Last November at New Japan’s King of Pro-Wrestling 2014, then-reigning NWA World Tag Team Champions Ten-Koji (Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima) defended their belts against noted rivals Killer Elite Squad (Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith, Jr.). Towards the end of the match, Kojima accidentally hit his partner with one of his finishers, the Koji Lariat, taking Tenzan out of action. This allowed KES to hit the Killer Bomb and win the titles. After the match, Tenzan expressed his anger over the loss, specifically pointing the finger at Kojima and his misplaced lariat. A brief shoving match occurred between the two, until cooler heads prevailed and the duo left the ring (albeit separately).
The knowledgeable wrestling fan sees this argument between Kojima and Tenzan and can probably predict what happens next. Based solely on past experiences with argumentative tag team partners, Ten-Koji will continue to team up for the next month or two, losing matches due to miscommunications between Tenzan and Kojima. These losses will build up anger between the two partners to the point where either Tenzan or Kojima will turn heel on the other, the team will break up and, ignite a singles feud.
But here’s the thing: That didn’t happen.
Ten-Koji teamed up for the World Tag League tournament in December. Did they lose matches? Sure, but there were no miscommunications or arguments during or after the matches. It was if the conflict that happened between the two of them just weeks prior had never happened at all.
A few months go by and Hiroyoshi Tenzan won the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, defeating champion Rob Conway in an exciting match at The New Beginning in Sendai. And who got the first shot at the new champ? Satoshi Kojima (A former NWA Champion in his own right).
With a title match set between Tenzan and Kojima, tensions naturally re-emerged. Following an 8-man tag on March 8, just two weeks away from the title fight, Kojima and Tenzan came to further blows. This was not a mere shoving match; this was a full-on, pull apart brawl. Things were getting ugly.
On March 21, Tenzan defeated Kojima to retain the NWA World Heavyweight Championship. And what was to come for the seemingly bitter feud between these long-standing partners?
Nothing. Because the very next night, not only did Ten-Koji team up with Tomoaki Honma for a six-man tag match against the Bullet Club, but they won. They won. Two guys who had beat the crap out of each other the night before over a championship were now, once again, the best of friends.
This is what, in my mind, makes Ten-Koji the most realistic tag team in wrestling.
We as fans already know that Tenzan and Kojima are friends. They wouldn’t be a tag team if they didn’t get along (unless of course New Japan was running a “tag partners who don’t get along” angle, which they thankfully don’t do). They’ve been in stables together (nWo Japan, Team 2000), they’ve fought other stables together, they’ve held the IWGP Tag Team Championship a total of five times (coincidentally tying the record with another Hiroyoshi Tenzan team, Cho-Ten with Masahiro Chono) and they’ve won the World Tag League twice (2001, 2008). It’s safe to say that their friendship is well documented.
But what makes them realistic is when we see them at conflict with one another. Friendship isn’t all smiles and hugs 100 percent of the time. We’ve all had arguments with close friends that seem to take us to the edge of hatred. Kojima and Tenzan, as we’ve seen recently, are prone to those same arguments. Wrestling is a competitive sport. Being a champion (or champions) means that you are the best in your division. Tenzan had a reason to be pissed at Kojima for hitting him with the Koji Lariat and costing them the NWA Tag Titles. And Kojima had a reason to be mad at Tenzan for not understanding that this was an accident. But true friends don’t hate each other in the end. They fight, make up, admit their wrongdoings, and move forward onto better times. Tenzan and Kojima did just that and it made sense.
The same thing occurred with the NWA Championship conflict. Tenzan and Kojima butted heads over the belt and had it out in the ring. Tenzan won and Kojima accepted the loss like any good friend would do. There was no reason to continue the fight against each other, so they naturally went back to being tag partners. Again, it made sense because it was realistic. That’s how real friends act. Unlike a boatload of other tag teams that split up and feuded over the pettiest of reasons (or for no reason whatsoever, in the case of the Prime Time Players), Ten-Koji dealt with their issues and moved on. And that makes me so much more interested in Ten-Koji because they’re much more relatable as people.
It’s okay for wrestlers to be larger than life characters. But if there is some portion of truth and realism within those characters, something that the fans can connect to on a deeper level than cheers and boos, then it gives pro wrestling an element of humanity that makes it that much better.