Photos: TV Asahi/New Japan Pro Wrestling

New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS-TV continued its three-part broadcast of the 2014 Dominion iPPV with a main event that, at the time, had the New Japan fan base scratching its heads. Bad Luck Fale, the monster bodyguard of the Bullet Club, had his sights on Shinsuke Nakamura’s Intercontinental Title and there were many that questioned if Fale was the “right guy” to even be in this match let alone carry the company’s secondary title. It is safe to say that Fale, as a worker, isn’t even in the better half of the Bullet Club, let alone the entire New Japan roster. Nakamura, who was having an outstanding in-ring run in 2014, probably got the most he could out of Fale with a performance that the Observer thought was good and VOW felt was a tad bit better.

The broadcast opened with a really great tag match: Yuji Nagata & Tomoaki Honma vs. Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata. Mauro Ranallo and Josh Barnett set the stage putting over Shibata’s MMA training, Nagata’s ring savvy, Goto’s general toughness, and Honma’s deathmatch experience. Hell, Ranallo even tossed in an Akira Maeda name drop for good measure when speaking about Shibata’s “rebel attitude”. That rebel attitude took a back seat to just a plain-old ass kicking attitude when Shibata laid in a stiff punch that knocked Honma into outer-space. As usual, Ranallo was right there to make the moment that much better.

“Ohhh! A right cross across the jaw! I think he knocked him out! “

Now, this is not to say that Mauro did all of the heavy lifting here. In fact, the back-and-forth between Barnett and Ranallo really, really shined in this match. A perfect example of the growth between the two can be heard when Shibata opted to tag Goto instead of going for the cover after the knock-out punch. Goto pounded on Honma some more and then turned his attention to Nagata on the ring apron. Ranallo questioned the move but Josh was there to help defend Goto’s decision to taunt the legend.

“A forearm for Nagata, but he’s saying ‘Wait a minute. You might be able to do that to the underdog, but you treat me with respect!’”.

“True enough”, said Barnett “but there is also the added benefit of trying to get in the mind of your opponents. You try to get them flustered and angry instead of being able to concentrate on making a save or being able to give some valuable advice while Honma is stuck in this half-Boston crab.”

Coming back from the commercial break and the forearms and slaps that dominated the second half of this match has Ranallo all juiced up. No one is better than Ranallo in getting you fired up watching big spots play out in front of you. He is cut from the same cloth as any great SPORTS broadcaster and he knows how to sell big moments at the right time. Ranallo doesn’t channel Jim Ross or Gordon Solie — he channels Mike Emrick or Al Michaels or Dick Stockton. Yes, he is a “wrestling guy” but his broadcasting chops scream traditional sports and that is what makes him so good. It is matches like this where Ranallo can, and will at times, chuck in a witty jab at Honma being the “Charlie Brown” of NJPW and still maintain that sports feel. It is pro wrestling after all.

We return from the commercial with a bit of a downer — in studio is Bad Luck Fale. Fale is speaking English so there isn’t much to translate or transcribe. He isn’t a good interview and is, in fact, very laid back and I had to look at my television to make sure he wasn’t dozing off. Think of a more well-spoken Jimmy Snuka and that is Fale. He speaks slow, deliberate and quietly, very much like his in-ring style. He chatted for around two minutes touching on how bad he wanted to beat Nakamura and win the title. Yawn.

Things got a lot more interesting as Barnett and Ranallo introduced Fale and Shinsuke Nakamura. The conversation turned to Nakamura and how his current persona was a far cry from when he first started in New Japan. It was an exchange that was refreshing in that they both made valid points and it almost felt like a conversation you might have with your friends, in the back yard , with a couple of cold ones. People talk about Japanese pro wrestling at parties, right?

“It took time for the fans to accept him, believe it or not. Once he adopted the swag he has become one of the all-time favorite.

“Well, the results spoke for themselves. Nakamura went out there and he posted the kind of wins and performances that demand respect.”

“You know, one of the reasons the fans didn’t immediately take to him was, and Josh you know this all too well with being a two sport star with MMA and pro wrestling, a lot of New Japan fandom back-in-the-day weren’t too impressed when he flirted with MMA and they rejected the fact that their stars were fed to the wolves like Mirko-Cro-Cop or even yourself.”

“This is so…but I fought on the side of New Japan. I never took off after any of these guys. You are right in that there was a division and also Nakamura was fresh out of the gate. I think people felt like he was too young and too green to get the push he was getting.”

“So, are you saying you are more puroresu than MMA?”

“I am a professional wrestler no matter what ring I step into.”

The match and call itself? It was a tad slow in getting started with Fale getting the heel heat on Nakamura. The call was solid and as usual the announcing was spot-on, but as we all know, the match itself was not something that you’d scramble to watch again. Sadly, the English commentary couldn’t push it over the edge into a must-watch-match. The last two or three minutes were as good as anything you’ll see this week but, for me, the opening tag match was so much more enjoyable and I think most would agree. Five minutes of Bullet Club post match silliness, with a terrible Karl Anderson & AJ Styles in-ring and presser promo, made this a struggle to get through at the end.

We close this week with an English speaking Bad Luck Fale, in studio, talking about how he had no connection and no emotion tied into the championship before he won it. He says it was the next day that he felt the weight of being a champion in New Japan. His 2015 is focused on his dream of the IWGP championship and that was his next goal. The interview was as bland as it sounds.

Final Thoughts: A solid thumbs-in-the-middle is what I’ll give this week’s show. The segments that usually delivered — the in-studio interviews  did not. Main event was good, commentary reached new ground, and the opening tag-match was super. Now, NEXT week…oh…next week, we all get into the good stuff. AXS-TV has allowed the Voices of Wrestling team (myself included) special access to a media-only screener of next weeks show and it is fantastic. The 2014 G1 coverage begins with Shibata vs. Nakamura and it is a treat. Here comes the good stuff, lads!