The Best And Worst Of NJPW: World Tag League 2019, Nov. 28-29

Previously on NJPW: Evil and Sanada got a strong start on the road to a three-peat and Kenta won’t stop talking about Goto. Also, there were a lot of house shows!

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And now, the Best and Worst of the tenth and eleventh nights of World Tag League 2019 on November 28-29 at Korakuen Hall.

But First, A Couple More House Show Things

Before these live broadcast shows and uploaded to NJPW World after that World Tag League house show recap article was turned in, two more important developments happened on a house show. These were aside from Juice saying, “Not only are we the cutest, but we are the best at karate, baby!” and talking about how he should be married to a beautiful Swedish woman by now or Shingo deciding to start wearing Terrible’s shirt, which were both important developments in WTL being entertaining. Two othe things happened that could have long-term impact for some of the top teams in the league.

The first was, in the conclusion to a match that featured Bad Luck Fale chasing a screaming Tama Tonga around an arena, Tanga Loa debuting a new finishing move, the OJK crossface. Last year, the Guerrillas of Destiny inherited the Super Power Bomb from Jado, and now Loa has been given his signature submission.

Jado seems more like a manager and less like just a stick-wielding gremlin lately not just because he’s handing out signature moves, but because he’s been cutting the majority of G.o.D.’s promos for them and calling them “G.o.D. and Masta Heata.” This is kind of an off-putting look for the Guerrillas, who typically have a lot to say for themselves. But the new move is definitely working for them, switching up the finishes to their matches in a period of time when they’re having a lot of matches.

The other important thing is that Evil and Sanada’s undefeated streak was ended by the all-star clown duo of Colt Cabana and Toru Yano. Cabana gets the win, which he’s been doing a lot on this tour for a non-NJPW guy, and charms the audience with his comically limited Japanese to close the show. He and Juice are representing the heck out of the Midwest in Japan right now.

Worst: More Ageism In The Best And Worst Of NJPW

As in previous events on the tour, a downside of the November 28-29 shows is that there is so much old man wrestling. It’s especially difficult to process on the 28th, when there are again three consecutive old guy matches. I don’t know if it would be better if these were more spread out – in fact, I think that would probably be worse for the pacing of the shows – but it’s still kind of a slog, even though none of the Third Generation guys are doing anything especially terrible.

Best: Theirs Will Be The Kingdom Of Wrestling

Some of the best stuff on these two World Tag League shows doesn’t have much to do with World Tag League, but more about Wrestle Kingdom next month. Hirooki Goto and Kenta starting making their tournaments interesting earlier on the tour – despite neither being on a team that could possibly win the league – and they continue to do that on these shows as they escalate their feud even further.

After Goto wrestles the opening match on the 28th, he says backstage that he can’t focus because he keeps thinking about Kenta, who’s been sneak attacking and trolling him all tour. The Goto character is fundamentally a good guy, but after Kenta’s match, he attacks him and shows that he’s now A Good Man Pushed To The Edge. This is something that should put way more grudge in their eventual grudge match.

The following night, after Goto is again in the opening match, Kenta drags him back in the ring and sits on his chest, having attacked him backstage. Goto staggers to the back like he has a head injury, but manages to turn the tables yet again by attacking Kenta after his match, completely blindsiding him as he holds up the NEVER Openweight Championship.

I’m not especially looking forward to any of Goto or Kenta’s World Tag League matches, which isn’t great, but they’ve become two of the most exciting people on the tour. The big question of their feud was previously “Okay, but will Shibata come back?” and that question still looms, but questions like “What will they do next?” and “When will New Japan make the singles match official?” are there too, and helpfully underlined by recent, exciting violence.

With Naito and Jay off for the rest of the tour, it’s now Okada and Ibushi’s turn to preview Wrestle Kingdom in the one non-league match every night. So far, with the help of Roppongi 3K and Uemura and Tsuji, they’re doing a great job. Their six-man tags have outshone a lot of the World Tag Leauge matches (come on, World Tag League!), with lots of energy and aggression along with the good technical stuff and plenty of tension between Ibushi and Okada.

More and more, the obnoxious, arrogant side of Okada is coming out as Wrestle Kingdom approaches, which I think makes sense for his character and is a smart move given how positively crowds have responded to the idea of someone other than Okada becoming New Japan’s top champion. He’s obviously not as unsympathetic as White going into the Tokyo Dome, but his attitude and scorn for the Intercontinental Championship makes him way less sympathetic than Ibushi and Naito, and I think playing into that continues to be a choice that makes sense. Who wants a storyline that’s just mutual babyfaces mutually respecting each other going into the main event of the biggest show of the year?

Best: The Male IIconics

Zack Sabre Jr. and Taichi vs. Evil and Sanada was kind of a letdown for me, just an alright match without much to remark on, but the losers’ backstage segment that follows might have be their best ever. ZSJ has just been pinned by Sanada (so either Evil and Sanada aren’t winning WTL, Sanada’s pulling double duty at the Tokyo Dome, or they’re wrestling for the RevPro title on a RevPro show) and shows that he will absolutely have a tantrum about that in front of other people. The moment of Zack leaving to compose himself and Taichi saying “They hurt my precious Zack” while ZSJ can be heard shrieking and cursing off-camera is hilarious. I’m still convinced these two can barely understand each other’s actual words, but they play off each other perfectly.

After the screaming is over, Taichi and ZSJ have just a very good backstage scene in which they try to figure out why they’re losing all the time despite clearly being the best team (“The quality of the other teams is too low,” reasons Sabre) and Taichi declares their role is now just to play spoiler. It’s something that makes sense for them as characters to do and a credible threat – despite their poor record as a tag team, they’re both singles guys who can beat a lot of people on the New Japan roster and it’s easy to believe they could ruin anybody’s tournament.

Also: Here’s Why Taichi Has Been Telling Women To Sit On Glasses

Way back at the beginning of World Tag League, as part of Zack and Taichi’s backstage bit about not being able to read the schedule, Taichi had Miho Abe sit on a reporter’s glasses, which broke them, so I really hope they were prop glasses. At the beginning of the backstage comments for the November 29th show, there’s a straight-up skit of Taichi getting three different women to set on a pair of glasses. While the first bit was funny to me, this one was just confusing until I saw a tweet by @johnnylandmine
(who does some wrestling-related Japanese-to-English translations on mentioning this is a parody of a series of Japanese commercials for a type of glasses called Hazuki Loupe. Here’s one of the commercials:

There are other commercials with the same gimmick that take place in different settings and Ken Watanabe is in one of them. Taichi tweeted the recent NJPW glasses bit is a commercial for “Taichi Loupe,” apparently the worse version of the product sold by a sleazebag yelling at women backstage at a wrestling show.

I don’t think knowing this makes the bit any funnier for people who aren’t Japanese because the punchline still requires so much explanation, but that’s something that happens sometimes when you watch international wrestling. You wonder what something means and it turns out it’s a parody of a commercial (like the Chaos group pose, which comes from a Sushi Zanmai ad) or a pun or a culturally-specific music subgenre or something and the reason it’s funny or clever or entertaining doesn’t fully translate because it comes from a version of everyday life you don’t experience. But anyway, that’s why Taichi’s been having people sit on glasses!

Worst: NJPW Sure Had A Wrestling Show On November 29

The November 29 World Tag League show does not have the dreaded three-match block of old man wrestling, but it really drags. Looking at the card ahead of time, I didn’t think there was anything to get excited about. While there ended up being one really good tag league match, most of the show is just matches that happened and were fine but weren’t notable in any way, besides the semi-main event being a rematch of the 2016 final. Nothing really dumb happens, but overall it’s the type of show that makes you start itching to reach for your phone or open another tab.

Best: Also, Some Good Wrestling!

These shows did have some actual World Tag League wrestling highlights, though. The 28th has a strong opener in Yano and Cabana vs. Goto and Fredericks, with several funny moments and a goofy Yano match ending (that’s also basically the less violent version of an MVP-era Yano ending.) Calling back to Henare and Shingo’s singles match amps up the aggression to make Doble Rampage vs. HenarACE (or Team Hammerhead Shark) a highlight of the show, but the brightest highlight ends up being Jeff Cobb and Mikey Nicholls vs. G.o.D.

Cobb and Nicholls are one of the easiest teams to make fun of in the tournament because they’re so obviously just a pair of two extra guys, but they’ve put in some really good work. They shine as babyfaces on the 28th in a quality tag match but are beaten by G.oD.’s signature combination of tag strategy and cheating strategy, which I think are those Guerilla Tactics we’ve been hearing about. The whole thing could have fallen flat if the good guys didn’t have so much crowd support, but Korakuen Hall is a such a friendly and enthusiastic place that I think someone watching New Japan for the first time wouldn’t guess from the crowd response that Cobb and Nicholls aren’t full-time roster members.

The other big match highlight of these shows is the main event of the 29th, Evil and Sanada defeating Ishii and Yoshi-Hashi. Los Ingos start it with an attack from behind, but it’s still essentially hot, competitive babyface on babyface action. Evil vs. Ishii rules again, Yoshi-Hashi goes on an absolute rampage (he’s kind of killing it this tour), and there’s exciting teamwork moments and nearfalls. This match shows how good World Tag League could be if it had eight or ten teams instead of like forty-five.

There have been more house shows between Sanada tapping out Yoshi-Hashi and when this article will be published, but here’s how the points stand after December 1.

Points earned:

18 points – 9-1 – Evil and Sanada
16 points – 8-2 – FinJuice, G.o.D., Ishii and Yoshi-Hashi
16 points – 8-3 – Yano and Cabana
14 points – 7-3 – Suzuki and Archer
14 points – 7-5 – Cobb and Nicholls
10 points – 5-5 – Kenta and Yujiro
10 points – 5-6 – Dangerous Tekkers, Doble Rampage
8 points – 4-7 – TenCozy
6 points – 3-7 – Fale and Owens
6 points – 3-9 – GBH
4 points – 2-8 – LA Dojo
4 points – 2-9 – HenarACE
2 points – 1-10 – Nagata and Nakanishi

And here are all the possible title shots earned:

IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Yano and Cabana, Evil and Sanada
NEVER Openweight Championship: Hirooki Goto
IWGP United States Championship: Toru Yano
RPW British Heavyweight Championship: Sanada