Editor’s note: The following originally appeared in this week’s Figure Four Weekly.
The announcement of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s King of Pro Wrestling card was notable for a few reasons. Hiromu Takahashi was kept out of the Junior Heavyweight title match, with Will Ospreay and KUSHIDA set to compete one-on-one instead. Also, Kota Ibushi won’t challenge Hiroshi Tanahashi just quite yet, as their Intercontinental title match looks like it will happen in Osaka at Power Struggle instead.
However, the thing that I find not only notable, but at this point I would say is comical, is that yet again the IWGP Tag Team titles are being defended in the same three-way dance that we had on all three Destruction shows — Killer Elite Squad vs. War Machine vs. Guerrillas of Destiny.
More than anything else in the highly successful booking run of Gedo, the heavyweight tag team scene has been criticized for a lack of creativity and care from his pencil. We may have reached the pinnacle of it with this match.
Back in 2012, it was TenKoji vs. KES that was done to death. The matches were always good, but by the 1,000th time nobody was frothing at the mouth for them. Since then it’s been one program after another involving the likes of Gun & Gallows, G.O.D, and the ROH team of the moment where the titles get traded around and end up back where they started. Nothing against any of those teams — for the most part they’ve all worked hard and every program has produced at least one very good match — but there’s been zero juice to any of the rivalries.
For a career tag worker, Gedo’s lack of care for the division he once called home is rather surprising. It’s also disappointing because of the historic significance tag team wrestling has in Japan. The peak of this was probably with 90s All Japan Pro Wrestling where the tag titles were contested for by the top stars who had their regular pairings to go alongside their singles endeavors. As a result, Kawada & Taue, Misawa & Kobashi, and Akiyama & Kobashi are remembered as some of the greatest tag teams ever, in addition to all of those men being legendary singles wrestlers.
NJPW has had their own great tag scene over the years as well. TenKoji’s dominance in the early 2000s saw them wrestle a variety of teams and really elevate the belts. In the 90s, The Steiners and the monster team of Vader & Bam Bam Bigelow proved great opposition for natives like Masa Chono, Keiji Muto, Hiroshi Hase, and Shinya Hashimoto.
Gedo has teased fans with alternatives, but has never followed them through. At the start of 2015, he had a rare combination of native heavyweight stars finally win the belts in Katsuyori Shibata & Hirooki Goto. It looked like they were being positioned opposite another newly formed team in Kota Ibushi & Tetsuya Naito. Then the rug was swept out and the titles went back to Gun & Gallows.
Last year, another alternative was explored with a brief integration of the junior heavyweight tag teams with the heavyweights. That got fans excited and the matches which featured The Young Bucks and reDRagon moving up were excellent, but the experiment was forgotten about once 2017 started.
Sadly with this KOPW lineup it seems Gedo’s more set in his ways than ever, and despite what an inarguably great run he’s had as NJPW booker, the tag team scene will forever be pointed to as a black mark against him.