Previously on NJPW: We saw a generational goth battle, Naito tried to heroically paralyze a vegan, and nobody physically pointed towards the Tokyo Dome, but they did, you know, spiritually.
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And now the best and worst of the World Tag League shows from November 17 through December 2, 2018. I know, it’s a lot!
Worst: Filler Tag League
I’m going to kick this article off by talking about the overall worst aspect of this mostly enjoyable tour, the filler. World Tag League always features, in addition to established tag teams, pairs of random faction-mates who decide they might as well give the tag titles a shot, especially if they don’t have anything else to do at the fast-approaching Wrestle Kingdom. Not many WTL matches stand out as Very Bad because everyone in it is at least a capable wrestler, and they’re going out and having short to mid-length matches without a much screwy booking or many dumb finishes. It’s a flattering format! But the mix of established teams and irregular duos means World Tag League isn’t exactly the Mount Everest Of Tag Team Wrestling.
The most skippable matches in this tournament, though every team has had some entertaining ones, have been from the wrestlers who are past their prime or still finding themselves. Umino and Yoshida have yet to win a match and definitely won’t win one this tournament, but they’re playing the fighting-spirit-in-defeat angle well. The emotion TenCozy puts into their matches can create heartwarming moments, especially after their few wins. Fellow vets Nagata and Nakanishi, even with expectations and card placement befitting their 50-year-old legend status, have a few matches dragged down by Nakanishi’s lack of mobility. However, they also have a very entertaining match against FinJuice that features an energetic performance from Nagata that shows you never really lose that top guy charisma.
There’s really nothing to say about the Makabe and Henare team except that after An Incident Of Which I Will Write Shortly, an extra-motivated and much more focused than usual Henare gets the win for his team, and then asks backstage to join G.B.H. I’d guess that request was more to show his enthusiasm and dedication to his mentor than anything, I don’t think the idea of bringing back Great Bash Heel as a faction (heel, face, or tweener) of old-school tough guys is a bad one. Especially with the NEVER Openweight Championship maybe not being the super strong style belt anymore (more on this later), it might be cool to have something designated for that type of wrestling in NJPW.
And speaking of heels, we just saw the birth of another one, probably, with an angle it took me a few matches to get on board with. Beretta, even with that U.S. title shot canceled at the last minute and his subsequent loss of what Kevin Kelly calls a “de facto number one contender’s match” to Juice Robinson in ROH, seems like he has a heroic singles run ahead of him at some point. For now, it seems like the Best Friends could make it to at least the finals… if Chuck doesn’t disqualify them into oblivion.
The Best Friends start WTL by going three and zero, with one of those three a good match with ZSJ and Taichi that reminded me I still need to watch that Sabre vs. Dustin PWG match everyone loves. They fall to the Killer Bomb and struggle from there. You’d think Makabe and Henare would be a sure win for them, but after Henare lands a solid headbutt, Chuck snaps.
He starts beating up the former rugby player outside, eventually bodyslamming him onto a pile of chairs, then throwing six chairs (I counted) and a table into the ring. He gets disqualified as soon as he hits Henare in the head with a chair within the squared circle. The continued attack gets some boos, but it’s Chuckie T (in Japan, where the crowd reactions make it seem like the Best Friends aren’t all that over in most towns) and Henare, so the audience doesn’t care that much. Beretta finally stops Chuck after he goes to choke Henare with his belt, and his partner punches him in the face.
I know there’s a precedent for Evil Chuck from other promotions, but it seems odd to me to bring that version of him to New Japan when it seems like the Japanese fans haven’t been all that invested in him as a good guy in the first place. However, that could be because the Best Friends haven’t done a lot to set themselves apart in this promotion yet. It’s possible that putting on a version of an angle they already ran successfully in the U.S. could be good for them in the long run. I know that I, a moderate Best Friends and/or Dustin and/or Greg fan, wasn’t into the initial turn, but got more into the What’s Wrong With Chuckie T? storyline more as it progressed.
Dustin goes back to normal, mostly, for their dads vs. millennials match with Nagata and Nakanishi and wins it for his team. Beretta is concerned and good at acting. Things go wrong again in their December 2 match with Cobb and Elgin, the match where this storyline finally took for me. Dustin and Greg incorporate their character work well throughout the match, and Chuckie T breaks again at a much more disappointing time, as Beretta is in the middle of a babyface offense streak. Beretta again stops this with a hug this time, but it doesn’t stop Chuckie’s dead-eyed stare.
The most stressful thing for me about this storyline is that it could mean Chuck is the Bullet Club mole in Chaos. I hope not, because the turn seemed more like a spontaneous mental break than the reveal of an insidious double agent. But if he does go BC, maybe he could continue to be evil via insanity and just become their Iizuka, with Beretta leading him around by holding his hand. Already it’s starting to feel like Greg is the Shaun to Dustin’s Zombie Ed at the end of Shaun of the Dead.
Worst: The Least Timely Botch
Michael Elgin and Jeff Cobb seem like they’re here to play capable, supporting hands. They’re a big guy team in a notably different way than Killer Elite Squad is a big guy team. The live audiences enjoy their goofy pass-the-vertical-suplex feat of strength spot and they largely put on decent-to-good matches and get a W over the tag team champions. However, their storyline falls victim to a combination move gone wrong.
Cobb and Elgin start with tournament with a losing streak, and the story seems to be that they aren’t winning because they’re not super functional as a tag team. They haven’t worked together since last year’s WTL and they might not like each other that much. Their losing streak ends against Kojima and Tenzan in a match in which it looks like they really are on a roll, teamwork-wise… but then botch their powerbomb/backcracker move. The backcracker part doesn’t really take, and it looks like an obvious screw-up.
Big Mike wins the match with an Elgin Bomb shortly after this, and it looks like the stronger, younger Elgin just defeated Kojima with his high-impact arsenal, but I don’t think that was where the story of the match was going. Especially since Elgin looks upset afterwards and pursues a handshake from a reluctant Tenzan, the receiver of the move gone wrong. Botches happen, of course, but it seems like this specific one happened at the worst possible time.
Best: Found Family Ichiban
Though the three teams from Suzukigun have had their fair share of filler, they’ve each put on good matches, or at least fun moments, on these shows, and provided the tournament’s best subplot.
Suziki and Iizuka, judging from their record last year and the fact that it’s Suzuki and Iizuka, were never going to be major players in World Tag League. Suzuki, coming off a more serious and hard-hitting feud with Ishii, takes this opportunity to be On One at all times. This includes:
- Being exceptionally bouncy and smiley during entrances
- Hitting Yuji Nagata with a chair while looking directly at a woman holding a small child
- Dumping a bag of chips onto Nagata
- Walking a camera person backwards into some netting (???); trapping said camera person in the netting
- Chasing the ring announcer outside the barricade during their match with the Best Friends
- Strangling Hangman Page with his own noose (something that should happen to Page all the time)
Their brawl-y nonsense match with G.o.D. includes what look like murder attempts via hammer and Iron Glove, Suzuki beating up Jado with his own kendo stick, and Tama Tonga wildly swinging said kendo stick when Suzuki gets to close to him with a chair during his post-loss tantrum. Basically, these veteran performers are providing their type of midcard variety to World Tag League, and doing a largely entertaining job.
Taichi and Zack Sabre Jr. turn out to be very good tag team in the same way Taichi is a surprisingly good heavyweight competitor and quickly become a surprise highlight of World Tag League 2018. If Zack Sabre Jr. hadn’t challenged Ishii for the RPW British Heavyweight Championship at Wrestle Kingdom, which is most likely happening though the match has yet to be officially announced, I might actually believe ZSJ and Taichi had a shot at winning this thing.
They’ve rarely been teamed up before this, but they have great chemistry together, even with a significant language barrier. They’ve overcome that to display their friendship with the tool Ursula the sea witch recommended to the mute Ariel, body language, and quickly become the touchy-feeliest team in the tag league. In the ring, their consistent, effective strategy is what elevates them above the other irregular duos. When they’re able, they focus in on one limb, which Taichi targets with strikes and Sabre with submissions. Their defeat of Evil and Sanada in one of the best matches of the tournament (and a main event) cements their role as Team Mostly Likely To Play Spoiler.
Suzukigun’s most dominant tag team, Killer Elite Squad, has never finished lower than tied for their block in WTL and dramatically vowed to win it this year after Fighting Spirit Unleashed. They each brought or bought a variety of drug dealer chic entrance outfits, Lance Archer might be trying to overtake Taichi as his faction’s top lip-syncer, and they’re here to play destroy. Their most fun matches, I think, were against their own teammates, but they end the Best Friends’ winning streak with a good one, are monster villains to be defeated in one of TenCozy’s best this year, and get creative in their match with G.o.D.
I was surprised to see that last one wasn’t one of the tournament’s televised shows since these teams have a pretty well-established rivalry and have wrestled before, but maybe the lack of novelty was why it was NJPW World-only. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t lead to them slacking. K.E.S waits for the Guerillas on the entranceway and when Tonga throws his belts at them, the outside-the-ring beatdown begins. They fight WAY in the back, with Archer and Tonga brawling by the merch and Davey Boy Smith Jr. and Tanga Loa threatening to knock over people’s laptops. The camera people were clearly not prepared.
In the ring Archer, then Smith just wreck Tonga. He gets so thoroughly killed that he actually starts to get some rare sympathy cheers, especially from a section of ladies who Archer tells to “SHUT UP” multiple times while looking directly at them. Some tag teamwork, at last, stops the murder, and the teams are more evenly matched as they work together towards the finish… which ends up being a Gun Stun.
Backstage, Smith vows revenge on their “unfinished business” in a way that adds to my suspicion we’ll see these teams wrestle again soon. (And Tanga Loa invokes the Rock in his promo about missing Thanksgiving and going sex crazy. I’ll get to these dudes later!)
Beyond these highlights, Suzukigun has provided some of the most compelling storylines and matches this World Tag League when they’ve wrestled each other. This faction has been together for seven years and even the newer members have their characters and dynamics with other members of the group down. Maybe most importantly, in kayfabe and clearly through their performances, all of these wrestlers are willing to put each other over.
On the tournament’s first show, the Suzukigun-on-Suzukigun violence begins with El Desperado, Iizuka, and Suzuki defeating Kanemaru and K.E.S. The aggressive match gives us a taste of the intra-faction craziness and goodness to come. No one pulls any punches, and it’s the total opposite of that all-Elite match on the last night of A Block action in this year’s G1. 2011 G1 Tag League winners Suzuki and Archer have especially good chemistry together as they brutalize each other outside of the ring. Backstage, everyone displays some combination of fear, respect, and getting their kicks.
Every one of these intra-faction matches tells a different story with the same theme: brothers who respect each other proving themselves to each other, proving their place in their harshly patriarchal yet very functional family. First, we see this with K.E.S. vs. Suzuki and Iizuka. Suzuki and Archer try to snap each other’s limbs off assisted by the barricade, no-sell each other’s chops, and aggressively laugh in each other’s faces, and all the speaking characters talk trash. Suzuki (the character) struggles and is furious about how much he struggles against his much larger opponents as Suzuki (the performer) bumps a lot more than usual.
As they urge each other to be even more hardcore it looks like they’re having fun, and it’s fun to watch. The FIST BUMP OF RESPECT at the end is icing on the cake, as are the respectful backstage promos that reinforce the faction hierarchy. The next day, the three non-cannibal participants in this match “Ichiban!” together backstage, showing it really is all cool for now.
Further down the road, Sabre Jr. and Taichi vs. Suzuki and Iizuka have maybe my favorite match of the tournament. At this point, Suzuki and Iizuka have been on a winning streak and ZSJ and Taichi have proven themselves a force for brattiness and sometimes winning. But this match is obviously really about Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Minoru Suzuki. It’s such an event that Kanemaru and El Desperado watch from ringside and Taichi, looking full of dread, hesitates to climb the steps to the ring.
Suzuki is dead serious during this entrance, but breaks into a little smile before beckoning ZSJ to start the match. Their showdown isn’t going to be the payoff of a hot tag. These two submission specialists, tag champions together in RPW, not really master and apprentice, but more like professor and grad student, want to show what they’ve got. The opening sequence of grappling is entrancing. Suzuki’s age shows in this match, but so does his expertise. And ZSJ knows exactly what to watch out for. Probably the most dramatic payoff in this whole sequence is ZSJ grabbing the bottom rope right as a brutal-looking armbar locks on. On his feet, Suzuki points at him like “You did good, kid.” It’s very dad. The crowd digs it.
The rest of the match is also pretty great, with Taichi attempting to hypnotize (???) Iizuka into sanity and/or attacking Suzuki and then still just getting attacked by Iizuka, Suzuki trying to Gotch Sabre off a chair, Taichi using Taguchi on commentary as a human shield against his old cannibal friend, and the audience getting super into a classic Inoki-style manji-gatame from the King. To top it all off, it looks like Iizuka might actually tap or choke out ZSJ with a perfectly applied sleeper hold he locks on in a rare moment of lucidity.
After a slightly tense moment after the match everyone, even the junior tag champs, bump fists. The post-match comments solidify that they might just be the most functional faction in this company. Suzuki puts over his army and proudly lists every wrestler in it. ZSJ though gets very real and emotional about his niche art and how happy and alive the first five minutes of the match made him feel. He says one day he’ll submit Suzuki and become leader and holy shit, I’m pretty sure they’re going to do that within the next several years and we might see the beginning of Sabre-gun after a match that will definitely make me feel a lot of feelings. Suzuki’s a crazy high-quality big match wrestler for fifty years old, but he won’t be forever, and I like the idea that this group agrees that yes, whoever’s the strongest singles wrestler is the boss and someday the current boss’s time will come.
The final match in this little Suzukigun vs. Suzukigun series sees Killer Elite Squad defeat Taichi and Zack Sabre Jr. It starts with a spotlight for Taichi and the most “brothers fight” moment of this subplot when Archer and Davey Boy pressure him to step up and prove he’s a real heavyweight. It looks like they’ve lit a fire under the Holy Emperor’s ass (still clad in breakaway pants at this point), but just kidding, this is Taichi, and he hangs out in the ropes, tries the handshake trick, leads Lance on a chase up and down the stairs, and NEARLY WINS VIA COUNTOUT after using Milano as a shield. Yeah, maybe Sabre will be the boss someday, but Taichi’s never going to be the stable’s new kill ’em all monster. When Archer chases Taichi to the back, ZSJ and Smith get more technical and play to their size differences extremely well. After some of their recently patented tag team limb work, Zack and Taichi nearly beat their big brothers, but Taichi ultimately falls to the Killer Bomb.
So which of these teams can beat which other teams from their faction turns out to be exactly what you’d expect, in a good way. This group has been around for seven years, has stuck together (with a few lineup changes) in multiple promotions, and has self-produced several shows (under the We Are Suzukigun and TakaTaichi brands.) Their characters and group mythology are all well-established, and it was cool to see them show that off in good, creative matches in which we saw everyone get chances to show off their strengths.
Best: In Other Established Tag Team News
Juice Robinson, thankfully still wearing that incredible Macho Man-esque gear he debuted to team with Dalton Castle in ROH recently, and David Finlay are the most official unofficial tag team in NJPW and they wrestle like it. They haven’t had any matches I’ll remember forever in WTL at this point, but I’ve enjoyed watching them overall. They earn the audience’s love every outing with, especially on super-duper star Juice’s part, stellar crowd work. Someone, I think a Japanese someone, even hands him an AMERICAN FLAG from the audience after their match with Makabe and Henare.
Robinson can barely restrain himself from promos about regaining his patriotic singles champion glory from Cody but manages to mostly stay focused on WTL backstage. Apart from Evil and maybe Lance Archer, he actually sounds the most focused on making it all the way to the Tokyo Dome with his tag partner, especially after they lose an enjoyable match to G.o.D. and have that extra motivation to beat them on the grandest stage of the year.
In this tournament, Ishii and Yano show why they’re an incredibly valuable tag team that should probably never break up. Along with their usual stuff, we see glimpses of Fair Play Amateur Wrestler Yano and the mischievous side of Ishii that lets him cooperate with Yano’s shenanigans. Ishii has some good sequences in which he puts the “stone” in Stone Pitbull, but also gets choked out cold by Zack Sabre Jr., solidifying the Brit’s claim for a match at the Dome and adding intrigue to how it could go down.
Despite this dramatic early loss, Ishii and Yano are one of the top teams of the tournament. They end the winning streak of Killer Elite Squad, who are always weak to Yano’s unique monster-slaying abilities. They have a good match with a lot of range with Evil and Sanada, bringing out Comedy Sanada and the toughest version of Evil. Yano also made me literally laugh out loud with that insane “SHAKE HANDS” spot at the beginning of their match with Cobb and Elgin, which then proceeds to be a mostly straightforward, good match.
Evil and Sanada have so far been the tag team with most consistently high card placement, and, I think, the team with the most consistently high-quality matches in this year’s World Tag League. They’re a popular, charming, and versatile duo who seem like they’re able to have a good match with just about anyone. One of their best so far (that I haven’t talked about yet) in this tournament is their match with G.o.D., a rematch from last year’s WTL final, which is currently the timely NJPW free match of the week and is very much worth watching if you haven’t seen it.
Evil calls out Tanga Loa at the beginning for a battle of the strong boys, Sanada traps Tama in a Paradise Lock that Jado responds to by poking his teammate with a stick, and we get a fun East/West Korakuen spot. Back in the ring, G.o.D. keeps Sanada in their corner through many dramatic attempts for a tag to Evil, which, when it finally comes, results in an exceptionally heroic sequence for the King of Darkness. Both teams break up each other’s finishers, but it looks like it’s L.I.J.’s game… until the Guerillas break out their new finishing move, a super powerbomb, on Sanada for the W.
As Evil and Sanada are helped to the back, Tonga, Loa, and Jado pose, and Tama happily tells the camera, “The Gedo and Jado legacy continues! It is destiny that we would take the super powerbomb and continue its legacy, motherf*ckers.” BC isn’t on that Suzukigun level of functionality and probably never will be, but Gedo and Jado passing on their finishing move (as seen here in a match they had in ECW against the Impact players) is a neat seal of approval from one generation’s gangster-esque tag team to the next. (And also, you know, from the promotion’s bookers to their tag team champions, if that’s the type of thing you like to keep an eye on.)
I thought there was a good chance Taichi and ZSJ would beat them, but that super powerbomb ends that fun match. Jado hitting Taka Michinoku with the kendo stick and then Taichi hitting Jado with the mic stand is the heel-on-heel sequence the King of Sports deserves. ZSJ climbs around on the very strong Tanga Loa outside the ring doing submissions and the two do some surprisingly compelling grappling when they get in the ring. Tama and Taichi, on the other hand, (with their junior heavyweight pals) go full galaxy brain heel/Diva catfight tactics. At a certain point everyone has a Mexican standoff because nobody knows who’s legal. I would absolutely watch an extended championship feud between these jerks.
The Guerillas of Destiny don’t have the hottest of matchups straight out of the gate, but by the end of this run of shows they’ve had several entertaining bouts. They haven’t wrestled much this year as a regular tag team outside of G1 preview matches and now we’re seeing them at their most real-sports motivated. They’re four-time champs, two-time World Tag League finalists, they’re pissed they aren’t on the Wrestle Kingdom poster, and their new finisher gives them an additional edge.
Best: The Babyface Pimp
The other side of the Bullet Club, er, in the faction formerly known as part of Bullet Club, provides a fun, minor aspect of this tournament: the rare, high-effort babyface version of Yujiro Takahashi. He first shows up in the Dick and Balls (Page has a canonically huge dick; Yujiro has canonically massive balls) (this tag team was apparently later nixed by the office, but I guess it’s still cool for the Tokyo Pimp gimmick to be a thing and other teams to swear and reference their dicks?) vs. Evil and Sanada tag match in Niigata. The Pimp and the Cold Skull are both hometown boys, so they both get up on the turnbuckles and play to the crowd a lot and actually get dueling chants in this extremely local interest matchup. Sanada is obviously the more over of the two, but it’s really fun to see this white meat babyface who cares about the fans pop out of Takahashi.
We see the Tokyo Pimp play to the crowd for sympathy again when Page and Yujiro face their old pals the IWGP Tag Team Champions. At first, my body rejected even the concept of another OG vs. Elite encounter like a bad organ with a skull logo on it, but this match ended up being pretty enjoyable. Page and Tonga start the match off being all speedy and athletic and oh yeah, they haven’t really wrestled before, so this is kind of neat. Once Tanga Loa and Takahashi are in though, the match threatens to become a one-sided gang-beating until Yujiro freaking DIVES ON TAMA OUTSIDE and DUMPS TANGA LOA OVER THE TOP ROPE, only to have his white meat babyface shine stopped by the stick of Jado.
The story of this match actually gets compelling and I have to eat my words as Yujiro sells every move from the G.o.D. like he’s borderline knocked out. The crowd is SO INTO IT when he finally blocks a suplex from Tonga and hits that fisherman buster he’s been doing to no pop for so long. Page gets to be an athletic marvel, Yujiro gets another freakin’ underdog babyface comeback, but Guerilla Warfare ultimately ends the surprisingly good match in favor of the champs. (Yujiro, go to Taguchi Japan!)
Worst: Please Just Leave
Hey look, I’m writing about the Bullet Club Civil War again! Every time I have to write about this angle I say I think it’s going to be the last time, and then something happens with it again! So I’m not going to say that this time! Anyway, Hangman Page brings this conflict up backstage. He doesn’t know what the BC split happened, like none of the Elite characters seem to even though the guys that beat them out of their faction have now been talking about their motivations for over a year at this point! Page gives what I think is supposed to be An Address To The Fans and talks about how he thinks a lot of people are disappointed in the storyline because “there’s no closure, maybe. There’s just Bullet Club and there’s Elite. I don’t think there’s anyone as disappointed as us because we need the closure more than you do, trust me,” because they’ve all been in the faction for years, etc.
All of these points are good. Here is the deal though: a big part of what made the BC Civil War angle compelling (and I’m talking to NJPW fans overall, not just the BTE faithful) from the New Beginning to Supercard of Honor was the amount of effort put into it. The wrestlers’ appearances in NJPW and ROH, at least a scene in every BTE episode, and most of their social media was dedicated to this feud. Over the past several months, all parties involved in this angle have had the opportunities to cut unscripted promos about caring about Bullet Club and/or the split and to further the angle on social media. The people with the web series could have put the effort into the Elite vs. OG part of the angle like they did when the story focused on only the people on the web series.
Instead, they no-sold a giant post-match beatdown and betrayal and moved on to ads for their indie show and their t-shirts and a cruise. It seems like a group of people so into referencing other wrestling in their own wrestling should know that wrestling fans are only happy when angles end via wrestling, but maybe the angle they were willing to go the extra mile for ended for them with Omega vs. Cody II. I don’t know. I don’t believe in authorial intentionalism or that I have the ability to read minds; I just know this whole thing is a bummer to think about.
But it looks like I’m going to be thinking about it for at least another month! On the latest episode of Being The Elite, Matt Jackson of non-WTL-participant tag team The Young Bucks of The Elite, the group currently dominating two title pictures in absentia that is almost definitely leaving New Japan (since they’re definitely leaving ROH) soon, talks to a camera-holding Nick Jackson while driving to the Japanese consulate. “We’ve been enjoying some time off, some great time off,” he says. He celebrated his ten-year wedding anniversary and went to Europe. Nick adds that he’s “been sitting at home doing nothing.” They’re driving to the consulate because “spoiler alert,” Nick says they’ll be on the last show of NJPW’s World Tag League. The card for the last show of World Tag League has not been announced yet beyond Goto vs. Ibushi.
Matt says they “couldn’t make it for the whole thing, but we’re at least coming for the end,” but could they just not come at all? Could they just do that instead? Because one of two things is probably going to happen here:
1) In the option I am hoping and praying for even though I don’t really like it, the Guerillas don’t make the tag league finals and instead have a trios match with Ishimori against the Bucks and Hangman or Marty and lose those titles. Then the six-man tag titles get defended at the Dome, and that happens instead of…
2) the Young Bucks show up and challenge G.o.D., either after the Tag League final or after pinning one of them in another Elite vs. OG multi-man tag match. The Guerillas accept because they’re confident they can kick their asses again and they want to because they hate them. We mostly likely have more than two teams in the heavyweight tag team match at Wrestle Kingdom.
Option two seems way more likely and that really sucks. It would be such a f*ck you to the many good teams who have been killing it this whole tour and don’t have anything to do on January 4. It would also suck for everyone who’s been watching and getting invested in World Tag League only to have it end with Bucks Ex Machina. I don’t think the argument of well, they need the Young Bucks on the card to grab those foreign casuals holds up since BTE fans already have a reason to tune into Wrestle Kingdom with Kenny in the main event and Cody most likely defending the U.S. Championship on the show. I don’t think there are a ton of Young Bucks fans who wouldn’t watch this show at least for Omega. But at least the inevitable spot when Jado hits Matt right in that bad back with the kendo stick will probably be satisfying.
Best: Kota Ibushi Is The Dumbest Man In The World
Quick, let’s bring the tone of this article up with a good WTL Final show development!
Hirooki Goto and Kota Ibushi, for whom Don Callis has “the vapors,” each appear in one televised match on the World Tag League tour, but they get a lot done in that time. Goto enters the ring with his four-year-old sons, the Best Friends, to take on Ibushi, Page, and Yujiro Takahashi with a plan straight out of a cartoon. The solid six-man tag match ends with Chuckie T being pinned by the Tokyo Pimp, which at the time made me think he must the third-lowest level heavyweight in NJPW (above Honma and Henare.) Goto hops on the mic and immediately gets Ibushi to accept the match for the NEVER Openweight Championship (Goto’s, like, main belt, which Ibushi has been shading) by just saying he’ll stop offering it. I love so much that Ibushi does a flip after this exchange to really drive home that he has one (1) brain cell and it’s the one that tells your body how to do flips.
Backstage, Goto is very proud of himself and it takes Ibushi A WHILE to realize he just agreed to a title match. Said match is happening on December 9, so maybe we’ll see NEVER Openweight Champion Will Ospreay soon after all. Unless Goto retains, which seems unlikely, it looks like the rebranding of this championship into something flippier is officially upon us. I hope it results in more singles match opportunities for junior heavyweights.
Best But Also Mostly Filler: The Juniors And The Voice Of Reason
Most of the non-league multi-man matches on the pre-Dream Tag portion of the tour are used to both heighten the junior tag team championship feud and fit big ol’ stars Okada and Naito on the card. Most of the stuff between Roppongi 3K and Shingo Takagi and Bushi isn’t anything new, but the crowd enjoys it and the teams stoke the fire of their rivalry in promos. On the last night of these matchups, El Desperado shows up to do commentary, unleash an excellent evil laugh, and incite what almost becomes a brawl with the challengers to his team’s titles. It doesn’t really pop off, but it’s a good display of how tensions have risen between the three teams.
On the mic and backstage, Naito plays his now-familiar, still valuable voice of reason and L.I.J. support in NJPW. After one day of not being sure if World Tag League will be good, he starts saying he wishes he was in it in order to wrestle Evil and Sanada, who are, of course, steps ahead of everyone. In a later promo, he criticizes NJPW promoting the Dream Tag with Okada and Tanahashi on a day World Tag League competition is happening. As he did during Best of the Super Juniors and Super Junior Tag League, Naito takes the company to task for not prioritizing the tournament that’s happening right then highly enough. I was excited for the team up, but I appreciate that NJPW acknowledges, through a popular anti-establishment character who also doesn’t like either of those guys, its kayfabe downsides.
Best: NJPW’s OTP (Okada Tanahashi Partnership)
Okada cuts threatening promos on “little Jay” after those matches with L.I.J., and says hey, don’t get too excited about his team-up with Tanahashi! It’s not that big of a deal! Unless it is! He doesn’t know; shut up. But everyone is excited!
The dream tag happens for the first time on November 29, when Tanahashi, Okada, and Kushida face Jay White, Fale, and Ishimori, the Bullet Club team with the most dramatic possible range of heights. The first match in this Chaos-and-Team-New-Japan vs. Bullet Club series starts with Okada entering on his own and just fighting White right away, prompting Kushida and Tanahashi to run out to help. Once that tag match (a good one; these are all pretty good ones) begins, the Ace and the Rainmaker are kept apart as much as possible beyond that the red streak in Tanahashi’s hair.
Their team loses and Jay White gloats to boos and chants to go home. The next match, with Rocky Romero added for our heroes and Gedo for our villains, starts with a cinematic moment of Okada and Tanahashi looking up into the ring together, but we still don’t see much teamwork from them. This is partly because the OGs do everything they can to keep beating up Tanahashi in their corner. We finally get to see THE HOTTEST TAG IN THE BUSINESS, KAZUCHIKA OKADA, and our heroes later double suplex Jay White and knock Fale over the top rope and it’s awesome. But a Bloody Cross from Ishimori ends the match, and Bullet Club gets to gloat again and claim that they’re the real dream team, obviously foreshadowing the NJPW debut of Stokely Hathaway.
The evolution of our patchwork babyface team continues on December 2, with all four assembling outside the ring, then running in together to brawl with the bad guys. We get Tanahashi and Okada action right at the top of the match, including them HISTORICALLY doing their poses at the same time.
Kushida gets the chance to fight every Bullet Club guy/get trapped in the heel corner this match. It’s clear that he and Ishimori are going to have one of the best bouts if not the best of Wrestle Kingdom 13. But their feud, already threadbare, is the third or fourth highest profile storyline in these tag matches. Ishimori blaming how much Kushida has “tarnished” the title for how little their upcoming match is being talked about helps with that, as does Jay White yelling about THE HEART AND SOUL OF THIS MAN, who is fighting with ONE LEG backstage after every match.
But back in heavyweight land, where you must be slightly taller to ride the rollercoasters, the feud between Okada and Jay White continues to get people extremely fired up. The Rainmaker gets more help from Tanahashi during this match, and they’re still not a legendary tag team in terms of doing cool moves or whatever, but we’re watching them slowly learn to work with each other. For now, Bullet Club is 3-0 against the Mega Powers, but nothing about these matches feels like a loss for the viewers. Except, I guess, that it would be cool if Tanahashi was actually working on building his own Wrestle Kingdom feud – for the main event! – instead.
After this chunk of World Tag League, here’s how the points stand:
- 14 points – 7-2 – Evil and Sanada, Ishii and Yano, Guerillas of Destiny
- 12 points – 6-3 – Killer Elite Squad, Cobb and Elgin, FinJuice
- 10 points – 5-4 – Best Friends, Taichi and Sabre Jr.
- 8 points – 4-5 – Makabe and Henare, Suzuki and Iizuka
- 6 points – 3-6 – Dick and Balls, TenCozy
- 2 points – 1-8 – Nagata and Nakanishi
- 0 points – 0-9 – Umino and Yoshida
I’ll see you back here after the final to talk about the last week of the 2018 World Tag League tour before we start down the actual Road to the Tokyo Dome-branded part of the road to the Tokyo Dome.