December 11th, 18:30 from Fukuoka Convention Centre, Fukuoka
Today’s final will determine who wins the 2017 World Tag League and goes on to challenge for the tag titles at Wrestle Kingdom. A Block winners and Los Ingobernables de Japón representatives, EVIL & SANADA, face B Block winners and last year’s runners-up, Guerrillas of Destiny, in that match. Elsewhere, the card looks like a fun pick ’n’ mix, with KUSHIDA & Ibushi vs. Cody & Scurll, Roppongi 3K vs. The Elite and Okada & Ospreay vs. Hiromu & Naito among the festive treats on offer. Let’s get to it.
The decision not to include wrestlers who were already involved in major Wrestle Kingdom singles matches brought a greater level of uncertainty to the results, although there’s no doubt it sacrificed star power. Still, the inclusion of debutants like Chuckie T, Sami Callihan and Jeff Cobb added to my interest, and as I said last year, much of the intrigue comes from seeing how tournament-specific teams will work together and how outsiders will mesh with the rest of the roster. The overall quality wasn’t great, but everyone raised their game for the Korakuen Hall shows and particularly for the final block shows, both of which were consistently strong.
A Block winners SANADA & EVIL had a fairly low key tournament outside the opening and closing matches, but I’m pleased to see them progress to the final. Runners-up, Death Juice (Juice Robinson & Sami Callihan), were a regular highlight – a strange combination, for sure, but one that worked. Veterans Nagata, Kojima and Suzuki were each anchored somewhat by their respective partners (Nakanishi, Tenzan, Iizuka), while Bad Luck Fale & Chase Owens didn’t exactly inspire. Bullet Club counterparts Yujiro Takahashi & Hangman Page, meanwhile, delivered more often than not, but they never felt like contenders. Goto and YOSHI-HASHI provided a typically solid presence, contributing to many of the better matches and the best match of A Block in a decider vs. EVIL & SANADA.
B Block was of a far better standard throughout. Though Guerrillas of Destiny snuck through to the top of the pile, they were joined on 10 points by Killer Elite Squad and War Machine, both of whom had regularly good showings. The champions were a dominating presence and War Machine continued to demonstrate why they’ve become a mainstay over the past twelve months. Best Friends (Chuckie T & Beretta) and Elgin & Cobb had the best match of the tournament at Korakuen Hall, with the former adding a welcome dose of humour to proceedings, while the latter – judging purely on what I saw on-screen – meshed well as a team. Ishii and Yano did their thing and I continue to enjoy Yano’s fear of Tama Tonga, but their mid-table finish will be a disappointment to fans of the Stone Pitbull (e.g. me). Finlay & Kitamura proved an enthusiastic if not especially high quality team and it was pleasing to see the return of Henare, whose fiery toughness was on display in a well-matched team with Togi Makabe. Predictably, since both teams featured young lions, they finished bottom of the pack.
Katsuya Kitamura, Hirai Kawato, Henare, David Finlay & Togi Makabe vs. Jushin Thunder Liger, Manabu Nakanishi, Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan
Kitamura bit off more than he could chew, then Henare was subject to a beating from Nakanishi, Liger and Nagata, before Makabe was tagged and cleaned house. Nagata’s Exploder brought in Kojima to steady things up, then Kawato was tagged and his teammates joined him in a parade of corner splashes, but the opposition interrupted the pin attempt off a missile dropkick. Kojima turned Kawato inside-out with a lariat and that was that. Just a match. *1/2
Hanson, Raymond Rowe, Jeff Cobb & Michael Elgin vs. Bullet Club (Leo Tonga, Chase Owens, Yujiro Takahashi & Hangman Page)
Presumably anyone who’s reading this is familiar with the Michael Elgin situation. “Fuck Michael Elgin!” said Raymond Rowe to camera on Saturday’s final B Block show. Yes, quite. In any case, Elgin started us off by smashing Page to the mat and hitting the slingshot splash and a double slam to Page and Yujiro. Hanson was in, but a distraction allowed Bullet Club to rush the ring and take control, with the giant Tonga nailing a scoop slam. Owens succeeding in hurting himself by headbutting Hanson, which allowed the tag to be made to Cobb, who ran wild with slams and a pumphandle suplex to Owens. Switching gutwrench suplex and a standing moonsault to Page for two, but Bullet Club again seemingly outnumbered their opponents. Leo Tonga cleared the ring (to polite applause), while Cobb made the tag to Rowe. Page impressed with athleticism, but Hanson ducked the slingshot clothesline, setting off a parade of signature offence from all concerned. Rowe smashed Tonga with a couple of knees, then lifted him so he and Hanson could nail Fallout for the win. Heatless, but decent enough. Perhaps the crowd was aware of the awkwardness on the babyface team. **1/4
Bad Luck Fale vs. BUSHI
This isn’t quite as random as it first appears, since Bushi claimed a pinfall over Fale at King of Pro-Wrestling, which itself was a measure of revenge on behalf of his stablemate, Hiromu Takahashi, for the notorious attack on Daryl the Cat. Here, Bushi was quick to escape to the floor, but Fale dragged him back in, ripped off his t-shirt, then tried to rip off his mask. Fale twice lifted Bushi from the mat at two, wishing to continue the punishment, but Bushi misted him on the attempted Grenade then delivered a blatant low blow and the referee actually called for the bell! MX from Bushi to rub it in. Fale wins via disqualification, but gets no satisfaction. No rating, but I enjoyed the booking.
Death Juice (Juice Robinson & Sami Callihan) vs. Best Friends (Chuckie T & Beretta)
Juice and Beretta had a slick exchange, before Chuckie T got to show off a little, then Callihan interjected and wiped out Beretta with a suicide dive and finally Juice took out both opponents with a diving axe handle from the top to the floor! A breathless start. Back in, Beretta was isolated, eventually making the tag after hitting a tornado DDT. Chuck got the better of Juice once again, scoring a missile dropkick, but Juice fought back to nail a succession of right hands. Crescent kick to Beretta, spinebuster to Chuck, then a double-team corner clothesline and assisted cannonball to Beretta connected. Chuck avoided the same and sent both men to the floor before hitting a tope con hilo! Death Juice recovered back in the ring, but couldn’t hit their big finish, allowing Best Friends to score a double-team cutter for two. The match broke down, leaving Callihan alone with Beretta, with a Cradle Killer earning a near-fall. Powerbomb into Stretch Muffler from Callihan before Beretta almost got the win with a roll-up, then Beretta countered Callihan’s finisher attempt and he and Chuck nailed their version of Strong Zero for the three-count. A total spotfest and a bit rough around the edges, but it was good fun. ***1/4
CHAOS (YOSHI-HASHI, Toru Yano, Tomohiro Ishii & Hirooki Goto) vs. Suzuki-gun (El Desperado, Davey Boy Smith Jr., Lance Archer & Minoru Suzuki)
Poor Yano did his best to avoid Archer, but that didn’t last long, and the tag was quickly made to Yoshi, who combined with WTL partner Goto to briefly take control. Soon after, Davey Boy helped out to give Suzuki-gun the advantage while Suzuki directed traffic on the outside. The beating continued, with Suzuki using his rope-hung armbar to target Yoshi’s taped right elbow and applying a hammerlock until Goto tried and failed to involve himself. Davey Boy eventually let his side down and Ishii was tagged, but a reverse DDT soon put him down. Yano helped his partner out, which allowed Ishii to nail a lariat, then a further intervention saw Ishii suplex Archer! Goto and Suzuki traded elbows and Goto’s backdrop earned a two-count, then he blocked a Penalty Kick and countered the piledriver, but was isolated and subject to full-fat Suzuki-gun attention. El Desperado scored a spear for two, but Yoshi got rid of Suzuki and this allowed Goto to use a Sleeper and nail the GTR for the win. This was lively, but poor El Desperado deserves better than to be multi-man fodder. Still, a decent match. **3/4
Post-match, Goto called out Suzuki (having pinned him during the course of the World Tag League). Suzuki didn’t take kindly to this, saying that Goto had nothing to put on the line to deserve a title shot, to which Goto replied that he has his hair. So it looks like we have a hair vs. NEVER title match set for Wrestle Kingdom.
KUSHIDA & Kota Ibushi vs. Bullet Club (Cody & Marty Scurll)
Cody kissed Ibushi on the hand – Kenny won’t be happy! Anyway, the match started proper when Kushida and Scurll engaged in a tremendous exchange of pinfall attempts, then Scurll made Kushida pay for mocking the bird-flapping business by stamping on his fingers. He continued to target Kushida’s arm then tagged in Cody, who delivered a delayed gourdbuster. Kushida ducked, meaning Cody delivered the Disaster kick to Scurll, and Ibushi was tagged and nailed a dropkick and middle-rope moonsault for two, before Cody stopped the rot with an Alabama Slam. Back to Scurll and Kushida, with the latter scoring a cartwheel dropkick to Scurll and handspring elbow to Cody. Back to the Future was blocked, as was a jumping DDT, but Kushida nailed the overhead kick to put both men down. Cody flew in for a very nice springboard dropkick Doomsday Device variation, then took out Ibushi with a double-jump axe handle to the floor, allowing Scurll to land the Last Shot for two. Up top, Kushida managed to yank Scurll to the mat with the flipping armbar, but it was quickly broken up, then Ibushi delivered a springboard double stomp to Cody followed immediately by the Golden Triangle moonsault outside! Ibushi took Cody up to the ramp, but Cody laid him out with Cross Rhodes! With the referee distracted, Scurll threw powder in Kushida’s face and small packaged him for the win! Well, that was quite the sprint. Great match here – it did a sterling job of hyping two Wrestle Kingdom match, particularly Ibushi vs. Cody, which I am now officially looking forward to. ***3/4
Roppongi 3K (SHO, YOH & Rocky Romero) vs. The Elite (Nick Jackson, Matt Jackson & Kenny Omega)
Matt quickly tried to put Yoh in the sharpshooter, which led to everyone going head-to-head, then 3K cleared the ring with jumping knees and followed with running knees from the apron all round. Back in, Yoh eventually succumbed to the teamwork of the Elite, who then manufactured an extended series of superkicks off the apron (it’s difficult to explain) and an apron-hung swanton to both Romero and Yoh. The beatdown continued in the ring, but Yoh eventually managed to crawl through some legs to bring in Sho. The blond/gold member of 3K ran wild, then the whole team scored pinning combinations for two-counts. Romero’s Forever clotheslines were not, in fact, forever and Omega delivered Snapdragon suplexes to everyone before a triple superkick got a two-count. Sho was nailed with the V-Trigger knee, but avoided the One-Winged Angel and Omega was downed by Romero’s diving hurricanrana. The match broke down, with Sho and Yoh scoring stereo tope con hilos, but this left Romero alone in the ring, where Omega soon delivered the One-Winged Angel for the academic three-count. Another good match, heavier on the comedy, but it did the job. ***
As Omega celebrated, Chris Jericho appeared on-screen to deliver a promo ala Power Struggle, then when the video ended JERICHO WAS IN THE RING! He nailed the Codebreaker then smashed Omega with the US title belt and Kenny was busted open! Jericho went to leave, then returned to the ring, hitting English co-commentator Don Callis with a Codebreaker and attacking Omega once more, wiping the US champ’s blood on his face!
Jericho reluctantly left, the Bucks helped Omega to the back and Callis was stretchered out (and possibly out of New Japan altogether?). Very, very nicely done.
CHAOS (Will Ospreay & Kazuchika Okada) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japón (Hiromu Takahashi & Tetsuya Naito)
Okada landed the first significant blow with a big boot, but Naito replied with a spitwad and “landed” his reclining pose from a dive fake-out. The fight quickly spilled to the floor, where Naito slammed Okada on the ramp while Hiromu and Ospreay went back-and-forth. Back in, Ospreay used his athleticism to ward off LIJ, and Okada ran through his comeback routine to keep Naito at bay, but Naito wisely rolled away from the diving elbow and used a leg sweep to enable a neckbreaker on the apron. What a clever man. He nailed a missile dropkick, but Okada blocked the super frankensteiner and looked to cinch in his newly-added Cobra Clutch, only for Hiromu to stop him. Naito then delivered a tornado DDT to put both men down and Hiromu and Ospreay were back in. A fantastic exchange culminated in Hiromu’s Dynamite Plunger, then Okada and Naito got involved, with Okada nailing The Dropkick. Ospreay landed the corkscrew kick, but Hiromu countered the OsCutter to a German suplex, then Naito ran in to hit Destino and Hiromu followed with the Time Bomb to put Ospreay down for the three-count. A most enjoyable preview of things to come. ***1/2
Post-match, Naito asked the crowd who would make a better IWGP champion and Okada tried to attack him from behind, but Naito and Hiromu fought him off. Okada, however, blocked Destino and locked in the Cobra Clutch until Hiromu broke it up. Hiromu, in turn, was locked in the hold until he passed out. Okada stuttered like he was going to say “tranquilo” but settled for “forget it” instead.
World Tag League 2017 Final
Los Ingobernables de Japón (EVIL & SANADA) vs Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa)
A hard-fought exchange between Tama and Sanada ended with both men removing their tops, as is the custom at this time of year. The involvement of both men’s partners resulted in the fight spilling to the floor, where Loa slammed Evil on the ramp and Tama followed with a clothesline. Back in, the GOD stayed top with headbutts and a nice delayed back suplex from Loa, then a slick double-team combination earned a two-count. Loa brushed off two boots to the face, but Evil’s sidewalk slam enabled the tag to Sanada, who landed the double-leapfrog dropkick and a plancha, then tied Loa up in the Paradise Lock. Tama blocked the follow-up dropkick initially, then failed to apply a Paradise Lock himself, eventually giving Sanada the time to recover. Loa scored a Samoan Drop counter and Tama used a double-leapfrog chop, but Sanada ‘rana’d him shortly thereafter.
Evil was back in, and scored a discus clothesline and the assisted side kick, but referee Red Shoes was bumped and the GOD were quick to capitalise with a multitude of chair shots. Loa set up a table outside, but here was Bushi to mist both men before Fale ran in to deliver Grenades to both Evil and Sanada. GOD took the advantage once more, hitting a double-team Tongan Twist for a two-count, followed by a diving headbutt (Loa) and splash (Tama) for a near-fall. Sanada took out both opponents with a springboard dropkick, however, and Evil’s lariat earned another two-count. They went for the Magic Killer, but Tama countered into a Gun Stun! Backdrop to Tama from Sanada, clothesline and a spin-out powerbomb to Sanada from Loa. Back to the apron, then, where Evil and Sanada combined to put Loa through Chekov’s Table with the Magic Killer! Tama kicked out of Darkness Falls in the ring, but LIJ calmly nailed the Magic Killer. One, two, NO! Evil delivered the STO and that finally put Tama away for the three-count.
EVIL & SANADA are the 2017 World Tag League winners!
A decent match, but it must be said that the unnecessary middle portion with the ref bump and run-ins killed the momentum to an extent. Aside from that, it was well-paced and structured, but coming off two heated post-match brawls the crowd was slow in getting into it, although they got there in the end. Tama Tonga, in particular, looked really good today. ***1/4
Post-match, Killer Elite Squad came to the ring, faced off, and our Wrestle Kingdom tag title match is set.
Evil with the “Everything is Evil” schtick, the confetti falls and we’re out!
Final thoughts: A consistently solid show top to bottom, with plenty of development ahead of Wrestle Kingdom and a raft of enjoyable tag matches. Chris Jericho’s appearance certainly made this feel like a more significant show, while there were some very fun previews of the Tokyo Dome title matches. Good enough for me.
See you on January 4th!