The 2013 New Japan World Tag League kicked off on November 23rd from Korakuen Hall with the first of four live World Tag League iPPV events, and the first of six total iPPV’s over the next 65 days. The string of shows culminates with the big Wrestle Kingdom 8 show on January 4th (with the strong possibility of two additional Korakuen Hall shows to be added later, upping the total to eight shows in 66 days).
New Japan is certainly pushing the limits of over saturation of their newfound revenue stream. What started off as a very traditional schedule of monthly big show PPV offerings, has now slowly expanded to the monthly traditional PPV’s plus most televised Korakuen Hall events (at a discounted price, usually $15, sometimes $10, depending on the perceived importance of the show). Six PPV’s in 65 days may seem like a new tipping point, but back in August New Japan offered all nine nights of the G1 Climax, which ended up being 9 shows in 12 days, for a bundled price of $150.
With no confirmed numbers, it’s impossible to tell if New Japan is killing the golden goose. Over saturation is a dangerous game to play, because once you burn out the audience, they’re usually gone for good. Time will tell, but with a reported 500% increase in revenue this past year largely due to iPPV offerings on USTREAM & niconico, the strategy appears to be to feed the consumer until they stop eating.
The show itself had minimal buzz coming in, minimal, as in zero. Twitter activity as the show began was as low as I’ve ever seen for a New Japan iPPV. So low in fact, that when we did our usual roll call of followers, exactly one reported that he was watching. For the first time ever, we ditched our live coverage for lack of interest.
1. Jushin Thunder Liger & Tiger Mask vs. Sho Tanaka & Yohei Komatsu – The show kicked off with a non-tournament bout, with the two veteran juniors (and current GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag champions) taking on the young lion team of Tanaka & Komatsu. This match would very likely be the last high profile chance for Tanaka & Komatsu to make an impression on WON Awards voters in what appears to be a wide open Rookie of the Year ballot, with the voting period wrapping up at the end of the month. Komatsu really shined here. He always shows great fire, and he hit a nice bridging suplex and two picture perfect high dropkicks. Tiger Mask & Liger worked aggressive and angry after being attacked right at the bell. Tiger Mask finished off Komatsu with a double under hook off the top followed by a crossface chicken wing for the tap. Short, sprinty opener to get things going. **1/2
2. Manabu Nakanishi, Strongman & KUSHIDA vs. Lance Archer, Davey Boy Smith Jr. & TAKA Michinoku – Strongman is back, and i’m OK with this. He was showing tons of improvement on his last tour, which feels like a million years ago. Nakanishi is his partner in the tournament, but they got the night off from their block here, as did Killer Elite Squad. For me, tag team of the year is a three way race between KES, The Shield, & the new IWGP Junior Tag Team champs The Young Bucks. The Shield have tailed off a bit after it looked like they locked it up with a hot first half of the year. KES has been consistently good all year. The Bucks have been the top working team in multiple promotions and briefly held four sets of tag titles at the same time (PWG, DGUSA, IWGP junior, House of Glory). This was a lot of fun. DBS tried to match power with Strongman at the start, and gut bullied. So he gave him the finger and tagged out. That was funny. Archer similarly got the worst of it against Nakanishi. Later they dominated the champs with a double shoulder block, and a double torture rack. The story here was to set up the idea that Strongman & Nakanishi (“Muscle Orchestra”) are a threat to KES, as they are in the same block. Nakanishi took out all of the big guys with his sad looking dive that barely clears the apron. I really hope he doesn’t kill himself with that one day, but the crowd likes it. This left TAKA with KUSHIDA. KUSHIDA missed a moonsault but landed on his feet. TAKA poked him in the eyes and cradled him up for the win. Fun match. **1/4
3. Yuji Nagata vs. Takashi Iizuka – Nagata & Sakuraba are killing time before their Dome tag match against the Gracie’s by feuding with Iizuka & Yano. Sak rarely works anything other than the big monthly PPV’s, likely due to his price tag. Nagata recently won the NOAH Global League, and will challenge KENTA for the GHC Title on 12/7. Too bad that can’t be at Wrestle Kingdom. Nagata isn’t part of the Tag League, so he has a bunch of oddball bookings on this tour. Whatever happened to Wataru Inoue? Anyway, this is what you would expect. Lots of brawling from Iizuka, who kept choking Nagata with a rope in plain view of the ref. Eventually he called for a DQ. Crowd was flat for this. He grabbed the iron fingers but Nagata recovered enough to run him off. Iizuka left through the crowd and tossed some chairs. Not sure why Nagata didn’t just beat him here. They don’t have another singles match on this tour, which Nagata leaves early to head back to NOAH for his title shot. Maybe Nagata gets his decisive win on one of the year end Korakuen shows (there are two this year). Nothing match. *
4. Kota Ibushi & BUSHI vs. Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows – Gallows is the latest member of the Bullet Club, which is expanding faster than the nWo. He teams with Anderson, a two-time winner of the Tag League, and without a clear match as of yet at Wrestle Kingdom for Anderson, this team would have to be considered one of the favorites. Ibushi, who has a double contract with New Japan & DDT, has said he will primarily work as a junior, so he is not involved in the tournament. It was odd to see Ibushi, who has a real star aura, used underneath in a role like this. The increased presence of gaijins like Gallows, Young Bucks, Shelton Benjamin, Strongman, etc is a sure sign that New Japan is doing pretty well. This match looked to be a way to get Gallows over on his first night in, with BUSHI as the sacrificial lamb. And that’s exactly what it was. Gallows looked to be in great shape, as physically he was not that much bigger than Anderson. And he looked great in the ring, too. I always felt he was a guy who would really excel in Japan, and got a small taste with a short NOAH run earlier this year. His offense comes off very violent. The announcers were going on and on about WWE, but no mention of TNA. Do they not realize this man was the vice president of Aces & 8’s? Ibushi was given a brief comeback, but this was all about Gallows manhandling BUSHI. He finished him with a chokebomb/spinebuster variant that he calls the Gallows Pole. Gallows comes to the ring with a noose (“Gallows”, get it?), and hung BUSHI over the ropes after the match. Iizuka had just done this to Nagata for the finish of the previous bout. This was short but accomplished its goal of getting Gallows over as a beast. **
5. Toru Yano, Yujiro Takahashi & Jado vs. Minoru Suzuki, Shelton Benjamin & Taichi – Here is your wacky “get everybody on the card” multi man match, with CHAOS vs. Suzuki-gun. One day, I hope one of these young lions has enough, ducks the Suzuki kick on the apron, and goes after him. Would be a cool way to break one of those guys out of young lion status. If you haven’t seen Jado lately, he’s morphed into 2008 Ric Flair. His offense consists of nearly all chops, he woo’s, and he does the Flair flop. This match featured the two laziest guys on the roster, Jado & Taichi. Taichi put Jado’s head in between a young woman’s legs, and then sat on top of him, grinding his face into her nether regions. Isn’t that Yujiro’s gimmick? She didn’t seem to mind. Crowd got into this when Yano took off the turnbuckle pad. Suzuki cut him off though. Even though the feud is over, Suzuki still fought with plenty of disdain towards Yano, as they tend to “remember” things better in Japan (as opposed to CM Punk chillin’ with his little buddy Rey Mysterio on RAW). The finish was Yujiro setting up the Tokyo Pimps on Tachi, but MiSu catching him with a choke. Yano made the save and cleared MiSu from the ring. With Yujiro & Taichi isolated, Yujiro hit the Tokyo Pimps for the win. Suzuki-gun beat up the young lions after the match, and Shelton attacked the ring announcer, which was more energy than he expended during the match. I’m not even sure he ever tagged in. **1/4
6. World Tag League – Block B: Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima vs. Rob Conway (NWA) & Jax Dane (NWA) – Tag League action kicked off with struggling TenKoji, who dropped both falls of a double title match last month, taking on one of the teams that beat them, the NWA reps Conway & Dane. Dane was protected well in last month’s tornado match, using lots of power spots and staying in his wheelhouse. The big question, was how would he do in traditional bouts? No Bruce Tharpe for this tour. The key spots were Dane catching Kojima in a belly to belly as he was coming in for his trademark flying forearm in the corner. This was the first time in a long time that somebody countered that spot, so it was a nice surprise. Tenzan had Dane in an Anaconda Vice, but Conway saved. Kojima eventually got his chops/flying forearm/elbow off the top sequence in on Conway. The finish was Conway going for the Ego Trip on Kojima, but Kojima escaped and hit a big lariat fo the win. Then he cut a promo on Conway post match, demanding another NWA World Title shot. This felt like it was worked in slow motion. Dane’s power spots came off a little weak after following Muscle Orchestra & Gallows. The fans are still feeling him out. Nothing wrong with it, but it was just a match. **
7. World Tag League – Block A: Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma vs. Prince Devitt & Bad Luck Fale – Honma sold forever. He’s a really great pro wrestler, yes, great. He does everything really well, and really excels in making guys look good. Makabe got the hot tag and cleaned house, but missed a King Kong Knee Drop. Devitt has a new gimmick where he puts a hood over people’s heads like a terrorist. Fale beat Honma by KO again with the overhead toss. He cut a short promo, saying “Makabe, you’re next!” That looks to be a Dome match. Honma was stretchered, and the crowd respectfully went silent. Japan, where they show respect for heel Russian national anthems & worked stretched jobs. **
8. World Tag League – Block A: Hiroshi Tanahashi & Captain New Japan vs. Shinsuke Nakamura & Tomohiro Ishii – Captain New Japan is positioned here in his usual role as Tanahashi’s designated jobber. Tanahashi wore a mask. This may have been the best CNJ performance I’ve seen. The match was worked in reverse, with Tanahashi as the babyface in peril and CNJ making the big comeback. There was one key spot where Tanahashi had a chance to tag out, but didn’t, and the camera focused on a confused and frustrated CNJ who was DYING to get into the ring. This was clever and built anticipation for the eventual comeback. CNJ survived two big lariats from Ishii, both of which popped the crowd and had them thinking upset. Ishii won it with a brainbuster. They kept Tanahashi & Nakamura away from each other for the most part, so no big standoff to tease Dome here. In fact, Nakamura didn’t do much at all and was pretty much an afterthought. **3/4
9. World Tag League – Block B: Tetsuya Naito & La Sombra vs. Kazuchika Okada & YOSHI-HASHI – YOSHI-HASHI is Okada’s Captain New Japan. The intrigue here was how would Korakuen treat Naito, who was soundly booed in Osaka, which may have prompted the internet poll to determine the main event at Wrestle Kingdom, which was won by Tanahashi & Nakamura’s IWGP Intercontinental Title match. La Sombra was cheered louder than Naito, who was met with indifference. I didn’t hear boo’s, but nobody cared. The faceoff between Naito & Okada to start the match saw dueling chants, with Okada’s side slightly louder. So this was not Osaka, but Naito was hardly super over or anything. Korakuen always seems to love La Sombra. He was the BIP here, and the hot tag was colder than ice as nobody popped at all. I know it sounds like I rail on Naito incessantly, but I’m not making any of this up. The closing stretch was Okada & Sombra, and the crowd was clearly hotter for Sombra’s stuff than Naito’s. In fact, this match made me want to see Okada vs. Sombra way more than Okada vs Naito. Sombra was about ready to finish Okada off following his one arm dead lift powerbomb, tearing off his shirt and appealing to the crowd, when Okada hit the high dropkick out of nowhere & landed the Rainmaker for the win. Cool finish and Sombra took a great bump. Okada cut a promo post match that was designed to get heat and a pop for a Naito attack. And get this. When Naito attacked him, the crowd BOOED. It’s not as if Okada wasn’t heeling it up either, as he had this shit eating sarcastic grin on his face as Naito put the boots to him. Naito is just not over at the level he needs to be, period. Not only that, he’s flat out being rejected. Dome is going to be very interesting. **1/2
Skippable show. None of the matches were bad with the exception of Nagata/Iizuka, but nobody was in high gear. Many guys were in cruise control. Unless you are a hardcore and need to see everything, I would pass on this. If you’d like to cherry pick, I’d recommend the Gallows debut, and the main event for the Naito/Sombra/Okada dynamic.
New Japan returns on iPPV with World Tag League cards on 12/3, 12/5, & 12/8 (finals).