New Japan Pro Wrestling finally officially announced the participants in World Tag League 2017 on November 6. To break down the lineup and the upcoming tournament, Voices of Wrestling put together a who’s-who roundtable of NJPW analysis to hash it out. We were going to include VOW’s own Japan tour guide John Carroll, but, well…

For those yet unfamiliar, the blocks for the World Tag League 2017 are as follows:

  • Block A
    • Juice Robinson & Sami Callihan
    • Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI (CHAOS)
    • Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima (TenKoji)
    • Manabu Nakanishi & Yuji Nagata
    • Bad Luck Fale & Chase Owens (Bullet Club)
    • Hangman Page & Yujiro Takahashi (Bullet Club)
    • Minoru Suzuki & Takashi Iizuka
  • Block B
    • Togi Makabe & Henare
    • Jeff Cobb & Michael Elgin
    • David Finlay & Katsuya Kitamura
    • War Machine
    • Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano (CHAOS)
    • Trent Beretta & Chuck Taylor (CHAOS)
    • Guerillas of Destiny (Bullet Club)
    • IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team champions, Killer Elite Squad (Suzuki Gun)

And here’s the roundtable preview team:

  • Rich Kraetsch: The face that runs the place. Owner of Voices of Wrestling, one-half of the VOW Flagship Podcast and a man who will spend most of the World Tag League 2017 getting ready to publish the 2017 NJPW Year in Review eBook. Follow him at @VoicesWrestling.
  • Joe Lanza: A reasoned and well explained man. Follow him at @JoeMLanza.
  • Joe Gagne: Game show host. Follow him @JoeGagne.
  • Alex Wendland: Editor and sometimes-writer for VOW. Follow him at @AlexWendland.
  • JoJo Remy: Proud victim of time-zone discrimination, homeless podcaster/VOW writer. Follow him at @jaudiowrestling.

Alex Wendland: Following Sunday’s great Power Struggle show, NJPW has officially set off towards Wrestle Kingdom 12 and one of the final pieces of that journey is the World Tag League 2017. The teams were just announced and include three wrestlers debuting in NJPW (Jeff Cobb, Sami Callihan, Chucky T). I know it’s going to be hard to keep up with the entire tournament, but what in these lineups is going to make you more or less likely to watch?

Joe Lanza: This is the most intriguing WTL lineup in years. It was a smart move to not include wrestlers already booked for Wrestle Kingdom bouts, both from a kayfabe perspective (why would say, Tetsuya Naito want to be bothered with chasing a WTL win and subsequent tag title match when he has an IWGP title match to worry about?) and non-kayfabe perspective (this gives your main event guns a chance to take it easy). Removing the Okada’s, Tanahashi’s and Naito’s of the world opened up slots up for fresh faces like Cobb, Callihan, and Chucky T, undercard dudes like David Finlay and Chase Owens, plus lions like Henare and Kitamura. The end result is a field that feels fresh, and the least predictable WTL in a long time.

Joe Gagne: In a perfect world the New Japan tag league would take place in May and feature big name teams going at it in the finals. That said, I’m actually happy the big names are out. It strains credulity that Kazuchika Okada can’t win a tag league but Tomoaki Honma has done it twice, or that Hiroshi Tanahashi can’t recruit a better partner than Captain New Japan. There are fresh faces and you can make strong cases for a half dozen teams to win. My only regret is the fact that there’s no total WTF selection like Billy Gunn this year. I’m sure Billy could have cleared some room on his schedule to team with Oka.

Lanza: The way I see it, you can make reasonable arguments for Elgin & Cobb, Goto & YOSHI-HASHI, TenKoji, Best Friends, War Machine, Ishii & Yano, or G.O.D. winning the tournament. Even if you disagree with a team or two in that group, that’s still four or five more teams that have a semi reasonable shot at winning than usual.

Wendland: For the most part, I love the fresh faces. The people in the tournament are great, but, to steal a phrase from fantasy football, I’d have preferred a stars and scrubs lineup. What’s a better hook, Goto & YOSHI-HASHI facing off against War Machine or Goto & Ishii going up against War Machine? Even in Bullet Club the teams are too bland. You can make a much more interesting tournament with the same people from the same factions. I’d much rather watch Bad Luck Fale and Hangman Page make a run than watch Fale flail with Chase Owens and Page wallow in ** mediocrity with Yujiro Takahashi. There’s going to be enough star power in the tournament, even without the main headliners. Why not make these divisions top heavy and draw some interest to those online-only shows?

Kraetsch: See, I don’t mind the lack of star power. It’s weird but the lack of stars almost makes it better for me. Lanza touched on it briefly but not only does it open the entire tournament up to new, interesting and unique matches but it will help the finishes be more unique. In year’s past the likes of Okada, Tanahashi, etc. would team with absolute scrubs who would take every single fall for them. Also, you had many of the stars using it as a rest period between Power Struggle and Wrestle Kingdom. I never blamed them for that, I get it, you want to be 100% for Wrestle Kingdom but the matches suffered. The tournament became insufferably boring and a period when most people—myself included—only watched hyped matches but didn’t consume full shows. I don’t know that you can do it this year, even with the perceived lack of star power involved.

Gagne: We all struggle to keep up with the Tag League every year. It can’t come within the same galaxy of quality as something like the G1, and it takes place late in the year, when many of us are busy with the holidays or rewatching matches for year end lists. They’ve altered this year’s schedule a bit – last year, there were 16 tour shows before the finals. Twelve of those shows had four tournament matches, while four shows just had two apiece. This year, there are just 10 shows with four tournament matches and eight shows with two matches apiece. Theoretically this spreads things out and makes it a greater possibility to watch every match, even if most of us give up by night four and watch A Christmas Story for the 800th time instead.

Wendland: So we’re in agreement that the lineups have the right amount of star power for what and when the tag league is, and that the entire setup is probably an improvement over previous iterations, but let’s close this out with some prognosticating. What’s your final matchup and the team you’re most excited to watch? For me, I love the idea of Michael Elgin/Jeff Cobb press slamming everyone in sight, my only qualification is that I hope there’s still room for Elgin in NJPW. If this tag team goes as well as I think it could, a 2018 run with the heavyweight belts might lift the division out of the doldrums it’s been in this year. My final is Goto & YOSHI-HASHI vs. War Machine.

Jojo Remy: Sorry, I’m late to the party, guys. I was obviously asleep at 2AM in Japan when you started writing this. I’ll be going to the tour opener, so I’m happy to jump in and give my perspective. I’m most excited to watch Elgin and Cobb; I actually bought my ticket specifically because I’ve never seen Cobb live. I’ll go with a Juice/Sami vs. Guerrillas of Destiny final. Juice has come so close to other titles this year, I think he has earned a decent spot at Wrestle Kingdom. I also have a feeling Juice and Sami will be aligned with the returning Jay White, so I think they will be booked strong no matter what. Regarding the debuting guys, some Japanese fans are wondering what to expect from Cobb, Callihan and Chucky T.

Kraetsch: I’ve talked with friends and we wonder if NJPW is big enough for both Elgin and Cobb. I mean that somewhat jokingly but if Cobb is someone they can bring in on a more regular basis is there still a spot for Elgin? Is Elgin someone they would theoretically replace with another powerhouse gaijin? We’ve seen the slow degradation of Elgin’s push in the company, could this be the end or a new beginning? They are easily my most interesting team of the tournament for that very reason. One way or another the future of Elgin and the potential future of Cobb in the company will be evident in the booking of this duo throughout the tournament. As far as a team that could win the whole thing or a potential final match, it’s hard to say. Togi Makabe is a two-time defending champion but his partner (Tomoaki Honma) is still hurt and he’s been replaced with the returning young lion Henare. That’s not a great pick for the King of Desserts. Elgin/Cobb are in a loaded block with three potential winners in Killer Elite Squad, War Machine and the Guerrillas of Destiny. I’ll go chalk with the B Block and select War Machine. The A Block… jeez, who the hell knows. I can see three teams emerging as favorites: EVIL & SANADA, Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI and maybe, just maybe, a miracle run for TenKoji. I like LIJ getting some love in this tournament so let’s go with EVIL & SANADA vs. War Machine in the finals?  

Lanza: The B Block is the much stronger block, so my most anticipated matches all come from there. With that said, don’t sleep on EVIL & SANADA vs Goto & YOSHI-HASHI in the A Block. SANADA & YOSHI-HASHI have great chemistry and a long running low-key rivalry. But the B Block is where it’s at this year. Everyone is hyped for Elgin & Cobb, so that feels like a hacky answer to team I’m most excited about, but that’s my pick. Pull Yano out, and it’s a perfect block. He’s the only dude I have zero interest in. I’m even hyped to see Makabe take Henare under his wing. I see either Elgin & Cobb, G.O.D., or War Machine winning the tournament. I’m pulling for Elgin & Cobb, but I have a feeling G.O.D. will win. I’ll take G.O.D. over Goto & YOSHI-HASHI, who will advance by beating EVIL & SANADA on the final night of the A Block in the best match of the tournament.