Last weekend Puroresu powerhouse New Japan Pro Wrestling held their Strong Style Evolved event in Long Beach, CA in their continued effort for international expansion. The show was largely praised despite being a nothing more than a glorified Road To Sakura Genesis show, littered with middle-of-the-road tag matches and a IWGP United States Title match featuring Hangman Page and Jay White that went 25 minutes. It was a one-match card that had the Main Event saved the show overall with another tag match used to build up the IWGP Heavyweight Championship contest for their big show this Sunday. Both tag matches served a separate purpose, but it showed a lot of promise for a division struggling to gain an identity.
Tag Team Wrestling Evolved
The main contest of the show was built around as a part of the Bullet Club breakup angle, with Kenny Omega reuniting with his longtime partner/friend Kota Ibushi as the Golden Lovers to face Omega’s Elite buddies The Young Bucks. Ever since The Bullet Club splintered between Team Cody and Team Kenny, tensions arose between Matt Jackson and Omega due to previous altercations. It was further exacerbated when Omega professed that The Golden Lovers are the best tag team in the world, offending both Jackson brothers in the process. This culminated last Sunday in a 40-minute epic that showed something that hasn’t been seen so long in tag team wrestling outside of NXT.
— TDE Wrestling (@totaldivaseps) March 26, 2018
These two popular teams delivered a compelling story that centered Love vs. Hate and a desire to be the best. The Bucks were determined to put on a performance of a lifetime, once again denouncing any criticism of their lack of psychology which was some of the best this year. The Bucks were the better team throughout, but Matt’s rage against Kenny consumed him and costed them multiple chances of winning the match. His undoing cost him to be destroyed by an One-Winged Angel – a move that Omega hesitated to do – and later the Golden Trigger for their defeat. It was an incredible finish to an otherwise fantastic match that could set the template on how New Japan tag matches will go forward.
One of the semi-mains before had IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada teamed up with Tomohiro Ishii against Suzukigun’s Minoru Suzuki and Zack Sabre, Jr. In preparation of the Okada/Sabre match at Sakura Genesis this Sunday, New Japan normally does a tag main to make the challenger look strong and Zack has been on a tear the past month. As the winner the 2018 New Japan Cup, Sabre defeated the likes of Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi, SANADA, and Hiroshi Tanahashi in convincing fashion each match to earn the right to face Okada. This match served more than an appetizer and a show of superiority for the Suzuki side, with Sabre stretching and tearing apart the limbs of his opponent’s while Minoru is as vicious as ever. This tag match was just as good as the main event as far as action went and did a great job in making Sabre an unstoppable machine to take the fall this weekend.
From spectating the two matches and an earlier tag in February featuring EVIL & SANADA against Okada & Goto, it opens the door for the tag division becoming a new priority. New Japan has been lauded with tremendous singles matches through the G1 and the Jr. Division , but the Heavyweight Tag Division has commonly been an Achilles’ heel.
Part Of New Japan’s History
There was a time that the most dominant tag team the company had was Karl Anderson and Giant Bernard (The Artist Formerly Known as Prince Albert). Since then, there has been a series of dull matches involving the aging bodies of Tenzan & Kojima, Killer Elite Squad which had no competition, and a couple of bright spots involving The Briscoe Brothers and War Machine. The common denominator is that most of those teams involved gaijin wrestlers and a good majority of the Japanese audience will not invest their time with those teams and their matches. Plus the booking of the division just sucked, changing the titles every month between the same teams having the same matches in the middle of the card.
With EVIL & SANADA as the current champions plus the infusion of former Jr. Tag greats in The Young Bucks and The Golden Lovers, the workrate and importance of the division has increased dramatically. It would only be beneficial to New Japan to incorporate more of their upper-card/Main Event-level stars to bolster the Tag Title picture and keep them fresh in the process. I’m sure Gedo would get a lot more out of his stories pairing The Golden Lovers against Naito/Takahashi or Okada/Ishii and Tanahashi/Elgin against Suzuki/Sabre. Plus it gives established teams like KES new match-ups to help elevate them.
It worked so much for All Japan in the 90s (and still working today) and New Japan had so much success with it during that same time period. Why not try to do it now if they want to be the best wrestling promotion in the world?