I can’t imagine anyone was coming into this year’s New Japan Cup expecting it to be as good as it has been. There have been a handful of world-class matches combined with some great stories. In the undercard alone we got Naito vs Suzuki. Then the tournament saw the return of Tanahashi and the blossoming of Zack Sabre Jr. The question is, which one of those two is going to be hoisting that trophy and taking the title shot that comes along with it? Let’s dish out some stars.
Shota Umino defeated Tetsuhiro Yagi
Fucking hell, the young ones were in a grump, weren’t they? It didn’t take long for these two to start slapping the crap out of each other. There’s usually a degree of mutual respect to Young Lion matches. Apparently, Umino and Yagi didn’t get the message. They were trying to hurt each other.
Having picked up a win over Narita at the last show, Umino confirmed his position at the head of the pride with this victory. It was an even encounter, with both men focusing on their opponent’s back, but when push came to shove, Umino got the win. Even at the very bottom of the card, New Japan has a strict hierarchy, and they stick to it.
Verdict: Three Stars
Taichi defeated Tomoyuki Oka
Did Oka spill something on Gedo in catering? Sending him out there against Taichi seems harsh. He’s only young, even if he doesn’t look it.
You can tell he’s young because he walked straight into Taichi’s trap. The singing ballsack spent the early match chilling out on the ropes, winding Oka up. The big man finally had enough and charged towards him. A few minutes later Taichi was kicking the crap out of him.
Oka got a few chances to show off his skills. The lad loves a suplex, and he did his God-given duty by throwing Taichi around a bit. Sadly, his main avenue to impressing was via selling. There was a bit of a beating being dished out. He showed some fire by surviving the first kick to the head, number two was a step too far.
I expected antics, and there were none. Instead, it was set up as a veteran vs rookie encounter with Oka’s enthusiasm seeing him charge right into Taichi’s unplesantness. A shame for him, a pleasant surprise for the rest of us.
Verdict: Three Stars
The Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi and Tanga Loa) defeated Togi Makabe, Toa Henare and a piece of shit
I hope they disinfected the ring post-match.
Verdict: Fuck Michael Elgin
Killer Elite Squad (Lance Archer and Davey Boy Smith Jr) defeated CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano)
I’m glad Davey Boy has ditched the jeans. It makes him look like he might be a wrestler, although he continues to fall for Yano’s shtick, so you’ve got to take the ups with the downs.
Talking of shtick, Archer is embracing his role as the torturer of innocent Japanese crowd members. He would 100% be sued in America.
Unsurprisingly, he also took part in the best parts of the match as he and Ishii did big boy things to each other. Ishii shines in that underdog role. It makes no sense, yet as Archer bullied the Stone Pitbull, you were desperate for him to survive and come roaring back. It doesn’t matter that he’s built like a brick shithouse, the fans are yelling his name.
Unfortunately, he continues to team with Yano, and when Yano was caught, he didn’t quite have Ishii’s perseverance. He ate a Killer Bomb and with it the three-count.
No-one said this was a number one contender bout, but they might as well have. It was also surprisingly good. When Ishii is in that kind of form, there are few better while Archer and Smith had their working boots on. I’m often down on KES, a few more like this, and I’ll change my mind.
Verdict: Three And A Half Stars
Juice Robinson and David Finlay defeated CHAOS (Hirooki Goto and YOSHI-HASHI)
YOSHI-HASHI’s new t-shirt has a heart on it and looks like it was made by a teenager discovering Word Art for the first time. Not quite sure what he’s going for there.
I think I’ve said it before, but HASHI and Goto are a bizarre tag team. They put on incredibly competent matches that fail to elicit an ounce of emotion from me. It doesn’t matter how much I want to like them, it just isn’t happening. There’s a spark missing.
It’s a spark that both Juice and Finlay have. Juice is a ball of charisma who someone keeps improving as a wrestler. The second he struts down the ramp you know you’re in for a fun time. He spent most of this getting beaten up, and it only increased my love for him. His facials combined with the way he flops around for his opponent makes everyone look good. Finlay, meanwhile, lacks the personality yet makes up for it in the ring. The hot-tag he took here was great as he came bounding in, showing that frantic energy which makes him so exciting to watch.
Together they’re a combination that I’d like to see made permanent in New Japan. However, if that’s to be the case, it will have to wait. For, much like last year, it looks like Juice is stepping up to Goto. He picked up the victory with Pulp Friction and made it very clear that he wants a title shot. Is it time for New Japan to pull the trigger and give Juice his first belt?
Robinson and Finlay kept me interested in this one. They’re a fun pairing who come across as genuine friends. When you combine that with a future title shot for my boy Juice, it gets the thumbs up from me.
Verdict: Three And A Half Stars
Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, Sanada, Hiromu Takahashi and Bushi) defeated Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, El Desperado and Takashi Iizuka)
Interesting note, the largest crowd reaction for someone outside of Naito and Suzuki seemed to be Sanada. He’s lost a couple of high-profile matches this year and managed to get over in the process.
Naito continues to poke Murder Grandpa, and I continue to fear for his health. The first chance he got, Suzuki dragged the chief Ingobernable out of the ring and dished out a beating. Just acknowledge him, Tetsuya, I’m begging you. It’s not worth dying over.
He wasn’t the only one to face Suzuki’s wrath. The boss man was equally happy to beat up Takahashi a bit. Softening him up for the junior division of Suzuki-gun. Hiromu did a fantastic job as the babyface in peril, and I still think there is Junior Ace potential in him. Unfortunately, for every piece of entertainment like that, we also got some Iizuka biting people. You take the rough with the smooth.
Thankfully, there were enough talented people involved that we were able to keep that to somewhat of a minimum. Instead, focusing on the wrestlers that actually matter, as even Iizuka’s stupid claw wasn’t enough to save him from tapping out to Sanada.
Suzuki didn’t seem too bothered, though. He was busy dragging Naito around the arena, choking him and being a horrible old bastard. I have to admit to being a bit of a hypocrite with this angle. I’m usually critical of Minoru’s crap, but with Naito, it works. His blase attitude brings the evil out of MiSu.
Back in the ring, Despy and Kanemaru shoved their belts in Hiromu and Bushi’s faces. Takahashi responded by licking the belt because that’s the kind of shit he does before they got down to brawling. That brought out Roppongi 3K again who ruined everybody. We’re definitely getting a three-way.
That annoyance aside, this was another strong showing from LIJ and Suzuki-gun. Iizuka being kept to a minimum certainly helped.
Verdict: Three And A Quarter Stars
CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada and Chuckie T) defeated The Golden Friends (Kota Ibushi and Chase Owens)
New Japan’s odd couples go face to face. I love everything about these teams. Chuckie T and Chase Owens are passing some of their excellence on to the lesser talents, and it’s beautiful to see. Giving back to the business in the best way possible.
I’m also enjoying the dynamics being established. Kota and Chase are clearly friends (I’d go as far as best friends), but Ibushi is still resistant to the idea of going full Bullet Club. He high-fives the Too Sweet and avoids the cheating. When Chase does bend the rules, he looks uncomfortable and almost goes as far as apologising to their opponent.
On the other side of the ring, Okada continues to embrace his inner nutjob. Who knows if that’s entirely down to Chuckie T, I’m just pointing out that it can’t be helping. As he hit a plancha to the outside, he shouted ‘here we go’ before following that up with a ‘Scooby Dooby Do’ as he flew towards Ibushi from the top rope. That man is perhaps the greatest wrestler in the world while also being a total dork.
Look, it’s no secret, these are four of my favourite wrestlers. I was always going to have a lovely time. I can’t imagine tuning into it and feeling any differently.
Verdict: Three And A Half Stars
Zack Sabre Jr defeated Hiromu Tanahashi to win the New Japan Cup
Tanahashi might as well have walked into this with red crosses painted on his arm and knee. While the Ace has looked fantastic all tournament, those injuries are there, and he was stepping into the ring with a man who feeds on pain.
For Zack Sabre Jr is the walking, talking embodiment of the word vicious. While Tana’s semifinal opponent, Juice, stuck to his promise to avoid the injuries, Sabre would make no such vow. If given a chance to target a weakness, the idea of hesitating wouldn’t even occur to him. He went straight after those aching limbs and attempted to add a few more to them too.
However, there is a reason that Tanahashi is wrestling with injuries that bad. Pain which would floor a smaller man seems to only inspire the Ace. The more Zack beat him down, the more energy he found. You can take Tanahashi to the mat, you can even hurt him there, but getting him to stay there? That’s not so easy. Zack’s boss Suzuki saw how much pain he could take.
And every time it looked like Zack had finally stifled the living legend, Tanahashi would dig deep and find something more. A Twist and Shout or a Highest Fly Flow. He had more than one tool in his arsenal that could switch the momentum in his favour.
What makes Sabre terrifying, though, is that combined with the vicious streak is an intelligence often lacking in the way wrestlers approach matches. He joked ahead of facing Ibushi that if Ibushi went to moonsault off something, he’d step out-of-the-way. Here, you saw the truth of that statement. When Tana went for the High Fly Flow in the ring, Zack slipped to the side, grabbing the leg as it flew past and going straight back to ripping at the Ace’s poor injured body.
Still, the Ace fought on. He kicked out of every roll-up Sabre concocted and battled out of every submission.
He battled until he found the fire inside to go for the win. A Sling Blade, followed by a Dragon Suplex and Tanahashi was climbing to the top rope. A High Fly Flow to the back and Tanahashi did what Tanahashi does, he went for number two, this time to the front.
Except Zack wasn’t there. That injured knee slowed Tanahashi down, and it gave Zack time to find the answer so obvious you don’t see it. Roll out-of-the-way. It was Tanahashi’s last gasp and Sabre wasn’t there. The Ace survived a few minutes longer but when he hit that mat rather than his opponent it was over.
Tanahashi tried one last trick, an O’Connor Roll. A move that was like starting a gunfight against The Man With No Name. Sabre knew what to do, and a few seconds later Hiroshi Tanahashi was Orienteering with Napalm Death. Unlike with Suzuki, the Ace couldn’t survive till Red Shoes called for the bell. He was tapping.
Naito, Ibushi, Sanada and Tanahashi. If you’re going to elevate a man that’s a decent group of names for him to beat. I was convinced Tanahashi was going to go over. It seemed inevitable. However, this was Zack’s time which I’m fucking delighted about. He’s one of the best wrestlers in the world and it’s only right that the best company gives him his chance. Fantastic wrestling to finish off a tremendous tournament.
Verdict: Four And A Half Stars
The final show of the New Japan Cup had a big match feel to it. Everyone on the undercard stepped up and put that little bit of extra effort in which made all the difference. Then we got another outstanding main event. The New Japan Cup was elevated to a top-tier tournament this year, and it has been a joy to watch.