New Japan’s World Tag League kicked off on Friday in Korakuen Hall – here’s a quick look at the opening night.
Going into the show, the main focus was on two areas: who would be Tetsuya Naito’s X (mystery partner), and was Billy Gunn really wrestling in New Japan??
Much like the G1, this tournament has two blocks: in block A are the teams of ROH’s War Machine (Hanson & Rowe), Hiroyishi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima, Tetsuya Naito & X, Hangman Page & Yujiro Takahashi, Manabu Nakanishi & Henare, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Juice Robinson, the Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa), as well as the WLW pairing of Brian Breaker & Leland Race (the son of Harley).
Block B features the team of Bad Luck Fale and the Bone Soldier. It gets better from there: Billy Gunn & Yoshitatsu, then Chase Owens and Kenny Omega. I promise, it gets better. How about EVIL & SANADA? Hirooki Goto & Tomohiro Ishii? Katsuyori Shibata & Yuji Nagata? Kazuchika Okada & YOSHI-HASHI? Or former tag champs Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma?
First, as is always the case, some non-tournament matches to pad out the card, starting with the Young Lions of New Japan:
Hirai Kawato vs. Teruaki Kanemitsu
Your usual Young Lions’ opener, with Kawato starting out strongly, before the older Kanemitsu took control. Kawato was caught in a camel clutch by Kanemitsu, but the hold was released as Kanemitsu decided to try for a pinfall from a hiptoss. It didn’t work.
Neither did the immediate single-leg crab, as Kawato was virtually in the ropes from the start. That gave the youngster a chance to hit back with a nice standing dropkick for a near-fall. Kawato caught Kanemitsu in the middle of the ring with a Boston crab, but it led to an easy rope break.
A corner dropkick fom Kanemitsu dropped Kawato, but the tables again turned, with Kanemitsu getting a two count out of a dropkick, before a spinebuster turned into a Boston crab for the typical Young Lions’ finish. Exactly what you’d expect from this level. **
Billy Gunn, Yoshitatsu, KUSHIDA & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma, Jushin “Thunder” Liger & David Finlay
If the idea of Billy Gunn wrestling in New Japan in 2016 doesn’t weird you out, then I don’t know what to say…
Comedy early on as Taguch missed a load of ass-attacks on Liger, before Tomoaki Honma came in for an exchange with KUSHIDA, which was fairly even as KUSHIDA withstood a bunch of chops, before landing a standing moonsault despite Honma’s attempt at moving.
Billy Gunn’s first interactions in New Japan were a couple of punches on Honma before tagging out and getting into a brawl with Makabe on the floor. Yoshitatsu struggled against Honma and fell to a Kokeshi, before Makabe came in and cleaned house.
A northern lights suplex got Makabe a near-fall, before dropping Yoshitatsu with a clothesline. After taking a knee to the gut, Makabe tagged out to Finlay… just as Billy Gunn returned to run through his shtick. Gunn missed a Famouser at the first attempt, before Finlay got caught at the second go. Typical undercard tag action, but my word, Gunn looked gassed despite his limited involvement. **¾
EVIL, BUSHI & SANADA vs. Katsuyori Shibata, Yuji Nagata & Tiger Mask
Shibata had both his belts with him again, and the Ingobernales trio jumped their opponents at the bell, splitting up exactly as you’d think, with EVIL and Shibata quickly going to the outside as SANADA took the Nagata armbar.
SANADA clipped Nagata during a second leapfrog, which saw him land somewhat awkwardly. That took him out of the match for a while, as Nagata was left to take a dropkick and a t-shirt choke from BUSHI. A back senton from EVIL kept down Nagata for a two-count, before a stalling low dropkick took down EVIL… but Yuji ended up being cut-off from making a tag by a returning SANADA. Who then looked to hurt himself again with another dropkick.
Shibata tagged in and levelled EVIL with a big boot and a diving dropkick in the corner – with SANADA getting the same treatment. EVIL fought back though, and hit a German suplex… which got him an immediate receipt, before Shibata landed an STO.
We ended with Tiger Mask and BUSHI, with the former almost getting a win after an armdrag off the top rope on BUSHI. Tiger Mask scored a spinning tombstone piledriver, before shrugging off a double-team and getting a Tiger Driver on SANADA for a near-fall. More double-teaming followed, before SANADA almost took the with with a TKO, before a Skull End forced the submission. Good stuff from these two teams, and I’m half questionning whether they haven’t killed off the EVIL/Shibata feud after the title switches… ***¼
Kenny Omega, Bad Luck Fale, BONE SOLDIER & Chase Owens vs. Kazuchika Okada, YOSHI-HASHI, Tomohiro Ishii & Hirooki Goto
Dear God, Kenny’s with the Bullet Club scrubs tonight. Ishii and Fale started off in a battle of immovable objects, ending when Fale simply slammed Ishii as a suplex was attempted.
That suplex succeeded at the second attempt though, before Goto and Ishii pounded away on Fale for a brief moment. And then Fale went and spoiled it all by tagging in the Boner. Seriously, that’s not even a smarky nickname for him anymore – Kenny Omega even yelled “good job Boner”, as he worked over Goto.
Chase Owens tagged into keep the beatdown going, choking away at Goto, before Fale made a bad night worse for the G1 finalist. Ishii needed to break up a cover after a sit-out splash, before the Boner came back, and missed a swandive headbutt.
Nobody wanted to tag the Boner, so he took a few shots from Goto, before being pulled backwards into an over-the-knee neckbreaker. We got a taste of Okada/Omega, before the numbers game came into play… with Okada outsmarting everyone. Fale took a slam from the champion, before Okada flapjacked Omega onto Fale and the Boner. Omega came back with a reverse leg lariat/bulldog after interference from Chase Owens, who tagged in next and fell to Okada’s neckbreaker slam.
A grey-haired YOSHI-HASHI tagged in and spun down Owens with a flipping neckbreaker, but quickly found himself overwhelmed by the numbers game. A backbreaker from Owens and a snap Dragon suplex from Omega led to a near-fall.
Owens went for a package piledriver, but Goto and Ishii ran in to break it up, leading to a parade of moves including an ushigoroshi and a sliding lariat on the Boner, before Okada avoided a One Winged Angel and replied with a dropkick to Omega. After the ring cleared, Owens blocked, then fell to a pumphandle driver as the CHAOS team took the win. A fun match – a better variant of the usual New Japan undercard tag! Even better – the Boner didn’t suck this time. Will wonders ever cease? ***¾
World Tag League 2016, Block A: War Machine (Hanson & Rowe) vs. Manabu Nakanishi & Henare
Henare was like a little Kiwi version of Nakanishi, at least when it came to ring gear… and they both started by being cornered by the War Machine. Rowe landed a forearm to knock Nakanishi to the outside before he press slammed Henare onto him.
It got worse: a Hanson tope knocked the Young Lion and the New Japan Dad down, before Hanson used his beard to rake away at the face of Henare. Yes.
Henare got squashed as Hanson was slammed onto him by Rowe, with only Nakanishi preventing the match from ending there. A powerbomb was punched out of before Henare got a tag… and then had to fight out of a Samoan drop/fallaway slam combo from Rowe. Nakanishi blocked an Irish whip and clotheslines Rowe for a near-fall, before pulling off an Argentine backbreaker on both halves of War Machine. Separately, of course.
A spear from Nakanishi gets a near-fall on Rowe, before he and Henare took down War Machine with separate double-team chop. Nakanishi landed a big splash before Henare got a running flip senton onto Rowe for a near-fall, before a Rocket Launcher-esque clothesline saw Henare get another near-fall.
Sadly, the Young Lion Henare went straight to his only permitted finisher – a Boston Crab – and it went badly wrong for him from there. A pop-up into a powerslam got Rowe another two-count, before a springboard lariat assisted German suplex forced more intervention from Nakanishi. In the end though, the Fall Out – guillotine legdrop assisted backbreaker – got the win from a fun enhanced squash for War Machine. I have a feeling Henare’s tag league run is going be a lot of hope, a lot of fire, and a lot of getting squashed… ***½
World Tag League 2016, Block A: Yujiro Takahashi & Hangman Page vs. Brian Breaker & Leland Race
It’s fair to say that the WLW pairing of Brian Breaker & Leland (Son of Harley) Race weren’t much fancied going in here. Nor were they that well known…
Breaker and Takahashi started off, with the much bigger Breaker shoving his opponent into the corner. Takahashi bit his way out of a waistlock, before he unwisely went for a shoulder tackle. That failed, but Breaker’s backhand chop certainly did not!
Race tagged in, as he went up against Page, and scored with a big chop after putting on the breaks for a Page leapfrog. A missile dropkick from Leland got some applause, but he quickly got low bridged by Takahashi… and took two attempts to send himself to the outside. Oh dear.
Takahashi used his cane Race, before ramming him into the apron. The Bullet Club pair scored duelling legdrops for a near-fall on Race, who quickly became isolated and cut-off from his partner.
Race finally made the tag out to Breaker, who cleared house on Page with a back elbow and a pumphandle shoulderbreaker, before a gutwrench powerbomb earned him a near-fall. Breaker slammed Takahashi into Page in the corner, then charged into the pair of them, before an Oklahoma Stampede put paid to Takahashi.
A slingshot somersault lariat saw Page knock down Breaker, before Race came back and hit Takahashi with a butterfly suplex. Page missed a big boot as Takahashi got a near-fall from a low dropkick, but the son of Harley hit back with a lariat before falling to a Fisherman buster for another near-fall.
Takahashi kicked Breaker off the apron, but he returned to hit a shotgun dropkick on Takahashi, as Race scored the win with an assisted standing Shiranui. Or the Sheffield Hammer, for anyone who’s been reading my UWA reports… and that’s not the only comparison I’d make. It’d be very easy to scream “nepotism” after this performance, but I’ll just say this: I don’t buy Leland Race as a worker. His facials are pretty much bland, perhaps overawed by the whole occasion, but his entire look screams “generic”. As did the match, I’m afraid. **
World Tag League 2016, Block A: Guerrillas of Destiny (Tanga Loa & Tama Tonga) vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima
Loa and Kojima started exchanging shoulder tackles, with Kojima on the losing end early off, before a pair of tags saw Tonga come in and mock Tenzan’s Mongolian chops.
Of course, that meant that both members of the GOD took a handful of Mongolian chops, before Tonga rolled away from a double team from the veterans. The match wend outside for a sell as the IWGP tag champions worked over their opponents, with Tonga using the ring bell hammer on Kojima.
A running powerslam saw Loa get a two count on Kojima, before Tama Tonga’s rope running failed to cut-off Kojima’s comeback, as a DDT led to an eventual tag out. More Mongolian chops from Tenzan took down Tonga, before a suplex earned Tenzan a near-fall.
A spear from Tama Tonga knocked Tenzan down though, before Loa got a two-count out of a lariat. Tenzan’s spinning heel kick earned him a way back into it, with Kojima tagging back in to light up Loa with the rapid-fire chops.
It wasn’t long before Kojima was overwhelmed though, as Tonga hit a leaping reverse neckbreaker, before a powerbomb/neckbreaker got the Guerrillas another near-fall. Tenzan broke up an attempt an elevated DDT, and helped Kojima take out Tonga with a TenCozy Cutter (3D). A Koji Cutter took down Loa, before the Strong Arm got Kojima the win! That was a surprise result, TenCozy beating the tag champions, but I’m not complaining. This wasn’t a great match, but I’ll take it over the forgettable one it followed! ***
So, before the main event, we needed to find out who X was. Tetsuya Naito came out first for his block A match, along with BUSHI. Then EVIL. Then SANADA. Two of these men quite clearly couldn’t have been X. Out came a fifth man, wearing a silver Guido mask, and umasked as CMLL’s Rush… to a pretty good reaction.
To fill in the blank: Rush is a member of Los Ingobernables in CMLL, the group that Naito was a part of during his excursion there.
World Tag League 2016, Block A: Tetsuya Naito & Rush vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Juice Robinson
Amusingly, the graphic still listed “X” after the introduction of Rush… and we started with the pair trading tags as they refused to lock-up with Tanahashi.
Rush attacked Tanahashi from behind as we got going with a spot of double-teaming. Once that subsided, Juice Robinson and sort of held his own against the Intercontinental champion, getting a near-fall from a back senton. We got a spot where Tanahashi and Robinson caught Naito and Rush in abdominal stretches at the same time, before Tanahashi missed a flip senton off the middle rope onto Naito.
Rush tagged in and started to kick away at the legs of Tanahashi, which sparked a series of back-and-forth tags between the Ingobernables pair. There was more double-teaming as Naito held Tanahashi’s hair so Rush could chop him. Eventually Tanahashi took down Naito with a crossbody off the middle rope, before bringing Robinson back in, who took down both of the Ingobernables, blasting them both with cannonballs in the corner.
Robinson caught Naito with a delayed Jackhammer for a near-fall, before Naito surprised him with a DDT after an attempt at a powerbomb. Rush tagged in and immediately blasted Robinson with a shotgun dropkick, then another diving dropkick into the corner, before getting up at the count of two – with Robinson not looking like kicking out.
Robinson hit back with a leg lariat after Rush toyed with him, before Tanahashi tagged in and landed a Slingblade on the luchador. A Northern Lights got another near-fall, before Rush accidentally clotheslined Naito and took another Tanahashi Slingblade. The babyfaces dropped Naito with a double dropkick, before Rush ate a double back suplex for a near-fall, with Tanahashi looking to end things with a High Fly Flow.
Rush rolled away from it, and eventually Naito came in for the outside-in dropkick for another two-count. The pair traded shots before a low dropkick knocked down Tanahashi, who then hit back with a Dragon screw as Naito went for an enziguiri. Robinson tagged in and got a near-fall from a cross body off the top, before a falling powerbomb almost won the match.
Eventually, Rush and Naito combined once more, with a back senton and a diving dropkick getting them a near-fall on Robinson, before Juice fell into a Koji clutch after he’d originally blocked a Destino. Tanahashi broke it up, before being dispatched by a Rush driver (double underhook piledriver). Robinson was again overwhelmed, but managed to kick out of a reverse DDT, before finally succumbing to Destino. A fun main event – not a match you’d remember much of, but that was the overall tone of this show really. ***½
So, the first night of the World Tag League is in the books, and at this early stage, of course it’s a four-way tie:
War Machine, Breaker/Race, Tenzan/Kojima and Naito/Rush all lead with 2 points
Henare/Nakanishi, Page/Takahashi, Tonga/Loa and Tanahashi/Robinson all have zero
If you want your wrestling to be an easy watch, this is the show for you. At a little over two hours, it’s a typical New Japan eight-match card – much like a “Load to…” show, there’s not much to write home about, but likewise, the wrestling wasn’t awful either. Prepare for plenty of this for the rest of the World Tag League, I fear…