Welcome to the Wrestling Headlines weekly New Japan Cup review where your intrepid New Japan guides, The Implications, Sir Sam and Keepin’ It Strong Style’s Jeremy Donovan, give you their top three matches for the week and then award the best and brightest performer. This week covers the first two nights of the tournament, the 16th and 17th of June. To follow along through the week you can find either of us on Twitter @TheDamnImplicat, @Sir_Samuel or @JeremyLDonovan.
Sam: New Japan is back baby! How are we feeling after a week of goodness? Am I the only one with Tom Hanks in The Terminal, finally getting to go home vibes?
Imp: This New Japan Cup started ON MY BIRTHDAY, fair to say my positive vibes towards the show may have been a tad biased. Woo they’re all ripped as hell! While I’m sat here stuffing my face with pizza and the free accompanying Cherry Coke. Wow I’m so unfit (insert Simpsons GIF “Hey why doesn’t mine look like that,” for my belly).
Jokes aside I was amped as hell going in to Tuesday, it’s just nice to have my baby back. I’ve missed you, New Japan. The style of presentation, the pace of their matches, the slowed down way they film their shows: the promotion is so strongly my cup of tea. How pleasant it is to see a Superplex without 15 cuts over the 5 seconds it took to climb there.
We’re back home! Like relaxing on the sofa after months away, just collapsing into comfort with a smile.
Jeremy: Like Sam and Imp, I’m very excited that New Japan is back. It feels like my childhood best friend has moved back in town. I can’t wait to see how the New Japan Cup all plays out.
Sam: Well on that note let’s get into our top three matches.
Week One Top 3 Matches
3. Sam – Minoru Suzuki v Yuji Nagata
Boy oh boy, do these two just hate each other. This match felt like Batman v The Joker. Nagata, the ageing hero, took on Suzuki, the maniacal villain who didn’t just want to beat Blue Justice but wanted to rub his face in the fact he couldn’t keep up anymore.
Sure a lot of this match was just these two trading bombs, however, the slow and spiteful tone and character performances from both wrestlers were so spot on that it couldn’t help but be compelling. Nagata, in particular, deserves so much praise for his fire through gritted teeth, showing not only his own frustration at himself for not being able to keep up with Suzuki but also his determination to keep going.
To take it back to the Batman v Joker metaphor, these two men are so fundamentally opposed to one another and have so little respect for one another that they could fight forever and it wouldn’t change a thing. This wasn’t a match I would show a newcomer to New Japan but for the true believer deprived of his favourite wrestling for 110 days, this match was pure comfort food.
Imp – Taiji Ishimori vs Gabriel Kidd
Got to give a shout out to my Nottinghamshire hometown man in Gabriel Kidd. With the incredible fitness of New Japan’s Young Lions on display once again, Jesus they’re all ripped as fuuuuck. Putting my lockdown tone to shame.
Not one YL has looked out of place, they’ve totally kept up with the established names and looked impressive in the process. With the success of the LA Dojo recruits NJPW really have managed to improve upon their already successful developmental system, the talented pool they’ve put together deserves mighty applause.
Gabriel Kidd wrestling here as a prime example of that fact. A young wrestler that was impressing up and down the UK scene, before Katsuyori Shibata himself extended the hand in-ring to train at the LA Dojo. Kidd has an almost natural ability to draw you in, get you behind his offence and cheer him on. The man makes it look easy.
Here against Ishimori he showed his ability to keep up with one incredibly quick wrestler. A nice mix from both men showing their speed and athleticism as well as toughness and strength. A nice Springboard Rana caught and countered into the ‘Young Lion Special’ Boston Crab, shortly followed by both men launching the other with suplexes.
As a Young Lion Kidd was never beating the Bone Soldier (ooo err that sounded dirty), and really I could have picked any of the impressive black trunk outings for this first slot, but the pace these two wrestled at caught my eye.
A great few outings for NJPW’s future of talent this week!
Jeremy: Hiromu Takahashi vs. Tomoaki Honma
This match was better than it had any right to be. Before his injury Honma was one of the most over acts in New Japan. In a way he was their Daniel Bryan. He was the loveable underdog who you knew had no shot but you wanted to see him get a big win. Newer NJPW fans might not realize this but before the injury his work was close to the level of Ishii. Don’t believe me? Check out the archives on NJPW World. He was incredible. This match with Hiromu was the first time we saw a shadow of his former self since he returned.
They told a great story as Hirmou focused his offense on Honma’s neck. I was legit scared when Hiromu hit a DVD on the apron. This match was hard hitting and filled with a ton of great near falls. If this was in front of a sold out Korakuen Hall, they would have blown the roof off. If you’re cherry picking matches to watch from this tournament don’t skip this one! ***3/4
2. Imp: Yuji Nagata vs Minoru Suzuki
Slapping the shit out of each other at the bell. Slapping the shit out of each other mid-match. Slapping the shit out of each other in the climax.
And Nagata won! Get in there Blue Justice! Totally ruined my predictions brackets, but I don’t care as this was such a pleasant upset. This old man can still learn new face slapping tricks.
Jeremy: Yuji Nagata vs Minoru Suzuki
With empty arena wrestling we’ve seen two formulas that have really excelled. Matches that are either short or really hard hitting have been the most entertaining during the pandemic. Suzuki and Nagata decided to use option two.
These two old bastards beat the living crap out of each other. The first five minutes of this match was literally all strikes and I enjoyed every second of it. My favorite part of the match was the finishing sequence which concluded with a Nagata Backdrop Hold out of nowhere for the upset victory. Both men are 52 years old and are still two of the top performers on the roster. This is easily a Strong Style Fight of the Year candidate. ****1/4
Sam: Yuya Uemura v Yoshinobu Kanemaru
I tend to judge Young Lion matches with a pretty simple criteria, during the match did the wresters make me believe the Young Lion could win? Of course they can be fun without that being the case, as the other two young lions matches were this round, but for me, when a rookie meets the full-time roster member, so much of the matches success comes down to that formula and for me, this match gets a big tick in that box.
The match itself told a simple story of Uemura constantly surprise Kanemaru with his tactics and moves but ultimately Kanemaru was consistently able to fight back into the match. That was set up from the start when Uemura jumped the Suzuki-Gun member before the bell but the brawling portion of the match ended when Kanemaru hit a really nice hanging double stomp off the guard rail.
Uemura showed a ton of heart and fire to fight his way back into the match and Kanemaru did a great job guiding the younger man through it. By the time they got to the near falls at the end they had done more than enough to have me buy the threat of the roll-ups. Very slick and very smart match.
1. Jeremy: Tomohiro Ishii vs El Desperado
The bout between “Big Tom” Ishii and Despy was easily the best match on night and my top match between both nights. No surprise here, but Ishii’s selling was excellent. The spot where he attempted to powerbomb Despy but Despy slipped out and he immediately grabbed his knee. Brilliant! He gave Despy a lot of offense and made Despy look like a credible threat.
There were so many times in this match that I thought the Despy had won. Especially the spot where Despy fully locked in his Numero Dos Stretch Muffler hold. Despy was brilliant in this match too. He pulled out all his Suzuki-Gun tricks out of the bag and continuously worked Ishii’s knee. However, it wasn’t enough to overcome the Stone Pitbull.
I’m happy that New Japan decided to throw Juniors in the tournament instead of making the tournament smaller. After seeing a match like this I want more competitive Openweight matches in the future. I’d also settle for an Ishii Junior run. ****1/4
Imp: Ishii vs El Desperado
We seem to be all in agreement here.
Desperado really stepped up to the challenge of the Stone Pitbull here, damn great seeing him rise above the normal Suzuki-Gun shenanigans. The ending sequence in particular, Despy ended up going toe-to-toe with the heavyweight and scored near fall after near fall in a dramatic final sequence.
Ishii was awesome as always, bringing that Strong Style he’s famous for and sending Desperado crashing to the mat force on multiple occasions. Stiff lariats, forearms and headbutts galore from the NEVER Openweight stalwart. The amount of times Despy seemed to relish in momentum, only to headbutted right in the chest and sending him quickly down to the mat regretting his life choices.
Really should I be surprised at all that a Tomohiro Ishii main event bloody well delivered? If anything it was El Desperado’s performance that elevated the match, instead of going the normal route he took it to his opponent and the resulting back n’ forth was entertaining as hell.
And a shout out to that absolutely beautiful Blue Thunder Bomb from Despy, totally bought that near fall after he nailed the hell out of it. Thumbs up all round, great effort from the man in defeat.
Sam: Ishii v El Desperado
First singles main event back and of course New Japan delivered the goods with this absolute banger of a match. In a cool inversion of the usual story of a heavyweight dominating a junior, it was instead El Desperado that took the fight to The Stone Pitbull. The smaller man set the tone early when he patted Ishii on the head after a rope break (a move that ended about as well as you’d expect). Despy then singled out Ishii’s ankle for attack and went back to it over and over whenever Ishii gained momentum, dropkicking it, stomping it, getting it in a rail, even making the muffler stretch look brutal.
The effectiveness of the direction was evident in the final sequences of the match where I completely bought the near falls after El Desperado hit a series of cheap shots and the Blue Thunder Bomb Imp mentioned. Even though he did take the win in the end, it just gives me more evidence that Ishii has an epic juniors run in him if he wants it.
This was hard-hitting, intelligent, exciting wrestling and the perfect reminder of why New Japan is the undisputed king of pro wrestling.
Week One Top Performer
Sam: El Desperado
El-Desperado pips-out Ishii by a hair to take my top performer of the week gong. If you read my review you will know that I loved his match with the Stone Pitbull and I’ve gone with him because it was his performance, the junior dominating the heavyweight, that really set up the match to be as excellent as it was.
Despy is perennially underrated and I have fallen into the trap of taking his skills for granted but this week he was front and center of the best match since the company’s return.
Jado Tomohiro Ishii
I applauded El Desperado heavily in my review of their match, but my hand has got to go to the Stone Pitbull himself. He just doesn’t have a bad main event, his style morphs so well with absolutely anyone and this week was yet another exceptional example.
I talked about how Despy rose to the level, but Ishii ‘s the one who set the bar in the first place. It’s his standard the others are rising to, the quality setter who not only comes out looking like a badass but makes his opponent look like a million bucks.
Can’t wait for that ‘badassery’ to be further established in his big boy match with Togi Makabe in the next round, setting him up fantastically for a likely second visit to a Heavyweight vs Junior clash against Hiromu. Are New Japan playing the long game setting up Ishii for Hiromu to conquer? Or are they setting up Ishii because Ishii’s amazing and should beat the shit out of everyone?
Jeremy: Tomohiro Ishii
For me Ishii was the top performer from both nights. Ishii never fails to deliver. No matter where you put him on the card he will have one of the best matches of the night. As I mentioned in my review of his match with Despy, his selling with his superb. He was hard hitting, intense, and displayed fighting spirit. Ishii is such a great performer. I’m sure this won’t be his last time making it on the Top Performer list.
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@Sir_Samuel, @TheDamnImplicat and @JeremyLDonovan or in the New Japan section on the LOP Forums.
You can also find Jeremy every week on the excellent New Japan podcast Keepin’ It Strong Style.
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