Faction warfare in NJPW, or how to make the NEVER Openweight 6-man tag team championship relevant

The NEVER Openweight 6-man tag team championship. Let me ask you a few questions about this championship : How much do you care for it ? Do you even think it still has its place in the realm of New Japan ?
I wouldn’t ask you these questions if I thought that, at this point in time, they weren’t relevant. We are talking about the only championship that has, well, “never”, felt important. It just seems like the company, Gedo and the rest of the people involved in the booking decisions just don’t have any interest in making this championship as important as the other ones. Let me tell you, this is a shame, because the potential to make this champion feel like it actually matters in New Japan’s environment is there, really, right there. With that in mind, come with me, and let’s discuss how to make these belts feel relevant.

As usual, let’s start by putting some context in place, so we actually know what we’re talking about here. The NEVER 6-man tag tam championship has been created on December 21, 2015. The first trio of champions, made CHAOS members Toru Yano & The Briscoe Brothers, faced the Bullet Club trio of Tama Tonga, Bad Luck Fale and Yujiro Takahashi to claim the belts, at Wrestle Kingdom 10. Since then, a total of 14 different trios have held the championship, with Los Ingobernables de Japon’s EVIL, BUSHI & SANADA holding the most title reigns with three, the most defenses in one reign with three (shared with Tama Tonga, Bad Luck Fale and Tanga Loa). They also hold the record for the most combined days as champions, with 281 day. This last record being in danger, as the Guerillas of Destiny, two-third of the champions, have held the championship for 247 days and counting as these lines are written. Now, holding the championship for 228 days in one reign may seem long, but this is the only time since the championship was created that one trio held it for more than 200 days. In comparison, the championship have been held less than a month seven times, with twice only being for 24 hours.

This statistics now raise one question : How can anyone expect fans to believe a championship matter when there is no consistency with the championship reigns ?
Personally, I wonder. Putting the belts on one trio to take them away the next day or three weeks later does no help, towards the championship, and the wrestlers themselves. Also, the championship has never really been involved in any kind of storyline, it feels like it’s just there for wrestlers to grab so they have some gold around their waists. Is that how a championship should be treated ?

Now that we went back at this history of the championship and laid down some stats, let’s actually see how New Japan can make it important. The most important thing to keep in mind is New Japan’s global environment. As you probably know if you read this, the New Japan landscape is composed of factions. To this day, we can count CHAOS, Los Ingobernables de Japon, Bullet Club, Suzuki-Gun, The Elite, Taguchi Japan. All of these groups have held the championship before, battling with members of other factions to become champions. The thing is, it has never been made official that this championship was about faction dominance. So, I say, make it all that. Since the championship currently doesn’t seem to have any purpose, give it something worth fighting for outside of holding a title. Use your landscape to create actual faction warfare surrounding these belts. We might one day come back to factions and how well, and sometimes not so much, New Japan uses them, but putting the NEVER Openweight 6-man tag team championship at the core of the war between factions is, in my humble opinion, the best way to make it matter, to make it feel like it is important for the wrestlers. Therefore, fans, and most of us have a favourite New Japan faction, will actually want to see the faction they like the most hold this championship. The frustrating part being, at least for me, is that we had glimpses of what I call faction warfare surrounding these belts, but it seems like New Japan doesn’t fully engage itself on that road.

Now some may tell me that holding championships, and by that I mean holding a lot of them, is a good way to showcase the dominance of factions, and I agree. I agree to some extent. Take the example of L.I.J during the earlier part of last year. Tetsuya Naito held the Intercontinental championship, Hiromu Takahashi held the Jr Heavyweight championship, and the trio of EVIL, SANADA & BUSHI held the NEVER Openweight 6-man tag team championship as well, with a span of 66 days of not holding the belts for the trio. Thanks Gedo, that little detail made total sense and was really useful. At the time, at least for me, it felt like LIJ was at the top of the world, the most dominant faction in New Japan, they not only had many belts, but they felt dominant, especially thanks to Naito and Takahashi’s reigns. A counter-example I have in mind to show that holding a handful of championships doesn’t help a faction feeling dominant is Suzuki-Gun’s most recent tenure in New Japan. This year, Minoru Suzuki held the IWGP Intercontinental championship and the British Heavyweight championship, which was also held by Zack Sabre Jr earlier this year. Suzuki and Sabre also are the current holders of the RPW Undisputed British tag team championship. The leader of Suzuki-Gun even entered 2018 as IWGP NEVER Openweight champions. Taichi also claimed that championship for a while, and lastly, the duo of Yoshinobu Kanemaru and El Desperado have been IWGP Jr Heavyweight tag team champions since March 6th of this year. The problem, and again, this is only based on my point of view, is that the faction has never felt dominant. This is mainly due to booking, as if you compare both situations, the LIJ members held highly valued championships for a long time, as for the Suzuki-Gun members, they never really did, apart for Kanemaru and Desperado, but that specific issue concerning the Junior tag belts also deserves to be treated in an article of its own.

Therefore, I see the idea of making the NEVER Openweight 6-man tag team championship a faction dominance based championship a necessity, especially for a group like Suzuki-Gun. A group that has never, since coming back to New Japan last year, gained back the same amount of glory and dominance they had when they were exiled to Pro Wrestling NOAH a few years ago.
It would, obviously, help the other factions feeling like they are dominant, depending on how New Japan books their groups. As I already said, in the end, this is all creating interesting stories, and you cannot let any part of what makes your roster down by not putting as much effort as you do for your main event stars.

As I now put an end to this article, feel free to share your opinion on this subject, that I consider to be more important than what it may seem. Tell me, what would you do to help make the NEVER Openweight 6-man tag team championship more relevant ? Would you shorten the name ? Would you even consider putting these belts away, thinking such a championship is worthless ?

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