2019’s World Tag League came to a head on a show that had a few surprises going into WrestleKingdom.
Three teams are in the hunt: EVIL & SANADA, Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa and Juice Robinson & David Finlay all can win the group. We’re watching this on delay as the Green Arena in Hiroshima, with English commentary from Kevin Kelly, Gino Gambino and a returning Chris Charlton.
World Tag League 2019: Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi vs. Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan
Apparently that sash that Nagata’s been wearing all tour long has been for the Tokyo half marathon. I’ve missed having Chris Charlton around to fill in these sorts of blanks.
Tenzan and Nakanishi start off with your usual stuff – headbutts, shoulder tackles and the like, and of course, Mongolian chops before Nagata and Kojima tagged in. Things quickly break down into a double-team as Nagata’s slammed as Kojima seemed to be having an off-day, slipping on the slam then on the slingshot elbow. Kojima’s back to get clotheslined by Nakanishi, retaliating with a Koji Cutter before bringing in Tenzan. A spear drops him, as Nagata tagged in to keep up the momentum, but Tenzan stops him with a brainbuster. Nagata back drops Kojima away as some double-teaming backfired, allowing Nakanishi to get a nosebleed, going up top for an axehandle before Nagata’s Exploder got a near-fall on Tenzan… who was then forced to tap to the Nagata Lock crossface. Well, they’ve had worse on this tour, but if the Nagata/Nakanishi team’s back for next year’s tag league, you’ll know it’s bloated. **½
World Tag League 2019: Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale & Chase Owens) vs. Colt Cabana & Toru Yano
Something tells me that if they avoid comedy, this may be a hard watch… and Chase saying “no jokes” put the fear of God into me. So much so, I was hearing stuff twice.
Cabana and Fale start, with a Test of Strength that backfired for Colt… until Yano came in and snuck in a body blow. Wash, rinse, repeat. A third attempt led to Chase trying to block it, but he’s poked in the eye and accidentally headbutts Fale low. Aha!
Fale turns things around as he took Colt outside for the obligatory guard rail stuff, before Chase Owens came in to choke at Colt in the ropes. The Tongan Massage Parlour follows, before Yano accidentally distracted the ref which led to Colt getting attacked some more. Ah, this is the low-energy stuff that generally personifies this tournament! Colt just sidesteps as Chase flew off the top with a double axehandle… and then tagged in Yano. Off come the turnbuckles! He bats Fale on the head, then sidesteps a charge into the corner as a roll-up nearly put away the big man. A hair pull doesn’t work on the bald Fale, who comes in with an elbow drop for a near-fall, but Chase has hair… and it worked on him as Cabana returned.
A Flying Asshole traps Chase in the corner, with a double splash following for a near-fall, as the ring filled and cleared somewhat, with an elbow drop from Chase nearly getting a win. Another turnbuckle pad comes off as Fale’s batted around, leading to the ref getting distracted as Yano’s’ low blow and Cabana’s Superman pin getting the win. Colt and Yano have been a highlight of this tour for me, making some of the more unwatchable matches perversely enjoyable. **
World Tag League 2019: Los Ingobernables de Japon (Shingo Takagi & Terrible) vs. Jeff Cobb & Mikey Nicholls
I never really paid attention, but those template CMLL entrance videos sure are wacky, huh?
Apparently Jeff Cobb had dental work done on his day off… so trading forearms with Shingo perhaps was a decent way to test the sturdiness of that work? The obligatory guard rail spots happen, as LIJ looked to wear down Nicholls, with Terrible gnawing away on Mikey for good measure. He gets free and brought Cobb in to power through Terrible with a slam, before Shingo slipped out of a suplex. A Tour of the Islands had similar results, with Shingo retaliating with an Exploder, only for Cobb to hit one of his own too. LIJ combined again with shots as a Pumping Bomber and a big splash got Terrible a near-fall, before Cobb retaliated with a Spin Cycle on Terrible as the tide threatened to turn once more.
Another Pumping Bomber spun Cobb inside out, but a Mikey Bomb on Terrible ensured that the sorta-CHAOS pair ended the tour with a win. Considering this was a mid-table nothing match, this was really competitive, but I don’t think we’ll be seeing Terrible back for a while on this form. ***
World Tag League 2019: Hirooki Goto & Karl Fredericks vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi & Toa Henare
A win for Tanahashi and Henare would mean that they’re not quite overshadowed by the tournament’s only team with Young Lion representation…
Tanahashi and Fredericks start off working each other’s arms, before Fredericks rolled through a Tanahashi crossbody and almost pinned the Ace. IMAGINE. Tanahashi hit back with a slam and a flip senton to Fredericks… who replied with a spinebuster as tags brought in Goto, who took Tanahashi into the corner for a bulldog. Tanahashi counters a kick with a Dragon screw as a Cloverleaf awaited the next NEVER title challenger, before tags brought in Henare and Fredericks… with a high crossbody awaiting the Kiwi! The GODDAMN dropkick awaits Tanahashi as Karl looked to build momentum, adding a leaping elbow to Henare for a near-fall. Fredericks keeps up with a Blockbuster/side Russian legsweep for a near-fall, before Henare blocks a spinebuster as a slingblade/legsweep combo nearly got Henare the fall.
Goto’s taken outside as Tanahashi lands a pescado… and from there it’s elementary. Henare has to survive some flash pin attempts, before he flips Fredericks with a clothesline as a Toa Bottom got the win. Decent, but I do wonder if both of these teams were originally planned for this tour… ***
After the match, the lights go out as we got a video on the big screen… Chris Jericho’s convinced some people to wear fedoras and paint their face like him. Apparently the Tokyo Dome match with Tanahashi on January 5 will be his last… evil laugh, and we cut to black. Tanahashi replies by mocking Jericho for not being here, then shot down all talk of that being his last match.
World Tag League 2019: Bullet Club (KENTA & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki & Lance Archer)
It may be the final night, but Lance Archer hasn’t stopped beating up Young Lions.
We’ve a jump start, with KENTA and Suzuki pairing off. You know how to tease, eh? Meanwhile in the ring, Yujiro tried his luck with Lance Archer, and actually pulled off a tope. Did someone tell him he had to pull his finger out? Suzuki went ballistic at KENTA, ripping up guard rails and burying him under them. KENTA’s up, while Suzuki stalks Pieter… who crawled on all fours as Suzuki was making a beeline for KENTA. Back in the ring, Yujiro’s met with a rope-walk chop as KENTA was taking all of the guard rails, along with some right hands that has Chris Charlton grinning from ear to ear. Suzuki tags in and laughs off Yujiro’s attempts at offence, before Archer tried to slam Yujiro through the mat. It’s enough for a two-count, before KENTA came in with Suzuki.. Slapping the back of Minoru’s head, and then getting some payback. I mean, you have to applaud the balls on him for that, but these things rarely end well, despite KENTA landing a Shibata-ish dropkick.
Of course, another strike battle ended with Suzuki walloping KENTA with elbows, but a powerslam has Suzuki down as Yujiro returned. Elbows from Yujiro end with him getting dragged in as Archer returned, only for Yujiro to hit a Fisherman buster as a stomp from KENTA nearly ends it. Archer gets payback with a POUNCE to Yujiro for a near-fall, while Suzuki took KENTA outside to make sure that Yujiro had to fight back on his own. Some biting only pisses off the US champion, who replies with a big boot, a chokeslam and Blackout, before he pulled up Yujiro to get the win with an EBD Claw. Violent, and enjoyable, especially since Suzuki was doing his best to drag a performance out of KENTA here. ***
After the match, Suzuki-gun attack the Young Lions some more before Lance Archer was distracted by a video. Is Jon Moxley doing a Jericho? Nope… he’s here! Moxley stared down Archer from a tech desk, then leapt down and made a beeline for the ring. Yuya Uemura anxiously scratching his head was a sight… I mean, Moxley doesn’t even have Shooter to throw to the wolves here. We get a staredown, before Moxley hit a Death Rider to Archer and Suzuki. THE BALLS. It gets better too: Moxley challenges Archer to a Texas Death Match at the Tokyo Dome for the US title that he never lost. Woah.
Archer and Moxley brawl around ringside, then through the crowd as I was licking my lips to see what kind of anarchy we’d get at the Dome. No hot dog trucks, I assume…
Kota Ibushi, Jushin Thunder Liger & Tiger Mask vs. Kazuchika Okada & Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH)
The Liger farewell tour is wrapping up. A maximum of five matches after this: with just the two at the Tokyo Dome even confirmed… get your tissues ready for that first weekend of the year.
Ibushi charges at Okada before the bell, fed up of the champion no-selling him elsewhere on the tour… and it’s Okada who tastes ALL the guard rails, along with Ibushi’s sole in the opening seconds. Okada takes control with a flapjack though, before tags bring in YOH and Tiger Mask. There’s a quick Tiger Driver attempt, but YOH gets free as some double-teaming had Tiger Mask down, before Okada came in, interspersing moves with shots at Ibushi on the apron. Okada’s become a bit of a dick in this build-up, hasn’t he?
Tiger Mask avoids a back senton, but Okada knocks Liger off the apron to avoid the tag. SHO’s in too, but he loses sight of Tiger Mask as Okada gets involved again, which drew Ibushi back in… and it seems the CHAOS team really didn’t want Liger in this match. Eventually Tiger Mask broke free and got the tag in to Liger, and the roof blew off of the Green Arena! Tiltawhirl backbreakers for YOH… then a Shotei and a Romero special that Liger broke up rather disrespectfully. Okada stays in and teases a tombstone, but Liger gets out and hits a Shotei, before Ibushi tagged in and hit a missile dropkick. A barrage of strikes to Okada led to standing moonsault for a near-fall, but Okada hit back… and got kicked in the chest too.
Ibushi avoids a Rainmaker, but not a dropkick as Roppongi 3K came in with double-teams for a near-fall. SHO peppers Ibushi with kicks, as a Parade of Moves broke out, including a Shotei to Okada before Ibushi finished off SHO with a Bomaye knee and a Kamigoye for the hell of it. A fun trios match, as they sure do seem to be babyfacing Ibushi on the way to the Dome, eh? ***½
After the match, Okada tried to get in Ibushi’s face… but that just ended up with Ibushi properly whacking him in the head with the G1 winner’s briefcase. Lovely.
Liger then tried to say farewell to Hiroshima, but he’s interrupted by another video. This time it’s from Ryu Lee – the former Dragon Lee – who challenged him for one of his final matches. Liger replies, saying there’s one other person he wants to wrestle: HIROMU. Hey, why is Liger autographing someone’s Daryl?!
World Tag League 2019: Tomohiro Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI vs. Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa)
A win for the GOD means that they have a chance of at least sharing top stop… a loss means the main event is winner-take-all.
The GOD try for a jump start, but things settle down a little as the Guerrillas took the match outside, with YOSHI-HASHI getting thrown into the guard rails. Ishii’s taken outside too as we get the mandatory crowd crawl, which led to the random sight of Ishii running around ringside with a bit of railing that he tried to throw at Tama Tonga. Back in the ring, Tama throws some elbows to a seated YOSHI-HASHI as five minutes had gone by. There’s back rakes too as I began to fear that the GOD were pacing themselves out for a draw that’d help nobody… Tanga Loa’s in to help with a double-team suplex for a near-fall, before YOSHI-HASHI turned the tables with a Bunker Buster on Tama.
Ishii tags in and resists headbutts, eventually charging through Tama with a shoulder tackle before suplexing Tanga. Tama’s flurry of shots led to him hitting a misdirection dropkick, as some double-teaming led to a Flatliner on Ishii. That gets Tama a near-fall, but Ishii’s quickly back with a Saito suplex as tags got us back to YOSHI-HASHI, who came close with a Head Hunter on Tanga Loa. Tama tries to sneak in a Gun Stun, but it’s blocked as Ishii gives him a belly-to-belly amid a big Parade of Movez, which ended with a lungblower and German suplex combo on Tanga. YOSHI-HASHI’s running Meteora is good for a two-count, before Jado hit the ring to distract the ref… that led to a low blow from Tama, as YOSHI-HASHI’s pulled into an OJK crossface, but he’s able to hold on and roll-up Tanga for a near-fall.
Ishii blasts Jado off the apron, but couldn’t avoid a Tongan Twist as YOSHI-HASHI got slammed ahead of a splash and a swandive headbutt… but it’s still not enough. The super powerbomb’s teased, but YOSHI-HASHI ‘ranas free as Ishii helps clear house, leading to a flash inside cradle from YOSHI-HASHI for the win! This was fine, but for me it never really got going as the Guerrillas’ shithousery took way too much time. So we’re officially safe from a three-way caused by the league – but with Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI having beaten the Guerrillas (along with Yano and Cabana), don’t write it off yet. ***¼
World Tag League 2019: Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL & SANADA) vs. Juice Robinson & David Finlay
It’s winner-take-all… although a draw would hand LIJ the league title too. So we’ve effectively gotten a tournament final without it actually being one. Funny how that works.
We start with Finlay and SANADA working over each other’s arms, but it was Finlay who edged ahead with a hiptoss that revealed the balding arse patches on SANADA’s gear. Hopefully there’s new stuff coming his way in 2020… Juice is in for some early double-teaming, dropping SANADA with a bulldog, before some Dusty punches and a chop had SANADA on the ropes. EVIL trips Juice as we’ve a quick turnaround, leading to him having to push away a Paradise Lock, only for SANADA to tie him up seconds later. Finlay’s in to help take EVIL down, chasing him into the corner head of a diving European uppercut for a near-fall, but EVIL quickly gets some payback with a spot of chair baseball on the outside. Batter up!
SANADA’s back in, landing a low dropkick after having to abort a standing moonsault, before EVIL returned to wrench Finlay’s shoulder on the way to a Bronco buster. Finlay began to fight back against SANADA, landing a back suplex before tagging in Juice, who found his mark with a leaping back senton. Corner-to-corner clotheslines from Juice led to a cannonball into SANADA, before a falling powerbomb was fought out of. SANADA tries a ‘rana, but it’s caught and turned into that falling powerbomb anyway, before some double-teaming allowed SANADA to almost snatch a win with a backdrop suplex. LIJ call for a Magic Killer, but it feels way too early, and Finlay’s in to break it up as the tables turn again, this time with SANADA running into a double-team flapjack. A superplex/frog splash combo gets a near-fall on SANADA, as another Parade of Moves broke out, including a Finlay spear and a springboard missile dropkick from SANADA.
Finlay’s clutching his shoulder worryingly, as Juice flips out of a Skull End and tries a Pulp Friction, but that too is pushed away as the Skull End was re-applied. SANADA lets go so he could moonsault, but Juice gets the knees up, as tags get us back to EVIL and Finlay trading shots. That culminated in a uranage backbreaker as Finlay added to it with a Blackheart Buster for a near-fall as he was looking to get his moment in the sun. EVIL’s right back in with a superplex as we entered the final ten minutes… a lariat spins Finlay for a near-fall, while Juice tried to neutralise SANADA and ended up in a Skull End as Finlay had to fight out of a Darkness Scorpion. Finlay gets free from that, and a Magic Killer, as he almost stole a roll-up on EVIL… a Darkness Falls gets another near-fall as LIJ looked to be pushing to their three-in-a-row…
A Magic Killer looked set to seal the deal, but Juice breaks it up as Finlay hit back with his own take on Everything is EVIL! From there, Finlay rips off the shoulder tape and lands a leaping knee, before an Acid Drop was blocked… but a Prima Nocta wasn’t! The Left Hand of God’s next on EVIL, before SANADA took another punch, then Pulp Friction, as Juice waved Finlay on to hit the Acid Drop… and Finlay gets the win! A hell of a moment for Finlay, whose momentum had come to a shuddering halt during the Honor Rising tour when he injured his shoulder in February, as his 2019 ends by getting the fall that wins World Tag League! This was a well-fought main event, and a deserved tournament win for the American duo who fought from the bottom in the dojo system and have finally made a break through. ****
You know what? Give them the tag titles – with the Guerrillas having held the IWGP tag straps since February, the division has felt a little forgotten and stale. FinJuice isn’t the silver bullet, but a new team with the gold is far from the worst thing.
Right, after Juice and Finlay formally challenged the Guerrillas, it was time for happy beers… and yes, we noticed that Toru Yano, YOSHI-HASHI and Tomohiro Ishii weren’t present at that celebration either!
The final standings…
1. David Finlay & Juice Robinson; EVIL & SANADA (13-2; 26pts)
3. Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa (12-3; 24pts)
4. Tomohiro Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI (11-4; 22pts)
5. Minoru Suzuki & Lance Archer; Toru Yano & Colt Cabana; Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi (9-6; 18pts)
8. Jeff Cobb & Mikey Nicholls; KENTA & Yujiro Takahashi (8-7; 16pts)
10. Chase Owens & Bad Luck Fale; Shingo Takagi & El Terrible (6-9; 12pts)
12. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima; Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma (4-11; 8pts)
14. Hirooki Goto & Karl Fredericks; Hiroshi Tanahashi & Toa Henare (3-12; 6pts)
16. Manabu Nakanishi & Yuji Nagata (2-13; 4pts)
So, what’s the 2019 World Tag League taught us? Apart from I’m horrible at maintaining league tables (yeah, I’m working on that for 2020…)? Well, 16 teams and 120 tournament matches was simply way too many for this tour, which already had a reputation for being missable. There were some bright spots, in the form of the Cabana/Yano team as well as the winners, while Hiroshi Tanahashi’s felt like a goddamn waste, as we’re still waiting to see when Toa Henare’s going to make the next level.
As for this show… well, World Tag League finales tend to have some surprises and this was no different, with Jon Moxley hot-footing it from Champaign to Hiroshima to get his way onto the WrestleKingdom cards… along with videos from Chris Jericho and the newly-named Ryu Lee. There’s some “Road to Tokyo Dome” shows in the days before Christmas, which we’ll watch for you, but for a lot of people, this was the last big stop on the way to WrestleKingdom. Four weeks to go!