This week’s edition of New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS TV is a simple show with only two matches scheduled: Hirooki Goto vs. Togi Makabe and Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Katsuyori Shibata in a rematch from their G1 Climax classic. Both matches originally took place September 21, 2014 at NJPW’s Destruction in Kobe event, you can read VOW’s original review of the event at https://www.voicesofwrestling.com/2014/09/21/new-japan-pro-wrestling-destruction-in-kobe-review/.
Mauro Ranallo and Josh Barnett are back in the booth for the call as Hirooki Goto vs. Togi Makabe kicks things off. I have literally no memory of this match, but VOW’s reviewer, Bryan Rose, gave this match four stars, so it’s obviously worth putting on TV.
Off the bat, Ranallo mentions that Goto has a 4-3 record over Makabe in singles matches. Makabe is also coming into this match with an injured jaw. Goto is the obvious favorite here. Ranallo does a great job of portraying Makabe as an underdog early.
We get our first awesome name drop of the night as Ranallo compares Makabe’s Northern Lights Suplex to Hiroshi Hase’s. He goes on to explain that Hase perfected that move while on excursion in Canada. I did not know this. Points for Ranallo.
There’s a real charm to the way this match is called. Both Ranallo and Barnett seem to be taking things so seriously. Their tone matches the hard-hitting action. I recommend firing up NJPW World to rewatch this match. It’s excellent.
After the match, the cameras caught up with Makabe.
“Do I resent him? Am I pissed off? It’s already way beyond that. That bastard persistently came after my jaw.”
Coming back from break, we get our first sit down interview with Hiroshi Tanahashi, who is sporting a lovely leather vest. He is first asked about Shibata rejoining New Japan.
“I didn’t like the way he quit New Japan Pro Wrestling. So I had held a grudge against him which is unusual. I was okay with the way he returned, picking a fight with me. Be as he fought in New Japan Pro Wrestling, the audience began to cheer for him. I’m sure that made him happy. That’s when he said that he was starting to enjoy all this (pro wrestling). That was the last straw for me. “
Tanahashi brings up his 2013 singles match with Shibata at the finals of the G1 Climax.
“I didn’t want to win with the High Fly Flow. I was determined not to. I think I ended up doing a small package hold. I held him down until count 4 or 5. Sure, that was mean of me.”
Finally, Tanahashi reflects on his 2014 singles match with Shibata in Akita.
“That match was shocking for me in two ways. First, I lost the game. Secondly, after the gong rang, the cheers for Shibata were louder than those for me. That sucked. I felt like all that I’ve been doing was denied completely. I probably shouldn’t have come upset about it that much. But it was shocking.”
Ranallo is outstanding from the start. Before the bell even rang, he said everything that needed to be said. He portrays this match as a huge deal, which it is. Barnett compares Shibata to a young Akira Maeda, which is a valid comparison. The two do such a great job of the wrestler’s characters over. Shibata is a fighter, Tanahashi is a wrestler. Shibata is an outsider, Tanahashi is the ace. It’s an easy story that Barnett and Ranallo portrayed perfectly.
“This is much more than a professional wrestling match. There’s so much personal baggage between the two.” notes Ranallo.
Is this a five star match? No, it’s not. Sorry, Dave Meltzer. However, this is a great match made even better by Ranallo & Barnett on commentary. These two came prepared and delivered completely. This is the standard that pro wrestling commentators should be held to. If you have an Wrestling Observer Newsletter subscription and you aren’t voting these two for Best Announcers, I don’t know what to tell you. These two get it, more so than any duo or trio in wrestling. They absolutely nailed this match.
Tanahashi is shown backstage being interviewed.
“Only my 10 years are being talked about…but what about Shibata’s 10 years (away from the company)? It must have been full of events. I can’t accept how he quit, but I could feel how those 10 years were for him. We talked about many things. But Shibata said ‘thank you for protecting New Japan Pro Wrestling’.”
Final Thoughts: This is really as good as it gets. In under an hour, the story of Katsuyori Shibata and Hiroshi Tanahashi was introduced, explained, and concluded in a perfect manner. The commentary is often great, but this week it was outstanding. I almost hate being this positive, but Barnett and Ranallo blow any other commentator away. There are commentators I enjoy, but none more than these two. An extremely intense, yet satisfying hour of professional wrestling.