Breaking Down & Predicting The World Tag League 2019
As the year in pro wrestling winds down, that means we get the final annual tournament from New Japan Pro Wrestling in World Tag League. Last year’s outing for this tournament was very lackluster, so hopefully this year will be better. We have a few interesting pairings, a trio of two time World Tag League winners, and the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions in the tournament. One of the very few flaws that New Japan has right now is the fact that they don’t focus on their heavyweight tag team scene a lot, as there is only about four or five teams that are seen as legitimate threats in the division. Maybe that can change this year and we see some new partnerships made and kept for the road to come. The winners get an IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship match at Wrestle Kingdom 14, so there is a lot on the line for the 15 teams in the field that aren’t the champions. Let’s jump right in and see who I think will be raising those trophies high at the end of the tournament and getting the match at Wrestle Kingdom.
16) Hirooki Goto & Karl Fredericks
I kind of struggled with where to place this team, simply because of the fact that I don’t know exactly what to expect from them. Fredricks is nowhere near ready for excursion yet, but Hirooki Goto is someone who has started to reestablish his footing in the New Japan landscape. It won’t hurt Goto if they go winless in the tournament, but that’s the thing, I don’t know if that will happen. I can see them getting a few wins here and there with Goto getting some wins. It will be interesting to see what Fredricks has learned in his time in the LA Dojo learning from the likes of Goto and Katsuyori Shibata.
15) Manabu Nakanoshi & Yuji Nagata
When World Tag League comes around, a lot of the older wrestlers, commonly referred to as the granddads of New Japan, get a chance to do a few shows over about a month span due to the thinness of New Japan’s tag team division. There is also the lack of huge names like Tetsuya Naito and Kazuchika Okada, so we get to see legends like Manabu Nakanishi and Yuji Nagata take to the ring and have some matches. These guys have done a lot in their prime, and have reached the absolute mountain top. Both are former IWGP Heavyweight Champions (Nagata has 2 reigns), and both are former IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions, and they have a reign together. While it’s nice to see them back in the ring, nobody should have super high expectations for this team in a tournament like this. There is a reason that they are only there for a couple tours of the year.
14) Toru Yano & Colt Cabana
These two have been flirting with the idea of teaming up all year, and now we get to see it happen. While Yano has been used as a comedy wrestler for the most part, he is such a talented wrestler when he actually gets to wrestle, like he did in the G1 Climax last year. Die hard Indy wrestling fans know how talented Colt Cabana is, but he has aged quite a lot since his peak Indy years. I am curious if we see this team a lot more, because these two have a great comedy chemistry and they do have some in ring chemistry as well. With the need for new teams in New Japan, we might see more of Yano and Cabana .
13) Hiroshi Tanahashi & Toa Henare
This team is kind of weird to me, especially considering the fact that we already know what Hiroshi Tanahashi is doing on one of the nights of Wrestle Kingdom, since they announced that Wrestle Kingdom 14 will be a two day event this year. He is set for a dream match against Chris Jericho, but that is on the second night, so Tanahashi is free the first night and it is unknown which day of Wrestle Kingdom the World Tag League winners will receive their title shot. I’ve grown to become a fan of Toa Henare as well, and you can see that he has come a long way in his in ring development. I feel like if he can find a consistent tag team partner, Henare could become a threat in the heavyweight tag team division. That’s the reason that I don’t have this team that high in these rankings, they aren’t usually a team. The main hope that I have for this team is that they let Henare pick up some big wins and it’s not Tanahashi picking up all the wins for this team.
12) Bad Luck Fale & Chase Owens
The teams ranked from 12 to 9 were very close, but all of these teams could’ve been better parings. Allow me to explain it here. One of the teams that we’ve been seeing in New Japan for the past two years in different six man tag matches has been Chase Owens and Yujiro Takahashi along with one other member of Bullet Club. Fale has been mainly seen running with Guerrillas of Destiny and had very little interaction with Owens over the past year, so why are they together in this tournament? Yes, all of Bullet Club outside of Jay White and G.O.D. is pretty interchangeable, but I like consistency in my tag team tournament participants damnit! Owens is someone that can really be an asset to the heavyweight tag team division if he gets put with the right tag team partner, that partner won’t be Fale, which is why I don’t have this team ranked pretty high.
11) KENTA & Yujiro Takahashi
I honestly think that Fale should’ve been paired with KENTA. Fale could be in the role of a bodyguard for KENTA so that KENTA goes into Wrestle Kingdom 14 unscratched as NEVER Openweight Champion. The main reason that I have this Bullet Club duo ranked higher than the one below it, is because of KENTA being the NEVER Openweight Champion. With the potential match of KENTA and Katsuyori Shibata, they are going to want to keep KENTA looking strong and safe for that match, so Yujiro is probably going to be the one taking a majority of the pin falls and KENTA gets the wins. Yujiro is someone is someone that has kind of just been there for the past few years. That is the other reason that I think it would make more sense to have Yujiro and Chase as a team.
10) Taichi & Zack Sabre Jr
Why couldn’t we just get Zack Sabre Jr. and Minoru Suzuki as a team in this tournament! They had the chance to put them together the past two years, yet they haven’t done it. That being said, I am not against the team of ZSJ and Taichi. Both guys had decent G1 Climaxes, but both could’ve had better tournaments. They are both also in a weird spot in New Japan, as it seems at times they have the company behind them, but they can never get to the next level of the card. With the departure of Davey Boy Smith from Suzuki-Gun and New Japan, the Suzuki-Gun stable is missing a real heavyweight tag team. While I don’t think Sabre and Taichi are the long term answer, I can see them being one of the dark horse teams of this tournament. With how powerful and hard hitting Taichi is and how slick and elusive Sabre is, it is a real interesting tag team that can pull some upsets during the tournament.
9) Minoru Suzuki & Lance Archer
See the first sentence of the last entry and repeat it here. I don’t really know what to expect from this team here. You have Lance Archer who is having the year of his career and the current IWGP United States Champion, and Minoru Suzuki who very rarely takes a pin fall loss in tag team action. This duo has had success in this tournament in the past, winning World Tag League when it was still called the G1 Tag League in 2011. I think that this is where the contenders to win the tournament start as well. Both Archer and Suzuki are brutal strikers, but in their own ways. Archer is the brutal striker that takes his time and wears you down, while Suzuki is the type that wants to cave your chest in. While I think that these guys will put up a lot of points, I don’t think that they will win the tournament simply because of the fact that Archer is the current IWGP United States Champion and will be defending that title at Wrestle Kingdom 14 already. Where does that leave Suzuki for the biggest show of the year? Only time will tell.
8) Shingo Takagi & El Terrible
Would I have preferred the team of Shingo Takagi and Rush? Yes, but I am not complaining with the choice of El Terrible being Takagi’s partner. I’ve done some digging, and found that Terrible has had a lot of success in his time in CMLL, and was ranked as high as number 20 on the PWI 500 back in 2014. As one of the members of the original Los Ingobernables stable in Mexico, it’s nice to see Terrible make the journey to Japan to join his fellow Ingobernables in Japan. This is also a bit of an interesting pair, as Takagi and Terrible have never had any interaction at all and the language barrier will be something that they have to figure out and overcome. This year was also the first year that Terrible has been in a New Japan ring since 2013. It will be interesting to see how quickly these two gel, and if we see more cross promotion from the original Los Ingobernables stable and Los Ingobernables de Japon, then I am all for it.
Like with Manabu Nakanishi and Yuji Nagata earlier, this tournament lacks the big names, so the veterans get a chance to come out and work a few shows. So why are Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima so much higher than Nakanishi and Nagata? Because of the fact that they are one of the most accomplished wrestlers in New Japan history. Both are multi time IWGP Heavyweight champions, Tenzan having four reigns while Kojima has two, and both are former G1 Climax winners, Tezan getting his three in 2003, 2004 and 2006 while Kojima won his in 2010. But if you think that’s impressive, their tag team numbers are even more impressive. Tenzan has won 12 IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships and Kojima has won 7, and they have six reigns together as a Tencozy. They have found success in this tournament as well, as they have won two World Tag Leagues, back when it was still called the G1 Tag League, in 2001 and 2008. A team winning two World Tag Leagues doesn’t mean a third one is a guarantee, as no team has ever won three World Tag Leagues, but Tencozy does have a bit of a cheat to that system. While no team has won three World Tag Leagues, Tenzan has won four and Kojima has won three. This is my sleeper pick, simply because of the fact that New Japan has a very thin tag team division. Plus I wouldn’t mind seeing the Mongolian chops of Tenzan getting one more big match in his career.
6) Jeff Cobb & Mikey Nicholls
I really like this parring, as it has the feel of The Mighty Don’t Kneel back in the day when Mikey Nicholls was in Australia teaming with the likes of Jonah Rock and Elliot Sexton. This is the first time we will be seeing Nicholls and Jeff Cobb teaming up, at least to my knowledge, and it’s been a while since both of them were in a New Japan ring. Nicholls hasn’t been in one since Fighting Spirit Unleashed Philadelphia in September, and Cobb hasn’t been over to Japan since the end of the G1 Climax. Both guys have found success in the tag team ranks, as Nicholls is a two time GHC Tag Team Champion in Pro Wrestling NOAH with Shane Haste (Shane Thorne in NXT), and Cobb had a long running partnership with Matt Riddle as the Chosen Bros. This is the main reason that I have them ranked as highly as I do, both know their way around the tag team ranks, and could be a force to be reckoned with in this tournament. One thing that is interesting is that Cobb has no affiliation with CHAOS, while Nicholls is a member. One thing that the CHAOS stable is missing is a heavyweight tag team, and I think that they have the pieces for one, and Nicholls is a part of the answer, but the other part is not Cobb, that person is a little later in the rankings. That being said, it will be interesting to see how quickly these two gel together, how well they work together, and how well they can do in this tournament.
5) EVIL & Sanada
This is EVIL and SANADA’s fourth tournament and in their first three all they did was tie for the block win in 2016, and win the entire tournament in 2017 and 2018. Yet why are they only number 5 in these rankings? Well a multitude of reasons. One is the rumor of EVIL possibly leaving Los Ingobernables de Japon, and being a singles star on his own. While I don’t really like that idea, I can see EVIL doing just that on the final night of the tournament, regardless of if they make the finals or not. Another is the fact that SANADA is still, from my research, not signed to a New Japan contract. I’ve said this before, but I very rarely pick people not under contract to do well in tournaments like these. You add in how horribly both EVIL and SANADA have been booked outside of the tag team division, I fear that that luck will leak over to the tag division as well. Both guys are so over with the crowd, yet the best they can manage seems to be is winning World Tag League and getting the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships at Wrestle Kingdom. The third reason is that no team has never won three World Tag Leagues, as I mentioned in the Tencozy entry. EVIL and SANADA are trying to win their third straight, which bodes even worse for them as the only other three teams that had a chance to win three straight (Antonio Inoki & Hulk Hogan in 1982 and 1983, Hiroshi Hase & Keiji Mutoh in 1993 and 1994, and Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma in 2015 and 2016) all weren’t even teams in the year they could’ve gone for their third straight tournament win. While they are one of the more talented teams in this tournament, the history that they are chasing is not on their side. The in ring ability is there, but with all the questions about these two’s time as a team, how long they’ll stay in LIJ, and how long one of them may be in the company, it looks like a very slim chance for EVIL and SANADA to be the first ever team to win three straight and three overall World Tag Leagues.
4) Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma
How nice is it to see this team back together. They didn’t enter the tournament together for the past two years, due to Tomoaki Honma’s cervical vertebrae injury. Honma couldn’t move his arms or legs for a few days, but vowed to return to the ring, and June 23, 2018, he did just that. Togi Makabe has been here and there, but he hasn’t really been a part of a major story in a long time. Makabe is currently one third of the NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Champions with Ryusuke Taguchi and Toru Yano, but that’s really it recently. Now these two have the same problem that EVIL and SANADA have this year. Makabe and Honma have won two World Tag Leagues, 2015 and 2016, and are coming into this years tournament looking to make history as the first team to win their third tournament. They are also trying to win their third straight since they weren’t a team in the past two years. So why do they rank higher than the other two time tournament winners on these rankings? A small part of that is because these guys contracts and futures aren’t a question, and they have the experience edge, but the main reason is because these two can be full time members of the tag team division while EVIL and SANADA are always going between singles and tag team divisions. If New Japan wants to build the tag team division up, they don’t have far to turn with Makabe and Honma on their roster. Makabe has given a lot to the singles division, and Honma has never been a singles threat, so I think that it’s time for both to reform Great Bash Heel and focus on becoming two time IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions.
3) Juice Robinson & David Finlay
Originally I had these two at number one in these rankings, but there is a nagging feeling in the back of my head that says that it’s too early for them to pull the trigger on FitJuice getting to the top of the tag team mountain. I really enjoy the dynamic of David Finlay and Juice Robinson as a team, but I’m not sure how long it will last. We’ve seen Juice find singles success as a two time IWGP United States Champion, so I don’t know if he wants to move down to the tag team ranks. However, Robinson’s singles success is why I have this team ranked so highly, as with how poor the tag team division is, it’s likely that FitJuice makes a deep run this year. If Robinson is dedicated to being a tag team with a friend he has in Finlay, then this team could become a real threat in the tag team division. Finlay is the perfect fit for the tag team division, as he is a solid competitor, but not ready for the singles division yet. He just needs a full time partner, and he could become a threat to the heavyweight tag team championships. Like I said earlier in this entry, if Juice can commit to being in the tag team ranks, then maybe this is a team that wins this tournament and surprise some people along the way.
2) Guerrillas Of Destiny
These guys just can’t catch a break when it comes to World Tag League. They’ve been in three consecutive World Tag Leagues, they’ve been to three straight World Tag League finals, and have finished as the runner ups all three years, and I think that they go four for four with that record. It was a bit hard to place the Guerrillas of Destiny, simply because of the fact that they are the current IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions, and it’s become a rarity for the champions to win tournaments that they compete in. But with how nonexistent the New Japan heavyweight tag team division is, I can see a scenario where Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa finally break through and win the tournament. If they do, then they would get to pick their opponents for Wrestle Kingdom, and knowing the type of heels that Bullet Club is, they would probably try to pick the team in the tournament that scores the least points, or just two random young lions. The Guerrillas have been the best tag team over the past four years in New Japan, and the stats back it up. They are five time IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions with an average reign of 107 days. Add in three reigns as NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Champions, two with Fale and one with Taiji Ishimorii, and a reign as Ring of Honor Tag Team Champs and the case is there. All that’s missing is that World Tag League win, and I don’t think that it’s such a farfetched claim to say that G.O.D. might be the best team to never win World Tag League. Are they the best team in this year’s field? Yes. Will they get the job done on their fourth try? Only time will tell, but I don’t think that they will, simply because of the fact that they are already the champions. Sorry G.O.D., maybe the fifth time will be the charm.
1) Tomohiro Ishimori & YOSHI-HASHI
Is this a bit of a surprise at number one? Yes, but I have good reasons for why they are. Let’s start with Tomohiro Ishii. Ishii has been with New Japan in some capacity since 2004, yet he’s only mustered five reigns as NEVER Openweight Champion, and a one day reign as NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Champions, but there is one other reign that kind of goes unnoticed on Ishii’s resume. At Wrestle Kingdom 11, Ishii teamed up with Toru Yano to take on Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma and G.O.D. for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships, and Ishii and Yano won. They would hold the titles until March when Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Satoshi Kojima would take the titles from them. Ishii is someone who is well versed in the art of tag team wrestling, but what about his partner YOSHI-HASHI? Well YOSHI-HASHI has been in five World Tag Leagues, four with Kazuchika Okada and one with Hirooki Goto, and has averaged just under 7 points in a different format from this year’s format. Also, since returning from injury in the early part of this year, YOSHI-HASHI has looked the best he has in his entire career, and hungrier than ever as he should be. Since he returned from excursion in 2012, he has yet to win a championship in New Japan. He’s had opportunities, like earlier this year he had the shot at Zack Sabre Jr’s RevPro British Heavyweight Championship, but came up just short. I think if there was ever a time to pull the trigger on YOSHI-HASHI winning a championship, now would be the perfect time. He has a great partner in Ishii, but my only complaint in this team is that I think it would’ve been better if it were YOSHI-HASHI and Mikey Nicholls. Those two would be the perfect pairing for a heavyweight tag team in CHAOS. But when you look at the team of Ishii and YOSHI-HASHI, they have something that they want to prove. Ishii has had a bit of a down year, where he was one of the favorites to be in contention for the B Block win in the G1, but finished deep in the pack with 8 points, and he wants to end it on a high note with a tournament win and a title shot at Wrestle Kingdom. YOSHI-HASHI wants to prove that his resurgence this year isn’t a fluke and he can hang with the big names in any division. At the end of the day, I think that Tomohiro Ishii and YOSHI-HASHI will be holding those World Tag League trophies high and have a date with G.O.D. for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships on the line at Wrestle Kingdom 14.