New Japan Pro Wrestling first introduced the Super Junior Tag Tournament in 2010, which after skipping one year became a yearly institution on their schedule ever since. This year, however, things will be switched up a bit, as for the first time ever the single elimination tournament is being replaced with a full Super Junior Tag League.
This new Super Junior Tag League will be similar to the heavyweight World Tag League (which is still happening this year as well on the following tour) and other round-robin leagues with one major difference: rather than two blocks, all eight teams participating will instead be placed in the same block. This means all of the teams will face each other over the course of the upcoming NJPW Power Struggle tour (beginning next Tuesday night, 10/16, in Korakuen Hall), with the top two teams meeting in the finals on November 3rd in Osaka Edion Arena.
In case you need it, here’s a quick refresher course on the previous Super Junior Tag winners:
- 2010: El Samurai & Koji Kanemoto def. Apollo 55 (Prince Devitt & Ryusuke Taguchi)
- 2012: Timesplitters (KUSHIDA & Alex Shelley) def. Apollo 55
- 2013: The Young Bucks (Nick & Matt Jackson) def. Forever Hooligans (Rocky Romero & Alex Koslov)
- 2014: reDRagon (Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly) def. The Young Bucks
- 2015: Matt Sydal & Ricochet def. Roppongi Vice (Rocky Romero & Beretta)
- 2016: Roppongi Vice def. ACH & Taiji Ishimori
- 2017: Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) def. Super 69 (ACH & Ryusuke Taguchi)
The only two teams listed above that are competing this year are both of last year’s finalists, as you’ll see in a moment (though a couple other wrestlers who have been to the finals or even won are competing with different partners). It’s a wide-open field featuring a few wrestlers who are in fact brand new to Shin Nihon in general.
Before we get into all the individual teams, a quick note on the tournament schedule. All league matches will make tape: four shows from the tour, all at Korakuen Hall (10/16, 10/17, 10/26 & 10/27) will air live on NJPW World, and each of those shows features four Super Juinor Tag League matches. All the other shows on the tour feature either one or two league matches each, which will be uploaded to NJPW World for VOD viewing after the show takes place (if it’s like the Best of the Super Juniors was this year, it will be about 12 hours after the show goes off the air, so usually around 11 pm-midnight eastern time). To be clear, only the Super Junior Tag League matches will be uploaded from those shows (the Korakuens, of course, will air in full).
With that out of the way, here are all eight teams taking part in this year’s league!
El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru
Previous Appearances: 2017 (as a team, lost in semifinals), 2014 (Desperado w/ Taichi, lost in semi finals)
We’ll start with the reigning IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team champions, which only seems fair. Desperado & Kanemaru have been champions since winning the belts from Roppongi 3K (in a three-way match also involving BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi) on March 6th at the 46th Anniversary Show. They’ve made four successful defenses, winning a rematch of said three-way on April 1st at Sakura Genesis, then defeating BUSHI & Hiromu on April 23rd at Korakuen Hall, Roppongi 3K on June 9th at Dominion, and most recently beating the veteran team of Jushin Thunder Liger & Tiger Mask IV on October 8th at King of Pro Wrestling.
As I write this their reign stands at 218 days; it’s the longest reign since the Young Bucks held the belts for 224 days between November 2013 & June 2014, and will eclipse that by the time the league is over. If we assume they won’t defend the titles again until Wrestle Kingdom, which seems like a pretty safe assumption to make (probably against the winners of this very league, unless of course Despy & Kanemaru do what R3K did last year and win as champions), that will add at least another 86 days to their reign. To get a reign longer than 304 days, you have to go all the way back to the fourth champions ever, Shinjiro Ohtani & Tatsuhito Takaiwa, who held the belts for 348 days from July 13th, 1999 through June 25th, 2000. That also happens to be the longest reign in the history of these belts, a record that would be in sight for Despy & Kanemaru to break if they manage to retain again at Wrestle Kingdom.
You may not like Kanemaru & Despy’s cheating tactics, but they have quietly brought stability to belts that famously lacked it (go look up how many title reigns have had one or fewer successful defenses—it’s a lot!) and will go down in the history books of these titles as, at minimum, the second greatest reign of all time by length. While it seems unlikely they will win this tournament as champions, on the other hand it wouldn’t at all shock me to see them go to the finals and lose, setting up perhaps a rubber match with the winning team at WK for the belts (remember, the two teams would have met during the round-robin portion of the league as well, which presumably Kanemaru & Despy would have won).
Schedule: KUSHIDA/Sabin (10/16), Roppongi 3K (10/17), ACH/Taguchi (10/19), Ishimori/Eagles (10/23), Volador/Soberano (10/26), BUSHI/Shingo (10/27), Liger/Tiger (10/28)
John’s Chances of Winning (out of 5): 2
Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH)
Previous Appearances: 2017 (as a team, won tournament), 2013 (YOH w/ KUSHIDA, lost in 1st round)
Up next are the defending Super Junior Tag Tournament champions, Roppongi 3K. R3K debuted as a team almost exactly one year ago, at King of Pro Wrestling 2017, where they defeated the team of Ricochet & Ryusuke Taguchi to win the IWGP Junior Tag Team Titles on their very first night. They followed that up by immediately winning the Super Junior Tag Tournament, defeating the teams of KUSHIDA & Hirai Kawato, BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi, and finally Taguchi & ACH to take the crown, becoming the first reigning junior tag team champions to ever win the tournament. But perhaps that kind of pace for a new team was never sustainable, as R3K went on to lose their titles in their very first defense to the Young Bucks (who began their seventh and final reign before moving up to heavyweight a few months later) at Wrestle Kingdom 12. Though R3K would quickly regain the titles from the Bucks less than a month later in Sapporo, they would turn around and lose them to Kanemaru & Desperado just five weeks later, and despite receiving several shots at regaining their titles have been unable to do so.
R3K has been a little quiet since losing their last shot at the belts back at Dominion in June. Is this league going to be the beginning of their redemption tour? Obviously winning here would set them up for another (final?) shot at the Suzukigun team at Wrestle Kingdom 13. A redemption story seems like the easy play and is probably the most predictable outcome, but we’ll have to wait and see if it comes to fruition. Interestingly they have probably their two biggest opponents of the tour scheduled right at the beginning back-to-back, as they face the LIJ team with their new powerhouse junior and the reigning champions they’ve been unable to solve.
Schedule: BUSHI/Shingo (10/16), Kanemaru/Desperado (10/17), Ishimori/Eagles (10/20), Liger/Tiger (10/22), ACH/Taguchi (10/26), Volador/Soberano (10/27), KUSHIDA/Sabin (11/1)
John’s Chances of Winning (out of 5): 5
BUSHI & Shingo Takagi
Unit: Los Ingobernables de Japon
Previous Appearances: 2010 (BUSHI w/ Negro Casas, lost in 1st round), 2013 (BUSHI w/ Valiente, lost in semis), 2014 (BUSHI w/ Mascara Dorada, lost in 1st round), 2017 (BUSHI w/ Hiromu Takahashi, lost in semis)
Up next is the team that probably has the most buzz surrounding them at the moment based on an electrifying debut. When Tetsuya Naito first revealed that LIJ was getting a new pareja at King of Pro Wrestling, Shingo Takagi was at the top of most people’s guess lists. A lot of things just added up: Shingo comes from the same Animal Hamaguchi dojo as Naito and a few other LIJ members (including BUSHI), he was finishing up in Dragon Gate just a few days prior to the KOPW event, and size-wise though he’s on the big side for a junior heavyweight he definitely could fit the bill. Sometimes when it seems to make too much sense it just doesn’t happen, but thankfully that wasn’t the case here, as Shingo did indeed make his debut at the KOPW event as the newest member of LIJ. After getting the pin on SHO in an eight-man tag team match he immediately moves into this league, and he & BUSHI have a real shot to bring it home for their unit.
BUSHI has a long history in the previous Super Junior Tag Tournament, appearing four times with four different partners, but he’s never reached the finals. With the burly power junior watching his back, throwing Pumping Bombers everywhere and dropping people on their heads, can he finally get the job done in his fifth try? You can certainly do worse for partners than Takagi, who dominated Dragon Gate to the tune of nearly every championship that promotion had to offer. In addition to his four reigns as Open the Dream Gate champion (the DG World Title), Shingo held the Open the Twin Gate tag titles five times with three different partners (YAMATO three times, Cyber Kong, and Akira Tozawa), the six-man Triangle Gate titles seven times, and won two sets of tag titles outside of DG as well: the GHC Junior Tag Team titles in NOAH (with BxB Hulk) and the ROH World Tag Team Titles (with Naruki Doi).
That’s quite the resume.
These two make up the final team of the “top tier” of likely finalists (alongside R3K and Kanemaru/Despy) and though I see them as having a little bit less of a chance of winning than R3K, are definitely a strong second pick.
Schedule: Roppongi 3K (10/16), KUSHIDA/Sabin (10/17), Liger/Tiger (10/19), Volador/Soberano (10/22), Ishimori/Eagles (10/26), Kanemaru/Desperado (10/27), ACH/Taguchi (10/29)
John’s Chances of Winning (out of 5): 4
KUSHIDA & Chris Sabin
Previous Appearances: 2010 (KUSHIDA w/ Gedo, lost in semis), 2012 (KUSHIDA w/ Alex Shelley, won tournament), 2013 (KUSHIDA w/ YOH, lost in 1st round), 2014 (KUSHIDA w/ Alex Shelley, lost in 1st round), 2015 (KUSHIDA w/ Alex Shelley, lost in 1st round), 2017 (KUSHIDA w/ Hirai Kawato, lost in 1st round)
The newly crowned singles IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion is up next, as KUSHIDA looks to become the first reigning singles junior champion to win the tag league/tournament. If you’re wondering how the previous champions did, see below:
- Did Not Participate: Naomichi Marufuji (2010), Prince Devitt (2013), BUSHI (2016), Will Ospreay (2017)
- Lost in 1st Round: Low Ki (2012 w/ Brian Kendrick), Ryusuke Taguchi (2014 w/ Fuego), Kenny Omega (2015 w/ Chase Owens)
Yeah, so not a great history there. I guess we should consider ourselves lucky that KUSHIDA bothered to take part at all, the first time the singles champion has done so in three years. And judging by that history KUSHIDA should, in turn, consider himself lucky this isn’t single elimination this year since the singles champion never advanced out of the first round when it was. It’s also a bit strange to realize that KUSHIDA has never held the junior title during this tournament, given how closely tied he was to the belt over the last few years; he had junior title reigns ended close to the tournament for the last four years in a row (!), by Taguchi (9/21/14), Omega (9/23/15), BUSHI (9/17/16), and Ospreay (10/9/17). He must have enjoyed getting to win the belt before the tournament this year for a change.
Regardless, KUSHIDA is bringing a strong junior tag pedigree into the league. He’s taken part in every single tournament but one, most of the time with Alex Shelley as the Timesplitters. His partner just so happens to be Shelley’s other tag partner, his Motor City Machine Guns teammate Chris Sabin from Ring of Honor. Sabin will be taking part in his second junior tournament of the year for New Japan, after going 3-4 in 2018 Best of the Super Juniors. That included a singles match between these two partners, which Sabin (somewhat surprisingly perhaps) won. Will the Friends of Alex Shelley be able to find the same kind of chemistry each had with their seemingly-retired former comrade? Or will this partnership crackle with all the chemistry of two casual acquaintances left in the same room together, alone, without the best buddy they mutually have in common to keep things from getting awkward? If they start talking about the weather I think they’re probably doomed.
Schedule: Kanemaru/Desperado (10/16), BUSHI/Shingo (10/17), Liger/Tiger (10/19), Volador/Soberano (10/22), Ishimori/Eagles (10/26), Kanemaru/Desperado (10/27), ACH/Taguchi (10/29)
John’s Chances of Winning (out of 5): 1
Taiji Ishimori & Robbie Eagles
Unit: BULLET CLUB OGs
Previous Appearances: 2016 (Ishimori w/ ACH, lost in finals)
Former NOAH junior (and Toryumon X ace!) Taiji Ishimori stunned the world when he debuted in New Japan at Wrestling Dontaku Night 2 as the new BONE SOLDIER, revealed to the world by Tama Tonga on the BULLET CLUB’s fifth anniversary (the group officially formed at Dontaku in 2013). Thus it should have been little surprise when Ishimori sided with Tama and the rest of the “BC OGs” (also referred to as the Firing Squad) after the BC underwent a split at the G1 Special in San Francisco show a few months later.
Ishimori has already seen both singles and tag success in New Japan in his short career, going all the way to the Best of the Super Junior finals with a 5-2 record (where he was defeated by Hiromu Takahashi) and then winning the NEVER Openweight 6-Man titles with Tonga & Tanga Loa at the G1 Climax finals in August. However, when it came time for this tournament, there was just one small problem for Ishimori: there were no other junior heavyweights in the BC OG sub-unit to team with! Although junior tag team veterans Gedo & Jado joined up with the unit at King of Pro Wrestling this past week, the unit decided to go down a different route to find Ishimori’s partner, turning to Bad Luck Fale’s connections in Australia.
During the KOPW show Fale announced on Twitter that 28-year-old Australian Robbie Eagles was the newest member of the unit and Ishimori’s partner for the tag league. Robbie is actually no stranger to either Japan or New Japan, but he’s never appeared in Japan for New Japan. Yes, that sounds weird, so stay with me for a second: he did a long tour of ZERO1 from June through August 2012, including a challenge for the NWA International Lightweight Tag Team Titles alongside veteran Ikuto Hidaka (they lost to Dragon Gate’s Jimmyz team of Jimmy Kagetora & Jimmy Susumu). This year, he appeared on three shows for New Japan in his native Australia on the Down Under Tour, most notably taking part in a three-way match with Cody and Will Ospreay on the Perth event and facing off against EVIL & SANADA in a tag match in Sydney. Dubbed the “Sniper of the Skies” and billed at 5’10 and 176 pounds, Eagles will look to help Ishimori return to the finals of the junior tag tournament for the second time.
And on an interesting little note, the “other half” of the BULLET CLUB, the BC Elite, are the only unit in New Japan not taking part in this year’s tag league. Granted, there are no juniors in the unit besides Marty Scurll, but having one junior in the unit didn’t stop the BC OGs from fielding a team! Perhaps they regret letting Bad Luck Fale’s recruiting skills walk out the door.
Schedule: Liger/Tiger (10/16), ACH/Taguchi (10/17), Roppongi 3K (10/20), Kanemaru/Desperado (10/23), BUSHI/Shingo (10/26), KUSHIDA/Sabin (10/27), Volador/Soberano (10/31)
John’s Chances of Winning (out of 5): 2
Super 69 (ACH & Ryusuke Taguchi)
Unit: Sekigun/Taguchi Japan
Previous Appearances: 2017 (as a team, lost in finals), 2010 (Taguchi w/ Devitt, lost in finals), 2012 (Taguchi w/ Devitt, lost in finals), 2014 (Taguchi w/ Fuego, lost in 1st round), 2015 (Taguchi w/ Mascara Dorada, lost in 1st round), 2016 (Taguchi w/ Fuego, lost in semis), 2016 (ACH w/ Ishimori, lost in finals)
If this team didn’t already have the Super 69 moniker you could just call them the Bridesmaids, with four finals losses between them. Last year was the debut of Taguchi & ACH as a team, as Taguchi took on a new partner following Ricochet leaving to join the circus. Immediately they made it to the finals where they lost to Roppongi 3K, ACH’s second straight finals loss after he and Taiji Ishimori were defeated by Roppongi Vice in 2016. Taguchi himself made it to the finals as part of Apollo 55 alongside Prince Devitt in 2010 & 2012 as well, so these guys have a hell of a lot of experience losing junior tag tournament finals. Is this the year the two of them finally get over the hump together and win one of these things? Or are they a championship caliber team in (insert sport here) who got close repeatedly without ever quite winning the big one, and now see their window close completely and not even make it back to the finals?
Schedule: Volador/Soberano (10/16), Ishimori/Eagles (10/17), Kanemaru/Desperado (10/19), KUSHIDA/Sabin (10/23), Roppongi 3K (10/26), Liger/Tiger (10/27), BUSHI/Shingo (10/29)
John’s Chances of Winning (out of 5): 2
Volador Jr & Soberano Jr.
Previous Appearances: None
The only team on our list where both members have never taken part in a Super Junior Tag Tournament before is this team of CMLL luchadores. Volador and Soberano have both appeared in New Japan before, with Volador having taken part in the singles Best of the Super Junior league in 2016 (where he went 4-3) & 2017 (3-4). This will be Soberano’s first time in New Japan outside of the annual Fantastica Mania crossover tour, where he appeared in 2017 & 2018.
“History will be made in this year’s Super Junior Tag Team tournament. For the first time ever, an all Mexican team will win a match in this competition. It only took changing the entire format. CMLL reps have won as junior partners to NJPW wrestlers (Ed. Note: I assume he means the junior tag titles here, as there’s never been a luchadore champion of this tournament), never on their own. Volador Jr. will be looking for some better results than he’s had in Mexico of late, while Soberano will try to do as many tornillos as humanly possible. Expect them to be flashy and in the lower part of the table.”
And there you have it. I would agree with our lucha expert in that I don’t see them as serious contenders to win this or anything- in fact they probably have approximately zero shot- but they should bring some welcome variety to the tour.
Schedule: ACH/Taguchi (10/16), Liger/Tiger (10/17), KUSHIDA/Sabin (10/20), BUSHI/Shingo (10/22), Kanemaru/Desperado (10/26), Roppongi 3K (10/27), Ishimori/Eagles (10/31)
John’s Chances of Winning (out of 5): 1
Jushin Thunder Liger & Tiger Mask IV
Previous Appearances: 2012 (as a team, lost in 1st round), 2013 (as a team, lost in 1st round), 2014 (as a team, lost in 1st round), 2015 (as a team, lost in 1st round), 2016 (as a team, lost in 1st round), 2017 (as a team, lost in 1st round), 2010 (Liger w/ YOSHI-HASHI, lost in 1st round)
Jushin Liger is the only wrestler who has appeared in every single one of these tag leagues/tournaments, and he must be pretty pleased with the change in format given that he’ll finally get to wrestle more than one match in it. He has teamed with Tiger Mask every year except the very first, where he and a young lion YOSHI-HASHI (not that much different than regular YOSHI-HASHI when it comes to win-loss record, but he wasn’t carrying a big stick yet) also did the honors. The two veterans are coming off a failed junior tag title challenge at King of Pro Wrestling, which would seemingly make them even less likely to win than they would be otherwise (although it probably doesn’t make a difference, to be quite honest). But with all that said, I’m always happy to see the two veterans get something to do, and Tiger had an almost shockingly fun run in the BOSJ this year that he’ll be looking to follow up on.
Schedule: Ishimori/Eagles (10/16), Volador/Soberano (10/17), BUSHI/Shingo (10/19), Roppongi 3K (10/22), KUSHIDA/Sabin (10/26), ACH/Taguchi (10/27), Kanemaru/Despeardo (10/28)
John’s Chances of Winning (out of 5): -100
And that will wrap up our preview of the Super Junior Tag League!
Hope you enjoyed it. Personally, I think this looks like a lot of fun, featuring a mix of veterans and NJPW newcomers, and it wouldn’t shock me at all to see this end up being quite a bit better than the standard heavyweight tag league the following month. Whether it becomes an annual tradition or we’re back to a single elimination tournament next year remains to be seen.
See below for the schedule by date. Remember the Korakuen Hall shows will all air live on New Japan World, but the remaining dates will see the league matches uploaded later for VOD viewing.
Super Junior Tag League 2018 Schedule
Tuesday 10/16- Korakuen Hall
- Taiji Ishimori & Robbie Eagles vs. Jushin Thunder Liger & Tiger Mask IV
- ACH & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Volador Jr. & Soberano Jr.
- El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. KUSHIDA & Chris Sabin
- Roppongi 3K vs. BUSHI & Shingo Takagi
Wednesday 10/17- Korakuen Hall
- Jushin Thunder Liger & Tiger Mask IV vs. Volador Jr. & Soberano Jr.
- ACH & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Taiji Ishimori & Robbie Eagles
- KUSHIDA & Chris Sabin vs. BUSHI & Shingo Takagi
- El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. Roppongi 3K
Friday 10/19- Hiroshima Green Arena Sub Arena
- BUSHI & Shingo Takagi vs. Jushin Thunder Liger & Tiger Mask IV
- ACH & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru
Saturday 10/20- Uwajima City Overall Gymnasium
- KUSHIDA & Chris Sabin vs. Volador Jr. & Soberano Jr.
- Roppongi 3K vs. Taiji Ishimori & Robbie Eagles
Monday 10/22- Kunibiki Messe
- BUSHI & Shingo Takagi vs. Volador Jr. & Soberano Jr.
- Roppongi 3K vs. Jushin Thunder Liger & Tiger Mask IV
Tuesday 10/23- Tottori Prefectural Industrial Gym
- El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. Taiji Ishimori & Robbie Eagles
- KUSHIDA & Chris Sabin vs. ACH & Ryusuke Taguchi
Friday 10/26- Korakuen Hall
- KUSHIDA & Chris Sabin vs. Jushin Thunder Liger & Tiger Mask IV
- El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. Volador Jr. & Soberano Jr.
- BUSHI & Shingo Takagi vs. Taiji Ishimori & Robbie Eagles
- Roppongi 3K vs. ACH & Ryusuke Taguchi
Saturday 10/27- Korakuen Hall
- ACH & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Jushin Thunder Liger & Tiger Mask IV
- Roppongi 3K vs. Volador Jr. & Soberano Jr.
- KUSHIDA & Chris Sabin vs. Taiji Ishimori & Robbie Eagles
- El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. BUSHI & Shingo Takagi
Sunday 10/28- Big Palette Fukushima
- El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. Jushin Thunder Liger & Tiger Mask IV
Monday 10/29- Yume Messe Miyagi
- ACH & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. BUSHI & Shingo Takagi
Wednesday 10/31- Nagano Athletic Park Gymnasium
- Taiji Ishimori & Robbie Eagles vs. Volador Jr. & Soberano Jr.
Thursday 11/1- Twin Messe Shizuoka
- Roppongi 3K vs. KUSHIDA & Chris Sabin