Photos: TV Asahi/New Japan Pro Wrestling

It is exciting times as AXS-TV begins its five week run of matches from this year’s annual Wrestle Kingdom event from the Tokyo Dome — NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 9. With two matches on this card as heavy favorites for this year’s Match of the Year, and with the added bonus of Mauro Ranallo and Josh Barnett’s call, these next five weeks should be blast. This week’s show focuses on the juniors with both the tag and singles titles on the line.

The show opens and wastes little time jumping right to the opening four-way junior tag team title match featuring The Young Bucks, Forever Hooligans, reDRagon, and The Time Splitters. Josh Barnett knows he is in for a sprint as he makes mention of his double coffee shot to give him the energy boost needed to call this match. Even Mauro Ranallo provides a full disclaimer for those watching at home.

“I will add and reiterate the disclaimer that Josh alluded to. Please forgive us if we miss anything as we call this match. It certainly will be faster than we can describe but we will make our best effort.”

From an announcing point-of-view, the narrative of this match has always been that there was so much going on in the ring that Jim Ross “couldn’t keep up”. The match suffered because Ross had verbally (and maybe even mentally) checked out, didn’t know the players very well, didn’t know the moves very well, and had difficulty telling the story of the match. This led to Striker, who was hired to support Ross and not provide play-by-play, to take the lead and call the majority of the match. Add the apparent lack of support from the Japanese production truck, and the team of Ross and Striker were pretty much flying without a net on a live wrestling broadcast.

Be that as it may, the team of Mauro Ranallo and Josh Barnett blew away the original commentary of Ross and Striker. Yes, there is an advantage of recording a voiceover in studio over providing a call at a live event as it happens. Yes, Ranallo had months to prepare for this call as opposed to Ross’ weeks of cramming in 40 years of New Japan history. Yes, Ranallo and Barnett have had time to develop a chemistry as broadcast partners. That all being what it is, Ranallo and Barnett’s call of this match actually slowed down the frantic pace and gave you the match in such a way that it was easier to digest. It didn’t seem as panic-paced and go-go-go as the original because Ranallo was feeding the audience the match at the pace he wanted it to be fed. Mauro heard the biggest complaint of the match and made the match better with his call. Someone at AXS-TV give this man a raise. Better yet, can someone at AXS-TV call New Japan Pro Wrestling and tell them what they have here?

Back from commercial break and Kenny Omega is in studio chatting it up about joining Bullet Club and his match against Ryusuke Taguchi. It is all in English so there isn’t a need to type it out, but the main themes were that Bullet Club has the stroke to get Kenny title matches that he wouldn’t have been able to get on his own. As for Taguchi, Kenny puts over his “ass-offense”…not as a joke but as a legit concern. I wish I could make that up. The “WTF” looks I got from my wife were quite amazing upon hearing Kenny’s quote and she’s a person who has sat through early 1990’s WWE house shows.

Even with the ring introduction for Ryusuke Taguchi, Ranallo tried his best to stop long time fans from eye-rolling at Taguchi’s ass-attack, digging in his Random Wrestling Name Generator™ by dusting off an old World Class name.

“…that hip-attack of his. You long time wrestling fans might recognize it as the Butt-Bump by Iceman King Parsons!”

You are not helping me like this, Mauro.

What was odd is that Mauro and Josh were having trouble liking it as well. On a number of occasions during the match, Ranallo not only seemed to question the styles of both wrestlers, it really felt like he was giving an eye-roll of his own. Maybe it was just great acting but you almost felt that Ranallo would do just about anything to fast-forward past this match. A spot that normally would get Mauro to flip his lid — Omega spraying an aerosol can in Taguchi’s face — was delivered in such a “hand wave” fashion I thought Ranallo might have fallen asleep. It didn’t seem like either Barnett or Ranallo were feeling this match and that indifference certainly translated to the viewer at home. It did pick up a bit, and if you love video game references you’ll have plenty of little nuggets to listen for, but for me an average match was made a tiny bit better from Ranallo and Barnett.

Another pretty big take-away from these AXS-TV broadcasts, showed its head once again tonight during Kenny Omega’s post match interview. No one from AXS-TV is watching these shows or at least these interviews. It is almost a given that if there is an American behind a microphone, a “fuck” is making it over the airwaves. That is kinda unforgivable on a pre-recorded basic cable television show. I mean AXS-TV isn’t exactly HBO, right? Look if you need someone to pre-screen these shows, I am your guy. Now that I think about it, it might be best if you credential me and send me over to Tokyo to see these shows live. You know, to avoid any issues. Thanks.

After Omega’s win and his presser, Ryusuke Taguchi charms us and the media with his post match thoughts.

“Thank you. Oh my, oh my, oh my and Garfunkel. It ended up like that. So I’m no longer the IWGP Junior Champion but as the 69th champion, I guess I’ll take things seriously from now on. I’ll wrestle seriously. Real serious.”


When asked if he was going to truly take things a bit more serious, Taguchi was very clear on his role with New Japan moving forward.

“I’ll seriously fool around. So watch me. I feel so frustrated. Should I sing a song? I feel dizzy so I’ll head home now but please let me fight again.”

Final Thoughts: If you are a fan of Kenny Omega, video game references, and Ryusuke Taguchi’s ass-based offense this is your dream show. If your a fan of junior-style pro wrestling matches or you enjoy a good mix of comedy with your wrestling, you’ll enjoy this entire show as well. Ranallo and Barnett do a fine job and while I still believe the best is yet to come, this show was decent start to the five show Wrestle Kingdom run on AXS-TV.

Along with weekly New Japan on AXS-TV reviews, Damon McDonald is the co-host of New Japan PuroCast heard right here on the Voices of Wrestling Podcast Network. Tweets can be sent via @Purocast.