Written by: Kevin Pantoja
New Japan Cup 2016 Night One
March 3rd, 2016 | Ota-ku General Gymnasium in Tokyo, Japan
Today, NJPW’s yearly New Japan Cup Tournament began. It’s a three night tournament featuring 16 participants. The winner gets a shot at the title of his choosing between the IWGP Heavyweight, IWGP Intercontinental and NEVER Openweight Titles. With no AJ Styles, Karl Anderson, Doc Gallows or Shinsuke Nakamura, the star power is lacking this time around, but it does open things up a bit. Add in the fact that you don’t have to challenge for the top title and it really gives it an (almost) anyone can win feel.
Before the show, there were three big announcements. One, Michael Elgin has signed a two year deal, which most of us knew already. Two, Katsuyori Shibata signed a contract and will no longer be a freelancer. Hopefully it leads to him getting very prominent roles for the rest of the year. Lastly, the Super J Cup will be returning later this year.
New Japan Cup First Round: Toru Yano def. Yujiro Takahashi w/ Cody Hall via countout in 1:13
These are pretty much the worst two wrestlers in the tournament. At least Toru Yano can be hella entertaining. Yujiro Takahashi…not so much. Takahashi attacked Yano during his entrance. He beat him up outside for a bit but Yano is a tricky bastard. He ended up hitting Takahashi with a low blow and just beating the count back into the ring. This is how I want my Takahashi matches. The shorter, the better. ¾*
New Japan Cup First Round: Michael Elgin def. Hiroyoshi Tenzan in 8:22
Fresh off of signing a two year deal with New Japan, it was pretty clear from the start that Michael Elgin was going to win this one. Hiroyoshi Tenzan is a legend but he’s past the point of really making an impact in this tournament, especially against someone like Elgin. They worked a good little match based around power. Elgin showed off some of his impressive offense and Tenzan got in hope spots. Commentary, even though I can’t understand them, did a good job of making close calls and near falls sound huge. When Tenzan applied the Anaconda Vice, you believed he might pull off the upset. Elgin put him and his mullet down with the Elgin Bomb. It’s amazing how things have turned around for Elgin thanks to his spectacular G1 run last year. Really good effort from both men in a match that ended up being way better than expected. ***
New Japan Cup First Round: Tama Tonga def. Togi Makabe in 7:40
Here we had an interesting matchup. Togi Makabe is one half of the IWGP Tag Team Champions, which Tama Tonga has promised to come after alongside the new Bullet Club member, whenever he debuts. Tonga attacked before the bell, making the Bullet Club 2-2 in doing that tonight. We got a countout tease as he worked over Makabe. After some back and forth, Makabe looked to be on verge of a win. Tonga put the referee in harm’s way, which was enough to distract Makabe and allow him to nail the Gun Stun (complete with machine gun taunt in honor of Karl Anderson). He hit Veleno to score the biggest win of his singles career. It felt like Makabe was kin of going through the motions, but Tonga continues to impress me. His offense is just unique enough to stand out and he has the advantage of being Gedo’s favorite thing; a gaijin. **¾
New Japan Cup First Round: Satoshi Kojima def. Tomoaki Honma in 11:50
When the brackets for the tournament were first announced, this match stood out to me the most. I’ve come to really enjoy the work of both men and they delivered a strong match here. The crowd loves both men, so they were way into this more than any other match so far. They went back and forth with a bunch of near falls. Honma missed Kokeshi of course but still had an opening to win. He survived a big lariat from Kojima but eventually fell to a second one. It was the longest and best match on the show so far. I was surprised to see both Honma and Makabe fall in the first round. Anyway, this was a lot of fun and had a very hot crowd to boot. The final few minutes were pretty breathtaking. With the win, Kojima meets Yano in the next round.***½
IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada and Kazushi Sakuraba w/ Gedo def. NEVER Openweight Champion Katsuyori Shibata and IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion KUSHIDA in 11:26
Apparently, you’re only invited to this match if your name starts with the letter “K”. This is right in my wheelhouse because I love watching KUSHIDA mix it up with the heavyweights and I relish any chance to see Shibata kick the shit out of Okada. Shibata was great against both guys actually. An actual singles match between KUSHIDA and Okada would probably kick all kinds of ass. KUSHIDA’s counter of the Rainmaker into the Hoverboard lock is one of my favorite counters of that move I’ve ever seen. Sakuraba broke it up though, leading to Okada putting down KUSHIDA with the Rainmaker. A good match between four good performers. I really also like the flow of the show so far, with nothing lasting too long. ***¼
After the match, Kazuchika Okada gets on the microphone and directs his words to KUSHIDA. A video comes on the screen and it’s Will Ospreay! He announces that he’s the newest member of CHAOS and will be challenging KUSHIDA for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title on April 10th at Invasion Attack. Okay, that match alone has me sold on that show.
New Japan Cup First Round: Hirooki Goto def. Yuji Nagata in 11:28
Right off the bat, I want to say that I disagree with the decision to have Goto win here. If they’re really going with the depressed angle for Goto, a loss here would have crushed him. He owns this tournament, having won it three times in the past. In typical Goto fashion, he lost every shot at the title coming out of it though. Hell, I would have booked him against Toru Yano and had Yano steal it from him, really stinging him. Goto was back in the white gear from New Beginning, but without the Hakushi paint. Anyway, the match featured some hard hitting stuff from both guys. Nagata even locked in his trademark armbar but it wasn’t enough. Goto put him away after Goto-Shiki. Solid match here. Goto will meet Tama Tonga in round two. ***
New Japan Cup First Round: Tetsuya Naito w/ BUSHI def. YOSHI-HASHI in 13:42
Tetsuya Naito, a heavy favorite to win this tournament, came out rocking a white suit. Personally, I’d like to see Naito take the IWGP Heavyweight Title from Okada at least by Dominion and carry it into Wrestle Kingdom 11. He’s been that good since the heel turn. YOSHI-HASHI is notoriously bland so I didn’t have high expectations. They managed to surprise me though. YOSHI did well and had more than a few moments where you actually believed he would somehow pull it off. BUSHI stayed out of it, which was good because Naito shouldn’t need help beating a lower card guy. Naito nails everything about his character. He just gets it and that was very evident throughout this match. He withstood everything YOSHI had and won with Destino. Better than I expected. ***¼
New japan Cup First Round: ROH World Television Champion Tomohiro Ishii def. EVIL in 15:20
This was another match that stood out when the cards were announced. Outside of a match with Hirooki Goto, EVIL hasn’t had much opportunity to shine in a singles role. EVIL attacked before the bell, which Naito didn’t need to do because he was the favorite, which EVIL isn’t. He brought chairs into play, opening one on Ishii’s head and slamming a second chair into it. It was a great visual, especially seeing the chair fly off of Ishii’s skull. This was a great, hard hitting, good old fashioned hoss battle. It was the best work EVIL has done since becoming the new character and another in a long line of strong performances from Ishii. He defeated the Los Ingobernables member with the Brainbuster. Best match of the show and certainly worth a look. Ishii will now face Naito in the second round. ***¾
New Japan Cup First Round: Bad Luck Fale w/ Tama Tonga def. Hiroshi Tanahashi in 13:53
I feel like Bad Luck Fale is pretty underappreciated. He always catches flak as he’s a bigger worker that avoids flashy stuff. Sometimes he can be dreadful, but most of the time, he plays his role as a monster well. In the past, he’s had some strong matches with Tanahashi, even beating him in the past two G1 Climaxes. This was about what you’d expect from the two of them. They played the big man/little man dynamic, which they usually do rather well. The very protected Bad Luck Fall finish is something that Tanahashi was sure to avoid and he escaped it several times. He tried for High Fly Flow but Fale caught him in midair before hitting the Bad Luck Fall to win. He moves to 3-1 against Tanahashi in four solid matches. Tanahashi was an interesting draw in the tournament because he could either go out now like he did and rest up some ailments or he could have gone on to win and get a rematch against Kenny Omega. This opens the door for fresh possibilities. Fale will take on Tanahashi’s partner Elgin in the second round in what should be a fun hoss battle. ***¼
Overall: 7/10. I’ll take nights like these every single time out. It’s the definition of an easy watch. Everything on the show is solid enough, with some things even being borderline great. If you can only see one thing from this show, I suggest EVIL/Ishii but the whole event is worth checking out. Hopefully, the rest of the tournament follows this format as I had a fun time watching night one.
31-year old currently living in Syracuse, New York. Longtime fan of the New York Mets, Chicago Bulls and Minnesota Vikings. Avid fan of professional wrestling and write reviews/articles on the product. Usually focusing on the old school wrestling.