Through the month of November and December New Japan Pro Wrestling run the World Tag League, a yearly tournament that has been a yearly tradition under that name since 2012, but has been running in some iteration 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 8 teams in the two blocks. Block A has already been covered, and today we break down Block B. We’ll look at the teams, their history together, their likelyhood of winning and matches to watch for.
Great Bash Heel – Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma
WTL Appearances – Makabe: 10 Honma: 6 Together: 5 (Won 1)
The reigning and defending champions of the World Tag League, these two defeated Naito and Evil to win it in 2015 and then went on to win the tag titles at Wrestle Kingdom. They come in with the experience and the fans behind them. Between the Kokeshi-crazy underdog Honma and TV personality Makabe, these two won’t be longing for cheers.
They’ve got a tough road ahead to repeat though, with plenty of tough competition in the B block to contend with. Both guys have flown a bit under the radar through the second half of the year, so there’s a fair chance these two will put forth a respectable performance and end up in the middle of the pack.
Katsuyori Shibata and Yugi Nagata
WTL Appearances – Shibata: 2 (Won 1) Nagata: 15 (Won 2). Together: Debut
I like this team. This is a nice team. We saw these guys feud over the NEVER Openweight Title through the middle of the year, but Blue Justice and The Wrestler have come to respect each other, and are coming together to form what should be a formidable lineup. Nagata is a World Tag League veteran and former two time winner, and despite his advancing age can still go with the best of them on any given night.
Meanwhile, anyone who follows New Japan knows what you’re getting from Katsuyori Shibata. Hard hitting, relentless, no nonsense striking with some adept ground work to boot (and also a former Tag League winner). If he’s still carrying some lingering injuries this tournament will give him a bit of an easier schedule heading towards Wrestle Kingdom to heal up.
Hard to say just how many wins this duo will score. They’re not an established team, but neither man is currently booked in for a match at Wrestle Kingdom. The fact they haven’t announced a Shibata/Evil rematch for the NEVER Title may be to give these guys a legitimate shot at winning this, or it could be because they are actually winning it. Either way, there’s a good chance they’ll threaten for the top spot.
CHAOS (1) Kazuchika Okada and Yoshi-Hashi
WTL Appearances – Okada: 5. Yoshi-Hashi: 4. Together: 4
New Japan’s current ace and IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada has won his fair share of awards in NJPW, but he’s never won the World Tag League. In 2016 he’s teaming again with fellow CHAOS stablemate Yoshi-Hashi, which will mark the 5th time they’ve paired up in this tournament.
They’ve bounced around the rankings, averaging about 6 points as a team which places them in the middle of the pack, and chances are that will continue. Yoshi-Hashi’s stock has risen substantially this year, going from a low level mook to an underdog fan favourite who even main evented a show against Kenny Omega. But next to Okada he’ll be eating plenty of pinfalls in order to protect the champion. There’s plenty of intriguing matches here for this team, from a CHAOS v CHAOS battle and two separate Bullet Club matches – including Okada’s Wrestle Kingdom opponent Omega. For this reason alone, their matches will be pretty interesting.
CHAOS (2) Tomohiro Ishii and Hirooki Goto
WTL Appearances – Ishii: 9. Goto: 8 times (Won 2). Together: Debut
Now this is a team I’ve been wanting to see form ever since Goto threw in the towel and joined CHAOS. These guys feel made to wreak havoc on the shallow Heavyweight Tag division, especially since there isn’t much room for either man in the main event picture right now. Tomohiro Ishii is one of the most dependable wrestlers on the roster, and always goes out to put on a show. Meanwhile, Goto’s won the Tag League twice already, previously winning with Shibata and Karl Anderson, and my money is firmly on him to make it a third alongside the Stone Pitbull.
These guys need a prominent spot on the Wrestle Kingdom card, and challenging G.O.D for the titles makes sense. Not only should it be a good match, it’ll also continue the trend of CHAOS v Bullet Club matchups on the card (it’ll be the third title match featuring the factions going head to head). The only reason they don’t win is to act as a red herring, which will mean they’ll at least be in contention until the last night.
Hunter Club – Yoshi Tatsu and Billy Gunn
WTL Appearances – Yoshi Tatsu: 1. Billy Gunn: Debut. Together: Debut
Yeah you read that right, the fifty odd year old Billy Gunn is teaming up with the world’s worst Triple H impersonator Yoshi Tatsu. Really? REALLY? I get there are teams that need to take some losses, and Billy Gunn might just bring in one or two western eyes who remember him from his most famous tag team – Billy and Chuck – but is this really the best they can do?
The only time Yoshi Tatsu has been relevant in the past 24 months has been the unintentional comedy on the Wrestle Kingdom commentary team, and his feud with Bone Soldier has been like drinking bleach. Billy Gunn gets another pay day, and unless Yoshi Tatsu drops the Triple H mockery and instead dresses up as Road Dogg I couldn’t care less about this pairing. This is a team to make up the numbers…hopefully.
Bullet Club (1) Kenny Omega and Chase Owens
WTL Appearances – All Debuts
So for a moment I thought Adam Page was sticking around a bit longer to team with Kenny. That would have been great. But Chase Owens is far less exciting, though he’s not that bad. He had an okay showing in the Best of the Super Juniors earlier this year, but this is the heavyweights, and Juniors generally don’t do well. Especially when they’re on the level that Chase Owens is.
Kenny Omega will make most of these bearable, with plenty of comedy and fun. But we’re also getting the Okada showdown, and he works well with quite a few of the other names in this block. Chase Owens makes me think this lineup won’t do as well as it could, but they’ll still score a few wins to help Kenny’s build towards Wrestle Kingdom.
Bullet Club (2) Luck Fale and Bone Soldier
WTL Appearances – Bad Luck Fale: 3. Bone Soldier Debut (2 as Captain New Japan). Together: Debut
Gee who did Bad Luck Fale piss off to get lumped with the damn Bone Soldier? I kind of wish these two Bullet Club lineups had been mixed around, but realistically just as Chase is there to protect Kenny, Bone Soldier is here to protect Fale.
These matches should be mercifully quick, and there’ll be little fanfare outside of the continuation of the feud of the year when Bone Soldier and Yoshi Tatsu square off. Fale is at least interesting against guys like Goto, Ishii and Okada, so it could be worse. But let’s not waste too much time with these two.
Los Ingobernables – Evil and Sanada
WTL Appearances – Evil: 1. Sanda: Debut. Together: Debut
Evil was one win away from claiming the World Tag League last year with Tetsuya Naito, and this year the newly minted NEVER Openweight Champion finds himself with the up and coming Sanada representing the hottest stable in wrestling right now.
These two should do very nicely for themselves, both on the scoreboard and their in ring work. Evil has plenty of hard hitting guys to go to war with, including what should be a continuation from Power Struggle when he faces off with the former champion Shibata, who will surely be out for revenge. Meanwhile Sanada can continue to impress in the ring and raise his stock, preparing for what could be a very interesting 2017 for the Cold Skull.
If Evil wasn’t the NEVER Champion I’d say these guys had a good chance at going all the way, but that title will need to be defended at Wrestle Kingdom, and chances are the winner of this tournament will being vying for the tag titles come January 4. Still, these guys are too hot to have messing around on the bottom rungs
Predicted Finishing Order:
Ishii and Goto
Shibata and Nagata
Okada and Yoshi-Hashi
Great Bash Heel
Kenny Omega and Chase Owens
Bad Luck Fale and Bone Soldier