New Japan Pro Wrestling
World Tag League 2017 – Finals
December 11, 2017
Fukuoka International Center
Hakata, Fukuoka, Japan

Watch: NJPWWorld.com

For some hardcore New Japan fans, the World Tag League tour represents a much needed break. Even if you bypass most or all of the seemingly endless tour, the final is never a recommended skip, as we get the final angles in the lead up up to NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 12. While this show featured no standout matches, it did feature multiple must see angles and storyline advancements. Wrestle Kingdom is less than one month away, and this is your primary go home show. And for the most part, it was a fun one.

Jushin Thunder Liger, Manabu Nakanishi, Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima, Hiroyoshi Tenzan def. Togi Makabe, David Finlay, Katsuya Kitamura, Hirai Kawato, Henare

Combined age of the winning team was TWO HUNDRED FORTY FIVE.

Fast paced opener with Kojima decapitating Kawato with a Cozy Lariat to pick up the win for the olds. People pick on New Japan multi man undercard matches, but the energy is always great and the work is always solid. Good start to the show. **1/2

War Machine, Michael Elgin, Jeff Cobb def. Yujiro Takahashi, Hangman Page, Chase Owens, Leo Tonga

The highlight here was Jeff Cobb and his carnival strongman antics, lifting and tossing and throwing everyone in sight, including the very large Leo Tonga. Cobb got over within the first 30 second of his debut in Korakuen Hall, and if he sticks around (and we’re told there is a very good chance of that happening), I could see him becoming a real player, perhaps in a slot vacated by Elgin, whose contract expires shortly after Wrestle Kingdom and whose status is very much up in the air right now.

War Machine picked up the fall, scaring the shit out of everyone because with a win over Killer Elite Squad during the round robin and a strong showing here, the fear was a walk out after the final and another three way title match for Wrestle Kingdom. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. **3/4

Bad Luck Fale def. BUSHI via DQ

A rare heavyweight vs junior singles match, set up when BUSHI scored an upset fall over Fale at King of Pro-Wrestling.

This was horrendous. Fale has had some excellent roadblock matches against people like Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi and can be an effective monster, but this was disjointed and lacked heat. BUSHI spit mist in Fale’s face without much of a setup, leading to a flat DQ that left the crowd quiet and confused. The match wasn’t good, the finish wasn’t good, none of this was good. Arguably the worst big show NJPW match of the year. DUD

Best Friends def. Death Juice

An unexpected straight tag between Block B and Block A teams.

It was good to see New Japan try some new talent on this tour. Jeff Cobb was a hit. Sami Callihan didn’t seem to get over all that much, and generally just felt like a bad fit. Chucky T has received mixed reviews, but his work has been solid. A heavyweight tag run wouldn’t be the worst next step in the elevation of Beretta, and Best Friends would give CHAOS a steady heavyweight tag team. If I’m running things, I retain Cobb, bring back Chucky T and push Best Friends into eventual title contention, and send Callihan packing back to the U.S. indie sleaze circuit.

Callihan was given plenty of shine before eating the pin, scoring a near fall on Beretta using Beretta’s Dudebuster, and then nearly earning a submission with his own stretch muffler. Beretta put away Callihan with the assisted Dudebuster, with Chucky T assuming the old Rocky Romero role of hitting the top rope dropkick. Solid mid card match. ***

Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano, YOSHI-HASHI def. Minoru Suzuki, El Desperado, Killer Elite Squad

It’s good to see Lance Archer back in full force, chokeslamming dudes and terrorizing fans, after missing nearly six months earlier this year due to back surgery.

This eventually whittled down to Goto facing off with Suzuki as expected, but it was Desperado who took the fall. Goto pinning Despy instead of Suzuki was an important storyline key. With Goto chasing a NEVER title shot, Suzuki blew him off, claiming he hasn’t earned one, and in addition, that Goto has nothing at risk in exchange. Goto fired back that he has his HAIR. So it appears we’re on our way to a Wrestle Kingdom NEVER title match with Goto putting up his flowing Samurai locks up against Suzuki’s NEVER belt. ***





Cody & Marty Scurll def. Kota Ibushi & KUSHIDA

This was a classic “put heat on the PPV match” match that happened to already be taking place on a major show. The World Tag League Final is funny like that. It’s technically a major show, but it’s also the highest profile go home for Wrestle Kingdom, so it serves the dual purpose of concluding the tournament but also heating up the key Wrestle Kingdom stuff with angles and such. This means you always get an eventful, newsworthy show, even if the matches don’t deliver at the level of the usual big New Japan tour ender.

Cody is the ROH champion, and over like crazy pretty much everywhere else on Earth, but this guy continues to get nothing, and I mean nothing, from New Japan crowds. Perhaps they see through him as a guy who parachutes in for the major shows but doesn’t work the tours. Maybe they’ve been less than impressed with his mediocre matches. It’s probably a combination of both. While I give Cody more credit than most for carving out arguably the most successful post-WWE indie run we’ve ever seen, he also has the benefit of The Elite rub in ROH and on a lot (but not all) of his indie appearances, something that isn’t nearly as profound in New Japan as it is elsewhere, and aside from Omega, the rest of The Elite isn’t nearly as over in Japan as they are everywhere else. Whatever the reasons, New Japan Cody continues to come off like a guy presented as a big deal who the fans refuse to treat like one.

With that said, Cody may have finally gotten the attention of New Japan fans with a devastating Crossroads delivered to Ibushi on the entrance stage that looked like it snapped Ibushi’s neck. The Cody/Ibushi match isn’t the Ibushi bout that most people wanted, but it sure is intriguing.

Will Cody even enter the match as champion, with Dalton Castle at Final Battle looming? If so, would ROH put their title on Ibushi? Probably not, which means the outcome of the match largely depends on the outcomes of Cody vs Castle.

While Cody was attempting to break Ibushi’s neck in the entranceway, Scurll threw powder in KUSHIDA’s face behind the referee’s back to pick up the win. Scurll’s gimmick in New Japan is full on Villian, winning the junior title under controversial circumstances, and beating KUSHIDA in a sleazy manner here. Scurll is another act who has failed to get over at the same level in Japan as he has elsewhere, but his singles matches have been good and usually win the fans over by the end. ***1/4

Kenny Omega & The Young Bucks def. Roppongi 3K & Rocky Romero

An average match, with t-shirt Kenny putting away Romero with the One-Winged Angel. But this wasn’t about the match.

Following his latest video message, Chris Jericho made a surprise appearance, popping up in the ring when the lights came on and attacking Omega from behind. A short lived “Y2J” chant died a quick death when Jericho attacked a referee and used a belt shot to bloody up Omega.

Jericho, in his new Alpha Club shirt, hit a Codebreaker and left the ring. If you’re wondering where The Bucks were while this was going on, well, that’s a good question that I don’t have an answer for. With Omega a bloody mess, Don Callis hopped in the ring to attend to his pal and give Jericho the business. Jericho hit Callis with a Codebreaker and Callis sold it like he was dead, with a full stretcher job. The Bucks finally showed up to run Jericho off.

This was a great angle, and a double turn of sorts, even though Omega works in shades of gray like most of the rest of the roster. It certainly solidified Jericho as the heel in this feud, and destroying Callis along with Omega was a nice touch. The only critique is the Fukuoka crowd didn’t quite understand how to take it. It seemed as though they were excited to see Jericho initially, but the heel tactics threw them off.

The nature of the attack and the blood have set the tone and established that this is now a blood feud, and any ideas that the Wrestle Kingdom match may have been loaded with shtick are now out the window. It also sets up a deliberate, slower paced match, which will be helpful to Jericho, but also has the possibility of killing the crowd in an enormous building that will unsympathetically swallow mediocre crowd reactions if the fans aren’t into the story. The reality is asking Jericho to keep up with an Omega workrate special was probably asking too much, so this was a good move. The angle was a big hit on Twitter, so it did garner plenty of Western attention, but the live reaction in Fukuoka makes it unclear if it got over with the Japanese. Some of the fans clearly wanted to cheer for Jericho, but the violent nature of the angle shut that down. I suspect some of them had no idea who he was to begin with.

Either way, Jericho’s impact ultimately will be measured in New Japan World subscriptions and eyeballs on the AXS replay two days later. **3/4 for the match, but a **** angle.

Tetsuya Naito & Hiromu Takahashi def. Kazuchika Okada & Will Ospreay

After Hiromu (with still no sign of the star-killing gimmick Daryl) dispatched Ospreay, Naito talked some shit to the exiting Okada, who ran back to the ring, countered a Destino, locked in his new cobra clutch style submission and attempted to choke Naito to death before the January 4th encounter. The Wrestle Kingdom main event will be built around that new submission, and Naito attempting to finally hit the Destino.

This crowd was molten, and I mean MOLTEN for Naito, who is peaking at precisely the right time. One of the oldest theories in wrestling is to make ‘em wait. The hard part is timing it. If you miss the moment, you risk fans losing faith and you could kill a hot act. Give the fans what they want too soon, you could fail to minimize the impact. Naito’s arc has proven to be nothing short of perfect. He’s never been hotter, peaking right when they need him as we head down the home stretch to Wrestle Kingdom. Advance ticket sales back that up, but with that said, we’ve heard that story before. But if crowd reactions are any indication of how tickets will move for Okada vs Naito, they will surely top last year’s Bushiroad-era attendance record.

Okada’s dominant title reign has served multiple masters. His record breaking title run has been an unquestioned home run both aesthetically and at the gate, selling out every defense and putting up an all time year bell-to-bell. But the hidden story here, ironically enough, is that Okada’s dominance will benefit Naito, the man some critics think has been unfairly passed over in favor of Okada. Savvy observers know that was never the case. Crowning Naito a year ago would have been too soon, and even if you still aren’t convinced, Okada’s 2017 success makes the point irrelevant. 2017 was Okada’s time, and it was an unmitigated success. It all worked, from 2012 to now, to absolute perfection. And if 2018 is Naito’s time, it’ll be kicked off by being put over by the most dominant IWGP champion of all time on the biggest show of the year while both men are at the absolute peak of their stardom. This is long term booking brilliance the likes of which we haven’t seen since…well, I can’t even recall the last time we saw something peaked this perfectly, at least on purpose and with apologies to Daniel Bryan. They not only knew they could be patient with Naito, they also knew it was the prudent thing to do.

Invasion Attack two years ago gave people a taste. You gotta make ‘em wait for the meal. ***1/4

World Tag League 2017 Final
EVIL & SANADA def. Guerrillas of Destiny

GoD can be very hit or miss, and they were hit and miss in the same match here.

This featured a painfully boring first half, with GoD putting the world’s most boring beatdown on an LIJ team that is better suited to the opposite role, contrasted by a dramatic closing stretch that was probably aided by this being the final of the hardest to predict WTL in many years. GoD has been at their best working wild balls to the wall bouts like their excellent WTL final against GBH last year, and this LIJ combination works better as heels rather than babyfaces in peril, so this match dynamic was just all wrong until the usual New Japan near fall fest.

In between those contrasting bookends was a flat and cringeworthy BUSHI run-in, before he was chased off by Fale. My guess is this sets up GoD & Fale challenging for the NEVER six man titles at Korakuen Hall next week, a match that Bullet Club may win since LIJ is challenging KES for the tag titles at the Dome.

KES came out for the requisite post match stare down, with EVIL doing all of the talking for LIJ. EVIL had a big year, and he’s been positioned as not only the star of this team, but also the clear #2 man in LIJ altogether, and a potential future star of the company. KES defending against LIJ also feels super fresh, so fresh in fact that I still don’t entirely trust the company to not insert War Machine or Elgin & Cobb or GoD or all of the above into the match before the card in finalized. I clearly suffer from post traumatic multi-team IWGP title match disorder, and I blame Gedo for my affliction. I’ll believe this is two on two when the bell rings.

I was prepared to really bury this, but the closing stretch was dramatic enough to push it to average. **1/2