On Friday evening AXS TV will not only be presenting Legacy FC’s first kickboxing event, Legacy Kickboxing 1, they will also be starting off their series of english broadcast New Japan Pro Wrestling events from 2013. This will mark the first time in the modern age of New Japan Pro Wrestling that an American network has not only taken interest in presenting their programming, but to do so in a respectful, exciting manner.
Sure, this isn’t kickboxing news, but the truth is that Japanese professional wrestling was at the roots of K-1 and modern kickboxing as a whole. Without Japanese pro wrestling there would be no GLORY or K-1 right now, there would have been no boom for kickboxing and we wouldn’t have grown to idolize Peter Aerts, Ernesto Hoost, Andy Hug and countless others.
New Japan Pro Wrestling is probably the best professional wrestling organization around at the moment. If you ever had any interest in professional wrestling but found the offerings of WWE to be a bit too hokey or childlike for you and simply gravitated towards MMA and other “real” sports instead, I urge you to check out what AXS TV is going to be presenting this Friday.
New Japan was not always the best that Japan had to offer, with All Japan being the king of the 90’s, NOAH being the king of the early 00’s but New Japan’s younger talent from the early 00’s matured into some of the best talents ever seen on this stage and the action is simply divine. New Japan Pro Wrestling is based on what they call “strong style.” Strong Style is basically whatever style of pro wrestling that New Japan is dabbling in, but its roots are based on martial arts due to the founder Antonio Inoki’s obsession with the concept of the “mixed fight.” It doesn’t hurt that Inoki is one of the fathers of modern MMA, either, with most of those early MMA fights taking place in a New Japan ring.
The action tends to be brutal, the storytelling takes place inside of the ring and while there is still big characters, elaborate costumes and other basics of pro wrestling, things tend to feel a bit more “real” and exciting. It won’t feel remarkably different to the average viewer as much as it will feel alien, but that is where Mauro Ranallo and Josh Barnett come into play. AXS TV’s series is set to span the epic saga of the IWGP Title in 2013, which saw struggles between Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchida Okada. The first episode kicks off with Tanahashi vs. Okada from January 4th, 2013 this Friday evening before Legacy Kickboxing is set to kick off. So you’ll be there anyway, just show up an hour earlier for an awesome hour of pro wrestling.
AXS TV sent us the third episode of New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS TV, which was the April 7th main event between Tanahashi and Okada, a rematch that saw Dave Meltzer of the WON praise it as a five-star classic, the match of the year. It’s truly the pinnacle of that style of pro wrestling and a tremendous match, so it speaks for itself, but Ranallo and Barnett were able to do it justice in a way that we haven’t seen in a long time.
On January 4th of this year Global Force Wrestling helped to distribute the annual NJPW Tokyo Dome event, Wrestle Kingdom 9, with Matt Striker and Jim Ross on commentary. Ross and Striker were good, but they were tossed together for the first time and some things simply didn’t mesh. The team of Ranallo and Barnett had none of these problems and were able to add historical context and personal insights without having to start relating to the WWE or other domestic products.
There is a level of immersion that comes with this, which is aided by Ranallo’s wrestling knowledge and A+ research that goes into calling each show and Barnett’s personal history in Japan. Barnett competed in Japan for years in MMA and also spent time training in professional wrestling before wrestling under the New Japan Pro Wrestling banner for a while. So it’s safe to say that what Barnett adds is his own personal experiences in the grueling training that New Japan wrestlers go through and how they perform in the ring. Hell, he’s even been in the ring with a lot of these guys and knows them personally.
We can -- for the most part -- ignore the pretty awful ad that was produced for the series and is airing on AXS TV, because the program itself is extremely well done. In this episode it began with interviews with the wrestlers, helping to set up the match a bit more, then the meat of the match (which was a long one, took up the entire program), followed by a post-match interview. It wasn’t the kind of thing that I’d expect for what is just an hour-long program that could have easily been slapped together for cheap and tossed on air.
Definitely tune in for this -- or at least set your DVR for it -- because it’s definitely worth watching.