New Japan Pro Wrestling
“World Tag League 2014” Finals
Sunday, December 7
Aichi Prefecture – Aichi, Japan
The most overlooked tour of the New Japan calendar wrapped up in Aichi.
The issue that plagues the World Tag League tour each year is that coming off of Power Struggle, a large chunk of the Wrestle Kingdom card is already in place. This makes it pretty easy to figure out who will win the tournament, since the winners usually go on to challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team titles at the Dome show. With Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata conspicuously absent from any of the announced or strongly implied Dome bouts, it didn’t take a crystal ball to figure out that they would at minimum win their block, and more than likely face (and defeat) the current champions, Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows, in the finals.
One possible solution to this problem is to do the championship match awarded to the winner as the main event of one of the Christmas week Korakuen Hall shows instead of at Wrestle Kingdom. This would open up the possibility of literally any team winning the tournament. On the flip side, this would also mean that they wouldn’t be able to book the IWGP tag team title match for Wrestle Kingdom until a week or so before the show. Would announcing that match two weeks later really be that big of a deal, though?
With that said, this really amounts to a hardcore fan complaint. Casual ticket buyers aren’t trying to figure this stuff out to the same degree people reading this review do, so trying to work out a solution to what amounts to a very small problem that affects a very small percentage of fans probably isn’t worth the trouble. The WTL tour is run in small buildings (and usually fills them) including tonight in the Aichi Prefectural Gym. The predictability of this lame duck tour is just something we’re going to have to live with, unless the ticket buying public catches on and loses interest as a result.
While the tour may have lacked drama (even though they tried their darndest by booking Goto & Shibata to the requisite slow 0-3 start, requiring a 4-0 finish to win their block via tie breaker), this was the best in ring WTL tour of recent vintage, helped along by some hard working outsiders. The ROH team of Mike Bennett & Matt Taven were the big surprise, delivering fun matches every night with an American heel style and some great work by valet Maria Kanellis. Captain New Japan reacting to her gyrations as if he’s never seen a half naked woman before is one of my favorite things in all of wrestling. The Iron Godz (Rob Conway & Jax Dane) took part in the tournament for the second year in a row, and Dane had his best New Japan tour to date. Tetsuya Naito & La Sombra had exciting matches just about every night. Killer Elite Squad vs Shinsuke Nakamura & Tomohiro Ishii was a highlight match on Night Two. The roster may not have been churning out MOTY contenders on a nightly basis, and some of the regulars were clearly coasting and resting up tired/injured bodies, but overall these were the best WTL shows on a night in night out basis since the New Japan “hot period” began around 2011 or so.
On paper, this show was the most underwhelming PPV lineup of the year, filled with “special (6/8 man) tag matches”, giving this the feel of a random house show event. While it didn’t deliver great matches up and down the card like most New Japan PPV’s do, it more than made up for it with some flat out tremendous post match brawls & angles. This show was a ton of fun, and by comparison blew away the dry 2013 WTL Finals.
Sho Tanaka vs. Yohei Komatsu: I am on record as stating that both of these guys are going to be great workers, and probably stars. These are the two most impressive young lions at this stage of the game since possibly Muto & Chono, and with the reactions they get live, the fans know it. The one upside to the unfortunate Yoshitatsu injury on the first night of the tour was that card reshuffling resulted in some extra action for these two dudes, capped off by two one on one matches to finish off the tour. I figured Tanaka was winning here, because Komatsu had won the previous singles match a few days earlier in Oita. Some grappling to start, and Tanaka was the first to lock in a crab hold, working a single leg version that had Komatsu scrambling for the ropes early. Komatsu’s facials here were outstanding. Tanaka is the better looking of the two, but Komatsu has the more expressive face and a better grasp of facials. Komatsu used a flying forearm and a nice bridging suplex to take control, and locked in a full crab of his own. Tanaka made the ropes. Tanaka went for another crab, and Komatsu used some brutal looking up kicks to escape. Tanaka eventually worked back into a single leg crab, but this time transitioned it into a high angle grapevine version which forced Komatsu to tap. Komatsu’s facials and selling make him the slightly more compelling worker at this stage, but Tanaka has the better frame and projects to have a better overall look. These two will likely be forever associated with each other since they came up together, and did so during the iPPV era. Their singles series now stands at Komatsu with 7 wins, Tanaka at 6, with 23 draws. I can’t wait to see who these guys face on the Christmas week Korakuen shows, and also the 1/3 show the day before Wrestle Kingdom. **1/2
Tiger Mask & BUSHI vs. Taichi & El Desperado: This wasn’t very good. Some dull brawling to start, with a brief face comeback highlighted by a couple of decent dives by both BUSHI and Tiger Mask as well as a finish that came abruptly with Desperado scoring the fall. Desperado was doing the old belt motion in the post-match. They’re building towards an El Desperado vs Jushin Liger NWA World Junior Title match, for either one of the Korakuen shows in two weeks, or at Wrestle Kingdom. *1/2
Special Tag Match – Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi vs. Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr.: Nagata & Nakanishi have been on the hunt for the NWA World Tag Team Titles, having already lost a challenge when TenKoji held the belts. I thought we might see an upset here to set up a possible title defense at Wrestle Kingdom, but it didn’t happen. Nagata & Nakanishi were also the early surprise of the tournament, with Nakanishi finding the fountain of youth, but that didn’t last more than a couple of matches, and Nakanishi looked his age again here. KES worked hard enough, but there is only so much you can do with a limited guy like Nakanishi, who usually looks like he’s moving at a completely different speed than everybody else in a given match. KES won it with a Killer Bomb on Nakanishi. **
Special Tag Match – Jushin Thunder Liger & Captain New Japan vs. Matt Taven & Michael Bennett: This was a rematch from Hiroshima on 11/28, and it was nearly an identical match. Poor CNJ continues to be mystified by Maria. Liger finally had enough, and tried to beat some sense into his partner, but then he was seduced as well. Utterly ridiculous, but harmless fun. Bennett pinned CNJ to cap off a nice tour for The Kingdom, but the story here was El Desperado attacking Liger in the post match and stealing the NWA Junior belt. **
Special Tag Match – Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima vs. Rob Conway & Jax Dane: These teams are no strangers to each other, having battled for the NWA Tag Titles over the last couple of years (with KES in the mix as well). Much like the previous match, this was standard tag team fare with a lot of the same stuff we’ve seen when these teams have gotten together previously. The big takeaway from this was Tenzan beating Conway with the Anaconda Vice, which sets up his NWA World Title challenge, presumably at Wrestle Kingdom. **
Special 6 Man Tag Match – Kazushi Sakuraba, Toru Yano & Gedo vs. Minoru Suzuki, Takashi Iizuka & TAKA Michinoku: Maybe because it was a contrast to what was already on the show, maybe it was because of the inclusion of Gedo & TAKA (who both added something different to the mix, especially Gedo, who I wish would work more matches), or maybe it was the hot post match brawl and angle, but I loved this from start to finish. This had an intensity that stood out from the rest of the show to this point. Gedo, who understandably doesn’t wrestle much these days, is an underrated performer who could be a top sleazy style junior if he wanted to be. The interactions between Suzuki & Sakuraba were fun. Yano won it for his side with a surprise cradle on TAKA and that’s when the riot started. KES came out to murder Yano (setting the stage for some sort of tag match at Wrestle Kingdom, possibly KES vs. Yano & YOSHI-HASHI, or maybe a six man), Suzuki brawled with Saku all over the building and nearly took out some fans with a guardrail, and Iizuka was running around like a lunatic with his iron glove. This was some scene, which added some juice to the upcoming Suzuki/Saku match, and gave a clue to the direction of KES and Yano for the Dome show. ***
Special 6 Man Tag Match – Tetsuya Naito, Tomoaki Honma & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. AJ Styles, Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi: Another fun match capped off by a wild post match angle. Honma carried this one (stop me if you’ve heard that before), and just as he was making a great comeback, the rug was pulled out from the fans once again as Kenny Omega popped up out of nowhere to interfere, leading to a Miami Shine and a win for the Bullet Club. The BC attacked post match, but TenKoji and the New Japan Army ran in and evened the sides. Omega delivered a Katayoku no Tenshi (electric chair into a driver) to Taguchi to add heat to their upcoming IWGP Junior title match, while Styles & Naito went nose to nose and everybody else brawled. Real fun stuff all around. ***1/2
Special 8 Man Tag Match – Hiroshi Tanahashi, Togi Makabe, Kota Ibushi & La Sombra vs. Kazuchika Okada, Shinsuke Nakamura, Tomohiro Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI: The trend of fun matches with great post match antics continued here, with Okada sneak attacking Tanahashi in the aisle and delivering a tombstone piledriver, right in front of a group of kids who were air guitaring with their hero, leading to a stretcher job. Will the neck injury play into the Tokyo Dome main event? As for the match, you knew CHAOS was in trouble when YOSHI-HASHI ended up isolated with Tanahashi after Ibushi & Sombra took everybody out with moonsaults off of opposite posts to the floor. Nakamura and Makabe (who is the master of hiding in big tag matches) took the night off, but everybody else had some shine in a fun little set up for the Dome. ***1/4
World Tag League Final – Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata vs. Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows: It feels like Anderson is in the finals of this thing every year, and in fact, he’s won this tournament in the past with two of the three other men that were involved here (Gallows and Goto). This was an old school American style tag match, with long periods of selling from the babyfaces, and liberal interference from the Bullet Club. To me it never got to the next gear, and aside from a fantastic sequence of reversals from Anderson and Goto towards the end of the bout, they had trouble keeping me all that compelled. The “will the ref toss out the BC or not?” story did nothing for me. Just wrestle, please. Gallows was once again an afterthought. This was really the microcosm of two disappointing teams. Guns & Gallows have been together for over a year, have held the IWGP titles for nearly that entire time and they’ve never done a thing to impress me. On paper, Goto & Shibata should be the best team in the world. While they’ve had some very good matches, I’d hesitate to call any of them great and they never meet my (admittedly high) expectations. There was nothing wrong with this match, but it was just a little flat. That sort of sums up just about every GnG match, and far too many Goto & Shibata bouts. **¾
As is usually the case, this was the worst bell-to-bell New Japan PPV of the year. That doesn’t mean it wasn’t a fun and enjoyable show, as long as you view this as a set up for the Dome as opposed to thinking you’re getting the usual blow away New Japan workrate spectacular. Over the last few years, this show has been a dry, skippable placeholder before January 4. This year’s offering was like a fun Korakuen Hall style go home show held in a bigger building. Skip some of the prelims, and make sure you watch all of the post match angles & shenanigans.