March 3rd, 19:00 from Ota Gymnasium, Tokyo
The New Japan Cup is a sixteen-man, single elimination tournament, the winner of which gets to choose to challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight, IWGP Intercontinental, or NEVER Openweight Championship at an upcoming show (most likely April’s Invasion Attack). Each of the eight singles matches today are part of Round One of the tournament, Round Two is tomorrow, and the semi-finals and final take place on March 12th.
NJPW’s owner Takaaki Kidani made a couple of announcements before the show: Lion’s Gate is to hold open trials; the Tiger Mask anime is getting a reboot; Elgin has signed for two years. Shibata came out to – at long last – sign an exclusive contract with New Japan. And, finally, Super J Cup 2016 is happening on August 21st with participants from NJPW, ROH, CMLL, NOAH, DragonGate, Suzuki-Gun, ZERO1, and K-DOJO. I am hyped!
Here we go…
Toru Yano vs. Yujiro Takahashi
Bullet Club attacked before the bell, but Yano hit a low blow and Takahashi was counted out. Thank you Yano! I’m tempted to give this five-stars for the result and the fact that Yano didn’t even get his kimono off, but it lasted all of two minutes. N/A
Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Michael Elgin
There were some surprisingly hot near-falls in this one, Elgin hit a deadlift German suplex and a big lariat that had the crowd biting, and Tenzan locked in the Anaconda Vice late on much to the crowd’s delight. In the end, Tenzan headed up top, but Elgin stopped him and hit the bucklebomb and spinning powerbomb for the win. It looked like Elgin was hoping for a post-match handshake, but surly old Tenzan wouldn’t give it to him. The crowd were into this one. ***
Togi Makabe vs. Tama Tonga
Tonga attacked Makabe before the bell and continued the beating outside, whipping him into the barrier and dropping him neck-first onto the steel. Makabe made the comeback with punches then mounted punches in the corner and a Northern Lights suplex for two. A german suplex got another two-count, then Tonga tried to run the referee into Makabe, which failed, but he was able duck each of the punches that followed and connect with a Gun Stun(!) and the Headshrinker DDT for the three-count followed! Huge win for Tonga in his first big singles match and I like the Bullet Club tradition of adopting the moves of previous members. **1/2
Tomoaki Honma vs. Satoshi Kojima
A respectful opening between the two crowd favourites, but it was the tag champion Honma who took control at first. That was until he tried to hit a Kokeshi. Kojima wore Honma down before hitting a diving elbow drop for a two-count. A Chop Battle ensued, then a deadlift suplex from Honma led to the Kokeshi connecting and a second-rope Blockbuster. Honma attempted to suplex Kojima to the floor, but Cozy dropped him with an apron DDT. An Elbow Battle on the floor had both men distracted and they rushed in at 19 (with me anticipating the double count-out). Koji Cutter connected, but a Kokeshi to Kojima’s arm blocked the lariat. Rocket Kokeshi from the second-rope, then a Kokeshi, then the top-rope Kokeshi… missed. Both men down. A brainbuster from Honma dumped Kojima right on his head for a near-fall. Western Lariat from Kojima – two-count only. Another, and Kojima gets the win. Good stuff. ***1/4
Special Tag Match: Katsuyori Shibata & KUSHIDA vs. Kazuchika Okada & Kazushi Sakuraba
Okada and Shibata had some excellent exchanges here (really hope a singles match between the two happens at some point) and sandwiched in-between was a compelling mini-match between Kushida and Sakuraba. Late on, Kushida beautifully countered the Rainmaker into the Hoverboard Lock and it was only Sakuraba’s intervention that stopped Okada tapping. Kushida then tried to spin back into the submission hold but was caught and dumped on his head with a Tombstone. The Rainmaker then connected for the three-count. Lots to enjoy here. ***1/2
Post-match, CHAOS announced their newest member via video: Will Ospreay! He announced he was challenging Kushida for the Junior title on April 10th and claimed he would become the first-ever British champion.
Yuji Nagata vs. Hirooki Goto
Goto is back in the white gear, but no body paint this time. Hmm. Nagata wrestled this match like Goto had said something derogatory about his daughter – he really laid in the stomps and kicks. An elbow battle midway through got the crowd hot, then Nagata nailed Goto with a knee strike in the corner. A high kick connected, but the Backdrop Suplex was countered. Nagata missed a jumping kick, then Goto wrapped him up in the Goto Shiki pin for the three-count. It’s unclear where they’re going with Goto’s character at the moment, but here it seemed that Nagata was trying to elicit a rise from opponent, but Goto was unwilling to oblige, winning the match through smarts rather than by going toe-to-toe. **3/4
YOSHI-HASHI vs. Tetsuya Naito
A good story told in this one. Yoshi-Hashi had much, much more than Naito expected, showing great fire in his comebacks and forcing the Los Ingobernables de Japón leader to pull out some moves we haven’t seen from him in a while. Naito and his second, BUSHI, engaged in their usual shenanigans, but on each occasion Yoshi-Hashi fought back. A pinning powerpomb from Yoshi-Hashi got a near-fall, but the Loose Explosion senton missed (as well it should given the stupid name) and the debut of a new neck-lock submission had Naito close to tapping but he just made the ropes. A spinebuster from Naito, followed by Destino, was enough for the win. As with Tonga earlier, this was Yoshi-Hashi’s first real breakout opportunity and he did well, but Naito’s my pick for the Cup so the result was as I expected. ***1/2
Tomohiro Ishii vs. EVIL
Evil attacked Ishii before the bell and cracked his head on the ringpost, then wrapped one chair around his neck and smacked it with another (he’s got a big name to live up to after all). Back in the ring, Evil started chopping Ishii, which ordinarily wouldn’t be a good idea, but in this instance Ishii was unable to reply and it was only because of a missed charge that he got any offence in. A senton from Evil got two, then Ishii hit a desperation powerslam. A throat chop from Ishii suggested he’d got his mojo back and a huge delayed superplex got a close two-count. Evil fought back to hit a fisherman buster and a spinning lariat, then a firemen’s carry bomb connected for a near-fall. A stiff rolling elbow knocked Ishii to his knees, then Evil dumped him on his head with a half-and-half suplex. Top-rope clothesline! Two-count only. Headbutt from Ishii. Enziguri and a sickening headbutt. Powerbomb for two. Ishii with an STO(!) and a lariat, again for two. Evil’s turn to headbutt, another lariat, another two-count! Dragon suplex from Ishii, lariat, sliding lariat – 2.9! Crazy. Ishii with the brainbuster and Evil was finally defeated. Talk about a coming out party – I had no idea Evil had that in him. Both guys went for it here and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Again, I wish they’d cut out the unprotected headbutts, but if the goal was to demonstrate Evil’s toughness then mission accomplished. ****
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Bad Luck Fale
Such is Tanahashi’s carrying ability and past record with Fale, I was actually looking forward to this. Tanahashi is outstanding in his role as the smaller face against the monster heel, and you can almost see that he relishes playing HBK for the evening. (Side note: Tanahashi was leading the crowd in a chant of “Ace!”, with the commentator mentioning he’d taken inspiration from “Moose!” in Ring of Honor – the two sounds are phonetically similar in Japanese apparently.) Tanahashi nailed a huge High Fly Flow crossbody from the top rope to the floor and, amazingly, a german suplex, but a spear from Fale late in the match turned the tide. The first Bad Luck Fall attempt was countered into a Slingblade for two, but the second attempt connected and put Tanahashi down for the three-count. I did not expect that. Three big losses in a row; Okada, Omega, and now Fale. This wasn’t the best match these two have had, but it was solid main event and Tanahashi was still way over with the crowd. ***1/4
Post-match, Fale says “The Bullet Club is still here, this is the new era!”.
- Bad Luck Fale vs. Michael Elgin
- Tama Tonga vs. Hirooki Goto
- Satoshi Kojima vs. Toru Yano
- Tomohiro Ishii vs. Tetsuya Naito
Final thoughts: A really good show with several breakout performances and lots of big news. Evil and Yoshi-Hashi, in particular, impressed and I hope they’re rewarded with places in the G1 Climax in the summer. What is Goto playing at? Is time up for Tanahashi or can he rouse himself from this slump? Will Toru Yano get his kimono off tomorrow? So many questions.
More tomorrow, see you then.