March 12th from Aomiori, Japan
A week after Rounds One and Two we reach the Finals of the New Japan Cup. The semi-finals are Naito vs. Yano and Goto vs. Elgin, with the winner of the tournament to be determined in the main event. The rest of the card featured tag matches that will likely set up matches April’s Invasion Attack.
Here we go…
Jay White vs. David Finlay
The usual solid start from these two, they laid in the strikes and I got a kick – as I always do – from seeing Finlay Jr. hit the Finlay Roll. White once again won with the Liontamer having transitioned from a single-leg crab. We could do with a couple more Young Lions for variation, but at least you now you’ll get a decent match from these guys. **1/2
Jushin Liger & Juice Robinson vs. Tiger Mask IV & Captain New Japan
Captain New Japan was your Captain-in-peril for the majority of the eight minutes this match got. He rolled-up Robinson for a near-fall, but that rarest of wins didn’t come. Robinson got the win with a sort of cobra clutch variation of the camel clutch. This was filler aside from the post-match which seemed to set up Liger and Tiger for yet another NWA Jr. title match. I honestly can’t remember who has the belt [I checked, it’s Tiger Mask]. *1/2
EVIL & BUSHI vs. Tomohiro Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI
The representatives of Los Ingobernables de Japón attacked before the bell, as is customary, and kept Yoshi-Hashi isolated for the beatdown. Eventually, of course, Ishii did make it in and he and Evil demonstrated the chemistry that was evident in their Round One Cup match. While Evil had the referee distracted, Bushi misted Ishii, then dived out onto Yoshi-Hashi. Evil hit Ishii with the STO and that was good for the three-count. After the match, Evil posed with Ishii’s ROH TV title. A decent match that sets up a rematch I’m keen to see [although it now looks like it’ll take place on a non-broadcast Road to Invasion Attack show]. Good work. **¾
New Japan Cup Semi-final
Tetsuya Naito vs. Toru Yano
Yano’s run in the Cup has been enjoyable, but sadly this is where it came to an end. The Sublime Master Thief delved into his bag of tricks, but it was Naito who got the sneaky roll-up for the win in a little over two minutes. N/A
New Japan Cup Semi-final
Hirooko Goto vs. Michael Elgin
A fine match here, wrestled at pace, hard-hitting and Elgin continued to impress the Japanese audience with his power moves. The finish came when Goto ducked the clotheslined and rolled-up Elgin with Goto-Nishiki for the win in under ten minutes. This was shorter than I expected, more like a G1 match, but Elgin was once again shown to be a beast, albeit not someone who’s quite ready to hold any titles in the company. Goto, meanwhile, continues to scrape wins and sets up a Wrestle Kingdom 10 rematch in the final against Naito. ***¼
Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima vs. Katsuyori Shibata & Ryusuke Taguchi
Seemed to me that Kojima and Tenzan were working especially hard here, pulling out a couple of double-team moves I haven’t seen from them in a long time including a slingshot elbow/diving headbutt combo. Shibata’s exchanges with Kojima were as stiff as you might expect and it wasn’t a surprise when Kojima challenged him for the NEVER title after the match, laying him out with a huge lariat. Old Koji also got the pin in the match, with Taguchi’s ass attack comeback ended by the Western Lariat at 10 minutes. **3/4
Kazuchika Okada & Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi
Nagata and Okada had a great match at the G1 last year and their interactions here continued the grizzled veteran/cocky youngsters dynamic to good effect, but nobody here is feuding so it was hard to care. Sakuraba looks to have a bit left in the tank and another match against Shibata (for the NEVER title this time) would be welcome. Okada ran through his usual combination and put Nakanishi away with the Rainmaker at 12 minutes. Just a match. **1/4
Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga & Yujiro Takahashi vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma
Good work from all involved here, Tanahashi especially, with plenty of entertaining interactions. Tonga stole a camera and started taking photos of the faces being beaten at ringside by his teammates, and Tanahashi got the big slam on Fale after failing to do so in his Round One loss. Honma went for the top-rope Kokeshi, but Tonga nailed him with the Gun Stun mid-fall and followed up with the Headshrinker DDT for the three-count. Post-match, Bullet Club left the face teaming lying, and Tonga announced that he would be challenging for the tag titles with the newest Bullet Club member: his brother (aka Camacho/Micha who’s coming off failed runs in WWE and TNA, and who was later announced as Tanga Roa, the team to be called Guerrillas of Destiny). Tonga looked a lot more comfortable here than in his second round singles match with Goto, so perhaps it’s for the best that he sticks around the tag division for a while. Fun match. ***
New Japan Cup Final
Tetsuya Naito vs. Hirooki Goto
Goto had won this tournament three times in the past coming into this one, but it’s clear he’s been having a crisis of confidence – would his failure to beat Okada last month be playing on his mind? Naito, meanwhile, has been breezing along since assembling Los Ingobernables de Japón, seemingly unaffected by wins or losses. Goto was the default face here, but there was some work to do in getting the crowd to back him, since he’d been displaying heelish tendencies since the turn of the year. They did the hard work, however, and the longer the match went, the more the crowd were cheering for Goto. He had to fight for everything he hit – a top-rope superplex taking the best part of a minute to execute – but by returning to his regular moveset it was evident he was feeling more himself. A top-rope Ushigoroshi brought a near-fall, then, incredibly, the Shouten Kai was not enough for the three-count. Bushi and Evil tried to interject, but were swiftly dealt with, then an attempted second Shouten Kai was countered mid-air into Destino and both men were down. They fought up from their knees, Goto fired-up after Naito’s dragon suplex, but a discuss lariat was countered into a second Destino and that was that. Naito is the winner of the New Japan Cup 2016. A good twenty minute match that focused moreso on Goto’s story than Naito’s, but was the better for it. ***3/4
Post-match, Naito was awarded a ludicrous trophy and announced he would be challenging Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship… but not at Invasion Attack. Okada then made the save as Los Ingobernables continued to attack Goto, and Goto finally accepted a handshake from the champ, implying that he’s joined CHAOS.
Okada then challenged Naito for a match at Invasion Attack and Naito accepted, meaning he gets a title shot for free and gets to keep New Japan Cup challenge in his back pocket just in case. Smart thinking, Naito.
Final thoughts: The Cup matches were good and the crowd were hot throughout, but the rest is easily skipped. Naito was my pick, and the fallout from the main event was what I expected, but that’s no bad thing. Lots set up for Invasion Attack, which looks like it’ll be a strong show.
I’ll be back to cover Invasion Attack on April 10th, see you then.