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Tim Cooke

Thoughts on the New Japan AXS Show (episode 3)

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I watched episode 3 of the AXS New Japan show on Saturday and came away with a bunch of somewhat connected, someone random thoughts on the match (Okada vs. Tanahashi from 4/7/13), production, announcing, and great 1 hour wrestling TV shows.

 

· This was easily the best Tanahashi/Okada match from just an in-ring standpoint. They were both super over and had Sumo Hall in the palm of their hand, something that I’ve thought almost all modern day Japanese wrestling has been lacking. The match was well laid out, with super solid early to mid-90’s New Japan heavyweight structure – nothing glamorous or flashy, just rock solid. There is an interesting review (not written by me) as part of an on-going ebook series coming out in early February that takes a look at Tanahashi’s thoughts on match layout (from his book) and how he incorporates that into his vision of wrestling in the ring so I won’t go into any more detail here but structure wise, I thought this was great for 2013 and would have played in many other time periods as well.

 

· Neither Tanahashi or Okada really fit well into what I like about pro wrestling but credit them for laying out and executing this match well. Even the striking sequences were well done. This is the match they should have had at the Dome earlier this month. How both of these can be rated ***** is beyond me because when you watch both in their individual contexts, it is clear which one is better.

 

 

· John Cena gets a lot of criticism (fairly or unfairly) for lacking with his execution of moves but Okada and Tanahashi were sub-Cena in their forward roll (this was slower than a 70 year old Mil Mascaras would have done it) and one or two other sequences. Cena would be blasted for it but Tanahashi and Okada seemingly get a pass for these minor, yet meaningful, details.

 

· This was not the best 1 hour pro wrestling TV show ever. That’s plain hyperbole. If it was said that you should watch this show if you are looking for a good (even great) English commentary on Japanese matches, I would have accepted that. But when you build something up as the greatest, it better be the greatest. These episodes, off the top of my head (noting that Memphis was usually 90 minutes and the one match I’m including from Raw is obviously 2 hours) are all much better glimpses at truly great 1 hour pro wrestling TV shows:

o Memphis 6/4/83 (Lawler vs. Dundee Loser Leaves Town Hype Show)

o All Japan 5/22/84 (Jumbo vs. Kerry & Flair vs. Race)

o NWA Worldwide 7/9/85 (Rock n Roll Express vs. I. Koloff/Krusher Kruschev)

o Memphis 10/16/85 (Dundee turns heel)

o Mid South 11/6/85 (Ted Dibiase vs. Ric Flair with Murdoch turn)

o Memphis 3/1/86 (Dundee/Landel beat up Jeff Jarrett – Lance Russell and Dutch Mantel call Jerry Lawler on the phone to ask him to come back and restore order)

o NWA Worldwide 5/3/86 (Tully Blanchard vs. Ron Garvin)

o NWA Worldwide 1/24/87 (Ric Flair vs. Barry Windham)

o NWA Worldwide 5/14/88 (Midnight Express vs. Fantastics US Tag Title Switch)

o All Japan 9/16/90 (Jumbo/Misawa II, Fantastics vs. Kikuchi/J. Malenko)

o New Japan 11/24/90 (Liger/Benoit, Sasaki/Hase vs. Muto/Chono,

Hashimoto/Choshu)

o All Japan 4/18/93 (Gordy/Williams, Kawada/Taue, and Misawa/Kobashi)

o WWF Raw 4/13/98 (show builds around Austin vs. McMahon as the main event – maybe the most convincing build in a 2 hour show that I have ever seen in hyping and building towards a match)

 

· Mauro Ranallo and Josh Barnett were both solid and unfortunately in today’s wrestling landscape, that passes as great. I thought as a team they were better than Ross and Mathews, but that isn’t saying much. Needless to say, they aren’t making you forget about 1990-1999 Jim Ross with their announcing. At one point, Ranallo talks about how these guys are blending many different styles including catch-as-catch can wrestling. They did a nice job blending lucha elements, New Japan heavyweight psychology from the 90’s, some junior flying, and even some strong selling, but I didn’t anything that even began to reference catch-as-catch can wrestling, especially considering that he was almost definitely referencing the style that Karl Gotch helped make popular with the younger generation of wrestling in the late 70’s and early 80’s. I like Ranallo and thought with Bas Rutten, he was excellent in Pride from 2004-mid-2006. But I also thought Stephen Quadros and Bas Rutten were equally as good in Pride and I’m not sure anything either of those announcing teams did would qualify as greatest of all time. To be fair, they sure did blow away the final team of Robbie Mikoski and Frank Trigg. Ranallo made Trigg passable when he first started announcing with Pride, but Trigg was unbearable afterwards. I imagine Ranallo and Barnett would have been excellent in Pride and would most likely be enhanced greatly by calling the matches live at the building as they are taking place.

 

· A two year old match airing on network with limited cable coverage hurts the presentation. Not sure what the answer to that is (hopefully they have Ranallo and Barnett call future big shows on PPV at the arena) but it is something that needs to be addressed.

 

 

· I like the old World Pro Wrestling graphic that takes you in and out of commercial breaks but I think they clutter it up aesthetically with the match date at the bottom.

 

· I very much appreciate Tanahashi and Okada a lot more for their ability to identify a better way to work a match to get (and keep) both over by not having to use meaningless elbow exchanges, pop up no sells after big moves, and one count kick outs in the late stages of matches as the main ingredients of a match (11/9/14 Goto vs. Ishii springs to mind as great representation of everything wrong with that style).

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Great post Tim. This highlighted all the positives I saw in the presentation of this show while also accentuating the negatives which is deservedly so when something is proclaimed the best wrestling tv show of all time by multiple sources. One thing to me is that the commentary in this match was good but no where near the level for me that others seem to think it is.

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I don't think it was the best hour long wrestling show or best call of all time, but I don't think best studio call is out of the question. Were any memorable Jim Ross calls on taped shows in WCW (like Flair-Pillman) or WWF (Bret-Kid) done in post? Definitely the best canned call of a foreign product I can think of.

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I thought the 1983 Lawler/Dundee show was 90 minutes.

 

Anyway, I would argue that the style Tanahashi and Okada works is rooted more in 90s All Japan than the New Japan heavies. There's hardly any matwork. The offense is distinctly pro-style. The matches have the length and pacing of a 90s Triple Crown match (did Hashimoto ever work a 30+ minute match in his career?). Even the crappy strike exchanges owe more to King's Road than strong style.

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Tanahashi has always favored that style. He spear headed their climb back up, and most have followed suit.

 

I'd second N. Logic. Does feel closer to AJPW in a lot of ways. I've been meaning to go back and watch Tanahashi's invasion into Mutoh's AJPW. I think you could find a bit of a starting point there.

 

Plus, I remember it being quite fun. And an important step forward in his career. I think he was already mentioning the style of wrestling he wanted to use.

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I thought the 1983 Lawler/Dundee show was 90 minutes.

 

They did two: The 90 minute version was just for Memphis that week. Instead of just cutting that down for the other towns, they shot a similar but different show at Jerry Jarrett's house.

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I thought the 1983 Lawler/Dundee show was 90 minutes.

 

Anyway, I would argue that the style Tanahashi and Okada works is rooted more in 90s All Japan than the New Japan heavies. There's hardly any matwork. The offense is distinctly pro-style. The matches have the length and pacing of a 90s Triple Crown match (did Hashimoto ever work a 30+ minute match in his career?). Even the crappy strike exchanges owe more to King's Road than strong style.

Yes, the Memphis show was was 90 minutes, at least for the WMC broadcast, as noted in my original post.

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I'm watching episode one, and unless Ranallo and Barnett get a lot better, I can't process the praise of them making a super amazing call in episode three. I mean, they're solid, certainly more pleasant to listen to than Cole and JBL, but nothing particularly great.

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For the most part I am finding it refreshing to watch an English language wrestling show with a more "sports" style presentation, but 100 percent agree that Mauro needs to tone it down a little bit. He is excellent during closing stretches, but even the majority of real sports announcers aren't using "LOUD NOISES!"voices from start to finish. Its really jarring when dudes are doing feeling out spots at the beginning of a match.

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