New Japan Pro Wrestling
World Tag League 2017: Night 1
November 18th, 2017
Korakuen Hall – Tokyo, Japan

In a really cool move, New Japan streamed this first night of the World Tag League for FREE on their YouTube channel. As I type this, the event in its entirety is still up on their channel, so if you want to see a New Japan event for free, be sure to check this show out.

Hirai Kawato & Shota Umino def. Tetsuhiro Yagi & Ren Narita

Nothing like a fun tag team match with the young lions to open up the tour in Korakuen Hall! Right from the start, it seemed like Kawata was in no mood to play around, as he shoved Yagi & Narita before the bell rang. As for the bout itself, it was a perfectly solid opener with the young lions. If there’s one big takeaway from this one, it’s that Kawato is being allowed to show off more offense beyond the traditional young lion move-set template. Of course, he’s already established the springboard dropkick as a signature maneuver, but now he appears to have his first finisher in the form of a spinning kick to the back of the head, which he used to pick up the win here. I’m not sure if he’s used that before, but it’s cool to see that he now has an established finishing move. It’ll certainly add more drama to his matches, particularly when it comes to the ongoing Young Lions Cup. ***

The Bullet Club (The Guerrillas of Destiny & Leo Tonga) def. War Machine & Tomoyuki Oka

Oka came out wearing War Machine style face paint, which was pretty cool. For the most part, this was a fun six-man tag. The first portion of the match mostly featured Leo Tonga vs. Oka while War Machine brawled with G.O.D. on the floor. While it’s blatantly obvious that Leo Tonga still has a long way to go, he’s slowly improving. It seemed like he had a little more confidence here (at least, compared to the last time I saw him), and appeared to be comfortable in his role as a heel. The only way he’s going to get better is by gaining as much experience in the ring as he can, and based on his performance here, he’s certainly gotten better compared to when he first started. As for the rest of the match, things really picked up once Oka made the hot tag to Ray Rowe. Hanson hit his repeated clotheslines to a huge reaction from the crowd, while Rowe gave both Oka and Hanson a bodyslam onto Tanga Loa. While Oka had a solid showing here, he ultimately ate the pin after getting hit with a Samoan Driver from Tanga Loa. Again, this was perfectly fine for what it was. ***

CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano, & Best Friends) def. “Unbreakable” Michael Elgin, Jeff Cobb, David Finlay, & Katsuya Kitamura

This was the New Japan debut for both Jeff Cobb & Chucky T. From start to finish, this was a very entertaining eight-man tag. Things kicked off with a surprisingly fun exchange between Elgin & Yano (I say it was “surprisingly fun” because their bout in G1 Climax this year was awful), and in general, this match featured solid action throughout. However, the big story here is that New Japan did a great job establishing Jeff Cobb & Chucky T right out of the gate. With Cobb, he got a hot tag from David Finlay and immediately showed off his power as a threw everyone on the opposing team around with an impressive array of suplexes and slams. Cobb then had a good exchange with Ishii (wouldn’t that be an awesome match to see in the 2018 G1 Climax?) where he further displayed his power along with his athleticism. He immediately won over the crowd in Korakuen Hall, which was awesome to see. In a way, his debut in New Japan was very similar to Michael Elgin’s debut in the 2015 G1 Climax (he was in the B Block that year, so his first actual match on the tour was a multi-man tag like this). As for Chucky T, I don’t think he got as over as Cobb did, but he did manage to pick up the win for CHAOS after hitting a nasty Awful Waffle on Kitamura, who was motionless on the mat for a good minute or so after the pin. This eight-man tag was a ton of fun to watch, and from a booking standpoint, it accomplished its goal of establishing two new talents right out of the gate. ***1/4

Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, Yuji Nagata, & Manabu Nakanishi def. The Bullet Club (“The Hangman” Adam Page, Bad Luck Fale, Chase Owens, & Yujiro Takahashi)

I honestly can’t remember the last time that all four of the “New Japan Dads” teamed up together in one match. Regardless, they’ve united once again to take on this Bullet Club contingent led by Bad Luck Fale. It’s safe to say that this was the weakest bout on the show, up to this point. It was still a fine bout, all things considered, but it certainly wasn’t better than the three matches that preceded it. Nakanishi got isolated by The Bullet Club until Nagata, and later Kojima, managed to mount comebacks. Chase Owens had been mocking TenKoji throughout the match, first stealing Tenzan’s mongolian chops, and later stealing Kojima’s machine gun chops. Of course, it only makes sense that Owens got his comeuppance in the end. After getting hit with the TenKoji Cutter, Owens got pinned following a lariat from Kojima. An average contest as a whole, but totally fine considering who was involved. **1/2

Hiroshi Tanahashi, Togi Makabe, & Henare def. Suzuki-gun (The Killer Elite Squad & El Desperado)

Henare is making his return to New Japan competition after suffering a bad achilles injury back in February. Meanwhile, it looked like Tanahashi was wearing biker gloves….for some reason. Anyway, this six-man tag was about on par with the eight man tag that came before it, in terms of match quality. Henare got a few moments to shine early, but then got picked apart by Davey Boy Smith Jr., who went after the leg that had the aforementioned achilles injury. Makabe made a comeback after getting the hot tag, hitting his signature spots, before Tanahashi came in towards the end. He took out El Desperado (with an assist from Henare), and hit the High Fly Flow to score the win for his team. A pretty standard match, but it was nice to see Henare back in action. Unfortunately for him, that taped up leg will likely be a big target for the others team in their block, when it comes to the tournament matches. **1/2

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, BUSHI, & Hiromu Takahashi) def. CHAOS (“Rainmaker” Kazuchika Okada, Will Ospreay, & Gedo)

The final non-tournament bout on this show featured yet another chapter in the feud between CHAOS & LIJ. We’ve seen variations of this match, whether it be in six-man, eight-man, or ten-man tags, so many times over the last two years (to the point where some might say it’s been done to death), but they almost always deliver. This was another perfect example of that. It wasn’t spectacular by any means, but it was very solid from beginning to end. We did get some interactions between Okada & Naito (both at the start of the match and towards the end) ahead of their big title bout at Wrestle Kingdom 12. Will Ospreay was the highlight of this six-man tag, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, as he always seems to put forth more effort into these multi-man tag than he really needs to. Ospreay had some cool exchanges with Hiromu, but in the end, BUSHI would get the win for LIJ after hitting the MX on Gedo (who sold it like he had just gotten hit with a Stone Cold Stunner). Afterwards, Naito attacked Okada with his Tokyo Dome Briefcase before spitting on, and rubbing his boot in, the face of the IWGP Heavyweight Champion. I’m sure we’ll be getting more clashes between CHAOS & LIJ (and these two specifically) in multi-man tags throughout this tour. ***1/4

CHAOS (Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI) def. Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki & Takashi Iizuka)

Why does New Japan still book Takashi Iizuka in 2017? I honestly don’t get it. You have so many talented performers that work for your company, and yet you still book this weirdo. Even though I dislike Iizuka in general, I must admit that he was fine is match which, as a whole, was pretty decent. I wasn’t looking forward to it going into this first night of the tournament, but there was solid stuff scattered throughout this one. Of course, we got a ton of brawling in the crowd at the start (pretty standard when it comes to Suzuki-gun). From there, the CHAOS duo was forced to fight from underneath, and they eventually managed to mount a comeback. Both teams played their respective roles well, and in particular, I enjoyed the Goto/YOSHI-HASHI pairing. Obviously I would’ve preferred Goto/Ishii, but it is what it is. Going into this year’s World Tag League, the Goto/YOSHI-HASHI team was one that I thought would go pretty far, maybe even win the whole thing. Neither guy has anything pegged for Wrestle Kingdom 12 at the moment, but if the result of this match is any indication, that might not be the case. Goto won the match for his team when he pinned Suzuki (the NEVER Openweight Champion) clean in the middle with the GTR.

This would seem to indicate that Goto will get another title shot at Suzuki, probably at the Tokyo Dome. While it should be a good match in theory, I’m not too excited to see it. Goto lost twice to Suzuki last summer in NEVER Openweight Title bouts (both of those involved a ton of interference, but they were losses for Goto nonetheless), and I get that he beat Suzuki here, but do we really need Goto/Suzuki AGAIN?? I guess this could be Suzuki getting his comeuppance at the hands of the man that was screwed by him twice before, but the prospect of that match just doesn’t excite me, especially if it’s another stipulation match with more Suzuki-gun interference. Speaking of which, the lack of those shenanigans was actually a nice change of pace in this tag team match. Again, a fine match as a whole. ***

Death Juice (Sami Callihan & Juice Robinson) def. Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL & SANADA)

If you told me on January 1st, 2017 that, before the end of the year, Sami Callihan would be main eventing a New Japan show in Korakuen Hall, I would’ve called you crazy. Well, here we are, right before Thanksgiving, and Sami Callihan is indeed in the main event of a New Japan show in Korakuen Hall. What’s fascinating about Death Juice (yes, that is indeed their team name) is that these two actually had a brief mini-feud against each other in NXT before both left the company. I was curious to see how well they would work together, especially against an experienced team like EVIL & SANADA. In the end, in what some might call an upset, Death Juice managed to pick up the victory over the LIJ duo. From start to finish, this was a really good match (easily the best of the night) which featured plenty of action throughout. As we saw in the G1 Climax, Juice Robinson has strong chemistry with EVIL as well as SANADA, so in that regard, the quality of the bout wasn’t a total surprise.

Of course, everyone was wondering how Sami Callihan would do in New Japan, and on his first night in, he seemed to do pretty well. I don’t think he got as over with the fans in Korakuen Hall as Jeff Cobb did earlier in the night, but Callihan definitely worked hard, and by the end of the match, the fans seemed to be into him. We’ll see how he does on the rest of the tour, but he seemed to make a good first impression here. Robinson would ultimately get the win for his team after hitting EVIL with Pulp Friction. Again, this was a really fun main event, and I’ll be curious to see how well this Death Juice team does on the rest of the tour, both in terms of match quality and in the overall standings. ***3/4

Finals Thoughts

Despite only having two actual tournament matches, the opening night of the 2017 NJPW World Tag League was an entertaining show.

Death Juice vs. LIJ was easily the best of the two tournament bouts (and the match of the night), but the Goto/YOSHI-HASHI vs. Suzuki/Iizuka match was surprisingly solid, so in that regard, the World Tag League is off to a positive start. The middle portion of the card dragged a bit, but there were a number of fun matches throughout the rest of the undercard. It wasn’t the greatest New Japan show in the world, but it’s available to watch for FREE on YouTube via New Japan’s YouTube page, so there’s really no excuse to not check it out.