Thursday 28 November 2013

And That's my Opinion...#3 - New Japan Pro Wrestling World Tag League Preview By Dave Green

My favourite wresting company this year has been New Japan Pro Wrestling. I've always been a fan of Japanese wrestling back to when I could watch a highlights show that was broadcast on Eurosport back in the 90's (gives you an idea as to my age!) Since making the decision to broadcast worldwide on iPPV, NJPW has been easier to access and keep up to date with. From the excellent Wrestle Kingdom in January to the awesome G1 Climax tournament (possibly the best booked tournament in wrestling history) NJPW has consistently put out quality shows over this year, to the point where even their weakest shows outshine the best PPVs put out by the American companies. However one thing that does not seem to be clicking at the moment is their tag team division. The Junior tag league has been dominated mainly by Forever Hooligans and the Timesplitters, having faced each other for the belts in most of the ippv output. Thankfully the Young Bucks have recently been brought in to inject some new blood, having already become the new champs. The heavyweight tag division seems in worse shape though (the reasons for which I shall get to later)

With that in mind, I thought I would offer a preview of their next big event, the World Tag League, which started today (23rd November) The concept is essentially the same as the G1, but with tag teams. Two blocks filled with seven teams battle it out for the most points (2 for a win, 1 for a draw, 0 for a loss). In the event of a tie, the win-loss record over the tournament comes into play. The team with the most points in each block face the runners-up from the other block, with the winners of those matches facing each other in the finals.

Both the finals and semi's take place on ippv on 8th December. The winners receive a tag title shot at Wrestle Kingdom in January. Bear in mind that certain wrestlers have already been booked in matches for that very event. You may notice a trend as I preview the teams and their chances of winning.

Block A

Hiroshi Tanahashi & Captain New Japan

For those unfamiliar with Tanahashi, basically he is New Japan's top guy. Puts on incredible matches with anyone he's against and the main reason NJPW is the top Japanese company. CNJ is essentially NJPW's version of Cpt America and a comedy jobber. If this team wins a match, Tanahashi gets the win. If they lose, CNJ does the job. They won't win as Tanahashi is already booked for WK against for the Intercontinental Title.

Prince Devitt & Bad Luck Fale (Bullet Club)

Devitt is Jr Hvt Champ and leader of the Bullet Club faction, with Fale as his bouncer. This faction is the most prone to cheating in the most obvious of circumstances, almost to the point of parody, which is a shame as the moment when Devitt turned heel and formed the club was one of the top moments of the year from NJPW. This team will pick up a few wins, maybe going to the semi finals, but ultimately Devitt is booked at WK against Kota Ibushi and Fale looks to be facing Togi Makabe at the same event, so they won't get the shot.

Manabu Nakanishi & Strong Man

This team should not be anywhere near this tournament. Strong Man is a roided up Scott Steiner wannabe and Nakanishi is the slowest guy on the roster due to injuries and age. If they even get any points, I'll be shocked

Masato Tanaka & Yujiro Takakashi (The Complete Players)

This pair have been a team off and on for a good few years and might be a favourite in this purely because neither are currently booked at WK. I've a gut feeling though that they'll be third or fourth in their block

Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma (GBH)

A very popular and physical duo. If it was up to me, they'd be at least semi- finalists. But due to the buildup to the singles match between Makabe and Fale, Honma will be doing the jobs for most of the block

Shinsuke Nakamura & Tomohiro Ishii (Chaos)

This team is Block A's Chaos representatives and my favourite team in the whole tournament. Nakamura is a crazy mix of rock star arrogance and deadly strikes, while Ishii is a cult favourite on the tail end of his break out year. Both heavy hitters and very popular, I see this team being definite semi finalists, maybe even finalists, but they won't as Nakamura has a date with Tanahashi

Davey Boy Smith Jr & Lance Archer (Killer Elite Squad)

The difference that Japan has made to these two is incredible. Both were made to look like jokes in WWE and TNA, but now they are 2-time tag champions and one of the most formidable teams there. I gather that, as the champs already, should they win the whole thing they can invoke the right to not defend the belts at WK, but that wouldn't be much of a payoff. A possible outcome is that they get to the semi finals only to lose to the team that takes the whole shebang

Block B

Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima

These two have had a tumultuous year. Halfway through the year, they beat K.E.S. for the belts but soon after met misfortune. Tenzan suffered broken ribs during the G1 climax, while Kojima aggravated a shoulder injury while wrestling Okada for the Heavyweight Title at Destruction. During this time, the titles were not defended nor vacated. At the recent Power Struggle event, each man took a fall in a 3-team, 2-fall, double-title match. This tournament may be this team's final hurrah and I don't see it ending well for them. Of course, the opposite might happen where they win the whole thing and challenge K.E.S. at the Tokyo Dome for one last shot. But I doubt it

Takashi Iizuka & Toru Yano

The sneakiest villains in the block, they are there simply to make up the numbers. Despite their tactics, they'll get no more than 2 points, which will give Iizuka plenty of time to think of new ways to torment that poor commentator

Jax Dane & Rob Conway

This team are there to strengthen the cross promotion between NJPW and the NWA yes, they still exist). Even though Conway & Dane are the NWA tag champs, they don't stand much of a chance here, especially if Conway ends up defending the NWA title at WK (Kojima perhaps?)

Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows

The second Bullet Club tandem, this is a possible semi final team. Anderson won this league with Hirooki Goto last year, so has the experience. Gallows, of course, was Luke Gallows in WWE and Doc in TNA. Putting the names together makes him sound like an evil 7th dwarf. However Anderson is quite a big deal in NJPW, so look for this team to go far

La Sombra & Tetsuya Naito

Well isn't this a pointless team?! I don't mean that to disrespect the wrestlers themselves. La Sombra is an immensely talented luchadore and has had great matches with Nakamura over the IC Title. Naito is a great athlete and in the midst of a huge push. After all, he won the G1 and is on his way to the Heavyweight Title match at WK. AND THERE'S THE PROBLEM! Why is Naito in the tournament if he's already in the main event of the biggest show of the year?! This tandem will get a few wins but have no chance of winning it.

Kazuchika Okada & Yoshi-Hashi (Chaos)

On the flip side of the above tandem, here's the other utterly pointless team in the tournament. For the reasons stated above (Okada being the defending champion) and for the fact that Yoshi-Hashi is awful. I haven't enjoyed anything I've watched him in. At least Nakanishi & Strongman are entertaining for the wrong reasons. Yoshi-Hashi is just appalling and he, like CNJ and Honma, is the fall guy for his more established partner.

Minoru Suzuki & Shelton X Benjamin (Suzuki-Gun)

This tandem might be the ones to take the whole thing. Suzuki has a ton of credibility and, even in his mid-forties, is one of the best performers in the company. Benjamin is pretty much as good as he's ever been (ie you have your opinions of him and they won't have changed!) and he's been a mainstay of the midcard since his arrival. And no, I don't know why he has an "X" in his name now. The potential storyline here is that they could win and go on to face their stablemates K.E.S. for the belts, causing a rift in the stable.

So there it is. This tournament is a wounded warrior in the march towards Wrestle Kingdom. With several of the top names here already booked in huge matches, the remaining teams just don't seem to give off that spark that makes a big tag title match. If it was my booking, I'd have Nakamura and Ishii winning the whole thing, but as it is, I see Suzuki and Benjamin taking it for stable-breaking encounter with Smith and Archer. Whatever happens, I just hope it can live up to the standards that New Japan has set throughout 2013.

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