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NJPW WORLD TAG LEAGUE 2023 NIGHTS 1-4 RECAP
AIRED LIVE ON NJPW WORLD
BY CHRIS LANSDELL, PWTORCH.COM CONTRIBUTOR
WORLD TAG LEAGUE 2023 NIGHTS 1 & 2 RECAP
This year’s World Tag League is underway, and my plan is to bring you recaps from each round of matches until we reach the last night of round-robin matches. Then I will endeavor to bring you a more detailed report as the tension ratchets up a notch. If you aren’t sure what the tournament is or who’s involved, you can read my World Tag League primer from last week.
A Block Night 1 – Korauken Hall
GATES OF AGONY (Toa Liona & Bishop Kaun) (0) vs. TMDK (Mikey Nicholls & Shane Haste) (0)
Alex Zayne was with Chris Charlton on commentary. Gates of Agony came out in some intricate tribal gear, nominally representing AEW but carrying the ROH Six-Man titles. TMDK is a great choice of opening opponent for Gates of Agony, as there’s no language barrier and TMDK has a lot of experience in Japan. I was surprised to see that the Japanese fans not only seemed to know Gates of Agony, but were happy to see them. I expected they would win the fans over by the end of the tournament, but it seems they have a head start.
The inexperience of GoA in general, and in Japan specifically, was unfortunately evident here. On offence they looked good, especially Bishop Kaun, but they were less convincing when on the receiving end. There were a few occasions where TMDK were visibly frustrated with the positioning and lack of cooperation. GoA have been pushed as monsters who don’t really have to be selling most of the match, so that lack of experience should not be a surprise.
No upsets in our opening contest, as TMDK picked up the win after Nicholls broke up a double team move with a low bridge sending Liona to the floor, and TMDK connected with the Tankbuster.
WINNERS: TMDK (2 pts) via pinfall in 11:00. (**)
HOUSE OF TORTURE (Evil & Yujiro Takahashi) (0) vs. CHAOS (Toru Yano & Tomohiro Ishii) (0)
The presence of Dick Togo at ringside did not augur well for a clean contest, and indeed House of Torture jumped Yano and Ishii during the latter’s entrance. With Yano to counter the nefarious tactics of House of Torture I expected this to be short and full of shenanigans.
I was right on both counts. This was not a good match even without all the extracurriculars, but of course there were ref bumps and low blows and weapon shots. The referee was off his game and on more than one occasion his distractions were contrived and looked even worse. Yano looked very slow, and Evil looked unmotivated. An entirely forgettable affair all around.
The finish came after a low blow, a spray of whisky from the interfering Kanemaru, and Everything is Evil to Yano.
WINNERS: House of Torture (2 pts) via pinfall in 9:00. (*)
BULLET CLUB WAR DOGS (Alex Coughlin & Gabe Kidd) (0) vs. KAITO KIYOMIYA & RYOHEI OIWA (0)
It’s something of a surprise to see this in the semi-main event, as New Japan calls the second-last match. Kiyomiya and Kidd have some history from the G1 when they wrestled to a double countout, which might explain the position of this match.
Kidd and Kiyomiya jawed at each other from the outset, and started off brawling with each other before the bell. The difference in standing between one of NOAH’s aces and a young upstart like Kidd is stark. Oiwa is currently on excursion in NOAH but he looks ready to go already. The man is put together and has good presence to go along with solid ring skills.
As we’ve come to expect from the War Dogs, this one was stuff. Coughlin and Oiwa especially exchanged some nasty slaps and chops that would have made even Suzuki and Nagata proud. Kidd and Kiyomiya just looked like two people who hate each other, which can often lead to clunkiness but in this case added a dimension to the match.
In something of a letdown, this one came to an anticlimactic end with Kiyomiya sliding in under the ropes at 19 for the countout win. The physicality didn’t stop there though as Kidd and Kiyomita kept on beating each other down, and I for one would love to see them go one-on-one.
On the strength of this performance I might have undersold Oiwa and Kiyomiya as a unit. Oiwa looks REALLY good. Kiyomiya, despite an inauspicious G1, is still a major star. This result is the first surprise of the tournament, but as I mentioned in my primer the New Japan playbook often has a block winner lose early.
Watch this match. A tremendous blend of brutal physicality and technical prowess.
WINNERS: Kiyomiya & Oiwa (2 pts) via countout in 13:00. (***½)
UNITED EMPIRE (Henare & Great-O-Khan) (0) vs. REN NARITA & SHOTA UMINO (0)
I had high hopes for this one, all four men can really go and all four are young guns. O-Khan was in the Young Lion class ahead of Narita and Umino, and Henare was just ahead of that. It would not be a stretch to say that this match represented the future of the promotion.
I have to say, this match lacked that dynamic touch. The action was pretty standard fare for a New Japan main event, but none of the competitors (save perhaps O-Khan) had the gravitas to hook the viewer. Umino tried in his extended one-on-one with Henare, but only once did he take heat long enough to make it feel like he was in peril.
Not that this was a bad match. It just lacked…I guess personality is the right word? Maybe soul is a better one? It felt like four men exchanging moves but without any real purpose to it. The finish came out of nowhere as well, and was (to me) the second surprise of the night. All in all it just felt lacking.
WINNER: Shota Umino & Ren Narita (2 pts) via pinfall in 24:00 (***½)
During this match Chris Charlton speculated that Will Ospreay signed with AEW because he felt threatened by the upcoming talent in New Japan, which is an interesting approach. United Empire is going to be lacking an obvious leader, unless Ospreay will be there more than we expect. Could Jeff Cobb step up?
Overall thoughts: We end the night with TMDK, House of Torture, Kiyomiya and Oiwa, and Narita and Umino picking up wins. Two surprises, two expected results. It’s far too early to draw any conclusions from that, but I think A block is greatly lacking in star power.
There was a lot of stiff hitting in these matches, more even than we would normally expect from New Japan. That said, some of the matches did feel clunky and disjointed for fairly long stretches. This could well be down to being the opening night of the tournament, and not having had the luxury of preview tags.
As much as I like Alex Zayne in the ring, I would not be sad if he never did commentary again. He had some good things to say, but there was zero energy in his voice.
B Block Night 1 – Korauken Hall
SOBERANO JR. & ATLANTIS JR. (0) vs. MINORU SUZUKI & YUJI NAGATA (0)
If ever a match defined the expression “clash of styles” it would be this one. The way Suzuki entered the arena suggested his sole purpose was to damage other humans. Suzuki and Nagata have so much history as opponents that there is literally a new documentary on their 40-year rivalry.
I’ll make no secret of my love for every interaction that Nagata and Suzuki have. They perfectly sold the “teaming up because we know we are the best choice for each other, not because we want to” dynamic, demonstrated by the chops they used for tags and the constant looks of mildly-disguised contempt they gave each other.
I would love to be able to tell you how the luchador team looked in their debut, but honestly they spent nine minutes having the tar beaten out of them. They got some flashes of offence that looked good, but they won on a fluke rollup against the flow of the match. Expected outcome, but we are none the wiser about them as a unit.
Nothing special about this match really.
WINNERS: Soberano Jr. & Atlantis Jr. (2 pts) via pinfall in 10:00 (**)
BULLET CLUB ROGUE ARMY (Bad Luck Fale & Jack Bonza) (0) vs. MONSTERSAUCE (Lance Archer & Alex Zayne) (0)
Fale has been gone from Japan for a while, helping to run the Australian dojo, and he looks to be in rough shape. Apparently, Taco Bell in Japan has a Zayne Combo right now, which is a pretty crazy thing to think about.
Bonza did most of the work for his team, as you might expect. He looked decent to good in the process, holding his own against the big man in Archer and the innovative Zayne. Fale tagged in once, exchanged a bunch of forearms with Archer, no-sold some shots from Zayne, and then tagged out to catch his breath.
I hope that as the tournament wears on, Fale is able to get back in ring shape and can actually carry his part of matches. Archer and Zayne picked up the win here with (shockingly) a pin on Bonza.
WINNERS: Monstersauce (2 pts) via pinfall in 12:00
JUST 5 GUYS (Taichi & Yuuya Uemura) (0) vs. YOTA TSUJI & ZANDOKAN JR. (0)
There were a couple of stories coming in here. Uemura and Tsuji have a rivalry dating back to their Young Lion days. Then in a preview tag match, Zandokan and Tsuji did an absolute number on the chest of Taichi, which was still bruised for this match. It would even get opened up in the late stages.
Even with so many young guys in the match, it felt a lot more important and carried more gravitas than the Narita & Umino-United Empire match from A block. I think there are a couple of reasons for that.
First, the presence of Taichi as an established and popular guy arguably a level above Great-O-Khan undoubtedly helped steer the match and keep the crowd interested. That’s likely why he carried the middle portion of the match for his team.
Second, I think Tsuji is at the top of the next gen talent ladder right now, and has already had a world title shot. With a relative unknown (in Japan at least) in the match with Zandokan Jr, the additional star power was important.
This was a weird match. Uemura and Tsuji kept attacking each other and brawling on the outside, even when they weren’t legal. Not only did the camera follow them, but there seemed to be no action in the ring in the meantime.Zandokan hit the knee of Taichi with a chair, which then became the focus of the assault by Zandokan and Tsuji.
One scary spot late in the match saw Zandokan hit a pop-up fireman’s carry into a K-driller piledriver, which looked amazing but could have ended Uemura’s life. Not only did he survive, but he was able to break up a tandem splash from Tsuji and Zandokan, leading to a Black Mephisto on Zandokan for the win. An awkward, confusing match that was good enough in parts to land in the middle of the scale.
WINNERS: Just 5 Guys (2 pts) via pinfall in 19:00 (**½)
BISHAMON (Yoshi-Hashi & Hirooki Goto) (0) vs. GUERRILLAS OF DESTINY (El Phantasmo & Hikuleo) (0)
Goto has been injured for the last few months, so it was an open question coming in how he would be able to perform. We also had an unusual situation with two champion teams facing off: GoD are the NJPW Strong tag champs, and of course Bishamon are the IWGP tag champs and the two-time defending tag league winners.
This unfolded much as any other match involving Hikuleo has unfolded. To the big man’s credit, he does seem to be sitting under the Lance Archer learning tree and also watching Undertaker tapes. He could do far worse. Whatever the case he has improved greatly.
It was however a tour de force for El Phantasmo, who broke out some very pretty moves here and really elevated the match as a whole. His tornado DDT off the back of Goto was the standout. The result was something of a surprise but it does suggest a title vs title match in the near future.
Goto seemed to be untroubled by injury. I have seen Bishamon in countless matches and they are always good, but I haven’t really seen them carry an opposing team yet. ELP did a lot of the hard work here, so although we cannot give them credit here for a good match we also can’t penalize them for it.
By NJPW main event standards this was lacking, but in a vacuum it was a good match with ELP playing the face in peril, Hikuleo playing an excellent vulnerable giant, and Bishamon trying everything they could to beat them.
WINNERS: Guerrillas of Destiny (2 pts) via pinfall in 20:00. (***¼)
Overall thoughts: Just the one minor upset to open up B block, with GoD taking the points from Bishamon. I am looking forward to the continuing antics between Suzuki and Nagata, as well as the (hopefully) continued winning ways of Monstersauce.
Having seen both blocks in action now, I do think the B block is stronger. However the tournament as a whole feels lacking in star power. There are a lot of “next in line” talents here, but very few who can sell tickets. Both nights in the first round were short of being a sellout, so that tends to support my theory. Still. It’s a condensed tournament and there’s plenty of action still to come.
WORLD TAG LEAGUE 2023 NIGHTS 3 & 4 RECAP
Welcome back to our continuing coverage of the 2023 World Tag League. Today I’ll be looking at the second round of block matches.
A Block Night 2 – Yokohama Budokan
Lance Archer joined Chris Charlton on commentary, and the man is a natural at this. More of him please.
GATES OF AGONY (Bishop Kaun & Toa Liona) (0) vs. CHAOS (Toru Yano & Tomohiro Ishii) (0)
I had a feeling that this would be largely a comedic affair with Yano being terrified of the monster heels. Indeed that’s how much of the match went, with Yano just getting beaten down and occasionally trying to outsmart his opponents. There was a disappointing amount of daylight showing on a fair few things in the early going.
There’s not much to talk about here, honestly. It was a paint-by-numbers match for any Yano team, with Ishii doing his usual spots as well. Once Gates of Agony settled into the match they looked a lot tighter on the attack. Both men sold well for Ishii, not that he gives you much choice in that regard.
In fact, the only notable thing about this match was the finish, which saw Yano hitting a low blow on both men and rolling up Liona for the win. I genuinely did not think the Chaos team would get the win here, but it puts Gates of Agony in an 0-2 hole.
WINNERS: Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano (2 pts) via pinfall in 9:00. (**)
RYOHEI OIWA & KAITO KIYOMIYA (2) vs. UNITED EMPIRE (Henare & Great-O-Khan) (0)
It’s remarkable just how different Oiwa looks already in a few short months. He is a beefy boy, and he has some real tools that augur well for his future when he returns to New Japan. Kiyomiya is under some storyline pressure in NOAH, where the current GHC champion Kano has told him not to come back if he doesn’t perform well. Something to watch, perhaps.
There was a very weird stretch in the middle where Oiwa and O-Khan had something resembling a stand-up grappling contest for a good couple of minutes. They exchanged suplexes but it was largely jockeying for position. I’m not sure if I liked it or not, but it’s worth checking out for the novelty alone.
United Empire needed a win here to avoid starting 0-2. They were in control for the majority of the match despite a breakout performance from Oiwa. Much as I predicted in the primer, Oiwa was in the ring too long and ended up eating the pin after a Dominator.
That leaves both teams on 2 points and puts some balance in the group heading into the last two matches of the night.
WINNERS: United Empire (2 pts) via pinfall in 14:00. (***)
BULLET CLUB WAR DOGS (Gabe Kidd & Alex Coughlin) (0) vs. SHOTA UMINO & REN NARITA (2 pts)
It took one match in the tournament before we saw the typical War Dogs tactic of jumping their opponents during an entrance. Umino coming in through the crowd does make him particularly susceptible to this tactic, to be fair.
Even more than in their opening match against United Empire, Umino and Narita found themselves against two guys who could also justifiably see themselves as the future of the promotion.
These four young men went HARD. This was an intensely physical contest with everyone looking impressive in stretches. It flowed better and felt more put together than the opening match for Umino and Narita. Given that War Dogs also had a good match against Oiwa and Kiyomiya, that tells you something about who is carrying the quality.
War Dogs would pick up the win after a series of near falls on Umino. They pulled out a bunch of double-team moves, and Narita kept breaking up the pin and getting thrown to the floor again. Ultimately a chari shot and a piledriver were the difference-makers.
Given the way the block seemed to be unfolding, I was not shocked by the result here. No matter the result in the main event, seven teams will be at two points. Well, barring a draw I suppose. Either way, it makes predicting the outcome of the group a real challenge.
WINNERS: Bullet Club War Dogs (2 pts) via pinfall in 13:00. (***½)
HOUSE OF TORTURE (Evil & Yujiro Takahashi) (2) vs. TMDK (Mikey Nicholls & Shane Haste) (2)
The worst thing about main event House of Torture matches is the increased time for House of Torture nonsense. That said, the commentators said that they thought TMDK might have the antidote to the shenanigans.
Spoilers: it mostly worked. Kosei Fujita did manage to yank Dick Togo off the apron once, but we still got the mass run-in and beatdown. The finish though came when Fujita cleaned house of the interfering Sho, Yoshinobu Kanemaru and Dick Togo. That allowed for a revenge low blow on Takahashi and a super Tankbuster for the win.
This leaves TMDK alone at the top of the group on 4 points. I think what we saw here with House of Torture will be how the tournament goes for them: if the shenanigans work, they win. If not, they lose.
For a House of Torture match containing the human equivalent of Nyquil in Yujiro Takahashi, this was not all that bad. Still skippable though.
WINNERS: TMDK (4 pts) via pinfall in 17:00. (**)
Overall thoughts: With 6 teams at 1-1 and 5 matches to go, even the winless Gates of Agony are still solidly in contention in A block. This round definitely felt better than the opening night, primarily because Gates of Agony looked less out of place and House of Torture got their comeuppance.
I think any War Dogs match is unskippable at this point, and I am starting to think I might have misjudged Umino and Narita. I still think TMDK wins the group, but it might be the Reiwa Musketeers taking the second spot.
B Block Night 2 – Aimesse Yamanashi, Kofu
There was no English commentary option for this event, so I am going purely off my knowledge here. Everything will be fine Chris. You got this. Gulp.
Wait, Hiromu is on commentary tonight? OK this should be fun.
SOBERANO JR. & ATLANTIS JR. (2) vs. BULLET CLUB ROGUE ARMY (Bad Luck Fale & Jack Bonza) (0)
We didn’t learn much about either time in the first night of competition, but I can say that this was an improvement for both teams. The CMLL unit spent much of their time selling against Nagata and Suzuki, but this was a more balanced contest and they were able to show what they could do on sustained offence.
On the other hand, we got an extended look at Jack Bonza and I was impressed. He’s a ground-based submission wrestler in the vein of Chris Benoit (purely in terms of wrestling), but with more of a vibrant personality in the ring. We also got more Fale than the previous match…which is to say he tagged in and out a few times.
The finish came out of nowhere, with Bonza once again being the victim. The match was just starting to pick up when boom, frog splash and pinfall. This was a fun, quality opener that performed its role of showcasing Jack Bonza admirably.
WINNERS: Soberano Jr. & Atlantis Jr. (4 pts) via pinfall in 9:00. (**¾)
ZANDOKAN JR & YOTA TSUJI (0)vs. YUJI NAGATA & MINORU SUZUKI (0)
The discord between Nagata and Suzuki continued in this one, and I am still and forever here for it. Unlike when we see it in Western wrestling, they didn’t start arguing because of miscommunication or spilled coffee; they have hated each other since literal high school.
Zandokan Jr. kind of looks like Macho Man cosplaying as a pirate. I have no follow up to that, but it’s true. Dig it.
Tsuji and Zandokan tried to meet Suzuki and Nagata where they live: in a slugfest. Zandokan in particular looked to beat the Murder Grandpas at their own game, leaving a large red welt on the chest of Suzuki.
It was a decent to good match, nothing about which to complain but also nothing outstanding. The finish, with Tsuji hitting a splash off the shoulders of Zandokan, was probably the best part.
WINNERS: Tsuji & Zandokan Jr (2 pts) via pinfall in 10:00. (**½)
BISHAMON (Yoshi-Hashi & Hirooki Goto) (0) vs. MONSTERSAUCE (Lance Archer & Alex Zayne) (2)
I do not know why this was not the main event of the evening. Everyone was on their game, especially Archer who has mastered the art of being an intimidating yet vulnerable big man. Hardly a five-star classic, but given the quality of matches in this tournament so far it definitely carried its weight. Indeed with another 5 or 6 minutes it could have been special.
Yoshi-Hashi continues to shed the tag of being a punchline for so many years, and more than holds up his end of the bargain in his team. It’s good to see what looks like a fully-healthy Goto showing what he can still do as well, putting the champs at full strength.
Alex Zayne’s unique offence was on display here too, but with the twist of Bishamon having scouted some of it. I do love that sort of thing, it speaks to the intelligence of the competitors.
The finish came when Archer threw Zayne onto Yoshi-Hashi on the outside, then hit a rising knee into the Blackout for the victory.
Traditionally, anyone who beats a champion in one of these tournaments will earn themselves a title shot. Assuming they don’t win the tournament, that shot will likely happen on the Road to TokyoDome shows in late December.
WINNERS: Monstersauce (4 pts) via pinfall in 12:00. (***¼)
JUST FIVE GUYS (Taichi & Yuya Uemura) (2) vs. GUERRILLAS OF DESTINY (El Phantasmo & Hikuleo) (2)
The problems with this show were perfectly demonstrated to start this match, as ELP had to basically implore the crowd to make any sort of noise. It looked to be a small building with sparse seating, and with empty seats to boot. I still think this match and the previous one should have switched spots.
I’ll be generous and say that the early pace in this one was a little short of what we’re used to. I expect that from Hikuleo but I was surprised to see that Taichi seemed to be moving through molasses in the ring. ELP and Uemura were a little better, but that just made the rest more jarring.
That said, things picked up when Hikuleo tagged in around the 14 minute mark. His hot-tag offence might be the best part of his game, and it succeeded in bringing the reticent crowd into the match with him.
All told, this match felt 3 or 4 minutes too long. False finishes are an accepted tool to make a match feel exciting, but towards the end of the match I found myself wishing they were actual finishes. It’s not that the match was bad, it just felt drawn out and like all involved knew they didn’t have enough to go twenty minutes.
In the end, ELP kicked out of the Taichi clutch rollup, tried his own version to no more success, and then succumbed to Black Mephisto.
WINNERS: Just 5 Guys (4 pts) via pinfall in 20:00. (**½)
Overall thoughts: I don’t think many people thought that the three teams at 4 points after two rounds would be Monstersauce, Just 5 Guys, and Atlantis Jr. & Soberano Jr, but here we are. Of course, the two teams I expected to be at the bottom are still winless, and there’s a lot of time for the two-point teams to catch up.
I could not really get into this show. Between the quiet crowd, the weird match order, and the pretty medium effort level from some people (looking at you, Taichi) the whole night felt a bit like a slog to get through. The hope is that it picks up over the next few rounds.
I’d love to hear your thoughts at email@example.com or on Twitter @lansdellicious . Thanks for stopping by!