New Japan Pro Wrestling
World Tag League 2015: Night 13
December 6, 2015
Aichi Prefectural Gym – Aichi, Japan

Sho Tanaka, Captain New Japan, Tiger Mask, and Yuji Nagata vs Yohei Komatsu, Mascara Dorada, Ryusuke Taguchi, and Manabu Nakanishi

This match has the tag-team of long-time friends Nagata and Nakanishi on opposing sides; not willing to sacrifice his pre-match ritual, Nagata violently butts forearms with Tanaka instead. If I was Nakanishi I think I would feel a little jealous about this, but he’s a bigger man than I (literally).

The match starts with Tiger Mask and Taguchi bouncing around, but there’s little of interest until we get the match we want to see: the Young Lions tagged in together. Tanaka and Komatsu hit each other so hard that sweat careens off them, glistening in the air, into the crowd. They feel like something very special in an otherwise unremarkable opening match.

Nakanishi, keen to diversify his offence, drops a devastating Taguchi-inspired hip attack on to Captain New Japan, which prompts Nagata to tag in to sort him out. As the two stockiest members of this match face off, Nakanishi absorbs Nagata’s punishing kicks from turnbuckle to turnbuckle, although one does inspire a loud English-language curse. Somehow, Nagata hubristically falls for the traps that Nakanishi has been pulling on everyone else all tour, as Nakanishi stands stalwart while he attempts to whip him. This is a nice highlight reel of the fun spots the two have been doing on this tour, and it feels like they have more energy here.

Tiger Mask taps out Komatsu in this real sprint of an opener. **1/4

Jay White and David Finlay vs Frankie Kazarian and Christopher Daniels

For the purposes of this match, we can pretend this is a better world, set in the future, where the Lions have teams in this tournament. This match feels like a showcase for the Lions, who pull out amazing teamwork and smart strategy, and wrestle with clarity, against the comparatively foolish looking Addiction. White and Finlay particularly impress with an amazing combo of a neck-breaker on to Kazarian, while White hurls a missile dropkick immediately afterward. They look like they’re utilising their strengths, aware of how their styles complement each other: a skill that puts them head and shoulders above other tag-teams in this tournament already.

When the Addiction get control of the match part-way through things become a lot less interesting, and the crowd are desperate for scrappy smart underdog tactics from White or Finlay to save the day. Sadly, they hit Celebrity Rehab for the win. **1/2

Satoshi Kojima, and Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs Cody Hall, Yujiro Takahashi

Styles and Juice Robinson were meant to be here, but with AJ finally formally pulling from the tour to go home and rest, we lose Robinson too, which doesn’t feel like an entirely even exchange. NOT MAO is also here with Yujiro, and when we get closeups of thong gusset without Mao’s wonderful smile and charisma, it feels entirely sleazy, instead of just mostly sleazy.

Cody Hall seems less offensive than usual here, selling dramatically for Tenzan’s signature chops in a way that delights the crowd immensely. A miscommunication between TenCozy promises to disrupt their teamwork after managing nearly an entire tour together: but fortunately this transpires to be a cleverly manufactured distraction to jump Cody with a double clothesline. If there was any trouble here, they settle it after the bell, in the muted segment. I have faith their friendship will endure.

Tenzan wins with the Anaconda Vice on Hall, turning Cody worryingly red in the face. *1/4

KUSHIDA, Michael Elgin, and Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Gedo, Michael Bennett, and Matt Taven

Unbreakable Ace Splitters (or Time Mike Flow) here, who are an unbelievably fun partnership.

While Tana is very obviously protecting his body in this match, he is magnificent at pretending that no match is unimportant. He lets himself get riled up at any sort of dirty play or insult; a necessary flaw for a man who’s otherwise been accused of being nigh-on unbeatable. Here the subject of his ire is Gedo, who baits Tana by trying to insultingly Rainmaker him, reminding him of his rapidly approaching Wrestle Kingdom main event.

There’s a lot of cute and fun things here to enjoy: Bennett jumping genuinely at Elgin’s fierce bear-roar, playing off Elgin’s inability to be anything other than completely serious and convinced of himself. KUSHIDA checking on his imaginary watch how long Elgin’s got Bennett up in the delayed vertical. Maybe the things that are good about the Kingdom (not wrestling, for sure) don’t come across well on static cam shows, but this is the most I’ve enjoyed them all tour. Their comedy is a light touch and actually funny, and succeeds in putting Unbreakable Ace Splitters over without feeling forced. Even spots that I would normally roll my eyes at elicit a smile here, like KUSHIDA tripping up Taven to send him lurching into Bennett’s crotch as he sits splay-legged in the corner: a situation he sells with eye-watering authenticity for minutes afterwards.

The best spot by far in this match is where Bennett grabs Taven’s waist to try to free himself from Elgin’s German suplex, but Tana kicks the ropes where Taven is anchoring himself, so Elgin ends up suplexing both of them: an image which is predictable from the second we see the set up, but delightful nonetheless.

Tana’s rattled, and getting distracted by Maria almost gets him rolled up by Gedo; KUSHIDA’s dropkick breaks the pin just in time. Tanahashi gets the Texas Cloverleaf on Gedo for the tapout victory, too arrogant (or exhausted) for the theatrics of a High Mike Flow finish. ***½

World Tag League – A Block
Kazushi Sakuraba and Toru Yano vs Tama Tonga and Bad Luck Fale

A disgruntled Tanahashi joins the team at the announce team here, but the NJPWWorld reviewers sadly don’t get the benefit of his dulcet, reassuring tones.

Fale lifts up Sakuraba here as if for the Bad Luck Fall, but Saku just artfully wriggles down his body to drop into an armbar. Sakuraba continues to reverse things that wrestling tropes previously made us believe just instantly paralysed a foe. It’s nice when something breaks the rules of a pre-established universe and makes us question what’s possible in wrestling.

Other than that, this is a real non-match with not much to write home about from either party. Sakuraba gets a quick and sneaky roll-up on Tonga after a low blow from Yano. After the match, Yujiro runs down the ramp and joins in with a Bullet Club beatdown on the CHAOS team, even using Yano’s own chair as a weapon. *1/4

World Tag League – B Block
Tomohiro Ishii and Shinsuke Nakamura vs Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson

While Nakamura and Anderson’s singles match last month made our Match of the Month rankings, I didn’t have any great yearning to see them together again. Instead, as will be unsurprising to anyone following Tag League, or New Japan in general, or who has heard of wrestling at all– Ishii is a massive highlight here.

Ishii and Anderson lock up, and when Anderson goes for a confrontational opening elbow to the chest, Ishii just stares at him straight in the eyes, and throws one of his own. Much like Night 11, going straight to a sequence of glorious, violent elbows invests interest in this match much more than any sort of feeling out process would.

Gallows throws Nakamura around so clumsily; dropping him weirdly on the apron; throwing him in ways that seem to hit painfully in the side rather than flat on his back, which makes it convincing that Nakamura is both in pain and intensely irritated. They wrestle out into the crowd and Naka gets back in at 19, of course.

In order for Ishii to throw a clothesline at Gallows’ neck, he has to fling his arm above his head as far as it will go, nearly dislocating his shoulder in the process. He hits an incredible brainbuster on Gallows, but it isn’t enough.

The final sequence involves a frantic scene of finishers and near falls: Bullet Club get the Magic Killer on Ishii, but a distracted kick from Nakamura breaks it up. Then Anderson hits the Gun Stun, more rapid-fire finishing moves with pins being broken up at the very last second. When Naka is dispatched at ringside, Ishii powers out of another Magic Killer, wriggling free and headbutting both men, shrugging off two more Stun Gun attempts, but then finally crumbles, outnumbered. A really hot finish that made Ishii look excellent. **3/4

World Tag League – A Block
Tomoaki Honma and Togi Makabe vs YOSHI-HASHI and Kazuchika Okada

On to the matches that really matter, the ones that decide the final later in the week.

A side note about Honma:

New Japan have made the decision to not remove Honma from this tournament, in light of the serious allegations of violence and abuse made against him. The reason is fairly opaque to Western viewers, which hasn’t prevented wild speculation: whether it’s just that the news story hasn’t hit mainstream press, so the fans are still oblivious; whether NJPW are taking Honma’s side of the story; whether the booking decisions in this tournament were too important to remove Honma from; or something else entirely. Regardless, it feels galling to be presented with this information: these awful accusations against Honma, and still watch him heralded as an underdog hero — perhaps even more galling when his day job is play-violence.

At times like this, when wrestling is an escape from an often unpleasant and unforgiving world, and when wrestling fans seek refuge in the camaraderie and fantasy of watching beefy Japanese men headbutt each other several time zones away; it feels hard to reconcile our dream-like hobby with the very real world where cruel people do cruel things. Perhaps in unusual situations like this, it’s healthy to take a few steps back, and take a break. Watch some other wrestling. Watch something else entirely. Breathe.

It’s normal and okay to have a personal and intense response to witnessing — with the information we have — what amounts to abuse apologism, from NJPW. If you can separate the product and still enjoy the wrestling and the characters, then awesome! If not, do what’s right for you. Draw a line under it, do what you need to look after yourself. You’re not obliged to feel okay about this. It’s only Tag League.

The match:

I really like the slightly forlorn narrative that’s emerging here: that this is a really big and exciting opportunity for YOSHI-HASHI. He missed out on any sort of showcase spot this year, snubbed for G1, losing against Honma, losing against Elgin. He’s had nothing important or valuable to call his own all year, while CHAOS continued to be wildly successful around him. Whereas Okada is already invested in the Wrestle Kingdom main event, YOSHI-HASHI has to carry the enthusiasm for team CHAOS through tag league, maybe with a glimmer of hope for a dome championship shot for him, too. Shinsuke and Nakamura both have belts, so the pressure’s off for them. Okada is trying to work hard for his friend, but his eyes really aren’t on this prize.

YOSHI-HASHI works Honma heavy early in this match, exchanging chops and elbows, then taking Honma into the crowd and brutally flinging him over piles of coats and bags, as fans scatter. He works harder in this match than I’ve ever seen him work before. He looks like a man enraged.

Makabe makes a convincing opponent for Okada, getting him trapped in the corner and unleashing both a barrage of fists and his best evil wizard laugh. Other than this, it feels like Okada’s barely in this match, either emotionally or physically.

For all intents and purposes, YOSHI-HASHI has this match in the bag after his Loose Explosion on Makabe, but Red Shoes hesitates far too much before the three count, telegraphing Honma’s Kokeshi which is incoming to break the pin. This is uncharacteristic, and I feel like a lot of people would have liked to have seen the match end there. However, a Doomsday Kokeshi to YOSHI-HASHI followed by a King Kong Knee Drop put the man away and scupper his Tag Title dreams for another year.

Daring false finishes and a dazzling YOSHI-HASHI performance make this match a lot more enjoyable than I anticipated, even if having Honma on my screen after the allegations surrounding him feels distasteful. ***½

Tanahashi is bereft at this result.

World Tag League – B Block
Katsuyori Shibata and Hirooki Goto vs EVIL and Tetsuya Naito

BUSHI emerges with a new unique look here, looking very dashing with a custom mask and belt-buckle.

There’s something pleasing about the separate threads of this feud that all combined to make this face-off. Shibata’s beef with Naito during G1, Goto’s subsequent run-in with EVIL. In some ways this was the match that we all anticipated right from before the Tag League teams were even announced. To justify our excitement, Meiyu Tag take one meaningful look at each other as they enter through the curtain and then sprint in unison to the ring, a refreshing contrast after an even longer than usual Ingobernable entrance. Naito’s still dressed when Shibata kicks him in the face.

This does mean that Shibata and Goto have to take all three members of the Ingobernables as they brawl at ringside, but Shibata alone seems to be powered by such intense fury that he’s dispatching BUSHI into a heap of furniture with little regard for the dry-clean only status of the luchador’s suit. Shibata and EVIL finally end up alone in the ring, while Naito exasperatedly undresses from a seat in the audience. There’s some back and forth; exchanging moves in the ring; going to the outside again; but this feels a bit unsatisfying compared to the complete onslaught of violence that I had hoped for.

When Shibata gets EVIL in the corner, and throws immensely violent corner dropkicks at him, then scrapes his face off slowly with his boot three times, then two more corner dropkicks, it feels… close….to the level of animosity that was promised.

BUSHI sprays green mist in Shibata’s face and the finish seems inevitable: but Goto is there to Ushigoroshi Naito and let Shibata recover. It feels like Meiyu tag could recover this: but Naito hits a low blow, Destino, pin, and it’s over.

The finishes of Ingobernable matches on this tour have been frustrating because they seem to discount everything that’s gone before previously. Even if Goto briefly managed to push back the inexorable by having Shibata’s back, the outcome’s the same, and the finish didn’t relate back to anything that happened previously. **¾

After the bell, Ingobernables beat down Red Shoes, and he gets a face full of red mist. They then turn their malevolent energies to the ring announcer, and Naito grabs the mic to explain that if he wins this tournament, they will not be challenging for the tag belts at Wrestle Kingdom. Honma and Makabe run in to prevent any further destruction.

This is Ru Gunn (@ru_gunn), signing off from Tag League! Joe Lanza will have your finals. Goodbye!

Final NJPW World Tag League 2015 Standings

Block A

    • Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma: 8pts
    • Hiroshi Tanahashi & Michael Elgin: 8pts
    • Kazuchika Okada & YOSHI-HASHI: 6pts
    • Christopher Daniels & Frankie Kazarian: 6pts
    • Toru Yano & Kazushi Sakuraba: 6pts
    • Manabu Nakanishi & Yuji Nagata: 4pts
    • Bad Luck Fale & Tama Tonga: 4pts

Block B

    • EVIL & Tetsuya Naito: 10pts
    • Hirooki Goto & Katsuyori Shibata: 8pts
    • Doc Gallows & Karl Anderson: 8pts
    • Shinsuke Nakamura & Tomohiro Ishii: 6pts
    • Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan: 4pts
    • Matt Taven & Michael Bennett: 4pts
    • AJ Styles & Yujiro Takahashi: 2pts