New Japan Pro Wrestling returns on AXS-TV this week with, what could be, the finest professional wrestling in the history of the genre. The 2014 G1 Climax is considered (by many) the Holy Grail of not only New Japan Pro Wrestling, but of the entire pro wrestling world. Every night delivered classic matches and in many cases individual shows within the tournament produced multiple four and even five-star matches. It was truly a magical three-week run and the next few weeks will highlight the best of the 2014 G1. The good people at AXS-TV gave the Voices of Wrestling team special access to a media only screening of Friday’s show so lets get right to it, shall we?
Right at the start I want to mention the biggest negative with these broadcasts. Sadly, they are only one hour long and great, great matches are going to be clipped and edited. That is just the way it is and this cannot be changed. That means, as we will see starting tonight, matches are not going to be given their proper due on AXS-TV. Look, there are a million ways you can watch these matches in full — subscribing to New Japan World would be my first suggestion even though some shows aren’t provided (that’s a Japanese broadcast fee/business issue that is between lawyers, television companies, and wrestling promotions). If these AXS-TV shows are your first taste of New Japan or the 2014 G1 matches, then let it serve as a vehicle for you to explore more. Google is your friend.
This week’s episode features matches from the kickoff show of the tournament and if we remember back it was one hell of a wrestling event with three out of ten matches given four stars. Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Katsuyori Shibata is tonight’s AXS-TV main event, with the A.J. Styles vs. Kazuchika Okada and the Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Tomoaki Honma matches getting the clipped treatment.
We start with Mauro Ranallo and Josh Barnett welcoming the viewers and catching us up with Honma, who was a last minute replacement for an injured Kota Ibushi.
Once again, a little nugget of information that could have been completely disregarded wasn’t and it helped solidify Honma as the underdog against Tanahashi. How refreshing is it to have a broadcast team not shackled by an out-of-touch, 70 year old millionaire barking instructions in their ear? I am not sure what guidelines New Japan gives Ranallo and Barnett, but it feels (and sounds) like they are given complete creative control. This will play a factor later in the show.
Of course, Honma’s offense centered around him trying to connect on a Kokeshi. Of course, he never does and Ranallo and Barnett sort of know that the inevitable is just a matter of time. It is Barnett that kicks off this verbal exchange.
“If he lands this do you think he (Honma) can put him away?”
“He will put him away…but if he lands this I’ll eat my notes.“
After Honma’s head hits the mat, Ranallo’s deadpan delivery seals the deal.
“Thankfully, I won’t have to. One day. Keep dreaming.”
Of an eleven-minute match around five minutes aired, but those five minutes felt like two. It was fast paced and hard hitting — just enough to give you a feel for the match. It is a good start to the show.
The show returns from commercial break with another super hot match – A.J. Styles vs. Kazuchika Okada. Again, it is edited and it seems like blasphemy to do this to a match so good, but strangely enough it works. Maybe it is my ADD kicking in but the quick pace, the tastiest bits, and the highlights of this match made me only want more. We all know that Mauro, Josh and AXS-TV are only playing with the cards dealt to them as these shows are all pre-produced, edited, and formatted for Japanese television so they have zero say in what matches are or aren’t clipped. That being written, they make the most of it and it works. Credit to both Ranallo and Barnett for not only being able to connect the dots with a clipped match like this but to also keep the pace consistent during the match and between commercial breaks. From a television perspective, this was an uphill battle that easily could have fallen apart – clipped 20 minute match and a commercial break – but Ranallo and Barnett kept it all together and managed to make it a super segment and a must watch this weekend.
Okada and Gedo had some words for the crowd after his match with Styles.
“You can call me ‘Mr. Okada’ now. I have three things to say. One, A.J., next time we meet, we’re fighting for the IWGP belt. I’ll win the G1, no doubt. Then I’ll take another one of your belts from you. My second point is that I’ll win the rest of the matches – every single one of them. G1 will be mine. No matter who I’m facing, I don’t care.”
After the break, we return with Katsuyori Shibata, in studio, giving us his take on his match with Shinsuke Nakamura. On a side note, the bed music used during this segment is equal parts creepy and soothing.
“Nothing was special about that day. I fought as usual…but this year’s matchups were great. The block that I was in meant a lot to me… I personally felt great significance playing in that block. I was able to find different tasks.”
Shibata then began to address the elephant in the room. It had been ten years since he and Nakamura wrestled last and Shibata’s exit from New Japan was less than amicable with the office and the locker room. This became a running narrative during this segment as well as during the match.
“Before we faced each other, I thought about what fans would think. I was curious how the fans would see our fight. I somehow knew that people had high hopes for this match. That was how I felt. He wasn’t the same Nakamura that I once knew. He had a different aura about him and I was surprised to see him change. Ten years is enough time for a person to change. The environment changes and so does the circumstances. It was nice fighting him after ten years.
“I didn’t think that much about it. It was just about how others viewed our match. For me, it felt just the same as any other match. I really didn’t think much of it.”
As the ring introductions were made, Josh Barnett and Ranallo went into greater detail as to the circumstances that brought about Shibata’s decision to originally leave New Japan eight years ago.
“He (Shibata) was considered with Tanahashi and Nakamura as part of this rising class of young stars in New Japan not to mention his father was involved in professional wrestling as a referee with New Japan. With him leaving to go into the MMA world and going to DREAM, the K1 arm of MMA…”
“You know, it is always an uneasy tension every time Shibata wrestles. It is like a match could get out of control at any moment. You might not be able to put your finger on it, but you get the feeling that within a split second something seriously, horrifically violent but incredibly exciting could happen.”
Imagine Michael Cole saying those exact words about Brock Lesnar. While you try to imagine, know that Barnett continues to paint the picture of Nakamura defending professional wrestling and New Japan.
“You have the anger of Nakamura and the feeling about Shibata abandoning pro wrestling and then you have Shibata, the rebel, thinking all that doesn’t matter. Pro wrestling or MMA, it doesn’t matter. He’s here to do what he wants to do.”
The match is a textbook New Japan main event with two wrestlers at the peak of their game. While not an all-time classic, it is a tremendous match given full time on the broadcast. Stiff, hard hitting, action packed, brutal kicks, and a nice surprise for a finish. As was stated in our original review, “This is exactly the kind of match you want these two to have”, and I could not agree more. Of course, Ranallo and Barnett worked their magic and all the ingredients blended together to create an outstanding match that should not be missed. Again.
Having worked in sports media for many years, I can only describe Shibata’s post match presser as “bad-day Chris Pronger”. His snappy, impatient, one-word answers to questions are both hilarious and nerve racking. There is no need to type out the translations…just watch and cringe.
Shibata closes the show with his final thoughts on his match with Nakamura.
“Even after the fight, I’m still not sure what to make of it. It doesn’t feel like I’ve made any remarks. I wasn’t sure how loud the crowd was. I wasn’t sure if it was a good match or not. Was that the kind of match that people wanted to see? That’s what I wasn’t sure about. Then I got responses about the match. Some said it was entertaining and others said that I still need to improve. It was a strange match.”
Final Thoughts: So, how do you say this was a fantastic show without sounding completely repetitive? How do you write another review and say it was everything a pro wrestling show should be…again? How do you stay objective and construct a review when, in all honesty, all the ingredients that make these shows on AXS-TV spectacular are front and center? It is simply the best hour of professional wrestling on television. Period. This show? Add it to the collection of one of the best of the run on AXS-TV. I promise you won’t be disappointed.