Coming off a starless Tag League, as well as, cheapening the win by having Triple Threats in the Junior and Heavyweight divisions for Wrestle Kingdom 13. What exactly is the direction for New Japan’s tag teams? Valentin helps give a deeper look.
Tag Team wrestling. Sometimes we tend to overlook it, from fans to bookers themselves. New Japan Pro Wrestling’s case towards Tag Teams is quite paradoxical.
It is hard to say the company completely overlooks their divisions, Jr Heavyweight and Heavyweight, but at the same time, while both tag divisions have a tournament of their own, deciding on who will challenge for the Tag Team championships at Wrestle Kingdom every year, some people, me included, have this feeling that something is lacking. The pool is filled with talent and good pairs, but, the excitement is not really there when comes Tag Team time.
You may have guessed the goal of this article : Explaining why New Japan’s Tag Team divisions are kind of weaker compared to other divisions, but also say how there is a bit of continuity out there for New Japan to use to its full potential.
First things first though. Before trying to solve a problem, let’s try to understand it. Why can’t a company relying so much on Tag Team wrestling, make their Tag divisions as interesting as the rest of the card ?
It really is a good question to ask. I think part of the answer is in the question itself. Let’s look at things this way. New Japan uses multi-man tag matches to build-up feuds over time, hence why we see a lot of this type of match during New Japan shows, especially the “Road to” shows. While it helps building rivalries between singles wrestlers while preventing them from working too much before the bigger events,, it also takes a good amount of time on the card. Some of these multi-man tag matches don’t even build towards even minor feuds, or have any kind of purpose and can just be filler matches. If you are not in the arena and you are pretty sure some of these tag matches won’t have much importance, would you bother watching it ? Just wait for what actually makes you watch the show instead of going through matches you are not really interested in. There is some kind of balance to find here, as on one hand, you want to make the fans in the arena happy by showcasing talents they like, even if these talents aren’t involved in any story at that point. On the other hand, you may also want your audience outside of Japan to watch all of your product, from the Young Lions getting their butts kicked by veterans, to the main focus of each show. Therefore, you also have to make sure a decent amount of meaningful events occur throughout the card.
The other thing regarding multi-man tag matches is their number in each card. As it has been said before, during some shows, you’ll have a lot of multi-man tag matches. While these are not technically like traditional two on two matches, these are still tag matches. So, to the audience who is not always fully aware of some of Japanese specificity, seeing that most of the card is filled with tag matches, whether it’s two on two or five on five, can make some fans tired or bored at some point.
Now ultimately, no company can make all of its fanbase happy and interested the entire time. A “Road to” show usually lasts around three hours, which you know can be very long if you watch a weekly running show on Monday night.
With that in mind, let’s now answer the question initially asked. The answer can be summed up in one word : Storytelling.
It goes even further than just the word “booking”, which I first thought of. There have been some booking issues, like title changes which ended up meaning little to nothing or champions feeling more like simple title holders. Adding that to the fact that one can argue that some stories involving Tag Teams in New Japan don’t really feel meaningful, you may start to notice a problem. Let’s also bring up the fact that New Japan, whether it is in the Junior or Heavyweight division, never really gave time to build their champions. The longer one duo reign, usually, the more defenses they will have, enhancing their chance of being believable as champions. For example, since the last time Karl Anderson & Doc Gallows held the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team championship, between July 5th 2015 to January 4th 2016, only one reign has been longer than four months, being EVIL & SANADA’s sole reign with the titles, with 156 days this year. The Junior division is in a similar state, since outside of the IWGP Jr Heavyweight Tag Team champions Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado’s current reign (282 days and counting), only one championship reign has been going on for at least six months. That reign belongs to The Young Bucks, who held the titles for 199 days between July 16th 2016 and January 4th 2017. Now let me ask you a similar question to the similar I asked when we were discussing the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team championship :
Do you believe championships can feel important if said championship start changing hands every two to three months ?
Again, I don’t think so.
Whether it is to make champions believable or to tell meaningful and impactful stories, enough time needs to be given. There are plenty of examples around the main event scene, inside of factions and surrounding other championships to showcase that fact. I get it might be nearly impossible to make every single championship in the company mean as much as the Heavyweight championship, asking for this would be silly. All I would like to see are strong Tag Team divisions, with championships that feel really important. It’s Christmas season, so Gedo, put a Santa hat on and make magic happen.
While there is some some negative looking at the status of New Japan’s tag team division, I thought this year had some positive, making me hopeful for the future. Continuing with storytelling, we got to see the rise of EVIL & SANADA in the tag team division since last year. After winning the NEVER Openweight 6-man Tag Team championships with BUSHI, the duo won his first World Tag League in 2017, defeating the Guerrillas Of Destiny in the finals. Then, after claiming the Tag titles from Killer Elite Squad at Wrestle Kingdom 12, they held the belts for five months. At this year’s World Tag League, we saw them winning the tournament back to back, thus proving themselves to be one of the dominant heavyweight tag teams in New Japan. They even had a second bout with GoD in the finals, so if you ask me, some kind of rivalry might be born from these previous encounters. In the Junior division, we saw Roppongi 3K claim the Super Jr Tag League two years in a row, so I think we can see a trend of willing to solidify teams over time thanks to the yearly tournaments. Also, looking at how the tension has been growing around the Jr Tag championships over the months, I’d argue there is some kind of story developing with Desperado & Kanemaru keeping the titles for as long as the did partially because they took shortcuts to win.
Let’s now hope the eventual pay-off for each of the current stories will help make both Tag Team divisions stronger, leading to what will hopefully be the start of a great year for New Japan’s Tag Team Wrestling, in all aspects this time.
There is one last time I wanted to address, being the Chase Owens case. The Crown Jewel is not “on the case” here, he is the case. I want to see Chase Owens in an actual Tag Team in New Japan from now on. The guy has shown during the G1 Climax tour that he was pretty good as part of a duo, whether it was with Kenny Omega, Hangman Page or Kota Ibushi. Since at this point, wrestlers like Yuji Nagata, Manabu Nakanishi, Satoshi Kojima and Hiroyoshi Tenzan work less and less tours, there will be spots to fill for new teams over time for World Tag League. Therefore, I want to see the very good Tag Team wrestler that is Chase Owens in the tournament next year. Hopefully we will see more of Hangman Page in NJPW, and Yujiro Takahashi is not, if you ask me, the best option in The Elite group to form a team with him. Also, “Virginia Boys” sounds better than “Dick & Balls” in terms of team name. Let’s not lie to ourselves here.
With that said, this column has come to an end. You can now tell me whether or not you agree with my current vision of New Japan’s Tag Team scene, as well as sharing your own thoughts on that matter. What would you do to make the Tag Team scene feel more interesting to your eyes ? Do you think both divisions have the tools to climb to higher heights next year ?
NXT Minus 6: A Tale of Two Champions
Bradley Jay is here with the WWE NXT Minus 6, and we have new champions. Two very, very different new champions.
Bradley Jay is here with the WWE NXT Minus 6, and we have new champions. Two very, very different new champions.
Our two new champions could not be more different…
6. Doomsday Saito comes to the ring and gives a painful, cliched promo. Any wrestler in the back could have said those exact words. Train harder and beat people up. He’s angry. We get it. The only thing Saito could do that would interest me is move to RawDown. On the other hand…
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Not gonna lie, that promo was wasn’t even hot garbage. It was cold garbage.]
5. Raquel Gonzalez delivers a genuine, heartfelt promo that only she could give. Tears of joy. It told her story, and it’s exactly why she got the pop and the chant she deserved. The addition of Rhea Ripley and Bianca Belair, complete with throwback pic, was icing on the cake. I’m excited for whatever Gonzalez does next. Speaking of…
4. Fantasy booking alert!!! Two weeks ago, Raquel Gonzelez told the world I was the one who believed in her. I was the one who made her a champion. Then Rhea Ripley shows up, and Bianca Belair shows up, and I’m the one sent to the back. How quickly you forget who your real friends are. I was the one who took you to the top, and chicka, I am the one who is going to drag you to the bottom. I used you to get to the top and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I am Dakota Kai.
3. No more Santa Claus Ice Cream Bar. Santos Escobar has earned his name back. His match with KUSHIDA is everything great about NXT. Say it with me. Good things happen when you let wrestlers wrestle! Fast paced. Great action. Surprise ending. I’m going 4.5 stars. Give me a match that good every Tuesday and I’m a happy camper.
2. Right now, I don’t know if any two wrestlers have better chemistry than Swerve Scott and Leon Ruff. Every time they get together, it’s electric, and this week was no different. This is quickly climbing into Rivalry of the Year territory. I thought I was happy to see Swerve pick up the victory and move on. Then Ruff goes insane in the membrane and now I’m excited to watch them fight forever.
1. This week’s That’s Why I Love Wrestling goes to…Roderick Strong. Kayfabe. Work. Shoot. I don’t care. Strong deserved a better goodbye than what he got. He is the Perfection of Performance (shout out to the Hitman). He and Kyle O’Reilly were the best version of the Undisputed Era tag team champions. I always got excited for a Strong match because I knew he’d deliver. Roderick Strong is exactly the kind of wrestler that makes me love wrestling. Until he returns, he will be sorely missed.
Steve Cook’s Fave Five: April 2021
It’s a little more than halfway through April! You know what that means…
It’s a little more than halfway through April! You know what that means.
It’s time to talk about my current five favorite wrestlers like I’m Booker T. Let’s break down the Fave Five!
5. Samoa Joe
A gentle reminder that Samoa Joe is one of the greatest talkers in the game pic.twitter.com/p4TZeZIAV7
— Kenny Majid – A Kenny For Your Thoughts Podcast (@akfytwrestling) April 15, 2021
I figure what happened between Samoa Joe & WWE was the following: WWE offered Joe an announcing contract since either they didn’t want to use him in the ring or their doctors wouldn’t clear him to wrestle. Joe looked at the contract, noticed the financial discrepancy, realized he could probably get NJPW to let him train young boys in California for that kind of money and said “thanks but no thanks”. Nothing else really makes sense to me.
Unfortunately, those who thought that WWE wouldn’t utilize Joe to their fullest potential were right. It wasn’t all WWE’s fault though. Joe had a lot of miles on his tires when he got there. Injuries are always more of a concern with larger wrestlers the older they get. And when Joe was healthy, he did get to do some good stuff and show people a glimpse of the Samoa Joe that people like me raved about back in the mid to late 2000s.
In any event, Joe got his WWE run. It was a thing that happened. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t wind up in AEW because he seems like the kind of guy Tony Khan would throw all the money at. Should be fun!
4. Kris Statlander
— All Elite Wrestling on TNT (@AEWonTNT) April 15, 2021
AEW does have a pretty insane number of factions right now. It risks the possibility of all of the groups blending together, with none of them really capturing the attention of fans. However, there are positive things about AEW’s faction warfare that shouldn’t be overlooked. It makes booking fresh matches to fill cards pretty easy. You can have groups facing off each week, but in different combinations that keep it fresh.
Another good thing: It can help us decide how we feel about characters that we might be on the fence about. Kris Statlander’s character was a topic of discussion from the moment she entered AEW. A lot of people weren’t sure how to take her. Wrestling aliens, or wrestlers who think they’re aliens, aren’t exactly common. Its the kind of thing that gets over in the indies, because those feds attract fans that are more willing to buy into unique concepts. Mainstream is a tougher sell.
Aligning Kris with the Best Friends makes sense to those in the know, since she came up working shows with them. It also helps people that don’t know about her figure out more. The Best Friends are a happy go lucky group that are the whitest of white meat babyfaces you’ll find in AEW, and that’s a good thing. They’re welcoming to people with unique personalities, as Orange Cassidy’s presence establishes. A friendly alien couldn’t ask for a better group to surround herself with, and from their appearances so far she seems like a perfect fit.
Add in the fact that the time on the shelf helped her get into better shape and refine her look & presence, and the sky’s the limit for Statlander. As long as she can stay in the ring, I’m expecting big things from her in 2021.
3. Tay Conti
Sometimes, all one needs is a change of scenery to approach their true potential. Tay spent a few years at the WWE Performance Center learning how to be a professional wrestler. During her time there, Tay never showed much in the way of potential. Even though she had a combat sports background and had the type of physical appearance that gets attention, Conti’s TV time was very limited and uneventful. She seemed like one of those wrestlers that was bound to stay in developmental until WWE gave up on them, then drop off the face of the earth without most wrestling fans noticing.
Tay’s story took a different route. She ended up being one of the cuts that AEW took an interest in, and was brought in for the Deadly Draw Women’s Tag Team Tournament. Her teaming with Anna Jay worked well on & off-camera, and she pretty much fit right in with the group immediately. She started training with Dustin Rhodes, and pretty much immediately started looking better in the ring & figuring out what worked for her. Now, she’s one of the people helping AEW’s women’s division go to a higher level.
This isn’t meant to denigrate WWE’s Performance Center or its methods. There just isn’t a wrestling training center out there that’s going to work for everybody. Tay had to find what worked for her. The people that recently got cut will have to do the same. Hopefully, the people that recently got signed by WWE will thrive in that environment.
2. Bianca Belair
We’ve recently seen three new Women’s Champions under the WWE umbrella, all of whom are great in their own way. I’ve talked about Rhea Ripley before, she’s got unlimited potential and so far she’s done very well on the main roster. Raquel Gonzalez is doing very well on NXT and her push to the championship made perfect sense & got over. I do think the best of the title changes was Bianca’s defeat of Sasha Banks in the main event of WrestleMania Saturday. It was a special moment for Bianca, a very fun match to watch, and a great performance from both Bianca & Sasha Banks, who did everything she could to make Bianca in that match.
You see the video of the NXT segment up above, with the three current Women’s Champions under the WWE umbrella celebrating together. Apparently there was a picture taken in 2019, and there were pictures taken after this week’s NXT, with Triple H making sure to get in there as he likes to do with all new champions. I’ve never really been a fan of that sort of thing, even the “Horsewomen” celebrations on previous NXT shows didn’t do much for me.
Besides the usual complaints people have about things like that, the thing that I didn’t like was how Rhea & Raquel came off. They were all smiling & happy like they were Big Daddy Cool Diesel after beating Mr. Bob Backlund in 1994. Completely against what Raquel has been up to this point, and what Rhea has been when she’s been at her best. Hopefully this is just a one-time thing for Rhea for the portion of the NXT audience that likes their lady wrestlers crying & happy after their performances, and hopefully it’s leading to Raquel getting dismembered by Dakota Kai, who can’t be happy about her heater winning the championship and then turning into Smilin’ Diesel.
Fortunately for Bianca, it does nothing to affect her character or our opinion of her. That’s why I think her title run will go best. I’m also putting her here because I’m pretty well convinced there isn’t a wrestling move or spot she can’t do well. Insanely talented, and the more experience she gets the better she’ll be.
1. Darby Allin
Sometimes you just want to watch something that’s stupid fun. Something that doesn’t need too much thought in order to enjoy it. Just people doing crazy things to entertain an audience. Darby Allin matches are just what you need when you’re looking for something like this. There isn’t anybody crazier in pro wrestling today than Darby, which is probably for the best. I’m convinced this kid has a death wish.
The one thing that kinda gets me about Darby sometimes is how he kicks out of everything. Poor Matt Hardy wasn’t going to beat that kid unless he shot him with a gun, and apparently there’s a metal detector at Daily’s Place. (Shoutout to Matt by the way, hell of an effort in that match.) But then I remember that Darby Allin is a daredevil and constantly posting videos online where he’s jumping off high places and doing crazy things. Obviously, it’s going to take a little more to beat a daredevil than your average pro wrestler.
What’s it going to take to beat Darby Allin? That’s a good reason to keep watching.
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