New Japan Pro Wrestling
World Tag League 2016 Finals
December 10, 2016

Watch: NJPW World

David Finlay & Ryusuke Taguchi def. Jushin Thunder Liger & Tiger Mask

All you can ask of an opener on what is essentially a set up show for WrestleKingdom (rather than being a big show of its own) is that it is fun and gets you wanting to see more. Mission accomplished here, and then some. Liger & Tiger may be old, and may not be half of what they once were (well, Liger at least; Tiger never really did do much for me), but they move great for their age and are more than capable of having a quick & quality opener. The big thing here was Finlay pinning the legendary Liger for what is probably his biggest victory in New Japan. The look of surprise/satisfaction on his face was great, and 2017 is looking up for young David. ***

Yujiro Takahashi & Bad Luck Fale def. Manabu Nakanishi & Henare

Probably the most forgettable match on the show, but that’s not to say it was bad. In fact, considering Yujiro was in the match, that is high praise from me. Speaking of Yujiro, he had two ladies with him this time out, one of whom was of partial African descent, and do you think the announce crew made some sort of comment about them that would get people fired in North America:

Thank you for your blatant racism Japan.

As for the match, I am a fan of Henare as the new ‘top’ young lion.  He still is not doing anything flashy, but everything basic he does he does well. He made a nice hot run towards the finish of the match, and either Yujiro was having an “ON” day, or Henare is good enough to make him look good. Nothing great, and I honestly cannot remember anything Fale did here, but perfectly fine match.  **1/2

Yoshitatsu & Billy Gunn def. Bone Soldier & Chase Owens

I always enjoy feuds for opening/low card acts, as it gives them something other to do beyond simply existing. While I still feel that way, the “war” between Yoshitatsu and the Boner sure has sure stretched my faith in that belief. It is getting almost as old as Yoshitatsu’s very, very odd HHH tribute deal. Seriously…’s only the existence of the Boner that keeps this from being the worst gimmick for the year. So considering the two of them are currently joined at the hip…

Their respective partners here may exist on the opposite end of the genetic and pharmaceutical spectrum, but are they are the two clearly charged with trying to avoid making this something worthy of the scuzziest of puro indie shows rather than the top promotion in the country.

And they succeed.  Pointless, but inoffensive.

After the match, Gunn clearly revels in his last goodbye to the crowd, and in dropping a couple of middle fingers on a poor Young Lion, before taking his (final?) exit from New Japan. **1/2

War Machine def. Brian Breaker & Leland Race

So, two Americans I could do without seeing in New Japan again, and two Americans who could be a focal point of the tag division if anyone ever bothered to remember that the division could actually be useful. I know that sounds like a stupid complaint at the end of the WORLD TAG LEAGUE, but you all know it is also true.

I am, of course, saying Ray Rowe and Hanson could be a huge asset if New Japan capitalized on them.  Everything about them – from their entrance theme which is kind of a bad song but it works PERFECTLY for them, all the way to their finish – fits like a glove you did not know you wanted, but now you kind of need.

This started out fun, with Rowe and Hanson throwing their weight – and Race’s and Breaker’s – around and getting the crowd really energized.  It slowed when the WLW crew went on the offensive, particularly Race who looked a little out of place here.

The match was good whenever Row was doing things like this:

Or this:

Or War Machine  doing big strong guy things like this:

Seriously, this is a match where the highlights tell you all you need to know. It may have gone a little long, but War Machine have more than a touch of that “Road Warriors in Japan vibe” that would be pretty cool to see New Japan capitalize on. **1/2

SANADA, EVIL, BUSHI def. Satoshi Kojima, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Yuji Nagata

EVIL is one of my favorite parts of New Japan, but could he maybe get rid of that horrendous, comical scythe?

The New Japan “Dads” had a resurgent 2016. They may not have been at the top of many cards, but the stepped up in the void created by moving midcarders up to replace the absent triumvirate of Nakamura, Styles and Ibushi and provided some good depth storylines and action throughout the year. Now that others –  SANADA and EVIL, for two examples – are stepping up, they seem destined to take a step back and move closer to retirement.

But they are not going to go quietly. Good action throughout here, before poor Koji took a little BUSHI misting, EVIL hit a reverse TKO, and Koji was done. ***

Before intermission, Kenny Omega and the Bullet Club are out to introduce their newest member. First though, Kenny apologized for the “intergalactic disaster that was Bone Soldier”and lets us know he is hoping to make it up to us.  After teasing Ryback one final time (was he in on the joke, or were they poking fun?), Kenny throws to the [very well done] video which reveals:

It’s Cody, who is now the “American Nightmare”, forever tainting one of my favorite Misfits tunes.

Count me as one of those who does not have high expectations here, and the announcement was certainly underwhelming to the live crowd, who gave a very polite, short, and quiet golf clap before falling silent again. While I do not have high expectations, this would not be the first time a New Japan newcomer defied expectations. It was not long ago that AJ Styles debuted to a lukewarm (at best) response before becoming the top gaijin in the company and being widely recognized as one of the top wrestlers in the world. Of course, AJ debuted in ring taking out Okada while Cody is being introduced via video prior to intermission in an English promo half the crowd could not understand.  I think everyone hopes he shows up in New Japan and has great matches and fits right in as we all like watching great wrestling, but it is just that we have been given no reason throughout his career so far to expect that he will.  Feel free to send complaints and trollings to @shining_wiz13.

Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI def. Katsyori Shibata & Juice Robinson

Shibata called out his former Meiyu Tag partner earlier in the tag league for not really changing other than joining up with CHAOS and becoming Okada’s flunky. This clearly irritated Goto who wanted Shibata right off the bat in this match. It should be pointed out that Shibata looks like all the king’s horses and all the king’s men have been trying to put him back together again, what with the amount of tape he has wrapped himself in.

While Goto vs Shibata was the focus here, Juice remains one of my favorite parts of New Japan in 2016, and is someone who just flat out does not get enough credit for what he has done with his career.  He not only walked away from a regular spot on WWE TV, but he has remade himself from square one while living full time in a foreign country. He has essentially relearned his profession from the ground up and has a bright future – either in Japan or eventually back in the US – because of that hard work. All of which is to say, in a match that involves a sure fire future IWGP champion, the man with the best looking offense in wrestling, and one of the hardest workers in New Japan, it was Juice who carried a good bit of the weight here and looked good doing it.

But the focal point was clarifying the direction for the NEVER title at the Dome, and that certainly appears to be Shibata and Goto. It is a match they have stayed away from for a while, but for whatever reason they do not seem to have the kind of chemistry you would hope.  It likely will not be a bad match by any means, but I think they both could have better opponents on January 4th.

Chemistry issues aside, when you think of it, the NEVER title should really belong to Goto.  At this point, he’s unlikely to even get the Nakanishi lifetime achievement award IWGP reign. ***

Tetsuya Naito & Rush def. Hiroshi Tanahashi & KUSHIDA

The crowd was hot for Naito, chanting loudly for him in a staredown with Tanahashi, to the point where it sounded completely one sided.  We got a couple of extended previews for their WK match up, and there is no reason to expect they are going to do anything other than tear it up and try to steal the show from the main event.

As for their other halves in this match, KUSHIDA definitely came to work hard tonight…

… and Rush was just kind of there.

Hiromu Takahashi showed up when KUSHIDA had Rush trapped in the hoverboard lock, but distracted Tanahashi – rather than KUSHIDA – in an odd spot. After a ref bump, he attacked KUSHIDA, hitting a sitout fireman’s carry into a sideslam (which he may be calling TIMEBOMB) and established his finisher before his first New Japan match since his return. That is efficiency right there folks.  That left KUSHIDA as easy pickings for Rush before their sleazy dubbed theme kicked in.

Post match, Hiromu licked the LiJ hat offered him by Naito, before putting on his red locks and raising a fist in solidarity with the most popular wrestler in Japan.  All six LiJ members stood tall in the ring as Tanahashi and KUSHIDA slunk away. ***

Kazuchika Okada & Tomohiro Ishii def. Kenny Omega & Adam Page

Ishii appears to be the odd man out in the WK shuffle created by the end of the NOAH relationship. Instead of main eventing here, winning the tag league with his partner Goto and having another oddly good match with GoD, he’s stuck dealing with Adam Page and a cock claw. No, that’s not a typo.

We got several extended previews of the Dome main event preview between Okada and Omega, and I think we can all agree we are in for an epic main event; and whether that’s your thing or not will determine your mileage here. Personally every interaction just makes me more excited for January 4th. Those previews were most often ended by Page adding himself to the equation for some 2 on 1’s – he stood out as being far below the level of the others. I know others felt this was his breakout performance, but he did not do much for me here. I continue to be underwhelmed, but here is hoping that he gets some momentum and wins over those he has not yet.

Okada took a massive beating and kept going, avoiding the one winged angel with reversals, but eating everything else imaginable before turning the tide…..on Page. Omega was always a step ahead in their exchanges and had Okada rocked several times, requiring the assistance of Ishii to avoid defeat. This was very good, and well worth a watch. ****

Post match, Omega snuck back in and finally hit the one winged angel on Okada, to solidfy his status as a true threat to the Rainmaker. After Gedo came to his man’s rescue, Omega nailed him with a running knee, hit another one winged angel, and stood triumphant on a pile of his fallen enemies, the IWGP title held high.

Now the question is – do they pull the trigger on Omega winning in his first ever IWGP title shot?  Or do they hold off the win for Omega to ‘rebuild’ himself after a loss?  Either way, we have a Dome main event filled with intrigue and uncertainty, and that is never a bad thing.

World Tag League Finals
GoD def. Great Bash Heel

I am an atheist, but GoD have made a true believer out of me.

They started out with an energetic brawl all over the arena, with GoD taking it to GBH. Once they make it into the ring….the match improved. Did not really expect that, but GoD seems to have either realized their limitations and how work within/around them, or have grown past them, as they did the heavy lifting here and were responsible for this being good. A crowd that had really come to life for the semi-main remained hot here, and it really helped the bout. It looks like GoD is done with crowds taking a second intermission whenever they show up.

That is not to say Honma and Makabe did not hold up their end of the bargain – this was as fast paced a heavyweight tag as I have seen in New Japan in quite a while, and even when they took time to slow it down, there was a level of intensity on display that made this match so much better than expected.

After a back and forth tilt, Tama Tonga hit one of the most brutal Gun Stuns in memory, catching Makabe coming off the top rope for a splash and looking like he jacked his neck a bit.

But that was not enough to finish GBH. They took control, and appeared on the verge of winning, when Tama Tonga reemerged out of nowhere to spoil a top rope Kokeshi and set up a lariat battle between Makabe and Roa.  That eventual turned into a doomsday Kokeshi with Loa landing hard on his head/shoulder, a top rope Kokeshi from Honma, a king kong kneedrop from Makaber, and me eagerly anticipating the rematch at the Dome.  That’s a pretty big change of opinion in about 20 minutes. ****1/2

Final Thoughts

A solid show that reminds you what a talented roster can put together when they get to go out and wrestle.  Nothing below average, with a fun semi-main, a really good angle to set up the Dome main event, and a shockingly, unexpectedly great main event.  The show built from the opening match to a hot main event – what more can you really ask for?