New Japan is back! The King of Sports returns! For those who missed the news, on Tuesday the New Japan brass announced the company’s return to the ring after over 100 days off. Firstly they will launch with a one-off special show called The Together Project and then, starting next Tuesday, a revised New Japan Cup will kick-off.
The tournament will be open to heavyweight and junior-heavyweight wrestlers for the right to face the IWGP Heavyweight and IWGP Intercontinental Champion Tetusya Naito at Dominion. While the company will be missing a number of its international stars, the new open-weight format brings a host of possibilities.
To break it all down and to preview The New Japan Cup with me today is my ever-present Wrestling Headlines Wingman, The Implications and for the first time, from the Keepin’ It Strong Style podcast, Jeremy Donovan. We will also be reviewing each week of action as the tournament progresses so make sure you keep checking back every Friday.
To kick things off guys, it’s been a while since New Japan had any matches, so what of the first round or potential later round matches has got you most excited and what’s going to be your guilty pleasure?
Imp: Zack Sabre Jr vs Kota Ibushi
The chemistry these two have shown in the past is off the charts, give them 10 minutes and you’ll have the smoothest, quickest paced match of constant counters and transitions that you’ve ever seen.
Second to Yano vs Jado obviously. Just ahead of me supporting my hometown boy in Gabriel Kidd, I don’t like his chances but the man’s got heart! That’s Kidd, not Yano. I’m not sure what you’d call Yano’s in-ring essence… a cheeky sod?
Jeremy: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Kota Ibushi
Like Imp, I’m also excited for ZSJ vs. Ibushi. Sabre and Ibushi always have great matches together. I have this one circled to be the best match of round 1.
The other match that I’m excited for is EVIL vs. Satoshi Kojima. I am a huge mark for Kojima and would love to see him lariat EVIL’s head off. Bread Club for life!
Sam: Shingo v SHO
While I love me some Cruiserweight Championship rejects facing off for me the match I’m most looking forward to is the rematch of Shingo Takagi and SHO. For those who didn’t see it, over the final months of 2018 and beginning of last year, SHO and Takagi squared off as the two most powerful men in the junior division and when they finally faced each other in a singles match in the Best of the Super Juniors they tore the house down.
Shingo has now moved up to the heavyweight division and holds the NEVER Openweight title, a belt SHO has spoken out about wanting. The chemistry these two have and the potential carrot of a title challenge for SHO has me super excited for their matchup and I’m picking it will take the honours and match of the first round.
As for a guilty pleasure, I’ll have to go for Suzuki v Nagata, the Murder Grandpas Collide in what could be one of the best over 50s matches you’ve seen.
These kinds of tournaments are always full of interesting narratives as they go through so what do you think is going to come out of this one?
Jeremy: Hirmou’s rise to the Heavyweight Division
One of the most interesting aspects about this year’s tournament is the inclusion of junior heavyweights and young lions. History has shown us that when junior heavyweights are allowed to compete in a heavyweight tournament it’s a sign they’ll be moving up. The most likely candidate for this would be Hiromu. He’s a huge star and has done everything there is to do in the junior division. I can easily see 2020 being his last year in the division.
Sam: LIJ Infighting
My choice expands upon yours Jeremy in that up and down these brackets I can see potential matchups for LIJ members as they fight through the tournament fo the opportunity to meet their defacto leader Naito. Round two will most likely see Shingo v SANADA, it’s not unlikely that either one of those could meet EVIL in a semi-final and as Jeremy said above, the rise of Hiromu on the opposite side of the tournament is something everyone will have their eyes on and an all LIJ final would add a massive dose of drama to the tournament.
While the group has always reunited after tournaments that pitted them against one another, the feeling in the group has got tenser and tenser as each member has picked up their own championships and accolades. Right now there is one man in the stable without any gold and I suspect he will be particularly motivated to stick it to his stablemates.
Imp: Big Daddy SHO Arrives
Imp’s Bold Claim #1: After just coming up short last year against Shingo in the Best of the Super Juniors, SHO shocks everybody by working his way through the LIJ field and into our hearts.
If this actually happens it’ll be a miracle, but in a New Japan Cup full of Juniors, New Japan Dads and Young Lions I’m expecting a couple of surprise upsets along the way. There’s too many of these Ingobernables folk in this tournament anyway!
SHO’s rise is only a short matter of time away, so why not give the lad’s bow a wee jolt with a shocking win or two? A man who screams future Jr Heavyweight Champion, the question is just when to do it. And do he and YOH reach that singles point as still real tight Roppongi buds?
And lastly, for the preview to be complete we have to put ourselves on the line and answer the big question: who do you think will make the finals and who will win the 2020 New Japan Cup?
Imp: It’s one of those years where each block has steady favourites for the semi-finals, a lot of LIJ names mixed in with already made main eventers appears to be the road ahead. SANADA could be a heavy favourite with how close he came in only just losing out in the final last year, but personally, I’m going with an NJPW mini-swerve towards his stablemate EVIL.
2019 was the year of Okada & SANADA, why not make 2020 Kazu & EVIL? Everyone gets over in Imp’s head! The future of NJPW is very Ingobernable. Plus I have my dream future booking of an ‘evil’ top run for the King of Darkness to uphold, gonna have to push the man at some point!
Jeremy: There are two men in this tournament who have been wanting a piece of Naito. And it just so happens that both of these men are on opposite sides of the bracket. I’m talking about Hiromu and Tanahashi. Since the Anniversary match was cancelled Hiromu has continually talked about wanting to make sure that match happens. Before quarantine, they were planting the seeds for a Tanahashi/Naito rivalry. Naito still wants revenge from the last time he and Tana were in a ring together. I think it makes the most sense for these two to make it to the finals. I would love for Hiromu to pull a big upset and win the tournament. However, I think the Ace will ride again and face Naito at Osaka Jo Hall.
Sam: With all my heart I hope Shingo or Ishii stomps all over everyone but off the back of my LIJ theory I’m going to go with a Hiromu Takahashi v SANADA final with SANADA taking it out.
SANADA is a wrestler New Japan have slowly been building up, giving higher and higher profile spots and last year he even picked up a win over Kazuchika Okada during the G1. My prediction is that the company will use the 2020 New Japan Cup to truly launch him into the top tier of the singles division with him challenging the leader of his stable for the championship. There is even the possibility of him leaving LIJ entirely to forge his own path.
That wraps it up for this week, what matches are you most looking forward to in the New Japan Cup and who do you think will win it? 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.
Me and Imp also recently appeared on The Keepin’ It Strong Style podcast with Jeremy, where we did retrospectives on the NJPW careers of Katsuyori Shibata and Shinsuke Nakamura, you can find both of those episodes below.
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