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 ?