After a successful first season that featured some of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s best matches from 2013 and 2014, NJPW on AXS was back at it again for the second season, this time primarily covering the 2014 G1 Climax, widely considered to be one of, if not the best wrestling tournament ever. The season concludes with two episodes from the Seibu Dome for the conclusion of the 2014 G1 Climax. Three clipped matches, plus a featured match between AJ Styles and Hiroshi Tanahashi are set for this one.
After a lovely introduction by Hiroshi Tanahashi (and his stylish jean jacket), Mauro Ranallo and Josh Barnett welcome us into the Seibu Dome.
Ranallo has done his homework for the first match between Tetsuya Naito and Tomoaki Honma, as he quickly points out that this is the first time they’ve faced each other in singles competition since 2008 in a match that Honma actually won. Barnett is aghast by this statistic and quickly speculates that they were playing Fire Pro Wrestling and not actually competing in a match themselves.
Naito, who a year prior defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi in the finals of the G1 Climax, is now stuck wrestling Honma in an undercard bout and because of that, he starts to show some attitude. Despite this being an undercard match that features heavily clipping, the commentators put this over as a big deal. Honma went 0-10 in the G1 and his was doing everything he could to end on a high note. One of Honma’s last attempts at a Kokeshi off the top failed, which, by his tone, crushed Barnett. He sounded like a disappointed father.
Honma, by all means, should be treated like a geek. Most wrestling commentators in 2015 would treat him as such. They’d laugh at his poor record or his failed Kokeshi attempts, but not Ranallo and Barnett. They respect Honma’s effort and the sacrifices he put his body through in the tournament. He was not laughed at, he was not made a fool of, he was treated as a sympathetic babyface doing everything in his power to score a pinfall.
Coming back from break, we are greeted by a match between Karl Anderson and Tomohiro Ishii. From an in-ring standpoint, this match is a mess. Ishii not only has a separated shoulder, but his nose is badly bloodied from the start. Anderson is joined at ringside by Yujiro Takahashi, who not only attacks the referee, but Ishii, continuing their rivalry over the NEVER Openweight Championship. Adding fuel to the fire is YOSHI-HASHI, who makes a fantastic run-in to take care of Takahashi. Jeez, is this NJPW or TNA?
Ranallo and Barnett keep up with the action tremendously. Not once are they lost in this storyline driven match. They explain why Takahashi is out there and why he and Ishii have issues. They also make Ishii look like a million bucks here, as not only do they explain his grueling journey through the first 11 nights of the G1, but also how even with a separated shoulder, he is still nothing to mess with.
We get our third clipped match of the evening, this one featuring Katsuyori Shibata and Hirooki Goto. Barnett compares Shibata to past superstars such as Akira Maeda or VOW’s favorite, Masakatsu F’n Funaki. Most of this match is spent putting over the lifelong friendship between Goto and Shibata, which creates an interesting dynamic, seeing as how they spend their time between the ropes beating the piss out of each other.
Ranallo was excellent in all these undercard matches for many reasons, one being how good he was at getting this seemingly pointless match to feel really important. He didn’t need to run down the entire tournament, he simply explained that Shibata had defeated Nakamura and Tanahashi, meaning he should be taken seriously in this match.
“You’d think one of them shot the other one’s dog with the way they’re going at it.” adds Barnett.
We are briefly shown Shibata’s comments to the press regarding his performance in the G1.
“It was a decent summer. But I can’t let it be just a good summer. I have to make it the best summer ever. I have to make it the best summer next year. That’s it. Thank you.”
Coming back from break we are taken to another interview, this one with Hiroshi Tanahashi.
“I couldn’t go to the final round of the G1 Climax. Normally my motivation goes away when that happens. But a match between the 2nd place wrestlers was held this time and my opponent was AJ. That let me feel I did everything I could at this G1.”
“I felt a strong connection with AJ. I first fought him in 2006 in the US. Then in 2008, at Ryogoku Kokugikan. That match is a good memory for me, but there was no time to feel nostalgic about that.”
“AJ is the kind of wrestler for me. He’s about the same size as me, or a little smaller. But he overcomes that with his exceeding skills such as his subtle wrestling or his style of adjusting his techniques according to his opponent. His style fits the Japanese wrestling that’s expected of AJ, since he is good looking and strong. He convinces the fans with his capabilities.”
I’ve watched every episode of NJPW on AXS. Episodes like Okada vs. Tanahashi from Invasion Attack and Ricochet vs. KUSHIDA from the Super Junior Finals have left me blown away by how great the commentary is. This is up there with those two episodes. Barnett and Ranallo put on a clinic in the broadcast booth. They started off by picking up where Tanahashi left off, constantly talking about Styles and his size. They were outstanding towards the finish also as Ranallo’s excitement was more than welcomed during the hot finishing stretch. Barnett was right there with him, adding small notes here and there to put over specific holds. This was quality professional wrestling commentary.
After the match, the infamous Jeff Jarrett joining the Bullet Club angle aired. I was really hoping this would be cut out of the broadcast. Ranallo sounded so disgusted with Jarrett’s actions that it actually made me laugh a little. I hope I don’t ever have to see that angle again, however.
Tanahashi was shown at the same desk Shibata was earlier to give an insightful interview.
“I thought I was the best wrestler in the world, but there are no other great wrestlers like him (AJ Styles) in the world right now.”
“And Jeff, I’ll show him how to use the guitar!”
Final Thoughts: An absolutely outstanding episode of NJPW on AXS. The undercard matches were clipped, yet enjoyable, and the main event delivered both from an in-ring and production perspective. The match between Tanahashi and Styles was overlooked last year due to a number of factors, but I encourage all of you to fire up NJPW World or catch a replay of this episode to watch it again. It is fantastic professional wrestling.