Welcome to the Wrestling Headlines weekly New Japan Cup review. Your expertly handsome New Japan guides, Matt Maher (AKA Imp) and Jeremy Donovan, will give you their top five matches for the week and then award the best and brightest performer. This week covers nights 1-8 of the tournament, the 4th the 13th of March. To follow along through the week, you can find either of us on Twitter @TheDamnImplicat and @JeremyLDonovan.
Imp: Here we roll once more, Jeremy. The New Japan Cup once again delivering amazing wrestling, dead brackets, and dick kicks. How’s this first week treated you?
Jeremy: Yes! The action has been tremendous, and my bracket has been blown to smithereens. Let’s dive into the first week of action.
Top 5 Matches
Imp: KENTA vs. Minoru Suzuki
And I’m starting with New Japan’s two resident badasses! The perfect delight to kick off your Saturday morning.
Or more fittingly: the perfect antidote to face-slap your weekend awakening.
Each laying stiff AF shots in the exact quality of match you were expecting. Heel on heel brawlings escalating into striking madness. Two tough lads battering each other for the prestigious chance of getting beaten by Shingo in the next round. It was all on the line! A couple of bastards up to no good, but instead of causing trouble they just struck each other in the face a lot.
The Ronseal of a wrestling match if there ever was one. Did exactly what it said on the tin.
Jeremy: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Gabriel Kidd
If you are a fan of technical wrestling, this is the match for you. Now I know what you’re thinking. This was a Young Lion taking on one of the Best Wrestlers in the world. Why should I watch this?
Even though the result was very predictable, this was a very entertaining bout. It’s not often that you get to see a Young Lion get a lengthy tournament match. Gabriel Kidd more than stepped up to the plate. For 17 minutes. Kidd went hold for hold with the best technical wrestler in the world. There was a plethora of grappling, submissions, and counters. Throughout the match, Sabre targeted Kidd’s neck. The attack on Kidd’s neck would be the key to victory for Sabre. Towards the conclusion of the match, he locked in a triangle choke variation and submitted Kidd.
This match was an excellent display of Kidd’s in-ring abilities, and it was also a reminder that Sabre is a great singles wrestler. ***3/4
Jeremy: Hirooki Goto vs. Taichi
Unlike my number 5 match, the result of this match-up was unpredictable. Goto has mainly been defending the NEVER 6 Man titles. Even though his focus has been on tag action, he has a history of doing extremely well in the New Japan Cup. Taichi has also been mainly focused on tag action teaming with Zack Sabre Jr. Taichi is not someone to bet against in singles action. He has stepped his game up immensely in the last couple of years.
This match started off slow. Taichi was very methodical in his attack. Things picked up in the middle and closing stretch of the match. Both men unloaded their big signature moves. Goto utilized the GTW and the Shoten Kai for near falls. At the same time, Taichi used the Axe Bomber and the DANGERRROUUSS Backdrop. This was a hard-hitting affair with no Suzuki Gun shenanigans. At the end of the night, Goto had his hand raised after finishing Taichi off with a GTR. ****
Imp: Tomohiro Ishii vs. SANADA
On paper one of the stand-out clashes of the first round, the rising star in the Cold Skull butting heads with the battle-tested pitbull in Ishii. I won’t lie, with legend Yuji Nagata waiting for the winner in the second round I only ever saw one outcome… and I was completely wrong! Damn you, booker man. Gedo strikes again!
This match played out like the Ishii tournament battles we’ve come to love, as SANADA continues to step up to the plate. The LIJ man quickly finding himself on the list of favorites for every tournament he’s in and besting Big Tomo in the first round is just going to fuel that fire.
A classic modern-day New Japan main event: counters galore, strong style lariats, and Ishii no selling like the wrestling potato beast he is. I was just waiting for Ishii to snap into Killer Mode but SANADA refused to die, always there to counter a supercharge or kick out of a sure-fire win.
Such a great final few minutes with absolutely no clue who was going to land that grounding shot.
Imp: Hirooki Goto vs. Taichi
Never underestimate Taichi in a tournament, the man routinely smashes it out of the park. Goto himself is like the Korakuen King when it comes to the G1 or New Japan Cup, I swear every time they roll through he delivers a Match of the Tournament contender.
So with these two together we were essentially guaranteed a sleeper hit. A damn solid match as the hero warrior in Goto fended off Taichi’s cheeky tactics to the top-notch, back n’ forth, final stretch.
Jeremy: Tomohiro Ishii vs. SANADA
I’ve been pretty down on SANADA the last year or so. He’s been constantly put in big spots and doesn’t consistently deliver. He’s so athletically gifted, yet there always seems to be something missing from his matches to make them great. I believe he uses the Cold Skull persona as an excuse not to show fire or emotion in his matches.
Big Tom was the perfect opponent to get SANADA to fire up and show some intensity. Ishii loves to smash and is not going to back down from anyone. Ishii’s intense brawling style forced SANADA to abandon his graceful high-flying moves and stand toe to toe with the Stone Pitbull. SANADA was able to match the aggression of Ishii. He dropped Ishii with several big moves, including a Tiger Suplex that dropped Ishii right on his dome. Ishii awakened a side of SANADA we rarely see and was defeated. This was definitely one of the stand out matches of the tournament and for SANADA’s 2021. ****1/4
Jeremy: Hirooki Goto vs. Shingo Takagi
There are a few things that are certain in this world. Death, taxes, and Shingo and Goto having a great match. These two men went to war for the 4th time. Like their previous encounters, this was a fast-paced, hard-hitting affair. Both men wrestled like this was the most important match of their lives. There was no time for feeling each other out. Shingo and Goto got right to work and did what they do best. Shingo showed an ultimate sign of disrespect by attempting to defeat Goto with an elevated GTR. Goto was able to escape the embarrassment of losing to his finisher. However, he was overpowered and outmatched by Shingo. The Last of the Dragon ended Goto’s night and advanced Shingo the next round. ****1/4
Imp: Hirooki Goto vs. Shingo Takagi
Phwoaar! Your Big Daddy trial of Muspelheim for the week as we enter the fiery realm to witness Shingo continue his way of the warrior through former New Japan Cup winners.
A war of a Saturday night main event, from the get-go charging at each other and firing forearms. As the match went on you never knew who was going to win a back n’ forth, who would land what, and if any move would be enough. Exhilarating exchanges!
The Dragon’s fire breathed hottest, but bloody hell did we get a battle with Goto swinging his GTR sword (not a euphemism).
Imp: Kazuchika Okada vs. Shingo Takagi
Two slipped discs and still delivered an Okada main event to elevate Shingo through the rest of the tournament, no one said being The Rainmaker was easy!
A fantastic, big first-round match as one of this generation’s top stars was matched by a man with what looks to be a hell of a year ahead of him. Shingo truly arrived on the heavyweight scene last year, but now he’s firing on all cylinders as he climbs that New Japan mountain.
Yet another bout with a top-notch run of momentum as neither man was able to secure a straight run of offense. A true match of Okada counters and strong Shingo style, something even more incredible when learning the physical state of one of the competitors.
Whenever Okada started to enter his main event rhythms Takagi matched him, responding with his own tune to knock the man down. When we hype these NJPW tournaments this is the exact kind of match we’re banging on about, you really never know who’s going to win and the tension builds so incredibly well.
If you only have time for one match this week, make sure it’s this one. What a first round match it was.
Jeremy: Kazuchika Okada vs. Shingo Takagi
When the brackets were revealed for this year’s tournament, this was the match I was looking forward to watching. Okada and Shingo had an instant classic in their first meeting at last year’s G1 Climax. The G1 Match was one of my favorite matches of 2020. The main factor for Shingo losing to Okada in the G1 was the dreaded Money Clip. No matter how hard he tried, Shingo could not muscle his way out of the hold and passed out.
Knowing how well the Money Clip worked last time, Okada’s game plan was to attempt to trap Shingo in the hold for this match. However, Shingo must have rewatched that G1 match several times and had a game plan. Shingo had a counter for almost every Money Clip attempt. Along with dodging the submission hold, Shingo targeted Okada’s injured back. Shingo’s confidence was on a next level here. Shingo taunted a fallen Okada with his version of the Rainmaker pose. As seen in the Goto match, Shingo loves to use his opponent’s finishers on them. He hit a brutal Rainmaker on Okada for a near fall.
Okada wouldn’t go down without a fight. Towards the end of the match he was finally able to get Shingo locked in the Money Clip. But Shingo refused to be knocked out by the hold again. Okada then tried to put Shingo away with the Rainmaker. Shingo countered it into the Last of the Dragon and defeated Okada. This was a huge win for Shingo that will establish as a main event player in the company. Like Imp said, go out of your way to watch this match! ****1/2
Jeremy: Shingo Takagi
It is tough to outperform Shingo. Whether it’s a multi-man tag, a singles match, an opening match, or the main event, Shingo always delivers. Shingo’s run in the New Japan Cup has been great. He had two bangers and looked like a juggernaut in both bouts.
With Okada and Naito dealing with nagging injuries, NJPW needs to elevate other people and create new main event stars. Shingo is the perfect guy to use to help carry the load in the main event scene. Even though he busted my bracket, I’m rooting for The Dragon to win this whole thing. Shingo versus Ibushi in the main event of Sakura Genesis sounds fantastic!
Imp: Shingo Takagi
I mean, in reality, it’s Kazu. Wrestling with two slipped discs and having a hard-hitting banger of a 1st Round match against a dragon is flipping mental! But Imp’s keepin’ it kayfabe and boy does our man Shingo look to be on a hot New Japan Cup run this year.
Two belters against Okada and Goto, but the way those matches went really does excite me for his run going forward. Wrestling in a way that really gets the crowd behind him and his Cup road is full of ‘evil’ baddies to overcome.
Something tells me New Japan may very well be using this tournament to elevate a new star once again. I mean, either that or it’s time for another EVIL run, baby. Get excited Jeremy! Jeremy… why aren’t you excited, Jeremy?
That wraps it up for this week, what were your favourite matches from week one of the New Japan Cup? Let us know in the comments below. You can also chat to all of us on Twitter @TheDamnImplicat and @JeremyLDonovan.
You can also find Jeremy every week on the top notch NJPW podcast Keepin’ It Strong Style.
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