Sunday 15 December 2013

And That’s My Opinion - NJPW World Tag League 2013 Review By Dave Green (@dagreeno)

A few weeks back I gave you a preview to this year’s World Tag League from New Japan Pro Wrestling. Well the finals have been and gone, so here is a review of the final night and what this all means for Wrestle Kingdom taking place at the Tokyo Dome in January.

After a good few weeks of tournament matches, the block standings were finalised with The Killer Elite Squad and GBH as the top two of Block A respectively, while The Bullet Club combo of Anderson & Gallows topped Block B followed by the veterans Ten-Koji. This eliminated the chance of my original prediction of Minoru Suzuki and Shelton Benjamin taking the whole shebang, but never mind. Maybe my backup prediction of Ten-Koji getting their last chance at the belts would come to fruition? Let’s jump in and find out.

Match #1 “The Wrestler” Katsuyori Shibata vs Yohei Komatsu

Shibata has had a tremendous year and it was a damn shame he didn’t win the G1 Climax. He starts the match by no-selling all the strikes that Komatsu can dish out and proceeds to stretch and kick the youngster. Komatsu finally knocks Shibata down with a dropkick and running forearm, but Shibata blocks a slam attempt and hits a vicious open hand to the jaw and punt to the chest. A really tight Boston Crab gets the submission for Shibata. Total 3 minute squash, and Shibata walks straight back to the locker room. Shibata’s demeanour is interesting. He’s a legit tough guy and no-sells as such, daring his opponent to hit harder than he can. His seriousness in the ring really draws you into his matches, although this squash wasn’t a good example of that. This was simply done to keep him dominant on the road to the Tokyo Dome.

Match #2 – Taichi and Taka Michinoku (Suzuki-Gun) vs BUSHI & KUSHIDA

Junior tag team action now in a sort-of preview for January. KUSHIDA is the partner of Alex Shelley in the Time Splitters. They will reunite at Tokyo Dome as part of a 4-way tag for the Jr Tag Belts held by The Young Bucks, alongside the Forever Hooligans and Taka/Taichi. CMLL’s BUSHI fills in for Shelley while he recovers from injuries (seriously, if you haven’t done so already, find Shelley’s Twitter feed where he lists the injuries he’s picked up since joining NJPW and be prepared to gain a level of respect hitherto unknown!).

The faces start off with some great lucha dives, but Taka takes over with some standard rule breaking. The charisma of the heels is infectious, with such blatant cheating it actually entertains the fans, including after hitting a low blow and counting their own fast pinfall. Taichi does his standard ripping off his long tights, and I notice the knee brace he’s used every time I’ve seen him is gone! BUSHI gets a hot tag and hits a great double missile dropkick. KUSHIDA hits his Tajiri-style springboard back elbow. BUSHI misses a dive and the heels hit a double Air Raid Crash for the win in about 6-7 minutes. Decent enough match for its place on the card, really to warm up the crowd and get some momentum for Taka & Taichi.

Match #3 – NWA Tag Champions Rob Conway & Jax Dane vs Muscle Orchestra (Manabu Nakanishi & Strong Man) (non-title)

Oh dear. I always liked Conway back in his WWE days. Do I ever feel sorry for him here. Back in my preview, I said that if Nakanishi & Strongman got any points in the league, I would be shocked. They got 4 points. The NWA tandem surprised me by getting 6 points and coming close to the semi-finals. In an alternative world, this could’ve been the league finals.......anyway, let’s not think about that.
So, the was there. Kind of wish it wasn’t. Conway rakes Nakanishi’s eyes, Dane hits a dodgy looking spear and Conway wins with the Ego Trip in a 7 minute match that was 7 minutes too long.

Match #4 – World Tag League Semi-Final: Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows (Bullet Club) vs GBH (Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma)

Now this is more like it! Back in my preview, I said that this Bullet Club tandem was a possible semi-final team, so at least I got that one right! I also said that if it were up to me, GBH would be semi-finalists. 2 for 2! Really pleased they got this far, as Makabe has the badass vibe that the crowd clearly love, and Honma just makes everyone around him look good. Predictably Honma plays face-in-peril, making every move Bullet Club throw at him look like he’s being killed. Makaebe gets the hot tag and runs through Anderson with high power slams and lariats, until hits a spinebuster. Honma tags back in for a good back & forth with Gallows, hitting his trademark headbutts. Bad Luck Fale attacks Makabe in the aisle, leaving Honma 2-on-1 until he took the Magic Killer for the 3 count at 9 minutes. Fale choked Makabe with his chain after the match. This feud has been brewing for a while, so I gather it will result in a Wrestle Kingdom match. Good match.

Match # 5 World Tag League Semi-Final: IWGP Tag Champions Killer Elite Squad (Lance Archer & Davey Boy Smith Jr) vs Ten-Koji (Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima)

Two teams that know each other very well, having traded the titles between each other over the last year or so. In my preview, I saw this being Ten-Koji’s final chance at the big time. With their injuries and age catching up to them (especially Tenzan), it can’t be long before one or both of them hang up the boots (at least I hope they do before reaching a Nakanishi stage of embarrassment). So this could very well a Cinderella story. My prediction for KES was that they would get to the semi’s only to lose to the team that takes the whole thing. We seem to be going down that road.

Archer establishes his dominance over Kojima early with a stalling vertical suplex, reminiscent of his partner’s dad. Tenzan hits his trademark Mongolian chops early on as well (the crowd’s SSSSHHHH with each strikes shows he’s still very over). Kojima comes in off a hot tag with his rapid fire chops on Archer, following with the corner forearm followed by his unusual top rope elbow (another crowd chant spot). Archer cuts him off with a tremendous full nelson bomb. Smith with a Tiger Suplex for a close 2 count. Smith always looks shocked when he doesn’t win with that move – yet I’ve never seen him win with it, so why be so shocked all the time? KES with stereo powerslams. Tenzan goes for another series of Mongolian chops, but gets caught in perfect position for the Killer Bomb (Full Nelson / Tiger Driver combo) but it’s broken up by Kojima. Crowd really popped for that. Archer gets caught with the double Koji Cutter (aka the 3D) and Kojima hits his awesome Lariat on Smith, followed by a Tenzan moonsault for the 3 in 13 minutes! Great match as always from these four. Despite my reservation as to how much longer than can go, Ten-Koji are still a very over team and work so well with KES. The Cinderella story carries on to the finals.

Following this was the return of Hirooki Goto, announcing that he would return at Wrestle Kingdom to face Katsuyori Shibata. These men had some incredible matchups last summer, most of which led to double knock outs and draws. They were to fight during the G1, but Goto suffered a broken jaw courtesy of Tanahashi. Should be an epic rubber match.

Match #6 – Captain New Japan & Kota Ibushi vs Prince Devitt & Bad Luck Fale (Bullet Club)

This match came about as a result of the previous night’s action. Devitt & Fale needed to beat Captain New Japan and Tanahashi to get into the semi-finals. CNJ and Tanahashi had not won any block matches at all, with CNJ taking every fall. However the upset of the year happened as CNJ pinned Devitt to take the vital points needed to stop Bullet Club advancing. Also Ibushi challenges Devitt at Wrestle Kingdom, so this serves as a preview.

Ibushi gets the better of Devitt early on, and after Ibushi hot tags in, Devitt doesn’t enter the ring until Fale gains an advantage. Devitt dominates until Ibushi hits his backflip kick, which nearly misses, followed by a great Dragon Suplex. CNJ whips Fale into the barricade as Ibushi sets up Devitt for the top rope Phoenix Splash, which misses and both men clothesline each other. Tags on both sides sees Fale dominate until CNJ hits a Rock Bottom! However he misses a top rope headbutt, Devitt smashes him with a top rope double stomp. Ibushi hits his amazing running corner springboard Asai moonsault. Fale hits his Splash Mountain Powerbomb which knocks out CNJ and the ref calls for the bell in about 10 minutes. Good match with some nice exchanges between Devitt and Ibushi without giving too much away for their WK match. CNJ does a stretcher job to put over Fale’s new finisher. Well anything’s better than the elevated Samoan Spike he was doing before. Surprisingly there was no sign of Makabe after the earlier events.

Match #7 – Yoshi-Hashi & Takashi Iizuka vs Yuji Nagata & Kazushi Sakuraba

Nagata & Sakuraba feuded during the year which saw a nasty elbow dislocation to Sakuraba. However they now join forces to answer the challenge of the Gracie’s at Wrestle Kingdom. Here’s a warm up match against two individuals from the Chaos stable that I have extreme opinions of. I am not a fan Yoshi-Hashi by any means. He does not appeal to me on any level. Iizuka is not a particularly good wrestler, but he is a great brawler and an insane character. His constant abuse of one of the ringside commentators is incredibly entertaining. Tonight’s torture – spray painting his face and upper torso black. This match could be a train wreck. Sakuraba is a MMA fighter primarily and is not known for his love of wrestling psychology. Nagata is a legend, though, and can pull a good match out of most. Iizuka and Nagata brawl outside, during which Iizuka pushes Nagata away and leaps at the announcer again! Funny moment. Not even a minute after that, Nagata is thrown into a row of the audience. As the spotlight tries to find them, out of the darkness comes a father carrying his baby away from the danger zone! Only in Japan. Back in the ring, the match is not as interesting. Nagata hits nice belly-to-belly suplex and spinning heel kick and tags Sakuraba, who hits both Chaos members with roundhouse kicks, before strangling Yoshi-Hashi with his robe belt – no-one told him he was the face, apparently! Iizuka holds Sakuraba for a Yoshi clothesline...and it connects! That almost never works in wrestling! Yoshi hits a sloppy powerslam or reverse DDT or...something, it was that bad. Double roundhouse kicks for the heels, the camera misses whatever was happening to Yoshi and the faces lock in their respective arm submissions for a double tapout in 9 minutes. Sloppy match. The outside brawling between Nagata and Iizuka was fun, the rest was pedestrian. I have my fears for the match against the Gracie’s.
After the match, Nagata holds Iizuka for the announcer to get some revenge. While he’s talking, Iizuka lashes out at him like a dog in a muzzle, making the announcer jump back into the first row. Best part of the whole match

Match #8 – Minoru Suzuki & Shelton X Benjamin (Suzuki-Gun) vs Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano (Chaos)

Ooh this should be a doozy! Yano is a comic heel that’s pretty much loved by the crowd, Ishii is a cult favourite, Benjamin is Benjamin and Suzuki is badass to say the least. Yano and Suzuki pick up their feud with Yano bringing out handcuffs right away (Yano scored a win over Suzuki once by handcuffing him outside) but Suzuki gets them and Taichi at ringside confiscates them. A pier six brawl erupts with Ishii taking some hard bumps into the ringside barrier. The heels isolate Yano, who sells better than I’ve seen from him lately. He’s a former amateur wrestler, so he knows how to work when he wants to. Ishii comes in and seems to be having trouble taking Benjamin down with his lariat. Great forearm exchange between Ishii and Benjamin before Ishii finally hits a lariat. I wouldn’t mind seeing these two go one-on-one. Yano attempts his RVD pose several times. But keeps getting cut off. Nice double team sequence ends with a Benjamin spinebuster into a Suzuki cross armbreaker. Suzuki locks in his sleeper into the Gotch-Piledriver but Yano counters with a water spit into Suzuki’s eyes and a cradle, which is broken up by Benjamin. Oh boy – Yano hits a low blow and pours the entire contents of his water bottle on Suzuki. Suzuki slowly gets to his feet like Carrie after the pig’s blood, and proceeds to punch the crap out of Yano’s face. He cuffs himself to Yano so he can’t get away. Benjamin has the ankle lock on Ishii on the outside. Suzuki decks the ref and keeps beating on Yano for a dq loss at 14 minutes. A pile of Suzuki’s stable mates and youngboys try to pry Suzuki from Yano, who somehow manages to cuff Suzuki to one of the youngboys and scurries from the ring. Yano challenges Suzuki for the Dome show, which surprises me that they’d go there again after so many matches between the two. I personally really enjoyed this match but it wasn’t a must-see by any means.

Match #9 – 10 Man Tag – Naito, Tanahashi, Liger, Tiger Mask & La Sombra vs Okada, Nakamura, Tanaka, Takahashi & Gedo (Chaos)

Holy crap, that’s a lot of names in one match. The double main event of the Dome show is the main focus here, but there are a lot of recent feuds in this match as well. Liger starts off strong against Tanaka and Gedo, amazing to me that he’s 50. It doesn’t take long for a brawl to erupt, with Nakamura and Tanahashi in particular pairing off. Tiger Mask hits a great Tiger Driver on Gedo before hot tagging Tanahashi. Preview of Tokyo Dome takes centre stage as Tanahashi and Nakamura exchange offense, teasing finishers before the other man counters. Tags made and here comes the other preview, as Naito squares off with Okada. They hit some great moves as Okada goes for the Rainmaker, but it’s countered with a forward roll kick. La Sombra is in and he hits an amazing split-legged moonsault. The match breaks down and it goes into the old hit a move, get hit with a move sequence. Naito counters the Rainmaker again with a uranage right on Okada’s neck! Dangerous. La Sombra hits Gedo with the Brilliante Driver for the win in 13 minutes. Excellent match that was all action. The double main event players engage in a dual staredown post-match.

Match #10 – Main Event – World Tag League Finals – Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows (Bullet Club) vs Ten-Koji (Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan)

Here we go then, the finals. All the Bullet Club is out for the match, so there MIGHT be some interference. A quick exchange sees Anderson distract Kojima so Gallows can attack from behind. Tenzan comes in but the Mongolian chops have no effect on Gallows. Tenzan reverses an Anderson suplex leading to Ten-Koji double teams. Devitt and Fale trip Kojima and attack him on the outside. See, told you there’d be interference! And from the Bullet Club no less, who’d’ve thought?! Anderson is such a good heel, constantly cutting off Kojima from tagging Tenzan and vocally taunting him the whole time. Yes it’s simple and old-school, but that’s why it works. Kojima hits a DDT on Gallows and tags Tenzan, who runs into Gallows with a shoulder block, but gets knocked down himself! Sloppy facejam by Tenzan, who runs into a bicycle kick. Anderson tries the Mongolian chops on Tenzan! Kojima hits multiple chops on Anderson in the corner, to the point where Anderson tries escaping over the top rope, but can’t. Anderson hits a running powerbomb. Gun Stun is countered into a brainbuster. Gallows is sent over the top rope. Ten-Koji hit the Koji-Cutter, Kojima hits the Lariat! 1.....2.....Devitt pulls the referee out of the ring! All the Bullet Club hit the ring to attack Kojima. Ah THERE’S Makabe out to get revenge. Double clothesline to Devitt and Gallows, Makabe brawls to the back with Fale. Tenzan hits a diving headbutt for a looong two count. Anaconda Vice is broken up. Tenzan moonsault misses. TKO by Anderson, only 2! Lariat, senton, big splash combo by Bullet Club only gets 2. Koji Cutter on Gallows, Gun Stun on Kojima, Tenzan fighting two men on his own results in a bicycle kick followed by a dropkick/samoan drop combo. 2-count again! There’s the Magic Killer and it’s over in 20 minutes. Bullet Club win World Tag League 2013.

Well they saved the best till last. It was actually kept relatively interference free, in comparison to other Bullet Club matches. Of course there was a screw job in there, as Ten-Koji had the match won. Makabe’s run-in sets up his and Fale’s encounter at Wrestle Kingdom. Seems my back up prediction of Ten-Koji getting their last shot by winning this didn’t pan out, but I’m not too bothered by that. I’m interested by the fact that Karl Anderson wins World Tag League for the 2nd year in a row and goes on to challenge KES once again at Wrestle Kingdom, with a different partner of course. Two monster heel tag teams at NJPW’s biggest show will be an interesting dynamic, with KES probably being faces by default. At least it’s a fresh match.

Overall, this was not a must-see show. New Japan has put on overall better shows throughout the year. While it succeeded in providing tasters for the forthcoming matchups at Wrestle Kingdom and didn’t give enough of those matches away here, it failed by providing too many listless and mediocre matches. I enjoyed both Ten-Koji matches, particularly the main event which was match of the night. The Bullet Club’s antics are benefitting from the less-is-more approach, the 10-man tag was great and I always enjoy Yano’s antics. But I was left feeling a little flat by the end of it.

At least that’s my opinion.

I’ll hopefully have a preview of Wrestle Kingdom up in a few weeks, so I shall see you there. Thanks for reading.

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