New Japan hit Kobe on Sunday as the World Tag League went back to its initial format, featuring four matches from block A.

World Tag League 2016, Block A: Tetsuya Naito & Rush vs. Manabu Nakanishi & Henare
Part of me really wants this to be a squash, given that Nakanishi and Henare are out of the picture… but likewise, that wouldn’t help Henare one bit.

Nakanishi started by playing a roadblock for Rush, refusing to budge for shoulder tackles, before Naito and Henare tagged in for a fun little exchange. After a neckbreaker to Henare, Rush took him outside and literally flung him into the crowd, via a collision with the crowd barriers. Back inside, Naito trapped Henare in a Boston crab, but the youngster grabbed the bottom rope to free himself before clutching at his heavily-taped knee. Henare took the mock diving dropkick in the corner that was really just a boot to the face, before he fought free and tagged out to Nakanishi, who resisted an Irish whip from Rush.

Nakanishi wiped out Rush with a spear for a near-fall, before we returned to Naito and Henare for a sequence that actually saw Henare get some meaningful offence in on the Intercontinental champion. A running kick to the arse from Rush cut off a suplex attempt though, before Nakanishi restored order en route to a pair of Argentine backbreakers. Rush was taken out with a pair of flying chops, and so was Naito, before a big splash and a flip senton picked up another near-fall. Nakanishi launched Henare into a crossbody on Naito for a near-fall that Rush broke up, but an accidental clothesline saw Nakanishi take down the youngster.

Henare managed to recover briefly, but fell to an overhead belly to belly from Rush, before Henare countered a Rush Driver into a small package… then a backslide for some near-falls. In the end though, a savate kick and a Rush Driver was enough to get the win, end ensure that the Lion and the Veteran remained winless. A competitive squash – exactly what this needed to be. ***

World Tag League 2016, Block A: Brian Breaker & Leland Race vs. War Machine (Rowe & Hanson)
This… should also be barely meeting the criteria for “competitive squash”, since forfeiture isn’t on the cards.

War Machine get jumped at the bell, which isn’t a wise move, and they quickly reverse things and lay out Breaker and Race with running knees in the corner. The back and forth continues as Breaker slams Hanson, then tags in Race for a brief spell, before Breaker goes back to working over Hanson. Sadly, he’s got his back to the hard camera, so all we see is… nothing.

Amusingly, Race tried for a suplex, and needed to be saved by Breaker as he lost out, before Hanson took a double team back suplex and some leaping knee drops for a near-fall. Finally, Hanson hit back with push-down stomp in the corner, before Rowe came in and knocked the hell out of Race with forearms and kicks. Breaker didn’t have it much better either, taking an uranage as Race ran into another forearm and a German suplex.

Rowe shocked Breaker and Race with an attempt at the fallaway slam/Samoan drop combo, but they fought free, before Race ran into another knee from Rowe. Race was slightly out of place when Hanson came in to give both of them back body drops, before repeatedly charging into them in opposite corners. Hanson stacked up both men across the top turnbuckle for a series of windmill chops, before giving the pair of them a single Bronco Buster for a near-fall.

Hanson came up short with an axehandle off the top rope, and after some more double teaming he fell to a spinebuster then an assisted Race legdrop for another two-count. Rowe took a shotgun dropkick, then popped up for a missile dropkick from Race, before a cartwheel from Hanson set up for a final comeback. Hanson’s tope took care of Breaker, leaving Rowe in there with Race… to take a pop-up shot to the knee and a DDT for a near-fall? What the hell? Don’t scare me like this War Machine! In the end, an reverse Judo throw into a knee strike, then the Fallout put paid to the WLW pairing. This was so not the match I wanted to see… I’m sure they’re nice guys, but Breaker, and particularly Race, are just trash here. **¼

World Tag League 2016, Block A: Hangman Page & Yujiro Takahashi vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima
The biggest reaction the Bullet Club pairing got coming out was for Takahashi’s dancing girl when she was moving in the ring…

Takahashi tried to pull Tenzan by the mullet early on, before doing a Pete Dunne and biting him as Hangman Page tried to get any reaction from the crowd. Tenzan replied with some Mongolian chops as Kojima did the same en route to the slingshot elbow/diving headbutt combo that earned them a near-fall.

Hangman Page tagged in and dragged Kojima to the outside as the Bullet Club took over, with Takahashi getting a near-fall out of a big boot/clothesline combo on Kojima. Ditto a diving lariat, and again with simultaneous back sentons as Kojima was getting worn down. More back sentons, more, I tells you, came as Page again picked up a two-count, before Kojima made the tag out to a resurging Tenzan.

Tenzan earned a near-fall from a suplex, before hitting a Mountain Bomb and moving into an Anaconda Vice that forced Takahashi to come in and break things up. That move ended badly for Takahashi as Kojima gave him a receipt for his partner in the form of rapid-fire chops, before Takahashi rolled away from the inevitable top rope elbow. The tables turned again as Takahashi and Page combined for an alternative form of a 3D to Kojima for a near-fall, before the Bullet Club pair took Koji Cutters.

Page then ate a TenKoji Cutter – or the more traditional 3D – before Takahashi was drilled with a brainbuster for a near-fall. Takahashi takes a Strong Arm, but manages to kick out at two, which worries me about the result here… and sure enough a blind tag from Page led to a slingshot somersault clotheslines, then the Rites of Passage (belly to back piledriver) on Kojima as the Bullet Club reserve team collected a shock win in a match that was better than some would say it had any right to be. ***¼

World Tag League 2016, Block A: Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi & Juice Robinson
This is pretty much an eliminator for Tanahashi and Robinson, as they need to win and hope for a series of improbable results to have a shot at this point. Tanahashi came out of the blocks quickly, working over Tama Tonga before bringing in Robinson for a double axehandle off the top rope.

They spilled outside, as you’d expect, with Tama Tonga ringing the bell to confuse folks as the Guerrillas double teamed Juice. Tanga Loa picked up a near-fall with a running powerslam as Tanahashi rushed in to break up the cover, before Tonga and Tanahashi made tags in. Tonga got taken down with a Dragon Screw, before a middle rope flip senton picked up another near-fall, but had little answer when Tanga Loa came back in.

Another powerslam from Loa was pushed away from, before Tama Tonga interfered to give us more two-on-one goodness. Tanahashi leapt over Tonga as he speared his own partner in the corner, and then added a German suplex to things before letting Juice loose back in the ring. Cannonball dives in the corner came for the Guerrillas, whilst Loa took some Juice punches and a leg lariat for a near-fall.

A rapid-fire sequence saw the Guerrillas batter Robinson with a seemingly never-ending sequence of moves – including a leaping neckbreaker, a legdrop and a big splash for a near-fall, before Robinson countered a double suplex by leaping down and landing almost a double Bunker Buster. Tanahashi returned from there to score a two-count from a Slingblade, before both babyfaces skinned the cat from Tanga Loa’s attempts at throwing them outside.

Eventually, Robinson hit a plancha to the floor, then returned to double-team Tama Tonga with a Slingblade Hart Attack. That picked up a near-fall, before Loa temporarily blocked a High Fly Flow… which ended up missing once Tanahashi took to the air. Robinson blocked a Gun Stun, but saw a Pulp Friction countered into a double-team assisted Cross Rhodes for a near-fall, as a powerbomb/Gun Stun also collected a two-count for the tag champions.

Tanahashi then blocked a Gun Stun, before falling to it at the second attempt, as Robinson almost shocked Tonga with a roll-up. What didn’t need two attempts was a punch, as Robinson knocked down Tonga, before he saw a powerbomb countered with another Gun Stun, before the Guerrillas took the win with their double-team elevated DDT. This was great stuff – and sadly lost in a sea of otherwise “meh” matches. I’ve turned the corner on the Guerrillas, whose recent performances have finally shown them to be consistent at a higher level. ***¾

So… after six matches, this is what block A looks like:

Block A:
Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa – 5-1 / 10pts
Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima, Tetsuya Naito & Rush, War Machine – 4-2 / 8pts
Hangman Page & Yujiro Takahashi – 3-3 / 6pts
Hiroshi Tenzan & Juice Robinson, Brian Breaker & Leland Race – 2-4 / 4pts
Henare & Manabu Nakanishi – 0-6 / 0pts

Block B:
Hirooki Goto & Tomohiro Ishii – 4-1 / 8pts
EVIL & SANADA, Katsuyori Shibata & Yuji Nagata, Kazuchika Okada & YOSHI-HASHI, Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma – 3-2 / 6pts
Billy Gunn & Yoshitatsu, Kenny Omega & Chase Owens – 2-3 / 4pts
Bad Luck Fale & Bone Soldier – 0-5 / 0pts

Another hit-and-miss day of action, with the Bullet Club matches surprisingly being the two you need to watch. If there was much more left in this tournament, I’d strongly be considering a moratorium on Brian Breaker and Leland Race matches. Perhaps that can be a New Year’s Resolution?