Yes, it's once again tourney time in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Manolo already gave a brief overview of the field, and pointed out some of the outsider teams involved, but today we're going to be breaking down the whole field - fortunately, this is a quiet weekend with no major wrestling shows, so no chance of this getting lost in the shuffle.
To quickly run you through the tournament basics, we've got sixteen teams, in two blocks of eight. You face every team in your block, two points for a win, one for a draw, nothing for a loss. Block actions runs from Monday 20th November to Thursday 7th December. The top two scoring teams in each block advance to the semi finals on Friday 8th - the winner of each block faces the runner up of the opposite block. Then we've got the finals on Sunday 10th.
The winners get some shiny trophies, and will challenge for the IWGP tag titles at Wrestle Kingdom in January (if the champs win, they get to pick their own challengers). All shows can be watched on New Japan's streaming service, NJPWWorld. So, without further ado:
Shota Umino & Ren Narita (debut entry)
Not unexpected after Desperado and Wato ended up teaming in the Super Jr Tag League, these two were part of the same, drawn, best of seven trios feud – once again, it's opposite numbers teaming up in parejas increíbles action. Umino and Narita are two of New Japan's Reiwa Three Musketeers (alongside Yota Tsuji), so the company certainly has high expectations for them. Narita's the only one of the three to have held gold in New Japan, being a former trios champ (alongside Desperado and Suzuki). Umino's coming off a star-making loss to Will Ospreay. DespeWato missed out on the SJTL finals by a gnat's whisker, so these two have got a strong chance of making the semis, at the very least.
CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii & Toru Yano) (4th entry, 1st in 3 years)
After a couple of years of Yano teaming with Tanahashi, it's a welcome return for this chalk and cheese tag team: the hard-hitting, no nonsense brawler Tomohiro Ishii, and the groin-hitting, all nonsense cheater Toru Yano. They've previously taken home the trophies from the 2016 edition – they didn't win, Yano wasn't even in it, he just stole the trophies. But it got them into the tag title match at Wrestle Kingdom 11, and they walked out with the gold, so it's certainly a kind of win. That was Ishii's only time as tag champ, but he's a three time trios champ (including being one of the current holders). Yano's a three time tag champ, and a four time trios champ (including being one of the inaugural holders, alongside Jay and Mark Briscoe).
United Empire (Great-O-Khan & HENARE) (3rd entry, 3rd consecutive)
Both of these guys are coming off hard-fought losses – O-Khan a bloody war with Jon Moxley, HENARE a brutal slugfest with Eddie Kingston. As a team they had winning records in both their previous WTL entries, but not good enough to make the finals. O-Khan is also a two-time tag champ, with Jeff Cobb. These are both young stars on the rise, and a win here could be a breakout moment for both of them.
TMDK (Shane Haste & Mikey Nicholls) (2nd entry, 2nd consecutive)
To date, "Mad" Mikey Nicholls and "Hysterical" Shane Haste have only been also-rans in the New Japan tag scene – they fell just short of the finals of last year's WTL, they made the semis in the tournament to crown inaugural STRONG tag champs, and they've come up short in tag title challenges three times in 23. The former SLAPJACK and his much blander partner had similar success in their WWE run, being finalists in the 2016 Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. They have, however, tasted gold, being two time GHC tag champs over in NOAH. They've shown they have what it takes to win, it's just a matter of showing they can do it here in New Japan – is this where the Aussies finally get over the hump?
Bullet Club War Dogs (Alex Coughlin & Gabe Kidd) (2nd entry, 2nd consecutive)
What a difference a year makes. Last year this was a pair of up-and-coming young talents from the LA Dojo. Now, they're War Dogs, part of David Finlay's pack of vicious and hungry rule breakers. They're also former STRONG tag team champs. Since losing the titles, Kidd's picked fights with Will Ospreay and STRONG champ Eddie Kingston, while Coughlin (with fellow War Dog Clark Connors) recently carried out a backstage assault on the men who dethroned him, Hikuleo and ELP, declaring that their feud's over when the War Dogs say it's over. Finlay's said he wants his Bullet Club to bring gold and bring bodies, and Coughlin and Kidd are determined to deliver.
House of Torture (EVIL & Yujiro Takahashi) (4th entry, 4th consecutive)
A fourth entry for the dire HoT, and given that the previous three were all bad, don't get your hopes up for this one. Sticking rabid ferrets down your trousers will probably be more fun.
Kaito Kiyomiya & Ryohei Oiwa (debut entry)
NOAH star Kiyomiya recently took Young Lion Oiwa under his wing, and offered him a spot in NOAH for his excursion. The two are coming off an unsuccessful challenge for the GHC tag titles earlier this month – it would have been Oiwa's first title, but Kiyomiya is a two-time GHC tag champ and a two-time GHC heavyweight champ. The NOAH standout will be looking to improve on his performance from the G1 earlier this year.
Gates of Agony (Bishop Kaun & Toa Liona) (debut entry)
If you like big, meaty men, this team might be right up your alley. Part of AEW's Mogul Embassy stable, they've largely been background players to Swerve, Prince Nana and Brian Cage. They're two-time (and current) ROH trios champs, alongside Cage (and Kaun also previously held the titles as part of Shane Taylor Promotions). This is a good opportunity for them to show they deserve a bit more spotlight.
Bishamon (YOSHI-HASHI & Hirooki Goto) – IWGP Tag Team Champions, 2021 & 2022 WTL winners (5th entry, 4th consecutive)
The kings of New Japan's tag scene currently, no team has ever won WTL three times and Bishamon are looking to be the first. YOSHI-HASHI (aka Tacos) was for a long time an also-ran in New Japan, not racking any title wins until a breakthrough trios title win alongside Goto and Ishii. Since then, he's racked up a number of significant wins alongside Goto – two trios titles, three IWGP tag titles, STRONG tag titles, two tag leagues. He's become a pretty accomplished tag performer. Goto has won almost everything New Japan has to offer, short of the World title. Aside from his success as part of Bishamon, he's won the G1, two IC titles, three New Japan Cups, a Young Lions Cup, five NEVER titles, a jr tag title, a tag title with Katsuyori Shibata, and tag leagues with Shibata and Karl Anderson. Only Keiji Mutoh and Antonio Inoki have won WTL more (they each won five), so another win would put him in pretty illustrious company.
Guerillas of Destiny (Hikuleo & El Phantasmo) – STRONG Openweight Tag Team Champions (debut entry)
The original GoD duo, Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa, won the 2020 WTL and a record seven tag titles together. Now, their little brother Hikuleo is looking to follow in their footsteps, alongside ELP. The youngest of the sons of Meng is a former STRONG Openweight champion, while ELP is an English prog rock band... Sorry, wrong ELP. The wrestler ELP is a Canadian, a former three-time jr tag champ, a two-time Super J-Cup winner, a British J-Cup winner, and a former RevPro cruiserweight champ. They're coming in hot off their second title defence, and are no doubt hoping to become double champs come 4th January.
Yuji Nagata & Minoru Suzuki (debut entry)
After Desperado/Wato and Narita/Umino, this is the last of the odd couple pairings from the trios best of seven series. Both legends, both members of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame, both have racked up tons of titles across multiple promotions, including All Japan Pro Wrestling, Pro Wrestling NOAH, and New Japan Pro Wrestling. They've won singles titles, tag titles, tournaments, they've won it all, and they've often been rivals – 12 singles matches against each other, split 6-6. Also, they're two grumpy, middle-aged, Japanese men looking to slap the piss out of some young upstarts. And isn't that why we all got into puro to begin with?
Just 5 Guys (Taichi & Yuya Uemura) (debut entry)
When Suzuki-gun dissolved at the end of last year, former leader Minoru Suzuki pointed out how little he thought of the Taichi who had joined him all the way back in 2011, and how much respect he'd gained for him now. The gain in respect is deserved – Taichi was for a long time lazy, willing to coast and just not very entertaining to watch, but in recent years has made real efforts to turn things around. Part of that was his tag team work with Zack Sabre Jr, as Dangerous Tekkers, a team that managed three title reigns between 2020-22. They parted on good terms, both desiring singles success, and while Sabre has had it – he's been TV champ since 4th January, and is very likely to hold for an entire year - for Taichi, it's been a bit rougher.
Taichi succeeded in wresting the KOPW title from Shingo Takagi in a 45 minute war – a long way form the man he used to be. He lost it to SHO, of notorious ruiners of fun the House of Torture, thanks to treachery from his Just 5 Guys stablemate Kanemaru. (He's since successfully regained it, against an absurdly stacked deck.) Kanemaru's betrayal led to Taichi finding a replacement – otherwise they'd need to rename the stable again – and he found one in a former Young Lion on excursion, "Heat Storm" Yuya Uemura. Uemura currently has no title or tournament success to his name, but this will be a good opportunity for him to be forged in the fires of competition. And for Taichi, it'll be a chance to see if he can thrive as a mentor, and continue his personal growth.
Yota Tsuji & Z (debut entry)
The third of the Reiwa Three Musketeers, Tsuji made an immediate impact upon his return from excursion, attacking world champion SANADA and pledging himself to LIJ. Since then he's shone in some high profile matches but... well, I'm sure you know this story by now. Yeah, great, high profile matches, he keeps coming up short. It's the New Japan way. His LIJ stablemates Naito and Takagi have already punched their tickets to the Tokyo Dome, so where did that leave Tsuji? It left him looking back to his days on excursion to recruit a friend as his partner. Who is that friend? Well, it's a mystery – the Z is a placeholder. All looks set to be revealed on Sunday. If you want to take some guesses, he did excursions with UK-based RevPro, and Mexico's CMLL.
Soberano Jr & Atlantis Jr (debut entry)
A team of two acclaimed luchadors from New Japan's partner promotion CMLL. Atlantis Jr is the son of lucha legend Atlantis (who recently celebrated 40 years as a pro wrestler), and is currently a double champ – he's the NWA World Historic Light Heavyweight Champion, and one third of the CMLL World Trios Champions. He's also a former Mexican National Tag team Champion, and was a part of the 2019 and 2023 Fantasticamania tours (New Japan's annual crossover with CMLL). Soberano Jr is a third generation star (the original Soberano was his grandfather), and has been a regular on Fantasticamania tours since 2017. He competed in the 2018 Super Jr Tag League (with Volador Jr), and the 2019 Super J-Cup. In his home promotion he's a former World Middleweight Champion and a former Mexican National Welterweight Champion, and won the 2017 Torneo Gran Alternativa (which pairs up-and-comers with established vets) with Caristico. Both men are also 1-0 in mask v mask (or luchas de apuestas) matches.
Monstersauce (Lance Archer & Alex Zayne) (debut entry)
A fresh young team, they recently challenged for the STRONG tag belts. Take a guess how that went. Archer is more than just a guy who loses every match of note, AEW fans. He's a former winner of this tournament, from 2011 (with Suzuki), as well as a three time IWGP tag champ (with Davey Boy Smith Jr, as Killer Elite Squad), as well as a two-time IWGP US champion. KES also won two GHC tag titles, and during his TNA days, Archer won two NWA tag titles with Kid Kash – and won those titles twice more with Smith. He's won a bunch of titles on the indies too, singles and tags. Zayne hasn't had so much success. Last year he was in BOSJ and SJTL (with El Lindaman), and unsuccessful in both. Competing with the heavyweights here, he's certainly in deep waters, but this big-man/little-man team surely has some upsets in them.
Bullet Club Rogue Army (Bad Luck Fale & Jack Bonza) (debut entry)
welcome return for Fale, making his first appearance for New Japan proper this year (although he has competed for their antipodean offshoot, Tamashii). The big man is a three time trios champ, and a one time tag champ. While he was in the land down under, the Rogue General recruited his own Bullet Club offshoot, the Rogue Army, and his partner is drawn from their ranks. Bonza has achieved success in various Aussie promotions. He's also managed to survive the fearsome drop bears, wallabies, and other ferocious wildlife of his home country, and if that doesn't give you "real life badass" cred, I don't know what does.
So there you have it. Outside of HoT I'm not sure there's a bad choice for winner. Given that reigning champs never win these things, Bishamon are out, and Taichi's likely to be involved in KOPW stuff at WK. Ishii & Yano, United Empire, Tsuji & Z and Narita & Umino would all make for plausible winners. I'd love to see Monstersauce win, but they're very much a long shot. It's an open enough field that it feels like it could go a number of ways. What does everybody think? If you have any predictions for winners, guesses for Tsuji's partner, corrections to my wildly inaccurate knowledge of lucha libre or general thoughts, feel free to share.
Lastly, as this is the last major show or tournament for New Japan, this is likely to be my last one of these for the year, so thank you to everyone for your support, whether it's the staff here promoting it to the front page, the recs, the comments, or just giving it a read. And don't worry, I'll return next year with a preview for Wrestle Kingdom.
Images via New Japan's website