New Japan Pro Wrestling
World Tag League 2015: Night 9
December 1, 2015
Hakata Star Lane
In the A Block, the teams of Toru Yano and Kazushi Sakuraba, and Tama Tonga and Bad Luck Fale have been statistically eliminated. Meanwhile in the B Block, The Kingdom (Matt Taven and Michael Bennett) is out. With it looking more and more like AJ Styles is done for the tour, his team with Yujiro Takahashi has now forfeited enough matches so it’s impossible for them to win their block, too.
Due to another forfeit by Styles and Takahashi (who would’ve faced Taven and Bennett on this show), this is another two-match viewing on NJPWWorld.
As of Night 9, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Michael Elgin, and Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma are tied atop Block A. Tetsuya Naito and EVIL, and Katsuyori Shibata and Hirooki Goto are tied atop Block B. All the aforementioned teams have six points. Amid domestic abuse allegations, Honma still wrestled on the undercard of this show; he’s not been fired or suspended as of this writing.
World Tag League – A Block
Tama Tonga & Bad Luck Fale vs. Manabu Nakanishi & Yuji Nagata
The teams actually emerge from entrance ways at opposite ends of the wall that opposes the hard cam, almost as to suggest a Wattsean heel-babyface separation of locker rooms.
Hakata Star Lane, with its broad beams hanging low from the ceiling, is a familiar venue to long-time fans of Japanese wrestling. The crowd in this building, where Night 8 also took place, is much livelier than the less engaged audiences a lot of this tour played to; they wow big for small things like Fale pulling Nakanishi by the legs to the floor.
Nakanishi and Nagata have overachieved in this tournament, which was already subject to low expectations. This match is no exception.
After a comedic exchange between Tonga and Nagata, the long-awaited Bad Luck Fale vs. Manabu Nakanishi showdown takes center stage. Nakanishi takes two running tackles at Fale to no avail. After going to the fruitless trouble to actually run twice, Nakanishi refuses to go again, instead demanding Fale try. Of course, neither of these lumberers goes down early. Nakanishi actually teases putting Fale up in the Argentine Backbreaker, but no, no way that’s happening… right?
Per the Bullet Club M.O., the match breaks down into a brawl in the crowd, the larger and smaller men pairing off at opposite ends of the venue. With Nakanishi the legal man outside the ring, the referee, Red Shoes, starts his count. This count-out false finish has way more believability than it has any right to thanks to Nakanishi’s legit immobility, which has him rolling back in with great relief at 19.99.
Nagata and Tonga have some decent exchanges here: like when Nagata tries to anticipate a leg attack by hopping up, only for Tonga to merely cover his head in fear from expected head kicks.
But it’s the Fale-Nakanishi interactions that I really want to write about — and which, actually, are the highlight of this match. An enzuigiri by Nagata on Fale brings Nakanishi in hot, so these two can have their proper confrontation. Fale reverses an Irish whip attempt by Nakanishi, but not even the biggest man in New Japan can succeed at whipping Nakanishi across the ring; he doesn’t go; the man just prefers not to run. Instead, Nakanishi impressively pulls off an over-the-shoulder suplex on Fale.
Simultaneously, Nagata and Nakanishi hit a kick and lariat on Tonga and Fale, respectively. While Tonga is extinguished, Fale doesn’t fall. Staggered, though, Fale remains vulnerable. Now Nakanishi tries it again. Not for the first time this tour, Nakanishi achieves what at least for him I thought was impossible: he hoists Fale up on his shoulders for the Argentine Backbreaker! This is the biggest pop of the match.
As Nakanishi’s rusty knees bear insurmountable adversity, Tonga mercifully breaks up the hold and eventually neutralizes Nagata. Nakanishi then exchanges a series of standing hand chokes with the Bullet Club team with a timing that hints charmingly of comedy before resolving into Nakanishi throwing chops at each of his opponents, all alone. Like his match two nights before against Tanahashi and Elgin, this is the scene of Nakanishi’s final throes. A combination spear and clothesline spells his end. **3/4
World Tag League – A Block
Toru Yano & Kazushi Sakuraba vs. YOSHI-HASHI & Kazuchika Okada
CHAOS teams oppose each other here.
You know it’s a good sign when Sakuraba, usual image of pure indifference, comes to the ring genuinely beaming a smile. It must be that somehow the always self-amused Yano has rubbed off on him, warming his sorrowed heart.
Furthering good omens, this crowd is electric at the notion of Okada and Yano starting out. Their pairing off is an exercise in low cost-high reward. Okada does the expected teasing of the chop before breaking clean, leaving Yano screaming for a break even after Okada is miles away. When Okada inches toward Yano, Yano goes right back in the ropes to continue his request. Yano gets the crowd chanting “break, break, break”. This might sound rather bad in writing, but it had good comedic timing and got over really well. Feinting he’s finally ready to engage, Yano then abruptly stops, turns around and tags out, as if, yes, very good, his job is all done. The crowd rains with applause. They barely touched.
YOSHI-HASHI and Sakuraba come in next to contrast with actual substance. They genuinely grapple, exchanging fast, fluid MMA-style mat work that would please any fan of #GrappleFuck.
YOSHI-HASHI is cut-off by Sakuraba’s high-kick, and cut down further by a bump in the unprotected corner. When Okada comes in for the hot tag, you think you’re in for a bump and feed. Yano starts to bump: once, twice, then immediately rolls out the ring, thrilled with himself.
Later on, there’s a double tag to Okada and Yano. Yano tries to repeat this tactic, taking two bumps and simply rolling out. But Okada has learned, immediately rolls out after him and reverses a whip into the guardrail. Yano rolls right back in the ring to evade, but Okada stays hot on the chase for a fun, different approach to the usual hot tag formula.
Okada flies off the top rope with his elbow drop as the match is stretching out and really starting to pick up. Yano turns it around, though, by sending Okada into the exposed buckle and rolling up for a close two-count. We next see a tandem of events that we’ve been taught almost guarantees a Yano upset: he ducks a Rainmaker, hits a low blow, uses the exposed corner, Sakuraba even throws in a kick as Okada back peddles into the ominous school boy pin. But Okada kicks out at the last instant as the whole building buys it could’ve been three.
Moments later, Okada hits his trademark dropkick, pose and Rainmaker for the certain pinfall, and the end to a variety show of a match. With the win, Okada and YOSHI-HASHI put themselves in a three-way tie for first place in Block A with the teams of Tanahashi and Elgin, and Honma and Makabe. ***1/4
Final Thoughts: Both matches here were fun and worth checking out, though not must-sees. Except for Korakuen Hall on the opening night, the crowd at Hakata Star Lane is by far the hottest of the tour, which always makes it easier to get caught up in the drama.
NJPW World Tag League 2015 Standings
- Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma: 6pts
- Hiroshi Tanahashi & Michael Elgin: 6pts
- Kazuchika Okada & YOSHI-HASHI: 6pts
- Christopher Daniels & Frankie Kazarian: 4pts
- Manabu Nakanishi & Yuji Nagata: 4pts
- Toru Yano & Kazushi Sakuraba: 2pts
- Bad Luck Fale & Tama Tonga: 2pts
- EVIL & Tetsuya Naito: 6pts
- Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata: 6pts
- Doc Gallows & Karl Anderson: 4pts
- Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan: 4pts
- Shinsuke Nakamura & Tomohiro Ishii: 4pts
- AJ Styles & Yujiro Takahashi: 2pts
- Matt Taven & Michael Bennett: 0pts