2018’s World Tag League got underway – and it’s the biggest one yet – as we begin to count down the days to WrestleKingdom 13.

This year’s World Tag League has zero outside involvement, which makes me a little sad given that there was some belief that we could have gotten names like Aussie Open involved. Curiously, there’s no Young Bucks either, despite this looking like a perfect tour to help them solidify their recent promotion to heavyweights. Speculate away! Like the Super Junior Tag League that finished just two weeks ago, we’re dispensing with blocks. It’s one big league (which means we’ve a LOT more matches than last year). The top two head into the final in Iwate on December 9, so we’d better not have a three-way final!

The tour opens in Kanagawa’s Chichibunomiya Memorial Gymnasium, and yes, I did copy and paste that. English commentary comes from Kevin Kelly and Rocky Romero. A deep sigh of relief for that pairing…

Yota Tsuji & Yuya Uemura vs. Jeff Cobb & Michael Elgin
The entryway in Kanagawa is weird – as in you see the wrestlers walking behind the crowd into the light show in the aisle… but they’ve already come through the proverbial curtain by then.

Cobb and Tsuji start us off, trading shoulder tackles… and I’m already worried by the amount of tape on Cobb at the START of the tour. After taking a big one, Tsuji tags out, as we get Uemura and Elgin, which leads to a bit of a size difference. Uemura has less luck with shoulder tackles, but he succeeds with a corner dropkick before Elgin stuffed a hiptoss.

Strikes worked better for Uemura, but Elgin’s are harder as he worked into a NICE aerial back body drop. Cobb and Elgin do the old Moustache Mountain pass-the-parcel suplex on Uemura, finishing off with the suplex and a standing moonsault from Cobb. Elgin’s back with chops to Uemura, but a dropkick cuts it off before both men tag out. There’s a nice dropkick from Tsuji to Cobb, before the Young Lions set up a double Boston crab on Cobb, which Elgin broke up easily with chops.

A flying forearm from Uemura takes out Elgin before he throws a dropkick to help Tsuji with a sunset flip for a near-fall – but that just annoys Cobb who hits a back suplex. Tsuji’s squashed with clotheslines, and then killed with a powerbomb/backcracker combo for a near-fall, thanks to Uemura breaking up the cover. The Tour of the Islands is next, and there’s no kicking out of that! An extended squash, but fun for what it was. **¾

Tomoaki Honma & Ren Narita vs. Suzuki-gun (Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi)
Having missed out on the World Tag League, Tomoaki Honma’s in tagging with Young Lions – perhaps a reminder of what he could have had?

Since Taichi didn’t take his entrance gear off, Sabre’s forced to start the match, as he grappled with Ren Narita in some nice exchanges, working over the Young Lion’s arm and resisting attempts to fight free. Narita thought he’d reversed, but Sabre kicks him away as the master was having his way with the “young boy”. Largely speaking, anyway, as Narita flips out of some headscissors… but it just leads to the usual Suzuki-gun bollocks as all four men fight around ringside.

Taichi throws a chair at Narita, then tosses another chair across the crowd (which nearly hits a fan), before he kept up the offence in the ring. It’s fairly low-effort kicks to Narita from Taichi, who tagged Sabre back in to increase the tempo… eventually Narita tags out to Honma, who slams his way back into it before chopping Sabre into the corner. A clothesline dumps Sabre in the corner ahead of a bulldog from Honma, which acts as the set-up to… a missed Kokeshi! From there, Sabre ties up Honma on the mat, before Taichi tags back in. One single kick rocks Honma, who then has to fight out of a piledriver as Taichi instead rakes the eyes. There’s a back elbow and a Kokeshi from Honma, who tags Narita back in – busted nose and all.

Taichi’s boot to the head had the blood flowing again from Narita, but he keeps going, landing a dropkick to Taichi as Honma returned for some double teaming. Narita holds Taichi in place for a swandive headbutt, but Sabre broke it up and held Honma in the ropes with a key lock as Taichi kicks off Narita’s head. Off come the trousers, and one more superkick puts Narita away. Eh, this was exactly as you expect. Dominant, but Zack’s gonna have a lot of heavy lifting to do on this tour. **

Suzuki-gun (Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Killer Elite Squad (Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Lance Archer) vs. Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Takashi Iizuka & El Desperado)
With three Suzuki-gun teams in the league, we’ve got a LOT of crossover here. Suzuki-gun six man tag, anyone? EXPECT. SHENANIGANS.

There’s no quarter given as both teams jump-start the other, and we’re on the outside with everyone going into the railings. Suzuki and Davey Boy Smith Jr. pair off, as do Iizuka and Archer… and it’s the usual disjointed brawl. It looks good, I guess, but it’s chaotic as hell.

Archer punches out one of the Young Lions, and gets taken into the crowd by Suzuki and a chair… and they end up fighting beyond the line of sight of the cameras. Iizuka and Smith are in the ring for a bit of biting after Desperado took off the muzzle… there’s some nibbling on Archer too, but the KES turn it around as they looked for the splash-assisted sidewalk slam on Iizuka, getting a near-fall from it. Archer keeps up with a POUNCE on Desperado, before the junior tag champions went after each other with the most venom of anyone in the match. A low dropkick from Kanemaru sends Desperado flying, but Despy’s right back with a spinebuster before Suzuki comes in to chop through his underling, following up with a PK for a near-fall.

Things break down a little as Suzuki clings onto an arm to save himself from a Killer Bomb, before he came back from a Kanemaru DDT to quickly spike him with the Gotch piledriver for the win. This was what it was – a little brawl heavy, but not the abomination it could have been. **½

World Tag League: Ayato Yoshida & Shota Umino vs. Juice Robinson & David Finlay
It’s the Young Lions who start off this year’s World Tag League… and let’s just say I’ll be stunned if Yoshida and Umino get any points from their 13 matches!

Juice Robinson’s got an 80s-era Macho Man cape for his entrance, which looks so shiny that it’s physically impossible to screenshot here. We start with Yoshida and Finlay, but it’s the Kaientai Dojo trainee who scores first with a hiptoss before he and Umino combine to charge through Finlay for a near-fall. Finlay rebounds with a back senton to Umino for a two-count, before Robinson came in and snuffed out some fire with a back elbow. Umino slips out of a suplex but can’t get off an O’Connor roll as he had to make do with a dropkick to Juice instead, before Yoshida came in and cleared house with bodyslams.

Some hesitation from Yoshida nearly cost him, but he takes down Juice with a clothesline/neckbreaker combo before the former US champion comes back with some Dusty punches. The big one’s cut-off by Yoshida, who then took a leg lariat as Finlay came back into play… but there’s a malfunction at the junction when Finlay charges Juice off the apron, which opened up the door for Umino!

Shota catches Juice with an overhead belly-to-belly after putting Finlay down, and it looked like the Young Lions were en route to the upset when Shota’s missile dropkick picked up a two-count on Finlay. The obligatory Boston crab follows, which Juice tried to break up with punches, only for Yoshida to catch him with a Fujiwara armbar. The pair end up in the ropes, then come back with dropkicks to the relative rookies as Fin-Juice hit a version of the old World’s Greatest Tag Team leaping splash in the ropes. That puts Yoshida down, but Umino’s got some fight as he tries to nick a win with a backslide and a La Magistral, before he ran into a Fin-Juice flapjack and a Prima Nocta stunner as Finlay took the win. Not earth-shattering stuff, but a solid start to the tournament with plenty of Young Lion fire. They’ll go far… just not in this tournament! ***

World Tag League: Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi vs. Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan
Considering how loopy Kojima appeared to have been knocked a week earlier at the Rev Pro show, I’d be shocked if he does a LOT here. Sadly, he’s also one of the most mobile in this match.

Nagata and Kojima start us off as a tie-up ends in the ropes, with a cheapshot on the break from Nagata… Kojima doesn’t take that, and we’ve got an aggressive exchange of strikes here. A shoulder charge from Kojima puts down Nagata, before Tenzan comes in… as did Nakanishi for the immobile part of the match. Tie-ups between Tenzan and Nakanishi don’t yield any result, but a shoulder tackle proves effective as Tenzan ends up taking a big splash for a near-fall. Mongolian chops follow, before Kojima tags back in as Nakanishi’s left isolated, and double-teamed, with Kojima throwing some of them before he ran into a double axehandle blow.

Nagata’s back in as he and Nakanishi take down Kojima with double shoulders, following up with a big boot in the corner and a kick to the back of Kojima for a near-fall. It’s Kojima’s turn to be isolated next, as he sees a rare trip up top from Nakanishi who somehow doesn’t get a nose bleed before he throws a chop off the top to Kojima’s arm. A kneedrop keeps Kojima down, but he’s back with a DDT before Tenzan comes back in to Mongolian chop through Nakanishi. Tenzan’s attempt at an Irish whip’s blocked as Nakanishi hit back with a lariat, but Tenzan’s up at two and has to elbow out of an Argentine backbreaker. Nakanishi heads up top again, but he’s pulled down by a press-slam from Kojima and Tenzan.

Tenzan thought he’d won it with an Anaconda Vise, but Nagata broke up the hold and gets the tag in only to get caught with a Mountain Bomb. Kojima’s back in for Machine Gun chops to Nagata, before landing a Koji Cutter that looked a little stiff. A brainbuster gets another two-count for Kojima, who then looked for the death blow with a Cozy Lariat… only for Nagata to catch the arm and turn it into a Shirome armbar.

That armbar’s broken up by Mongolian chops from Tenzan, and we get the closest thing we’ll get to a Parade of Moves in a match with a combined age of around 200 years old, with a Nakanishi spear preceding a Backdrop Hold from Nagata as Kojima was put down for the count. This wasn’t bad, but it was starting to outstay its welcome just as it came to an end. ***

Don Callis gatecrashed the show to do commentary. Wow, they weren’t joking when they were saying he was en route!

World Tag League: The Elite (Hangman Page & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Best Friends (Chuckie T & Beretta)
Well, Yujiro didn’t get the Bullet Club memo, as he’s still got his BC jacket… made just before they decided to end the “civil war” via a promo on a boat…

Yujiro and Chuckie start us off, with the latter going for a lucha-style roll-up for an early near-fall. Beretta comes in next, but after his hand’s bitten by Yujiro he has to deal with Hangman Page, whom he deals with with a dropick. A slingshot back into the ring’s turned into a Northern Lights suplex for a near-fall, and my feed stutters a little… by the time I refresh and it’s back, the Elite pair have turned it around, with Beretta getting thrown into Yujiro’s boot.

A snapmare leaves Beretta prone for a Yujiro legdrop for a near-fall, before a standing shooting star press from Page gets a similar result. Beretta hit back with a clothesline to give him a break, as he quickly tags out to Chuckie T, who wipes out Page with a dropkick off the ropes. Yujiro’s turfed outside too ahead of a tope con giro as Chuckie T hits them both before landing on his feet. Chuckie keeps up with an Asai DDT for a near-fall, but a missed moonsault opens it up for the Elite as Yujiro tags back and catches Chuckie with a boot. He’s quickly met with Sole Food as Beretta returns to help double-team Yujiro, but again it turns back around as Yujiro’s low dropkick looked to have him back in control… only for Beretta to nail a tornado DDT.

A Buckshot Lariat from Page is next before Yujiro rolled back the clock with the Incolle Slam for a near-fall. Beretta’s got to kick out from another Page powerbomb as Chuckie T saved his partner from a spike powerbomb, and returned to help with a Strong Zero on Yujiro for the win. Decent, but the lack of crowd reactions throughout are killing this show. ***

World Tag League: Togi Makabe & Toa Henare vs. Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa)
Sweet baby Jesus, the overdub for Makabe’s theme was perhaps a LITTLE too high?

Makabe and Loa start us off with shoulder charges, with the veteran edging ahead there… only for Tama Tonga to nonchalantly put a boot into Makabe as he ran the ropes. Henare’s in, as is Tama, with the former working a wristlock until his eye was poked out… but he’s right back in with an armdrag and a hiptoss as the current tag team champions looked to be in trouble. Jado gets involved with a Kendo stick shot to Henare in the ropes and that puts the Guerrillas back in control, double-teaming Henare ahead of a leaping neckbreaker and a knee drop that gets Tanga Loa a near-fall. Clubbing blows from Tama just delay a suplex from Henare, who then gets a tag out to Makabe… whom of course goes for the mounted punches.

Tanga Loa breaks them up, but instead ends up getting taken to the corner for some Not-Forever Lariats and those mounted punches. A Northern Lights suplex nearly puts Tama away, but while Makabe stops in his tracks as Jado prepared to use the Kendo stick, he’s caught from behind. Makabe gets back on track with a double clothesline to Tama and Tanga, before Henare returned to dish out duelling mounted punches.

A flying shoulder tackle from Henare puts down Tanga for a near-fall, but a rugby tackle’s stopped as Loa hit back with a German suplex. Henare returns the favour before some clubbering clotheslines led to a Blue Thunder Bomb from Tanga for a near-fall. Jado again gets involved, whacking Makabe with the Kendo stick before Tama dropped him with a Gun Stun. Henare takes care of Tama with a Samoan drop, before almost snatching an upset with a roll-up… but Loa’s up and flattens him with a lariat for a near-fall. Apeshit’s next, and the tag champions start with a win. Solid, but it’s going to be par for the course in this tournament. ***

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, EVIL, BUSHI, SANADA & Shingo Takagi) vs. Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano & Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH)
After the barrage of “gentleman’s threes”, we’re up to the main event… which for some reason is CHAOS vs. LIJ, because neither Kenny Omega nor Jay White are on this tour.

We start with SHO and Shingo, with the former throwing a cheapshot in the ropes before catching him with a knee to the gut. A kick to the back riles up Shingo, who hits back as hard as you’d expect, sparking a chop battle that he won, before getting caught with a dropkick. Things switch around as LIJ took control of the match, taking the fight to the outside as Naito and Okada renewed an old rivalry while everyone else seemed to end up in the crowd.

They return to the ring as Naito catches Yano in a single-leg crab, before leaving him alone for BUSHI to come in with a missile dropkick. SANADA gets involved with a Paradise Lock to Yano, who’s eventually freed and covered for a near-fall as Yano got a hand to the rope. Yano does Yano next, clinging onto the ropes before yanking down EVIL and SANADA by the hair… and in comes Okada to clear house with a back elbow. BUSHI and Shingo try to stop Okada, but to no avail as they take some DDTs, as does SANADA, who’s spiked for a near-fall. Roppongi 3K come in next as BUSHI continues to absorb some offence, including a step-up back elbow into the corner before the Dominator/Neckbreaker combo’s stuffed. Jumping knees put BUSHI down though, before a 3K is fought out of as Shingo slides back in to try and turn it back around.

Shingo quickly eats a Falcon arrow from YOH, only for BUSHI to catch YOH unawares as Naito tagged back in. The combinacion Cabron catches YOH before LIJ flood the ring and double-team YOH for a near-fall. Ishii comes in to try and turn the tide as a big Parade of Moves broke out, leading to a sliding lariat from EVIL and a Naito roll-up for another two-count on YOH. Destino follows… and that’s all folks. Kevin Kelly, you can stop prolonging the O now! This was perhaps the best match of the night, but that isn’t saying much! ***¼

After night one, with about half of the field having had a match, here’s where we stand…

1. Juice Robinson & David Finlay (1-0; 2pts)
1. Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi (1-0; 2pts)
1. Best Friends (Beretta & Chuckie T) (1-0; 2pts)
1. Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) (1-0; 2pts)
5. Michael Elgin & Jeff Cobb (0-0; 0pts)
5. Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano (0-0; 0pts)
5. Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki & Takashi Iizuka) (0-0; 0pts)
5. Killer Elite Squad (Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr.) (0-0; 0pts)
5. Suzuki-gun (Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi) (0-0; 0pts)
5. Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL & SANADA) (0-0; 0pts)
11. Ayato Yoshida & Shota Umino (0-1; 0pts)
11. Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan (0-1; 0pts)
11. The Elite (Hangman Page & Yujiro Takahashi) (0-1; 0pts)
11. Togi Makabe & Toa Henare (0-1; 0pts)

The entire show being done in 2h 15m is very appreciative, but this tour opener did little to dispel the narrative that World Tag League is a skippable tour. Plenty of decent, but passable matches here – hopefully things pick up for night two, which takes place in Korakuen on Sunday… live on NJPW World.