The Best And Worst Of NJPW: World Tag League 2019 Final

Previously on NJPW: World Tag League was very long but at least it looks like people made friends.

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And now, the Best and Worst of the final show of this year’s World Tag League from December 8, 2019, in Hiroshima.

The Last Stretch Of A Long And Winding Road

By December 8, after about five years of round robin competition, World Tag League has three possible winners left, and they’re booked on the final show of the tour in such a way that makes you really start to question the legitimacy of this whole pro wrestling thing. There’s no true Final for World Tag League this year, but fortunately, NJPW just happened to book the top two teams against each other on the last day of competition, just like every G1 block and every BOSJ block. Maybe, in kayfabe, there’s some kind of Freakonomics thing going on where seeing that on the schedule motivates these guys to get the most points.

Evil and Sanada could still pull off their three-peat, having dominated the tournament with a record of 13-1 to become the only team with 26 points. The Guerillas of Destiny are also still in the running at 24 points, but with a catch. They have to beat Ishii and Yoshi-Hashi, then hope FinJuice beats Evil and Sanada, in which case they would win the league by tiebreaker. And Ishii and Yoshi-Hashi might still seem like an easy stepping stone to some, but they were one of the top teams in the tournament for a long time and have extra motivation to beat G.o.D. after their feud with them this fall.

Meanwhile, FinJuice goes into December 8 after a tournament in which it didn’t always look like they were going to end up functionally finalists, but it also never looked like that wasn’t something they deserved. Their matches in December are all against other strong teams, and though their loss to G.o.D. on December 1 could have been the start of a losing streak, they went on to beat Ishii and Yoshi-Hashi, Yano and Cabana, and Suzuki and Archer. And with 24 points, it just so happens that their one match left is against the top team in the league, Evil and Sanada, who they need to beat to just barely win World Tag League with 26 points and a tiebreaker (and a loss by the Guerillas that’s out of their control.)

So while a lot of World Tag League was made up of filler and felt very skippable (don’t sleep on that Yano-Cabana vs. ZSJ-Taichi match from December 6 though, because it’s hilarious), it brings us to a final with compelling stakes and promising final match-ups.

Relative Worst: But First, Just A Little More Filler!

While the World Tag League final is very eventful in terms of setting things up for Wrestle Kingdom (and concluding the tag league), most of its matches didn’t have any immediate consequences in themselves. This is something that makes it a weaker big New Japan show than, like, Dominion, but it doesn’t prevent it from being entertaining overall.

The old man opener wasn’t great, but Yano and Cabana’s well-executed shenanigans in the second match warmed the crowd up more. The fact that the stakes in most of these matches were “let’s try not to go out on a loss!” felt more apparent in the third and fourth matches, but at least Shingo and Terrible consummated their rampage-based friendship by wearing each other’s shirts and everyone in the LA Dojo vs. HenarACE match brought some good intensity.

Best: Fighters Gone Feral

The show picks up when Kenta and Yujiro take on Suzuki and Archer, mostly because Kenta and Suzuki decide to try and kill each other. At least fifty percent because the floors of the Hiroshima venue are green, it brings to mind their match in NOAH back when Kenta was a little prodigy baby and Suzuki was pretty fresh off his MMA career. One hundred percent because of the stuff they do in this match, it makes me want to see Suzuki vs. Kenta one-on-one in 2019 or 2020, which is not something I would have expected to want a few months ago.

Things get even more feral to an unexpected degree in the next match, which shows that Ibushi really took to heart Okada’s challenge from a few days earlier that he should try to make him cry. Ibushi clocking Okada with the briefcase is even more surprising than Okada going after Liger’s mask earlier on the tour. Now this feud has taken both of these guys to their least “likable” limits, which for Okada is being a brat and Ibushi is this violent, animalistic trance state. It all makes for an entertaining six-man tag and post-match segment while showing that Ibushi, unlike Sanada for most of this year, can and will step up when called out by Okada, and works as a reminder of how Ibushi could win on January 4.

Mostly Best: Yoshi-Hashi’s Mexico Excursion Finally Pays Off

The first match of the night with immediate consequences is G.o.D. vs. Ishii and Yoshi-Hashi, which is elevated by a really good surprise ending, one that perfectly fits these specific good guys spoiling these specific bad guys’ tournament. The shock hurricanrana by Yoshi-Hashi out of the super powerbomb is definitely one of the best moments of this tournament. Yoshi-Hashi doing the 1-2-3 motion at Tama Tonga is the icing on the underdog win cake.

Three Teams And Three-peat

The December 8 main event definitely feels like the main event and a tournament final. Everyone wrestles with more motivation, like they want and need to win, more than on the rest of the card and the majority of the tag league. The dynamic also fits the statuses of these two teams in the tag division. It’s competitive, but former champions and league winners Evil and Sanada consistently look like the more dominant team, while FinJuice is fighting to stay in the game.

Though the result was satisfying and promising for the future of the tag division, I didn’t find most of this match’s twenty-four minutes that engaging, partly because I continue to find Finlay one of the least engaging wrestlers in the world, which I hate to type because he seems like a genuinely nice guy. But I think it’s my right to have that opinion as someone who was drawn to Japanese wrestling partly for the quasi-perverted reason of stuff sometimes feeling like it hurts more. Nothing this dude does ever feels real to me outside his friendship with Juice.

That believable onscreen friendship has been a huge help to both Finlay and Juice though, and is a big part of why it’s cool to see them finally be established as a real, top-notch New Japan tag team. “You can add a new tag team to the mix here in New Japan, and that’s FinJuice,” says Juice backstage, then lists the whole division as FinJuice, Evil and Sanada, and G.o.D., and says “bring a few more,” which is the other main reason it’s cool to these guys take home the fist trophies rather than Evil and Sanada for the third year in a row. Though the L.I.J. boys are still red hot, them vs. the Guerillas for the titles again probably wouldn’t be.

Mostly Best: In Other Wrestle Kingdom News

Several other moments on this show besides the tag league final set up the Wrestle Kingdom card being released the next day and while they’re all pretty good, the most long-term positive development is the reintroduction of Dragon Lee into the NJPW junior division. Since he was fired from CMLL along with Rush, he’s been working in ROH and AAA (his match with Kenny Omega for the AAA Mega Championship recently became available to watch online) and he generally has a world of potential and probably decades of his career ahead of him. But especially with Hiromu back, it seems like the best place for him to be right now is New Japan, where so much foundation has already been set for him to do bigger things in the future.

Liger talking backstage about leaving the junior division in the hands of Hiromu and Lee (mainly Hiromu, but Lee was included!), just solidifies that there’s so much the newly Ryu Lee could do in this company, and though he could have great matches anywhere, it’s promising that New Japan snapped him up while fans still want him to have more matches with Hiromu, maybe that mask match with El Desperado, et cetera.

In contrast, the video message from a wrestler on the opposite end of the career spectrum, Chris Jericho, is pretty whack, mostly because he didn’t even come up with a new promo to go along with his new army of face paint clowns. But Tanahashi plays off of it like a pro, looking behind the backdrop backstage for a possible Jericho sneak attack (if Jericho had actually been hiding back there, it would have been one of the best wrestling moments of the year) and building his character motivation for the match.

Previously, Tanahashi was just happy to get a match at Wrestle Kingdom, but with this promo, he adds the element of how “many of my allies and rivals have left for overseas, to chase success” while he’s always stayed in Japan. He ends up declaring that this match with an international star will “lead me to my world stage” and “I’ll catch up to everyone.” This is what Jericho told Naito he was going to do for him, but Naito never seemed to care that much about. But this is perfect Tanahashi motivation, especially because it’s probably somewhat delusional at this stage of his career with his age and injuries. It helps the Ace feel more like a human than a hypothetical half of a dream match.

We also get the challenge from Jon Moxley that highlights every reason he’s a fun New Japan guest star and two backstage attacks that lead to long-brewing title matches between NJPW regulars being announced. After an attack from Kenta on December 6 led to Goto and Karl getting the only DQ win in this year’s World Tag League, Goto just jumps the NEVER Openweight Champion backstage and says he’s ready to fight anytime, a challenge that fits exactly where this feud has escalated to throughout the tour. ZSJ arm-barring Sanada backstage while screaming at him works too, and both these duos do a great job hyping up their matches the following day at the press conference.

The downside of this setup for the full Wrestle Kingdom card is who it ends up leaving out of featured matches, guys like Minoru Suzuki, Tomohiro Ishii, Taichi, Evil, and Shingo Takagi. It’s indisputable that these guys worked hard on every angle they were given this year and are all very over. If you read this column regularly, you’ve read a lot of critical praise of these guys from me this year too. It would be great some of these guys get a featured match instead of that double championship losers match on the 5th, which I don’t know why anyone in the world would care about or want to see, or one of the big group tags on the 4th. Quality wrestlers get left out of significant matches on every big New Japan show, but you more naturally scrutinize and care about that when it happens on the biggest show of the year with wrestlers who have had strong years.

But this criticism does end up highlighting how strong New Japan’s roster (at least their heavyweight one) is right now, and how there are so many guys who seem good enough and over enough that they could be getting more opportunities, while they’re already getting substantial opportunities. New Japan has put together an exciting-looking two-day, sixteen-match Wrestle Kingdom card, but there’s still a pool left of high-quality wrestlers who aren’t doing much and could be credible challengers for the first round of title defenses in 2020, extra motivated by their deficiency of artificial vitamin D from the Tokyo Dome spotlight. (I’m still sad about no Suzuki-Shingo or Suzuki-Mox or big match for Ishii or Taichi or Evil though.)

We still have about a month to go and exactly three shows left before Wrestle Kingdom though, so I’ll see you back here in a couple weeks to talk about Road to the Tokyo Dome.