By Chris Vetter, ProWrestling.net Contributor (@chrisvetter73)
NJPW has released the list of 16 teams in this year’s tournament, up from 10 squads last year. NJPW is returning to a two-block, round-robin format, with each team facing the seven other teams in their block. Just like other tournaments this year, FOUR teams will make the playoffs, as the Block A winner will face the Block B runner-up and the Block B winner will face the Block A runner-up on Dec. 8, with the finale on Dec. 10.
Besides the three AEW wrestlers in this year’s lineup, notable is the return of Hirooki Goto, who has missed a month since getting injured in a tag title match. Since then, his teammate Yoshi-Hashi has been wrestling in various six-man tags.
Five of last year’s 10 teams return. The notable teams not back are Aussie Open (7-2 a year ago) and Sanada and Tetsuya Naito (6-3). Also not back this year are Chase Owens and Hiroshi Tanahashi.
1. Shota Umino and Ren Narita. The oddball pairings continue, as El Desperado and Master Wato just came off a good showing at Super Junior Tag League. These two have been feuding for months and they will inevitably fight each other before or during a match before this is over.
2. Toru Yano and Tomohiro Ishii. Yano teamed up last year with Hiroshi Tanahashi and they finished 4-5. I would expect a 3-4 finish.
3. Great-O-Khan and Henare. Last year, they finished 5-4 and I’d expect a similar result of about 4-3.
4. Mikey Nicholls and Shane Haste. Last year, they finished 6-3 and they have to be seen as one of the favorites.
5. Alex Coughlin and Gabe Kidd. Last year, they finished 1-8 as both were wrapping up their Young Lion status. They will be greatly improved this year. 5-4 is the floor; they could finish 5-2 or higher.
6. EVIL and Yujiro Takahashi. Last year, they were 3-6. But as we saw in Super Junior Tag League, don’t be surprised if they cheat their way to a 4-3 mark.
7. Kaito Kiyomiya and Ryohei Oiwa. An intriguing addition. OIwa is likely to eat a lot of losses here but he”s so improved in just the past year, I hope they aren’t buried. Unfortunately, I’ll put them at 2-5.
8. Bishop Kaun and Toa Liona. Interesting to see this AEW/ROH team debut here. My guess is a 3-4 mark.
1. Hirooki Goto and Yoshi-Hashi. Last year, they finished 7-2 and won World Tag League. I’m certainly happy to see Goto is back, although I admittedly am not a big fan of this team. However, as the defending tag champions, it wouldn’t make any sense for them to repeat as winners. I’ll go with a 5-2 finish while not winning the tournament.
2. Minoru Suzuki and Yuji Nagata. Last year, Suzuki and Lance Archer were 4-5 but I had higher hopes for them. My guess is a 3-4 finish here.
3. Hikuleo and El Phantasmo. The NJPW Strong Tag Team Champs wind up in the same bracket as the IWGP Tag Champs. I’d expect a 5-2 finish.
4. Taichi and Yuya Uemura. I’d love to see this team be at or near the top but my guess is a 4-3 finish.
5. Yota Tsuji and mystery partner. A bit surprising this is the only LIJ team in this year’s field.
6. Atlantis Jr. and Soberano Jr. I’ve seen the luchadors just a few times and they’ll probably be 4-3 or 3-4.
7. Lance Archer and Alex Zayne. As I noted, Archer teamed with Suzuki last year and finished 4-5. Zayne has been fairly inactive this year; the seven matches here will likely match the total matches I’ve seen him have in all of 2023.
8. Bad Luck Fale and Jack Bonza. Fale teamed with Chase Owens last year and they finished 2-7. I don’t know Bonza, but my guess is a 2-5 finish.
Final Thoughts: The tournament begins Monday, November 20 and goes over 16 events. There are only four tournament matches on each of the first 14 shows, followed by the semifinals and finals. I feel like the A Block has a stronger lineup, but there seems to be room for some fun upsets in B Block.