After a disappointing and at times downright terrible Champion Carnival (except the awesome finals), All Japan has its annual Real World Tag League (AKA World’s Strongest Tag Determination League). There was a time from the late 1970s to the early 1990s that the Real World Tag League was arguably the top annual tournament in pro wrestling featuring not just All Japan’s top stars but many of the biggest North American stars as well. Even though All Japan’s booking has been lackluster since fans have returned after the pandemic empty arena shows, the prestige of the tournament and wrestlers involved is making this far more interesting than the Champion Carnival.
This year the Real World Tag League runs for eight shows from 11/18 to 12/7. The Real World Tag League uses your standard 2 points for a win, 1 point for a draw and zero points for a loss, DQ, double countout or no contest. There is no formal tournament finals. After the final night, the team with the most points wins the tournament. However, since All Japan does not use tie-breakers, if two teams (or more) finish tied for the most points at the end, they do a playoff match on the final night. That scenario occurred last year, and I would not be shocked if it happened again this year.
The main goal of this tournament is to create some new credible tag teams as well as hopefully signal some new directions that they company will take in 2021 as they desperately need a shake up and with no end in sight to the pandemic, continuing to book on cruise control has they have will hurt them when finally full capacity shows can return.
Let’s take a look at this year’s teams, only two of which have competed together in a Real World Tag League before due to no foreign talent, new wrestlers to enter the company and unit shifts. With no clear jobber team, I think there is a good chance of a very close tournament where each team gets at least a couple of big wins.
VIOLENT GIANTS (SUWAMA & SHUJI ISHIKAWA)
WORLD TAG TEAM CHAMPIONS, 2017 & 2019 RWTL WINNERS.
SUWAMA and Ishikawa have been showing their age lately. SUWAMA is 44 and Ishikawa is 45 this year. While they are clearly losing a step in their singles matches, their tag team title matches have still been very good, though not as good as their 2019 tag title matches.
However, their current reign which has lasted since January is getting long in the tooth. They’ve won the tag titles multiple times and have two Real World Tag League victories. It’s time for them to wind it down as a team. And there have been subtle hints this year that this could happen as SUWAMA and Ishikawa have even gotten into shoving matches during their tag title bouts this year, only to patch things up and pull out the win. Since they are still tag team champions, that break-up probably won’t happen until January, but if it is happening we should get some teases of it here. I don’t think they will (and hope they don’t) win it all but they will probably be a factor going into the final night of tournament matches and could even make the playoff finals if it came down to it.
KENTO MIYAHARA & YUMA AOYAGI
Miyahara and Aoyagi are the only team to return from last year’s tournament. Aoyagi actually turned on Miyahara back in January only to unsuccessfully challenge him for the Triple Crown. Then the pandemic hit and Aoyagi’s booking was aimless during the empty arena shows. The emergence of Purple Haze and the later entry to All Japan of Enfants Terribles crowded out the room for Aoyagi to really have a run as a heel. So during the Champion Carnival, in really the only good story arc booking of the tournament, Aoyagi and Miyahara buried the hatchet because they were both being targeted by Enfants Terribles. While normally a turn and then another turn in less than a year indicates sloppy booking, this still felt a million times more natural than say 99% of the turns that Big Show ever did.
I am going with this team as the frontrunners to win the tournament. I think winning the Real World Tag League and a good World Tag title run is a good place for Miyahara and Aoyagi going into 2021. But if they don’t win, it could very much be a signal that Miyahara is going to be moving back into the Triple Crown picture in early 2021.
JIN (JAKE LEE & KOJI IWAMOTO)
Lee and Iwamoto had a sneaky good 2019 and early 2020 as a tag team holding the All Asia Tag Team Championship twice in that period. Since those titles are often held by Jr. Heavyweights, the holders of those titles have not been in recent Real World Tag Leagues as generally Jrs. are not in the tournament with a few exceptions. In this case, the pandemic is probably necessitating using the Jr. champion Iwamoto to fill out the teams. However, I think that’s a great idea here since this team has proven it can go.
I think they will get some big wins and perhaps even be alive in the rankings on the final night as they face Miyahara & Aoyagi on it, but I would be surprised if they won it all, though I suppose it’s not impossible. However, look out for their matches which will be one of the highlights of the tournament.
PURPLE HAZE (ZEUS & SHIGIEHIRO IRIE)
Zeus & Izanagi are currently the All Asia Tag Team Champions, but as I mentioned before, they don’t use a lot of Jrs. in the Real World Tag League so we get Irie here instead. While Zeus & Izanagi have had good matches, Zeus & Irie are a much better fit for this tournament given who else is in it. I expect them to provide some good matches in the tournament. Zeus is always great and I think Irie is generally stronger in tag settings. If I had the booking pencil, I’d push these guys as a major tag team in this tournament and beyond, but I’m expecting only a middle of the pack finish because Irie is really only a part-timer in All Japan.
That I’m excited for a Purple Haze team in a tournament is a testament to how well they have recovered over the course of 2020. When they debuted in January, they gave off strong Bullet Club rip-off vibes and were interfering in matches. They turned that around by dialing back (though not completely eliminating) the interference and having great matches, led by Zeus’ awesome in-ring work.
YOSHITATSU & RYOUJI SAI
It wouldn’t be a Real World Tag League with at least one odd couple team. Even in Giant Baba’s day there were seemingly random teams thrown together to fill out the tournament. Yoshitatsu has his own stable Yoshitatsu Kingdom but it’s other members are all Jrs., so he gets Sai as his partner. Sai has been the epitome of a JAG in All Japan over the past several years, and has at times been actively bad. This won’t be the most thrilling team, but Yoshitatsu can play a good face-in-peril in tags so this team won’t be totally lifeless. They will get a win or two because both guys are generally protected but really they should be finishing at the bottom of the table, at least I hope they do, but you never know in this company.
TEAM ECW (MASATO TANAKA & TAJIRI)
The idea of All Japan doing ECW nostalgia in 2020 is hilarious to me. But they have really been hyping this team up. They even came out to the ECW on TNN theme when they worked a 6 man tag on the last All Japan Korakuen Hall show. Tanaka is still going strong at 47 and it will be awesome to see him mix it up with people like Miyahara and SUWAMA who he has either never faced before or haven’t faced in years. TAJIRI has certainly been a mixed bag. He used to drive me crazy but since the pandemic, I’ve found him a lot more passable, he seems to have finally found his groove using a much more mat-based style now that he’s 50. So while I think they will have some good and fresh matches, if they lean too much into using chairs and kendo sticks, it could prove to be a bit too much.
The main thing to look out for is if they plan on using Tanaka beyond the Real World Tag League. I think that would be awesome so we will see if they plant the seeds for that. I used to think they would finish in the middle of the pack, but since they are pushing this team as hard as they are in the promotion for this tournament, they could finish near the top, but I doubt they would win.
ENFANTS TERRIBLES (SHOTARO ASHINO & KUMA ARASHI)
Just about every Western fan hyped to see Enfants Terrible in All Japan have been let down. Now if you actually look at their win-loss record, it’s pretty good but they are never able to win the big one. They just recently lost to the Violent Giants in a great match for the World Tag Team Championship. However, they are facing the Violent Giants again on the first night of the tournament on 11/18. Hopefully, they can get their win back there, but I certainly wouldn’t be money on it. The reality is as awesome as Ashino is in particular, Enfants Terrible came from a folded company that was drawing in its final years far less than even All Japan. While I think making Ashino a main eventer is a great idea, that’s generally not how things go in Japan, and there is of course homegrown talent that should get the priority push into the main event.
Perhaps I should know better by now, but I’m still not writing them off doing well in this tournament, even being players going into the final night. I don’t think they will win however.
TEAM BJW (DAISUKE SEKIMOTO & ABDULLAH KOBAYASHI)
Sekimoto doing tag team matches in All Japan in the past has always been a treat. But that was usually alongside Yuji Okabayashi. Now we get Kobayashi and I’m not sure what to think. I mean All Japan couldn’t even get a BJW young boy like Akira Hyodo? Unfortunately they got a deathmatch guy instead. I don’t even hate Kobayashi in small doses in multi-man tags, but I’m not sure he’ll fit in well here. Sekimoto has looked like he’s slowing down recently so if he can’t carry his team, things could get ugly here. This team will be protected somewhat but I don’t think to the extent where they will be in the mix to win it.
- Winners: Kento Miyahara & Yuma Aoyagi
- Darkhorses: Jake Lee & Koji Iwamoto, Masato Tanaka & TAJIRI