The eyes of the hardcore wrestling and puro fans have been on New Japan, since the day after their biggest show of the year news of four wrestlers leaving made wave. Wrestle Kingdom 10 was the end of several stories, the start of new ones, and a huge event that delivered-like most years before it-the first MATCH OF THE YEAR CANDIDATES that all big matches through the year will be graded against. The headlining match, Kazuchika Okada defended his IWGP Heavyweight title against rival and company ace Hiroshi Tanahashi delivered a brilliant torch passing match. Okada beat his rival on the biggest stage.
Than the next day, word came out superstars Shinsuke Nakamura and AJ Styles, who wrestled the night before, were WWE bound. Joining them, Styles Bullet Club stablemates Karl Anderson and Doc Gallows who ruled the tag division for the last few years. NJPW was losing their respective #3 and #4 guys, who also doubled as their #1 and #2 guys in the English speaking markets. The New Years Dash show that followed effectively featured an important match between Nakamura and YOSHI-HASHI taking on Styles and Kenny Omega. Omega scored the pinfall over the then Intercontinental champion. Than booted Styles from Bullet Club and gave him a send off. He was usurped by Kenny Omega, moving up a division and positioned as the #1 Gaijin wrestler and leader of Bullet Club and the inner circle he dubbed the Elite.
Styles showed up a few weeks later at Royal Rumble. Nakamura finished several dates before vacating his title. His official singing happening a short while ago, and before that being announced for NXT’s next special against fan favorite Sami Zayn. Gallows and Anderson finished up their dates and had their last show at the second New Beginning show in a losing effort, getting the big send of for two of the elder Bullet Club members. That same night Omega beat Tanahashi for the vacant title cementing his status as one of the top stars of NJPW.
The reason I lay this out is because New Japan Cup is a look at the future. The winner can challenge for either the Heavyweight championship, IC championship, or the NEVER Openweight championship. They will probably headline the big Invasion Attack PPV. This show was a look at the future and even before it started big news came through. NJPW officially announced Michael Elgin as signing to the company. Elgin came in during the 2015 G1 Climax and quickly became a top Gaijin. Fan favorite Katsuyori Shibata who held the NEVER title finally signed to NJPW after years working under a freelance deal. Shibata has for long time been on of their top guys and with his recent title win and this signing there is no doubt he is the #3 guy in the company. The company also announced details for their annual Super J Cup, the premier Light Heavyweight tournament. No doubt spurned by WWE’s recently announced Global Cruiserweight show New Japan has gone beyond expectations. We knew they’d use native talents and look to their friends in Ring of Honor from the US and CMLL in Mexico but the company will see representatives from major Japanese promotions. Obviously Pro-Wrestling Noah (who NJPW owners are co-owners of), but also the popular DragonGate as well as a few others.
Now to the actual show…
New Japan Cup Opening Round Match: Toru Yano defeated Yujiro Takahashi @ 1:13 via countout
New Japan Cup Opening Round Match: Michael Elgin defeated Hiroyoshi Tenzan @ 8:22 via pin
New Japan Cup Opening Round Match: Tama Tonga defected Togi Makabe @ 7:40 via pin
New Japan Cup Opening Round Match: Satoshi Kojima defeated Tomoaki Honma @ 11:50 via pin
Kazuchika Okada & Kazushi Sakuraba defeated Katsuyori Shibata & KUSHIDA @ 11:25 via pin
New Japan Cup Opening Round Match: Hirooi Goto defeated Yuji Nagata @ 11:28 via pin
New Japan Cup Opening Round Match: Naito defeated YOSHI-HASHI @ 13:42 via pin
New Japan Cup Opening Round Match: Tomohiro Ishii defeated “King of Darkness” EVIL @ 15:20 via pin
New Japan Cup Opening Round Match: Bad Luck Fale defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi @ 13:55 via pin
The opening match pitted the popular comedy wrestler against one of the least interesting wrestlers on the roster. Yujiro has the look, the entrance, and the move set yet he is a bore to watch and thankfully the match ended quick due to shenanigans and smart thinking. After that the show got real good. Newly signed and new fan favorite Michael Elgin defeated Hiroyoshi Tenzan in a very good match. Tenzan may be past his prime but the guy is a multiple time Heavyweight champion and tournament winner. This match will do much for Elgins stock in the eyes of the fans, most of which are digging him. Tenzans partner Kojima had a better night defeating fan favorite loser and one half of the tag champions (yeah, he loses most his singles matches) Honma in a very good match. I’m sure this will help him and Tenzan get tag title shots sometime this year. Goto surprised me by beating Nagata. Goto has won this tournament a number of times but he’s never won the top title and he currently was going through a depression from his constant failures to ascend to the top. The match itself, which was good, really made it look he’d lose so his win was a big surprise.
The main event saw Tanahashi and Fale go at it again. Tanahashi has had a rough year between working through injuries and losing his challenge for the top belt and the second belt. That does not change the fact Tanahashi is one of the best wrestlers in the world. Fale, the biggest man on the roster, not so much but with the right guy can do good. Him and Tanahahsi delivered a very good match with an ending I predicted. Tanahahsi out of the tournament means he can work in tag matches for the rest of the show, giving him more time to rest up. Plus one of the themes of this year is guys trying to step up. Tama Tonga, YOSHI-HASHI, and EVIL specifically. Tonga, one of the longest BC members was usually the fall guy in tag matches with little singles work. NJPW is positioning Tama for big things, he has challenged for the tag titles with his soon to be reveal partner and here, he pinned on half of the tag champions. Beating Togi Makabe is a big deal as Makabe is not just a decorated NJPW vet but is known outside wrestling as a minor celebrity in Japanese media. YOSHI-HASI failed in his effort against Naito, the odds on fave to win. YOSHI-HASHI has been fighting for respect and opportunities since challenging than newcomer Elgin at the Finals of G1 and later in the year against G1 loser Honma (he lost both). Despite his loss the fans were mostly behind him and cheered his effort in what was a match that at a couple times made me doubt the outcome. It was a very good match and might have the been the reason EVIL and Ishii’s match took a while to get the fans into it. That match was a hard hitting encounter with EVIL pulling out some cool stuff, I felt the audience were not giving it the chance but the last five or so minutes the fans were deeply into the match. Ishii’s win was never in doubt, the new ROH TV champ and fan favorite taking on a guy with limited singles matches. That said, I want more EVIL singles matches. He looked great here.
There was also a very cool tag team match with the Jr. Heavyweight champion KUSHIDA teaming with NEVER champ Shibata against Heavyweight champ Okada and famous MMA fighter Sakuraba. A very good tag match with the fans going nuts for Shibata/Okada interactions. The matches ending presented some wrinkles for the Juniors division with British standout Will osprey joining Okada’s CHAOS stable and challenging for the Juniors belt at Invasion Attack. KUSHIDA’s booking has been much picked apart but this could be the year the bookers treat him with the respect he deserves as one of their most popular wrestlers in Japan and abroad. He regained the belt at Wrestle Kingdom, fought off BUSHI, and now he has both Will Osprey and also the possible opportunity to join G1 Climax, the biggest tournament of the year. Keep an eye on KUSHIDA.
Overall a strong show. Looking forward to tomorrow. Elgin vs. Fale, Yano vs. Kojima, Goto vs. Tonga, and Naito vs. Ishii. Specifically Ishii vs. Naito as their feud in 2014 was my favorite thing.