After a dodgy second night in the New Japan Cup Kota Ibushi and Tetsuya Naito are here to save us all. You know those two aren’t laying an egg. Meanwhile, EVIL vs ZSJ continues, a Young Lion steps up to The Ace and Taguchi begins his quest to be the 69th IWGP Heavyweight champion. That should be enough to keep us going.
Ryusuke Taguchi defeated Hiroyoshi Tenzan in the New Japan Cup First Round
There were moments where this was painful to watch as it became apparent why New Japan avoids putting Tenzan in singles matches. Saying he is limited is giving him too much credit as the vast majority of his offence is strikes. There was a long stretch at the start where he stomped on Taguchi and did little else.
To be fair to Taguchi, he tried to work around it. He was providing all the movement as he made the logical decision to use the Ankle Lock on Tenzan’s broken down feet. It wasn’t enough, though. Tenzan isn’t in a spot where he can perform at this level.
All of which probably explains why Gedo decided to send a second junior through to the next round. Taguchi would slip into a flash pin and get the three, as New Japan seems to be lowering the walls between the Junior and Heavyweight divisions. Perhaps this was a one-off, but it is still a big win for Old Taguchi as he continues his quest to be the 69th IWGP Heavyweight Champion.
Verdict: Two Stars
Hiroshi Tanahashi defeated Shota Umino in the New Japan Cup First Round
This match’s pivotal moment wasn’t built around anything fancy. In fact, it featured the first finisher of every New Japan Young Lion, the Boston Crab. Tanahashi was looking to deal with Umino quickly and went back to the basics to do so. However, just as it looked like he had nothing left, Umino wrenched himself to the ropes as the fans chanted his name.
From there, Shota Umino showed the fire and passion that we all know he has. He stood in the centre of the ring trading slaps with The Ace and even locked Tanahashi in his signature Cloverleaf. At one point, he had the entire crowd roar in shock as he scored a 2.9 off a Small Package. Everyone knew there wasn’t a chance in hell he’d win this match, but they wanted to believe. They wanted to believe because that kid is a star.
Much like his showing against Zack Sabre Jr, Shota Umino proved in this match that he is ready. If you dropped him into the G1 this year, he would deliver. That kid is going to the top, and I can’t wait to watch it.
Verdict: Three And Three Quarter Stars
Zack Sabre Jr defeated EVIL in the New Japan Cup First Round
Just when EVIL thought he’d figured out how to deal with Zack Sabre Jr, the bastard came back and did it again. There’s something about that twisty socialist that gets under the big goth’s skin.
Frustratingly for the LIJ man, this was perhaps his most complete performance against Sabre. From the start, he chose to rely on old reliable, his strength. He didn’t look to wrestle Zack or beat him at his own game; he sought to outpower him and put him down for good.
The problem is that Zack Sabre Jr is used to people being stronger than him. If anything, he prefers it that way. He’s a master at taking people’s offence and turning it against them. Time after time he’d find a way to slither out of EVIL’s attacks and into some twisty unnatural position that looked horrendously painful.
That built to a fantastic closing stretch where EVIL was desperately trying to hit Everything Is Evil. Yet, he couldn’t do it. Zack always had an answer and, in the end, he brought him to the mat, wrapped him up and tapped him out. At this point, it’s not even a surprise.
EVIL and Sabre have faced off enough that we know what to expect as it almost always delivers. They have a fun chemistry that plays to both of their strengths. I don’t think this was the best match they’ve had, but it was undoubtedly good.
Verdict: Four Stars
Kota Ibushi defeated Tetsuya Naito in the New Japan Cup First Round
What the fuck do Naito and Ibushi have against necks? From Hangman Neckbreakers to Sitout Tombstones to that fucking Tiger Driver ’91 this was a match built around dealing as much damage as possible to a part of the body that is quite important.
And, of course, it was brilliant. I don’t think these two would be capable of delivering anything less. There is magic in the air whenever they to step in the ring together. They craft their matches to perfection, setting up their stories during the early stages and then exploding into a final act which is always incredible.
Here, that story was all about Ibushi. New Japan is getting across the idea that this is a new Kota, still a maverick and still touched by genius, but now with a new focus. In the early stages, Naito was taking it to him, working the neck and looking in control. However, Ibushi is now able to slip into that extra gear. To unleash the inner monster and start slapping the fuck out of his opponents. There is brutality alongside that focus, so when Naito kicked out of a Bomaye there was no hesitation in him, it was on to the next thing and with it the win.
Not that Naito was an afterthought. I’m sure plenty LIJ fans will right this second be protesting the result, using it as the latest proof that Gedo will never push him, but I still have faith his time will come. He’s too good for it not to. As usual, he was outstanding in his arrogance, smirking as he took the attack to Ibushi’s neck. In many ways, his story mirrors Ibushi’s. Two exceptional talents who need to fix themselves mentally to reach the top.
Anyway, this was wonderful which will surprise no-one, and yet, it also felt like they had one or two more gears to hit. Someday we’ll hopefully get Naito and Ibushi on a massive stage because if this is what they do in the first round of the New Japan Cup, imagine what they’d do then?
Verdict: Four And A Half Stars
Taguchi vs Tenzan was a lot of nothing, but after that this show took off. After the previous day flopped this was exactly what the tournament needed and while I would put the main event slightly below Ishii vs Nagata, I still loved it. When you consider that the next round will have most of the chaff weeded out, this tournament is getting exciting.
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