In an unusual year for New Japan, one thing that remains consistent is World Tag League being the final tournament of the year. But in a unique twist, the tournament will be running side by side with Best of the Super Juniors 27!
World Tag League will see 10 teams enter the fray, with the action taking place within a single block. Each team will face the other 9 teams, with the two best teams competing once more in the final in Nippon Budokan on December 11th. The winners of the tournament will have earned the right to challenge for the IWGP Tag Team Championships at Wrestle Kingdom 15.
In this World Tag League preview, I break down all ten teams entering the field, starting with the current tag champions…
Dangerous Tekkers (Zack Sabre Jr. and Taichi)
The current champs are riding a wave of momentum that could drown out their competition. They defeated Golden☆Ace to win the gold in Dominion, defeated them again in a rematch and have since defended the titles successfully against Hirooki Goto and YOSHI-HASHI as well. The titles had not been successfully defended since September 2019: Dangerous Tekkers bringing some domination to the turbulent division. They come into the tournament with a big target on their back, as any team who picks up a victory over them will have earned themselves a chance to challenge for the tag titles in the future.
FinJuice (Juice Robinson and David Finlay)
Winners of the World Tag League in 2019, FinJuice went on to win the tag titles at Wrestle Kingdom 14. Although missing from action in Japan since the pandemic began, Finlay has been making his mark during New Japan Strong, even reaching the finals of New Japan Cup USA. Juice made his NJPW return in the G1 Climax, picking up an impressive win over KENTA and taking the double champion Tetsuya Naito to the limit. The pair may have been apart for the majority of 2020, but there isn’t a concern that there’ll be any miscommunication between them when they step back in the ring together. Once the happy beers get pouring, it’s hard to stop!
Shingo Takagi and SANADA
As a former two time WTL winner, SANADA will bring his expertise to this innovative Los Ingobernables de Japon team. Fresh off of making the G1 Climax finals, he is teaming up with the newly crowned NEVER Openweight Champion Shingo. In singles competition the pair are standouts, but it remains to be seen how fluid a tag team they can be. Interestingly, Shingo is the only singles champion entering the competition. Should Shingo be the one taking the loss in a match, it could lead to a future defence of his title. It’s a risk worth taking, the possibility of Shingo winning WTL and leaving Wrestle Kingdom 15 with two belts too enticing for the Dragon to pass up.
Guerillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa)
G.O.D. are the joint record holders for most IWGP Tag Team Champion reigns at six. The pair are synonymous with the NJPW tag division but have surprisingly never won World Tag League, despite making the finals in 2016, 2017 and 2018. They have had a misaligned 2020, starting off by losing their tag titles at Wrestle Kingdom 14 and then the pandemic leaving them out of contention for the only titles they have eyes for. They have been getting back on track during New Japan Strong, the pair undefeated in tag-team action on the show, but now they’re eager to remind the tag team division why they have been so dominant for so many years.
HenarACE (Hiroshi Tanahashi and Toa Henare)
2020 brought with it Tanahashi’s third reign as a tag champion and his first in 16 years, partnering alongside Kota Ibushi, but the pair never managed a single defence of the titles. Now Ibushi finds himself in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 15 whilst Tanahashi is still searching for his place in the Tokyo Dome: Enter Henare. He has been incessantly hard at work, improving himself and training in his home of New Zealand. He will be entering World Tag Leage in fantastic shape, and with the Ace at his side and their experience teaming together in the tournament last year, they could be serious contenders to win.
Hirooki Goto and YOSHI-HASHI
Two thirds of the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Champions, recently they unsuccessfully challenged for the tag titles. They may have came up short, but it showed that they are a very capable team. 2020 has been a landmark year for YOSHI-HASHI, winning his first title in memorable fashion and having a tremendous run in the G1. Goto is a former two time WTL winner, each win coming with a different partner, and although prolific for his singles ability he is also a former tag team champion. Together, the pair will definitely rack up a solid record.
EVIL and Yujiro Takahashi
The intrigue in this team begins before the tournament even starts, Yujiro possibly showing that his Bullet Club allegiance lies with the King of Darkness instead of King Switch. But Yujiro may have made a smart choice, at least for World Tag League. EVIL won the tournament back-to-back in 2017 and 2018, he is a former two time tag team champion and he is the only man other than Naito to have held the double IWGP Heavyweight Championship and IWGP Intercontinental Championships. Neither man has much respect for the rules, and we’ll no doubt see them employ plenty of underhanded tactics.
Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano
At first glance this may look like an odd pairing, but Ishii and Yano are former IWGP Tag Team Champions, winning the belts at Wrestle Kingdom 11 in 2017. Their World Tag League experience dates all the way back to 2006, when the pair teamed up for the first time before reuniting for WTL in 2017. As always, Ishii is fresh off his red-hot G1 Climax run, and by his side is none other than the reigning KOPW. They’re the perfect marriage of brain and brawn, trickery and toughness.
Great O-Khan and X
Representing New Japan’s newest group, The Empire, is Great O-Khan and his mystery partner. An attempt at taking down Kazuchika Okada at Power Struggle ended in defeat for O-Khan, but otherwise the man has kept true to his word as The Dominator. As for his partner, we’ll have to wait until the opening night to see who he’ll be teaming with, and in turn that person will be the newest member of Will Ospreay’s Empire. There is lots of speculation that X could be the powerhouse that gives people a first class ticket for the Tour of the Islands!
Bad Luck Fale and Chase Owens
Fale and Owens are the third and final Bullet Club team in the brackets. Fale hasn’t been seen in a New Japan ring since February, whereas Owens made his return during the Road to Power Struggle shows, teaming with Jay White’s side of Bullet Club. The two men teamed up for WTL in 2017 and 2019 but have yet to make their mark as a team. Perhaps their time away from the ring spent training will pay dividends, and the fresh pair will surprise the rest of the field.
When: Opening night Sunday 15th November @ 6pm JST (9am GMT, 4am EST, 1am PDT)
Please check the NJPW website for the entire schedule
How to watch: Available live on New Japan World for only 999¥ per month (roughly £7.50/$9.30)
Notes: Only Japanese commentary will be available for the live stream. English commentary will be added within a few days of the event finishing. Do not let this stop you watching live, the Japanese commentators’ passion transcends language barriers!