The end of every year, New Japan Pro Wrestling presents it’s final tournament on the calendar with the NJPW World Tag League tournament. 2018 however will have a format change, instead of an A and B Block, every team will be grouped together with the two teams with the most wins going to the Finals. The winning team will get an IWGP tag team championship match at Wrestle Kingdom 13 on January 4, as per tradition. The former IWGP tag team champions and former IWGP Junior tag team champions, The Young Bucks, will not be on this tour for World Tag League even though they recently lost the IWGP tag team titles to Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa. Matt Jackson explained on Twitter that The Young Bucks were not even offered the tour but they didn’t feel it made sense to leave their families during the Holidays anyways. There will be fourteen teams for this annual tournament, which team will go down in the history books like previous winners, Hirooki Goto and Katsuyori Shibata or Great Bash Heel?
EVIL & SANADA
Last year’s winners and the former IWGP tag team champions, EVIL and SANADA are better singles wrestlers but they gel so well when they have the same objective in mind. EVIL brings the hardest hits and brawling, SANADA employs a lot more technique into his offense but it’s that dichotomy of styles that makes them a great team. Los Ingobernobles De Japon is a growing faction with the addition of Shingo Takagi to the Juniors division, Shingo and BUSHI made it to the finals of the Super Junior Tag League at NJPW Power Struggle, EVIL and SANADA could do the same with a back-to-back tournament victory.
Michael Elgin & Jeff Cobb
Elgin and Cobb teamed last year, debuting in the World Tag League, with mixed results but Jeff Cobb has made his foray to the roster as a singles competitor as well since. Nobody has more power than this team, Elgin also has some of the hardest strikes to mix up the action. Elgin won the NEVER Openweight Championship this year but it ended up being a very short reign for Elgin, losing the title back to Goto just eight days later. Elgin could use a real boost to his NJPW career and teaming with Cobb could mean a future tag team title shot, win or lose in this tournament. A singles match between these two sounds even more enticing in the future so maybe there will be dissension between these team members throughout the tournament.
Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi
Taichi is one of the most hated in all of Japan, Zack Sabre Jr being a part of Suzuki-gun will make this one of the most interesting teams on paper. Taichi has some very exciting Buzzsaw kicks when Taichi chooses to stray away from rule breaking, Sabre, on the other hand, is all grappling, all day and all night. Zack Sabre Jr is already scheduled to face Tomohiro Ishii for the Rev Pro British Heavyweight Championship at Wrestle Kingdom 13 on January 4, so don’t expect this team to g very far in the tournament but Suzuki-gun will make for a hard team to beat with two team members so different from each other.
Juice Robinson & David Finlay Jr
One of the least experienced teams involved and while it’s a long shot Juice and Finlay take the trophy home, several teams will be thrown off by just how much these young competitors have improved. David Finlay Jr is coming off of a recent tour of Mexico, Finlay has a mixed bag in his arsenal and the Stunner can hit an opponent in an instant, especially if the action spills all over the ring with four men involved. Juice Robinson had a disappointing and short run as IWGP United States champion this Summer until losing the title to Cody, Juice is dying for a comeback against some of the top stars in NJPW. This team has great potential for the future even if 2018 may not be their time.
TenCozy (Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima)
The fan favorite always in the tag team division in NJPW, TenCozy is such a popular and successful team because of their experience and willingness to put their ego aside for the betterment of the team. Hiroyoshi Tenzan has been around so long that he first won this tournament when it was the Super Grade Tag League in 1995 with Masahiro Chono. Satoshi Kojima is just returning from an ACL injury that forced him to miss this Summers G1 Climax 28 tournament. Kojima is more than a veteran with a stiff Lariat, WALTER was recently pinned by Kojima at Rev Pro Uprising to show how much Kojima has left in the tank. Even if this team doesn’t win the tournament, they will forever be remembered as one of the best to ever enter the World Tag League. TenCozy last won the World Tag League in 2008, ten years ago.
Manabu Nakanishi & Yuji Nagata
Nakanishi is one of the most rugged veterans in NJPW at fifty-one years of age, the former IWGP heavyweight champion can still lift up anyone with theTorturee Rack but he’s not quite as limber as he once was. “Blue Justice” celebrated his twenty-sixth anniversary in pro wrestling this year, Yuji Nagata is one of the smoothest transitional wrestlers ever with submissions. If any opponent has his arm caught by Nagata, it’s all over unless younger teams have a strategy against the main eventers of yesteryear. Nagata and Nakanishi may be finished in the G1 Climax tournament but the World Tag League tournament is still a goal in reach.
Best Friends (Chuck Taylor & Trent Baretta)
Wouldn’t it be a big shocker if Best Friends won the majority of their matches and went to the Finals of World Tag League 2018? Not because Chuck Taylor and Trent Baretta aren’t a capable tag team, but both are genuinely best friends just chasing their dream in Japan and acting as goofy as they want to be along the way. No team will have more fun but no team is harder to prepare for either, Taylor will be playing to the crowd one moment and nailing his opponent with a Piledriver the next. Best Friends made their World Tag League debut last year after traveling the American independent scene for several years and are now members of CHAOS.
Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano
The quintessential oddball team annually, this team always goes far and they receive IWGP tag team championship matches but their singles careers always put a half to their tag team aspirations. Yano has a legitimate background in wrestling but his antics rely on every dirty trick in the pro wrestling playbook, it’s always up to Ishii to bring the smash-mouth performance. Ishii could be a top player in any division, his alliance with Yan, however,r hasn’t proved to be very beneficial for either man.
Togi Makabe & Toa Henare
Toa Henare has been teaming with Juice Robinson and other partners for much of 2018 until now, Henare is attempting to break from the Young Lions into a powerhouse name in NJPW and tag team matches are a great way for Henare to remain on cards for the time being. One couldn’t find a better partner than Togi Makabe, who won the World Tag League with Tomoaki Honma as a part of Great Bash Heel in both 2015 and 2016. Henare and Makabe could develop into a perfect team with a big attitude, bigger muscles and the biggest drive. Henare just has to take down the opponent and set him up for Makabe’s King Kong Kneedrop, it may not be that easy though with this large of a tournament field.
Minoru Suzuki & Takashi Iizuka
Another Suzuki-gun team, Takashi Iizuka may look like just a brute but he is a former three-time IWGP tag team champion and also Pro Wrestling NOAH tag team title holder. Nowadays Iizuka is the hired gun for Minoru Suzuki’s faction, using his iron claw to tear up opponents, leading to a Suzuki-gun Icihiban victory and beat down. Suzuki doesn’t have a trajectory for Wrestle Kingdom 13 surprisingly, Suzuki could challenge for the IWGP tag team titles but it’s unlikely with Killer Elite Squad as Suzuki-gun’s best tag team already in the tournament.
Killer Elite Squad (Davey Boy Smith Jr & Lance Archer)
The biggest and the most dangerous of all these teams is Killer Elite Squad, Archer intimidates fans before he even gets into the ring although NJPW management has told Lance Archer to tone down the water spitting. The Killer Bomb is just one of the ways Killer Elite Squad could advance in this tournament, other big moves like Chokeslam are just added impact to the smaller teams they will be facing. Archer and Smith Jr haven’t been in the title mix since losing the IWGP tag team championships to Evil and SANADA this year, this is the time for Killer Elite Squad to dominate once again.
Adam Page & Yujiro Takahashi
“Hangman” Page and Takahashi have gone from lukewarm reactions under the Bullet Club banner to backing The Golden Lovers in multiple-man tag team matches at big events. Page had the most to gain, every time Adam Page steps in that ring it’s a new opportunity to learn from someone with sometimes decades of experience and possibly defeat them in the process. Ever since Page broke into bigger matches for Ring Of Honor Wrestling (ROH) and entering the G1 Climax 28 tournament, it’s only a matter of time until Page wins a trophy of his own and “The Tokyo Pimp” is more of an effective partner than some might think.
Shota Umino & Ayato Yoshida
Kind of surprising the highly athletic, Hirai Kawato, is not involved in World Tag League out of all of the Young Lion’s chosen. Umino is one of the best Young Lions though and he recently wrestled at Rev Pro/NJPW Strong Style Evolved UK in a loss to Yuji Nagata. It will be a couple years until Umino and Yoshida develop their characters and better their skills but this is a great way to get to the next step in their careers. Yoshida has been very good at the recent Destruction Tour and Chase Owens almost went down to Yoshida at NJPW Road To Destruction.
The Guerrillas Of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa)
Tama Tonga had the chance to move into singles competition this year, but at this year’s G1 Climax 28 tournament, the Firing Squad went back to old Bullet Club roots instead by forcing matches to go to Disqualification. Tonga is back with Tanga Loa and they captured the IWGP tag team championships from The Young Bucks at NJPW King Of Pro Wrestling in a war between former faction members. Now it’s up to Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa to keep that momentum going, or they could end up losing the tournament and the titles to a brand new team.