Welcome back to Wrestling Headlines New Japan Cup review with me Sam and my intrepid fellow reviewers Imp and Jeremy Donovan. The tournament now has just one match left to find out who is the 2020 New Japan Cup winner and who will go on to face Tetsuya Naito for the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships at Dominion. Before the weekend’s doubleheader though, we thought we would lay out our top three matches of the tournament, top performer, and give our prediction for the final.
In case you missed them we have been doing a review of each week of the tournament with recommended matches and a top performer, you can view the archives here. You can also find us all on Twitter @TheDamnImplicat, @Sir_Samuel or @JeremyLDonovan. Also if you have never listened to Jeremy’s weekly New Japan podcast Keepin’ It Strong Style then you can check it out below.
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New Japan Cup 2020 Top Three Matches
3. Sam: Tomohiro Ishii v Hiromu Takahashi
When the brackets for this tournament were announced New Japan fans around the world circled this quarter-final and then collectively crossed their fingers hoping and praying it would come about. When it did come to pass, it did not disappoint. Two of the finest workers in the world going toe-to-toe for the first time.
These two just complimented each other so well in this clash, with Hiromu’s speed, athleticism and extroverted personality contrasting perfectly with the hard-hitting, stoic Stone Pittbull. Every time the junior champion tried to trade blows with his heavyweight foe he would end up on his back but every time Ishii tried to outmaneuver the junior champion, Hiromu would use his speed to gain the upper hand.
I’ve no doubt the other guys are going to talk about this match more but before they do I want to highlight the fantastic closing stanza to this match. To chop down the giant in front of him Hiromu had to hit Ishii with everything however the way they laid it out didn’t just feel like false finish after the false finish but genuinely made it feel like each little time Hormu was getting closer and closer which built such a sense of anticipation for the final Time Bomb 2. Brilliant match from bell to bell.
Imp: Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiromu Takahashi
The Time Bomb steps up! Same Okada match time, same Okada match place. The Rainmaker stuck with the same main event style as always in spite of the empty arena, for me something that worked like a charm for the Semi Final. They played the exact story I had been hoping to see, fleshed out over a classic main event length.
I was right there watching Hiromu grow into this match, matching Okada every step of the way. Each move forward increasing in difficulty, Kazu sets a high bar and our LIJ Junior was right there with him up till the end. That rhythm of ‘anything you can do I can do too’ permeated through this match, you really got that sense that Hiromu was out there with something to prove.
Then you enter the final 10 minutes of an Okada main event, something after all these years that’s still a sight to see! The speed and consistency of counters, with both lads changing up their game and picking up the pace as they fail to land their finishing blows. Eventually one of them will get caught, but it’s not enough and when absolutely knackered they’ll have to dig even deeper.
The final stretch of this match was predictably fantastic, ending a career-defining New Japan Cup for the Junior Champion as he danced in main event lights against heavyweight beasts.
Jeremy: Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiromu Takahashi
A lot of fans have been critical of Kazuchika Okada in this tournament. While there were some wrestlers who changed up their style to adapt to the empty arena, Okada stuck with his normal match formula. The long classic NJPW main event style can be hard to get into without the energy of the crowd. However, for this match, it worked perfectly. Okada was a bully throughout the match and controlled the pace of the match. Eventually, Hiromu would use his speed to get the advantage. The closing stretch was a great back and forth struggle that made you believe either man could win. The ref stoppage finish protected Hiromu and leaves the door open for a rematch. ****1/2
2. Imp: Tomohiro Ishii vs Hiromu Takahashi
Hiromu wrestles the style of the Big Boy! Ishii’s no-nonsense strong style paired with Hiromu’s complete lack of regard for his personal well being was almost a match made in heaven. Like you were watching a man trying to climb back up from being completely obliterated, turned inside out by his opponent yet still keeping on trucking.
As I said in my original write up for this match, very rarely does a match end up playing out exactly how you’d pictured in your head. Ishii always dictates the match, whoever he’s up against ends up trying to wrestle him at his style. Something which was the perfect barrier for Hiromu to prove himself before having to climb the even steeper peak of The Rainmaker.
This was my absolute favourite new pairing of the New Japan Cup, an absolute joy to watch as they tried to clatter each other down. Both throwing stiff shots and refusing to stay down, screaming at their opponent to bring more, “No I said more, dammit!”
The final sequence ending in the Time Bomb II had me bouncing, an incredible run to the end and a hell of a cap for Ishii’s tournament. This match was an absolute blast.
Jeremy: SHO vs. Shingo Takagi
Shingo versus SHO 2 was one of the gems of this tournament. Shingo and SHO have incredible chemistry. This match was a fast-paced hard-hitting brawl that shined in the empty arena atmosphere. They told a great story of a determined SHO doing everything in his power to defeat Shingo. SHO preserved and defeated one of the top heavyweights in NJPW. In the process, he also earned himself a NEVER Openweight title match at Dominion. Can’t wait for that rematch! ****1/2
Sam: Minoru Suzuki v Yuji Nagata
This is a match that has grown on me the more I’ve thought about it, in fact, if you go back to our review of the first week you will see that I rated Ishii v El Desperado above this one. However, over the last few weeks, I could not stop thinking about the spiteful hard-hitting character drama these two men played out. As they stood in the centre of the ring trading bombs back and forth it was like watching Batman v The Joker, two men so opposed to one another and have so little respect for one another that they could fight forever and it wouldn’t change a thing.
Wrestling without a crowd has exposed some of New Japan’s top talent in different ways but on just the second night these two veterans gave a masterclass in character and selling that showed everyone on the roster exactly how to rock an empty arena. A real match for the true believers.
1. Jeremy: Tomohiro Ishii vs. Hiromu Takahashi
Inject this match into my veins! This was my favorite match of the tournament. Hiromu was forced to wrestle Ishii’s style of match. Hiromu had to pull everything out of his arsenal to survive. I was rooting for him the whole way. Like usually Ishii did a tremendous job selling and making Hiromu look like a viable threat. I jumped out of my seat when he hit the Time Bomb II and got the win. I really wish this match could have happened in front of a sold-out Kouraken Hall crowd. Their energy and emotion would have made this match even better. ****3/4
Sam: SHO v Shingo
Isn’t it great when a match you are excited for lives up to your expectations? After the long term rivalry these two men had built up and their first singles match last year SHO v Shingo was the match I was most looking forward to in the entire tournament and when they stepped into the ring boy did they deliver.
Both these wrestlers are fantastic hybrids of power and speed which meant this match had the pace of a juniors match but the hard-hitting intensity of a heavyweight showdown. Shingo came in cocky, full of arrogance knowing he had beaten SHO handily last year and with plans of going deep into the tournament. What he didn’t count on was the fact SHO came to the tournament having focused everything on one match. Once the lariats, forearms and suplexes started flowing freely I was frothing on the pro wrestling goodness on display.
SHO was particularly fantastic, wrestling with the kind of desperate determination of a man looking for the biggest scalp of his career and by the time he got the pinfall I was on the edge of my seat willing New Japan’s littlest big boi on with everything.
Imp: SHO vs Shingo
Big boys assemble! Two of the biggest juniors I’ve ever seen in my life collided once again after their MOTY contender last year in the Best Of The Super Juniors, absolutely matching their previous effort with another banger of an outing. Playing off the expectation that even though SHO brought a lot of heart, Shingo’s strongly built run would continue. But they were playing us like fiddles!
I’d even predicted SHO to win, it was my main tournament prediction, yet I still didn’t believe he’d slay The Dragon. I was so happy to be simultaneously proven right and wrong, jumping out of my seat in those final sequences as my big Roppongi boy kept kicking out of Shingo’s match ending rhythms.
As Sam said, both men can switch between speed and power in an instant and it mixed one hell of a concoction. Especially in the final sequences, which I rate as the best in the tournament. I absolutely bought each flow of momentum, they’d convinced me SHO was down and out before catching me with the kick out. Completely swinging from cockiness into Shingo questioning what on Earth he’d have to do to beat this man on this night.
The matches between these two are absolute top tier, once moves start flying at an incredible pace you have no idea who will end up victorious. Just sit along for the ride as they take us on a rollercoaster journey.
New Japan Cup 2020 Top Performer
Sam: Tomohiro Ishii
I’ve been tracking things statistically, awarding points to each wrestler based on the matches we nominated and it was no surprise to see this guy the landslide winner, not just in terms of total points earnt but also for earning the most points per match. Every single round of the tournament, from the opening night to the quarter-finals, whether he was fighting from underneath or on top, against a junior or heavyweight, Big Tom nailed it.
I so wanted to pick Yuji Nagata for how he turned back the clock or SHO for having a coming-out party as a singles wrestler but it’s tournament time and there is no denying the king of the tournaments, Tomohiro Ishii.
Imp: Hiromu Takahashi
The Time Bomb had one hell of a showing this New Japan Cup. Such variety in his matches too, stepping up and wrestling the style of each one of his opponents. From the pure comedy of Toru Yano, to the hard hitting strong boy fest against Ishii and ending on that classic Okada main event style.
That man was the heart and soul of this tournament, entertaining me endlessly throughout. Not forgetting this was all in an empty arena, Hiromu and his creativity really thrived in this environment. This tournament was a hell of a step up for the LIJ Junior!
Jeremy: Hiromu Takahashi
Hiromu is the MVP of the tournament for me. As Imp said, we saw such a variety from him in this tournament. He accumulated very well in the empty arena atmosphere. The Time Bomb showed tons of emotion and Fighting Spirit. He also elevated himself by defeating three heavyweights and lasting almost thirty minutes with Okada. The future is bright for Hiromu.
Imp: EVERYTHING. IS. EEEEEVIIIIIL.
EVIL was my pick before the whole thing started, so I’m bloody sticking with it. Maybe out of stubborn pride, but I’m swimming in the success of correctly predicting the final of a New Japan tournament.
It’s never wise to predict Okada to lose, but I sense an upset here. I did before the tournament, a somewhat Ingobernable mirror of last year with SANADA failing to topple The Rainmaker. However, on this occasion with EVIL able to do the thing his stablemate was not, one more brick on their slowly building animosity between the over as hell Japanese stars.
With LIJ being white hot for so long, it’s only a matter of time before the lads in the faction step up and out of Naito’s shadow. The question is: is that now?
I know you should never bet against Okada. However, I have a very hard time seeing NJPW doing Okada versus Naito in a one-third capacity Osaka Jo Hall. I definitely think we will see another Okada-Naito match, but I think it will be saved until they can have a full house. I also have a hard time seeing Okada winning back to back New Japan Cups.
This whole tournament has been about building EVIL. EVIL makes the most sense to me and leads to a fresh match up for Dominion. The building is already sold out, so why waste a big draw match? An EVIL versus Naito main event can be the catalyst to some stable shake-up that NJPW desperately needs.
Sam: Kazuchika Okada
This is a very tough call because I honestly wouldn’t have picked either of these guys to win the tournament, especially given who they will face. Evil v Naito at Dominion seems pretty underwhelming for NEw Japan’s second-biggest PPV of the year, even if it only has a one-third crowd but the box office match of the company’s two biggest stars, Okada v Naito, feels too soon since their Wrestle Kingdom match. I will be completely pragmatic though and go with The Rainmaker to win the New Japan Cup for the second year in a row because Dominion needs to feel like a big deal and having the Ace in the main event will emphasise that.
That wraps it up for the New Japan Cup 2020 review series, what were your favourite matches and who was your top performer? Let us know in the comments below. You can also chat to all of us on Twitter@Sir_Samuel, @TheDamnImplicat and @JeremyLDonovan or in the New Japan section on the LOP Forums.
Thanks for checking the review out each week, hopefully later this year we will have a G1 to review!