Through the month of November and December New Japan Pro Wrestling run the World Tag League, a yearly tournament that has been a tradition under that name since 2012, but has been running in some form or another as far back as 1980, which was won by Antonio Inoki and Bob Backlund.
The series is run in a similar format to the G1 Climax. Two blocks of eight teams face off in a round robin format, leading to the top team from each block facing off in the final for the right to be crowned the winners. Two points for a win and one for a time limit draw, generally each block will come down to the wire, with the last matches carrying the fates of each team on its shoulders.
In preparation for the series, which opens on the 18th November, I’ll be running two preview articles, one breaking down each of the eight teams in the two blocks. Today, it’s Block-A. We’ll look at the teams, their history together, their likelyhood of winning and matches to watch for.
Hiroshi Tanahashi and Juice Robinson
WTL Appearances – Tanahashi: 10. Robinson: Debut. Together: Debut
What an opportunity for Juice Robinson! His time in New Japan has been a valuable learning experience, and we’ve slowly seen management entrust him with a bit more time in the ring with a slightly brighter spotlight, even getting some singles matches against some of the bigger names in the company. But here, he finds himself teaming the ‘Ace of the Universe’ and one of the most important men in the history of the company.
Hiroshi Tanahashi is no stranger to the World Tag League, even making the finals a couple of times. But he’s never won it. And this year he finds himself effectively mentoring one of the New Japan’s younger prospects. Safe money would have had Tanahashi teaming with his friend Michael Elgin for the second time, but the facial fracture has kept him out of the tournament. It’s a shame too, because their dynamic has been rock solid since the previous Tag League, but when one door closes, another opens.
This is a great highlight spot for Juice, but it also means that when his team loses, they’ll be losing with him on his back. The two of them should do decently, but with Tanahashi already booked at Wrestle Kingdom, it’s safe to say this combo won’t be going all the way. Keep an eye on the match with Los Ingobernables, which will act as the appetiser for their Tokyo Dome confrontation.
TenCozy – Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima
WTL Appearances – Tenzan: 15 (4 Wins) Kojima: 12 (3 Wins) Together: 8 (2 Wins)
The most experienced combination in the tournament, TenCozy is an old guard combination that has found success in the World Tag League both together and separately. In their ninth appearance as a team, these two know how to put on a fun and hard hitting match, and should be assured a strong showing. Looking at who is in their block, I’d also give them good odds for winning the block, given their experience and name power. However if they make it to the finals I don’t see them winning. Satoshi Kojima is a current NEVER 6 Man Tag Champion alongside Ricochet and David Finlay, and chances are they’ll be defending that title at the Tokyo Dome. That won’t stop these guys from putting their stamp on the tournament though, and they’ll have the crowd support to back it.
Bullet Club – Yujiro Takahashi and Hangman Page
WTL Apperances – Takahashi: 6. Page: Debut. Together: Debut.
These guys might seem like they’re at the lower end of the Bullet Club, but they’ve shown some promise as a tag team, even getting a title shot against the then champions The Briscoe Brothers. That being said, neither of these two are exactly must see wrestling…well Takahashi is but that’s less for his in ring work and more his entrance valets. He has made it to the finals before though, alongside his No Limit partner and current Los Ingobernables leader Tetsuya Naito. A good showing here will help Page and Takahashi establish themselves as future title contenders once fellow Bullet Club members G.O.D relinquish the gold. Won’t be a threat to the top of the table, but they should pick up a couple of wins by shady tactics.
Manabu Nakanishi and Henare
WTL Appearances – Nakanishi: 18. Henare: Debut. Together: Debut.
Yeesh, this isn’t a pretty combination. The young Lion Henare will get some valuable in ring time with some of the best in the company, but he’s still got a lot of learning to do before he becomes must watch wrestling. And while Nakanishi is good for the odd adorable old man spot, he’s so far past his prime he’s probably forgotten it existed. He’s the slowest of the old guard, and doesn’t really have an exciting partner to bounce off here, but at least he can rest on the apron while his Young Lion partner gets beat up.
These guys will be scraping the bottom of the table, and Henare will spend a lot of time on his back. Don’t expect much from this team, even though his nineteenth year in the tournament from Nakanishi is an impressive effort.
War Machine – Hanson and Raymond Rowe
WTL Appearances – All debuts
Both guys will be making their NJPW debuts in the World Tag League, but they’re not total newbies to the scene, having worked as a team in Pro Wrestling Noah last year when they challenged for the GHC Heavyweight Tag Team Titles against the Killer Elite Squad. They’ve also had a run as ROH Tag Champions, beating The Addicton at the end of 2015 and holding it for a few months.
These guys both have some decent size on them, and will probably work as something of a designated big tag team in this block, with Hanson weighing in at 280 pounds and Rowe at 240. They might not have spent any time in New Japan before, but they should have a decent showing. It’s not unheard of for Ring of Honour teams to score a few wins in the World Tag League, and they work a style that should do well with the Japanese audience. But that being said, they’re ultimately here to make up the numbers, so don’t expect them at the top of the pile unless they’re secretly set to spend a lot more time in the land of the Rising Sun.
WLW – Brian Breaker and Leland Race
WTL Appearances – All debuts
If you don’t recognise these guys I wouldn’t blame you. But you might recognise Leland’s heritage – son of the legendary Harley Race. He spent most of his career away from his father’s name, but has embraced it in recent years after proving he’s more than just a ‘son of a legend’. It’s a very out of left field team, apparently Tanahashi spent some time at Harley Race’s school helping out and teaching, so it would be a fair guess to say maybe he liked what he saw with these two and put in a good word to Gedo.
Bryan Breaker was in NXT for a short while as Bryan Traven, and he’s also spent some time in Japan, having tagged with Shelton Benjamin in NOAH. I’ll be honest though, I don’t really know much about either of these guys, so I can’t provide too much insight, though that might be a sign that you shouldn’t expect these two to rack up too many wins. We might get some decent matches at least.
Guerrillas of Destiny – Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa
WTL Appearances – Tonga: 4. Loa: Debut. Together: Debut
The current IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions are actually starting to win over some of their doubters after a couple of strong showings at King of Pro Wrestling and Power Struggle. Now in the tag league, you’d expect the champs to do well. Tama Tonga’s made a few appearances, but he no longer has Bad Luck Fale by his side. That’s probably for the best though.
They’ll be in contention to win the block, and maybe even the whole tournament. But whoever they lose a match to will have a case to challenge for the titles at Wrestle Kingdom, as well as anyone else who wins the tournament, so how they handle G.O.D will be very interesting. No matter what though, this is their chance to prove they belong in the title picture, by putting on some good matches with a range of opponents. They need to at least do better than Tama Tonga in his G1 showing this year at least…
Los Ingobernables – Tetsuya Naito and Mystery Partner
WTL Appearances – Naito: 6
Do we finally get to meet this mystery member of the Los Ingobernables De Japon? We’ve seen him show up on occasion, but so far the stable have been silent as to who was under the mask. But Naito has promised big things in this tournament, and given the opposition in Block A, he has a good chance of making waves. He’s got the history too. While he hasn’t won the tournament yet, he’s been in the finals twice, including last year alongside fellow stablemate Evil.
Truth be told Naito’s really above winning this at the moment. He has Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom to worry about, and main events to worry about next year, so this will be more about expanding the Ingobernables brand. But Naito is always fun to watch, and should be good for a few good antics, and the team itself will score their share of wins purely because of Naito’s value, as well as getting over the new member.
Predicted finishing order:
Tanahashi and Juice Robinson
Nakanishi and Henare
Next time: Block B!