Imp’s New Japan Cup Adventure
The past few years the night before WrestleMania has been reserved for the future, as NXT’s current crop of talent have taken the stage to – in the eyes of some – out dance the granddaddy of them all. In a way a delicious appetiser to wet your pallet before the hefty main course.
That was until a few months ago, when New Japan Pro Wrestling and Ring of Honor announced they’d be joining up to run Madison Square Garden. A venue that no wrestling promotion outside of WWE has run in over 50 years and they were running it the night before WrestleMania! Fair to say it was a tad of a, “Holy shit!” moment.
Not to end with just that whopper of a note, the show then went on to be one of the quickest sell outs in the history of MSG wrestling events. Selling out in under 15 minutes, with Wrestling Observer reporting 75% of the sold tickets were from local buyers. Which is pretty f’n big, as this shows the event was not ‘just profiting off the fly-in audience for WrestleMania’, nor was it ‘just the same passionate crowd that turned up for All In’. But fans from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania & Connecticut filled up a large portion of the people snapping up those tickets in record time.
In the face of running against an event with such high demand, WWE moved NXT TakeOver to Friday.
With that this incredible looking new weekend was formed: NXT Takover – NJPW/ROH G1 Supercard – WrestleMania. Sorry WWE Hall of Fame, we’ve suddenly got an incredible week for wrestling (and a horrible week for the sleeping patterns of Europeans).
That said, momentum for the show has somewhat died down from that incredible initial hype, but the actual card for MSG has fallen incredibly well for them. NJPW especially have recovered from the wobble of adjusting their plans to Jay White, with multiple matches looking appetising as hell as we look down the card.
So that’s what we’ll be doing today, going through the final card for NJPW & ROH’s G1 Supercard LIVE from Madison Square Garden! The night before WrestleMania a hell of a statement looks to be made, WWE are no longer the only game in town and New Japan & Ring of Honor aim to showcase that in style.
So let’s get on and preview the show!
First off, on the Pre-Show there is the Honor Rumble which will feature all the chaps that didn’t make the main card. Previously seen in this spot for Wrestle Kingdom, it’s all just a bit of fun before the actual show starts. Kinda like WWE’s Battle Royals in that sense, just in this case it’s in the form of a pin/submission elimination and everyone enters one-by-one like the Rumble!
The Wrestle Kingdom version has always been fun to watch, so I expect this to be the perfect background entertainment as you’re getting your rassle-snacks in order. There’s always a delightful pop or two, not forgetting this’ll be filled with New Japan Dads galore!
Right, onto to the main card preview we go!
NEVER Openweight Champion vs ROH TV Champion
Title for Title
Will Ospreay vs Jeff Cobb
*Spits out water* Wait, this is the opener? Bloody hell, talk about kicking off the show in style!
Our first match of the night to have both NJPW & ROH titles on the line (yes, there’s more than one), an enticing bout between two fast rising stars in their respective promotions. Quick disclaimer: Jeff Cobb is my ‘Indie Boi’, that one wrester you pop for every time and think is absolutely incredible. So I’m a tad bias, there’s also the national bias of Englishman Will Ospreay representing at the Garden… actually this match was always going to grab the hell out of my attention!
Will Ospreay is quite possibly one of the most talented wrestlers working today, currently in the middle of proving he can hang with the big guys and is more than just an athletic Junior fella. In the New Japan Cup alone he bested big lads Bad Luck Fale and Lance Archer, before bravely charging head on into Kazuchika Okada himself.
An important note is that, during ROH’s Honor Rising Tour in Japan, Ospreay successfully hoisted up and nailed his Stormbreaker finisher on Cobb. He’s proven he can hit the very move that could end the match, expect them to play off of both guys being painfully aware that fact. In other words get ready for some sexy counters.
Then there’s Jeff Cobb, Lucha Underground fans will have seen him dominating in the part of the monster Matanza. He’s relatively early into his ROH run, but is already receiving favourable comparisons to that of Samoa Joe’s time with the promotion. A surprisingly athletic big man who’s just as comfortable diving at you through the ropes as he his stringing together a sensational series’ of suplexes. Mix in the Hawaiian cockiness and genuine Olympic prowess, you’ve got one hell of a difficult champion to topple.
Both looking to prove themselves as top main event talent for the future, happen to be two of the most talented wrestlers going and are holding their respective titles for a damn reason. Hell of a way to start off the event, showcasing two guys who could possibly be World Champions in the not too distant future.
Special Singles Match
Dalton Castle vs Rush
I’m donning this contest the ‘Rush Spotlight’ AKA ‘The Most Extravagant Dalton Castle Entrance To Date’ AKA ‘We’ve Got To Lower The Pace A Bit Somehow, Let’s Not Go Mental Here’.
The match that adds to the show rather than trying to be the next carriage on a train of consecutive show stealers, we’re saving that for the final run of matches. Dalton Castle’s been struggling with getting back to 100% since dropping the ROH World Championship to Jay Lethal last June, but here he gets to literally shine with the lights on bright. A nice thank of you sorts to a major player for ROH over these recent years.
However, looking up and down the card it appears the decision has been made to use this to build to the future. With that in mind, everything’s telling me that this match will be intended to help make Rush look like a star. If you’ve seen his work in CMLL you’ll know that’s pretty easy to do given his talent, but I wouldn’t be surprised if ROH have some big plans for their Tranquilo man.
Hell, for all we know he’s not quite finished being ingobernable.
WOH World Championship
Mayu Iwatani (c) vs Kelly Klein
A fair few fans were confused following the title change to Iwatani, especially as something tells me we’re set to witness the Kelly Klein Show come April 6th. I can’t really speak on the challenger, but Klein’s work in ROH practically speaks for itself. Her climb to the top was natural and it felt like she’d genuinely earnt that spot, only for her to lose that spot in unexpected fashion.
This match will likely surprise a few people, the little I have seen of Iwatani gives me the impression Klein will look an absolute beast when on offense and rag dolling her around. From what I’ve seen I’ve been impressed, I just don’t know enough about the champion herself to really say much about her. I know she’s wrestled for STARDOM, so that’s one tick in the positive box!
So I’m expecting this to be ROH’s slightly confudled way of getting to a crowning moment for Kelly Klein, giving her the momentum to run riot all over 2019.
NYC Street Fight Open Challenge
Bully Ray vs ?
Please don’t be Flip. Please don’t be Flip. Please don’t be Flip. It’s ROH, it’s gonna be Flip isn’t it?
An intriguing entry to the card, pop the crowd half way through and set ‘em ready for a string of insane title matches. Bully Ray’s ROH run has seen him become so hated that whoever his mystery opponent is just has to beat the holy hell out him, turning this segment into an awesome feel good moment for the New York crowd. Not forgetting this is Bubba’s home town, so if anyone’s going to know how to rile them up, it’s that man from Hell’s Kitchen right there.
Who will answer the challenge though? Any chance it’ll be Flip Gordon? I mean, there’s always the chance that it’s not Flip Gordon. But, you know, come on… it’s Flip Gordon.
UNLESS IT’S NOT?!!! #OmegaMSGConfirmed
IWGP Jr Heavyweight Championship
Three Way Match
Taiji Ishimori (c) vs Dragon Lee vs Bandido
Okay, this match should be amazing. I know there was a section of the fan base disappointed we weren’t presented with an enticing one-on-one affair for Madison Square Garden, however I think the perception’s pretty unanimous that the match itself is likely to be one hell of a fast paced barn burner.
Taiji Ishimori hasn’t really had the opportunity to have that incredible match that sets his title reign apart. So far he’s defended against two veterans: Rysuke Taguchi at New Beginning and Jushin Thunder Liger at the NJPW 47th Anniversary Show. Known, respected names they may be, but the Bone Soldier’s not going to be able to match the recent reigns of KUSDHA, Will Ospreay or Hiromu Takahashi by wrestling them.
So really this is the first defence where Ishimori really will get to go hell to leather with opponents just as in their prime as he is. The speed and athleticism of both Dragon Lee and Bandido is amazing, so expect more flips, rotations and topes than you’ve seen in any match this year. Like a super powered 205 Live main event, but in front of a crowd that wants to see them and some of the hottest wrestlers that are currently being booked by promotions all over the world.
Bandido in particular has taken the indie scene by storm, be it CMLL, Progress, WXW, PWG, NJPW, etc; Bandido has been and performed for them all over the past year. So the news of Ring of Honour locking him down was pretty surprising, he’s a talent in demand and you can bet your ass the opportunity of performing on such a grand stage is not one he’s going to be taking lightly. Full of charisma and flippy shit you ain’t never seen before, this man could possibly be the one that stands out and grabs your attention the most.
Then there’s Dragon Lee, a man who has most certainly made his mark on NJPW. His matches with Hiromu Takahashi cemented him as a made man, truly exceptional bouts that may go down as some of the best in the history of NJPW’s Junior division. That said, outside of his title matches against Hiromu he’s not really been present in that scene, only popping up now and then, spending most of his time down in CMLL. But when he does wrestle for New Japan it’s goddamn memorable and on a stage such as this, against these opponents you can expect something special.
IWGP Tag Team Championship & ROH Tag Team Championship
Four Way Match
Guerrillas of Destiny (c) vs Brody King & PCO (c) vs SANADA & EVIL vs The Briscoes
Interesting one this, 100% more intriguing than the original plan for the bout, but still in the zone of, “Hmm, interesting.” Originally a champion vs champion match, this is now a four team battle with both titles on the line. Fair to say things have escalated a tad!
Two teams from ROH and two teams from NJPW, this one is sure to carry on that sense of fast paced mayhem from the previous Juinior bout. The thing that grabs my attention though is the fact that both titles are on the line, one of these teams is going to be leaving with everything and that certainly sets up something different for the future. Because who the hell wins? Considering they’ll have to both wrestle for ROH and NJPW?
Brody King and PCO of Villain Enterprises only just won the titles 10 days ago in the ROH 17th Anniversary Show main event, would it be a tad sudden to lose those titles almost immediately would it not?
Not forgetting GoD only won their titles during the Honor Rising tour on February 23rd, so it’s not exactly like they’ve held their championships for that long either. Which in a way explains the presence of the two challengers, both are the former champions getting their shot to earn back their titles.
It’ll be a chaotic match, a nice buffer between the Juniors and the British Heavyweight bout that will follow. Who wins is anyone’s guess, but with SANADA’s recent performance in the New Japan Cup you’ve got to think the LIJ boys are heavy favourites for this one.
British Heavyweight Championship
Zack Sabre Jr (c) vs Hiroshi Tanahashi
If you wanted any further proof as to how high ZSJ’s stock has risen within NJPW, he’s defending his RevPro title against Hiroshi ‘freaking’ Tanahashi in Madison Square ‘Goddamn’ Garden. One of the more straight forward setups, after The Ace of The Universe scored a pinfall to become the first person to beat Sabre Jr in the New Japan Cup. A simple road, but one that emphasises New Japan’s ideology of wins mattering nonetheless.
Of course, as a Brit it’s absolutely awesome to see the RevPro British Heavyweight Championship being defended on such a stage as Madison Square Garden. Just to think, in the short time passed of 2019 that belt’s been defended in the most famous arenas of both Tokyo and New York. Great to see the gradual rise that has been British wrestling, now reaching a new peak of having titles defended on the biggest shows around the world.
Well, almost all the shows. Becky Lynch is Irish, that’s close enough.
As for the competitors, Zack Sabre Jr has been a slow rise within Suzuki Gun and the New Japan hierarchy itself. Nowadays he’s a top competitor for the stable, earning a reputation of being a true threat in any tournament he’s in. Both he and Tanahashi shared similar successes over 2018: he really set that bar with an unbeaten run the NJ Cup and strong performance throughout the G1 Climax, whilst Tanahashi was set on proving to everyone he was still The Ace he always had been, eventually winning the G1 Climax beating both Okada and Jay White on his road to Wrestle Kingdom.
Then both wrestlers cemented their run by kicking off 2019 by walking out of the Tokyo Dome with their respective British and IWGP Heavyweight Championships. However this is where the roads of both men diverged. Zack Sabre Jr travelled the world defending his title, having incredible matches that seemed to just raise the bar every time. Compared to Tanahashi, who lost his title in his first defence to Bullet Club’s “Switchblade” Jay White. ZSJ has elevated his championship so far this year, Tanahashi completely crashed and burned.
However that is what made their New Japan Cup clash so interesting to me, Tanahashi really had something to prove whilst Sabre Jr was on an ultimate high. So his performance in that match became yet another example of The Ace shocking everyone and defeating the undefeated, in the process pinning a champion. In New Japan wins matter, so even though he lost to SANADA in the next round, he’d earned himself that opportunity.
Madison Square Garden is another issue, a pissed off Zack Sabre Jr is not one you’d like to meet in the ring. A man who has fun twisting and contorting his opponents to his whim, versus the veteran whose own heart won’t let him give up. If anything an epic clash of mentalities, who’s will comes out stronger in the end? Will we see another successful defence from the submission master? Or a showcase of Tanahashi proving once again on a grand stage that he’s The Ace of The Universe?
Now hurry up and beat Tana, Zack. We need yer back ‘ere to fix Brexit.
IWGP Intercontinental Championship
Tetsuya Naito (c) vs Kota Ibushi
Oh hell yeah!
I talked earlier about Ospreay vs Cobb being the match that immediately got excited for this event, well now consider me beyond hyped! This card desperately needed this match, two of New Japan’s best, brightest stars almost killing each other on the company’s biggest Western stage in their history.
I fear for their necks, but I’m in sheer joy of this match’s inclusion. When people were saying this event needed to showcase New Japan talent, in my mind this is exactly what the kind of thing they meant. One of the top matches of the show, with some of the top talent in the company, putting everything on the line in what quite possibly could be the most mental match of the show.
Another simple set-up, after Ibushi beat Naito in the 1st round of the New Japan Cup. However with the added context of both men’s expected rise within the company and the sheer quality of their past encounters, this match suddenly feels like a sign of New Japan things to come. In the greatest way possible, harkening back to their previous matches whilst letting us know these two guys are also the near future.
Naito is already a star, but this could be the moment Ibushi finally rises as a candidate for that position.
ROH World Championship
Three Way Ladder Match
Jay Lethal (c) vs Matt Taven vs Marty Scurll
“Hey, ladder matches are almost always fun!”
Marty Scurll’s elevation within ROH has been perhaps the one thing I’ve been able to get behind with the company’s current main event scene. He is 100% the right man for them to be putting their efforts behind, feeling like the fan’s choice after The ELITE left for their epic adventure.
However, I’ve really struggled to get invested in Jay Lethal’s recent ROH World Championship reign. His first heel run was brilliant and elevated the title to heights those after him have struggled to reach, but the story’s not been the same after turning face. Falling somewhat to the background as ROH brought The ELITE to the forefront, he became a strong hand rather than a top player.
It was always going to be short-lived, but there was always eventually going to be a time where we’d find out what would happen were The ELITE guys to leave. Well it happened.
Jay Lethal stepped up as the good guy company man and, fast forwarding to the most recent PPV. the ROH World Championship was defended half way through the show. Even if it was used to set up this match, so there was worry it wouldn’t feel concrete enough to end the show with, that still isn’t a great look and somewhat adds to the a sense of fallen prestige.
There is one saving grace however, as one member of The ELITE did not leave and the fans have rallied behind him.
At ROH’s 17th Anniversary Show, Jay Lethal defended against The Kingdom’s Matt Taven in a damn great match that ultimately ended in a 1 hour draw after interference. Who dared interfere you ask? None other than ‘The Villain’ Mart Scurll, the man who had earned his own #1 Contender’s match earlier in the year. On ROH TV the Ladder stipulation was announced and Twitter went, “I mean, it’ll be good, but…”
It’s an odd feeling, like ROH are making the right decision in having Marty Scurll capture the World Championship at their biggest show in history. Looking to the future is exact right note ROH appear to be playing at this event, but it all feels just fine. I’ve not been particularly invested in Jay Lethal’s reign, Matt Taven has only just entered the main event scene and Marty Scurll is really the only one fans are fully behind. So for a World Championship match it feels like a weird transition period rather than a peak match showing off why you sold out Madison Square Garden.
It’s an odd one. The match will be fun, the right champion crowned, the future looking to be on the right path. I guess it’s kinda like how some folk feel about this year’s WrestleMania road, even though the build itself has been a bit rocky, the match itself will be brilliant and the transition it causes will move the company on to a whole new era.
I am assuming Scurll wins by the way, ROH are a promotion that mostly gets things right but sometimes likes the old swerve ‘because reasons’. So fingers crossed!
IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Jay White (c) vs Kazuchika Okada
New York, get ready to witness the epic-ness that is Main Event Okada. He’s like regular Okada, but empowered with some kind of supernatural spirit that makes his matches absolutely incredible. After Tanahashi failed to protect New Japan from The Switchblade, it now falls to Big Kazu to show why he is the Ace. He must now step up and fend off the villainous Bullet Club, do what Tana did for so many years and save the promotion he loves.
Speaking to the media the day after the New Japan Cup Final, Okada said, “(NJPW) has been to America before, but those events have often had foreign wrestlers facing each other at the top of the card. It’s New Japan Pro Wrestling at the end of the day (…) being at Madison Square Garden isn’t just a big deal for New Japan, this is a huge deal for Japan, period. To have a Japanese wrestler, standing as the face of professional wrestling, there’s only one person for that spot, and it’s me.”
On a stacked show full of motivated talent, Okada promises to be at the top of them all. The man to represent not just NJPW, but Japan itself in the wrestling world. He’s not taking this lightly, he realises how huge main eventing Madison Square Garden is and is looking to beat those expectations. To aim to be the face of professional wrestling that everyone is talking about (on WrestleMania weekend no less) that takes a hell of a lot of belief and one big set of balls.
However, in order to accomplish that he has to beat Jay White, a champion riding one mighty wave of momentum. At Wrestle Kingdom The Rainmaker was unable to beat the Switchblade, falling victim to the Blade Runner after an incredible series of counters. Not forgetting this was the second time, as Jay White also pinned Okada during the G1 and arguably has the greater edge when it comes to encounters between the two.
On those occasions Jay White may have been wrestling Okada, but was he really facing The Rainmaker? With the matches coming firstly during the former champion’s ‘mid-life crisis’ and the latter in his first steps back in those shoes (or shorts). Arguably, he’s only truly returned to his former self over his impressive New Japan Cup run, where in the words of Okada, “…you have to be awesome to win the New Japan Cup.”
So come the main event of Madison Square Garden, we’ll finally get the answer: can The Switchblade beat The Rainmaker? Or is the Cutthroat Era all talk from the New Zealander? A self-aggrandizing prophecy more stoked in belief than reality?
We’ll find out soon, but in the face of an incredibly driven Okada, Jay White is going to have show us how much he’s built on his momentum. Eventually all waves come crashing down.
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 news of the past week!
Imp’s most recent columns:
Imp’s WWE Adventure – Do Kofi, Rollins & Lynch ALL Have To Win At WrestleMania?
Imp’s NJPW Adventure – New Japan Cup 2019 Rundown: Who Main Events Madison Square Garden?
Imp’s WWE Adventure – The Road to the Main Event of WrestleMania: Straight Fire At The Rumble
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