If you headline your show with Zack Sabre Jr vs Kota Ibushi, I am going to watch it. Let’s stop nattering and get on to talking about the magic.
Hiroshi Tanahashi defeated Ryusuke Taguchi in the New Japan Cup Second Round
The New Japan Cup has thrown up some odd combos, but few are as out there as this one. The Master of the Funky Weapon vs The Ace or, in the words of Chris Charlton, Ace vs Arse. That’s a clash of styles and a half.
It was a clash which unleashed one of my favourite wrestling characters, Dickhead Tana. No-one reads a crowd like Tanahashi, and as it became clear Korakuen was in the corner of the underdog, he went with them, slipping into the heel role and brutally attacking Taguchi’s leg.
Thankfully, Dickhead Tana was the perfect person to bring out Big Match Taguchi, and it didn’t take long for him to put the antics to one side. With Korakuen cheering him on Taguchi began to bring it to Tanahashi, digging dip and getting at least one near fall which had the fans in attendance putting aside their heads and gasping with their hearts.
We also began to see how smart Tanahashi’s constant selling of his injuries has been. Everyone knows he’s held together by sticky tape, so when Taguchi went for the Ankle Lock, it didn’t seem outwith the realms of possibility that Tana would tap. It didn’t matter that it was a Junior who spends most of his time pissing about doing it, the question of whether The Ace’s body can hold-up is always there.
Of course, in reality, those thoughts exist only within the realms of romance. Tanahashi was always winning this match, and when it came down to it, he had no issue putting Taguchi away. It didn’t even take a High Fly Flow as the Dragon Suplex sent Tanahashi into the next round. Still, Taguchi can go home feeling proud about a job well done.
Meanwhile, The Ace is having a quietly brilliant New Japan Cup. Twice he’s gone into matches where there was no chance in hell he was losing and tricked me into thinking he might take the fall. Sticky tape or not, Tanahashi is still the best.
Verdict: Four Stars
Zack Sabre Jr defeated Kota Ibushi
I adore the dynamic between ZSJ and Ibushi. On one side you’ve got the calculated cool of Zack Sabre Jr, a man who you get the impression has researched his opponent to death, devising a counter to every move. On the other side, is the burning golden star of Kota Ibushi who relies not on research, but instinct, crafting his plan as the match goes on. It’s the perfect pairing.
It also means that they have a ready-made story to tell in every encounter. Sabre goes out there and frustrates Ibushi, slipping out of every move and slowly chipping away at that gorgeous facade. Ibushi is forced to keep upping the ante, finding new and inventive ways to get his hands on Zack.
The most effective of which might be losing his temper. There was one moment in this match where it looked like Sabre had made a mistake. While putting the pressure on Kota’s legs, he slapped him across the face, and Ibushi’s eyes went dead. We suddenly got a glimpse of the man who went to war with Ishii and will hammer on you until you are just a smear on the ground. As he drove his strikes into Zack, you wondered whether that would be the answer to Ibushi beating the twisty socialist.
But, sadly, no. Zack Sabre Jr is too good. When Kota lost it, he stepped back and waited for his moment before dropkicking Ibushi’s leg from underneath him. It summed up the match as it didn’t matter what The Golden Star did, Sabre always had an answer and ultimately Ibushi was taken on a trip with Napalm Death. I’ve heard they did some Orienteering.
Initially, I was gutted by this result. I expected Ibushi to go deep in the tournament. However, the more I think about it, the more okay with it I am. He wasn’t going to win, so going further would have only added to the narrative of him choking on the big stage. With Kota having signed a New Japan contract I’m sure his time is coming, this just wasn’t it.
Verdict: Four And A Quarter Stars
New Japan is being nice to me. This show featured a big match Taguchi sighting, a smidgen of dickhead Tana and Sabre vs Ibushi producing magic. I love all of those things! Both of these bouts were great and I had a lovely time. Make sure and watch them.
Watch New Japan: https://njpwworld.com/