Imp’s New Japan Cup Adventure
In this case, I think bigger might be better.
In past years the New Japan Cup presented a chance to earn a title opportunity, this time it’s the main event of Madison Square ‘Freaking’ Garden on the line. With a bigger reward comes a greater level of competition: double the competitors, quadruple the challenge, octuple the desire.
From Friday through Monday we saw all 32 wrestlers compete for a spot in the second round, with so much on the line who would thrive under that pressure? Or more importantly, who would crack?
So let’s review the competition so far, going through those who qualified for the second round in each block of the brackets. I’ll make sure to note which matches you 100% have to check out if you’re not a New Japan nerd like me who got up 7am on a Sunday morning to watch Japanese wrestling.
Quick note: in each block the first two names will be facing in each other in Round 2 (starting Wednesday March 13), with the same going for the second two. The winners of those matches will face off in the Quarter Finals for a spot in the Semi-Finals, of which the matches follow the same format of 1 vs 2 and 3 vs 4.
The amount of words per wrestler is going to vary as well, this is gonna be peak Imp just rambling.
Right, let’s do it to it!
New Japan Cup 2019
Last 16 Mega Preview
The Stone Pitbull had one hell of a stiff match against legend Yuji Nagata on the opening day of the tournament in Tokyo’s Korakuen Hall. If you’re a fan who tunes in for the strong style epic clashes, this is the match for you. The CHAOS man and Blue Justice kicked the living crap out of each other, really playing off of Nagata’s legendary status to tease the chance of somewhat of a surprise victory.
For me Ishii was always the favourite, somewhat of the equivalent of an upper midcard talent: dipping into the main event now and then, but more or less contesting for the other titles. With Nagata well and truly into his run as ‘New Japan Dad’, kicking off shows accompanying Young Lions or fellow top guy from the 2000s Manabu Nakanishi. Once considered one of the best wrestlers in the world, Nagata is one of those veteran wrestlers very rarely in the spotlight nowadays.
So Ishii’s advancement wasn’t much of a surprise, but there was always that feeling that in a tournament of this magnitude we couldn’t count out those veterans. Turns out we could, this is NJPW, a land where they actually trust their modern stars and continuously give them the spotlights to shine. So they may have played off of that small chance of surprise victory, but in the end it was Ishii celebrating and offering respect to the legend.
But Tomohiro’s challenge has only just begun, he’s got a hell of a difficult run if he’s to advance to that Semi-Final match-up. Fair to say there are a couple of chaps with a ‘slightly’ easier run ahead of them. As next round he must take on a man who only just last month was going one on one with the IWGP Intercontinental Champion.
I find it no coincidence that as Minoru Suzuki shows signs of potentially slowing down from being a top title contending heel, we’ve seen the likes of Zack Sabre Jr and TAICHI rise. Last year it was Suzuki-Gun’s British technical expert who stole the tournament and the crown, however so far in 2019 it’s a different member who has well and truly stepped up his game.
At New Year’s Dash the night after Wrestle Kingdom, TAICHI carried out an unrelenting assault on Intercontinental Champion Tetsuya Naito and made sure he’d be the one standing opposite in the ring come New Beginning. The Suzuki-Gun man has always been somewhat uncaring for earning titles and accolades, instead revelling in the mayhem carried out by him and his fellow stablemates.
That was not the case here, in fact it could be argued that during 2018 the singer started to come out of his shell. He held the NEVER Openweight Championship for a short time and fans were genuinely surprised to see him not entered into the G1 Climax tournament. But they need not fret now, in the short space of time since the New Year TAICHI seems to have cemented himself as a genuine championship contender.
Maybe not the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he holds some kind of gold by the end of the year.
However he arguably faces the greatest test of his block in Ishii. TAICHI was able to beat similar-ish wrestlers to capture the NEVER title, but never the man himself. The Stone Pitbull is entirely different beast, a competitor who takes every one of his opponents to their limits. Be it a year 50 year old legend in Yuji Nagata, or the top champions in the company like Kazuchika Okada or Kenny Omega.
If TAICHI is to advance and truly be a wrestler contending for titles, he’s about to find out what that entails. Time to see if the Suzuki-Gun man can keep getting back up after stiff headbutts, Lariats and Brainbusters!
Since returning from injury the CHAOS man seems to have had a fire lit under him, taking the fight to Bullet Club after having to watch the heel group seize control from the side lines. It was in fact in his attempted aid of Jay White’s assault on Okada where he suffered his set back, could things have been different if he’d successfully fended off The Switchblade instead of tripping and smashing his head into the ring apron?
A lowest of low moment of which YOSHI-HASHI seems determined to make right on, and after defeating Nakanishi he now has that opportunity in Round 2. I’ll go more into Owens’ surprise victory over the US Champion when it’s his turn, but that result means Yoshi has his chance for retribution. For him there’ll be nothing sweeter than knocking a Bullet Club member out of the cup, advancing on to finally proving himself worthy of becoming a champion.
That said, beating the Crown Jewel of the Bullet Club will not be so easy. On paper, despite Owens’ lack of big wins giving him the underdog moniker, both of these competitors are extremely even. Hell, in fact I’d go as far as to say that these two are currently the exact equivalent of each other in terms of their position in their own stables.
This is going to be an interesting one!
Kevin Kelly stated on Day 4 of the tournament, “We’ve had an upset on every day so far.” I guess that makes this the first one. Damn you, Chase Owens! I’d be 100% in my bracket predictions if it weren’t for you and your dastardly win over IWGP US Champion Juice Robinson!
The Bullet Club has always had talents who run with the group, eat pins for a while, before rising up and finding success alongside the top guys of the stable. The example I’ll use is Tama Tonga, who eventually climbed the ranks and now he sits at the top of the group beside Jay White himself. But that all took time, a gradual climb over years. In 2014 he wasn’t winning tag gold or representing the group in singles tournaments, but now he’s a multi-time tag champion and looking at entering his 4th G1.
I’m seeing something similar when looking at Chase Owens. For a while he was the guy who ate the pin, he was the backup in case of injury, the tag partner for Jr tournaments. Even though he’s been with the group since 2015, he’s never really climbed the ranks of success. It wasn’t until Jay White’s takeover that he’s finally started to show us what he can do.
That said, I don’t think many of us thought multi-man tag victories would translate over to knocking out the IWGP United States Heavyweight Champion. I’m calling it a shock as much as I am a continuation of a rising star, Owens’ stock is growing and he surprised a lot of people with his victory over Juice Robinson.
Which is what makes his match-up with YOSHI-HASHI so interesting! As I said in the last section, on paper these to wrestlers are almost the exact equivalent. However there is one difference: YOSHI-HASHI has spent years failing in his attempts to break through, Chase Owens has really only just begun. They’re at completely different times of their careers, the CHAOS man is 7 years older than his Bullet Club opponent and to be at the same point after all this time has to be weighing on him.
That’s why I find this match so compelling to me. Both guys are at the same point, but Owens is on the rise whilst YOSHI-HASHI’s been at this exact spot for years. A win here would be huge for either man, so who goes through? Not forgetting that whoever wins will be walking in a major underdog against either Ishii or TAICHI, at which point I wish them luck and bid them farewell.
Certainly an interesting time for this man! Formally Nick Miller of The Mighty in NXT, his release from his WWE contract was granted, we were told it was so he could spend time with his family. Well next thing we know he’s revealed to be the CHAOS stable’s newest member and now the man’s set to go one on one with the face of New Japan Pro Wrestling himself. Talk about falling upwards.
Saying Mikey Nicholls has landed on his feet sure is a ‘mighty’ understatement, with apparently creative restrictions leading to him wanting a release he’s now able to fully play with that freedom. Introduced as ‘Mad’ Mikey Nicholls, the Mad Max parallels immediately jumped out and he looks to be a much more unhinged character.
In the short amount of time he’s been in NJPW, it feels like we’ve seen more character out of him than the entire time he was in NXT as ‘Not Shane Thorne’. We don’t know much about him, who in the stable he’ll be closest aligned, where in the New Japan hierarchy he’ll fall. But that’s fine, he’s only been around for such a short amount of time and given who he’s facing the next round I don’t feel like he’ll be hanging around in the tournament much longer.
The New Japan Cup has worked as a fine introduction to the character, gotten the core idea of it over and shown off a few of his moves. It’s also nice and brief though, in Round 2 he faces the leader of CHAOS Kazuchika Okada. An excellent opportunity to go out there against a top guy and make somewhat of a mark, before drifting off into teaming with his stablemates for the rest of the tour.
Get the character over, then have him settle in and integrate with his stable. It’s stuff like this that makes good booking appear way easier than it actually is, this makes so much sense with introducing a new character. So unobtrusive and yet allows him the time to showcase himself in the ring.
Bloody hell has Nicholls landed on his feet!
The favourite, the ace of the company, recovered back to his former self and ready to take back his crown. If New Japan want to put on the biggest final they can in the build to Madison Square Garden, this man HAS to be in the final. There’s no debate, hell if you look at the competitors he’ll be up against on his way there it appears insane to think he won’t be.
In the past the New Japan Cup has been used to build up new stars, give rising ones a boost of credibility or carry on momentum for a top guy. I’d argue the past the past 3 winners fit into each of those categories: last year they built up a new guy in Zack Sabre Jr, in 2017 the risen star in Katsuyori Shibata looked to finally become the top guy he’d been promised to become and in 2016 Tetsuya Naito earnt the right to re-enter that main event scene reborn as an ungovernable.
With this year however, Madison Square Garden changes everything. There’s no way in hell we’ll be getting a 2017 esque final with a seemingly set-to-be star taking down a giant big man. If anything, with the structure of the tournament I’m willing to bet that we’ll be getting a clash for the ages. A true set up for a monster occasion for New Japan, their biggest show outside of Japan in the history of their company.
Okada very well may have a line of fellow CHAOS stablemates ahead, but something tells me they’ll act more as tests than true challengers. We’ll get to his opponent later, but there’s surely no way this man doesn’t make the New Japan Cup Final… right?
Speaking of CHAOS, man this feller has bulked up over the past year or so! The NEVER Openweight Champion looks to have made it his mission to prove himself against much larger opposition, taking on the likes of ROH TV Champion Jeff Cobb, Bullet Club’s Bad Luck Fale and next up is Suzuki-Gun’s Lance Archer.
The odds are stacked against him, but seems to be exactly how he wants it. Last Wednesday the Ariel Assassin took on Jay White in a non-title match and absolutely shone, the future looks bright and he’s proving he bloody well deserves it. An opposite of the current IWGP Heavyweight Champion in a way, who is a man who preaches how much he deserves that top spot whilst constantly taking shortcuts to achieve it.
The only thing Ospreay preaches about is his own drive, instead of banging on about it he’ll show you in the ring and prove why he deserves the spot. In a way still a wrestler from the Junior Division out to prove he’s more than good enough to be hanging with the heavyweights. Which is something many wrestlers have done successfully in the past: Kota Ibushi, Tetsuya Naito and Kenny Omega all broke out and became top stars for New Japan. Can Will Ospreay do the same?
It’s no easy task though, he’s going to stand face to face with almost literal giants. One of which is waiting for him in the next round…
To quote the Killer Elite Squad’s entrance theme, “Everybody dies.”
Billed at 6 foot 8 inches, this giant of a man easily brushed through Toa Henare in the first round. A confident display from the Suzuki-Gun man, who seems to have an equally as strong belief going into the second round. During a CHAOS vs Suzuki-Gun tag match on Monday he chokeslammed the living hell out of Ospreay, lifting the fella so high into the air that afterwards the poor chap took to Twitter to say, “I’d rather have fallen off a ladder.”
Well, Will, I’m afraid if got some bad news. The opponents just keep getting bigger and stronger for the NEVER Champion, with Archer being the most gigantic of the lot of them. The way that tag match went though, the big man has reason to be confident in how easily he was able to completely knock the wind out of his opponent.
Ospreay may have the athleticism and speed, but Archer only needs to catch him once and it could be game over. How much will and determination does Will Ospreay have? We may be just about to find out, be that for better or worse.
The last minute replacement after David Finlay had to pull out with a shoulder injury. It’s fair to say Taguchi’s not a exactly being taken as a serious contender in this cup, more a comedic veteran at this stage than a feared, talented wrestler.
He scored a quick roll up over Tenzan in the first round, but my God is it a leap in difficulty going from that to his next opponent. Another New Japan veteran, however this one recently won the goddamn main event of Wrestle Kingdom just a couple months ago. Compare that to a man who didn’t even make the pre-show and you’ve got quite a good measurement of the jump here.
Let’s give him his due, Taguchi does now and then surprise people and pick up wins folk never expected him to. He’s a multi-time IWGP Jr Champion in both tag and singles competition, but his peak was arguably during his feud with the man now called Finn Balor. Presently he resides as one of the early card New Japan Dads, with his own semi-jokey stable Taguchi Japan. A stable that jumps through fun gimmicks to lighten up the card in those earlier stages, the gimmick at the moment is him dressing up as a rugby player because Japan are hosting the Rugby World Cup later this year.
It’s harmless fun. That said, the percentage chance of his victory against The Ace is pretty much 0%.
Young Lion Shota Umino really stood up to the occasion in the first round, a match that was full of this aura of potentially being incredibly relevant in the future. He wanted to test himself against someone he was truly one of the best and he bloody impressed in the process.
Rysuke Taguchi on the other hand… if anything he’s going to try and bring Tana down to his level rather that rising up to The Ace. Which will surely become a mistake, something tells me Tanahashi is taking this competition way to seriously to even consider doing that. The prize on the line is way to valuable to be joking around with a friend, all that goes out the window and the game face is on.
We may see Tana become annoyed, but that’s because he knows what’ll be awaiting in the next round. Whoever the opponent is they’ll have gotten through after being truly tested, so Tanahashi cannot be entering the match before not in that ultra-motivated mind set.
The other aspect is the still recent loss of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship to Jay White, which has to be weighing on the mind of The Ace. He’s trying to bounce from this set back and once again save the company from this mega heel, which is possibly what led to this somewhat of a hero alliance at the end of last week’s NJPW Anniversary show. Joining Okada, Ibushi and Goto, Tana stared down the champion and the four of them made a statement: they’re not just going to let Jay White lead the company into his Cutthroat Era.
So whilst these wins are nice, they’ve not exactly tested him. When he comes up against either ZSJ or Ibushi he’s going to have to bring his A game, can he do that after not being pushed to any sort of limit yet? We’ll wait and see, he is the Ace after all. Instantly recovering from a set-back is something he’s had to do more than once, this is not an alien feeling.
Either way, bloody hell does the Quarter Final match this block leads to look tasty!
Zack Sabre Jr
The match of the round, the single bout that could completely change the course of the cup. Last year ZSJ made one hell of a statement, bursting out and besting top name after top name. Naito, Ibushi, SANADA and Tanahashi himself all fell to the technical wrestling God. With that performance he will always be considered a major threat in these tournaments, something that is well and truly felt this year.
He had a fantastic back and forth match against Los Ingobernables de Japon’s EVIL in the first round, but now he’s up against one of the favourites to take home the whole thing. Ibushi was revealed as a major player for this tournament with his announcement back in February, however now comes the real test. In the second match of the New Japan Cup last year, Zack Sabre Jr shocked everybody when he beat the Golden Star.
Suddenly this time it’s not ZSJ who’s the one who has to overcome, in fact he’s the won with the momentum. He won the Undisputed British Heavyweight Championship off of Tomohiro Ishii at Wrestle Kingdom, the Suzuki-Gun man then has since held on to his championship after defences against DDT’s Shigehiro Irie and PAC. He’s been kicking ass in ROH, tagging with Minoru Suzuki in NJPW and now has his eyes set on the New Japan Cup once again.
All this, whilst Kota Ibushi has been on the side lines. Sitting at home making his decision of whether or not to fully commit to New Japan Pro Wrestling, a choice of which he announced in one hell of a fashion last month. But that doesn’t change the facts, Zack Sabre Jr is battle tested, he’ll be in top condition for the match. The Golden Star has only had one. Don’t get me wrong it was a hell of a test, but things don’t get any easier from here on out.
So even though Ibushi is a favourite to win the whole competition, don’t be mistaken in which competitor is actually the one with something to prove in this match up.
Last year both Zack Sabre Jr and Hiroshi Tanahashi beat Ibushi in major match ups, now if he’s to make the New Japan Cup Final he has to beat both of them.
For me the two wrestlers considered the favourites to reach the final could not have any more different paths, Okada’s path in comparison is like a pleasant stroll through a field. If the Golden Star is to main event Wrestle Kingdom he is going to have to almost mirror ZSJ’s achievement from last year, in beating top guy after top guy.
Not forgetting that in 2018 he fell at both of the hurdles he’s looking to be facing, he’s got to show more skill than ZSJ and more heart that The Ace. As a fan I cannot wait, in analysing though I cannot help but remember that incredible moment when Tanahashi took shot after shot and screamed in Ibushi’s face for more. That’s what he has to beat, that other worldly level of heart and determination! Plus he’s got to do it after playing the role of a contortionist against Zack Sabre Jr.
In a way it’s as if this was a test set up by The Ace himself: Ibushi’s not just got to prove himself once, he’s got to show an incredible amount of heart every single match. In simply just making the final the Golden Star will have proved himself, an opening match against the IWGP Intercontinental Champion was only just the beginning.
Now he has to overcome the scenarios he failed last year, no one said the road to becoming a Musketeer was easy.
Oh Yano, you cheeky bastard, you. Rolling up Davey Boy Smith Jr in the first round and quickly escaping up the ramp before he could actually destroy you. He may be a trickster, a joker, but he’s a smart fecker!
With that, we are all set for the ultimate comedy show down. As I said in my preview column last week, Colt Cabana looked like a really confusing inclusion until I noticed his match was right next to Yano’s in the brackets. Suddenly it all made sense! A rematch from their 2017 ‘bout’ in ROH, some called it a dream match, your hosts of Kingdom of Honour on LOP Radio would probably give a full on rant of how much they hated it.
Nonetheless, everything clicked together and I’m genuinely interested to see how this goes down in Japan after the resounding success it was in front of the American crowd. Two men known for their… let’s say comedic sides, not forgetting that they are both in reality two very good wrestlers who play things incredibly smart (even though it often appears silly and stupid).
Who’s smarter than who? Which trickster will out trick the other? Last time they spent like 5 minutes trying to out-plug their DVDs, God knows what’ll happen this time.
I think it’s fair to call this an upset, the chance of a Most Violent Players match up was looking like an almost certainty as Togi Makabe climbed to the top rope in Round 1. However Cabana showed his wits, moving out the way and scoring a surprise Superman Pin over the big man. There I am referring to that pin as if it’s a proper official move, he just shouted, “Superman!” and dove forward trapping down his opponent’s legs. Unorthodox but it worked!
Cabana’s inclusion must have appeared a joke to a lot of people – as I said I pieced everything together after realising Yano’s proximity – but there’s something about his inclusion that I feel gives a spice of life to this competition. Were this a smaller tournament you may have caught me questioning things, but with so many matches comes a slight need for variety. A nicer way of describing Colt’s somewhat of a surprise debut in New Japan I think.
Not every single match has to be super serious, hotly contested, sweat inducing match ups. That’s why I loved Toru Yano’s run in last year’s G1 Climax, he was a breath of fresh air every time his music hit. A nice break from all the serious tension, a few minutes of fun and enjoyment before getting right back on track with those Meltzer 5 star contenders.
That said, the fun won’t be lasting long past this point. With the other 2nd round match of this block serving up a wrestler who ain’t going to be taking no shit in the Quarter Finals. Suzuki will kick your face in, SANADA will outwit you AND out wrestle you.
So enjoy your moment of fun Colt and Yano, I’m sure the next round will hit you nicely.
The King is heavy favourite to become the semi-finalist of this block, his reputation of destruction and dismantling proceeds him. But there is one thing to consider, he does appear to be somewhat winding down from that position as the evil guy taking down champions. Others within the stable are stepping up, he doesn’t need to take down the champs because the likes of TAICHI and Zack Sabre Jr are doing it for him.
That said, the biggest factor here is Suzuki’s second round opponent. Last year SANADA impressed with a strong display against then champion Okada, reaching the Semi-Finals of the New Japan Cup and great showing in a tough G1 Climax block. SANADA’s stock is growing just as Suzuki seems to be releasing his hold a tad, but I’d still put my chips on the side of The King.
Suzuki is still as unrelenting as he’s ever been, as conniving, as devious. Last year in the G1 he forced every one of his opponents to step up, with multiple ringside beat downs before taking things up a notch in the ring. He made sure he was the one in control, his opponents were always fighting from the back foot. I expect nothing different here, Suzuki will never just simply hang over the reins, you have to take them.
On the other hand, if one man was possibly stronger in that situation, it’d be SANADA.
One of the best wrestlers on the New Japan roster at suddenly pulling back momentum. His athleticism mixed with technical skill makes him a force to be reckoned with, he’s never truly out and Goto fell victim to that in the last round. Looking to close out proceedings and getting caught by a still fighting SANADA, the CHAOS man was caught in a sleeper and ended with a Moonsault.
If Suzuki’s not careful he’ll succumb to the same fate, if anything I’d say he’s only weakness in sometimes going for the Gotch Piledriver a tad too early is that exact thing SANADA would exploit. The cockiness, the need for control, this slots right into the LIJ man’s wheelhouse. So all he needs is patience, a trait he sometimes nails and others is rash himself.
Against Goto SANADA went for the Moonsault too early and nearly payed for it, in a way he was lucky his opponent also rushed to the end and give him a door back in. Suzuki is a very smart wrestler, but as I said, one slip up and the Cold Skull will snatch back momentum in an instant. In the end this is what the match could come down to, who plays it cooler, is patient with their game and strikes at the exact right times.
SANADA has often shown wisdom beyond his years, but that will be truly put to the test here. The winner of this match is almost a shoo-in to make the Semi Finals, an aspect that ‘could’ prove to add more pressure to the situation. However SANADA made it to that stage in the cup last year, he’s shown he has the drive in these tournament settings.
With EVIL and Naito both dropping out in the first round, will SANADA carry the Los Ingobernables de Japon flag through to the latter stages of this high stakes cup?
If it leads to an Ibushi vs SANADA Semi Final you can me all the hell in!
Toodles, Chaps. Assen na yo.
Email Imp – [email protected]
Imp’s on LOP Radio every Thursday with Perfect 10 Wrestling! Talking through all the WWE Network shows from the past week!
Imp’s most recent NJPW columns:
Imp’s NJPW Adventure – New Japan Cup 2019 Rundown: Who Main Events Madison Square Garden?
Imp’s NJPW Adventure – The Era of the Switchblade Has Begun!
Imp’s NJPW Adventure – A New Beginning, A New Era
Imp’s NJPW Adventure – The Story of Hiroshi Tanahashi Part 1: Becoming The Ace
Imp’s NJPW Adventure – The Story of Hiroshi Tanahashi Part 2: The Ace of the Universe
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