The New Japan Cup is a sixteen-man, single elimination tournament, the winner of which gets to challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight, IWGP Intercontinental, or NEVER Openweight Championship at an upcoming show, most likely April’s Sakura Genesis. Let’s get to it.
This year, the 1st Round is spread over two days, the 2nd Round matches take place during the week, and the semi-finals and final will happen next Sunday and Monday respectively. As with the G1 Climax, World Tag League and Best of the Super Juniors, I will be focusing on reviewing only the tournament matches, though I will rate the undercards tags where applicable.
Tomoaki Honma had been due to take part in the tournament, but as I’m sure you’re aware, he is out indefinitely with a cervical spinal injury. As such, his place was given to Yuji Nagata.
Here we go…
March 11th, 18:00 from Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium, Aichi
- El Desperado & TAKA Michinoku defeated Hirai Kawato & Ryusuke Taguchi **3/4
- Jushin Thunder Liger, Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan defeated Tiger Mask IV, Manabu Nakanishi & Tomoyuki Oka **1/4
- Yujiro Takahashi & Kenny Omega defeated YOSHI-HASHI & Tomohiro Ishii ***
- BUSHI, Hiromu Takahashi, SANADA & Tetsuya Naito defeated David Finlay, KUSHIDA, Juice Robinson & Katsuyori Shibata ***1/4
- Jado, Gedo, Hirooki Goto & Kazuchika Okada defeated Taichi, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Takashi Iizuka & Minoru Suzuki ***
Yuji Nagata vs. Tanga Loa
Nagata largely controlled the early portions, using his veteran wits to stay on top until Tanga’s power came into play. “You trying to embarrass me in my first singles match?” said Tanga. “I never give up!” responded Nagata after being worn down for a couple of minutes. A powerslam connected, but the diving headbutt missed and Nagata fought back with kicks and elbow strikes. The Exploder got two, but a sloppy German earned the same for Tanga, then a spinebuster landed for a near-fall. Nagata grabbed the Shirome armbar to the crowd’s delight, then nailed a brainbuster for a two-count. Backdrop hold! One, two, three. Nice to see some personality from Tanga Loa, but that was strictly limited to vocalisations not ringwork and Nagata was the one getting a reaction. Not a good match, and that was entirely on Tanga Loa. *
Toru Yano vs. Tama Tonga
Yano was attacked with his own DVD – disgraceful! – then continued the long-running thread of being terrified of Tama. He managed a hairpull but Tama hit back with a spear. At perhaps the third time of asking, a low blow landed and the Master Thief stole a win. Amusing enough while it lasted. N/R
Michael Elgin vs. Bad Luck Fale
Elgin managed to knock Fale from the ring with a shoulder block, but Fale did some damage on the outside and continued inside the ring by standing on Elgin’s back and delivering a barrage of clubbing blows. Elgin avoided a seated senton and nailed an enzuigiri and some kicks before impressing the crowd with a vertical suplex for two, but a samoan drop off a charge put both men down. Elgin was up first to hit a couple of corner clotheslines and a rolling elbow, then decked Fale with a lariat for another two-count. German suplex blocked and Fale’s splash smooshed Elgin for two. Grenade avoided and this time the German connected! The advantage didn’t last, though, and Fale hit a spear and the Grenade for the crowd-deflating three-count. That has to count as an upset given Elgin’s recent status in the company. The match was a standard big man contest, though not a good one. **
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. EVIL
Tanahashi and his new haircut controlled briefly, but a knee strike put him outside, where Evil floored him with a clothesline before enacting chair-on-chair-on-head violence, despite referee Unno’s weak protestations. Back inside, a surfboard stomp got two and Evil applied a cravat to wear down the former Ace. Tanahashi resorted to an eye rake, then a low dropkick and Dragon Screw turned the match. A leaping elbow, elbow drop, and flipping senton earned two, before the second-rope version of the latter missed the mark and a sidewalk slam from Evil put both men down. Fisherman suplex, and Evil headed up top to hit a diving clothesline for two before Tanahashi survived an elbow battle and got a Dragon Screw through the ropes. Then, with Evil out of the ring, Tanahashi launched himself from the top-rope to the floor with a High Fly Flow crossbody!
Evil pushed the ref into the ropes to crotch Tanahashi, and with the referee down, made use of a chair. Tanahashi fired up and used the plunder himself, heelishly pushing the ref aside to nail a spinning neckbreaker onto the chair. Sling Blade! The High Fly Flow hit the knees (I think) and after both men got up the Main Event Elbow Battle commenced. Lariat from Evil – two-count only! Fireman’s carry bomb – two-count only! A hammerlocked crossface hold had Tanahashi fading, but he kicked out of the pin attempt. STO blocked twice, Sling Blade, both men down! Evil pushed the referee aside, misted Tanahashi and nailed the STO at 23 minutes to score the biggest win of his career to date! Well, well, well. That’s a bracket buster for sure. You have to wonder if Tanahashi’s ever going to be able to stop the rot, or if he’ll increasingly resort to nefarious means, as he attempted here. I’m definitely invested in seeing where it goes. A good match, which the crowd really got into, and I especially liked the detail of Evil borrowing his stablemate Bushi’s tricks in order to get the win. ****
Post-match promo from Evil to close the show and we’re out.
March 12th, 16:00 from Amagasaki Memorial Park Gymnasium, Hyogo
- Jushin Thunder Liger & Yuji Nagata defeated Tiger Mask IV & David Finlay **1/2
- Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa & Bad Luck Fale defeated Hirai Kawato, Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan **1/2
- BUSHI, Hiromu Takahashi, EVIL & Tetsuya Naito defeated Ryusuke Taguchi, KUSHIDA, Michael Elgin & Hiroshi Tanahashi ***
- Jado, Gedo, Toru Yano, Hirooki Goto, Kazuchika Okada defeated TAKA Michinoku, El Desperado, Taichi, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Takashi Iizuka **1/4
Juice Robinson vs. Yujiro Takahashi
A missed cannonball and plancha allowed Yujiro to nail a fisherman buster out on the floor, and from there he remained in control for several minutes, with Juice only able to make cursory attempts to fight back. A nicely snapped reverse DDT got a two count, then Yujiro struck with Miami Shine for two, which impressed the crowd and fired up Juice. Again the cannonball missed, but a straight right didn’t and the follow-up lariat and pinning powerbomb brought a near-fall. Pulp Friction for the three-count! A solid effort in which Juice survived nearly everything from Yujiro’s arsenal to claim the win. He’s making steps forward all the time, the booking has certainly been in his favour, and although today’s response was not on the level of Tokyo crowds I would wager that’s in part because Yujiro is a black hole of heat. **3/4
YOSHI-HASHI vs. SANADA
Yoshi was pinned yesterday after receiving Omega’s One Winged Angel and that move’s impact played against him here. A ‘rana sent Sanada out early, but he immediately replied with the leapfrog dropkick and a plancha, before dumping Yoshi neck-first over the barrier. A back elbow in the ring got two and a tight headlock was applied. Yoshi slipped out of the attempted Skull End dragon sleeper for a neckbreaker and continued the comeback with a blockbuster and rope-hung dropkick for two, but Sanada’s super-quick springboard dropkick put an end to the advantage. An elbow battle culminated in uppercuts and slaps respectively, but Sanada’s TKO once again turned the match in his favour. Skull End locked in, but Yoshi made the ropes! Back to the middle of the ring, Yoshi reversed to a victory roll for two and a left-armed lariat got the same. Shoulderbreaker from Yoshi, jackknife powerbomb, two-count only. He headed up top, and the swanton hit the knees, but Sanada was unable to capitalise and Yoshi applied the Butterfly Lock. Sanada broke the hold, only for Yoshi to roll back into it, forcing Sanada to scramble for a rope-break. Slam, and this time the swanton connected! Two-count only. A series of counters led to Sanada moonsaulting onto Yoshi from the corner then lifting him to cinch in the Skull End and forcing him to tap. Sanada advances. This was the first time these two have ever met in a singles match and, having been positioned well in recent months, they delivered really strong effort here. I don’t doubt they have more to offer in future. ***3/4
Katsuyori Shibata vs. Minoru Suzuki
A surprisingly respectful exchange was ended when Shibata kicked Suzuki in the face, then it kicked off momentarily before both men missed their death blow. Shibata fought to fully apply the figure four, and Suzuki made the ropes, so it was time for elbow strikes and uppercuts. Suzuki lured Shibata to the ropes for the five-second armbar, then took the fight outside, where Taichi involved himself, before Suzuki took his opponent out into the crowd and used a chair to choke him. Suzuki dragged Shibata back to the ring, where the latter failed to stop an armbar being applied, but stretched for the rope-break. Elbow strikes in the corner were replied to with a pair of jumping kicks and suddenly it was on! Elbows and knees from Shibata and the corner dropkick connected. Hatch suplex for two, then Shibata transitioned the Cobra Twist into the Octopus Hold, but Suzuki made the ropes. Suzuki hit a Penalty Kick of his own for two, then applied a deep Octopus Hold. After the rope-break, Suzuki landed elbows and slaps to knock Shibata down, then the pair of them obliged in delivering and receiving hard elbows. Back and forth they went, both punch-drunk and stumbling before simultaneous kicks put them both down. Sleeper hold from Suzuki! He wrenched it, and Shibata faded, but couldn’t follow with the piledriver. Leg-hook STO and a German from Shibata, Penalty Kick ducked, and Suzuki grabbed the Sleeper again only to get countered. Death Valley Driver from Shibata! Penalty kick! One, two, three! Most enjoyable, with the caveat that this style isn’t for everyone. Like the previous match, this felt somewhat like the first in a series, but I didn’t think that was to its detriment. ****
Tomohiro Ishii vs. Kenny Omega
Omega’s big boot was brushed off, so unwisely he tried match Ishii with strikes and soon learnt the error of his ways. Outside, however, he lifted Ishii from the apron, failing with the attempted One Winged Angel on the floor, but did connect with an asai moonsault off the barrier. He slipped out of Ishii’s suplex and slammed him onto the edge of the apron, then back in the ring, scored with a huge chop and the Muta-style elbow landed for two. Ishii tried to force a comeback, but Omega cut him off with more chops and stomps in the corner until Ishii was eventually able to nail a powerslam. Chops and elbows, and a shoulder block and suplex earned two. Omega flipped out of a backdrop and hit a low dropkick before landing the leapfrog bulldog for a two-count. Finlay Roll into the moonsault, again for a two-count, and it was time for a Main Event Chop Battle. Hard, high chops peppered both men until Ishii went to the throat and Omega landed a desperation ‘rana for some respite.
Up top, Kenny looked for a powerbomb(!) which Ishii blocked with a headbutt before scoring a super frankensteiner! Last Ride for a near-fall! Omega flipped out of a German suplex but Ishii’s lariat landed for 2.9. They fought over a suplex, then Omega spiked Ishii with a DDT and a cross-legged Ushigoroshi forced Ishii to roll out of the ring. The crowd initiated the Terminator clap and Kenny obliged with a lovely tope con hilo onto Ishii. Both men just about broke the count, and Omega hit a big missile dropkick to Ishii’s back for a two-count. Ishii wobbled to his feet after a German suplex, but Omega decked him with a knee strike for a one-count! Woah. Deadlift Doctor Bomb, two-count only. One Winged Angel blocked and Ishii caught Omega mid-air for a German suplex to put both men down. Elbow strikes and spitwads back-and-forth! Jumping knee strike and a sliding lariat from Ishii! Two-count only. V-Trigger knee strike from Omega, huge lariat from Ishii for another near-fall! Brainbuster blocked, jumping knee from Omega, the One Winged Angel was blocked again so he switched to Croyt’s Wrath! One, two… no! Snap dragon suplex, inverted hurricanrana, two-count again! One Winged Angel countered to a Stunner! Good lord! Lariat from Ishii! One, two… NO! Brainbuster! One, two, three! Wow. Apologies for the parade of exclamation marks there at the end, but things got insane. I know I wasn’t the only one who thought Kenny was a lock for the tournament, so the result was a huge upset in my eyes. The match was crazy, the only shame being that it didn’t happen on a bigger stage. ****1/2
- EVIL vs. Yuji Nagata (March 13th)
- Bad Luck Fale vs. Toru Yano (March 14th)
- Katsuyori Shibata vs. Juice Robinson (March 15th)
- Tomohiro Ishii vs. SANADA (March 17th)
Final thoughts: The first night had some decent, if inessential undercard tags and a very strong main event. The rest served its purpose but offered little more. The second night featured one very good match, one great match, and ended with a spectacular main event. The tournament in wide open with Tanahashi and Omega vanquished and I have no idea where it’ll go. Lots to recommend overall. High quality matches, breakout performances, huge upsets, thumbs way up.
I’ll be back on Friday with a roundup of the 2nd Round matches. See you then.