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Kevin Kelly Talks Evolution of NJPW Throughout the Years, Working w/ Don Callas, Current Young Lions & Shares His Thoughts on The Revival

Fresh off a car accident and a fairly serious concussion, I kicked out at two-and-a-half this week to speak with long-time pro wrestling announcer and the American voice of New Japan Pro Wrestling Kevin Kelly.

The Ring of Honor veteran and former WWE personality joined me to discuss this weekend’s NJPW G1 Specials in Long Beach, the company’s expansion into the United States, and a whole lot more in a nearly two hour long conversation. Below is part three of this massive three-part interview, so make sure to check out the rest by following the links below. 

Part One: Kevin Kelly Talks NJPW Expansion, U.S. Title Tournament & Cody Rhodes vs Okada

Part Two: Kevin Kelly Talks Billy Gunn Criticism, Okada’s Legend Title Reign & Steve Corino Ribs

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You’ve been with NJPW for awhile now and have done multiple Wrestle Kingdom shows and called the finals of the G1 in 2016. Do you have any major goals looking ahead? 

“It won’t happen this year, but I’m lobbying for G1 Climax next year that we do every show live. I want to do the whole tour. I think there’s an audience and that’s my goal for 2018, to do every G1 Climax show. It is the Mount Everest of professional wrestling, and I want to be there to document every match and tell the stories as every night unfolds.”

You started with Steve Corino because of your relationship in ROH. What’s it been like working with Don Callis now that Corino has moved on? 

“Steve and I were able to tap into a friendship that has lasted decades. Don and I don’t have that, but we come from the same viewpoint and share the same sense of humor, and we’re from the same generation so I think we do have a good chemistry that is still growing.” 

“Don had got back into wrestling doing the Killing the Town podcast with Lance Storm, on the Chris Jericho network. He walked away from wrestling on his own, and became a university professor. He works in government in Canada; he’s got a lot of things going on. I will say this – he’s a stooge for Kenny Omega. Legit. He is a stooge for Omega. It’s not heat, it’s a statement of fact. I don’t care one way or another, because I have all the respect in the world for Kenny, but if there is one guy that is blatantly for Kenny Omega during his matches, it’s Don. Let’s be honest, he is totally biased. I play fair on all sides. Now, I have a legit fear of Minoru Suzuki, and I have a distaste for Taichi. I share the same ‘Taichi Go Home’ sentiment as perhaps many people. But when I’m out there I have respect for everyone.” 

It seems like the Young Bucks and Roppongi Vice are really the only two teams in the NJPW Jr. Heavyweight tag division. What happened there? 

“New Japan has suffered from the loss of reDRagon and the departure of Matt Sydal, and they haven’t been able to find the right combination of teams. Suzuki-Gun doesn’t lend itself to exciting junior heavyweight tag matches because they wrestle like heavyweights. They do everything that you want, but they fight like old school heels and there’s a lack of chemistry with the other teams.” 

That style in the juniors division is something that has really caught on with today’s fans, but in the past NJPW has experimented with other styles that haven’t exactly worked for them from a business perspective.  

“If you go and read Chris Charleton’s book ‘Lions Pride’ you can see the timeline of why New Japan went from being great to being crappy, to being great again. We can thank Hiroshi Tanahashi, Gedo, [Shinsuke Nakamura] as well as the third generation guys that endured. Satoshi Kojima, Tenzan, Nakanishi and Nagata, that somehow stayed with it and didn’t quit. They were the linchpins then, and now are giving back and preparing the next generation of Young Lions. There were a lot of people that caused NJPW to fall, but wrestling fans know when promotions are doing well, and when they’re not doing well. Fans know why, because we’re watching it and seeing it. When you try to be different sometimes it will work, sometimes some revolutionary ideas will come about – look at Lucha Underground – and sometimes it doesn’t work.” 

“Talking about history, the old ECWA Super 8 tournament led to so many great stars. They took from some of the great junior heavyweight matches that were taking place in New Japan, and tried to bring that into a tournament format. That led to the rise of Ring of Honor, which brought stars like Brian Danielson, CM Punk, Tyler Black and Kevin Steen to the mainstream audience of the WWE today. A lot of the roots of what fans like today, in terms of style, come from what we had seen from New Japan 20 years ago.” 

You mentioned the Young Lions, and the NJPW training system is a big part of why things are so good today. Is there anyone right now that you’ve got your eye on? 

“They are very high on [Katsuya] Kitamura, and [Tomoyuki] Oka I would say is second. [Hirai] Kawato is just beneath him – I think what separates him from Oka and Kitamura is just size and presence. We’ll look for them to have opportunities to shine in the G1, but I’ve been impressed with all of them. [Tetsuhiro] Yagi is the greenest of them all, but I kind of have him sort of in the back pocket. I think at some point he’s really going to break out. Kawato has a huge chip on his shoulder. I really enjoy the mix of Young Lions that they have right now.” 

“Now we’re starting to see some of the Kaientai Dojo youngsters get worked in. There’s a good crop, they’re coming up the right way, and the training is second to none. I’ve seen their bodies change, just as they’re developing more muscle. All they do is work out, eat, do squats, clean the dojo, set up the ring, tear down the ring, do more squats… They get lit up in the ring, and then they go in the back and sometimes they’ve gotten screamed at. But that’s how you learn. They’re also patted on the back and praised – it’s not all just tough love. It’s encouragement, and a mix of guys that pull them to the side.” 

Closing thoughts… How do you feel about The Revival? 

“F–k the Revival.”

A huge thanks to Kevin Kelly for taking the time to do this massive interview. Give him a follow on Twitter @RealKevinKelly and be sure to check out all three parts of the conversation, as well as tune into this weekend’s NJPW G1 Specials in Long Beach and the upcoming G1 Climax tournament kicking off on July 17th!