August 28, 2015

After an extended break that found me at six G1 shows in Tokyo and two joint ROH/NJPW events, the kind people at Voices of Wrestling have allowed me to resume our weekly New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS-TV reviews. The Puro-vacation was great, but now it is time to get back to work. Friday’s show is headlined by a very average Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Bad Luck Fale match from last year’s Destruction show. Let’s see if AXS-TV gives some new life to a very tired match-up.

Mauro Ranallo kicks things off welcoming the viewers at home, while setting the table for tonight’s opening match: Kazuchika Okada & YOSHI-HASHI vs. Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows for the IWGP Tag Titles. A match made in heaven for many New Japan fans because it quickly and effectively lumps two of the biggest eye-rollers in the company into one short tag match. YOSHI-HASHI has to have naked pictures of some high level executive at Bushiroad to continue cashing checks, while Doc Gallows has quickly become the Kevin Nash of modern New Japan. Lazy, uninspired, plodding and in dire need of a face painting class, Doc Gallows matches are an instant reach for the fast-forward button. This is not a revelation of any sort, yet there he is on my television screen holding one half of the tag team championships.. Guess what? He currently holds this same championship one year later. Oh, the state of the tag team division in New Japan.

The beginning of the match itself is standard tag team wrestling, as is the call from Ranallo and Barnett. Mauro mentions Karl Anderson’s flexibility and gives a shoutout to a popular yoga DVD, plus a Randy Savage “Oh Yeah” after an Okada elbow drop, but nothing that would have you searching this match out for a re-watch. In fact, it felt like the North American references were coming at a fever pace in the first half of this match. DDP, Andersons, and Savage references were tossed out as if the broadcast team was told that a slew of new viewers were expected for this episode. Then, just as you were ready to hand-wave the match, things picked up.

Anderson and Gallows went for a Magic Killer and then something weird happened. The crowd in Kobe got behind YOSHI-HASHI, and the energy level picked up. Ranallo and Barnett felt the crowd rise and the pair found another gear. Okada hits two perfect dropkicks and the place pops. Ranallo feeds off of this and now he is flying on the microphone giving us a ride as YOSHI-HASHI looks to clean house and take the titles. All of this is a very nice build leading to Yujiro Takahashi interfering in the match. Ranallo, in perfect Ranallo form, is right there with the venom.

“1.. 2.. and WHAT is Yujiro Takahashi doing here? He just cost YOSHI-HASHI the tag team titles!”

After YOSHI-HASHI takes the fall (What? You actually thought there would be a different finish?) Kazuchika Okada gave his thoughts in a post match presser.

“We’ll win it next time. I’m going to win with YOSHI-HASHI, you hear me.” 

Ok, Okada, go home. You’re drunk.

After the break, we return with Shinsuke Nakamura in studio getting us ready for his match against Bad Luck Fale. Nakamura gives his feelings on Fale’s weight gain, super strength, and explosive power. I honestly didn’t know what to make of this and I’ll let the words just speak for themselves and allow you to make your own judgements.

“Sure I had made it to the G1 finals but I was sort of feeling frustrated. And you know it is not an overstatement to say Fale assigned me to that match. I beat Fale in Yokohama and he must’ve been after me, too. I bet he thought, ‘Bring it on’”. 

“It was my 4th match and a big singles match which meant either Tanahashi or Fale would be my opponent. I know Tanahashi well. I know him and his style very well. So it was that much harder to beat him. But with Fale, every time I face him he becomes stronger and rampageous. So I have an impression of him becoming more powerful each time. There are many wrestlers in NJPW but I felt Fale improved the most. Obviously. I feel that every time I fight with him. He seemed to absorb the strength from the people around him as well as from his opponents. I think he’s still becoming heavier even to this day. Since I’ve fought many wrestlers at the Intercontinental (level), I know the difference in strength according to their race and this time my opponent was from Tonga. His lower body was heavy but even with his weight, since he played rugby, he has this explosive power. I can feel those characteristics in my gut which I find interesting.”

The match itself? Eh, it wasn’t great then and upon watching again I feel the same. At the time, Bryan Rose gave it four stars but my original grade was just shy of the good/great four star level. Upon a second viewing, I might go lower if it were not for the outstanding work by Ranallo and Barnett. Small tiny things go a long way with me, and when Ranallo went into and almost hushed tone right before the ring introductions were made, I could not wipe the smile from my face. The details make the greatness and this small little nugget that some might have missed or ignored hit me like a ton of bricks. Outstanding once again, Mr. Ranallo.

Truth be told, you aren’t going to miss much if you fast-forward to the last segment of the broadcast. This is where Fale has Nakamura up for his Bad Luck Fall, but Nakamura wiggles out into a roll up, pulls up Fale’s legs and lands a Boma Ye for a near fall. Ranallo nearly has an aneurysm on this call and had me out of my seat. Add a second and Nakamura gets the fall, wins the title, and the in ring celebration begins.

“See this belt? It’s come back to me again! With this belt I wonder what I should do? What should I do? What can I do? Either way, it’s not school… no, wait. Well, I can’t express this feeling with words. Isn’t that right, people? If I can’t express it with words, then what should I do? Then this is my answer! Yeaoh!”

In the post match presser, there was more of the same.

“The Intercontinental… this is the third… no, the fourth time… I’ve gained the belt four times. You all know that, right? See this white belt? I’m not done enjoying it just yet. What should I do with this belt? Maybe this belt will take me somewhere I haven’t conquered? How exciting! It’s not just a belt anymore. This belt expresses the will… how should I say… it expresses the winner’s will. I will do whatever I like.”

Lastly, Shinsuke is in studio and is a little more reflective on his win against Fale and Fale’s love of all you-can-eat buffets.

“When you fight against each other so many times your fighting spirits accelerate. So when I fought against Fale at that time I thought he was the heaviest. Out of all the past three matches I fought against him he had grown even bigger. That power and each of his moves can become a destructive force. I strongly felt that especially through this match. But during that match I knew he was running out of gas. That’s how I saw it.”

Final Thoughts: While certainly not the worst of NJPW’s run on AXSTV, this particular show lacked in just about every facet. The matches, while complete and unclipped, were some of the lower rated of this Destruction show. Moreover, the English announcing just wasn’t enough to put it in the “must watch” pile. It was there. It was a wrestling show. It is not one that you’d regret missing.