New Japan Pro Wrestling
World Tag League 2017: Night 4
November 21, 2017
Kofu, Yamanashi, Japan
Watch: NJPW World
Killer Elite Squad (2) defeats David Finlay and Katsuya Kitamura (0)
The team of Finlay and Kitamura has to be one of the most interesting teams in this year’s World Tag League. They probably won’t have very much success in the ring, but it is clear that New Japan has big plans for Kitamura and this appears to be the first step in taking him out of his comfort zone and into some bigger scenarios. He’s shown loads of charisma and potential, and hopefully a run in the Tag League will help boost his in-ring credentials as well. On the other end, what is there to say about David Finlay? He’s immensely talented, but as an excursionless ex-Young Lion, he feels stuck in neutral and I’m not sure where the future lies for him. Here’s to hoping that striking out on his own with Kitamura will bring about some kind of change for him.
Tonight, the young team had a tall task in the current IWGP Heavyweight Tag champions, Killer Elite Squad. And when I say tall, I mean it literally. Kitamura, who usually looks humongous next to his Young Lion compatriots, was dwarfed by both Lance Archer and Davey Boy Smith Jr. It’s sometimes easy to forget just how big KES is, but like Billy Gunn in last year’s World Tag League, they tower over most of the wrestlers in New Japan.
As for the match, it was a typical World Tag League match. Kitamura started for his team and was quickly isolated as Archer and Smith took turns beating on the Young Lion. At times, they even had some fun with it, as Archer ran towards the apron as if he was going to knock David Finlay off before changing his mind at the last minute. Ever the gentleman, Finlay jumped off the apron anyways. With a pretty quiet crowd, it didn’t amount to much and even Kitamura’s tag to Finlay couldn’t really get them going. It wasn’t until Kitamura tagged back in that the match picked up. Kitamura entered and started trading moves with both Archer and Smith, including impressively gorilla pressing Archer over his head. But, Kitamura’s advantage was to be short lived as the numbers game caught up to him and he was pinned by Smith after a Killer Bomb. Standard stuff. ** ¾
War Machine (2) def. Togi Makabe and Henare (0)
It’s been a great year for War Machine. They debuted at last year’s World Tag League as one of the few teams that seemed to give their max effort night in and night out. They won over not only the Japanese fans, but fans all over the world, and they spent the year tearing down the house all over the place. Now an established team in New Japan, I’m interested to see how their second tournament goes.
Henare also returns to the World Tag League after teaming with Manabu Nakanishi last year, and it has been an interesting 365 days for the youngster. Last year, Henare seemed like a good young talent with some bit of potential, but tagging with Nakanishi often left him stuck in a role as Nakanishi Jr. instead of using the Tag League to work on creating his own style. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury early in 2017 and while he was out, the Young Lions blossomed. He now returns to an entirely new landscape, and it’s not exactly clear where he fits in. In some ways, it’s like he’s starting over again.
This year, instead of Nakanishi, he’s tagging with Togi Makabe. Makabe has been a man adrift ever since the unfortunate and scary injury to Tomoaki Honma, and both Makabe and Henare seem to enter this year’s tournament with no clear sense of direction. I only hope that a fresh tag partner will help Henare get back on track. If this match is any indication, that may be an uphill climb.
Even by lowered World Tag League standards, I found this match to be underwhelming. War Machine gave a great effort, but the basic style of Henare and Makabe never meshed with the exciting, risk-taking style of War Machine. At times, it even felt like an exhibition for War Machine, as Henare and Makabe stood in as test dummies for a display of War Machine’s wide variety of maneuvers. And with the match lasting less than 10 minutes, it was tough to expand outside of the usual beatdown-hot tag-breakdown-pin format. Add in a quiet crowd, and it just didn’t add up. **
It’s the World Tag League! If you’ve seen one, you know what to expect. The first few days of the tournament have each seemed to carry a theme, and tonight’s theme was the Young Lions against established tag teams. There’s nothing to go out of your way to see on this show, but if you are a Katsuya Kitamura fan (like I am), check out his match with Killer Elite Squad.