Better late than never – here’s our take on the entire final day of this year’s New Japan World Tag League – complete with a fantastic main-event.
The nine-match card in Miyagi’s Sekisui Heim Super Arena was the culmination of an almost month-long tour which in fairness was crammed full of nondescript tag matches with the odd gem hidden amongst the rough. Unfortunately, this also meant that we have one last Leland Race match to cover…
We opened with the usual pre-show video highlighting recent tournament winners, highlighting that Tomoaki Honma and Togi Makabe are looking to make it two in a row tonight.
Ryusuke Taguchi & David Finlay vs. Jushin “Thunder” Liger & Tiger Mask
Remember when David Finlay had a title belt? He still does… thankfully, New Japan remembered a couple of days after this show! This was your usual opening match fare, with Taguchi teasing hip attacks, and Liger teasing dives early on. A baseball slide dropkick from Liger sent Finlay into the guard railings, before Tiger Mask rolled him back in for a Romero special. Tiger and Liger mock Taguchi with hip attacks to Finlay, and of course, that prompted a barrage of hip attacks when Taguchi did tag in. The end came after Taguchi took a Tiger Driver, leaving Finlay open for a Shotei, which he ducked and rolled up Liger for a shock win. Not bad, but you’ll remember nothing from this. **¼
Bad Luck Fale & Yujiro Takahashi vs. Manabu Nakanishi & Henare
So, they shuffled up the Bullet Club pairings from the World Tag League, which in Fale’s case isn’t all that bad given he went 0-7 with the Boner. They kept this short, with the usual jump start, as Fale missed an avalanche early on before Nakanishi went into a series of chops. Fale blatantly missed a knee to the gut as he tried to stop a running clothesline, before having more success in elbowing free of an Argentine backbreaker. Nakanishi returned with a spear to the big guy, before he and Henare landed double clotheslines to the Bullet Club pair. They followed up with a genuinely impressive pair of Argentine backbreakers, and double forearms to Fale, then to Takahashi.
Takahashi absorbed a big splash and a leaping flip senton for a near-fall, before a rocket launcher shoulder tackle off the top got Henare a near-fall. However, the end came when Henare took a reverse leg sweep and a brainbuster for a near-fall, before the Pimp Juice DDT did the job. This match was much better than you’d have expected going in, as Henare and Nakanishi’s run as a tag team likely ends with zero wins together. **½
Chase Owens & Bone Soldier vs. Yoshitatsu & Billy Gunn
…and now another pairing from the Bullet Club, featuring the inherently useless Boner. This went a little longer than the prior Bullet Club tag, possibly because Billy Gunn hugging the referee padded the match out. We had the usual jump start, with Owens and Gunn going outside, leaving us with Yoshitatsu and the Boner again. The Boner choked at Yoshitatsu in the corner and kept him away from Gunn. When Yoshitatsu finally tagged out, Gunn was a house of fire with clotheslines… then he no-sold a kick away from a back body drop and went into a swear-off with Chase Owens. A fallaway slam almost took Owens out of the ring, only to miss a Famouser attempt and get taken down with a leaping flatliner for a near-fall.
The Boner tagged in and missed a big splash off the top, before eating a Famouser for the loss. Well, that run of decent Boner/Yoshitatsu stuff came to an end… another forgettable undercard match. *¾
Brian Breaker & Leland Race vs. War Machine (Rowe & Hanson)
Somehow, Race and Breaker hold a win over War Machine. I’ll be extremely unhappy if they end up 2-0 here… Thankfully they didn’t, as War Machine initially squashed Breaker with a Bronco Buster, before Rowe was powerbombed into Race… who tried to sit-up before the spot. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: some guys just aren’t cut out for this level.
They tried to hit Fallout on Race, but Breaker made the save and quickly dropped Rowe with a spinebuster for a near-fall. Breaker came close again with a gutwrench powerbomb, before Race tagged back in and raked the eyes. Race and Breaker worked as heels, with the latter briefly choking Rowe with some wrist tape, before Hanson came in and cleared house on the WLW pairing. Running avalanches in the corner led to Hanson inadvertently “too sweet”ing the crowd before Breaker overwhelmed him in the ropes and followed up with an impressive Oklahoma Stampede. Race drilled Rowe with a forearm… that barely fazed Rowe, who dropped Race with a rolling forearm and then went to town with German suplexes on both opponents.
A pop-up powerslam got Rowe a near-fall on Race, before following up with a deadlift powerbomb on Breaker as Hanson got crotched on the top rope as he tried a moonsault on a way-too-far-away Breaker. Race nearly took the win with a powerslam/neckbreaker combo, before a reverse hiptoss saw Rowe make a comeback that led to a quasi-aborted dive that wiped out Hirai Kawato at ringside. Hanson made a dive instead, with a flip senton onto a pile that included several more young boys. From there, the guys returned to the ring immediately as Race ate the Fallout for the win. A decent match, but it’s clear that Race and Breaker are far from the ideal opponents for these guys. **¼
SANADA, EVIL & BUSHI vs. Satoshi Kojima, Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Yuji Nagata
Your usual jump start as SANADA and EVIL double-teamed Kojima, only for him to fight back. Tenzan had a brief advantage before the numbers game took over, with the entire match spilling out to the floor – leading to a rather weird pairing-off between BUSHI and Yuji Nagata.
BUSHI used his shirt to choke away at Tenzan, who hit back with a Mountain Bomb on SANADA. A double-leapfrog clothesline from SANADA connected, but Nagata trapped him in a Rings of Saturn before a pinfall attempt could even be made. EVIL took the Nagata armbar briefly, before BUSHI raked the eyes to free his partner, only to fall to an overhead belly-to-belly suplex.
Kojima tagged in and dished out some rapid-fire chops to EVIL and SANADA, then landed a top rope elbow to EVIL for a near-fall. Nagata saved Kojima from an STO as the ring filled up, which led to SANADA taking a TenKoji Cutter (3D), then EVIL taking a Koji Cutter… but BUSHI’s black mist blinded Kojima as he went for the Strong Arm lariat. Still, Kojima was able to kick-out of EVIL’s fireman’s carry sit-out spinebuster, but the EVIL STO seconds later proved sufficient. Easily the best thing in what was a disposable first-half of this show. ***
Before interval, the Bullet Club came out for a third time. Kenny Omega led the way with Bad Luck Fale, Hangman Page, Chase Owens, Yujiro Takahashi, but notably, no Bone Soldier. Omega introduces the next Bullet Club member, but not before telling us that he had to make up for the “intergalactic disaster (that was) Bone Soldier”. I guess that means no more Boner?
Omega stops himself from introducing “Ry-” as the next member… nor will be announce it in Japanese. Instead, we get a video, showing someone climbing out of a limosuine, then lighting up a cigar with a gun-shaped lighter. It’s Cody Rhodes, giving all of the catchphrases he’s used for his prior indy introductions, and asks: “is the world ready for the American nightmare?”
Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI vs. Katsuyori Shibata & Juice Robinson
A lot of this focussed between Goto and Shibata – with a title match between the two having since been inked for the Tokyo Dome – whilst Robinson impressed early on with a sequence that saw him get the better of both Goto and YOSHI-HASHI. YOSHI-HASHI dragged Robinson to the outside for a spot of double-teaming that quickly turned into a four-way brawl by the crowd barriers, before Juice was kept isolated as he CHAOS pair wore him down with chops. A dropkick to a rope-hung Robinson gets YOSHI-HASHI a near-fall, before Shibata tagged in and obliterated Goto with running Yakuza kicks and a diving corner dropkick.
Shibata caught Goto in an abdominal stretch, before a rope break led to Goto’s freedom and eventually an over-the-knee neckbreaker. A series of blocked suplexes led to Shibata grabbing a rear naked choke that sunk Goto to the mat, before YOSHI-HASHI cut-off a PK attempt. An Anaconda Vice from Shibata was similarly broken up by YOSHI-HASHI, before Goto popped back with an ushigoroshi.
The end came moments later after YOSHI-HASHI landed a Meteora, with Goto’s GTR getting the win. A decent match to set up Goto/Shibata for the Tokyo Dome – a match that has been done at the Dome before, but despite these two not having wrestled in singles action against each other for almost two years… feels strangely familiar. ***¼
Hiroshi Tanahashi & KUSHIDA vs. Tetsuya Naito & Rush
Naito dumped his Intercontinental title belt in the aisle and kicked it away during his entrance, and of course, Naito was over as a hero here. Rush and Naito exchanged tags early without even touching Tanahashi as they tried to get under his skin, but it was Tanahashi who got the upper hand early as Naito was stomped on.
KUSHIDA tagged in and immediately went on the defensive courtesy of an eye rake, but managed a comeback with a cartwheel dropkick as he started to work over Naito’s left arm. Naito recovered and took out Tanahashi outside, leaving him and Rush free to work over KUSHIDA… giving them enough time to play a spot of air football too. Naito continued to wipe out KUSHIDA with the outside-in dropkick for a near-fall, before Rush blasted KUSHIDA with the faked-out corner dropkick that ended in a kick to the head. KUSHIDA thought he’d managed to break free of Rush with a hiptoss… but sadly the luchador had only just knocked Tanahashi off the apron, leaving the Junior Heavyweight champion helplessly reaching out of the ring to try and make a tag out.
Tanahashi finally tagged in and launched himself at both of the Ingobernables, taking down Rush and Naito with separate Dragon screws, before the Tokyo Dome opponents went head-to-head and slugged each other with forearms. A pair of low dropkicks took down Tanahashi as Naito went for an inverted kneebar which was quickly broken by the ropes. Tanahashi took a rolling heel kick, before countering a reverse DDT into a spinning neckbreaker.
Rush and KUSHIDA exchanged blows in the ring, before Naito tripped up KUSHIDA as he went for a dive… but KUSHIDA outsmarted the Ingobernables and succeeded with a somersault flip senton to the outside. Back in the ring, KUSHIDA took a pair of diving dropkicks for a near-fall, before Tanahashi’s Slingblade cut-off a Rush Driver. Naito ate a High Fly Flow to the outside as he tried to interfere, before KUSHIDA finally rolled through into a Hoverboard Lock on Rush.
As Rush held on, Hiromu Takahashi came down and climbed onto the apron, prompting Hiroshi Tanahashi to get distracted. Naito threw Tanahashi into the ref and kicked him low, as Takahashi came in and superkicked KUSHIDA to free Rush. The former Kamaitachi dumped KUSHIDA with a spin-out Samoan Driver, and left Rush free to finish off the champion with a Rush Driver for the win. Great stuff… although the dubbed-in music for Rush was far from that. ***¾
After the match, the remainder of Los Ingobernables came to the ring, as BUSHI, EVIL and SANADA joined in the celebration. They came out with a LiJ cap, and long story short, Hiromu Takahashi is the newest member of the group. Wonder how BUSHI kayfabe feels about his place as the group’s junior heavyweight being usurped…
Kenny Omega & Hangman Page vs. Kazuchika Okada & Tomohiro Ishii
Well, that’s a pairing I wasn’t expecting… you know how this started, just like every Okada match. Tie-up… take into the ropes… mock-clean break. The early going saw both guys try for some of their signature stuff – Omega for the One Winged Angel, Okada for a tombstone – before Omega just spat at the champion.
Page and Ishii exchanged shoulder tackles in a funky spot that had some weird lens glare following Ishii as he rebounded off the ropes. Page then blocked a suplex by grabbing Tomohiro’s Ishiis, before Ishii’s attempt at knocking “Hangman” off the apron led to him being caught in the ropes and dropped onto the apron with a vicious neckbreaker. Speaking of vicious, Page’s shooting star headbutt to Okada and Ishii on the floor came next… a move that I’m sure his knees will thank him for in the years to come.
Ishii became isolated for a while as Omega and Page swapped tags, but that tactic backfired as Ishii whipped Omega into Page… but he took too long to capitalise and Omega stayed on top. Okada finally got the tag in, and cleaned house on Page with a spike DDT, before using a flapjack to counter Omega’s attempt at a Nakanishi clothesline, complete with the “hoo!” shout. Okada kept up the pressure on Omega by rolling him through and connecting with a neckbreaker slam. A lariat from Ishii led to Omega taking a top rope elbow, before countering a Rainmaker with a knee strike and an attempt at a One Winged Angel that led to another Rainmaker attempt, this time with Page cutting it off.
The snap Dragon suplex from Omega set up Okada for a DDT from Page, before a deadlift sit-out gutwrench powerbomb almost got the win for Omega. A chop from Ishii ended Hangman Page’s attempt at the Rites of Passage, before Okada countered a second one into a tombstone piledriver. One Rainmaker later, and Okada picked up the win. What, you thought Page was in this match for any other reason? A very good semi-final, and the sequences between Omega and Okada were among the best yet. Roll on the Tokyo Dome! ****
After the match, Omega caught Okada as he was on the turnbuckles and drilled the champion with the One Winged Angel, before Gedo ate a running knee strike to the head and a One Winged Angel for good measure.
World Tag League 2016 Final: Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) vs. Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma
Needless to say, the Guerrilla’s IWGP tag titles aren’t on the line here, but they sure started like they were. Loa and Makabe went to the outside and into the crowd almost immediately, whilst Honma whipped Tonga and “locked” him in the crowd.
Honma had a crowd barrier thrown on him, whilst Makabe threw Loa almost out of the arena as a decent section of the Miyagi crowd got an up-close-and-personal view of this final. The Guerrillas pulled out a table and threw Honma’s head into it, before setting up the table and putting Honma onto it, only for Makabe to make a save. They again brawled up the aisle, with Tonga dropping Honma with a Roll the Dice, leaving Makabe alone to contend with both Guerrillas for a spell.
Honma eventually returned to the apron with a trickle of blood from his forehead, and made the tag in to take down Tonga with elbows and slams, before landing a bloody Kokeshi. Tama Tonga’s rope running confused Honma for long enough for him to land a dropkick, before a combination of splashes and legdrops earned Tonga a near-fall. The Guerrillas kept up with a stalling back suplex, before Honma took a big back body drop and some rapid-fire mounted punches from Tonga. Loa and Honma teased suplexes, before Honma succeeded and was able to tag Makabe back into things. Makabe single-handedly fought off the Guerrillas, landing a double clothesline before a series of avalanche clotheslines kept the champions on the back foot.
Dual mounted corner punches from Honma and Makabe had the crowd rocking, but the Guerrillas fought free and hit a pair of Stinger splashes, only for more lariats from Makabe to take them back down. Honma knocked Loa to the apron with a leaping Kokeshi, before going back to that table… only for Tama Tonga to make the save, and help take out Honma with a powerbomb/neckbreaker combo off the apron and through that table.
That left Makabe alone again against both champions, and he quickly fell to an assisted Roll the Dice before kicking out at two. An assisted swinging neckbreaker followed, again for a near-fall, before Makabe pushed away from a third assisted move and rebounded with another double clothesline. Makabe started to fight back, getting a two-count from a death valley driver on Loa, but he fell off the top rope and into a Gun Stun from Tonga as he tried to splash Loa.
The Guerrillas hit back with an assisted DDT that would have spelled the end of the match, had Honma not run back in to break things up, and then block a powerbomb attempt from Loa. Eventually, Loa went for a superplex, but Makabe broke that up and dropped him with a powerbomb before Honma regained his footing… only for a swandive Kokeshi to be cut-off by Tonga, who took a leaping Kokeshi on the apron.
Makabe then set-up Loa for a Doomsday Kokeshi, which saw Loa land pretty much on his neck, before a swandive Kokeshi and a King Kong Kneedrop put the exclaimation point on the match as “Great Bash Heel” – Makabe and Honma – won the tournament for the second year in a row. A fantastic match, and perhaps the best of the entire tournament – which instantly creates the obvious match for WrestleKingdom 11… ****
This was really a show of two halves. The entire first half up until the Bullet Club announcement, you’d be doing yourself a favour by skipping. As for the second half… this was pure gold, and did wonders for building up the promotion’s next spectacular event.
Speaking of… a few days after this show, the entire card for WrestleKingdom 11 was announced by New Japan:
Dark Match – New Japan Rumble – the usual pre-show battle-royal featuring unbooked guys, stars from the past and from abroad. WrestleKingdom 10’s rumble featured Haku, Cheeseburger and Mascara Dorada (aka WWE’s Gran Metalik), among others.
Tiger Mask W vs. Tiger The Dark – another match based off of the new Tiger Mask cartoon. October’s King of Pro Wrestling show saw Tiger Mask W (played by Kota Ibushi) beat Red Death Mask, another character from the series. Early indications that former ROH star ACH will be under the other mask…
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship: Young Bucks (Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson) (c) vs. Roppongi Vice (Beretta & Rocky Romero) – the result of the Super Juniors tag team tournament, don’t forget that Roppongi Vice had been warring throughout 2016. Nor that New Japan – at one point – had been looking to merge both tag titles. I don’t see anything but a Bucks win here, especially since they’ve resigned.
NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Championship: David Finlay, Ricochet & Satoshi Kojima (c) vs. Bad Luck Fale, Hangman Page & Yujiro Takahashi vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Will Ospreay & YOSHI-HASHI vs. BUSHI, EVIL & SANADA – this is supposedly going to be a gauntlet-style match, as opposed to a four-way, with the champions expected to come in last. Given how much these titles have faded into the background in the latter half of 2016, I’d expect a title change here, since Kojima/Ricochet/Finlay as a trio aren’t likely to stick around for long.
Cody vs. Juice Robinson – sigh. So, Cody (Rhodes, but don’t call him that in case Mr. McDevitt’s watching) debuted in Ring of Honor and turned heel instantly. Days later, he was revealed as the latest member of the Bullet Club. For Juice Robinson, this is a neat gift to reward his fantastic 2016, but let’s be honest, Cody’s not losing his debut, and this could well suffer from Jay Lethal syndrome.
ROH World Championship: Kyle O’Reilly (c) vs. Adam Cole – a Final Battle rematch, and hopefully given that both guys have some tenure (however short) in Japan, this isn’t going to get the cold reactions that prior ROH title matches have had.
IWGP Tag Team Title Championship: Guerrillas Of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) (c) vs. Great Bash Heel (Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma) – I’ll be surprised if they come anywhere close to the level of match we saw in the World Tag League final, but I’m now way more interested in this match than before watching the finals.
IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship: KUSHIDA (c) vs. Hiromu Takahashi – the former Kamaitachi gets his shot after revealing himself as the Time Bomb in November… and as the latest member of Los Ingobernables de Japon it would make sense for Hiromu to get the win, especially given how rushed BUSHI’s title reign was. It was almost like they booked his win and realised that they needed to get it off of him to set this up. Another good match, but I sense gold for the reborn Takahashi.
NEVER Openweight Championship: Katsuyori Shibata (c) vs. Hirooki Goto – not exactly the match people were clamouring for, but with the changes at Pro Wrestling NOAH effectively seeing all New Japan involvement come to an end, this is the best we can get without it being a random throwaway match. The two have already wrestled in the Tokyo Dome before, with Goto winning at WrestleKingdom 8… but I don’t see the losing G1 finalist repeating that success in the new year.
IWGP Intercontinental Championship: Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi – this is a weird one… having won (and lost) the big one in 2016, Naito ended the year as a hot act, but with a secondary title. Tanahashi found himself in a similar, rudder-less position, only without a belt. I’d be surprised if this match was even close to average, but I don’t predict a title change here.
IWGP Heavyweight Championship: Kazuchika Okada (c) vs. Kenny Omega – Kenny cashes in his G1 prize… and I would not be surprised to see a title change, unless he’s about to jump ship. The arrival of Cody into the Bullet Club certainly creates a more obvious dynamic than we had two years ago with Omega and AJ Styles, so if Omega’s New Japan deal was up then the pieces fall into place: Okada retains, and Cody takes over.