New Japan Pro Wrestling
World Tag League 2015: Night 5
November 27, 2015
Hiroshima Prefectural Sports Arena

Jay White, David Finlay, and Tiger Mask vs Sho Tanaka, Yohei Komatsu, and Ryusuke Taguchi

This arena is gorgeous in comparison to the quiet last few nights of low-budget gym halls: the audience plunged into blackness while the ring is lit with stunning brightness. This sort of setup lends a gravitas even to Taguchi, who otherwise resembles an embarrassing shambles of a dad at a disco with his two long-suffering handsome sons.

There are some universal truths about these low-key mid-tour single-cam shows, and one of them is that the opening grappling sequence between any two Young Lions (here: White and Tanaka) is always guaranteed to be more enjoyable than the hour following it. For a double dose of understated opening joy, Finlay and Komatsu face off immediately after– and while Finlay can’t quite execute the technical spots he intends to (falling a little undignifiedly after trying to escape a submission with a headstand)– the way these Lions keep their wrestling tight; close; minimising the space between their bodies, is marvellous. Yohei keeps up with Finlay’s usual strength by throwing impressive running uppercuts of his own, then clears almost the entire ring with a gravity-defying springboard corkscrew elbow, and all-in-all I find myself wishing that Tiger Mask and Taguchi could maybe sit this one out.

Jay White nearly gets an upset roll up, but in the end, Taguchi gets the pin with a Chickenwing Facebuster. **3/4

Juice Robinson, Mascara Dorada, KUSHIDA, and Jushin Thunder Liger vs Michael Bennett, Matt Taven, Gedo, and Toru Yano

Ah yes, the teams of Juicy Lucha Liger Splitters vs Chaos Kingdom here. Do you ever worry you’re just too good at tag team names?

The Kingdom seem to have packed exclusively their most ugly wardrobe items to bring to Japan: today, matching dodgy leather jackets with garish gold detail.

Gedo goes for an exaggerated handshake with the members of Juicy Lucha, even demonstrating his benevolent nature by cosying the tiny ref up for a hug first. To no one’s surprise, he follows this up with a vicious eyepoke to Dorada (his eyeholes have mesh protecting them, but I’m sure it hurts his ego just the same). This sets the tone for the match, which is very light-hearted, comedy-based, with lots of not particularly funny tongue-in-cheek melodrama. Yano acting spooked by Liger is the epitome of house show silliness. No real wrestling of note, with even KUSHIDA’s moment of glory being a low blow on Bennett.

Bennett gets the pin on Robinson with the assisted piledriver that looks 10x more unconvincing than the Meltzer Driver with 1% of the pizzaz. DUD

Captain New Japan, Manabu Nakanishi, Yuji Nagata, Katsuyori Shibata, and Hirooki Goto vs Cody Hall, Tama Tonga, Bad Luck Fale, Doc Gallows, and Karl Anderson

An enjoyable, well-wrestled, psychologically satisfying ten-man match is really hard to pull off, and involves lots of careful storytelling and co-ordination. There’ve been a few in NJPW this year; where all the participants were involved in feuds with each other; the interactions were electric; the dynamics perfect; the pacing accentuating the strengths of the wrestlers.

Safe to say, reader, this is not one of these matches.

A highlight here is when Nakanishi knocks the entire Bullet Club off the apron and then unleashes his wrath on Tama Tonga with a brutal clothesline. He then hoists Tonga into a fireman’s carry and stays stalwart in the face of Anderson trying to gently nudge him in the tummy.

Lots of miscommunications here for comedic effect, that make the Tag League participants look a little sloppy and foolish. There’s a spot that the crowd find absolutely unbearably exciting when Captain NJ kicks out unexpectedly and then reverses Anderson into a rollup, which is charming, but nothing particularly new. Anderson gets the pin on CNJ with the Magic KIller, in the end, and the Biz Cliz pose around his crumpled body. *

World Tag League – Block B
Satoshi Kojima and Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs EVIL and Tetsuya Naito

The Ingobernable crew are looking beyond sharp.

TenCozy seem unfazed by EVIL staring them down as menacingly as one can with a Manic Panic streak and a velvet singlet, and Kojima’s full of bravado. This dissolves somewhat when the bell rings and the Ingobernables leap upon them, booting and whipping.

This match feels lacking in energy, and doesn’t elicit the sort of gasping awe in the crowd that Captain New Japan going for a rollup did. Naito tries playing cute: teasing Tenzan with his shirt, waving it in front of his face like a rag to a bull, but it doesn’t pay off and Naito gets bored eventually and spits in Tenzan’s face instead. All the key crowd-pleasing TenCozy spots get a showcase, but there’s not much else in the way of interest.

All of Naito and EVIL’s Tag League wins so far have been via poison-mist interference from BUSHI, and here is no exception (Naito then executes the Destino on Kojima). It’s fair that they’re establishing a motif; an MO, but I’m excited to see what happens when they’re forced to innovate. *1/4

World Tag League – Block A
Michael Elgin and Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Tomoaki Honma and Togi Makabe

How do you disarm the Unbreakable Ace? As Elgin and Tanahashi’s personal relationship has flourished, so has their in-ring chemistry, as they look like two men firmly on the same page. Here they bust out an adorable arm-drag-assisted Senton, while stealing proud glances as if to confirm they’re performing a plan that they discussed at length in the gym earlier. Elgin’s main skills appear to be “throwing Tanahashi places” and “holding men upside down”, but somehow that’s enough to make him one of the most compelling characters in this whole Tag League.

Like as is so often the case, Tanahashi’s downfall is his arrogance. No matter how long Tana has been on top in New Japan, he’s always vulnerable to getting too cocky, taking opponents for granted- we saw it earlier in the year when he fell foul of Yano’s hairpull, a feud which rocked Tana’s self-confidence for months. He gets Honma in a stretch here and then mimes air guitar on his exposed midriff, and that’s when my eyebrows raise. Tana is underestimating an opponent: an opponent who’s been through a redemptive, uneasy, path upwards, lately. Honma escapes from the hold and swifty hits a Kokeshi in rebuttal.

Elgin throws Tana up for the double HFF to the outside here, flooring both GBH opponents. As if that wasn’t enough, Elgin then lifts Tana on to his shoulders and Tanahashi uses the leverage to lean all the way back (legs still hooked around Elgin), then throw himself forward on to Makabe for a crazy Alabama Slam type move. Someone needs to get hard at work on tag-team finish names for these things, because this was awesome.

Elgin’s left in the ring with Makabe and it feels like that might be it: but scrappy, pervasive Honma breaks it up. GBH isolate Tanahashi, then Honma climbs precariously to the top rope while Makabe mirrors Elgin’s strategy from earlier: scoop his head between Tana’s head to lift him high on his shoulders. This allows Honma to hit an incredible leaping Kokeshi and knock Tana spiraling wildly out of control off Makabe. With Tana out of action, Makabe nails Elgin with the King Kong Knee and gets the pin.

Marvelously fun match, and Honma and Makabe’s first win in the tournament! ***3/4

World Tag League – Block A
YOSHI-HASHI and Kazuchika Okada vs Frankie Kazarian and Christopher Daniels

The Addiction have really felt like pointless padding in this tournament so far, and facing the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, a man clad in gold and glitter, with a resolute expression and bigger fish to fry (and his friend) doesn’t do much to make them look impressive or threatening.

It feels like Okada is only playing at letting Daniels wrestle him, like you’d humour a younger cousin putting you in a headlock. Unlike Tana, who has found a new joie de vivre with Elgin, Okada is the very definition of a man with other things on his mind in this tournament. Red Shoes gets distracted shouting at Okada, allowing the Addiction to pile an old-school heel beatdown on YOSHI-HASHI, and this seems to be the final straw for Okada’s commitment to this match.

YOSHI-HASHI tries his best, reversing key moments of Daniels’ offence, holding his own at times, but Daniels and Kazarian manage to hit him with Celebrity Rehab for a win.

This result makes the Addiction tied with Okada/YOSHI-HASHI, pointswise, and reinforces that Okada definitely made the wrong tag partner choice. **

World Tag League – Block B
Tomohiro Ishii and Shinsuke Nakamura vs Yujiro Takahashi and AJ Styles

Another main event dripping with Wrestle Kingdom tension, as Nakamura faces off against his challenger to to the IWGP Intercontinental Title, AJ Styles. Yujiro Takahashi seems like more of an odd man out than ever, and compensates for his lack of skill or charisma by bringing a Chun Li cosplayer with him. While her costume (and brief performance before the match, which has Yujiro heavily exhaling) is fantastic and would win any sort of #bestdressed award if there was such a thing in these parts, I’m disappointed by the lack of thematic commitment from Bullet Club. Couldn’t AJ Styles have been Cammy or something?

AJ and Nakamura don’t have the sort of bristling hatred between them that Okada and Tanahashi do, but now the match has been set, there’s something in the air. They’re wrestling cautiously, as if they’re trying to absorb as much information about each other as possible, filing it away– trying things, checking how they work. The Ishii/Takahashi segments, suffice to say, do not have this tension; Yujiro seems clumsy and awkward against Ishii’s solid base.

Ishii gets desperate, and tries, haphazardly, to superplex Styles. Styles drags him to the floor, and hits him with a dramatic Bloody Sunday. The Styles Clash crashes against the canvas, and with this, AJ and Takahashi have their first tournament win. ***

Final Thoughts: Watch the Unbreakable Ace match for some of the best damn tag maneuvers in modern wrestling, and a swerve finish that’ll make you smile. Some of the best storytelling in this Tag League is going on in the Tana/Elgin matches, I’d make them essential viewing.

NJPW World Tag League 2015 Standings

Block A

    • Hiroshi Tanahashi & Michael Elgin: 4pts
    • Christopher Daniels & Frankie Kazarian: 4pts
    • Toru Yano & Kazushi Sakuraba: 2pts
    • Manabu Nakanishi & Yuji Nagata: 2pts
    • Kazuchika Okada & YOSHI-HASHI: 4pts
    • Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma: 2pts
    • Bad Luck Fale & Tama Tonga: 0pts

Block B

    • EVIL & Tetsuya Naito: 6pts
    • Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata: 4pts
    • Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan: 2pt
    • Doc Gallows & Karl Anderson: 2pts
    • AJ Styles & Yujiro Takahashi: 2pts
    • Matt Taven & Michael Bennett: 0pts
    • Shinsuke Nakamura & Tomohiro Ishii: 0pts