New Japan Pro Wrestling has a problem. No, it’s not Tomoaki Honma repeatedly breaking our collective hearts by missing Kokeshi headbutts, nor is it Ryusuke Taguchi’s insistence on using his ass as a weapon against his opponents. Those are more headshakers and facepalmers than anything else.
The problem that I am speaking of is that New Japan’s heavyweight tag team division has become utterly stale. New Japan is well regarded amongst its fans for having not only a top notch roster of pro wrestlers, but an abundant one as well. They have over 50 wrestlers, both heavyweight and junior heavyweight, at their disposal. However, such high quantity on the roster page does not automatically translate to diversity on the match card.
Over the past few years, I have noticed a distinct lack of depth when it comes to New Japan’s heavyweight teams. By that I mean that there are so few solid heavyweight tag teams that are showcased on the cards in 2 vs. 2 matches. There are plenty of 3 vs. 3, 4 vs. 4, and 5 vs. 5 matches, though; you could fill a football arena with all the multi-man tag matches that happened this year alone. But finding more than one standard tag match between two definitive heavyweight teams (meaning the two partners are considered an actual tag team and are not two singles wrestlers paired together for little to no reason) on a New Japan card is a much more difficult task.
To illustrate this problem, I have made a list of current, definitive New Japan heavyweight tag teams. This should help you understand further the kind of shallow waters that I am talking about when it comes to this division.
Bullet Club (Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows)
Guns ’n’ Gallows began teaming during the 2013 World Tag League and quickly won both the tournament and the tag titles. From January 4, 2014 to January 5, 2015, the two Bullet Club members held the IWGP Tag Team Championship in a title reign whose excitement levels could only be matched by watching David Lynch’s The Straight Story nine times in a row. In one year, they made six title defenses against these teams:
- Killer Elite Squad (whom they originally beat for the titles at Wrestle Kingdom)
- Meiyu Tag (Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata)
- Hirooki Goto & Captain Taiwan (a.k.a. Captain New Japan)
- The Briscoe Brothers (who aren’t part of NJPW)
- Ace to King (Hiroshi Tanahashi & Togi Makabe, who only teamed up in 2 vs. 2 matches for a few months before ending their union following their loss to Bullet Club)
- Kazuchika Okada & Yoshi-Hashi (who, while CHAOS stablemates, cannot be considered a real tag team)
Looking at that list of defenses, it’s no wonder Anderson & Gallows’ reign didn’t set the world on fire. In fact, it probably hurt them that they made so few defenses in such a timespan, and that 2/3rds of the teams they did defend their titles against were not actual tag teams or not part of the company.
Killer Elite Squad (Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr.)
A great heavyweight tag team that kick ass, take names, and win titles. You won’t find them on a New Japan card anytime soon, though. Where are they? Currently invading Pro Wrestling NOAH. It’s a shame they are there because they (and their Suzukigun leader Minoru Suzuki) are sorely missed in New Japan.
Ten-Koji (Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima)
These guys have been teaming for years and have become quite accomplished for doing so. They are five time IWGP Tag Team Champions, former NWA World Tag Team Champions, and won the World Tag League twice. It’s become a bit of a running joke in recent years how often they have taken on the Killer Elite Squad in tag matches (12, according to Cagematch.net). But with K.E.S. in NOAH, Ten-Koji’s tag title aspirations have similarly gone the way of the dodo. They haven’t had an IWGP Tag Title match since November 9, 2013.
Meiyu Tag (Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata)
After a series of hard-hitting matches, Goto & Shibata began regularly teaming up as Meiyu Tag in early 2014, playing off their real-life relationship as high school classmates. Their road to glory culminated at Wrestle Kingdom 9 this past January when they beat Bullet Club to win the titles. It was quite the victory, since this was both Shibata’s first ever championship in New Japan and a really cool moment between two friends. Their reign lasted all of 38 days, when the record needle skipped and Bullet Club regained the gold. Since then, Meiyu Tag have been on hiatus; Goto is the current IWGP Intercontinental Champion, while Shibata recently finished a feud with Kazushi Sakuraba.
The Kingdom (Matt Taven & Mike Bennett)
Coming over from Ring of Honor, The Kingdom shocked the world by winning the IWGP Tag Titles from Bullet Club at Invasion Attack 2015. Like Meiyu Tag, The Kingdom’s championship reign was quite the stinkeroo: 91 days and zero successful defenses. Their matches against Guns ’n’ Gallows were also considered to be of lower stock, relying too much on American-style comedy. Gratuitous camera shots of Maria Kannelis’ rump certainly didn’t help matters either.
Great Bash Heel (Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma)
Don’t even bother with this one. Makabe and Honma, the last survivors of the Great Bash Heel stable, rarely team up for standard tag matches. In 2015, they have only teamed up once in a 2 vs. 2 match. With the exception of World Tag League, Makabe and Honma are too busy in singles matches (Makabe is NEVER Openweight Champion, while Honma is, well, Honma) and multi-man tags to compete as a regular tag team. They have also never had an IWGP Tag Team Championship match. Ever. THEY’RE NOT EVEN HEELS, FOR PETE’S SAKE!!!
So there you have it.
Six regular tag teams. Well, five tag teams if you’re only counting the ones that are full-time New Japan roster members. Okay, four tag teams if you’re only counting ones that are not too busy invading other companies. Um… okay, three tag teams if you disregard Meiyu Tag for seemingly being on hiatus. And I guess we can count out Great Bash Heel since they really aren’t doing anything either.
Two tag teams: Guns ’n’ Gallows and Ten-Koji. And they haven’t faced off in a title match ever. Now do you see the problem?
Unfortunately, the situation does not seem like a top priority for New Japan. Us fans clamor for the promotion to be the best that it can be in all areas of performance, so when we notice certain parts of the company beginning to lag, we speak up and voice our concern. Many other New Japan followers have complained about the poor state of the heavyweight tag division. New Japan, however, hasn’t really done anything to correct the issue. And with the G1 Climax currently taking place, it doesn’t look like the issue will be solved anytime soon.
I’m not sure if I can offer a definitive solution. The roster is loaded enough as it is, even without Suzukigun on the cards, so signing a bunch of guys to contracts can bloat the system. Making things even more difficult is the fact that a good amount of the roster is split between two factions—Bullet Club and CHAOS (10 members each)—so there’s considerably less room for tag teams that can stand out under their own banner and avoid intra-stable conflict.
And what about the other side of the roster, the junior heavyweight tag division? It’s a little better. There are four teams—The Young Bucks, reDRagon, RPG Vice, and The Time-Splitters—that regularly compete for the belts. But even that division could use a little more spice as well; perhaps putting young lions Yohei Komatsu and Sho Tanaka in a permanent team, or making a masked lucha-style team with Bushi and Mascara Dorada. Suzukigun’s Taka Michinoku and El Desperado are in Pro Wrestling NOAH as GHC Jr. Heavyweight Tag Champions. When they return, put them in the title hunt. I mean, why not?
As I said, I only want New Japan to be the best that it could be. And when it figures out a way to correct its heavyweight tag team problem, it will be one step closer to being the best.