The 2019 edition of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Super Junior Tag League will be the 9th time the tournament has been held since its inception in 2010. Whilst it was originally staged as an annual single elimination tournament from its creation through to 2017 (Excluding 2011, when it was not scheduled), 2018 saw NJPW uncharacteristically change the format to a round-robin style block of eight teams. As with All Japan Pro Wrestling’s Jr. Tag Battle of Glory and Pro Wrestling NOAH’s Global Junior Heavyweight Tag League, the tournament is regarded as one of the lesser ones on the company’s calendar and typically relies on outside talent to make up the numbers.
The league will form the spine of NJPW’s Road to Power Struggle 2019 tour, with block competition starting on October 16th in Korakuen Hall and concluding on November 1st in EDION Arena Osaka #2, two days before the final on November 3rd in EDION Arena Osaka. The broadcast schedule for October on NJPWWorld.com lists the four Korakuen Hall shows (16th, 17th, 27th, 28th) as being broadcasted live as well as the shows in Shizuoka and Aichi (30th, 31st). While not listed as of yet, the Osaka show on November 1st will more than likely also be broadcasted live given the matches on the card. Like last year, the tournament matches from the remaining shows will be made available on VOD after each show concludes.
Since there is lesser depth in NJPW’s junior division compared to their heavyweights, the Super Junior Tag League is one of two tournaments in the NJPW calendar where the final will not main event the show on which it takes place. Since 2015 when it was first placed on the Power Struggle card, the final has always been the 5th match on the show, typically being the first featured match to take place.
The perceived lesser importance of the tournament is likely what led to NJPW deviating from their usual formula last year, where a three-way tie in the blocks led to three teams facing off in the final. This was the first time in NJPW’s history that any tournament final was held as a three-way and as such was poorly received by the fanbase as it represented a departure from the typically sports-like presentation of the company. Whilst not as chaotic as the 2019 King of the Ring tournament, which featured double pinfalls, special guest referees conducting screwjob finishes, a triple threat semi-final and Shane McMahon injecting himself into Elias’ vacated spot against Chad Gable, the contrast of the booking compared to NJPW’s other annual tournaments only served to hurt its already weak perception.
In case you need it, here is a list on the previous Super Junior Tag Tournament/League winners to date:
- 2010: El Samurai & Koji Kanemoto def. Apollo 55 (Prince Devitt & Ryusuke Taguchi)
- 2012: Time Splitters (Alex Shelley & KUSHIDA) def. Apollo 55
- 2013: The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson & Nick Jackson) def. Forever Hooligans (Alex Koslov & Rocky Romero)
- 2014: reDRagon (Bobby Fish & Kyle O’Reilly) def. The Young Bucks
- 2015: Matt Sydal & Ricochet def. Roppongi Vice (Beretta & Rocky Romero)
- 2016: Roppongi Vice def. ACH & Taiji Ishimori
- 2017: Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH) def. Super 69 (ACH & Ryusuke Taguchi)
- 2019: Roppongi 3K def. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI & Shingo Takagi) and Suzuki-Gun (El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru)
Of the teams listed above as well the eight included in last year’s Super Junior Tag League, only Roppongi 3K & the Suzuki-Gun pairing of El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru return for the 2019 edition. Robbie Eagles, Ryusuke Taguchi, Tiger Mask IV & Volador Jr. will be returning after inclusion in last year’s tournament with different partners, while Rocky Romero will be participating for the first time since his victory alongside Beretta in the 2016 tournament.
The six individuals failing to return from last year’s field include: NXT signings ACH (Now Jordan Myles) and KUSHIDA; ROH representative Chris Sabin who departed from ROH in March 2019; CMLL representative Soberano Jr. who has been replaced by Titán this year; LIJ’s Shingo Takagi who moved to the heavyweight division following his participation in this year’s G1 Climax; and Jushin Thunder Liger, who has been excluded from all championship and tournament competition since March 2019 when he announced his impending retirement at Wrestle Kingdom 14.
There were also several men expected and/or hoped by fans to participate this year who have been excluded from this year’s lineup. For the first time since 2016, Los Ingobernables de Japon will not field a team in the tournament as BUSHI is left without a partner as Shingo Takagi has left the division and Hiromu Takahashi has yet to return from injury (but is widely expected to appear at the King of Pro-Wrestling event in Ryogoku Kokugikan on October 14th). Even prior to their possible dissolution in CMLL, Mexico’s Los Ingobernables have been without a junior heavyweight since May 2017 when La Máscara was fired from the promotion. With no one to tag with, the 2010 AJPW Junior Tag League winner is forced to sit out this year’s league and will likely serve as Los Ingobernables de Japon’s pinfall-eater on the Road to Power Struggle tour.
Had it not been for TAKA Michinoku’s unfortunate injury in this year’s Best of the Super Juniors Tournament, we would have likely seen the involvement of a second Suzuki-Gun team also including the grimy lucha stylings of DOUKI, who has been filling in for the injured El Desperado since the latter broke his jaw in May against Jun Kasai. It’s probable that if Desperado had been unable to make his return in time for the start of the tag league then DOUKI would have taken his place alongside Yoshinobu Kanemaru. While fans of the Mexico-based freelancer will be disappointed in his exclusion, the 41 matches DOUKI has wrestled for NJPW since his last-minute substitution into the Best of the Super Juniors tournament have made this his busiest year yet as a professional wrestler. His work as a pseudo-replacement fall guy for the recently retired Takashi Iizuka in Suzuki-Gun tags should hopefully lead to more bookings going forward, if mainly so NJPW will stop having El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru taking pinfalls left and right.
The return of the World Class Tag Team of Gedo and Jado for this year’s Super Junior Tag League was never really viewed as a possibility by anyone going in, given that they haven’t teamed together in two-on-two action since June 2017 when they defeated young lions Hirai Kawato and Shota Umino. With Gedo and Jado seemingly focusing more on their backstage roles as they get older, they have taken on more managerial roles for BULLET CLUB on-screen with Gedo seconding Jay White in his major matches and Jado seconding the Guerrillas of Destiny mostly. The pairing had only ever made one previous appearance together in the tournament anyway, losing in the first round of the 2012 edition to Alex Shelley and KUSHIDA.
While the lack of representatives from Revolution Pro Wrestling is not surprising (I still hold out hope that we’ll one day get Chris Brookes and Jonathan Gresham in this league), the lack of ROH involvement garnered some interest as several people had anticipated the Lifeblood faction would be represented. However, of the three members who could qualify as junior heavyweights, Bandido is currently injured with Flamita taking his bookings in ROH in the meantime. This would leave the team of Mark Haskins and Tracy Williams, neither of which have made an appearance in NJPW outside of America. The pairing is currently booked to appear on ROH’s Honor United tour in the UK which would have presented a scheduling conflict, although it isn’t massively likely that NJPW really held them in consideration for inclusion.
Flip Gordon and Marty Scurll of Villain Enterprises are another ROH team that I saw suggested by a small number of people in various comments online. These two were also unavailable for inclusion because they too are booked on the Honor United UK tour. Even if they had not been booked for that tour, having them work the Super Junior Tag League would be problematic as far as booking goes as Villain Enterprises is a recognised faction within NJPW and thus, they would have to be teamed with Brody King and/or PCO as Scurll was during the BOSJ. The issue with this was demonstrated on the BOSJ cards where Scurll was in tournament action as Brody King was often left without a match and so he would be getting paid for the tour but not working all the shows, which would likely be viewed as financially unnecessary. With his ROH contract expiring soon, Scurll has in all likelihood wrestled his last match for NJPW already. His tag match against Kazuchika Okada in Sumo Hall at the final show of this year’s Best of the Super Juniors tournament served as a fitting sendoff for the Villain before he signs with All Elite Wrestling.
The most notable and ire-inducing exclusion from this year’s lineup is former IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Dragon Lee. After partaking in the 2019 Battle of Los Angeles for PWG against CMLL’s wishes as AAA talents were also booked on the same card, Dragon Lee was pulled from all CMLL shows for two weeks as punishment. When he opted to perform at ROH’s Death Before Dishonor PPV rather than CMLL’s 86th anniversary show, the latter published a statement online that they were firing Dragon Lee. The fallout of these events has been messy, as CMLL has been delivering ultimatums to independent promotions where Dragon Lee and CMLL talents are booked to pull Dragon Lee from their shows or have the CMLL talents removed instead. This raised suspicions from fans as far as his inclusion in the Super Junior Tag League, which were confirmed once the lineup was released and the CMLL team was comprised of a returning Titán (Dragon Lee’s tag partner from the 2017 tournament) and a returning Volador Jr. occupying the spot clearly intended for Dragon Lee. Needless to say, people were disappointed and a team that could have had some great showings will now more than likely reminiscent of the underwhelming output of Soberano Jr. and Volador Jr. in last year’s tournament.
Since NJPW typically books the CMLL team through the CMLL office, it would have likely been more trouble than it’s worth to replace Titán with a non-CMLL wrestler whilst maintaining that relationship. Given the seeming disconnect between CMLL and ROH since Death Before Dishonor with Rush being the ROH World Champion, the most suitable substitute to partner with Dragon Lee would have been Bandido given their friendly rivalry and with both being booked in ROH. Unfortunately, Bandido was already booked for ROH’s Honor United UK tour even before his injury so this would have never been on the table.
However, Flamita being his replacement for the ROH bookings raises even more questions about that working relationship given that Flamita has worked in AAA multiple times this year. The only reason I’ve drawn attention to this is that Bandido & Flamita are somewhat of a “dream” inclusion for this league, and depending on how the Dragon Lee situation is resolved in NJPW, it isn’t completely unrealistic to think that those two could be in it next year should the CMLL/NJPW relationship collapse.
With all that in mind, let’s look at the teams involved this year!
Clark Connors & TJP
Unit: LA Dojo/Seki-Gun
Previous Appearances: None
Since his release from WWE in February 2019, TJP hasn’t done much of note besides his return to Impact Wrestling, having lost the majority of his matches wherever he is booked. His less than stellar return to the independent scene is apt given his gradual downfall since 2016 when he won the Cruiserweight Classic. Going from the first modern WWE Cruiserweight Champion to an overshadowed low-tier heel in a flailing division to appearing on a grand total of 2 shows in 2 months in 2019 along with a bad reputation regarding his attitude has diminished all goodwill TJP accumulated in his 2016 run.
Despite this, the announcement of his participation in this year’s Super J Cup, while perhaps unexpected, was not entirely surprising as he actually has wrestled in NJPW before. He made 16 appearances for the original LA Dojo and 31 appearances for NJPW proper, picking up victories over a pre-Yoshitatsu Naofumi Yamamoto and a young Hirooki Goto in the 2004 Young Lion Cup and going 3-5 in the 2011 Best of the Super Juniors Tournament. His return in August marked his first appearance for NJPW in eight years, and his inclusion in this year’s Super Junior Tag League will mark his first matches in Japan since October 2014 when he was bested in singles action by Minoru Tanaka at TNA Bound for Glory.
Clark Connors meanwhile, represents the Shibata-led LA Dojo and caught the eyes of many fans along with Karl Fredericks tagging with KENTA on G1 undercards. A tag match against Ren Narita and Yota Tsuji represented the first bout in the feud between the American and Japanese Dojos that would encompass the Young Lion Cup. After gaining some experience on the Super J Cup tour, Connors accumuluated a 4-3 record in the Young Lion Cup, playing spoiler to Ren Narita and Shota Umino but most notably losing against Yuya Uemura, the lowest ranked young lion from the New Japan Dojo. It’s because of this result that I’m very intrigued in how this team fares against Tiger Mask IV & Yuya Uemura on October 31st and I’m sincerely hoping the finish will involve both Connors and Uemura.
This unlikely pairing has actually teamed together prior to the tournament but only once, in a loss to the heavyweight team of Juice Robinson and Mikey Nicholls. It was in the comments afterwards where we learned that these two would team together for the tag league! Their match against each other in the first round of the Super J Cup would suggest that this has been on the cards for a while. As usual in New Japan tournaments, I wouldn’t expect this team to pick many (if any) points in the league given the involvement of a young lion, and their only potential source of 2 points would be a win over Tiger Mask & Uemura.
Recommended Viewing: Clark Connors vs. Yuya Uemura – NJPW Destruction in Kagoshima 2019
Matches to Watch Out For: Tiger Mask & Yuya Uemura (October 31st)
Expected Points Total: 2
El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru
Previous Appearances: 2014 (Desperado w/ Taichi, lost in semi-finals), 2017 (Together, lost in semi-finals), 2018 (Together, 10 points, lost in finals)
If there is any team I am personally biased towards in this tournament, it is this one. El Desperado has been one of the more underutilised talents in New Japan in recent years and his fantastic outings in the 2018 Best of the Super Juniors against Dragon Lee and Hiromu Takahashi only served to confirm that. His interviews are great and had he not been injured in a deathmatch against Jun Kasai on the TAKA/Taichi produce show in May, he would have likely had some great performances against Bandido and Will Ospreay. His injury did allow for DOUKI to join the fold and Desperado’s time away more than likely precluded him from serving as Suzuki-Gun’s fall-eater on the Kizuna Road, G1 Climax and Destruction tours. The hope going into this tournament is that he’s motivated to make up for lost time and the biggest indicator will be how he fares against Roppongi 3K on opening night. He has also achieved tag success outside of teaming with Kanemaru before as he held the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship with TAKA Michinoku for 203 days and made 4 successful defences during his time in Pro Wrestling NOAH.
Yoshinobu Kanemaru is someone I have turned around on since my initial introduction to him. Once learning that he joined NJPW as part of the Suzuki-Gun invasion at New Year Dash in 2017, I watched his match against KENTA at NOAH’s Destiny 2005 Tokyo Dome show to get an idea of his style. Unfortunately, I had not accounted for the progression of time and Kanemaru was hardly the same competitor he was twelve years prior, with my disappointment upon discovering this skewing my perception of him for the next year. Over time though, little things made me warm to this whiskey-drinking wrestling uncle. His consistent capability to stop Taiji Ishimori in every singles match they have ever had regardless of their respective positions on the card is a source of endless amusement for me, particularly in this year’s BOSJ tournament when he handed Ishimori his only other loss besides Shingo Takagi in less than four minutes. His match against SHO from the previous night also comes to mind instantly because of the wonderful countout finish where Kanemaru sent Tsuji flying into SHO to stop him entering the ring before the count.
Kanemaru seems to have settled into a lowercard role in New Japan, with a 3-6 record in this year’s BOSJ and being Suzuki-Gun’s pinfall-eater on shows where DOUKI and TAKA Michinoku aren’t booked. He won’t be challenging for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship anytime soon unless Ishimori holds it and they decide to have Taiji break the streak. Consequently, he’s perfect for the junior tag division in that he won’t ever become a heavyweight, is unlikely to leave the company unless he’s fired and is always available as he is never engaged in a singles feud. Despite his lack of tournament success in NJPW, he was victorious alongside Kotaro Suzuki in the 2009 Global Junior Heavyweight Tag League in NOAH. The team went undefeated in the tournament, winning with a record of 4-0-1. He is also the second longest reigning GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion of all time, having held the titles for 1,117 days across 4 reigns and making 10 successful defences.
With a combined record of 6-3 in previous editions of the tournament, this pairing is very likely to reach double figures in this competition and have a very strong chance of reaching the final. Their singular IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship reign is the second longest of all-time and the longest since Shinjiro Otani and Tatsuhito Takaiwa’s second reign which began on July 13th, 1999. They will present a major obstacle to every team they face, and their matches against Roppongi 3K and the Birds of Prey will certainly be worth looking out for.
Recommended Viewing: BUSHI & Shingo Takagi vs. El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru – NJPW New Beginning in Sapporo 2019 – Day 2
Matches to Watch Out For: Roppongi 3K (October 16th), Birds of Prey (November 1st)
Expected Points Total: 10
El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori
Unit: BULLET CLUB
Previous Appearances: 2016 (Ishimori w/ ACH, lost in finals), 2018 (Ishimori w/ Robbie Eagles, 6 points)
While Taiji Ishimori is no stranger to this tournament, he has struggled to garner success in previous attempts having accrued a combined 5-5 W/L record in his 2016 and 2018 appearances. However, his newfound success with BULLET CLUB’s newest junior heavyweight El Phantasmo would suggest that all he needed was the right partner to prevail in the junior tag division.
After successfully teaming together for El Phantasmo’s NJPW debut on the second day of NJPW Wrestling Dontaku 2019 against Dragon Lee and Will Ospreay, the duo stormed through the 2019 Best of the Super Juniors with a combined 13-5 record before taking the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships away from Roppongi 3K on the Kizuna Road tour.
Since then, the duo has maintained their momentum with El Phantasmo making two successful defences of his RevPro Undisputed British Cruiserweight Championship against Ryusuke Taguchi and Rocky Romero before going on to win the Super J Cup in August. As a pair, they have only incurred one loss – the Birds of Prey (Robbie Eagles & Will Ospreay) defeated the BULLET CLUB team in a non-title bout at NJPW’s Royal Quest event in London. This loss was soon avenged at Destruction in Kagoshima where Ishimori and Phantasmo retained the titles in their rematch.
They will enter the tournament as the reigning IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions and unlike with other tournaments, recent years would suggest that this is not necessarily a disadvantage. In 2018, reigning champions Desperado and Kanemaru reached the final while in 2017, the reigning champions Roppongi 3K won the tournament before being challenged by the Young Bucks, who had not competed. Whilst not being the favourites to win the tournament, a repeat of 2017 with a non-tournament team (Perhaps BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi) challenging the winners for Wrestle Kingdom is not entirely out of the question.
It has to be noted that Taiji Ishimori has had massive success in junior tag tournaments in the past, just not in New Japan. During his time in Pro Wrestling NOAH, he won the Global Junior Heavyweight Tag League four time in six finals appearances. Ironically, the man with whom he gained the first two of his four tag tournament victories was none other than KENTA, who would take a similar route to Ishimori by leaving NOAH to wrestle in America before returning to Japan to join BULLET CLUB in NJPW. He also managed to win the GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships for a combined total of 653 days across 6 reigns, making 6 successful defences.
As for matchups, the obvious suggestion would be to look out for the third match in their feud with the Birds of Prey. After having what was arguably the best match on the Destruction tour and debatably the best IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship bout in a long time, these two teams opening the tour in Korakuen Hall will surely make for amazing viewing. Two days before this match takes place, Phantasmo challenges for Ospreay’s IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship in Sumo Hall, with the winner more than likely entering Wrestle Kingdom 14 as champion. If I had to guess, whoever loses that match will more than likely be on the winning side in their tour opener.
Another bout worth looking out for will be their match against Rocky Romero and Ryusuke Taguchi, following on from their upset wins over El Phantasmo from the Best of the Super Juniors. It’s a shame that match won’t also take place in Korakuen Hall, as the atmosphere would likely help this match immensely. Finally, one would hope that their match against Roppongi 3K on the final night of block action will be much improved from their unremarkable if serviceable title match in June, particularly if that ends up being the title match for Wrestle Kingdom.
Recommended Viewing: ELP & Ishimori vs. Eagles & Ospreay – NJPW Destruction in Kagoshima 2019
Matches to Watch Out For: Eagles & Ospreay (October 17th), Romero & Taguchi (October 23rd), Roppongi 3K (November 1st)
Expected Points Total: 10
Robbie Eagles & Will Ospreay
Previous Appearances: 2016 (Ospreay w/ Gedo, lost in 1st Round), 2018 (Eagles w/ Taiji Ishimori, 6 points)
The tale of the Birds of Prey started not in NJPW but in PWA Black Label in 2017 when Ospreay pinned Eagles for the PWA Heavyweight Championship, beginning Eagles’ year-long chase to avenge the loss. Eagles and Ospreay would find themselves in several multi-man matches over the next six months in MCW, NJPW and PWA, all in Eagles’ home nation of Australia. Each loss only served to add more fuel to the fire so that when Eagles finally did beat Ospreay in his rematch, the bout itself was fantastic and possibly the greatest match ever contested in Australia. Eagles had finally proved himself worthy as one of the best junior heavyweights in the world and more than deserving of Ospreay’s post-match invitation to join him in Japan. Of course, CHAOS wasn’t how Eagles made his entry into New Japan – BULLET CLUB was.
As soon as Robbie Eagles was announced as Taiji Ishimori’s partner for the 2018 Super Junior Tag League, fans almost rejoiced knowing that this betrayal would set him and Ospreay on a collision course – the only questions were when and where this bout would take place. As fate would have it, they found themselves pitted against each other in the 2019 Best of the Super Juniors tournament. Interference from the recently debuted El Phantasmo would seal a tainted win for Robbie Eagles, who Ospreay would challenge almost immediately after winning the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship at Dominion following his victory in the Best of the Super Juniors tournament final. Almost poetically, the bout was set for Australia, where Ospreay would even the score by retaining his title in a terrific match. After months of finding himself out of place in BULLET CLUB and having been displaced as Ishimori’s tag partner by the chaotic Phantasmo, the next night saw Eagles defy Jay White and leave BULLET CLUB to accept Ospreay’s renewed invitation into CHAOS.
The fallout from these events has seen the Birds of Prey engaged in battle with Ishimori & Phantasmo from the Super J Cup, to Royal Quest and the Destruction tour, through King of Pro-Wrestling and now to start this year’s Super Junior Tag League. There no’s question that this team will remain in contention all the way through to the last day of the blocks where they will meet Suzuki-Gun in their final match and there is little doubt that the winner of this match will be in the finals at Power Struggle.
To date, the Birds of Prey have tagged twice and both of those were against the BULLET CLUB team of El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori. As a result, six of the seven teams they’re facing present fresh challenges to the newly formed CHAOS team in what could very well be Ospreay’s final attempt at the Super Junior Tag League. With his goal seemingly being to appear in all NJPW competitions in a calendar year (So naturally, they decided to run the Young Lion Cup this year), it’s very possible that by this time next year, Eagles will have to find a new partner as Ospreay becomes more committed to the heavyweight division. Their title match in Kagoshima was tremendous and if they can deliver in this tournament as they did there, they will hopefully spark some life into the junior tag division.
Aside from their third match against ELP & Ishimori, there are several other matches that seem promising in terms of quality for this team. Their second bout pits them against their fellow CHAOS member in SHO & YOH, both of whom were beaten by Ospreay in singles matches in the Super J Cup and Best of the Super Juniors, respectively. They will be looking to avenge their loss here and both teams have a vendetta against the current champions, as Roppongi 3K will be looking to regain the titles after their loss at Kizuna Road.
Another match of interest comes on October 28th in Korakuen Hall when the Birds of Prey face Romero & Taguchi. As with Roppongi 3K, Ospreay has bested both competitors already this year in slngles competition, in this case with two awesome matches in the Best of the Super Juniors. While his match with Romero was one of Rocky’s best singles matches ever, his win over Ryusuke Taguchi earned him his place in the finals at the expense of the Funky Weapon. Needless to say, if both teams go all out, this match could be excellent.
Their final match comes against the Suzuki-Gun duo of El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru, who could present their biggest threat. Both Ospreay and Eagles have faced the pair in two-on-two action, Ospreay with Gedo and Eagles with Ishimori, and on each occasion, Suzuki-Gun picked up the win. In any case, if Suzuki-Gun’s cheating antics are kept to a minimum, this match has all the potential to be great.
Recommended Viewing: Robbie Eagles vs. Will Ospreay – NJPW Southern Showdown in Melbourne
Matches to Watch Out For: BULLET CLUB (October 16th), Roppongi 3K (October 17th), Romero & Taguchi (October 28th), Suzuki-Gun (November 1st)
Expected Points Total: 10
Rocky Romero & Ryusuke Taguchi
Previous Appearances – Romero: 2012 (w/ Alex Koslov, lost in semi-finals), 2013 (w/ Koslov, lost in finals), 2014 (w/ Koslov, lost in semi-finals), 2015 (w/ Beretta, lost in finals), 2016 (w/ Beretta, winners)
Previous Appearances – Taguchi: 2010 (w/ Prince Devitt, lost in finals), 2012 (w/ Devitt, lost in finals), 2014 (w/ Fuego, lost in 1st round), 2015 (w/ Mascara Dorada, lost in 1st round), 2016 (w/ Fuego, lost in semi-finals), 2017 (w/ ACH, lost in finals), 2018 (w/ ACH, 6 points)
Suffice to say, writing all that out was very difficult. Both Romero and Taguchi are stalwarts of the Super Junior Tag Tournament, with 12 combined appearances between the two since 2010. With Rocky having had two partners (Alex Koslov & Beretta) and Taguchi having had four (ACH, Fuego, Mascara Dorada & Prince Devitt) but never teaming together previously, it shouldn’t have come as much surprise that these two have met in tournament action before. In 2012, Taguchi & Devitt eliminated then-champions Romero & Koslov en-route to a loss in the finals against Time Splitters, who would go on to beat Romero & Koslov for the titles. It would take 4 years for Rocky to avenge this loss and he did so alongside Beretta, besting the team of Taguchi & Fuego in the semi-finals before winning the tournament and then scoring the pin at Wrestle Kingdom 11 to win the belts.
While they are 1-1 against each other in tournament action and both occupy similar roles as coach/managers, Taguchi is undefeated against Rocky in singles competition, having accumulated a 5-0 record since their first match in 2014. Taguchi’s achievements as a 2-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion and 2012 Best of the Super Juniors winner also overshadow Rocky’s singular reign as champion. However, this is a tag team tournament and Taguchi has yet to match Rocky’s 2016 victory, having lost in the finals in 2010, 2012 and 2017. Rocky has also racked up a record eight reigns as IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion compared to Taguchi’s six, although the latter has held the titles for 270 days longer combined and made 8 more successful defences than his newfound partner.
This will be Rocky’s third tournament inclusion in 2019 and his first Super Junior Tag Tournament since his win in 2016, having been excluded from all tournaments since then. He was kept out of the 2017 Best of the Super Juniors field as one half of the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions along with Beretta and following the dissolution of Roppongi Vice after Beretta moved to the heavyweight division, Rocky has settled into a managerial role for his CHAOS proteges Roppongi 3K. Rocky Romero’s resurgence in 2019 was likely helped by the expansion of the BOSJ field to 20 participants but he has repeatedly proven his worth as a singles wrestler with stellar performances against Will Ospreay and El Phantasmo, all the while rebuilding his credibility as a competitor in the eyes of the fans. However, he will now have to defend his pedigree as a tag team wrestler after his loss in Roppongi Vice’s last outing on the New Beginning in USA tour and having not been in title contention since 2017.
As for Taguchi, Rocky will be his fifth partner in the competition and the closest to being his equal in terms of accolades since teaming with Prince Devitt. The NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Champion will be looking to break the deadlock of his current 10-10 record in the competition as he becomes tied with Jushin Thunder Liger and Tiger Mask IV for most tournament appearances with eight attempts. The 2019 Super Junior Tag League will be Ryusuke Taguchi’s 18th New Japan tournament appearance since his last victory in the 2012 Best of the Super Juniors so the odds will not be in his favour but he and Rocky will likely pick up some notable wins in the block.
Romero and Taguchi have what is most likely to be the most difficult stretch of matches for any team in this tournament as they will face their four strongest opponents in consecutive matches. Fortunately for fans of the duom they will likely gain some momentum to begin the tournament as they face two teams with Young Lions before their first major challenge against Suzuki-Gun. The focus will be on their match with BULLET CLUB on October 23rd though, as both Romero and Taguchi are 1-1 in singles competition with El Phantasmo in 2019 so the score will need settling here. Their next match comes against Rocky’s proteges in Roppongi 3K in what will be the first time he faces the pair as a team since their introduction into CHAOS. Taguchi on the otherhand, is 1-2 against the pair of SHO and YOH, having taken those losses for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship at King of Pro-Wrestling 2017 and in the finals of the Super Junior Tag Tournament a month later.
Their final significant bout will come against the Birds of Prey the night after as Romero and Taguchi will both look to avenge their losses against Eagles and Ospreay from the BOSJ tournament. Taguchi in particular will likely focus on Ospreay, having just lost out on the finals in Sumo Hall after losing to Ospreay on the final night of block action. Ospreay has historically been a bane for Taguchi when pitched against each other in tournament action, having also bested the Funky Weapon in the finals of the 2016 Best of the Super Juniors and the first round of the 2017 British J Cup to cement a 3-0 singles record. This could be Taguchi’s last opportunity to finally score a pinfall over Ospreay as he comes closer to leaving the junior heavyweight division and that has to be taken into consideration going into this bout.
Recommended Viewing: Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Will Ospreay – NJPW Best of the Super Juniors XXVI – Day 14
Matches to Watch Out For: BULLET CLUB (October 23rd), Roppongi 3K (October 27th), Birds of Prey (October 28th)
Expected Points Total: 8
SHO & YOH
Previous Appearances: 2013 (YOH w/ KUSHIDA, lost in 1st round), 2017 (Together, Winners), 2018 (Together, 10 Points, Winners)
Roppongi 3K are far and away the most successful team in the history of this tournament. Having won the previous two editions back-to-back with an 8-2 record, SHO and YOH are the only 2-time winners of the Super Junior Tag League and have yet to exit the tournament without the trophies. The only two teams to defeat them in tournament history will not be involved this year as ACH has been signed to NXT and Shingo Takagi has moved to the heavyweight division. Going into the tournament, they seem like a lock to win once again – this is moreso a reflection of their cyclical booking than their continued success.
Since returning from excursion in 2017 under Rocky Romero’s tutelage, Roppongi 3K have captured the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships three times and won the Super Junior Tag League in both the single-elimination and round-robin format. However, between those three reigns as champions, they have managed just one successful defence against BUSHI and Shingo Takagi, having lost the championships in their first defence in their first two reigns. Both of their Wrestle Kingdom matches resulting from their tournament wins were unsuccessful as they lost to the Young Bucks in 2018 and BUSHI & Shingo Takagi in 2019.
This could all be part of a long-running story of their struggles to sustain their momentum which could conclude at Wrestle Kingdom 14 should they win the tournament and beat BULLET CLUB for the championships in the Tokyo Dome. The problem is, this booking would only compound the perception issues surrounding the junior tag division. As with the Evolution/Hentai Jieitai team of Atsushi Aoki and Hikaru Sato in AJPW’s Jr. Tag Battle of Glory in 2014, 2015 and 2016, having one team win the tournament in three consecutive years only serves to highlight the lack of depth in the division. Only half of this year’s field are actual tag teams, and two of those have only been tagging since May or later. Six of the eight teams from last year are not competing this year and it’s quite probable that the Birds of Prey will not be included next year if Ospreay cuts down on his tournament participation as he switches weight classes. With the rotation in and out of progressively weaker foreign talent each year, the removal of popular talent from the division as they change weight class and the forced inclusion of young lions to fill spots, the failure to recruit long-term junior heavyweight talent is becoming increasingly more apparent. If Roppongi 3K win the league and fail at the Tokyo Dome with no change in their presentation or approach, or if they win and fail to make more than one defence of the title, it will make clear what has been suggested by the hardcore fanbase for years – the tag divisions are secondary.
Moving on, as far as the block matches go, Roppongi 3K will likely amass a similar record to last year’s tournament if not better given the inclusion of an additional young lion this year. Their matches with Suzuki-Gun are usually very good so their opening match will be worth keeping an eye out for. As it is El Desperado’s first tournament match since recovering from a broken jaw, don’t be surprised if he picks up the pinfall here. Their match on the next night could very well be the match of the tournament if it fulfils its potential as they take on the Birds of Prey in Korakuen Hall in what will surely be a barnburner main event. Their next big challenge comes on October 27th against tournament rival Ryusuke Taguchi and their mentor Rocky Romero. Romero will be expected to take the pinfall here to put over his young wards in what should be a very good bout. Their final block match against BULLET CLUB will more than likely have the most significant ramifications of all the block matches (which is to say, more than none) in that the winners will almost definitely reach the finals and should this turn out to be a preview of the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship match at Wrestle Kingdom, they will need to have a much more remarkable match than their previous outing against Ishimori & Phantasmo at Kizuna Road.
Recommended Viewing: BUSHI & Shingo Takagi vs. Roppongi 3K – NJPW Road to Wrestling Dontaku 2019 – Day 9 ~ Aki no SENGOKU EMAKI ~
Matches to Watch Out For: Suzuki-Gun (October 16th), Birds of Prey (October 17th), Romero/Taguchi (October 27th), BULLET CLUB (November 1st)
Expected Points Total: 10
Tiger Mask IV & Yuya Uemura
Previous Appearances: 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 (Tiger Mask IV w/ Jushin Thunder Liger, lost in 1st round), 2018 (Tiger Mask IV w/ Liger, 4 points)
In case you were wondering, the answer is no, you didn’t read that wrong – Tiger Mask IV went out in the first round in six consecutive tournaments alongside Liger. Their win over the CMLL team last year marked the first of their two wins and their final tournament tagging together left the team with a total record of 2-11. I would have liked to see those two wrestle each other one last time, perhaps in Sumo Hall on the undercard of the Best of the Super Juniors final but unfortunately not. This year’s league will be the first since its inception to not include Jushin Thunder Liger, who also wrestled in the inaugural tournament alongside a pre-Loose Explosion YOSHI-HASHI.
Liger and Tiger Mask are not completely unsuccessful in tag tournaments however as they were successful in winning the 2013 Global Junior Heavyweight Tag League in NOAH with a 4-1 record, only dropping points via double countout. Interestingly, Tiger Mask will encounter one of the men they beat in the final to win that tournament in this year’s league, as Taiji Ishimori partnered with Atsushi Kotoge against the NJPW team. While his best years may be behind him, he is a former IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion and a former 2-time GHC Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion.
This will be the 2nd NJPW tournament Yuya Uemura has participated in this year following his run in the Young Lion Cup. As expected, he ended that competition with a losing record but an upset victory over Clark Connors earned some well-deserved recognition. I’ve seen him described as the second coming of Tatsumi Fujinami and at 24 years old, he has plenty of time to develop to fill those shoes (and optimistically, outgrow them).
Uemura’s 20-93-4 record in NJPW and Tiger Mask’s 2-11 record in tournament history does not bode well for this team’s chances but that doesn’t rule out the possibility of them picking up at least one win in the league, with their best bet being against Clark Connors and TJP. The pairing of grumpy veteran Tiger Mask with fired up young prospect Yuya Uemura is certainly an interesting one and should hopefully make for some fun matches in the league.
Recommended Viewing: Clark Connors vs. Yuya Uemura – NJPW Destruction in Kagoshima 2019
Matches to Watch Out For: Connors & TJP (October 31st)
Expected Point Total: 0
Titán & Volador Jr.
Previous Appearances: 2016 (Titán w/ Ángel de Oro, lost in 1st round), 2017 (Titán w/ Dragon Lee, lost in 1st round), 2018 (Volador Jr w/ Soberano Jr., 4 points)
If this was the originally scheduled team of Dragon Lee and Titán, you could expect them to put on some great matches in the tournament but as previously noted, Volador Jr. is the last-minute substitution and if you couldn’t already tell, I’m less than pleased. I should mention that I have actually enjoyed Volador’s NJPW work in the past – he has particularly had some great Fantastica Mania bouts against Caristico, El Barbaro Cavernario and Ultimo Guerrero in past years. My biggest gripes come from his output in last year’s tag league, which was lacklustre to say the least. When suspicions first arose over Dragon Lee’s inclusion, I had hoped for Audaz to be given an opportunity or even the team of La Peste Negra (El Barbaro Cavernario and Negro Casas!) but not such luck. Perhaps a new partner will inspire new life this run but I’m doubtful. He will be looking to avenge his poor 2-5 record from last year but it’s incredibly unlikely that he’ll be able to break even overall this time around.
Whilst he has yet to win a tournament in NJPW, Volador Jr. has achieved tag success in his home promotion of CMLL in Mexico. In just the last decade, he has won the Torneo Gran Alternativa twice (2016 w/ Esfinge, 2018 w/ Flyer), the Torneo Nacional de Parejas Increibles (2013 w/ La Sombra, 2017 w/ El Barbaro Cavernario), the Torneo Nacional de Parejas Arena Puebla (2013 w/ Atlantis) and the CMLL World Tag Team Championships twice (once w/ La Sombra, once w/ Valiente). Whether he’ll be able to convert that success into anything meaningful on Japanese soil remains in question.
Titán on the other hand, is someone I very much enjoy and would have likely been in last year’s tournament alongside Dragon Lee if the latter hadn’t been injured very shortly before it took place. However, Titán’s performances in this year’s Best of the Super Juniors outside of his matches against Dragon Lee and Jonathan Gresham struggled to stand out against the others and he ended up being outshined by the majority of the participants. I will give him the benefit of the doubt however because I’m still high on him following his absolutely superb match against El Barbaro Cavernario in February for CMLL. Unfortunately, his record in previous tournaments leaves a lot to be desired as his first-round losses to Roppongi Vice and LIJ in 2016 and 2017 have left him with an 0-2 record which he’ll be looking to amend this year.
Since 2013, Titán has managed to appear 84 times and an appearance at Power Struggle after this tour will mark his 99th appearance for the promotion (counting his three appearances on the 2017 War of the Worlds UK tour which was mostly ROH). I wouldn’t mind if he appeared in some capacity on January 4th, even if only in a NEVER 6-Man gauntlet as a CMLL representative or in the New Japan Rumble for his 100th appearance. Unlike his usual tag partner Dragon Lee, Titán has thus far been unable to earn a place in New Japan outside of Fantastica Mania, Best of the Super Juniors and the Road to Power Struggle tour (Super Jr Tag Tournament). Given the lack of Seki-Gun junior heavyweights, I would like to see CMLL representatives getting tours here and there to give some variety on undercards and I feel Titán would be great for this spot.
Historically, CMLL representatives haven’t served as much more than spot-fillers in this tournament included for variety; teams featuring CMLL representatives have a truly horrendous combined 4-14 record since the inaugural tournament in 2010. In fact, prior to the format change in 2018, no all-Mexican team had recorded even a single win in the tournament. In the single elimination format, only the teams of BUSHI & Valiente and Fuego & Ryusuke Taguchi made it out of the first round in 2013 and 2016 respectively. Last year’s league saw the CMLL team pick up wins over ACH & Ryusuke Taguchi as well as Eagles & Ishimori and with this year’s block featuring two teams with young lions, their record will more than likely improve, if not by much.
Recommended Viewing: BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi vs. Dragon Lee & Titan – NJPW Road to Power Struggle 2017 – Day 5 (October 23rd, 2017)
Matches to Watch Out For: Eagles & Ospreay (October 19th), Roppongi 3K (October 28th)
Expected Points Total: 6-8
Of all the possible outcomes in this tournament, which teams are most likely to reach the finals and who will win the tournament? I can categorically tell you that Connors & TJP, Romero & Taguchi, Tiger Mask & Uemura and Titan & Volador Jr. have almost negative chance of winning. Ultimately, they are four makeshift teams and more than likely at least three of them will not return for next year’s tournament. This leaves just four teams:
- Birds of Prey (Robbie Eagles & Will Ospreay)
- BULLET CLUB (El Phantasmo & Taiji Ishimori)
- Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH)
- Suzuki-Gun (El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru)
The tournament marks El Desperado’s return from injury and a Suzuki-Gun victory would give him great momentum going into the Tokyo Dome. However, while BULLET CLUB still hold the championships, it’s not very likely Suzuki-Gun would be pitted against them in two-on-two action on such a major show unless the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship match at Wrestle Kingdom becomes a three-way or four-way match, which negate the purpose of having this tournament entirely and make this entire preview pointless (oh God, please no). I wouldn’t rule them out of making it to the finals however, as they would provide a good opposing team for one of the CHAOS teams. I’d consider this team to be the fourth most likely winner.
With Ishimori & Phantasmo seemingly not set to defend the championships before Wrestle Kingdom, it appears set that they will walk into the show as the title holders barring unforeseen circumstances. Consequently, the only reason I could possibly see them winning the Super Junior Tag League would be if BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi challenged them after the finals for Wrestle Kingdom. They would be the only available fresh matchup but this is purely speculative and isn’t massively likely. I’d consider this team to be the third most likely winner.
The Birds of Prey are the freshest tag team in the division right now but as with BUSHI & Shingo Takagi, the brightest stars burn out the quickest. With Will Ospreay seemingly hellbent on destroying himself by partaking in every New Japan tournament he can in 2019, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assume he will also be in the World Tag League. Now, if he won the Super Junior Tag League and earned a shot at BULLET CLUB for Wrestle Kingdom, it would seem somewhat redundant to have him then enter the World Tag League to fight for a shot at New Japan’s other tag team championship. Of course, with Wrestle Kingdom 14 taking place over two days, he could challenge for both if the title matches are booked on different days but nobody would buy Ospreay walking out of Wrestle Kingdom with both championships and it would waste a spot that could go to someone else. The Birds of Prey will have also faced Ishimori & Phantasmo in two-on-two bouts three times in the space of two months after their tag league opener so to have them face off a fourth time (or even a fifth time, if both reached the finals of the league and the Birds of Prey) would be somewhat excessive. I’d consider this team to be the second most likely winner.
This just leaves Roppongi 3K. They work as compelling faces opposite the BULLET CLUB heels and have only faced the team once back when they lost the titles, so winning the tournament and going on to become champions at Wrestle Kingdom would suffice as a simple redemption story. A victory in the Tokyo Dome would avenge not only their loss at Kizuna Road but also end their losing streak in the Dome. Once this happens though, SHO and YOH need to be developed more strongly as individuals going forward lest they regress back into the repetitive cyclical booking of years prior. If they can expand on their different qualities and have singles matches outside of the Best of the Super Juniors and the Super J Cup, they can build distinctive characters which would prevent from becoming genericised as the Roppongi 3K team. Giving them IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship matches against the next heel that holds the title wouldn’t be a terrible way of achieving this, in my own opinion. I’d consider Roppongi 3K to be the most likely winner.
- Harry Powell