For the third time since AXS began its coverage of NJPW, AJ Styles and Hiroshi Tanahashi were slotted to square off. First, they did battle in the Seibu Dome at the finals of the 24th annual G1 Climax Finals. The two followed that up with their classic at King of Pro-Wrestling 2014where Tanahashi pulled out a surprise victory that led him to the Tokyo Dome main event against Kazuchika Okada. A month after halting Okada’s progress as the ace of New Japan Pro Wrestling, Tanahashi and Styles were back at it once again, this time in Osaka for New Japan’s New Beginning in Osaka 2015.

Tanahashi had the honors of doing the pre-match interview.

“Every match is exciting against him, and there aren’t many like him. So I thank him for choosing me. He gave me the chance to win and become a champion. I’d face him as many times as he wishes until he’s satisfied.”

“It was in 2005 at TNA when I first faced AJ, and I became the 61st champion. He was already a top-level fighter. But he didn’t have the sexiness that he has now. He had short hair, and he made himself known for his original moves. It’s nice to face him like this again.”

With this being their third match in under 12 months, it was clear that progression was needed. These two, as great as they are, could not go out and have the same match that they did in Sumo Hall or in the Seibu Dome. This had to be different, and it was.

Whether it was intended to be different or not is the real question. Tanahashi was busted open after a High Fly Flow onto the entire Bullet Club after clonking heads with Matt Jackson. From that point on, he was not the graceful, smooth, elegant Tanahashi that most of us are used to. He was clumsy, stumbling around the ring, and lacking focus. And rather than sweep that fact under the rug because it was intended to happen, Mauro Ranallo and Josh Barnett went with the flow and added to the intensity of the match.

This show, in real-time, was an annoyance. The Bullet Club had worn me out in 2014 and I was so happy to see them get knocked down a peg at Wrestle Kingdom 9but as this show went on, and Bullet Club member after Bullet Club member scored successful pinfalls, it took me out of the show. By the time this match rolled around, I was so sick of seeing their members be victorious that I had a hard time caring about this match. Out of context, this match is excellent. Neither man puts on a stellar performance, but they work together to create magic. This is their best match together, out of their three most recent matches in New Japan.

After being defeated by Styles, Tanahashi gave a fascinating interview to close out the show.

“There’s nothing you can do about the number of Bullet Club seconds. I tried to take down all of them by myself. I guess that was what put me in a bad situation. I only had Captain with me.”

“When I jumped out of the ring, I batted against Matt Jackson. For him, it was his forehead, but for me, it was right near my eye. It started bleeding and the blood went through my contact lenses. For the next 5 minutes, I fought with blood vision. In the end, I could see again, but I couldn’t move smoothly. I wanted to turn things around, but I couldn’t. I wanted to keep up the passion, but I wanted a calm mind.”

Final Thoughts: This episode of NJPW on AXS is a breeze to get through. It’s one match, and while it is a very intense match, it’s a very fun match to watch. Seeing as how the Bullet Club takeover of 2015 never really came to fruition, it makes watching this stuff back much more enjoyable. There will always be a part of 2014 NJPW that I can never go back and rewatch because Yujiro Takahashi was reigning over the rest of the NEVER Openweight Division. I can’t mentally process that. But here, with Styles on top, the Bucks and Omega by his side, and Fale backing him up, it’s certainly not the worst thing ever. A great, ****+ match between Tanahashi and Styles, with excellent commentary from Ranallo and Barnett. Thumbs up.

NJPW on AXS announcer Mauro Ranallo shared his battles with mental health recently. It’s an issue that’s close to my heart, so I feel the need to plug it here. Enjoy!