The 2021 New Japan Cup – Round 1 Roundup!

Howdy!

The New Japan Cup is in full swing, ladies and gentlemen!

Due to everything going on in my life right now, I haven’t been able to recap every show, so I decided it would be better to do them all in one article. We’ll run down the results so far, talk a bit about the brackets, and do some match reviews along the way. Cool? 

Let’s watch some wrestling, shall we?

I figure that the best way to do this is to run down the brackets and pick a good match from each one to recap, so that’s what we’re going to do. Winner of the Cup this year gets the title shot of their choice at Sakura Genesis.

First off, BRACKET!

Alright, we’ll start on the upper left:

EVIL has the bye up there at the top as the defending Cup champion.

Toru Yano defeated Bad Luck Fale by countout in a match that was exactly what you would expect. **.

Jeff Cobb defeated Satoshi Kojima by pinfall. Cobb threw Kojima around and looked impressive as hell, match was really good. ***1/4. 

Tetsuya Naito vs The Great O-Khan – 1st Round Match, New Japan Cup 2021

Well now, this could be interesting. Naito’s mockery of O-Khan alone might make this one worth watching. And Naito doesn’t let me down, doing his rope-running pose as the Great O-Khan, causing GOK gales of laughter on the outside. Back in and Naito takes control and beats him down, but GOK comes back with his choke and Naito bails to the floor. 

GOK follows him out and beats his ass, sending him to the barricade and adding more punishment before rolling Naito back in and getting two. He sits on Naito using the corner buckles and wants Naito to kiss his boot, but Tetsuya fires back with a dropkick. Naito on the offense now with the legsweep/kick combo in the corner, then a neckbreaker for two. 

Elbows in the corner by Naito, but GOK comes back with mongolian chops, then catches a tornado DDT attempt by Naito and just tosses him to the mat. Naito fucks up the knee when he hits and all of a sudden GOK is the Great O-Nature Boy, as he goes to work. GOK grabs a chair and taps the ringpost, in full view of the ref, who doesn’t want to DQ him for such a pussy chairshot.

Kneebreaker on the chair is next as Khan is dominating. Naito barely makes it back in at 19 so O-Khan applies the claw TO THE KNEE of Naito and I think I’m finally starting to come ’round on the Great O-Khan. More punishment for the knee ensues as GOK wants Naito to give it up, but he goes for a Knee-Claw slam (I swear I’m not making that up, watch it) and Naito turns that into a DDT. 

Naito kills him with elbows, then a Diamond Dust for two. Naito tries for Gloria, but can’t get him up and ends up getting front-slammed by O-Khan. This is a fascinating story, as Naito just can’t seem to get any real sustained offense. O-Khan with a delayed backdrop for two. GOK takes too long and Naito hits Destino, but can’t even cover. 

GOK stops Destino with a kick to the knee, then blocks another one and kills Naito with a lariat for two. Kneelock from GOK now and he turns that into a heel hook as Naito is caught! O-Khan cranks and cranks and Naito won’t quit! GOK keeps cutting off the ropes by changing his positioning and momentum, and Naito begs the ref not to call it….but he can’t escape and fades enough for the ref to end it!! (The Great O-Khan over Tetsuya Naito, ref stoppage, 20:21)

THOUGHTS: ***3/4. Wowsers. This was an unreal performance by Tetsuya Naito, who for the second match in a row put on a more cerebral match than I’ve seen from him in quite some time. The key to GOK’s weird offense is having someone in there who sells it, and good God, Naito sold and sold for him to make him look great. This was better than Tanahashi’s matches with GOK, and I don’t know if it’s just Khan getting more comfortable or if it was just Naito reaching down and finding this. His story in coming up short against Ibushi and not really having the heart against a young, dangerous opponent on this night was brilliantly executed and lest you think I’m selling him short, I thought that GOK was terrific in this one, best I’ve ever seen him. 

Moving down, we had:

Hirooki Goto defeated Taichi by pinfall, in a match that apparently a lot of other people saw more in than I did. It was fine. **3/4      .

Minoru Suzuki defeated Tomoaki Honma by pinfall in a shockingly great match, even considering my bias for Suzuki. Seriously, this is the best 1v1 Honma match I can remember in, well, pretty much ever, as they beat the hell out of each other. ***3/4.

KENTA defeated Juice Robinson by submission. This sets up KENTA to face Minoru Suzuki in the 2nd round, which is eagerly anticipated by, well, me. Match was hard-hitting and I dug it. ***1/4.

Kazuchika Okada vs Shingo Takagi – 1st Round Match, New Japan Cup 2021

Well, this should be nothing less than great. Reports out of New Japan are that Okada is BAD shape, with two discs giving him problems amongst other nagging injuries. Shingo beats him down to start and invites Okada to a shoulderblock battle, but Okada goldbricks him with a drop toehold and takes over for a bit.

Running dropkick sends Shingo to the floor as Okada rules the ring. Shingo baits him to the floor and destroys him, running him back first into the railing and hitting a DDT on the floor. Back in and it’s more power from Shingo, as he runs through Okada with a shoulder.  

Okada comes back with a big boot and a running elbow. DDT gets two for Okada. He comes off the ropes and gets stopped and murdered by a lariat from Takagi. Another one and he keeps hold of the wrist, Rainmaker-style, hits another one, then drops an elbow and DOES THE RAINMAKER POSE. He actually goes for a Rainmaker and that finally wakes Okada up as he flapjacks Shingo. 

They go back and forth and Okada hooks the Money Clip, but Shingo escapes and hits a Gory Bomb. Shingo looks to claim his head with the Pumping Bomber, but Okada hits the dropkick, then a Tombstone before going (sigh) back to the Money Clip, Shingo makes the ropes. Okada goes up, but Shingo cuts him off on top and hits a cuh-razy superplex. 

They start trading finisher attempts and Shingo hits Made in Japan! 1, 2, no! Last of the Dragon attempts is blocked, so Takagi clobbers Okada with a clothesline and attempts to shoot him off, but gets reversed and Okada hits a dropkick, back to the Money Clip, then a spinning Tombstone, back to the Money Clip. 

Shingo fades and fades but won’t quit, using the last bit of energy he had to make the ropes. Okada with a shotgun dropkick, Shingo pops right up and fires off a lariat, Okada won’t go down! Rainmaker attempt by Okada is countered and Takagi hits a Rainmaker of his own! 1, 2, NO! Okada goes over the Last of the Dragon attempt into a rollup for two.

GIANT backbreaker by Takagi on Okada and Shingo cuts him down with a Pumping Bomber! 1, 2, NO! Takagi wants to finish with Last of the Dragon, Okada escapes that and goes for a Rainmaker, Shingo ducks that and hoists Okada up, Last of the Dragon hits! 1, 2, 3!!! (Shingo Takagi over Kazuchika Okada, pinfall, 23:58)

THOUGHTS: ****1/2. Fabulous match, with Takagi looking every bit like he belonged in there with Okada as a main event guy. Good back and forth from both guys, with Okada really selling how hurt he was and allowing Shingo to exploit it throughout. It’s past time for Okada to take a few months off at the minimum; despite the fact that he’s an excellent seller, he also honestly looks like he’s in pain both in his walk and in his execution. This will end up as a top match of the tournament and will be tough to beat, although I expect that as we get deeper we’ll get more. 

On the top right, we had:

Will Ospreay defeated Hiroyoshi Tenzan. 

Yuji Nagata defeated Yota Tsuji by pinfall. Now see, I love when the New Japan dads take on the Lions. This was closer to the high end than the low, with Nagata still being able to go more than a bit and Tsuji being absolutely game for it. **3/4.

SANADA defeated Tomohiro Ishii by pinfall. I can’t help it, I prefer SANADA when he faces off against Ishii than I do against Ibushi, just as an example. I thought this was actually pretty great, frankly, with a good bit of drama as to who would win and some of the best back and forth in the first round. Ishii is a god and SANADA looked great. ****.

Zack Sabre Jr vs Gabriel Kidd – 1st Round Match, New Japan Cup 2021

Two British boys grappling? Inject it into my veins!

…..

Okay, maybe I worded that one wrong. Anyway, even though this is a Lion/Established Star match, I suspect that Kidd will be more comfortable than he’s been before in New Japan, plus I expect ZSJ to give him a bunch. But yes, great grappling is something that very few wrestlers can do well as a dramatic storytelling device, and it’s also my favorite thing in wrestling, so I’m totally in the tank here.

Beautiful wristlock sequence ends with Kidd on top, and he thwarts ZSJ’s efforts to escape, so Zack goes to the ropes with it instead and we stalemate. From there they trade off a straightjacket choke and do you even need to ASK if ZSJ does a complicated takedown out of that into a wristlock that Kidd takes into a headscissors? OF COURSE you don’t, because this is ZSJ doing what he does.

ZSJ with a front facelock that Kidd escapes with a trip and a toehold. ZSJ takes him down with a hammerlock and controls the arm, but Kidd rolls through that and hits a Fireman’s Carry throw. Another single arm throw by Kidd leads to some small joint manipulation on the mat, but ZSJ with the escape and after about 300 reversals by each guy, ZSJ swats away a dropkick and cranks the neck between his legs. 

Good God, this is heaven.

Forearms in the corner by Sabre. ZSJ with kicks but that fires Kidd up and he fights back, only to be taken down again in the corner as Zack uses the ropes on his submission. Back in and it’s ZSJ with a cravat. Kidd tries to slam his way out, but Sabre shifts the weight and takes him over. Kidd tries to shoot him off the ropes, but ZSJ rolls through it. “Come on, Young Boy! Not in Sheffield now, darling!” ZSJ is tremendous. 

Finally, Kidd frees himself with a slam to get some time. Crowd is into this, big-time. Gabriel fires up and runs through Zack with a shoulder, clothesline in the corner, suplex for two from Kidd. Kidd goes for the crab, but ZSJ kicks at him and taunts him, so Kidd settles for a single-leg crab and Sabre dives for the ropes to break. Forearms from Gabriel and Zack taunts him more, calling him a Young Boy again and clobbering him with an uppercut. 

Kidd doesn’t back down and nails him again and now ZSJ says “All right, Gabriel.” And I’m not sure if that was significant or not, but it’s the first time that Zack has used Kidd’s name instead of calling him Young Boy in the match, so I’m gonna say it is. Kidd absolutely ethers him with another forearm and ZSJ is down and in trouble. Tight, nasty forearms in the corner by Kidd and ZSJ collapses. 

Kidd gets him up and walks right into a Sabre palm strike! Another one! Kidd fires off one of his own! He goes for a suplex, but Zack takes him down into the armbar from there and Kidd is forced to make the ropes. PK gets two for Sabre. Another one! ZSJ charges right into a dropkick from Kidd! Kidd with a brainbuster! 1, 2, no!

German suplex gets two for Kidd. They reverse into a pinning sequence on the mat and Kidd ends up on top! 1, 2, NO! ZSJ with the stretch, Kidd hiptosses out….right into a triangle on the mat. Kidd tries, but there’s nowhere to go, and he taps out of an incredible piece of work by both guys. (Zack Sabre Jr over Gabriel Kidd, submission, 17:21)

THOUGHTS: ****. What a brilliant, brilliant display of wrestling by both men. No way could I keep up with the reversals that these two were doing to each other. And while I enjoyed Zack’s run with the Tekkers, frankly it was nice to see him doing what he does best, which is wrestling, as opposed to having to work more in the cheating gaga realm. They went out there and did a match that most wrestlers couldn’t do credibly, and told a good story where the better man won, but the young guy came out looking better than he did before. Exactly what you want from a match like this. Absolutely mesmerizing stuff here. 

And finally, in the lower right, we had:

Hiroshi Tanahashi with the bye due to being the NEVER Champion.

David Finlay defeated Chase Owens by pinfall. Arguably the biggest singles win of Finlay’s career, match was solid as oak. **3/4.

YOSHI-HASHI defeated Yujiro Takahashi by pinfall. In a shocking situation no one could have predicted, YOSHI’s magic belt is so strong that he was able to do enough to make Yujiro look like an actual wrestler for the last part of this match. **1/2. 

Jay White (w/GEDO) vs Toa Henare – 1st Round Match, New Japan Cup 2021

Toa Henare has been with New Japan for 5 years now and honestly, he needs some forward momentum. I’m hoping for a decent match here, even though I don’t think that the outcome is in doubt, just to help Toa out a bit. 

Lockup goes to the ropes and Jay screams at the ref to force the break. Attaboy. White with kicks in the corner now. Jay keeps manipulating the situation as he slides in and out of the ring to break up the momentum of the match and I’ll say this about Jay as one of the main reasons I just like him as a wrestler – he always seems like he has a plan. He strikes me as someone who thinks about wrestling matches and how he’s going to win them, as opposed to him just existing as a character who wrestles. He seemingly tailors his kayfabed strategies to the wrestler across from him, which is what you would do in a sport. 

Jay gets shot off the ropes and nailed with a forearm, then a shoulderblock as Toa goes to work on him with power. They head outside and Henare just tosses Jay from barricade to barricade, dominating White. Back in and Henare chops him for one. Jay catches him and tosses him with a belly-to-belly over the top, and now it’s Toa’s turn to go from ring to barricade as White unmercifully destroys him on the floor.

Back in and White slams him for two, then drops knees on Toa before applying a single-leg Liontamer, Henare makes the ropes. More work by Jay on the ribs, but Henare reverses a cross-corner whip and now it’s Toa on the offense again. Flying shoulderblock drops White, They have a great battle over a suplex before Henare finally hits it for two. Henare keeps control until Jay reverses into a DDT to buy some time.

Suplex into the corner by Jay, and the Blade Buster gets two for White. He fires knees and goes for the uranage, but can’t pull it off and Henare drops him with a forearm. Jay with a Flatliner and a German suplex, and Jay wants to remind us that he’s pretty good, right? Yessir, he is. Jay slaps Henare and ducks a right, using the momentum to hit the uranage. He rolls Toa to the floor and tells the ref to count him out. 

Jay beats him up on the floor, then hits the Kiwi Krusher for two, not even bothering to cover all the way. White is such a dick. Snap Saito suplex by Jay. He puts Toa on top, but Toa fights him off and hits a top rope shoulderblock that sends White flying! Clothesline in the corner and a Samoan Drop, and Jay is now in trouble. Lariat by Henare! 1, 2, no! 

They trade shots in the middle and a massive back elbow leads into a giant spear that gets two for Toa! Henare sets up and Jay tries to fake him out, but Henare doesn’t fall for it and hits a uranage for two. GEDO goes for a knucks shot as Jay has the ref, but Henare sends him flying off the apron, then hits a running tackle on Jay for two! Headbutt by Henare! Fisherman’s Buster attempt is countered by Jay into a Sleeper suplex. Another one leads to the Bladerunner, and that’ll do it. (Jay White over Toa Henare, pinfall, 24:47)

THOUGHTS: ***3/4. Might be a bit higher but I just couldn’t get there thinking that Toa had any chance of winning the match and that hurt the drama. Regardless, Jay gave Henare what he could while still maintaining that he was the dominant veteran here. No complaints, match was a good example of what both guys can do. 

Looking ahead to the 2nd Round:

In the top left bracket, we’ve got EVIL vs Jeff Cobb & The Great O-Khan vs Toru Yano (surely **** waiting to happen right there). One would think that whoever wins between EVIL and Cobb has the bracket locked up and I don’t think that Cobb is quite ready for that spot. So I’ll take EVIL to make the Final 4 as a result.

In the bottom left bracket, we’ve got Hirooki Goto vs Shingo Takagi & Minoru Suzuki vs KENTA. This is a bit trickier – Shingo has to be a favorite to win the whole thing and should beat Goto. With that in mind, I’d expect Suzuki to lose to KENTA so we get KENTA vs Takagi, as we’ve done Suzuki/Takagi a few times already. I think that there’s some good value to Shingo vs EVIL for a spot in the Finals to pay off the LIJ stuff and I don’t see Okada jobbing to Shingo if he’s not going pretty deep in this thing, so I’m picking Takagi to come out here into the Final 4. 

In the top right bracket, we’ve got Will Ospreay vs Zack Sabre Jr & Yuji Nagata vs SANADA. I’m pretty sure that both Will and SANADA are huge favorites to win, and a Will vs SANADA match would be relatively undone. Depending on how GEDO wants to handle Ospreay’s push, I think that he’s not likely to go back to SANADA so if Will ends up winning against Zack, I expect he’s heading to the Final 4. 

In the bottom right bracket, we get Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Jay White & David Finlay vs YOSHI-HASHI. What a weird bracket. I think that despite YOSHI’s resurgence this year that if we’re all honest with ourselves, whoever wins Tanahashi and Jay is heading to the Final 4 – you could talk me into either guy. I can see a bunch of scenarios where either one wins. I think that the top 2 on this side of the bracket will fall on heel/face alliances, so with that in mind, it’s either Will vs Tanahashi or Jay vs SANADA. I’m going to say that we’re barrelling towards Ospreay vs Tanahashi, so I’ll pick Hiroshi to win it. A Jay White win would not shock me at ALL, however. 

My Final 4, therefore, is EVIL vs Shingo and Ospreay vs Tanahashi, and I think we’re heading for Shingo vs Will in the Final to callback the BOSJ Final from a few years ago. 

My preference would be to have Tanahashi win the whole thing to pay off the Golden Aces tag team from last year, with him beating EVIL in the Final, but that would put both byes in the Final, so I don’t think they’ll go that way. 

I’ll be back with another roundup after Round 2, with more detailed stuff as we head down from there. 

As always, thanks for reading this thing I wrote, 

Rick Poehling
@MrSoze on Twitter