The 2020 New Japan Cup – Day 1

Howdy!

Well, with no British women’s wrestling promotions running right now, I was twiddling my recapping thumbs for something to do. I had another project I was working on, but it’s had to take a backseat for the time being. 

Enter the New Japan Cup and the return of NJPW. Hey, it’s a wrestling blog and someone’s gotta cover it, and I check all the necessary boxes to do so, to wit:

  1. I am certainly able to form coherent sentences! Most of the time.
  2. My monthly NJPW World sub renewed successfully.  
  3. No one else wanted to do it.

Now that my bona fides have been established, let’s watch some wrestling, shall we?

The New Japan Cup may remind some of the G-1 Climax tournament in that almost all of the top stars in NJPW are involved, but unlike the G-1 event, which is round robin, the New Japan Cup is a single-elimination, 32 wrestler event. The winner of the tournament challenges for whatever title they choose, normally the IWGP championship, at Sakura Genesis; with COVID-19 wiping out that event this year, the winner will instead go forth to challenge for both titles at Dominion instead. 

My personal favorite Cup, one that I will always tell folks to watch, is the 2018 edition, where Zack Sabre Jr sliced and diced his way through most of the NJPW uppercard in a quest to make him a main eventer. Along the way, Sabre submitted Naito, Ibushi, SANADA, and Tanahashi en route to him being robbed by that scoudrel Okada in the title match, a clear conspiracy on behalf of an International bourgeoisie cabal to rob Britain’s favorite socialist hero from uniting the workers of the world. 

This year, we’re both missing and gaining some folks. Thanks to travel restrictions and the like, the tournament is missing guys like Juice Robinson, Jay White, and Will Ospreay. Basically, if you weren’t able to get in under quarantine before the event started, you didn’t get in, which I’m pretty sure is the reason why it’s Gedo instead of Jay White facing off against Okada in round 1. 

On the other hand, there’s no Bad Luck Fale, so…..not EVERYTHING is terrible. 

This also means that the junior heavyweights and Young Lions will be mixing it up with the heavyweights in this one, which could produce some upsets along the way – it’s rare that the juniors, lions, and heavys mix in Japan in a tournament; normally, the heavys have the G-1 Climax and the juniors have the Best of the Super Juniors (BOSJ). With them running low on manpower and the BOSJ being cancelled this year, it makes sense to mix ’em up here.

Behold……the bracket:

Tonight, it’s four 1st round matches on the docket, and they are:

Togi Makabe vs Yota Tsuji
Toru Yano vs Jado
Tomiaki Honma vs Hiromu Takahashi
Tomohiro Ishii vs El Desperado

Opening video. I know it doesn’t technically MEAN anything, but the actual New Japan Cup trophy is absolutely bitchin’. Forget replica belts, I want a replica of THAT for my bedroom. 

 

Togi Makabe vs Yota Tsuji – Round 1

Tsuji is a Young Lion, AKA a student at the Dojo, while Makabe is neither young, nor a student, nor a Lion – he is, however, the Unchained Gorilla, so he has at least one proverbial foot in the bestial realm. Tsuji shoves Togi before the match to establish that he’s the young upstart looking to pull off the upset! Yeah! And it doesn’t stop there, as Tsuji controls early with forearms and a big shoulderblock to send Makabe to the floor. Makabe takes care that by sending him to the railing to take over. Back in and a slam gets two for Makabe. Half-crab by Makabe which is super-dumb, because if there’s any move that a Young Lion knows how to counter, it’s a crab variant. I’m convinced they take entire classes in the Boston Crab alone. Tsuji makes the ropes, so Togi clobbers him down. Off the ropes, but a shoulder from Tsuji puts both guys on the mat. Tsuji hits a suplex for two. Spear gets a close two for Tsuji, then the Boston Crab. Makabe escapes and hits a powerslam for two. Lariat is countered by Tsuji into a cradle for two, and that’s his last gasp. He slaps Makabe and comes off the ropes, but Togi absolutely MDKs him with a lariat that turns Tsuji inside-out, then hits a bridging German for the pin. (Togi Makabe over Yota Tsuji, pinfall, 8:42)

THOUGHTS: **. About as good as you’re probably going to get from Makabe at this point, I really liked Yota’s selling in the match. but I never bought into him pulling off the upset for a single second. The match itself wasn’t much beyond that. 

 

Toru Yano vs Jado – Round 1

Oh Jesus Christ. This has trainwreck written all over it. Jado is out with both Gedo and Yujiro, which is not at all reassuring in context of making this match suck less. Yano is out with a bottle of sanitizer, which he sprays in Jado’s direction. I really love Yano a lot, but he needs someone to play off of, and I sense that Jado won’t be that guy here. Call it a hunch. Yano attempts to get the non-existent crowd to chant his name. Jado attempts the same. So they’re both idiots. Got it. I’m going to spare the PBP here, and instead list some things in this match that happened:

  • Jado does the longest Flair Flop that I can remember, culminating in him being down on the mat for more than 40 seconds and Yujiro beating the shit out of Yano on the floor while the referee is distracted. Keep in mind, there are no fans in the building and not even a New Japan referee could be this blind and/or stupid to what was going on in any type of actual reality.
  • Yano was sent into the corner of the turnbuckle that HE unbuckled. That never happens! (It does. Frequently.)
  • Jado clotheslined Yano with a different turnbuckle pad…..that Yano also unbuckled.
  • The finish involved a double low blow and a rollup. 

This sucked. (Toru Yano over Jado, pinfall, 9:08)

THOUGHTS: *. Yeah, see, I measure all my Yano matches by how much I laugh when they’re on, and frequently I laugh quite a bit during them. I did not in this case. I was, however, kind of sad afterwards. Anyway, there was nothing here, so I’ll give them their one star for managing to climb through the ropes and not injuring each other. That’s about all I can muster up for it.

Gedo’s balls are hurt afterwards. Good.

Up next, we’ve got a break in tournament action because the Gods I don’t believe in wanted me to have a good match.

Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi, Yuji Nagata, & Yuya Uemura vs Suzuki-Gun (Minoru Suzuki, Zack Sabre Jr, Taichi, & Yoshinobu Kanemaru)

Now normally, there are a lot of undercard tags during the Cup, but we’ve only got one on this show. At least they made it a good one. Suzuki-Gun marches in to NOT Kaze Ni Nare, which is unacceptable. I never get tired of everyone in Suzuki-Gun looking badass in simple black and gold, and then you have Taichi, AKA the teenager whose parents NEVER UNDERSTAND HIM, and who therefore becomes emo theater nerd Liberace in response. Every time I see him I wish Murder Dad Suzuki would slap him until his head gets knocked into the 3rd row. 

The babyfaces are out next, with the most beautiful tag champs in the world, Tanahashi and Ibushi, coming out last. They only look more beautiful when standing next to Nagata, who may actually be the literal photographic definition of ‘grizzled veteran’. 

To the shock of anyone who has never actually seen a New Japan show before, Suzuki-Gun attacks before the bell. Everyone pairs off on the floor, with Kanemaru and Yuya in the ring. Tag to Tanahashi now, and he wants his first round opponent Taichi to get in. Hiroshi beats on him for awhile and puts him in a cloverleaf, but ZSJ breaks that up and Suzuki-Gun charges everyone again to knock them to the floor. ZSJ laughs merrily whilst hitting multiple dragon screws on Tanahashi, because ripping someone’s knee out is on par with converting someone to veganism on the ZSJ happiness scale. Taichi kicks at the leg of Tana, then applies a half-crab/liontamer combo. Tag to Suzuki now, and the pain continues for Tanahashi. Stomps and an inverted kneebar by Suzuki force Ibushi to come in and save it. Kanemaru in and he dropkicks the knee of Tanahashi and applies a half-crab of his own. Tana is getting killed in there. 

They toss Tana to the floor and Kanemaru takes the ref, allowing Sabre and Taichi to double-team Tana with a chair. Glorious screams of pain from Hiroshi fill the arena. Then it’s Suzuki and ZSJ’s turn. Taichi tosses Tana back in and he gets the tag title belts. Taichi and ZSJ pose together with them, and while I don’t particularly like Taichi pretty much at all, if it gets ZSJ his first title in NJPW, I’ll take it. Tanahashi tries a comeback, countering ZSJ’s Octopus with his own dragon screw, and we’ve got HOT TAG Ibushi. 

Kota runs wild on Suzuki-Gun and gets two off a standing moonsault on ZSJ. Sabre cuts him off and goes to a kneebar, but grandpa Nagata breaks that up with stomps. Sabre goes back to the knee and tries for a dragon screw, but Ibushi kicks him in the head and both guys are down. Both crawl for the tag and both make it, to Suzuki and Nagata respectively. Oh, this should be fun. These two come in and just throw leather at each other – forearms, kicks, you name it. It’s gloriously violent as you hear flesh smacking against flesh. The thing is, they have the aura of being completely authentic, so when they’re in the ring, I find it easy to let myself go into the flow of the match. They just fire away at each other and Suzuki gets the choke, but goes for the Gotch piledriver and Nagata escapes into an exploder to put both men down. 

Nagata tags in Uemura, which puts a Young Lion legally into the ring with Suzuki. Welp, guess we’re about to see a legal murder. Uemura does pretty well for himself, actually, tossing the rest of Suzuki-Gun to the floor and now we’ve got 4 guys teaming up on Suzuki as they clobber him in the corner. Double underhook gets two for Uemura, now a Boston Crab. Kanemaru breaks that up and now the match completely breaks down with everyone fighting each other. Kanemaru gets on the apron and nails Uemura with the whiskey bottle and Suzuki destroys the Young Lion with a Gotch-Style Piledriver. That’ll do it. (Suzuki-Gun over Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi, Yuji Nagata, & Yuya Uemura, pinfall, 13:27)

THOUGHTS: ***1/4. I’m a big-time sucker for these trainwreck tags in NJPW and always have been. This one had a purpose that was made clear from the jump, which was to further Taichi/ZSJ vs Tanahashi/Ibushi. Based on the way that the brackets have broken for this thing, I think there’s a very good chance that Taichi upsets Tanahashi in the first round, because I don’t think that they’ll do Tana vs Ibushi with no crowd, and we’ve seen ZSJ/Tana a bunch over the last year or so. Therefore, all the knee stuff with Hiroshi lays the groundwork for Taichi to pull off the big win. Taichi/Ibushi is a match we haven’t seen a ton of, and I think that’s got a decent shot of where we end up in the tournament, but no matter what happens, it’s going to be ZSJ and Taichi challenging for the tag belts at some point, I would think. 

Post-match, we get Kaze Ni Nare for Suzuki, because fucking-a RIGHT we do. We also get Suzuki and Nagata beating the shit out of each other in a hilarious visual, as ZSJ calmly trash talks Ibushi to Kota’s face while in the background Suzuki and Nagata are trying to kill each other. It’s awesome. Suzuki dumps Nagata to the floor while Taichi helps Zack beat up Ibushi now, and Minoru wanders towards the commentators, who wisely freak the fuck out. Zack and Taichi pose with the straps as Suzuki comes back to ringside, stomping on Tanahashi because, you know, Hiroshi was there and why not? Tanahashi has to be helped to the back. This was tremendous.

Intermission. They clean and disinfect the ring. We get a video for something called “Way to the Grandmaster”

Tomoaki Honma vs Hiromu Takahashi – Round 1

This is a love/hate match for me, because I really love Hiromu a lot and I really hate Honma a lot. Let’s see what happens. Shoulderblock battle to start establishes Honma as the heavy as he knocks Hiromu to the mat. Honma holds a facelock to force Hiromu to make the ropes to break. Kokeshi (falling headbutt) misses from Honma as he falls on his big stupid head, and Takahashi goes on the offense. Chops and a corner clothesline set up a seated dropkick that sends Honma to the floor. Hiromu comes off the apron with a dropkick on Honma there. 

Takahashi threatens to come off the top so Honma rolls back in, allowing Hiromu to put a knee on his chest for two. Takahashi locks him up on the mat, Honma makes the ropes, then weakly slaps at Hiromu. Forearms from Hiromu, but Honma tells him to bring it on and hits a DDT. Story is easy here – Honma is the tired old veteran, Hiromu is the arrogant young guy. Nothing fancy, doesn’t need to be. Honma catches a running Hiromu with an elbow, then chops. Bulldog from Honma. Honma goes for the kokeshi again, and again falls on his big stupid head. It’s glorious.

Hiromu goes for a kokeshi now, but he misses because Honma moved his big stupid head. Along with the rest of his body. Brainbuster (we’ll generously call it that) gets two for Honma. Chops from Honma and Hiromu sells like he’s Willem Dafoe getting shot in Platoon, throwing his arms in the air. It’s great. He’s great. They trade forearm shots and Honma just shrugs off Takahashi’s weak throws. Off the ropes and they do a double lariat spot, then Honma gets a German suplex. Hiromu tries one of his own, but can’t get Honma up and Honma breaks with elbows. Now Honma, who has no-sold the last several moves of this junior heavyweight, decides to run the ropes, and Hiromu hits him with every last bit of reserve strength, dropping him with a lariat. That whole sequence was just tremendous professional wrestling storytelling, as Takahashi has started to realize that he might be in over his head, that the other guy is stronger than he is, that Honma can do moves to him that he can’t do to Honma, so he has to put everything into whatever he can to try to take him down. 

Both guys are down and Honma rolls to the apron, Takahashi comes off the ropes and tries the sunset bomb to the floor. Do it, Hiromu! Doesn’t work, though, as Honma stomps on Hiromu to break, then gets back in the ring to hit a running headbutt that sends Hiromu crashing to the barricade. Honma goes to the top to tease the diving headbutt, but Hiromu cuts him off and hoists him up into a Death Valley Driver on the apron, because when you think “who are the best guys in the locker room to do an apron spot?”, the answer is obviously “the two guys who have had literal broken necks”. I mean, come on, guys. Luckily, nothing goes wrong and the spot is fine, but I cringed.

Honma rolls to the floor, dead to the world, but he manages to barely beat the count back in at 19. HIromu fires away with forearms and now the tables have turned, as Honma tries to fight back but has nothing left and Hiromu is the one ignoring Honma’s feeble blows. Takahashi takes too long and gets too arrogant about it, however, and they slug it out and Honma gets stronger with each chop, and he eventually chops Takahashi down. 3rd kokeshi attempt results in Honma landing on his big stupid head a 3rd time to my delight. Superkick by Hiromu and he runs the ropes….right into a jumping headbutt from Honma! Kokeshi by Honma…..finally hits! Diving headbutt gets two for Honma! 

Slam and Honma goes up for the middle-rope kokeshi, but he misses and hits his big stupid head for the 4th time, and Hiromu IMMEDIATELY rolls him up for two. See, he knows that he needs to win this match and has to be done fucking around now. Takahashi tries a forearm, but Honma clobbers him back with one of his own, then hits a diving headbutt to the back of Hiromu. Honma off the ropes, lariat by Hiromu! Cover, Honma kicks out at 1! Hiromu goes for the Death Valley Driver, Honma breaks with a headbutt! Honma picks Takahashi up, but Hiromu escapes and levels him with a superkick! Death Valley Driver into the buckles from Takahashi! Time Bomb from Takahashi! 1, 2, 3!! (Hiromu Takahashi over Tomiaki Honma, pinfall, 18:46)

THOUGHTS: ***1/2. This was Honma’s best match I’ve seen in, well, possibly ever, and I’m giving most of the credit to Hiromu. The underlying story of the match, Hiromu not taking Honma seriously enough in spots and nearly getting beaten as a result, was expertly crafted. The big spots for Takahashi like the lariats and such don’t work unless he sells like crazy to put Honma over strongly before pulling out the win. Honma isn’t anyone’s definition of a great worker, but he was in there with one and was made to look like a million bucks, especially near the end of the match. 

Tomohiro Ishii vs El Desperado – Round 1

I love both of these guys. Desperado is a criminally underrated junior and Ishii is, well, Ishii. One of the best wrestlers in the world. Lockup goes to the ropes and Desperado gives a clean break…..and pats Ishii on the head. Please send any donations and bereavement cards to the family of El Desperado c/o New Japan Pro Wrestling. I’m just saying, there are plenty of less violent ways to commit suicide. Ishii grabs Despy by the throat in response to this friendly head tap. Ishii offers Desperado a free shot, so Desperado takes three of them. That works about as well as you might expect. So Desperado decides to slug it out with Ishii, and just as I’m wondering if Despy tied his mask on just a little too tightly today, he stomps on Ishii’s foot. Ah, that’s the scumbag I know and love. 

Doesn’t work, as he comes off the ropes and Ishii just drops him with a shoulder. Ishii throws kicks to the back and cuts Desperado off at every turn, stomping on him and stepping on his face. Desperado makes a comeback and drops Ishii with a shoulderblock, then goes to work on the knee of Ishii, pulling it, stomping it, splashing it. He wraps Ishii’s leg ’round the post a few times, then pulls him to the floor and sends him to the barricade. He slides back in and tells Red Shoes to count Ishii out, but Ishiii makes it back in before the ref even hits ten. His reward for that is more stomps to the knee from Desperado. 

More knee work from Desperado, who then leaves Ishii with Red Shoes checking on him and undoes a buckle. Desperado sends Ishii to the exposed steel! Again! He does it a third time….but Ishii reaches down and charges Desperado with a tackle! But that only buys him time, as he can’t pursue any offense because his knee is shredded and his back is aching. He finally gets Desperado in the corner, and starts alternating chops and forearms until Desperado collapses into a sitting position as a quivering pile of protoplasm. But that’s not enough for Ishii, who stands Desperado up in the corner and DOES IT AGAIN. 

Desperado manages to come back by running the ropes, he tries a spear, but Ishii stops him and goes for a powerbomb, so Despy goes to the eyes to escape that. He spears Ishii and attempts a Stretch Muffler (he calls his ‘Numero Dos), but Ishii slips it and goes to a heel hook from there, forcing Desperado to make the ropes. Desperado snaps off a spinebuster and goes for the Muffler again, but Ishii makes the ropes. Desperado stays on the knee of Ishii again, but gets reversed off a whip and sent into the exposed steel for a taste of his own medicine. 

Ishii comes off the ropes, but Desperado pulls Red Shoes in the way. Ishii holds up, allowing Desperado to dropkick the knee and now the Stretch Muffler is on! Ishii screams in pain, but shifts his weight and breaks the hold. Desperado tries for an abdominal stretch, but Ishii counters into the vertical drop brainbuster, then a powerslam. Ishii wants a powerbomb, but the knee won’t cooperate, so he hits Kawada kicks instead and now DESPERADO is the one telling Ishii to bring it on. Outstanding. They trade forearms and Desperado fires up….only to have Ishii LEVEL his ass with a forearm to drop him. Ha!

Ishii goes for a powerbomb again and this time he barely manages to flip Despy over before the knee gives way and he collapses. He gathers all of his strength and goes for it again, this time he hits it and stacks Desperado up! 1, 2, no! Desperado blocks a lariat and goes for a low blow, but Ishii catches it and headbutts him instead. Crucifix attempt by Desperado is blocked with a Samoan Drop and a Ishii hits a sliding lariat for two. Brainbuster attempt is escaped by Desperado, who hits a low blow behind the ref’s back and rolls up Ishii for two. Desperado charges Ishii in the corner, but misses and hits the exposed steel. 

Now Ishii charges Desperado, but Despy catches him coming and sends his face to the steel! 1, 2, NO! I bought that one. Spinning powerbomb by Desperado! 1, 2, no! Desperado tries for Pinche Loco (spinning sitout Angel’s Wings), but Ishii escapes that. Desperado tries again, Ishii escapes again. Superkick by Desperado and you can just feel that he’s almost out of moves here. Big headbutt by Ishii, who then comes off the ropes and turns Desperado inside-out with a lariat. That gets two. Ishii goes for the brainbuster, but rolls him through into a half-nelson cradle for a CLOSE two count. They had me again. Desperado has no bullets left in his gun now, and he slaps Ishii when they get to their feet; Ishii responds by dropping him with a spinning lariat and finally hitting the brainbuster to put Desperado’s shoulders down for the 1, 2, 3. (Tomohiro Ishii over El Desperado, pinfall, 20:18)

THOUGHTS: ****. And we have our first 4-snowflake match of the tournament. This ruled the earth as they told the reverse story of the previous match, where the light heavyweight threw everything he had, both legal and illegal, at the badass heavyweight and it just wasn’t enough. Ishii is so great at everything he does in the ring and Desperado kept up with him every step of the way. This was a really great match with two great workers, and is well worth checking out. I’m only sorry that one of them had to lose. 

Ishii staggers to the back like he’s been in a war. 

FINAL THOUGHTS: Tale of two halves on this show – the first two matches sucked a bunch, while the last two were both pretty great and the tag match in the middle was super fun. All in all, a good start to the tourney, as a lot of the good stuff won’t come until later on. 

With that in mind, I’ll see all of you tomorrow for Day 2 of the Cup!

As always, thanks for reading this thing I wrote,

Rick Poehling
@MrSoze on Twitter