2017 was the biggest year yet for New Japan Pro Wrestling on AXS TV. In addition to covering a full year’s slate of action from Japan, hosts Josh Barnett and Jim Ross also called action from the promotion’s excursions into the United States.
Speaking to MMAWeekly.com after the announcement that he and Ross would be returning for the NJPW slate on AXS TV in 2018, Barnett talked about the happenings of 2017, his personal aspirations for pro wrestling and MMA, and what he hopes will happen for NJPW and AXS TV this year.
MMAWeekly.com: Firstly, Josh, tell us your thoughts overall for 2017 for NJPW on AXS TV.
Josh Barnett: I think 2017 was damn good for New Japan and AXS. Years are full of ups and downs, and as I look on it, I really feel like my year was full of more ups than downs overall. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the positive momentum coming out of 2017 will affect 2018.
MMAWeekly.com: Do you go back and watch your commentary, or once it’s done, it’s done and you move on?
Josh Barnett: To be honest, I don’t go back and re-watch anything. Mainly because I don’t have cable, so that kind of makes things tough. But I’m always very critical of everything I do. I always want to try to find the best possible outcome for whatever it is I’m trying to achieve.
If you’re not looking past what it is you’re doing and trying to find a way to make it better, or even just a way to understand it as deeply as possible so you can make different choices – not necessarily better or worse – but at least different, there’s a level of understanding you have to have. I’m always very aware of that sort of thing.
MMAWeekly.com: 2017 was a tough year personally for your broadcast partner Jim Ross, who lost his wife, Jan, in March in an automotive collision. What was it like having to work through that with him last year?
Josh Barnett: It was a really sad and unnecessary thing. Whatever we felt couldn’t even come close to what Jim was feeling. Jim was really adept at finding a way to deal with it that works best for him. It’s not something that’s going to go away anytime soon, for sure. I’m glad I got to know her at least a little bit. All you can do is move forward. Life isn’t going to wait for you to figure anything out. You just have to do it.
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MMAWeekly.com: One of the big stories in NJPW last year was matches between Kenny Omega and Kazuchika Okada. What was it like seeing what they were able to do in 2017?
Josh Barnett: One of the important facets of all these matches between them is they created a potential foil for Okada. You need some kind of antagonist that makes you believe that this can all come down around them at any point. And if it does, can a protagonist make their way back up the mountain and overtake it again? Kenny’s done a great job of that.
(Omega) also stood out in his own way that highlighted him specifically. He’s built up his own aura around him. You stick him there with another wrestler who is also fire, and people are like, “Wow, how is this going to turn out?” You have to give credit to both wrestlers for generating enough interest in their work alone that people are just chomping at a bit to see them matched up with this person or that person, or what comes up next.
As far as putting together great matches: styles make matches, good minds make matches, and those guys are definitely at their peak. They were able to go out there and perform at a level that should – if anything – help to push the other wrestlers to do better, but show them that if they can do it, you can do it.
MMAWeekly.com: MMA pioneer Minoru Suzuki returned to NJPW in 2017 after a few years in Pro Wrestling Noah. What are your thoughts on Suzuki being nearly 50 years old and still being one of the best workers and personalities in the pro wrestling world?
Josh Barnett: It really makes me very excited in anticipation of myself being able to go out there and possibly work even if you end up being 50. I don’t know if it’s something I really want to do, but I guess you don’t know that until you’re there. I really do have a want and a desire to go out there and compete and do professional wrestling.
It’s great to Suzuki still out there being one of the best in the world at this sport. To know that he also comes from that old school background of when wrestling was treated far more seriously. He was a pro wrestler before he was an MMA fighter, so when people talk about that pro wrestling to MMA connection, he’s part of that.
MMAWeekly.com: Switching gears to your own MMA career, is that road still open for you or has the time come for you to step away from the sport?
Josh Barnett: I’m not finished with it. I still have a lot within MMA that I want to do. There’s still a desire in me to go out and fight. I know that it is going to be a much smaller window for me in that there’s so many other things in my life. At the moment, I know the desire is there to compete, but the desire to structure my life around training camps and all that at the moment just isn’t there.
I’ll get out there and spar and work with people, so it’s not as if I don’t train or still enjoy training – because I do very much – but to make that commitment in every way that’s necessary to compete in MMA, not yet. But it is still open.
MMAWeekly.com: Thanks for taking time out for us, Josh. In closing, what do you see ahead in 2018 for NJPW on AXS TV?
Josh Barnett: I think you’ll see a bit of a resurgence in the NJPW product. I think about the potential live shows here in the U.S. and the interest that could create. We’ve been on air at AXS for some time now, but I think this may be a new jumping off point for us.
I think that may be unusual for some people to think of, since we’re already here and doing quite well with it, but everything needs renewal and refreshing to a degree. You’ve always got to be aware of those who haven’t heard of it or aren’t pro wrestling fans yet, so I feel positive towards making an even bigger impact in the market as it is.