It’s usually my station at this fine website to write long, winding research projects that require a certain disregard for one’s own joy, going places few bear, in order to find a modicum of revelation at the end of much tedium, for the greater good of humanity. So naturally here I am to look into a static camera in Aichi, reviewing night two of New Japan’s World Tag League, a tour our very own Joe Lanza this week referred to merely as, “that stupid tournament”. (Editor’s note: I don’t remember saying this, but then again, I don’t remember a lot of things – JL)
That said, if night one was any indication, this is not a tour New Japan fans should easily skip.
While the tour-opener was of course at the familiar Korakuen Hall, this venue is more obscure. There is no commentary for this show. The single-camera portrait here is of a scene backed by the oft-lamented and humbling basketball hoops which New Japan’s more undistinguished events are known for.
New Japan Pro Wrestling
World Tag League 2015 – Night 2
Toyohashi Synthesis Gymnasium 2nd Stadium – Aichi, Japan
Sho Tanaka, KUSHIDA & Tiger Mask vs. Yohei Komatsu, Mascara Dorada & Ryusuke Taguchi
KUSHIDA channels Bret Hart before things get started. To much applause, he gives his necklace to a child at ringside, except this small fan is dressed in the Marty McFly bubble jacket, exactly like his hero.
Dorada and KUSHIDA start out, mat wrestling gently but smoothly. KUSHIDA outclasses him on the mat. In response, Dorada engages him in lucha libre but New Japan’s junior ace proves to be his equal as they stand off.
When Tiger Mask squares off with Komatsu, the Young Lion gets a glimmer of hope which he attempts to capitalize on, only to fail just as soon as he attempts any high-caliber offense. Clearly the weak link, a few minutes of Komatsu-in-peril follow until he hits a dropkick on KUSHIDA that sends Taguchi’s ass hurling into his opponents. His hot tag offense is exclusively ass attacks. What does Taguchi tell new acquaintances when they ask him what he does for a living? Even Dorada joins in on the ass-based offense. It’s of course KUSHIDA who requires Taguchi to deviate from the posterior weaponry as they double-down to bring Tanaka and Dorada in for the final sequence.
Tanaka is effective with a dropkick off the top and a Boston crab, until the hubris of his Young Lion ambition inevitably fails him. After an unimpressive flying elbow drop, Dorada hits the Dorada Screwdriver for the finish. **1/2
Jay White & Katsuyori Shibata vs. Frankie Kazarian & Christopher Daniels
Christopher Daniels’ military honor guard outfit is just missing some sort of headgear to be complete. Something maybe the always-hatted Curry Man could help him with?
Addiction (Kazarian and Daniels) are working an American style: definitive heels. After a basic but well-executed exchange of headlocks between Daniels and Shibata, Kazarian and Jay White square off. White shines on Kazarian, who briefly gets the advantage, only to lose it when he takes time to shout in White’s face phrases from the list of cliched things wrestlers yell in the ring (“You’re in here with the best!”).
White is cut-off decisively with a second-rope legdrop from Kazarian, starting a proper heat on the Young Lion. This is a longer more outright heat, much in the style of Southern U.S. tag wrestling, though natural for the opponents, who are the young Jay White, and the tenured and infinitely intense Shibata. It brings me to wonder, though, with so many two-on-two tag matches on this tour, how well the roster will be able to keep the variety in their match structures diverse.
Shibata predictably gets the hot tag, using knees, dropkicks and forearms that look so sharp and stiff, whether or not because they actually are.
Shibata eventually makes the error of tagging in his Young Lion partner, bringing White back in to hit a Shibata style dropkick in the corner. But Shibata’s Penalty Kick attempt is thwarted by Daniels from the floor, allowing Addiction to hit Celebrity Rehab for the win, ending a fine but short match. Relative newcomers to New Japan, Addiction continues to establish themselves on the tour as they’ve yet to have their first tournament match (which happens tomorrow against Hiroshi Tanahashi and Michael Elgin). **
Gedo, Matt Taven & Michael Bennett vs. Cody Hall, Doc Gallows & Karl Anderson
The Kingdom’s entrance is muted as New Japan doesn’t own the rights to their music, surely causing us to miss out on their life-affirming pop, leaving those ogling from the internet, who’ve never been in a ring, evermore in their heap of ignorance.
Gedo’s choice of gaijins seems to favor guys with an in-ring persona of the kind you’d hope your daughter or sister never dates; the type of guys who have a loud party that annoys the whole neighborhood; whose affections (e.g., swinging title belts vertically at crotch-level) you don’t just not share, but are repulsed by.
This match is littered with eye rakes and low blows, shticky comedy and some impressive offense from Taven. Anderson’s “Hi Maria!” gimmick, contrasted by Gallows’ face-painted indignation admittedly earns laughs from the crowd.
Hall looks competent, bellowing ridiculously before hitting his discus clothesline, then a gut buster on Bennett. He also seems to have adopted the same font for his gear as that of Halls cough drops. It’s when he almost doesn’t get Bennett up for the Razor’s Edge that things get shaky. Time stands still, until he finally muscles Bennett into position. This cues Anderson chasing Maria into the ring, causing all sorts of anarchic distraction, leading to a blitz of enzuigiris, superkicks and a spike piledriver by the Kingdom on Hall for the pin. **
Captain New Japan & Hirooki Goto vs. EVIL & Tetsuya Naito
In the latest of Kevin Sullivan conspiracy theories: one look at EVIL should tell you the Taskmaster himself is masquerading from home as Gedo’s secret assistant booker, a la Vince Russo and TNA.
Naito’s gimmick works for a poignant reason, doesn’t it? In a wrestling world where most everyone is so apparently desperate to get over, Naito acts in the exact opposite way you’re “supposed to”. He’s lethargic, bored, unenthused; he breaks the rules, but the right ones, and due to that he gets over far more and is completely refreshed. He’s no longer just another very good wrestler among many on New Japan’s roster.
Some uncouth acts by the Ingobernables team allows them to get the advantage on Captain New Japan. Goto gets a hot tag on Naito as some semblance of house show revenge for the ongoing feud between Meiyu Tag and Los Ingobernables.
After Goto’s Ushigoroshi on EVIL, Captain New Japan actually busts out a diving headbutt. Before things can get anymore exciting, the newest Ingobernable, BUSHI, interferes from the outside. An STO by EVIL spells the end for Captain New Japan. **
World Tag League (A Block)
Tomoaki Honma & Togi Makabe vs. Manabu Nakanishi & Yuji Nagata
Nagata and Nakanishi are certainly the old guards of Strong Style in this tournament. For whatever reason, maybe due to myself being a reborn Japanese wrestling fan with memories of these two being minor disappointments as stars in a disappointing era, this is one of the teams in this tournament I’m most curious about. And in modern times they provide a delightful contrast: Nagata defying age, just as gravity defies Nakanishi.
Nakanishi here clearly is at his best when he can stand fixed in the ring, duking it out with his opponent, both soles firmly planted on the canvas. This is where he excels. As soon as he has to start running, though, he faces the arduous challenge of his own uncooperative body — or worse, later, when he has the near impossible task of hurdling over the middle rope to make a save.
Fortunately the most important parts of this match are left to Nagata and Honma, the latter of whom is the only man in ring under 40. Honma’s fire is undying. The Kokeshis are very over. The first gets perhaps the biggest pop of the night to that point. The crowd really comes alive as things heat up between him and Nagata, giving the audience the best action of the night so far.
Good team work with Makabe leads to a ridiculously fun Kokeshi Rocket. His top-rope Kokeshi, however, misses.
It’s then that Manabu Nakanishi decides to tempt fate in his ongoing feud with gravity. Yes, at age 48, and with Nagata keeping Honma nervously in grasp, Nakanishi ascends to the top-rope, maintains balance for just long enough to actually succeed at executing a flying karate chop to Honma’s head. Soon after Nagata gets the pin with a massive backdrop hold. **3/4
World Tag League (B Block)
Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Yujiro Takahashi & AJ Styles
Kojima and Styles are wisely chosen to begin. They exchange pec-flexing and an expectedly incredible dropkick, respectively. The crowd begins shushing, stirring more and more until finally Tenzan makes a mini-comeback of Mongolian chops. Not to be forgotten, Yujiro gets his in too, showing that in his recent brief absence from New Japan, he’s lost none of his expertise for eye-raking and stomping.
Tenzan makes an inoffensive but unremarkable hot tag. Styles (arguably the best wrestler in the world this year) clearly lets Tenzan do what he likes here, not doing much to enhance him.
I suppose Styles is amidst the long process of growing his hair out, currently at that awkward stage before it gets properly long, where one wears a hat at every other moment he spends in public, patiently waiting it out.
A relay of high impact moves (Koji Cutter, Styles’ springboard forearm, Tenzan’s spinning heel kick and Yujiro’s fisherman buster) is one of the high points of the match, but doesn’t quite catch fire like it might have, possibly due to a lack of better timing.
A Styles Clash attempt gets disposed of with a TenKoji Cutter, allowing Kojima to nail Yujiro with a lariat for the tournament win. **1/2
World Tag League (A Block)
YOSHI-HASHI & Kazuchika Okada vs. Tama Tonga & Bad Luck Fale
Okada gets the star reaction expected and starts out with the ever-thickening Fale, his rival from earlier this year, as Fale roughs Okada up a bit. YOSHI-HASHI and Tonga’s opening sequence is unsurprisingly hotter.
Okada’s hot tag builds nicely to him finally slamming Fale to the gratification of the crowd. After that, Okada musters some much needed fire in a trade battle with the Bullet Club’s “Underboss”. Having just seen his charge slam the big man, Gedo absurdly calls for a Tombstone. This fails but at least allows Tonga to tag in.
The match picks up a bit as Tonga gets in with Okada, giving the IWGP champion a few of his best moves, none of which quite beat him. Okada and YOSHI-HASHI work together to clean Fale out of the ring. YOSHI-HASHI hugs Fale for an extended period of time by the apron, which on this hard cam-only view, gives away that the finish has to be coming soon. Indeed, the Rainmaker finishes off Tonga and puts the CHAOS team at .500 for the tournament. **1/4
Juice Robinson, Michael Elgin & Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Toru Yano, Tomohiro Ishii & Shinsuke Nakamura
The show has not been terrible to this point; it’s just been a classic example of a lackluster event, a mere house show. The only thing that can conceivably save us now is a Hall of Fame performance from Tanahashi and Nakamura in this six-man tag main event.
Perhaps well aware of their call to duty, the Hall of Famers start out and set the tone with some fine, tense chain wrestling. Elgin tags in, with the chance to face-off with Nakamura, but declines. Instead, he beckons Ishii for a return on their memorable encounter on the second-to-last night of the G1 Climax. After those two batter each other and Elgin does vertical suplex reps with Ishii’s body, the build is on for Toru Yano vs. Juice Robinson. Seriously, they build the crowd up for this with excellent timing, making me actually want to see what’s going to happen here.
Robinson spins Yano in an airplane spin until the crowd counts as if it’s a Hiroshi Hase/Cesaro big swing. Juice has finally found his rightful dance partner, as well. Amidst Yano shenanigans, there’s a nice balance of Elgin being shown as the powerful straight man- while Yano may have Tanahashi’s number, he won’t dare toy with #BigMike.
A battle of entertaining and athletic nonsense between Tanahashi and Yano ends with a dual tag to Elgin and Ishii who pick right back up ramming into each other. These two were made for each other.
This was the best performance by Robinson that I’ve seen since he started in New Japan. As the match develops, and he’s preyed on as the man they isolate to get the finish on, he hangs in there with Nakamura. The last several minutes are a nice, dramatic highlight reel centered around teasing Nakamura sizing up Robinson for the Boma Ye, being repeatedly cut off, only to finally hit it for the win. ***3/4
Final Thoughts: This show can surely be skipped. The main event delivered well, but nothing of much importance happened. This event had a run-of-the-mill house show feel to it, set a couple gears back from Korakuen Hall the night before.
NJPW World Tag League 2015 Standings:
Toru Yano & Kazushi Sakuraba: 2pts
Hiroshi Tanahashi & Michael Elgin: 2pts
Manabu Nakanishi & Yuji Nagata: 2pts
Christopher Daniels & Frankie Kazarian: –
Kazuchika Okada & YOSHI-HASHI: 0pts
Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma: 0pts
Bad Luck Fale & Tama Tonga: 0pts
EVIL & Tetsuya Naito: 2pts
Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata: 2pts
Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan: 2pt
Matt Taven & Michael Bennett: –
Doc Gallows & Karl Anderson: 0pts
Shinsuke Nakamura & Tomohiro Ishii: 0pts
AJ Styles & Yujiro Takahashi: 0pts