The proverbial fireworks will continue in the ring after the Fourth of July when New Japan Pro Wrestling brings its historic G1 Climax to the United States for the first time. Night one of the acclaimed tournament takes place 6 p.m. ET Saturday, July 6 from the American Airlines Center in Dallas. Kevin Kelly can't wait to call the action, who even after all the decades in the industry is a fan at heart. With the event airing live on AXS TV, it's another step strengthening the relationship between the network and company, which has generated an ever-growing fan base thanks to New Japan Pro-Wrestling World.
"In the words of The Rock, I certainly know my role. I love having the ability to cal these matches for New Japan Pro Wrestling. It's a dream come true," Kelly said.
The more sports oriented presentation is what the veteran announcer grew up on, idolizing Gordon Solie. He saw an era of the 1970s from Dory Funk Jr. and Jack Brisco to Dusty Rhodes Bruno Sammartino leading into Ric Flair and Bob Backlund. The fact the G1 is opening in Texas is not lost on Kelly, who is brought back to the days of one of the greatest wrestling territories World Class Championship Wrestling headed up by the Von Erich family. He imagines bringing the iconic tournament to America was a throughout, calculated move.
"All the rumors you hear about Japanese culture and Japanese business, they're all true when it comes to be slow to decide. They are not quick to act. They don't fly by the seat of their pants. They take a long time to contemplate an issue and will not move forward until they have all the information and mull it over," Kelly said.
"It speaks to how important the G1 Climax is and what it means for American fans that they actually went ahead and did it. To have the G1 Climax kick off in Dallas on July the 6th. It's exactly what fans have been dreaming of and getting to see. How many fans do you know now who make plans to go to the Tokyo Dome? 'I can't wait to see Wrestle Kingdom.
"I can't wait to see the G1 Finals in the Budokan. We're kicking this off in America. We're taking one of the dates that would be an automatic sellout for New Japan Pro Wrestling and giving it to the fans in Dallas on the first night. And we're giving them Tanahashi versus Okada. It has everything a wrestling fan could want, and I think the significance of this can't be understated."
The broadcasting veteran can see a shift in NJPW with decision-makers recognizing top talent in the world doesn't just come from the Orient. He references G1 Climax history to prove the point naming Karl Anderson's impressive showing making it to the finals in 2012 and Kenny Omega becoming the first foreigner to win the tourney in 2017. Looking at Block A and B, Kelly believes it's one of the most stacked and diverse fields.
"There needed to be some change and did it," Kelly said. "The controversial one is Minoru Suzuki, but I get it. They want a younger tournament. They want the most physical tournament they can get. And they brought in new stars. We're going to have a more global flavor than ever before. When you even look at Kenta, there may be more fans that know him in the United States from his WWE run more than in Pro Wrestling NOAH all those years even though his best work was there.
"I think there will be more eyes with Jon Moxley at the top of the list, who will add a significant amount of buzz and viewership and all those different things to every night of the tournament. It begins on July 6th on AXS TV live with Tanahashi versus Okada, which is the greatest rivalry we've seen in this generation."
Another favorite in the mix is Will Ospreay, who has recently been at the center of a social media sparring session with WWE Universal champion Seth Rollins. Kelly likes the competitive banter.
"I wish there was a way we can put it in the ring with the two to settle it, but I think Seth's boss might not like that idea," he said. "Both guys are very similar. Not just in how physically gifted they are and talented they are as pro wrestlers. But also they are just two great stand-up guys. They are guys you would have in your own home for dinner and feel comfortable having them sit with your family.
"They are true ambassadors for the companies they represent. And if Seth worked for New Japan and Will was in WWE, they would be having the exact same argument. The same debate because that is who those guys are. They are proud of their talents and abilities, but also proud of who they work for."
Among the hot topics when it comes to NJPW has been if Kota Ibushi and Tetsuya Naito crossed the line in their physical battle at Dominion. Many cringed watching and wondering if they are going too far, taking unnessary risks bordering on brutality.
"It's a double-edge sword. The surest way to protect Naito and Ibushi is not book them to wrestle each other because for whatever reason they like doing that kind of match to each other," Kelly said. "They love having the one upmanship and the crowd's hearts in their throats and everybody fearing the next move is going to end one of their careers. For whatever reason they like having that type of match with each other, different than other pairing or rivalry. The truest way is not having compete against one another.
"Does that deny the fans? To a certain extent, yes. Then where do you draw that line. It becomes well this is dangerous and that is dangerous. It's all dangerous. It's pro wrestling. There isn't anybody who can say the risks in a Will Ospreay versus Shingo match will be different than the risks involved in Will Ospreay versus Lance Archer in the G1 meeting in Dallas on July the 6th. They are physical, intense, competitive athletes who are physically gifted and are able to do things that guys like you, me, and everybody else could only dream of.
"I think where the promotions can run into problems is saying, 'We're going to legislate what's going to happen in the ring." Then you wind up with the scenario well where do you draw the line? Then you would have to cut it all out because it's pro wrestling. I think the easiest way is to just make sure Ibushi and Naito are on opposite sides of the block. I have a feeling this will not be the last time they meet. They could meet in the finals of the G1."
With All Elite Wrestling coming on the scene as New Japan looks to expand its footprint internationally, Kelly welcomes more wrestling. His mindset is if there is another company on a national scale that can hire the 50 to 100 wrestlers needed to roll-out a full-time product, that means there are more making a living in the profession.
"They are able to train, take care of their bodies. They can do what they need to do to compete at a high level and be successful," he said. "...It's not a matter of competition. Think about it in terms of the viewership of the end of the 'Attitude Era.' Seven million fewer people watching wrestling on Monday nights than were back then. Where did those people go? Were they taken up in The Rapture? They are still out there. They just found something else to do. Maybe some of those will come back.
"When one company is really starting to drive the ball and get people talking again and get them motivated, I think it's good as a whole And if it wakes up WWE from whatever slumber they're in, creatively or otherwise. They are certainly not hurting for money. They are just in a lull right now creatively. It's going to be great for everyone. The more the merrier as long as it's a good company.
"If AEW decides they want to have serious matches and great wrestling action and put that on television in a competitive fun atmosphere and bringing more people to the table and not have to be repelled like they had to do in the mid-2000's where you had to watch through a peephole, then I think it will be good. Good for everybody."
And when the lifelong fan is asked who he wants to take the G1 this year, Kelly doesn't see any bad choices. "But if when it's all said and done Ishi wins the G1 Climax, that would be pretty special. That would be pretty cool. We'll see what happens."
Kevin Kelly's full interview with Wrestling Inc's Scott Fishman was included as part of Wednesday's episode of our WINCLY podcast. It can be heard via the embedded player at the bottom of this post.
You can check out past episodes of the WINCLY here.