By Chris Vetter, ProWrestling.net Contributor (@chrisvetter73)
New Japan Pro Wrestling “World Tag League 2023”
December 6, 2023 in Saga, Japan at Karatsu Athletic Stadium
Streamed live on New Japan World
World Tag League is a 16-show tournament spread over just 21 days, featuring 16 tag teams. They are split into two blocks of eight teams. It is a round-robin tournament, so each team will have seven matches. The top TWO teams from each Block will make the playoffs, as the Block A winner will face the Block B runner-up, while the Block B winner will face the Block A runner-up. The finals will be Dec. 10. This is night 13 and the final night of the A Block in action.
This is a large auditorium. There is a lower deck that is sparsely filled. Attendance is likely in the 800 range. We still have Japanese-only commentary.
* We have just three times competing for two playoff spots, as the other five teams are eliminated.
1. “Bullet Club” Taiji Ishimori, Jack Bonza, and Bad Luck Fale defeated Minoru Suzuki, Yuji Nagata, and Ryusuke Taguchi at 7:26. Yuji and Fale opened. Minoru entered and landed some kicks and punches to Fale’s gut. Fale hit a Stinger Splash at 2:00, and Bonza stomped on Minoru on the floor. Minoru applied a sleeper on Ishimori and he tagged in Taguchi, who hit some buttbumps at 4:30. Ishimori fired back with a handspring-back-spin kick. Taguchi tried to ‘direct traffic,’ but Minoru kicked Taguchi and whipped him into the corner on a heel. Funny. Bonza hit a hard clothesline on Taguchi, then a sit-out piledriver, to pin Taguchi. Solid opener.
2) “Los Ingobernobles de Japon” Bushi, Yota Tsuji, Zandokan Jr., and Shingo Takagi (w/Tetsuya Naito) defeated Tomoaki Honma, Tiger Mask, Soberano Jr., and Atlantis Jr. at 9:24. Atlantis Jr. and Yota Tsuji opened; Yota had a mask on for some reason but Atlantis ripped it off. Honma entered at 2:30 but he missed a Kokeshi falling headbutt, and the LIJ team put the boots to him. Zandokan Jr. hit a LOUD chop on Honma. Honma hit a brainbuster. Soberano Jr. entered for the first time at 4:30 and he traded quick lucha moves with Zandokan Jr., including a top-rope twiisting body press, then an impressive mid-ring huracanrana. (I don’t closely follow the Mexican wrestling scene, so I don’t know how well they know each other, but there is clearly some familiarity.)
Shingo tagged in at 6:30, but Soberano Jr. hit a tornado DDT on him. Tiger Mask entered and hit a series of kicks on Shingo. Atlantis Jr. hit a backbreaker over his knee on Bushi, then a dive through the ropes onto Yota. In the ring, Honma hit the Kokeshi on Shingo, and TM immediately hit a Tiger Driver for a nearfall at 8:30. Shingo fired back with a Death Valley Driver on Tiger Mask for a nearfall, and he was fired up. He nailed the Pumping Bomber clothesline to pin Tiger Mask. Entertaining. Tsuji and Zandokan Jr. ripped off the masks of Sobeano Jr. and Atlantis Jr.! They showed them off like trophies, as shirts were quickly put on top of the luchadors’ heads to hide their identity. (Young Lion Yuto Nakashima helped escort them to the back.)
* Again, I’m guessing here because we don’t have commentary, but it appears Naito teased letting Zandokan Jr. into Los Ingobernobles de Japon, but he turned and left the ring. Zandokan Jr. sold his frustration.
3. Master Wato and “Monster Sauce” Lance Archer and Alex Zayne defeated “Guerrillas of Destiny” Jado and El Phantasmo and Hikuleo at 7:31. Archer and Hikuleo opened with an intense lockup. They each hit a big clothesline but neither man went down. Zayne and ELP tagged in at 1:30 and I just realized I want to see these two in a singles match. ELP hit a suplex for a nearfall, and the GoD worked over Alex in their corner. Wato made the hot tag at 4:30 and hit a huracanrana on ELP. Archer and Hikuleo tried to chokeslam each other; HIkuleo wound up chokeslamming Zayne while Lance chokeslammed Phantasmo. Hikuleo and Archer rolled to the floor and brawled at 7:00. In the ring, Wato applied the Vendeval head and shoulders submission hold, and Jado tapped out. This preview really makes me look forward to their Block match Thursday.
4. Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada and “Bishamon” Hirooki Goto and Yoshi-Hashi defeated “Just 5 Guys” Douki and Yuya Uemura and Taichi and Sanada at 14:28. Sanada, Tanahashi and Okada in action really elevates this undercard. Yuya and Yoshi-Hashi opened, and Uemura hit some chops. Douki worked over Goto, who still has his neck and upper back taped, and J5G worked Goto over. Goto finally hit a clothesline and 7:00 on Yuya, but Taichi tagged in before Goto could make the hot tag. Okada finally made the hot tag and battled Taichi, and he hit a DDT for a nearfall at 8:30. Taichi hit a roundhouse kick and they were both down.
Sanada entered and hit a basement dropkick on Okada’s left knee, tehn he tied Okada in the Paradise Lock. Okada hit a flapjack at 10:30. Tanahashi tried to apply the Paradise Lock on Sanada but couldn’t get it figured out. Douki hit a doublestomp on Tanahashi’s stomach for a nearfall. Tanahashi hit some swinging neckbreakers on Douki for a nearfall at 13:00. Okada hit a dropkick on Sanada. Goto hit a neckbreaker over his knee. Tanahashi hit a High Fly Flow frogsplash to pin Douki.
5. “Gates of Agony” Toa Liona and Bishop Kaun (4) defeated Ryohei Oiwa and Kaito Kiyomiya (4) in an A Block tournament match at 11:33. Oiwa and Kaun opened with standing switches and working each other’s left arm. Kaun hit a German Suplex at 2:30, then he hit a sideslam onto the ring apron. Liona hit a senton splash onto Oiwa on the ring apron, and the GoA kept Oiwa in their corner. Kaito finally made the hot tag at 7:30 and he hit a top-rope missile dropkick on Liona. Liona hit a Black Hole Slam for a nearfall.
The GoA hit front-and-back clotheslines on Oiwa. They set up for the team slam, but Kaito made the save. Kaito and Oiwa hit stereo dropkicks on each GoA. Kaito hit a top-rope crossbody block on Kaun, and Oiwa hit a German Suplex with a bridge for a believable nearfall at 10:00, but Liona made the save. The GoA hit a powerbomb on Kaito. Kaun hit a Meteora on Oiwa. They hit their team slam, and Kaun pinned Oiwa. Solid match; both teams presumably expected to be better than 2-5.
6. “House of Torture” EVIL and Yujiro Takahashi (w/Dick Togo) (6) defeated Ren Narita and Shota Umino (6) in an A Block tournament match at 10:17. The HoT came out second, but Shota and Ren attacked them on the entrance ramp. (I start my stopwatch at first contact, as NJPW is so inconsistent with the rules. The bell sounded 40 seconds in.) Yujiro and Shota began, and Yujiro hit a Scorpion Death Drop. EVIL and Togo began beating up Umino on the floor. Shota finally went to make the hot tag at 6:00, but Ren turned and walked away! I didn’t see that coming.
EVIL kept working over Umino in the ring. Ren grabbed a folding chair and sat in the entrance ramp and watched as the entire HoT put the boots to Umino. Umino hit a Dragon Suplex on EVIL at 8:30 and fired up, but Togo snuck in behind him and choked him with his chain. He hit a half-nelson suplex on EVIL for a nearfall. Ren finally got out of his chair. Shota set up for the Death Rider DDT on EVIL, but Ren came up behind Shota and applied a sleeper. He tossed the lifeless Shota at EVIL, who hit the Everything is Evil uranage for the pin.
* Ren mockingly put one foot on Shota’s chest. EVIL handed Ren a chair, and he slammed it across Shota’s head! Ren ripped off his “Strong Style” T-shirt, and he slammed Umino to the mat. Ren put on a House of Torture T-shirt and celebrated with his new faction teammates. El Desperado was on commentary, and he stood up and his hand gestures showed his shock that Ren did this. So… what happens to Strong Style now?
7. “United Empire” Great-O-Khan and Henare (8) defeated “Chaos” Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano (8) in an A Block tournament match at 13:06. Ishii and Henare argued before the bell. They immediately traded shoulder tackles, then forearm strikes. O-Khan whipped Yano into a guardrail at 2:00, while Henare kept beating on Ishii in the ring, hitting a senton for a nearfall. Ishii hit a brainbuster. Yano made the hot tag at 4:30 but he immediately removed a corner pad. He got a rollup on O-Khan for a nearfall. Henare applied a Torture Rack, and he turned it into a TKO neckbreaker. Ishii hit a back suplex on Henare for a nearfall at 7:30.
Henare hit a Blue Thunder Bomb on Ishii and they were both down. O-Khan hit the Sheep Killer claw to the face and the UE got a nearfall. Yano hit a spear to Henare’s lower back, and they were both down at 9:30. Ishii got back in and headbutted Henare. Henare hit his Rampage football tackle and he was fired up. IShii hit an enzuigiri, then a clothesline for a believable nearfall at 11:30. Henare hit a sit-out powerbomb, but Yano made the save. O-Khan hit a running neckbreaker on Yano. Henare accidentally struck O-Khan! Henare hit a fisherman’s buster to pin Ishii! Both teams finish 4-3.
Vetter’s Take: This is where I wish we had English commentary. I now assume the BCWD win the next match and we have a two-way tie at 5-2… but if the BCWD lose… who is in the playoffs? We would have a three-way tie at 4-3. I wish a commentator could tell me.
8. “Bullet Club War Dogs” Gabe Kidd and Alex Coughlin (10) defeated “The Mighty Don’t Kneel” Shane Haste and Mikey Nicholls (10) in an A Block tournament match at 15:53. BCWD came to the ring first and they shouted at TMDK to join them. Haste and Nicholls ran to the ring, but they all began brawling on the floor against a wall, far from ringside. In the ring, TMDK hit their team DDT for a neaerfall at 4:00. Coughlin hit a German Suplex. Haste and Kidd traded forearm strikes while on their knees, then while standing. Coughlin made the hot tag at 8:30 and hit a gut-wrench suplex on Haste.
Coughlin hit a fallaway slam and was in charge. Haste hit a dropkick and made the hot tag to Nicholls at 11:00. Mikey hit some chops and a clothesline on Coughlin, and an impressive delayed vertical suplex. Kidd hit a rebound lariat on Nicholls for a nearfall at 13:00. The BCWD hit their team Muscle Buster for a nearfall on Mikey. TMDK hit a team suplex on Gabe for a nearfall at 15:00. Kidd hit a low blow and a piledriver on Mikey for a nearfall. The BCWD then hit a spike piledriver, with Kidd pinning Nicholls to win the match. While they both finish 5-2, it means the Bullet Club War Dogs are the 1 seed and will face the 2 seed from the B Block, while TMDK will face the 1 seed in the B Block.
Final Thoughts: So, we have two teams that finished 5-2 to reach the playoffs, two at 4-3, two at 3-4, and two at 2-5. No stellar matches on this night, as the big takeaway is Ren Narita turning on Shota Umino and joining the House of Torture. I admittedly never saw it coming, so I’ll say it was brilliantly done. I read a lot of criticism for Gedo’s booking in not having Ren and Shota reach the playoffs. Clearly, there were plans in place. The HoT are a boring heel faction, so maybe adding Narita will breath some new life into them.
The B Block finale will be Thursday. While I would love to see Monster Sauce i the playoffs, I will predict both the IWGP tag champions Bishamon and New Japan Strong tag champions Guerrillas of Destiny win their respective matches to reach the finals on Sunday.