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NJPW on AXS TV report 7-3-15: Katsuyori Shibata vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi

By Bryan Rose, WrestlingObserver.com

Last week, we saw Katsuyori Shibata defeat Shinsuke Nakamura in a great bout. But if you think we’ve seen the last of Shibata for a while, you are quite mistaken as he’ll be headlining this episode of New Japan on AXS. His opponent? None other than Hiroshi Tanahashi. Shibata and Tanahashi had not crossed paths much during Shibata's most recent run with the company, though they have a history regardless. How will they fare when they finally square off against one another?

Tonight's card is from July 26, 2014 at Akita Prefectural Gymnasium.

First up is Shinsuke Nakamura taking on Yuji Nagata. They only showed highlights here, but it was a good, stiff match. They had a match earlier this year at New Beginning at Sendai, but this one looks a lot better. Nakamura cut a backstage promo after the match. Well done, job well done. Yuji's condition was awesome, and this stadium in Akita is where the party’s at. He won against Yuji, and there’s nothing better.

We follow that with AJ Styles taking on Tetsuya Naito. Naito’s head, explains Ranallo, was busted open by a steel chair shot by Yano on an earlier show. It got bloody again pretty quickly, at least from what these clips show, and soon Naito was busted open again. They had a good. competitive match, and I think this was just below or slightly better than the previous match. Naito really stepped it up in this tournament and we’ve already discussed how awesome Styles was. Naito gets the win clean with a stardust press, setting up a rematch for a future date.

A Tetsuya Naito promo follows backstage. He had a lot of respect for AJ Styles. and happy to have faced him, but facing him wasn’t enough. This summer is going to be all about him.

The next match that follows is Karl Anderson taking on Kazuchika Okada. Really good back and forth match. These two have had a history over the IWGP Heavyweight championship and have terrific chemistry, and it showed here. The end saw several counters between the two, each trying to go for their own finish, but finally Anderson finishes off Okada with another gun stun and pins him.

Following that match, Anderson says the people love Okada, but he’s just been beaten, lying on the floor. When Okada made his way backstage, Gedo declined an interview.

Shibata says he knows that Tanahashi was an important match. Everyone watches the G1 matches more closely - there is a meaning for everything. Personally, he thought he made the match feel more special since they headlined Akita. He knew there was sense of rivalry and he totally felt it. He talks about a situation where he and Tanahashi exchanged words. He wants to prove all the haters wrong.

The main event aired. There are two notable matches between these two last year - this one, and their rematch in September that was given five stars by the Wrestling Observer. Both were fantastic matches, but if I had to choose which one I liked more, it was this one. You could just see the intensity and rivalry from the two before the match even started. The two had a tremendous back and forth contest, with Shibata getting the win after the GTS and the Penalty Kick. Ranallo and Barnett were excellent in calling this match, making it feel even more important, going over how Tanahashi’s ego was getting the best of him throughout the match when he wasn’t going for immediate pinfalls, as well as documenting the rise of the New Three Musketeers (Nakamura, Tanahashi, Shibata) and how Shibata left New Japan on multiple occasions, causing rifts between him and Tanahashi. This made the match even better than it was when it first aired last year. Everything about this match is tremendous and highly recommended.

Tanahashi after the match says he’s spent ten years doing this. After this loss...were those ten years a waste? He sacrificed many things during that time, but it's pointless if he can’t get the win. He won’t forget about this, because during the last ten years he’s learned to get right back up. This was actually quite the tremendous promo.

Shibata says 10 years? The ten years that I wasn’t here, he took every bit of it. There’s nothing more, nothing less to it.

Upon reflection, he says that the matches are what matters the most. You can say what you want, but Tanahashi faced him with his all, and he felt that passion. That match at Kobe he felt like he had to shake his hand. When asked about teaming with Tanahashi, he never thought it would happen, and finishes by saying that wrestling is unpredictable.

A fantastic show this week, with the highlights being just that, and a main event you have to see and it’s everything that pro wrestling needs in 2015. Next week, we’ll continue looking at the G1 Climax tournament with Tetsuya Naito taking on Shinsuke Nakamura as the main event.