The prevailing thought heading into the New Japan Pro Wrestling World Tag League Final from Aichi Prefectural Gym was “please give us any IWGP Tag Team Title match at Wrestle Kingdom that isn’t Killer Elite Squad defending against TenKoji”. Any other match on the table, whether Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma, or the more likely scenario of Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows, or even an outsider team, sounded way more appealing than KES vs. TenKoji for the umpteenth time. After the second semifinal match, Twitter nearly broke as we were one-step closer to the match nobody wanted.
Kota Ibushi, Katsuyori Shibata and Kazushi Sakuraba joined the tour for the final night, which was also the last high profile chance to set up the January 4 Tokyo Dome NJPW Wrestle Kingdom card. Rumored but yet to be official match ups like Katsuyori Shibata vs. Hirooki Goto & Togi Makabe v.s Bad Luck Fale were expected to be cemented.
1. Yohei Komatsu vs. Katsuyori Shibata – This was not Shibata via death, which I was expecting and wanting. Shibata assumed a Superman pose at the bell and let Komatsu fire away to no avail. He then roughed him up a bit, but Komatsu made a spirited comeback with great facials, fire and actually took Shibata off his feet. Shibata had enough at that point, and wasted no time delivering some stiff kicks leading to a tidy Boston Crab finish. Shibata bolted straight to the back, just like his Honma win last month. This was very short. Komatsu had a great tour, and looks to have a bright future. *
2. KUSHIDA & BUSHI vs. TAKA Michinoku & Taichi – Fast paced and good action, but also very short. A bunch of short matches figured to be the case with ten bouts scheduled. BUSHI looked great here, but he took the pin following a double team move that I’ve never seen TAKA & Taichi do. A good, strong win for the heels as they head into the four-way IWGP Junior Tag Title match at Wrestle Kingdom. **1/4
3. Manabu Nakanishi & Strong Man vs. Rob Conway & Jax Dane – Dane & Conway are the NWA tag champs, but this was non-title. Strongman had his thigh taped up, and Dane’s elbow was wrapped. It’s been a rough tour for the monster gaijins. The story here was Conway clipping Strongman’s injured leg, and then a long heat spot building to the Nakanishi hot tag. Nakanishi was not moving well. The crowd was also dead for this, with three Americans in the match, none of which are regulars. Dane broke up an Argentine Backbreaker attempt by Nakanishi on Conway, followed by a Dane spear and Conway Ego Trip for the win. It was OK considering the limitations & injuries of some involved. **
4. World Tag League – Semi Final: Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows vs. Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma – Makabe has truly mastered the art of doing as little as possible on some of these shows and picking his spots. Honma worked most of the way. Bad Luck Fale, presumably setting up a long rumored Dome match, attacked Makabe. This left Honma alone. He fought hard, and he is great in that underdog role. Bullet Club hit the Magic Killer for the win. Fale choked out Makabe with his own chain post match. **1/2
5. World Tag League – Semi Final: Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr. vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima – Everybody on Twitter was pulling for KES, because nobody wanted to see TenKoji vs. KES again at Dome. Therefore, everybody was promptly let down when Kojima broke up a Killer Bomb, hit the big lariat on DBS, hit another on Archer to take him out, and Tenzan hit the moonsault on DBS for the upset. Best match of the first half, which clocked in at a tidy 70 minutes or so. **3/4
Intermission. Hirooki Goto came out and challenged Shibata, making the Dome match official. That will be great.
6. Kota Ibushi & Captain New Japan vs. Prince Devitt & Bad Luck Fale – Ibushi & Devitt started this off, but Devitt bailed quickly as Ibushi got the better of the exchange. Then it was CNJ selling forever. CNJ had a strong tour, carrying the bulk of many matches with Tanahashi because Tanahashi was hurting. In a bit of great booking, he also got over on his bully, Devitt, by picking up a shocking pin to eliminate Devitt & Fale from the tournament. Ibushi took out Devitt with his asai moonsault from the second turnbuckle, but Fale hit a Samoan Drop & his Border Toss type move, which is called the Bad Luck Fall, for the KO finish. It’s a better move, and moreover, than the old thumb to the throat he was doing a few months ago. CNJ did the stretcher job. **1/4
7. Yuji Nagata & Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Takashi Iizuka & YOSHI-HASHI – I don’t know what this was. It was just terrible. Some crowd brawling (including a man scurrying out of the way with a baby in his arms, which was scary), some brawling in the ring, and Nagata wins it with his arm lock sub in the end. Just a non-compelling mess of a match. I fear the worst at Dome with Nagata in there with Sak. and the two Gracie’s. I’d be shocked if it’s passable. DUD
8. Toru Yano & Tomohiro Ishii vs. Minoru Suzuki & Shelton Benjamin – Crowd was dead (and I mean DEAD) for this after the previous abomination. It didn’t help that it wasn’t that good, and then to top it off they did a DQ finish, with Suzuki punching the ref while handcuffed to Yano. Yano challenged Suzuki for Dome post match, to absolute silence in the arena. Nobody wants to see that match again. This show went downhill fast, and badly needed a great match to save it. 1/2*
9. Tetsuya Naito, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask & La Sombra vs. Kazuchika Okada, Shinsuke Nakamura, Masato Tanaka , Yujiro Takahashi & Gedo – All the big stars got separate entrances. This was a ton of charisma in one ring… and Tiger Mask. I was expecting a sprint with everybody getting their shit in, but that wasn’t what this was. Tiger Mask sold early, for way too long. Then we got the Nak/Tanahashi face off and exchange, and then the Okada/Naito face off and exchange. Nak did the old rope flip spot he used to do in the old school matches with Tanahashi. Sombra, as he is prone to do, stole the show. I badly want the long Sombra singles run that is never ever going to happen. I really don’t like him much in CMLL, but he’s fantastic in every way when he’s here. In addition, the crowd loves him. He finished Gedo with the Brilliante Driver. Probably the best match so far, but I was expecting better. ***
10. World Tag League – Final: Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows vs Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima – I usually don’t care who wins most matches and just root for good action. However, holy shit was I pulling for Bullet Club here. According to our Japanese Twitter followers, even the native fans watching on niconico were cold towards the TenKoji semifinal win. Nothing special until Kojima hit the big lariat, but Devitt yanked out the ref. Fale & Devitt jumped in for a beatdown, but Makabe ran in and cleaned house for the save. Bullet Club went for the Magic Killer on Tenzan, but Kojima saved. Anderson hit a Gun Stun to clear out Kojima. Then they hit the Magic Killer on Tenzan for the win. So it’s Anderson & Gallows vs. Killer Elite Squad for the IWGP Tag Team Titles at Dome. Exhale. ***
Look, they were going to have a bad show at some point.
After an unprecedented run of super high quality major show iPPV’s, this was the worst New Japan iPPV since they rolled out internationally via USTREAM in 2012. Three out of ten matches were good, and two were absolutely terrible. The rest was mediocre. Nothing was great. I cannot recommend the show unless you are the hardest of the hardcore, or if you can find a way to watch free. Watch the KES/TenKoji match, the semi, and the main. Skip the rest.
Special thanks to @SenorLARIATO for the gifs.