New Japan’s last big tour got underway as the 2019 World Tag League kicked off in Kanagawa.

A lot of people skip this tour, but we’re not. What we are going to do though, is force ourselves into summarising these matches. Like last year, the tour opens in Chichibunomiya Memorial Gymnasium in Kanagawa… and we’re working with one big block of sixteen teams. Yep, it’s ANOTHER round robin tournament. 14 of the 16 teams in the block will be involved today, with the pairings of EVIL & SANADA and the tag team champions of Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa not involved.

There for the grace of God go I… with no English commentary (yet).

World Tag League 2019: Hirooki Goto & Karl Fredericks vs. Juice Robinson & David Finlay
Karl Fredericks is the only Young Lion in this tournament, so expect Hirooki Goto to be on the losing end a LOT for the next few weeks.

Karl gave it a good shot early, but he was caught out with some double-teaming as Fin-Juice hit a double-team bulldog for a near-fall. That led to a long spell of Fredericks being isolated, as Goto needed to come in to save the LA Dojo trainee. Eventually Karl fought back, matching Juice for forearms before a nice corkscrew dropkick got him free.

Goto has much more luck, scoring with an ushigoroshi on Juice before Finlay got the tag in. He’s eventually clotheslined by Goto, as the tables turn from earlier, with Fredericks helping on some double-teams, including a Blockbuster/side Russian legsweep combo for a near-fall. Fredericks came close with a spinebuster, but Juice helps out again as all four men ended up in the ring for dropkicks, before Finlay scored the win with a Shiranui on Fredericks. A perfectly acceptable tag match, but not one that’ll light your world on fire. The first of many, I assume… ***

World Tag League 2019: Jeff Cobb & Mikey Nicholls vs. Toru Yano & Colt Cabana
Colt and Yano are here as comic relief, both starting out wanting no part of Jeff Cobb.

Colt’s made to have the first go, but it’s all Jeff Cobb, before Toru Yano came in and did his turnbuckle shtick with Mikey Nicholls. Pass the parcel! Even referee Kenta Sato got involved, unwillingly, before Yano got double-teamed by Cobb and Nicholls. Colt kept trying to throw in the turnbuckle to distract the ref, but Nicholls and Cobb were above it. Eventually some hair-pulling from Yano got him level as Cabana tagged in and took down Cobb with headscissors. A Quebrada takes down the sorta-CHAOS team too, before the ol’ Flying Asshole crashed into Cobb in the corner.

Yano and Cabana play Yano’s shtick to a tee, but Cobb shuts him down with a Spin Cycle suplex on the way to a near-fall. An attempted turnaround sees Colt hit Cobb after a slingshot, before Yano tried for a super blatant low blow. Of course it doesn’t work, and he’s put away seconds after with a Tour of the Islands. It was “there” – but exactly the sort of match you think of from this tour. **¼

World Tag League 2019: Los Ingobernables de Japon (Shingo Takagi & Terrible) vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima
With Shingo having moved up to heavyweight, there’s a lack of parity in LIJ – as far as “there’s nobody for that second heavyweight tag team when Naito can’t take part”. Step forward Terrible from Mexico. Hopefully he doesn’t live up to his name.

The early exchanges were something of a proving ground for Shingo, who’s still bedding in as a heavyweight. He absorbed some Mongolian chops early, before tags brought in Kojima and Terrible, who traded chops for a spell until some double-teaming put the LIJ import on the deck. LIJ double-team to get back in it, but a Kojima DDT stops it all as Tenzan came in to nearly put away Shingo with a suplex. Shingo fights back with some elbows, but can’t avoid a Mountain Bomb. He’s back with a suplex though, before Terrible came in and ate a spinning heel kick. Kojima’s back with Machine Gun chops to Terrible, but a suplex/big splash combo out of LIJ nearly ended things.

A Koji Cutter turns it back around, but all four men were in the ring as things threatened to break down… a TenKoji Cutter dropped Shingo though, before Terrible blocked a Cosy Lariat. Shingo’s Pumping Bomber was more effective as Terrible proceeded to whale away on Kojima, who just lands his Cozy Lariat anyway for the win. Decent finish stretch, with Terrible throwing haymakers, but in the end it wasn’t enough. **¾

World Tag League 2019: Bullet Club (KENTA & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi
Call me a cynic, but given New Japan are still pushing KENTA, this should be as close to a squash as you’ll get on this tour.

KENTA started out by taking Nagata into the corner as my forecast threatened to come true, battering the veteran… who needed to hold the rope in order to hit a big boot in response. Yujiro gets a tag in, as did Nakanishi, as the pace remained low, with Yujiro biting away some offence from Nakanishi. Glaciers move quicker. Nakanishi bit back, but ended up getting cornered and stomped on. Nagata tried to make a save, but was summarily sent packing, Yujiro comes close with a splash, but the Bullet Club only fell behind when Nakanishi took up his offer of a free shot. A spear dropped KENTA, as Nagata tagged back in to finally give this thing some energy, kicking through KENTA, only for an Exploder to get elbowed away.

Nagata blocks a tornado DDT and hits a swinging neckbreaker instead, before that Exploder finally came off. KENTA’s back with a scoop slam, before he ran into an overhead belly-to-belly… only for Nakanishi to return. His double sledges find their mark, as did some chops that resembled a game of pat-a-cake with Yujiro’s chest. They land a boot and a clothesline simultaneously for a two-count, before an Argentine neckbreaker on Yujiro came to nought as he raked the eyes to get free… Nagata accidentally boots his own man as double-teaming backfires, allowing the Bullet Club to hit a double DDT, before Yujiro’s Pimp Juice DDT got the win. Father Time’s catching up to Yuji, and as a fan… it’s quite sad. Father Time’s lapped Nakanishi, and if this whole tour is going to see everyone slowing down for them, then we’re in for a long few weeks. **

World Tag League 2019: Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale & Chase Owens) vs. Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki & Lance Archer)
The Japanese commentary team are very lucky that Suzuki puts being able to “kaze ni nare” over bloodshed.

This one started out with a jump start as all four men brawled over the arena, using guard rails, chairs and all that good stuff you’d expect from this combo. When it settled down, Suzuki and Chase tried to out-cheat each other in the ring, with Fale helping with a head squeeze on the apron. Suzuki got free and brought in Archer to build up some momentum, before he returned to try and put his boot through Chase… but it’s caught as Chase returned fire with a Jewel Heist. Tags bring in the hosses to exchange shoulder tackles, which raised my intrigue, but Archer was the first one to drop to a knee, before the pair teased dualling chokeslams.

Archer’s back with a crossbody for a two-count, before his chokeslam was turned into a Samoan drop. Owens and Suzuki return, with Chase’s diving knee nearly getting the upset. Some double-teaming with Archer led to a massive POUNCE for a near-fall. Fale returns the favour, before he went after Suzuki on the outside… another knee strike from Owens looked to set up for a package piledriver, but Suzuki breaks it up as the EBD Claw ends up getting the win. Eh. This was okay, keeping it short with Fale not getting too much time. **¾

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito & BUSHI) vs. Bullet Club (Jay White & Gedo)
Some non-tournament action here, as we build to the Naito/White leg of the “double gold rush” special over WrestleKingdom weekend. BUSHI looks like a Power Ranger with his over-mask.

We’ve the usual stuff early as Jay White tried to interfere, while Gedo was practising his English curse words. White has luck with an elbow to stop BUSHI doing a dive, and that has the Bullet Club team ahead. Naito’s taken into the guard rails, as was BUSHI, which prompted the Japanese commentary team to nearly blow out my speakers, before Naito got a Brookesing by White.

Back in the ring, White held BUSHI in a half crab while mocking Naito, but Naito barely flinched. It’s almost like Naito’s looking over White, focusing on the IWGP title shot he needs to earn. BUSHI got himself free at the five minute mark, and brought in Naito, who used some headscissors to restrain White. Gedo tried to come in, but he’s just pulled by the beard and thrown outside as White hung Naito on the top rope. A spiking DDT has Naito upside down as White was making this look far too easy. The Blade Buster’s good for a two-count, but Naito’s back with a DDT as BUSHI and Gedo returned (incredibly) to up the pace.

BUSHI tries to get the win with a MX, but Gedo ducks it as Naito and White tease finishers… instead ending with Naito clattering into Gedo with a knee. A running MX from BUSHI gets a near-fall, with White pulling him up for a Blade Runner, which allowed an out-of-it Gedo to get the win. Jay White outsmarts LIJ – but Naito seemingly was disinterested for the majority of it all. We’re going to get this match hammered into us for the rest of the year, aren’t we? **¾

World Tag League 2019: Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi & Toa Henare
It’s a first World Tag League outing for former winners Makabe and Honma since 2016 – with Honma finally allowed back in after his neck injury. Henare’s switched to some more regular trunks, but started on the apron as Makabe and Tanahashi went at each other.

They reach a stalemate, so Henare and Honma come in. The Kiwi Henare’s instantly ahead with a shoulder tackle, but he quickly has to avoid a Kokeshi as Tanahashi instead came in for a leaping elbow. Honma tries to fight back against Tanahashi, but it didn’t seem believable… and he remains on the defensive for a while longer. Eventually, Honma got free with a brainbuster on Tanahashi, before Makabe returned to turn things around. Clotheslines and mounted punches were in Tanahashi’s future, with Makabe pushing on to get some near-falls out of the Ace. Henare hits back with a leaping, Kokeshi-like headbutt on Makabe, before Honma tried to turn the tide once more… only to be stopped by Tanahashi.

A DDT/Flatliner combo from Honma scores as Henare ate Kokeshis for two-counts… but Honma gets ahead of himself and teases a top rope Kokeshi. Tanahashi delays him, and bought Henare time to fight back with a headbutt and an avalanche Samoan drop as Tanahashi looked to push things over the line. A Slingblade and a flip senton get a near-fall, before a clothesline and a Kokeshi double-team nearly led to the relative upset…

…but when it was back to one-on-one, Tanahashi caught Honma with a Twist and Shout, before a leg sweep/Slingblade combo almost put Honma away. Not to worry, a High Fly Flow did the trick, as we can now all join in on cringing every time Honma grabs for his neck. This tour will be the real acid test to see if he’s really back, or whether he, as suspected, is a shell of his former self. ***

World Tag League 2019: Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi vs. Tomohiro Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI
Barring a goose egg of epic proportions, half of this match could be sleepwalking and still have the match of the night.

Sabre and Ishii start us off, with Zack going after the taped-up knee of Ishii, before he changed tack and went for the elbow. YOSHI-HASHI tries to make a save, but got turfed outside by Taichi as Sabre continued to torque the arm of Ishii on the apron. Taichi helps out by being a shitbag on the apron, before he tagged in to legitimise his work. Stomps to the arm only make Ishii mad… but he throws chops with the same arm, which wasn’t wise. Sabre’s back to trade headbutts with Ishii, who responds with a stalling brainbuster as YOSHI-HASHI came in… and surprisingly landed a Head Hunter on Sabre. Zack avoids a dropkick on the ropes, responding by twisting YOSHI-HASHI’s arm between his legs as Taichi returned to play with the man described as some as a “bag of socks”.

Ishii’s back in to trade shots with Taichi, but he was matched kick-for-kick until Ishii caught Taichi with a German suplex. Taichi kicks his way ahead as Sabre returned to help, trapping YOSHI-HASHI in an Octopus hold before a PK on Ishii set up for a buzzsaw kick from Taichi for a near-fall. An Axe Bomber keeps Taichi ahead, as does a powerbomb, but YOSHI-HASHI dives in to break it up. All four men stay in the ring as we eventually ended with everyone down on the mat after suplexes and kicks. Taichi’s back to his feet first, but rapid-fire elbows from Ishii and a headbutt put him back ahead, as a lariat draws a near-fall… Elbows have Taichi rocked, but Sabre trips Ishii as a Gedo clutch almost saw Taichi steal the win.

One more head kick drops Ishii, before YOSHI-HASHI helped break up a guillotine choke by landing a back cracker on Sabre. He keeps up with a kumagoroshi on Taichi, with a sliding lariat from Ishii nearly putting him away, before the sheer drop brainbuster got the job done. A thoroughly satisfying main event, with even the sometimes-weak links putting in a shift! ***½

What can I say? It’s World Tag League. The opening night lived up to expectations, and with the entire tour being mostly made up of tournament matches… you’d better get comfortable, because we’ve a LOT of vaguely competitive tag matches to get through in the next few weeks!

Your standings after one night – with not everyone having had a match…

1. Lance Archer & Minoru Suzuki; Jeff Cobb & Mikey Nicholls; David Finlay & Juice Robinson; Tomohiro Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI; KENTA & Yujiro Takahashi; Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan; Hiroshi Tanahashi & Toa Henare (1-0; 2pts)
7. Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa); Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL & SANADA) (0-0; 0pt)
9. Colt Cabana & Toru Yano; Bad Luck Fale & Chase Owens; Hirooki Goto & Karl Fredericks; Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma; Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi; Taicho & Zack Sabre Jr; Shingo Takagi & El Terrible (0-1; 0pt)

We’ll have delayed coverage from Sunday’s Korakuen Hall show, headlined by SANADA & EVIL vs. Shingo & Terrible.