NJPW on AXS is back on the air after concluding coverage of the 2014 G1 Climax tournament last week. The Seibu Dome is behind us and now we are on the road to Wrestle Kingdom 9, starting off in one of my favorite wrestling venues, Kobe World Hall. KUSHIDA is defending the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship in the main event of the evening against none other than “The Funky Weapon” Ryusuke Taguchi. A polarizing match at the time (VOW’s Bryan Rose gave it ****1/4, others, including myself, were much lower) has been given a shot of English commentary from the outstanding duo of Mauro Ranallo and Josh Barnett. Before we get to juniors action, we have some undercard business to take care. More importantly, Minoru Suzuki has some Toru Yano business to take care of! Yes, these two icons are finally stepping into the squared circle. These Kobe fans were in for a treat.

Minoru Suzuki & Takashi Iizuka vs. Toru Yano & Kazushi Sakuraba kicks things off. Barnett and Ranallo start the night off right by making fun of Iizuka’s man purse. It doesn’t exactly do it’s job of hiding his iron claw, but according to Barnett, it’s hiding his chapstick and baby wipes. Have you seen those lips, Josh? Iizuka hasn’t been introduced to such a thing. Ranallo is in his element early as he’s able to give the viewers a background of Suzuki and Sakuraba’s history with PRIDE. Barnett throws in the interesting anecdote that all four men have shoot backgrounds.

This match is like every match you’ve seen with Suzuki and Yano on opposing sides. In terms of in-ring action, nothing is very good. Things get even worse when referee Tiger Hattori gets involved. It’s a silly match that I don’t really want to see in New Japan. Was it offensive? No. Was it good? No. That said, the commentary when Suzuki and Sakuraba took things to the mat was outstanding. Both announcers were in the zone and made Sakuraba’s worked grappling a lot of fun.

After the match, the cameras caught up with Suzuki. Instead of speaking, he just spit on the camera. Minoru Suzuki, ladies and gentlemen.

Tetsuya Naito & Kota Ibushi teamed up to take on AJ Styles & Tama Tonga next. This is the kind of match that makes NJPW on AXS the best wrestling show on TV. Despite being an undercard match, this felt like a big deal. The clipping here was logical and didn’t hurt the flow and the commentary was excellent. A very fun match that separates this show from others.

It’s main event time with KUSHIDA vs. Ryusuke Taguchi when we return from break and the cameras are on Taguchi, who is doing the typical pre-match interview.

“There’s a timing for everything. I think he (KUSHIDA) won the double crown because he is fulfilling his dream right now. Not only is he a rising star, but he has actual skills. He had called me ‘sleazy’ on interviews for magazines and so on. He attacked me verbally like that. He must have said that because he is satisfied with himself.

That is what got me all fired up. He pushed my buttons and got me motivated. That’s why I gave him so many Ankle Locks when I should’ve let him be…KUSHIDA made me who I am now.”

If KUSHIDA is the one responsible for Taguchi’s ass-based offense then maybe he’s next the bright, young lad that I thought he was.

Off the bat, Ranallo and Barnett put Taguchi over as a major threat to KUSHIDA’s title. Yes, Taguchi is a goof, but they are quick to mention that he’s the toughest of the tough. He’s gone through the NJPW Dojo and tonight, he has a special look in his eyes. They don’t slight KUSHIDA, however. His skill and toughness are often pointed out.

For a junior match, these two use a lot of holds and submissions. This, to me, is where both commentators shine. It’s a fast-paced match that takes a lot of attention to detail to call. Ranallo and Barnett not only keep up, they excel, which makes Taguchi look like a million bucks in the process.

“A lot of smart, smart wrestling going on in this match.”

Barnett has never spoken truer words. Many people, myself included, give Taguchi a lot of crap. However, he completely delivers here. He was outstanding, as was KUSHIDA. These were two professionals applying their craft at the highest level possible. I’m not sure why this match didn’t click with me the first time, but after watching this for a second time, I second Bryan Rose’s original rating of ****1/4. KUSHIDA taps out to a devastating Ankle Lock, ending KUSHIDA’s reign before he could successfully defend it.

The cameras caught up with a heated Taguchi backstage, as his post-match celebration was cut short by Suzuki-Gun juniors El Desperado, TAKA Michinoku, and Taichi.

“I’m happy to have the belt for the first time in 7 years. But…oh my, oh my, oh my and Garfunkel, this is unbelievable. That’s right, oh my and Garfunkel. OMG. They ruined a memorable day. Those guys are bad. Seriously bad, bad, bad. Especially El Desperado. I’m furious. DGT. Don’t even go there.

I didn’t expect the match with KUSHIDA to be such an intense match. But KUSHIDA surely fought like a champion. And KUSHIDA was the one who pulled out the best in me. The part of me that you all didn’t know about, it was brought up by KUSHIDA.”

A much calmer Taguchi reflected on his match with KUSHIDA to close out the show.

“He’s (KUSHIDA) always been skillful, but I felt strength from him. He also had confidence after becoming the champion. My impression of him was that he stood imposingly. We had some quarrels through words, but like I said, he pushed my buttons with what he said”

Taguchi remarks that becoming the 69th IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion was an important number for him, but he swerves me and keeps things clean.

“I think these numbers had something to do with it. I felt carefree during the match. I was able to be myself. I think I was able to create a new side of me. I’m not so desperate to have the belt anymore. I think I established my style. The belt isn’t so important anymore. That is because I am free now. I’m free to be myself. This 69 took a big part in that.”

Final Thoughts: This was a very solid episode of NJPW on AXS. It didn’t reach the levels that either show last week did, but it was an hour of programming that felt like it went by in 30 minutes and with today’s televised wrestling, that’s really more than you can ask for. I highly recommend catching a replay or logging onto NJPW World to give KUSHIDA vs. Taguchi a look, especially if you didn’t like it the first time around. A big thumbs up to NJPW on AXS this week.