The second season of NJPW on AXS concludes with my 2014 Match of the Year, Kazuchika Okada vs. Shinsuke Nakamura.
This, to many, was the “money match”. These two had faced each other before, like in the 2012 G1 Climax, but neither man was where they are now. Nakamura was white hot, even after being crushed by Bad Luck Fale a month prior to the G1. Okada, unlike in 2012, was an established figure in the company and was just coming off of two heartbreaking losses to AJ Styles. Both men were looking for redemption inside of the lovely Seibu Dome and they delivered a classic professional wrestling match.
The show kicks off with Kazuchika Okada giving a pre-taped interview. His leather jacket is actually worse than the jean jacket Tanahashi wore on the prior show. This interview isn’t as interesting as most. He is to the point, saying that he wanted to fight Nakamura on a big stage and it doesn’t get much better than the G1 Finals. Nothing groundbreaking, but he did his job and put over the match.
Mauro Ranallo and Josh Barnett are back in the booth and from the start, they are in the zone. The importance of the G1, Okada’s position in the company, an explanation of strong style, and even Nakamura’s biggest inspirations are all touched on before the opening bell. Barnett shines early on, quickly explaining the importance of Nakamura’s MMA background and how that could help him here. Brock Lesnar would come across ten times more dangerous than he already does if he was described on a regular basis by Barnett.
Of course, soon after Barnett puts over Nakamura’s MMA and submission ability, he traps Okada in a submission out of nowhere, reassuring the audience that Barnett knows what he’s talking about. Ranallo is so good at matching his emotion with the intensity of the match. When the matches are slow, he takes a more reserved approach at first, taking his time to explain history and the importance of the match. Once things get hot, he’s on the edge of his seat, taking the viewer along for an incredible ride. His excitement and passion is so obvious that it makes matches more enjoyable than they were on first viewing with Japanese commentary.
The closing stretch of this match is everything it should have been. Nakamura was smart. He was able to catch Okada with knees and submissions out of nowhere and for a large chunk of the match, was in complete control. Okada was able to fight back with his string of impressive offense, which looks even more spectacular when you factor in his incredible charisma. Both Ranallo and Barnett appeared to love every second of this as they were both screaming about each high impact move as the match headed towards the finish. It was absolutely incredible. Okada was able to put Nakamura away with three consecutive Rainmaker lariats, capping off an absolute spectacle.
Nakamura is first shown in the press area after the match.
“For me, pro wrestling is my life and my art. It’s about changes, influences, and all that could happen to me. It’s all for enriching my life. I’d like to think today was one of those days.”
“I don’t know how Okada is regarded by others, but he is extremely pure. I felt thatt. Although, knocking him down was supposed to be a part of my job. Well, that’s life. It’s Yeaoh!”
The focus goes back to the squared circle where Okada is in the ring, celebrating his win. Gedo is the first to speak.
“First of all, to the grand opponent of the final round, pay your utmost respects to Shinsuke Nakamura. He’s an incredible wrestler, right? I’m so glad he’s on our team. But! On this once in a century summer, who had the upper hand? Of course, the toughest man of the summer ever, the “Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada.”
Gedo tossed the mic to Okada, who announced he was taking back his property on January 4, 2015. His property being the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, of course. Okada would continue to speak after this statement.
“Let me say three things. Firstly, since I became the G1 Champion, you’re next AJ. Be prepared. Secondly, Nakamura. I have only won against you once. Let’s have more matches. Thank you. Thirdly…this is an important point. I will make next year’s G1 greater than this year’s.”
“And on January 4, 2015, we’ll make the Tokyo Dome event like we’ve never had before. As long as I’m the man in New Japan Pro Wrestling, on New Japan Pro Wrestling…No, on the world of pro wrestling! A rain of money will fall!”
Okada reflected on his match with Nakamura to close the show.
“After the gong rang I felt totally normal. But before that, the moment I saw Nakamura stretching on the other side of the ring, I only felt strangeness. He is a strong opponent since is style is different. He has different ideas in terms of pro wrestling. In that sense, he surprised me many times. It was a tough match to fight.”
“But the moment I won, the fact that I defeated Nakamura was bigger than becoming the champion. He is a great mentor. He is like a big bro to me. He taught me many things besides pro wrestling too. And as for being a wrestler, Nakamura has taught me about that ever since I was young. So…now that I have defeated him, I think we are equals.”
Final Thoughts: There was a lot of hype surrounding the third NJPW on AXS episode that featured Okada wrestling Hiroshi Tanahashi in what many called “one of the greatest hours of wrestling” they had ever seen. To me, this tops it. The match, to me, was better. Nakamura and Okada electrified the Seibu Dome audience in what I consider to be a classics. The commentary, which was all the rage in that aforementioned episode, was just as good, if not better. Ranallo and Barnett are on another planet when it comes to professional wrestling commentary. No one comes close to them. The difference here is the story told. This was an episode that saw Okada take a big step in his career. Okada was no longer the punk he once was – he was a man. In this episode, we saw Okada transform into a legitimate superstar. This is my favorite episode of NJPW on AXS yet. If you’re a fan of NJPW and appreciate the story being told, go out of your way to watch this.