We’re into the semi-finals of the New Japan Cup which means the undercard gets longer and the main event means a lot more. There is a definite underdog vibe to Night Seven, as Juice Robinson goes up against the Ace. It’s the latest step in his rise from WWE jobber to New Japan star, and you’d be daft to bet against him proving his right to be there. Let’s dish out some stars.
The Bullet Club (Yujiro Takahashi and Tanga Loa) defeated Tomoyuki Oka and Tetsuhiro Yagi
There isn’t much to say here. Yagi started hot before being on the receiving end of an extensive beatdown from Bullet Club. Oka then came in and showed off some of those suplexes before Yagi returned to eat the pin.
The highlight was Oka, I’ve done a 180 on him throughout the tour, going from being worried about his lack of personality to deciding he has plenty. Who needs a character when you can throw people around?
Verdict: Two And Three Quarter Stars
Suzuki-gun (Lance Archer, Davey Boy Smith Jr and Taichi) defeated David Finlay, Shota Umino and a piece of shit
Something stinks. If you can, donate to Mo’s GoFund.
Verdict: Fuck Michael Elgin
CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano) defeated Togi Makabe and Toa Henare
Ishii decided to pass along the honour of being dropped on your head to Henare. Thankfully, it wasn’t from the top rope and Henare went down a bit more gently than he did, but that was a rare mistake from the Stone Pitbull. Luckily, the young man seemed okay.
It was a black spot on an entertaining tag. Makabe put in a bit more effort (although I believe there was still only one bump) and Henare vs Ishii continues to be fantastic. The big Kiwi seems to relish every stiff blow he receives and is always coming back for more. He’d be a perfect fit for a NEVER title shot somewhere down the line.
Verdict: Three Stars
CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, Chuckie T and YOSHI-HASHI) defeated The Bullet Club (Kota Ibushi, Chase Owens and Bad Luck Fale)
David Finlay made his way out to commentary. I was watching the Japanese feed the other night, so this was my first time hearing him alongside Kelly. We got a story about him babysitting his Mum’s Teacup Yorkie. Nice wholesome content.
Talking of wholesome content, Kota trying to make Bullet Club better people is beautiful. I don’t think it’s going to work on Fale but bless him for trying.
There was a moment when I thought Chase was going to hit the Package Piledriver on Goto and I don’t think I’ve ever been that excited in my life. He didn’t. He lost. It was still wonderful. It’s the hope that kills you.
Another enjoyable tag match. Nothing spectacular and yet packed with little moments that will make you smile.
Verdict: Three And A Quarter Stars
Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki and Takashi Iizuka) defeated CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada and Gedo)
If you’ve ever fantasised about watching Gedo being bitten by a fifty-one-year-old man, then have I got good news for you. A worryingly large part of the match was Iizuka gnawing down on various parts of Gedo’s body. From his knee to his bald head.
Thankfully, we also got an Okada vs Suzuki section to make up for that crap. They have excellent chemistry with even this short interaction causing the crowd to come alive. The mere hint that Suzuki might hit the Gotch Piledriver got them all flustered.
Sadly, we got a lot more of the biting than we did that, so I can’t pretend I enjoyed it. I was more interested in the Okada Suzuki face-off that we got afterwards. That champ vs champ showdown feels more and more likely everytime they’re together.
Verdict: One And A Half Stars
Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, Hiromu Takahashi, Sanada and Bushi) defeated Suzuki-gun (Zack Sabre Jr, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, El Desperado and Taka Michinoku)
Sanada and Zack Sabre Jr started off with a preview of their semi-final. Fingers crossed Sanada will get Zack in the Paradise Lock then Sabre will stand up, laugh in his face and turn him into a pretzel. While that’s probably more fantasy than reality, this was an exciting nibble of what was to come.
The rest of it was decent enough if unspectacular. Nothing lived up to Sanada and ZSJ, but we got a bit more action between the Juniors as they continue their feud. Despy and Kanemaru are doing good work at the moment while anything with Hiromu in it is great.
That story would extend into the post-match shenanigans as chaos broke out between the two junior teams. Their brawling led to an appearance from SHO and YOH (who have been absent from the tour). Looks like we’re getting another three-way tag. Aren’t we lucky?
Verdict: Three Stars
Hiroshi Tanahashi defeated Juice Robinson
The question coming in was whether Juice was going to tap into his evil side and go after Tanahashi’s injuries. He’d promised not to, but when he faced Omega post-knee operation, he said similar things and couldn’t resist the temptation. A temptation made all the sweeter when the Ace refused his pre-match handshake.
In fact, Tana’ wasn’t worried about playing nice at all. This was the delusional version of the Ace. The version of Tanahashi where he knows he’s the best and plays up to it. Pulling out air guitar solos and sneaking in dirty tactics. While it’s a subtle character tweak that only long-term fans will pick up on, it works, particularly against an opponent as likeable as Juice.
That played into the slow start to the match as Tanahashi looked to assert himself. He targeted the knee of Robinson, setting him up for the Cloverleaf. Juice was being outwrestled, and it looked like he was going to struggle to change the momentum. Tanahashi was able to avoid the majority of his high impact offence and use his experience to play the game he wanted to play.
It was that which forced Juice to tap into his darker side. It wasn’t by going after the injuries that he built his advantage, though. Instead, he started by hitting a Cannonball on the outside, sending Tana’ and himself crashing against the barricade. A few minutes later he used Red Shoes to his advantage, pushing him into the ropes to knock the Ace from the turnbuckle. It wasn’t what we expected, but it showed that Juice wasn’t naive. He knew he couldn’t beat the legend by playing it completely straight.
The construction of that story begun to see a change in the crowd reaction. The room had been entirely in Tanahashi’s corner at the start, yet by the time Tana’ locked in the Cloverleaf the Juice chants were ringing out. No-one understands the psychology of wrestling better than the Ace, and this was proof. His subtle character work saw Korakuen Hall cheer the plucky underdog as often as they did the man they adore.
And they witnessed Juice almost steal a win. First, he rolled through from the High Fly Flow, slipping into a flash pin and getting a long two count. Then, he climbed to the top rope himself, connecting with a cross body before charging right back up and flying throw the air with a High Fly Flow of his own. It was agonisingly close. Sadly that’s not how this works. Tanahashi wasn’t going to lose, not to his own move.
Which ultimately, was Juice’s problem. Tanahashi wasn’t going to lose. After dropping out in the first round year after year, it was his time to go to the final of the New Japan Cup. No plucky underdog was going to stop him. He fought out of Pulp Friction and despite being out on his feet had enough in him to show Juice how it was done. One High Fly Flow to the back and one to the front. Nighty night Juicy.
Wow, that was wonderful pro-wrestling. A fantastic story and a defining moment for Juice Robinson. He didn’t win, but he went out there with the very best and proved himself his equal. In doing so, he earned Tanahashi’s respect. NJPW’s long-term use of Juice has been fantastic. This was the latest brick in what is proving to be the construction of a damn good wrestler.
Verdict: Four And A Half Stars
An absolutely fantastic main event following a very watchable undercard. It might not have been up to the level of Ibushi vs ZSJ, but that’s no insult. Sanada and Zack have been given a big old challenge having to follow that.