After two shows in California coming up this and next week, New Japan Pro Wrestling‘s new tour in Japan will be its annual heavyweight tag team tournament, World Tag League. NJPW released the lineup and the schedule, showing that World Tag League 2019 includes some exciting new teams, but also exposes a lot of the issues this tag division and this tournament have had for a while.
Like last year, World Tag League will consist of sixteen teams competing in one massive, round-robin block, meaning every team will wrestle all the other teams. As in other NJPW round-robin tournaments, teams will earn two points for every win, one for every draw, and zero for every loss. The teams with the most points will face off in the final and the tournament winner will get to challenge for the tag titles at Wrestle Kingdom (or, if the champs win, choose their own Tokyo Dome opponents.)
The biggest weakness of this year’s World Tag League is the same as those in years past. It includes very few experienced tag teams made up of wrestlers in their primes while including a lot of thrown-together teams of stablemates.
In 2019, the only two World Tag League teams who feel like contenders are Bullet Club’s Guerillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa) and L.I.J.’s Evil and Sanada. G.O.D. are currently in their fifth reign as IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions and have never won World Tag League, but have consistently made it to the finals. Evil and Sanada have won the past two tournaments and have held the tag titles twice. These teams sure to make the most of this tour, but the fact that no other duos feel even close to their level right now is an indication of what a low priority tag team wrestling is in NJPW.
The other two teams in this year’s tournament with the strongest resumes are both made up of veterans: GBH (Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma) and TenKoji (Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima.) Makabe and Honma won the 2015 and 2016 tag leagues and were tag champs in 2016, but that was before Honma’s injury. TenKoji are one of the most decorated tag teams in NJPW’s history, having held the titles together six times between 1999-2017 and won the heavyweight tag tournament twice, but they’re probably more of a beloved nostalgia act this year than serious contenders.
World Tag League also includes six pairs who you could call semi-regular tag teams who have notably tagged together in the past:
- Lance Archer and Minoru Suzuki, who won the G1 Tag League in 2011 (year one of Suzukigun and the last year before the tournament started being called World Tag League) and will definitely commit to killing everyone, if possible
- Yuji Nagata and Manabu Nakanishi
- Juice Robinson and David Finlay, reunited after Finlay was out for months with a shoulder injury
- Tomohiro Ishii and Yoshi-Hashi, who unsuccessfully challenged for the tag titles earlier this year
- Dangerous Tekkers (Zack Sabre Jr. and Taichi), who were instantly a surprisingly good team when they paired off last year and could be (affectionately) described as the tournament’s bitchiest team
- Bad Luck Fale and Chase Owens, who teamed in the 2017 tag league and had a bit of Owens trying to master the Tongan Death Grip
There are also three new teams that are made up of all New Japan wrestlers:
- Hiroshi Tanahashi and Toa Henare
- Hirooki Goto and Karl Fredericks, pairing the Young Lion Cup winner from the LA Dojo with a veteran who trained there for a while earlier this year. These guys are the team most likely to lose literally every match, but Goto did win the 2012 World Tag League with Karl Anderson (as Sword & Guns), so maybe it’ll turn out he has good luck with guys named “Karl” and he and Fredericks will do really well? You never know!
- Kenta and Yujiro Takahashi, who I’m sure will be accompanied by Pieter as often as possible
Rounding out World Tag League are three new tag teams that each pair New Japan-affiliated wrestler with one from one of the company’s partner promotions. CMLL’s El Terrible and Shingo Takagi will represent the Mexico-Japan Los Ingobernables alliance as they bring most combined Uncle Energy and impression they could have built up their muscles in jail of any team in the league. Terrible last appeared in New Japan on the 2019 Fantastica Mania tour, where he fit in really well with the L.I.J. guys.
Two wrestlers from Ring of Honor who competed for NJPW earlier this year will also return to the company for World Tag League. G1 Climax participant Jeff Cobb and Mikey Nicholls will compete together and way more excitingly, Colt Cabana and Toru Yano will pair up as the ultimate clown team. Should they win the whole thing? I feel like they should maybe win the whole thing.
World Tag League will take place from November 16 through December 8, with some shows broadcast live on NJPW World and the tournament matches from untelevised events uploaded to the streaming service later. This month, the live shows are on 11/16-18 and 11/28-29. Bring on the clowns!