New Japan Pro Wrestling
“World Tag League 2014”
November 28, 2014
Hiroshima Green Arena – Small Arena (2,528 Fans – Super No Vacancy Full House)
For most hardcore New Japan Pro Wrestling fans the annual World Tag League series is regarded as one of the low points of the year for the promotion. Positioned at a poor time of the year from a booking perspective, the shows rarely advance any major storylines, and the tour itself is generally there to fill time while the companies focus is on promoting the annual January 4th Wrestle Kingdom shows. On top of this many of the favorite sons of NJPW hardcore fandom have reputations for phoning it in during the tourney, saving their energy and efforts for the big Dome show on the horizon. Perhaps for these reasons, even this site — which has possibly the most comprehensive New Japan coverage of any English language wrestling website — has almost completely neglected the tournament, with only passing discussion on the podcasts, and no long form print coverage to speak of. So I have stepped into the void.
For those who are not familiar with me I do consider myself a New Japan fan, but I am not a hardcore New Japan fan. If things work out as planned I may have the opportunity to write more about my views on the promotion and the buzz around it soon enough, but people who aren’t used to reading my views on modern NJPW may find some of my opinions on certain workers a bit odd.
All of that said, I have decided to review this show, because where many hardcore New Japan fans see a tour that is a waste of time, I view tours like this as a way to get a more complete look at both critically acclaimed and lesser appreciated talent. Who is phoning it in because it’s a smaller show or a tag match? Who is busting their ass every night even if they are only getting four or five minutes of ring time? Who is clearly trying to get themselves more bookings? These are the sort things lame duck tours like this can tell us, and for that reason I often enjoy watching them more than the critically acclaimed “big” shows that die-hards go nuts for.
Another quick note: I am generally not a star rating guy. But I also recognize that many people who read the New Japan coverage on this site use the reviews as a guide to help separate the quality bouts from the excess. For that reason I will play along and rate each match with snowflakes, something I almost never do. Consider it my holiday* gift to you the reader.
Bushi/Yohei Komatsu vs. Jax Dane/Rob Conway: Conway and Dane haven’t been around New Japan in what feels like forever. Actually, I haven’t seen either guy period in what feels like forever, and in the interim Conway has started doing the most egregious Macho Man rip off gimmick I’ve ever seen. It’s not as bad (or as good depending on how you look at it) as Pretty Boy Chuck Sims ripping off Pretty Boy Doug Somers in 1987 Montreal, but it is pretty incredible to watch Conway try and mimic the look, poses and even some of the offense of Randy Savage. This was only about five or six minutes, but I am generally a fan of these sort of WCW Worldwide-ish matches where you have your six or seventh most pushed junior guy, teaming with the equivalent of a Power Plant trainee against the New Japan equivalent of the Cuban Connection. The reason matches like these work is because every guy is happy to be on the show, and desperately wants to look good in hope of getting future bookings on meaningful shows. So what you end up with here is a really spirited performance from the Savage tribute act, some decent stuff with Bushi as face-in-peril, a nice pace, and a fun run from Komatsu as the hot tag. Dane didn’t do a ton, and I would have liked to see Komatsu get a bit more time, but everyone at least looked solid when they were in there, and this is the sort of effort you want out of the D-Team opening match guys. **3/4
Yugi Nagata/Manabu Nakanishi/Sho Tanaka vs. Lance Archer/Davey Boy Smith Jr./Taichi: This is a really weird match on paper. The all-Japanese team is about as bizarre a trio as I can think of, and KES teaming with quasi-rock star Taichi is right up there as well. This was compounded by the fact that Taichi was doing a modified Mizdow act, selling the impact of several big Killer Elite Squad spots by wildly bumping for them from the apron. In many ways this was a spotfest, as the match was really as much about the big spots as it was about anything, but I thought they did a very good job developing a fun story built around the young boy Tanaka.
On the front end, he tried to stand up to the bullies, only to get his ass kicked in the process. His big brothers had to save him form the damage, but when they find themselves in trouble, he has to come in and make the save. I really dig the young lions staple offense of fun looking throws, forearms and crab submissions, so I enjoyed his run on Taichi. They did a couple of fun near-falls (including one with Nagata and Nakanishi counting along) and the way they cleared the table so that it was just him and Taichi down the stretch really made you forget that Tanaka was inevitably going to take the fall. To their credit, they did protect the kid by having Archer come in do Taichi’s dirty work, which was a smart finish that put heat on the heels, and made Tanaka look like he got screwed. Post-match Nakanishi and Nagata were back to defending the little guys honor and had a stare down with KES as they held up the NWA tag belts, so maybe this match is actually setting something up down the road. Fans of the young lions should check this one out. ***1/4
Michael Bennett/Matt Taven vs. Jushin Liger/Captain New Japan: I will note at this point that I don’t think a single one of these matches so far has been an actual tournament match, but as noted in the preface this tourney doesn’t really mean shit in the grand scheme of things. That said the matches are often worth watching because you have guys like Bennett and Taven who are out here every night in the tourney, working like their lives are on the line, almost certainly because they are hoping to get more New Japan bookings in the future (I strongly recommend their match vs. Naito and La Sombra from the previous tag league show).
I suspect that a lot of big time NJPW fans might not be into the Southern style antics of Bennett and Taven, but I like all of it. The over the top bumping, the reliance on their manager (Maria has been great all tournament), the simple and effective tag psychology — it’s all good and it all works. I even love their use of the spike piledriver for a finish which is old school as fuck. It doesn’t hurt that I genuinely enjoy Captain New Japan, who’s splat face plant bumps were amusing, or that I love Liger who’s reactions to the ineptitude of his partner were outstanding, but I would have been a fan of this performance from the ROH team no matter who their opponents were. ***
Karl Anderson/Doc Gallows vs. La Sombra/Tetsuya Naito: I don’t like Karl Anderson at all, Sombra isn’t even one of my fifty favorite active luchadors, Naito annoys me to no end and while I like Gallows I have no use for him in New Japan. So when I say that this was pretty good, it really overachieved. I would guess this would be a match a lot of people would really like because it had a very quick pace, some nicely done flashy spots, and some solid near falls. It also had a finish that felt pretty big time for what is not really a big time show. I would recommend this to those looking for quality matches from the tournament, but I’m so lukewarm on these guys in general that my praise is naturally tempered and I don’t have much to say about the specifics, other than the fact that Naito took some cool bumps. ***
Togi Makabe/Tomoaki Honma vs. Bad Luck Fale/Tama Tonga: Up until this point Honma has been the best individual performer on this tour by healthy margin. In fact, I think Honma has been the best guy in every match he’s been in this year. I still thought he was the best guy in this as he did a solid job selling for the middling offense of the heels, while also delivering with the most explosive offensive spots of the match. Makabe for his trouble delivered his typical clothesline/punch routine the way you expect him to, and took one nice bump over the guardrail on the floor. The problem with this was that the heels just didn’t have a ton of stuff to keep things interesting when in control. Even in a relatively brief match Fale looks lost on offense, and while Tonga is a good athlete, who does some decent looking spots, he comes across out of place as a face painted “asskicker.” Because of the first few minutes and the last few minutes I would still put this in the “solid” category, but this could be so much more if three of these four guys had any depth to them as performers. **3/4
Hiroshi Goto/Katsuyori Shibata vs. Kazushi Sakuraba/Toru Yano: I’m that weird guy who thinks Yano is actually pretty good a lot of the time, really likes Sakuraba, and thinks Goto is boring as piss. Shibata is Shibata, the guy with the aura, who can really deliver some times…or he can be the worst of the worst with his over reliance on fighting spirit spots, and bomb throwing. Anyhow, the point is that I’m on the opposite end of the spectrum from most NJPW fans when it comes to everyone in this match, but I also had no clue what to expect here. Honestly I’m not even sure what the hell I got. I will say that I thought everyone in this looked good. I really liked the exchanges between Shibata and Sakuraba which were not slick, but were plenty violent. The big corner dropkick, with Goto holding a half conscious Sakuraba in place was a pretty great moment. I also liked Yano and Goto who had their own little thing going on, with Yano using his cheapshot spots and Goto taking some big impact for things that he didn’t have to. The only problem here is that I’m not sure how all of this fits together as a match. Well that and the finish with Goto accidentally decking Shibata and taking the pin, which I really hope isn’t leading to more Goto vs. Shibata. More a match with a lot of good stuff than a really good match, but still worth watching. ***
Hiroshi Tanahashi/Ryusuke Taguchi vs. AJ Styles/Yujiro Takahashi: I didn’t care for this. There was nothing terribly offensive about it other than the weak kicks of Takahashi and even weaker forearms of Tanahashi that Styles was forced to sell, but this was the first match on the show that lacked any dynamic exchanges, and their was nothing about this that made up for that. I did enjoy Tanahashi’s leaping around like a school girl on the apron while awaiting the hot tag, but that’s not going to earn the match a good mark by itself. Styles hit a few nice spots, but the big Tanahashi/Styles sequence looked really choreographed, and you can be sure the other two guys weren’t going to do anything to save this. I could live without ever seeing a Taguchi or Takahashi match again as they bring nothing of interest to anything they are in. This didn’t suck, but it wasn’t any good either. **
Shinsuke Nakamura/Tomohiro Ishii vs. Minoru Suzuki/Takashi Iizuka: Iizuka was a duck out of water in this. I am probably the biggest fan of hide the chain foreign object schtick of anyone affiliated with this site, but I just can’t get into that sort of thing in a match where Suzuki and Ishii are doing shoot headbutt spots. Speaking of which there were some really fun exchanges in this with Suzuki and Ishii that had me hoping that we will eventually get another big time singles match between those two. On the other hand I really loathed the bit with Suzuki locking submissions onto Nak and Ishii at once. I also thought the finish was ridiculous, but Suzuki acting like a conquering hero after cheating to win was pretty great. As a whole this didn’t really work as it was like they were trying to do two or three different things. Still, it wasn’t really bad either. **1/4
Hiroyoshi Tenzan/Satoshi Kojima vs. Kazuchika Okada/YOSHI-HASHI: Eh, this wasn’t my kind of match. I am fine with these spot running affairs, but this was the longest match on the show and I prefer matches worked like this to be kept short. More than that I prefer matches worked at this pace to feature guys with a bunch of cool, violent, or interesting looking spots, and this is a match filled with guys who have middling looking offensive spots at best. I’m also completely fed up with the Rainmaker square dance routine. I understand it is over with the live crowds, and it wasn’t over done here, but watching Kojima use it annoyed me. The final sequence with YOSHI-HASHI trapped in the submission trying to get out was a good idea in theory that was sloppy in practice, a fitting end to this one. Mediocre match. **
There was nothing terrible on this show, and everything was watchable enough, but it was a show that really fizzled out after an opening run of fun matches — all of which had distinct feels to them. Nothing must see, though I do think it is worth keeping an eye on Sho Tanaka and the Bennett/Taven team for whatever is left of this tour. An easy watch, but the last three matches are entirely skippable.
*Please note that my use of “holiday” here is deliberate – I am avoiding the use of Christmas not because I don’t want to offend non-Christmas celebrating readers, but because I am nearly positive that my careful use of the general rather than the specific will offend anti-PC crusader Joe Lanza.