NJPW Super J-Cup 2016: Round One

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July 20th, 18:30 from Korakuen Hall, Tokyo

This show represents the qualifiers for the Super J-Cup proper, the sixth edition of which takes place at the Ariake Coloseum in Tokyo on August 21st. There a couple of matches here that many would’ve expected to take place in later rounds, KUSHIDA vs. Taiji Ishimori and BUSHI vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru in particular, but there are also examples of independent wrestlers receiving wider exposure for the first time.

Here we go…

Matt Sydal (ROH) vs. Kaji Tomato (Kaientai Dojo)

Sydal, 33, is representing Ring of Honor despite being a New Japan regular. Most of his success of late has come as a part of tag team with Ricochet, with whom he holds the NEVER 6-man titles along with Satoshi Kojima, but he’s a dependably good singles wrestler when called upon. Kaji Tomato, 29, was trained by TAKA Michinoku and dresses like a tomato. No, seriously.

Kaji started well, hitting a slingshot and a cannonball from the top-rope, but was then caught by Sydal for the Slice leg bulldog and inverted Muta Lock. A spinning heel kick led to a surfboard variation, from which Kaji made the ropes, but Sydal hit a standing moonsault for two. Kaji fought back with an Asai dropkick and a sliding dropkick, but got caught up top where Sydal hit the jumping hurricanrana. Kaji with the Australian Suplex (low-angle Tiger bridge) and Tiger Suplex, both for two, then a speedily-applied small package. A high kick allowed Sydal to nail double knees from the top for a near-fall, then the Shooting Star Press hit the mark for the three-count. Post-match Kaji gave Sydal a tomato which, of course, confirms that Sydal has advanced. Tidy little match to get us started. ***

Gurukun Mask (Ryukyu Dragon) vs. Kenoh (NOAH)

Gurukun Mask, 44, has been wrestling in the independent promotions of Japan for 15 years and is included here on the recommendations of Jushin Liger. He represents the Okinawa-based promotion of which he is the owner. Kenoh, 31, was trained by Jinsei Shinzaki and is renowned for his hard kicks and grumpy demeanour. Having previously been affiliated with Michinoku Pro, Kenoh officially signed with NOAH in March and qualified for the Super J-Cup by winning a four-man tournament.

A kick-off to kick us off, but as Kenoh distracted the referee, his second struck Gurukun with a kendo stick, and Kenoh took control. He applied a single-leg Boston Crab, and as Gurukun fought back, raked the eyes. Gurukun connected with an enziguri as Kenoh was perched on the second-rope and hit a hurricanrana to send him to the floor, and followed with a tope con hilo. The advantage didn’t last long, as Kenoh came back with kicks and grabbed an ankle lock, grapevined the leg, and Gurukun just made the ropes. Both men allowed the other to hit kicks to the chest, until Gurukun changed tack and hit a lariat for two. A slam out of the corner and a moonsault brought a near-fall, then Kenoh hit a desperation Pele kick. Dragon suplex and a Penalty Kick from Kenoh – two-count only! He picked up Gurukun, hit Ragou (a cross-armed Gory special flipped into a powerbomb) and that was enough for the win. The crowd were into this. ***1/4

Yuma Aoyagi (AJPW) vs. Taichi (Suzuki-Gun)

Aoyagi, 20, is not the smallest fellow, standing at 6’1”, so his inclusion here is likely a result of his youth, but it’s notable that New Japan has cooperated with its former rival to bring him in. Still a young boy with only 18 months experience, I don’t expect him to progress. Taichi, 36, is representing the Suzuki-gun stable that invaded Pro-Wrestling Noah last year. Having returned to New Japan full-time in 2010, he’s been part of the Minoru Suzuki-led faction for five years.

An attractive woman danced to introduce Taichi. I didn’t mind. Milano AT on commentary took pictures on his phone, the dirty dog! The entrance took an age, then Taichi tried to tag in his second, El Desperado, to wrestle the match for him, but the referee wasn’t having any of it. Aoyagi finally kicked Taichi in the face to get the match started, then Taichi took a powder. He smacked Aoyagi on the back with a chair, then back in the ring, attacked the youngster with the ringbell hammer as Desperado distracted the referee. Aoyagi managed a crossbody out of the corner and a dropkick, then knocked Taichi to the floor, where he followed with a corkscrew dive. A top-rope crossbody, slingshot senton, and poorly-executed standing SSP connected for two. In amongst some fluff, Aoyagi hit a fisherman suplex for two, then got a series of near-falls from pinning combinations. A jumping high kick from Taichi brought a near-fall, then he nailed a super kick and the Last Ride for the win. Taichi’s heel act might work if you’re familiar with it, but it was pretty tedious to me, and Aoyagi fucked up enough that you could tell he wasn’t ready for his spot. Anyway, Taichi advances. **

Jushin Thunder Liger (NJPW) vs. Eita (Dragon Gate)

Liger, 51, can still perform to a very high level when called upon, as he demonstrated in a loss to KUSHIDA earlier this year. Perhaps no other wrestler is more synonymous with the Super J-Cup than Liger, a tournament he’s won on two previous occasions in 1995 and 2000. Eita, 24, is a graduate of the Dragon Gate dojo whose success until now has come in the tag and six-man divisions. He is part of the Over Generation stable and has started to break into singles matches, competing strongly against Cruiserweight Classic competitor Akira Tozawa in recent months.

Eita dropkicked Liger from the ring before the bell and followed with a tope con hilo. They brawled outside, and Liger accidentally ran himself into the ringpost, so back in the ring Eita got to work on the left arm. Liger caught him with the tilt-a-whirl backbreaker, then threw him to the floor where hit dumped him with a brainbuster! Eita was bleeding from a cut above his eye at this point and just made it back in before the count. A hard powerbomb from a pissed-off Liger was followed by the Romero Special. Eito reversed a charge, then hit a diving dropkick and standing moonsault for two, before countering the Shotei into an armbar, from which Liger made the ropes. The Shotei then connected, but Eita countered the follow-up to his Numero Uno submission, with Liger just making the ropes. Liger hit a Thesz Press off a charge, then turned Eita inside-out with another Shotei, and spiked him with a brainbuster for the three-count at 10 minutes. Liger congratulated Eita post-match, and the crowd chanted the Dragon Gate representative’s name. This was a lot of fun. Great intensity and pace. ***3/4


Titán (CMLL) vs. Will Ospreay (CHAOS)

Titán, 25, was most recently seen in the New Japan at the Fantastica Mania joint-tour in January, where he unsuccessfully challenged for CMLL’s Mexican National Welterweight Championship (one of promotion’s 16 active singles titles). He previously competed in the Best of the Super Juniors in 2013. Will Ospreay, 23, is… well, I guess you know who he his. He debuted in New Japan earlier this year and was the winner of this year’s Best of the Super Juniors tournament.

A typically intricate sequence to open saw Ospreay kip-up (x10) his way into a headlock and Titán handstand into a hurricanrana. After a succession of impressive get-outs, Ospreay dropkicked Titán through the ropes and hit a shooting star press onto him from the apron. Back in, elbow shots had Ospreay in control, but after a series of exchanges which I’m not going to bother trying to describe, Titán hit a top-rope Asai moonsault to the outside and followed with a springboard splash back inside. A Dragon Screw led to a modified figure-four from which Ospreay made the ropes, then a charge was reversed to the Cheeky Nandos kick, sending Titán to the floor.  Ospreay started rolling, hitting the corkscrew Sasuke Special, a Phenomenal Forearm, standing SSP and second-rope Phoenix Splash. The jumping corkscrew roundhouse set up the OsCutter and that was that. More of an exhibition than a match, and Ospreay was laying it on a little thick with the facials, but as an example of athleticism in wrestling in 2016 this was quite impressive. ***1/2

BUSHI (LIJ) vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru (Suzuki-Gun)

BUSHI, 33, represents Los Ingobernables de Japón – the hottest stable in wrestling. Before he suffered a serious injury in late-2013, his career had come to a standstill, so it’s fair to say the association with LIJ has been a good thing, and although his in-ring work can sometimes appear lazy, there’s no doubt he’s receiving the biggest reactions he’s ever had.  Kanemaru, 39, recently rejoined NOAH after a three-year stint in All Japan. The inaugural GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion turned on his tag partner to join Suzuki-gun and a month later claimed the Jr. title for a seventh time. Though he’s considered past his prime, this contest is arguably the most intriguing of the round.

Bushi attacked before the bell, but his follow-up suicide dive was met by a chair to the head and a DDT to the wooden floor by Kanemaru. He shoved Bushi into the ringpost, slammed him into the announce table, and threw him into a door, then Bushi replied with a DDT of his own before diving onto Kanemaru (and El Desperado) from the balcony above the stairwell! Kanemaru wandered back into the ring before the count, only to find himself locked in an STF and choked with Bushi’s t-shirt. Kanemaru came back with elbows and a clothesline, but the moonsault missed and Bushi hit double knees in the corner and a swinging neckbreaker for two. Codebreaker for two, then Kanemaru blocked the follow-up and they messed up a hurricanrana spot. Kanemaru came off the second-rope with a jumping DDT for two, then a bridged backslide got two for Bushi. Bushi tried to distract the referee for the mist, but got low-blowed, and Kanemaru  dropped him with the Touch Out twisting brainbuster for the win. A decent brawl, and although it was a strong possibility, I really didn’t expect Bushi to go out at this stage, so for me it counts as an upset. ***1/4

Ryusuke Taguchi (NJPW) vs. Daisuke Harada (NOAH)

Taguchi, 37, appeared to be happy in his role as comic relief after some title success in years gone by, but his impressive performance in BOSJ took him all the way to the final – an excellent match which he lost to Will Ospreay. But was that just the start of Taguchi’s resurgence? Harada, 29, signed with NOAH in 2013 and has enjoyed a solid run there so far, claiming the Jr. title on one occasion and is the current GHC Jr. tag champion along with Atsushi Kotoge.

Taguchi did his Nakamura imitations to begin, but Harada just slapped him on the head then cinched in a headlock. He remained in control until Taguchi caught him with, yep you guessed it, some ass-based offence, then Taguchi got to work on Harada’s legs and pretzelled him up to wear him down. A slingshot ass-drop got a two-count, then Harada caught Taguchi with a belly-to-belly and upped the pace with running elbows and a Death Valley Driver for two. A Nakamura-style inverted powerslam from Taguchi saw Harada reply with a Northern Lights suplex, and then came the elbows. Taguchi grabbed the ankle lock, but Harada soon made the ropes, and cut-off his opponent’s ass-strikes with a double stomp, before dumping him on the apron with a DVD! Both men just made it in before the count, and fought up from their knees with elbows. Harada blocked the Dodon and hit double knees and an rolling elbow for two. Henkei Knee Upper from Harada for a near-fall, then Taguchi caught him in the ankle and rolled-through several times to keep it applied. The crowd were biting, but Taguchi pulled Harada back from the ropes to hit the Dodon chickenwing facebuster for the… two-count! A Dodon’s Throne (gutbuster variation) finally put Harada away. A fairly basic match to begin with, then it kicked up a gear at the midpoint and the closing stretch was incredibly heated. ***3/4

KUSHIDA (NJPW) vs. Taiji Ishimori (NOAH)

KUSHIDA, 33, is the reigning IWGP Jr. champion, and has been having a hell of a 2016. He is, to my mind, one of the most consistent performers in the world at present and his determination to raise the profile of the junior division has led to some excellent matches. Ishimori, 33, is one of NOAH’s most prominent juniors and a two-time GHC Jr. champion, though unlike his opponent, this has not been a banner year. All the same, it is surprising that this match is happening already, as most would’ve pegged it for a later round.

They jostled for control on the mat early on, and Ishimori earned the first knockdown with a dropkick. He sent Kushida to the floor and faked out on a dive, which had the IWGP Jr. champ asking for a time out. Back in, Kushida dropped Ishimori with a low dropkick, then kicked his arm from under him. He rolled-through into a crazy hammerlock hold from which Ishimori made the ropes, then the two men had a chop battle which did not seem like fun. Ishimori came back with an enziguri and springboard dropkick, then nailed a twisting tope con hilo to the outside. Double knees back in, and a jumping Codebreaker from the second-rope got a two-count.  Ishimori tried a handspring, but Kushida dropkicked his arm to send him to the floor and followed with a flipping senton from the top-rope. He dropkicked Ishimori once more as he entered the ring, but a moonsault hit the knees. Ishimori went up top, where Kushida pulled him down with a flipping armbar, but The NOAH man powered out and hit an inverted Codebreaker for two. The main event elbow battle got going, but ended when Kushida nailed a straight punch. Lariat from Ishimori for a near-fall, then Kushida was put on top where he was eventually hit with a fallaway slam variation of the C4 for two! The 450 from Ishimori hit the knees and Kushida was twice blocked from grabbing the Hoverboard Lock, before a tilt-a-whirl armbreaker allowed him to cinch in the hold and Ishimori was forced to tap. Really good match from start to finish. ****

Kushida gets the post-match promo and we’re out.

Round Two looks like this:

  • Liger vs. Taichi
  • KUSHIDA vs. Kenoh
  • Taguchi vs. Kanemaru
  • Ospreay vs. Sydal

Final thoughts: A breeze of a watch + a couple of very good matches = an easy show to recommend, but I can’t help but feel they’ve wasted some of the better matches already. I would’ve preferred to see BUSHI, Ishimori and Eita go further, although I can understand why they didn’t. Still, this was an enjoyable two-and-a-half hours of wrestling, and if you have the time you should check it out.

I’m back on Friday for Day Two of the G1 Climax. See you then.