New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS-TV is back with a broadcast that should be a good one. The main event at the October 2014 King of Pro Wrestling event finds A.J Styles defending his IWGP Championship against Hiroshi Tanahashi. Two guys at the top of their game, in front of a sold out Tokyo crowd, has all the elements of a great hour of pro wrestling. At the time, VOW’s Bryan Rose awarded the match over four stars and at the time I was in that range as well. This should be a nice way to spend a Friday night, for sure.
The show opens with Hiroshi Tanahashi in studio reflecting on the build-up for his match with A.J Styles.
“After saying goodbye and retiring from IWGP, I spent days agonizing over my return. But even then, I worked hard everyday hoping that the IWGP would be waiting for me in the end. That’s what I hoped. I was lucky that A.J caught me under the radar. Tokyo Dome’s main event matches were on the line, too. Although he is my rival he helped me make a comeback. Believe it or not, he became my savior. But then, I thought, enough with me respecting him. I was after the belt. Nothing else but the belt.”
“With each passing day, I felt that A.J’s popularity was growing. The fans were noticing what a great wrestler he is. He has great moves and he’s a good looking guy. Plus, his body is well built. I knew he was a wrestler that grabbed the fans’ hearts. So when the Ryogoku match was announced, I knew it wasn’t going to be a one-sided match in my favor.”
As the ring introductions commenced, Mauro Ranallo and Josh Barnett did a lot of heavy lifting by filling in gaps and helping viewers connect multiple dots. The winner of this match would not only win the IWGP Championship but would defend the title in the Tokyo Dome against Kazuchika Okada, who successfully defended his G1 briefcase earlier that night. Tanahashi was also looking to break a record held by Tatsumi Fujinami by winning his seventh IWGP Championship. Also, Jeff Jarrett. Remember that? I guess it was a nice gesture for all the hustle Jarrett did here in the States for the Wrestle Kingdom pay-per-view, but yeah, Jeff Jarrett everyone. Even Josh Barnett lays in a couple of boots to this idea of Jarrett at ringside.
“(Styles) associating himself with the Bullet Club and, you know, if you’ve got Jeff Jarrett walking you to the ring it just screams ‘dirt bag’. I just think the Japanese hadn’t understood exactly what it meant when Jarrett shows up in the ring. ‘Oh, hey, look at this’ or as all of us sat back and watched (Jarrett smashing Tanahashi with his guitar) and thought ‘Oh no, not again’. This guy (Jarrett) is just here to completely tarnish everything that is going on in the ring.”
With the slow build that is very customary in New Japan main events, Ranallo dug into his notebook and began to rattle off familiar names (Brock, Antonio Inoki, Bob Sapp) and did an excellent job using historical information to give this match an extra layer of importance. It is easy to hand-wave the current crop of wrestling announcers when they tell you what you are watching is important. What Ranallo does is verbalize easily digestible nuggets of pro wrestling information that help you to not only understand what is going on in the ring but also the historical value of what is going on in the ring. With Barnett going into deeper detail of the holds and the importance of those holds, the combination makes the opening moments fly by. It is modern enough so that new fans can easily relate, yet there are so many old-school, classic pro wrestling announcer moments that fans of all genres and eras can enjoy it. I really can’t think of another modern wrestling television show that does this so well.
Another small, yet fantastic nugget came around halfway through the match when Hiroshi grabbed Styles from behind to deliver a suplex. A.J locked his arms, held his ground, and Barnett added a simple comment to help viewers get a fighter’s perspective.
“Styles is dropping his weight trying to keep his sense of gravity low.”
Yes, Josh, yes! That is why you are there. More of this please!
Of course, as we near the finish, Ranallo fires up and when Hiroshi connects with a High-Fly-Flow, he is right there with the energy. Then when Jarrett pulls Red Shoes out of the ring to disrupt the three count, Mauro’s head explodes. It was so over-the-top with anger and venom that I couldn’t help but chuckle. The entire exchange was priceless.
“WHAT IS JARRETT DOING!?! What the…!!!”
“Where is Captain New Japan? Come on! At least someone do something if you are at ringside!”
“I thought we left these shenanigans back in North America, Josh!”
From there, it was Jarrett looking for another guitar shot on Tanahashi, and Naofumi Yamamoto making his return to New Japan to chase Jarrett away to the back. We all know the terribly sad ending to to the Yoshi Tatsu story, but at the time I thought this was a nice way to bring him back to the New Japan fold. Two High-Fly-Flows later and Hiroshi Tanahashi picks up his seventh reign as IWGP Champion.
After a commercial break, Yamamoto is interviewed backstage at Ryogoku Kokugikan and gives his thoughts on returning to New Japan Pro Wrestling.
“This is something I planned. I didn’t come here to help Hiroshi Tanahashi. Well, my body moved on its own when I came to the venue. That is all. Most of all I guess this was the place for me to return to in the end.”
Next, Gedo and Kazuchika Okada made their way to the ring and has some words for the new IWGP Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi. Gedo starts us off.
“Tanahashi, to be very honest, I didn’t think you would win. That is what’s scary about you. The belt itself comes looking for you. Tokyo Dome’s main event itself came looking for you. You know what? Even that won’t work against the Rainmaker, you bastard. Listen, on January 4, 2015 at the main event at Tokyo Dome the Rainmaker will make sure of one thing. He will bury you.”
“Tanahashi, great work. I hear that people refer to you as something like the sun, but a dull sun like you won’t be able to light up NJPW. As bright as the golden sun, I will light up New Japan Pro Wrestling…No, I will light up the entire wrestling industry. As for you, Mr. Dull, it is time to go down.”
Tanahashi was quick to respond.
I’ll say it again. I’m not tired. Okada, maybe you can make money rain but you can’t be the sun. Do you know why? Because I exist.
Back in studio, Tanahashi gives his final word on his win against Styles.
“My concentration was on a whole different level and it lasted a long time. I stayed focused from the G1 match in August against Shibata all the way to the October match. That’s the reason why I was on roll. I get emotional every time I win this belt. I had the title for a long time but I was long away from it too. I just can’t express it with words but the fact that I have the belt proves I’m the number one wrestler in Japan right now. When I said to the fans ‘I’m home!’ they answered back ‘Welcome home!’ and I think they were happy to see the belt back.”
Finally, Hiroshi lets everyone know he is happy to see Yamamoto return to New Japan.
“I know he was doing his stuff in the US when I was on a tour for TNA wrestling in 2008. I had spoken to him from time to time. Now that he left WWE, I think he came back at the best time.”
Final Thoughts: New Japan on AXS-TV hits a homerun when they run a program dedicated to just one match and this show is no different. From the interviews and match build-up, to the fact that the match has time to build and isn’t edited, to the post match pressers, the single match shows are almost always worth your time to watch. This show is no different. Just an outstanding hour of professional wrestling that flies by and leaves you wanting more. What more could you want out of a wrestling show?