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 nights 3-6 of the tournament, the 22nd, 23rd and 24th of June. To follow along through the week you can find either of us on Twitter @TheDamnImplicat, @Sir_Samuel or @JeremyLDonovan.
Sam: Another great week of matches fellas but before we get to them I have to ask, has a returning Young Lion ever looked like more of a geek than Kawato Master Wato? Ridiculous gimmick, cheap-looking gear and on top of it all gets beaten up by DOUKI of all people.
Imp: Geeked out by a geek, like losing to Mojo on RAW *cough cough* ‘ey up, Richard O’Shea.
Jeremy: Yeah, that was a pretty rough debut. He needs to take some notes from Karl Fredericks.
Sam: Certainly not an act I can see headlining the Tokyo Dome any time soon.
Week Three Top 3 Matches
3. Sam: SHO v SANADA
This was a match with a really fantastic dynamic that caught both wrestlers at interesting points in the tournament. SHO came in having already climbed his personal Everest by beating Shingo Takagi in the first round but for one of the tournament favourites, SANADA, this match was only meant to be a stepping stone as he sought to progress to the later rounds of the Cup. What this meant in the match was that while SHO came in not quite knowing what to do or truly believing he could win. SANADA on the other hand only looked to be doing the bare minimum early on which allowed SHO to gain confidence and fight his way into the match. This dynamic made for twenty minutes of electric back and forth exchanges where the surging SHO pushed his heavyweight opponent to the edge and put in some fantastic near falls.
In the end, SANADA hit a typically beautiful Moonsault and picked up the win with the Cold Skull but not without SHO showing everyone his heavyweight potential doesn’t end with his rivalry with Shingo. Imp predicted it before the tournament but this match showed that there will very much be a place for SHO in New Japan’s premier division in the years to come.
Imp: SANADA vs EVIL
With just the entrances I was FEELING this inter-faction Semi Final clash. There was an atmosphere about, you could sense the weight of the occasion in the air.
Which was a major factor of this match, the seriousness of the moment recognised in the offence of both lads. SANADA having made the final last year knew exactly what to bring, whilst for EVIL this tournament has been about stepping up and truly diving deeper and deeper into that willingness to do whatever it takes.
The Cold Skull was already wrestling at a high enough level, but the King of Darkness finally rose up and broke through that wall to treat his stablemate like any other opponent. All the actions EVIL carried out in this match he’s done to others, but seemingly that respect for his partner had stopped him going that far in their past tournament matches.
Not here, EVIL fully embracing the darkness and showing just how willing he is by pulling out every trick he has. Wrapped chair shots, ref distraction dick punches, full on dick stomps and more chair shots. He embraced that extra step and ultimately it was the exact thing that carried him through.
The back n’ forth flow of the math was also bloody fun to watch, both men knowing each other so well and therefore constantly countering or reading their opponent. Like SANADA himself having so many reversals into the Skull End submission, or even the perfect counter for EVIL’s STO in an STO of his own.
EVIL went to that extra place, but his stablemate gave him a reason to. The step I’ve been waiting to see with our purple highlighted warrior. Embrace the darkness, my friend!
Jeremy: EVIL vs. Hirooki Goto
EVIL and Hirooki Goto are two guys who receive a lot of criticism from fans for various reasons. I think both guys are very good and have had great matches. Not everyone can or will be main event material. With their talent levels, I think they are appropriately slotted as upper mid-card guys who can hold the NEVER, Intercontinental, or U.S. titles and realistically challenge for the IWGP title.
This was a very hard-hitting match filled with elbows, forearms, and clotheslines. Both men show fighting spirit as they each survived big signature moves. In this tournament, we’ve seen more aggressive and nefarious EVIL. EVIL took advantage of the loose officiating and brawled outside and used steel chairs to gain an advantage. EVIL ends up throwing Goto into Red Shoes and follows up with stomping Goto in the crotch, then finished him off with the Everything is Evil STO.
With EVIL cheating throughout the whole match, I found the ref bump completely unnecessary. The finish was a black eye on what was a very good match. However, even with the screwy finish, this was one of the better matches this week. ***3/4
2. Jeremy: Hiromu Takahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada
This was the classic Okada NJPW main event. The match started with Okada controlling the pace and using his strength advantage to overpower the Junior Heavyweight Champion. Hiromu wasn’t intimidated by the bigger Rainmaker and took the fight to Okada.
The closing stretch had me on the edge of my seat. Hiromu threw everything he had at Okada including a Rainmaker clothesline of his own. Okada was able to survive the Time Bomb I and barely escaped the Time Bomb II. Hiromu also attempted a submission victory with his D Triangle Choke. Despite unloading all his signature maneuvers, Hirmou just couldn’t put Okada away.
Okada puts Hiromu away with a series of Rainmakers and the Cobra Clutch. A big thing to note here is that Hiromu didn’t lose by submission. He lost by ref stoppage. They could have easily had him tap or be pinned, but NJPW went out of their way to show that Hiromu can hang with the golden boy. He literally had to be unconscious for the match to stop. Hiromu really shined in this match and I’m looking forward to seeing him mix it up with more heavyweights in the future. ****1/2
Sam: Hirooki Goto v EVIL
To steal a phrase from Jim Ross, this match was an absolute slobberknocker. From the get go this one had me as the pair brawled with ferociously before even making it to the ring. The raw intensity didn’t let up for the entirety of the match either with EVIL showing bucket loads of contempt for his opponent but Goto paying him back when it was his turn to go on the front foot.
The two brawled to the outside again where EVIL got in some of his customary weapon-based offence but it was inside the ring that the magic really went down. Lots of fast-paced hard-hitting exchanges of lariats and suplexes were punctuated with constant counters leading up to fantastic final exchange around the pair’s finishers.
EVIL and Goto have such similar arsenals of lariats, strikes and slams so it can feel like they are wrestling themselves, that kind of dynamic can work against some wrestlers but in the case of these two, they can’t help but make it work. This was Big E’s Pro Wrestling at it’s best, big bois slappin’ meat; stick it in the list of matches to show to NJPW rookies who want to know what this promotion is all about.
Imp: Hiromu Takahashi vs Kazuchika Okada
Like Jeremy said, the full New Japan main event pacing treatment, a slow gradual build making full use of the no time limit nature of the Semi Finals. Hiromu wrestling Okada’s style, as the match went on increasingly showing whatever the Ace did he could do better. Like the IWGP Jr Champion felt like he had something to prove, that he could wrestle at the heights of Okada himself.
Maybe that was his downfall, not doing his own thing and instead packing every punch with that message. But man did that make an enjoyable ride, especially with Hiromu genuinely snatching momentum with that said offence. Hiromu sent Okada flying with that John Woo Dropkick and sent him down with a Rainmaker Clothesline, always leading into a big move of his own and a damn close nearfall.
Proving himself against a top heavyweight, whilst himself being bloody difficult to put away. I loved the ending too, with Okada recognising that and walloping him again n’ again in his attempts to keep the Time Bomb down for that new submission.
The closing sequences of any Okada main event are awesome, counter filled spectacles. This match was no difference, just with the added story of the Junior in Takahashi stepping up with the lights on bright. A big prime time TV main event ain’t nothin’ to scoff at!
1. Imp: Hiromu Takahashi vs Tomohiro Ishii
Boy did the Quarter Finals kick off hot!
A tale as old as time: Hiromu takes it to the Stone Pitbull aaand gets chopped to shit for his troubles. You best be wearing your strong boy hat, son.
The LIJ man’s own chops really weren’t that bad, they just didn’t do anything. The flow of the match started from there, Hiromu trying to wrestle Ishii’s style, slowly getting into it whilst his chest was rapidly increasing in redness.
Ishii’s tournament matches are just such blasts to watch, this easily his best of the tournament. The Chaos man the clear heavyweight favourite, as Hiromu was baptised by fire in having to step up against the strongest of big boys. A slightly different contest from escaping the Demon Hairdresser.
The sequence of near falls the match entered was incredible. Absolutely crazy bumps from Hiromu, landing high, right on his noggin on multiple occasions. Including the bump of the week off an Ishii lariat that turned the man 360, arms swinging as he spun inside out.
By the end it felt like Hiromu had slayed a giant. He’d climbed a stone mountain, absolutely bloody knackered and barely on his feet. Exhausted and red chested, but managing to drag himself up to that next peak regardless.
These stiff AF NJPW bouts are my everything. Mix in Ishii’s stiffness with Hiromu’s recklessness and you’ve got a recipe for awe inspiring disaster.
Jeremy: Hiromu Takahasi vs. Tomohiro Ishii
I absolutely loved this match. The only thing this match was missing was a sold-out hot Korakuen Hall crowd. The crowd would have absolutely lost it with the big upset win. Hiromu’s victory shows that Gedo has big plans for him. In the history of NJPW, juniors are traditionally slotted lower than heavyweights and rarely get wins against them. Beating an established veteran like Ishii is fuel to the star power fire of Hiromu. Throughout this match, I was rooting for Hiromu to win but I had doubts if NJPW would actually pull the trigger.
This match was a better version of the Ishii/Desperado match. Just like in that match, Ishii made Hiromu look like a serious threat to his world-class selling. Hiromu used his speed advantage to escape several brainbuster attempts. Like Imp mentioned, once Ishii got his hands on Hiromu he chopped and pummeled him.
Towards the end, Hiromu desperately did everything he could to put the Stone Pitbull away. The Time Bomb I, the Dynamite Plunger, the D, and even a brainbuster of his own couldn’t put Big Tom away. Hiromu had no choice but to use the Time Bomb II which was the move he debuted at Wrestle Kingdom to defeat Will Ospreay. The Time Bomb II led Hiromu to victory again and helped him claim his biggest win in NJPW to date. ****3/4
Sam: Hiromu Takahasi vs. Tomohiro Ishii
Really what more is there to add? I always thought that even though Big Tom has the heart of a heavyweight he has the body for another incredibly fun junior run and this tournament has only solidified that opinion.
As for this match, the clash of characters was a delight to watch, Ishii’s stoic persona contrasted perfectly with Hiromu’s checky, bubbly nature. As Jeremy noted Hiromu tried in vain early to match Ishii for strength but was found wanting, as was Ishii when Hiromu put his foot on the gas pace wise.
Even though Hiromu had previously beaten two lower tier heavyweights in this tournament, this win truly felt like he was slaying a giant and the ending lent into that idea perfectly as Hiromu had to hit multiple finishers, each one chipping away more and more at the larger man in front of him. This was one of the most anticipated matches of the tournament and it absolutely hit the mark.
Week Three Top Performer
Imp: Cool Clear Wato Hiromu Takahashi
Well did anyone else have back to back matches with Tomohiro Ishii and Kazuchika Okada? The brave/crazy man charged at them both with zero regard for his own personal safety, crashing head first like an Ibushi-esque mad man.
Hiromu gave it his all this week, wrestling both styles of The Stone Pitbull and The Rainmaker and fitting like a glove. Dancing with heavyweights and answering whether he really could be one of the latest guys on the damn talented list of NJPW Junior champions to rise to the top.
Hell, just this generation we’ve had: Naito, Ibushi and Omega. It’s really not unprecedented!
Jeremy: Hiromu Takahashi
Hiromu was an absolute stud this week and really showed the range of his work. He showed that he can wrestle more than just the Junior style. He survived and won a NEVER style brawl with Ishii. Then he wrestled an Okada classic style main event. Hiromu is on the fast track to becoming one of the greatest junior heavyweights of all time.
Sam: Hiromu Takahashi
Looks like it is unanimous, The Ticking Time Bomb gets the nod for his back to back bangers. Of course it helps when the men across the ring from you are Kazuchika Okada and Tomohiro Ishii but Hiromu added so much of his own flair to these matches there honestly isn’t much of a choice.
That wraps it up for this week, what were your favourite matches from week three 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.
Join us on Friday for our full tournament wrap up and finals predictions. You can also find Jeremy every week on the excellent New Japan podcast Keepin’ It Strong Style.
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