New Japan Pro Wrestling
World Tag League 2015: Night 7
November 29, 2015
Texport Imabari – Ehime, Japan
Watch: http://njpwworld.com/pg/s_series_00357_8

What would have been a light night of watching a few matches on NJPWWorld has taken an unhappy mood. News emerged last night (translated English summary) that Tomoaki Honma has been accused of domestic violence by his girlfriend of 18 years, semi-retired pro wrestler Kyoko Ichiki.

Honma has defended himself in this article (translated in summary here).

As an in-ring performer, Honma is arguably the best in the world at garnering sympathy from his audience. Because of that, our feelings about Honma as fans up to this point and our feelings upon hearing the disturbing news might be especially difficult to deal with.

Ru Gunn, who I’ve been sharing reviewing duties with for World Tag League, put it eloquently:

World Tag League – Block A
Tomoaki Honma & Togi Makabe vs. Tama Tonga & Bad Luck Fale

If Honma ends up being fired by New Japan, this could end up being the last Honma match in the company that sees the light of day as he wasn’t in a league match on Night 8.

Besides that, Honma and Makabe had no obvious opponents for Wrestle Kingdom, so it’s possible the booking plan was for them to end up winning this tournament, where they’d go on to challenge for the IWGP Tag Team Title at Wrestle Kingdom. Of course, we don’t know for sure that was the plan, but if so, and if Honma is fired or suspended imminently, New Japan may have a lot of rearranging to do as a result of Honma’s issues.

For obvious reasons, it’s hard to have much emotional investment in this match, which was recorded before the news came out.

Tonga and Fale cut-off Honma after a missed Kokeshi. They employ the go-to Bullet Club strategy seen throughout the tournament so far, forcing their opponents outside to throw them at the guardrails and gain the advantage. Honma rolls in at 19, just escaping being counted out.

New Japan fans chant “Honma” maybe for the last time as he turns it around  with the Kokeshi and makes the hot tag. Makabe comes in, clubbing Fale and laughing ghoulishly after giving him some punches atop the turnbuckle.

A Doomsday Kokeshi on Tonga isn’t enough to even go for a pin here. I guess they wanted to make sure. Honma holds Makabe down for a King Kong Knee Drop, as well. Honma and Makabe win, and momentarily take the lead in Block A. Not anything to see here but two big moves at the end. **

World Tag League – Block B
Tomohiro Ishii & Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Michael Bennett & Matt Taven

All four participants in the match come to the ring with title belts. Of course it’s Nakamura who comes across most like a star, though the fans don’t apparently swarm him like they did Okada on Night 4.

When fans start a “Shinsuke” chant, Taven tries to get a chant for his own name going, but fails. It’s an easy habit of a shticky heel, but for some reason, it succeeds here. His miserable failure, pointing at his stark lack of star power compared to Nakamura, gets a genuine laugh from the audience.

Even though Bennett is taller and probably heavier than Ishii, Ishii doesn’t go down for him. Ishii is a battering ram that doesn’t fall easily, whose ability to stand and trade for epic durations must be protected. Rather than being spellbound by Maria’s looks, Ishii is merely distracted, but still stupidly turns his back on the action, trying to shoo her away, causing him to eat a sharp dropkick.

As he takes this heat, Ishii does something that mostly only great wrestlers do. As you watch Taven give Ishii stomps in the corner, something a pro wrestling fan has seen hundreds of times, Ishii gives you something you totally don’t expect but that still makes sense at the moment: he simply fires right out of the buckle and no-sells, not taking the heat away from the Kingdom, but startling a crowd that wouldn’t have been so engaged with most any other hope spot.

Nakamura’s hot tag is a flurry of impressive kicks and knees. They’re precise and well-timed, but more than that, Nakamura somehow executes his moves with the personality that is only his, pulling the crowd in.

This match has a better finishing stretch than most matches I’ve reviewed for this tournament. Taven hits a flipping senton off the top for a nearfall that the crowd bought. Nakamura comes back with a Boma Ye Knee off the second-rope for an even bigger nearfall. Finally Nakamura hits the inverted powerslam and a proper Boma Ye Knee for the finish.

This is one of the better matches of the league so far. Nakamura and Ishii finally pick up their first win, while the ROH Tag Champions remain winless. ***1/4

World Tag League – Block A
Michael Elgin & Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Manabu Nakanishi & Yuji Nagata

When Tanahashi is in the main event and you’re watching on VOD, you can usually just look at the length of the video and know whether this is going to end in air guitar celebration or not. At 34 minutes, this one is certainly suggestive of such Tanahashi’s long routine. But the suspense remains: Will Big Mike join in?

Elgin and Nakanishi start with a truly beastly encounter: they growl, lock horns and exchange uncompromising tackles. A test strength gets over strong, all while keeping Nakanishi safely on his feet.

Nagata and Nakanishi try to isolate Elgin with strikes in the corner, but he overpowers them both, responding with his strikes in a rhythm that doesn’t break symmetry with theirs. Rather it’s Tanahashi who gets isolated after he has a smooth wrestling exchange with Nagata.

Nakanishi has really grown on me in this team with Nagata. He can’t really do anything, yet it’s still fun to watch him. I suppose that’s mainly because there’s some real life tension as to whether or not the match is about to fall apart in his hands. Regardless, it’s a joy to watch Nakanishi take satisfaction as he lays a simple stomp into a grounded Tanahashi at the exact pace that is just right for him.

When Elgin comes in on the hot tag, Nakanishi is there again to challenge him, picking up on the test of might they started earlier. It finally ends when the younger man hits the elder with a vertical suplex, though not one with much hang-time.

Somehow, Tanahashi manages to put Nakanishi in a Texas Cloverleaf, gripping his legs, the rest of Nakanishi’s inflexible body almost completely vertical. Meanwhile, Elgin makes the mistake of trying to put Nagata in a Sharpshooter, but, not to be out-wrestled, Nagata counters this into a Nagata Lock I.

At Nagata’s behest, Nakanishi is reaching far beyond his normal capacity, executing a spear on Tanahashi that leaves Nakanishi himself reeling. The latter stands only with his partner’s encouragement, his mouth agape, hands on knees when he finally gets to his feet.

While Nagata earlier cut-off Elgin’s submission attempt with technique, Elgin counters Nagata’s armbar with brute strength, picking up and powerbombing him into Nakanishi, who stands with Tanahashi in the Argentine Backbreaker.

With that Nakanishi’s tank is clearly empty. He takes a Slingblade and can’t even bump flat. An astounding reverse Alabama Slam-type double team move by Elgin and Tanahashi wows the crowd as it takes out Nagata. Nakanishi has no hope as he makes his last stand, alone, alternately trying to chop both members of Unbreakable Ace. Moments later he falls to the High Fly Flow. ***

Sadly, Big Mike bows out just as Tanahashi is teasing his air guitar routine.

Final Thoughts: With the Honma news looming over this, I at least got two matches that were worth my while. Not anything you need to out of your way to see, though, unless you’ve grown the same strange affinity for Manabu Nakanishi that I have.

NJPW World Tag League 2015 Standings

Block A

    • Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma: 6pts
    • Hiroshi Tanahashi & Michael Elgin: 6pts
    • Christopher Daniels & Frankie Kazarian: 4pts
    • Kazuchika Okada & YOSHI-HASHI: 4pts
    • Toru Yano & Kazushi Sakuraba: 2pts
    • Manabu Nakanishi & Yuji Nagata: 2pts
    • Bad Luck Fale & Tama Tonga: 0pts

Block B

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