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: In last year’s G1 me and Imp’s constant refrain was, ‘how do I narrow it down to only five matches for the week?’ Well for the New Japan Cup we only get three, are you feeling the heat, Jeremy?
Jeremy: Yes I’m feeling the heat but I’m loving it. Week 2 has produced a lot of great matches for us to choose from. Imp, how stressed were you trying to narrow down your top three matches?
Imp: Ah man, I had four matches typed out across my number 3 choice at one point. Not even Bread Club was able to spread their lariats into this column. They really hit a groove this week and especially so with the beginning of the 2nd round and uptick in match quality it brought. These NJPW tournaments only get better and better the further in we go!
Week Two Top 3 Matches
3. Sam: Taiji Ishimori v Yoshinobu Kanemaru
As I said upfront, this was a very tough week to narrow down, so for number three I picked something I enjoyed immensely but that was a little different to what the other guys have chosen.
I am a big fan of the concept of heel v heel and one of my favourite things about New Japan tournaments is that we often get to see those matches take place with big stakes on the line. Taiji Ishimori v Yoshinobu Kanemaru was a perfect example of how it can be pulled off and how it can really emphasise the subtle differences in character each heel has. These wrestlers are two very different types of bad guy, Kanemaru takes shortcuts and cheats wherever he can to try and win, whereas The Bone Soldier is just a mean badass who doesn’t care about others. This contrast was crystalised by a spot where Kanemaru grabbed the ref and threw him at Ishimori, cheating to try and get an upper hand, a face would catch the ref and ensure he was ok but Ishimori threw him aside and then immediately charged his opponent. It was only a small moment but said a lot about each character.
Of course, it helped that these two have really fantastic in-ring chemistry together, they had a long series of matches in Pro Wrestling NOAH and that came through in their incredibly crisp, fast paced exchanges. This was a relatively simple match but was executed near flawlessly and at just under ten minutes is well worth checking out.
Jeremy: Tomohiro Ishii vs. Togi Makabe
I love NEVER strong style matches! Two big beefy men slapping meat. In the past, these two have had great matches. We can add this one to their resume. This was a hard-hitting hoss battle filled with chops, forearms, headbutts, and suplexes.
One of the most devastating suplexes was Ishii German suplexing Makabe into the corner. One of my favorite things about these NEVER style matches is the Fighting Spirit moments. Ishii was tossed into the middle of the ring off the top rope. That couldn’t stop the “Stone Pitbull”! He popped up instantly and went back to war.
Last summer when I was at the G1 Press Conference Dallas, Ishii said he only cares about one thing smashing! That’s exactly what he’s been doing in this tournament.
Shout out to Makabe for working hard in this tournament. We all joke about how Makabe is the “king of no bumps”. In this match and the Tsuji match, Makabe had his working shoes on. Hopefully, we’ll continue to see this effort in any upcoming singles matches Makabe will have this year. ****
Imp: Toru Yano vs Hiromu Takahashi
I may have this at #3, but it’s #1 in my heart. Abso-bloody-lutely amazing. I love me some comedy wrestling and in that regard throw us all the stars, Dave!
In the tag match the day previously NJPW set up the tension, reminding us of Yano cutting clips before shaving a strip down the middle of Hiromu’s hair back when he was a Young Lion. So there’s your match structure established: Yano doing everything he can to cut Hiromu’s hair, whilst the LIJ man just runs around screaming for his life.
You could tell we were in for a treat off the bat, Hiromu gingerly peeking from behind the curtain decked in a hard hat before nervously waddling to ringside. Unknowingly entering an arena full of scissors, cheeky Yano bloody had them hidden everywhere. Scissors in the seats, scissors in his pants, scissors by the New Japan Cup itself!
The expressions from both lads made me crack up the entire time, Hiromu’s absolute fear paired with Yano’s cheeky glee. Will The Joker manage to cut the hair? Will Hiromu escape with his gorgeous locks? Will they remember they’re in a match and not just run around the entire time?
All the ‘tension’ set up for a match of pure entertainment, a smile across my face from start to finish. Really needed a match of pure joy such as this!
2. Jeremy: Yuji Nagata v Kazuchika Okada
It’s hard two believe this was only the second singles match ever between Okada and Nagata. Their chemistry was like they’ve wrestled each other a hundred times. Two absolute pros having a great professional wrestling match. Nagata was great in this match. He was the old gun slinger that was going to keep going until he couldn’t go anymore. Nagata had Okada well scouted and counter a lot of Okada’s signature offense. Nagata pulled every trick out of his bag including an avalanche exploder.
After the big win over Suzuki part of me wanted to see Nagata pull out the win here. I popped when he hit his signature backdrop suplex. Unlike in his match with Suzuki, Nagatag wasn’t able to transition the suplex into a pinning combination. The few seconds it took for him to cover Okada cost him the match. I love little details like this. I can’t believe there are people out there who say there’s no storytelling in NJPW.
Despite all his efforts, Nagata found himself trapped in the Cobra Clutch. Nagata didn’t give up quickly. He fought and fought until he was forced to submit. It’s very interesting that Okada used the Cobra Clutch to win both of his tournament matches. He must have spent his whole time in quarantine perfecting the hold. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing more Cobra Clutch victories in this tournament. ****1/4
Imp: Kota Ibushi vs Zack Sabre Jr
Here’s your technical showcase of the week! Both lads have torn down the Korakuen house with their solid wrestling in tournaments past, so quick together, so fluid, both a marvel to watch. Although they didn’t hit those lofty previous heights, these two just can’t have a bad match together.
If anything I’d call this the ‘TV Main Event’ version of a Kota/ZSJ match, still flippin’ awesome, but holding back a tad as to not give away all their material before asking you to pay for it.
Sabre Jr climbing the Golden Star with ease, slipping into submission after submission whilst his ripped as hell opponent does everything he can to power out. Ibushi floating and striking with ease, launching with stiff as hell shots whilst his British swimmer of an opponent does everything he can to catch his breath back.
Which a swimmer would be pretty good at, thinking about it…
The match ramped up just as you’d expect from these two, the back n’ forth sequences increasing in pace and packed with counters galore. The danger was Ibushi started to read some of ZSJ’s cheeky slip throughs, a Crucifix pin becomes a risk when the 2019 G1 winner could roll through and return with a Kamigoye knee strike.
As that pace and counter count increased, both lads employed the rules of dodgeball, ‘dodge, duck, dip, dive and dodge’ to varying success. You can only avoid an Ibushi lariat or Sabre Jr PK for so long!
The ending came after an as such string of strike attempts, counters and reversals. This match happens in the semi-finals with 10 minutes more and you’ve got a classic on your hands, instead we’ve got a damn great contest that ends during a peak of counters.
Sam: Yuji Nagata v Kazuchika Okada
I don’t know what I expected from Okada and Yuji Nagata, the pair had only ever wrestled in a singles match once before and may well never do so again but as Jeremy said, they looked like they had done this dance a hundred times before.
This match was pretty simple in its layout with Okada taking Nagata lightly early on, before Nagata brought out the true Rainmaker and eventually succumbed to Okada’s relative youth and superior ability at this point in his career. However to just look at it this way does an immense disservice to the mastery of their craft both men showed in the ring. Be it the way Okada constantly looked down at Nagata early on and even smirked at him mid-fight, to Nagata’s self-righteous indignation that Okada would treat a former champ that way, to how Nagata seemed to feed off Okada’s fire as the current company ace ratcheted up the pace of the match with a huge shotgun dropkick, all of it was brilliantly performed.
Serious props must go to the technical production of this match too. While this wasn’t ‘cinematic wrestling’ in the way we have come to use the term, the way this match was shot, with lots of tight close-ups of facial expressions and long, lingering shots framing the wrestlers with one another, felt incredibly cinematic.
The only minor thing missing in this match was a little more back and forth in the ending sequence but by that stage I was so bought into the drama that it hardly mattered.
1. Imp: SHO v Shingo
Allow me a moment to soak in my clairvoyance after predicting SHO’s victory in the preview column a couple weeks ago. Big Boy SHO finally has his moment!
Man, what a contest. My expectations were high after their slobberknocker last year in the Best Of The Super Juniors, but it’s not often a pairing exactly matches how you’d hoped it’d be in your head.
Shingo’s proven himself as a top level, big time performer, delivering multiple MOTY contenders on top of his all time classic against Will Ospreay last year. This second match against SHO was yet another to be added to that quality list, incredible back n’ forth between two lads outright refusing to give in.
I fully believed multiple times that The Dragon had sealed the deal, so many close falls after stiff as fuuuck lariats. When he nailed the Made In Japan I flat out counted the three like a live crowd, they bloody got me with that one!
However, whatever Shingo threw at SHO was never enough, the man just couldn’t be put away. I was also convinced of the vice versa too, throughout the match nothing SHO was delivering seemed to have enough of an effect. That was paired with Takagi seemingly getting closer and closer with each subsequent fall.
SHO was continuing to fight, but surely it was just a matter of time for the LIJ man, right? Nope! A sign of a great build, where with SHO hitting a string match ending offence I was still sat there believing Shingo was about to kick out. They bloody got me again! The LIJ man had come so close, he was surely going to keep going.
I was doing laps, my friends. A fantastic match with a rollercoaster of momentum. Shingo’s proven himself as a main event level performer in my eyes and SHO a surely guaranteed singles champion for the future.
Sam: SHO v Shingo
I am always on the lookout for matches that I could show non-wrestling and non-NJPW fans that show off all the things I love most about this company and both matches between SHO and Shingo Takagi have been slam dunks for that list. The character performances, the intensity each wrestler brought to the ring and the way these two had me on the edge of my seat living and dying with every nearfall.
While for SHO this match was his entire tournament, for Shingo it was just the start of another great tournament run and this contrast showed in his fast start SHO pulled off and Shingo’s comparatively sluggish start. SHO intelligently targeted Shingo’s arm throughout to neutralize his opponents normally booming lariats. As Imp noted Shingo was always able to answer his smaller opponent but in the end he just could not match SHO’s singleminded intensity. By the end when SHO hit the biggest lariat of his career and an insane German Suplex he looked like a man utterly possessed with the task at hand.
Anyone who read our preview would know that we all had high hopes for this match, the rivalry that has built between both men has been incredible and their first match last year was one of the top junior matches of the year. This match not only lived up to those expectations but somehow topped them and added even more to this feud that we thought couldn’t get any better.
Jeremy: SHO vs. Shingo Takagi
Allow me to join Imp for a victory lap. On Keepin’ It Strong Style, the “Young Boy” and I both predicted that SHO was going to defeat Shingo. It’s the result that made the most sense. SHO finally beats Shingo and we set up a future NEVER Openweight title match.
This match was freaking awesome. It was fast-paced and hard-hitting. Shingo came into this match very cocky and underestimated SHO. SHO was a man possessed. He survived several Pumping Bombers and the Made in Japan. Nothing was going to stop SHO from claiming victory. After two Shock Arrow piledrivers, SHO was able to raise his hand in victory. A victory that’s he desperately wanted since he first stepped in a ring with Shingo. This is easily a MOTY candidate and you should go out of your way to see this. I can’t wait to see these two guys mix it up again.****1/2
Week Two Top Performer
Sam: Yuji Nagata
I have always respected Nagata and the effort he puts into everything he does but his two matches this Cup have been some seriously impressive work for a 52 year old. This week in particular he stood opposite one of the greatest wrestlers of modern times and stole the spotlight with an incredible performance of determination and self-righteous fury. Sure there were some wrestlers who pulled off more exciting moves but no one managed to make any move mean more than Nagata did in his matches.
At this point in his career, Blue Justice doesn’t have anything he needs to prove to anyone but he wrestled against Suzuki and Okada like a man on a mission to add another chapter to his incredible legacy and to me he well and truly did that. A master craftsman at work.
Imp: Hiromu Takahashi
The comedy acts don’t normally get nominations for these slots, but over the course of the week Hiromu entertained me to no end. His shenanigans alongside Toru Yano were an absolute highlight, livening up the show and making me laugh in a time where I really needed it.
Peak moment of the week when Sam hit up my DM’s, “THIS IS NOT A DRILL, HE IS WEARING A HARD HAT!”
The image of the sheepish look on his face as he cautiously peeped from behind the curtain was downright hilarious, immediately set the tone! With everything going on in the wrestling world right now I really needed this moment of silly fun, the distraction was a welcome retreat.
Thank you for making me laugh, Hiromu!
I’m going with SHO as my top performer this week. He got the biggest singles win in his career. He showed great fire and intensity. In my books, he currently has the best overall match of the tournament. The future is bright for SHO and I’m excited to see what the it holds for him.
That wraps it up for this week, what were your favourite matches from week two 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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