It’s New Japan Cup final time! Which is lovely because it means we’ve got Kazuchika Okada vs Sanada to watch, but also because I’ve made it through the tournament with only a slight stumble at the end. It’s been a fun old run, and I’ll be sad to see it go. Now, let’s see it out in style folks.
Juice Robinson defeated Chase Owens to retain the IWGP US Title
It’s a footballing cliche to describe a match as a game of two halves, but this was most certainly a contest of two halves.
The first of which was fantastic. Juice came in prepared for a fight, ditching the gimmicks on the ramp and charging the ring. However, Owens was ready for him. He went right back to the tactics that were so effective first time around, attacking the ribs of the champ with the help of the barricades that surround the ring.
That turned this match into an old-school classic. Chase was our dastardly heel, bending the rules or outright breaking them when Jado got involved. Juice, on the other hand, was the perfect babyface. Roaring defiance and throwing everything he had at the scheming prick in his path. It was all set-up to be brilliant.
Unfortunately, the second half was where it all fell apart. Suddenly, we had ref bumps, far too much Jado and a Bad Luck Fale. I get what they were doing. It was raining more heat down on The Bullet Club and giving Juice hefty odds to overcome. However, it also made Chase look like a geek as, despite all that help, he still couldn’t get the job done, losing to a Pulp Friction.
Then, Mikey Nicholls of all people saved Juice from a Fale beatdown after the bell. Raising the question of, em, why? Are Mikey and Robinson friends? Did I miss part of this story?
Anyway, this wasn’t a bad match. The first half had me fully onside before the overbooking took over. Still, it made Juice look good, and that’s never a bad thing.
Verdict: Three And A Half Stars
Kazuchika Okada defeated Sanada in the New Japan Cup Final
There was a moment in this match where it looked like Kazuchika Okada was going to stroll to victory. He’d followed up a DDT off the barricade with a Shotgun Dropkick from the top rope and was setting up for the Tombstone. Then, Sanada’s arm snaked back round Okada’s neck, and those legs of his started to wiggle. I may moan about the way he locks that Skull End in, but his ability to get into it from nearly any position is fantastic, and in one moment he turned the tide of the action.
It was not only the moment that kept Sanada in this match, but it was the one that turned it from a decent showing into a fantastic one. They’d hit the motorway and were revelling in charging up the gears and seeing what they could do. Sanada was trying Rainmakers, Okada was locking in the Skull End, and it was linked together by this beautiful seamless example of counter wrestling. Okada and Sanada almost became one as they danced between moves, desperate to get the win.
And what turned out to be the difference? It was Okada grabbing onto Sanada’s foot. As Sanada looked for the Moonsault, Okada reached out to catch his foot, slowing him down and giving The Rainmaker time to recover. That wee action proved the decisive moment between the two as Sanada couldn’t get the job done and Okada ultimately got the win. However, it also showed just how close Sanada is, and fuck, if that’s not exciting.
Because this New Japan Cup has felt like Sanada’s coming out party as even in defeat, he’s gone out and consistently delivered great matches (outside the round against Cabana, but that’s a different style of match-up). Goto, Suzuki, Tanahashi and now Okada were all fantastic and, on top of that, he beat the first three. We’ve been saying for years that Sanada had the potential to be the man if only he could put it all together and as his home-town fans screamed his name (they love him in Niigata), you could finally envision that moment.
Not that I want to forget Captain Kazu. I barely mentioned him in my semi-final review, so he’s owed a little bit of a ramble. Okada is sublime. He’s come off the Broken Kazu period like a man possessed, delivering at a level that might be better than what we’ve seen from him before. I don’t think he put a foot wrong all tournament, as even in the slightly underwhelming match with Nicholls none of the blame could be placed at Okada’s door. He’s not my favourite wrestler on the planet, but I’d be hard-pressed not to call him the best.
Verdict: Four And A Half Stars
A fitting end to a fantastic tournament, Chase vs Juice was let down a smidge by the booking, but I still enjoyed it while any fault was made up for by Okada vs Sanada. Now, Captain Kazu’s off to get his title back. One suspects he’ll be bringing that treasure home.
Watch New Japan: https://njpwworld.com/