrestling. I’ll say it to the camera. That’s wrestling. You get injured with wrestling. You collide on purpose so of course you get hurt but you can’t say ‘I’m taking off because I am hurt’. No one will say ‘Okay, try harder next time’. Taking time off due to injury is like disappearing. So that is how I feel. It is from when I was young starting at the bottom being taught that way. I’ll fight with a minor injury. I kept going because I could. That’s how I am.”
He then gave his thoughts on the Bullet Club’s Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson.
“If you ask me they are specialists. They are good at everything. They can also take hits as if they were made of jelly. They’ll absorb and take in many moves but in the end they’ll make the best move on you. It is hard to tell if your moves affect them but you just have to keep attacking them. Everything from their technique, their speed and their ability to sneak up on you, they are specialists, no doubt.”
The match itself centered around Makabe’s broken jaw and the Bullet Club working over Tanahashi who had to carry the load of ring work with Togi selling his injury. There wasn’t anything bad and the ring work was solid, but again, there was nothing that stood out as something worth a second viewing if you watched the original broadcast in 2014. The question was if Ranallo and Barnett could take a match like this (good, not great ) and make it worth watching again. Sadly, while there wasn’t anything wrong, nothing was so great that you should go out of your way to watch a second time. Yes, the energy is there. Yes, they are still the best announcing team in the business. They did everything right and there wasn’t a time where I questioned what was being delivered. It is just that a bar has been set and that bar is very, very high. It could be seen as unfair but good isn’t good enough when you set a standard so high.
After the match,Togi was back in studio to give his final thoughts on the loss and the fact that, in his mind, taking time off to heal was out of the question.
“It’s good tactics to attack the opponent’s weakness but your jaw is where you bite down, right? It hurts but what else could I do? I could’ve taken time off from the match but my place would be gone. At a match, I’ll try to win with a big impact. I only think about fighting and winning for more glory. I don’t care if anyone else misses their matches. I just can’t miss a match. It is not because I’m too busy or anything like that. I just don’t want to. How can I? I just can’t miss a match. I am known as a professional wrestler. A broken jaw? How can I miss a match from just a broken jaw? That’s just how I feel.”
Final Thoughts: I am unwilling to say that this individual broadcast is a skip this week. The show is solid. It is a solid professional wrestling show but I cannot sit here and tell you to drop everything and watch as I did with the previous two shows. The show is third on a short list of three this season and will more than likely be on the bottom half of rated shows this season. It is kind of like sleeping with the ugliest Victoria Secret model. You are still ahead of the game but you kinda know that the real good stuff is not lying on the pillow next to you.