Spring tournament kicks off in Korakuen
The madness of March is upon us, as the New Japan Cup kicks off on March 5. The first two round one matches take place in Korakuen Hall Sunday.
Main event: New Japan Cup First Round- Taichi vs SANADA
Singles record: 4-1 SANADA
Cold Skull is on a cold streak. SANADA has struggled out of the blocks in 2022, with a loss to one time partner Manabu Soya of Pro-Wrestling NOAH at Yokohama Arena this January hampering his start to the year. Yet New Japan Cup is often the scene of a turnaround for many a competitor, and this year, the cup finals take place in SANADA’s home prefecture of Niigata.
The chance to go one better than his 2019 final appearance in front of his home crowd is what will motivate SANADA tonight against a favourite opponent in Taichi. Their last battle was a highlight of the NJPW World TV Championship tournament in the autumn, evenly matched as it was hard hitting, and ending at the last possible second with a SANADA victory. It would be the LIJ members fourth win over Taichi to the Holy Emperor’s one during the 2021 G1 Climax. Could this year see Taichi make a mark for Just Four Guys by eliminating his rival, or will it be SANADA facing bye recipient KENTA in the second round?
6th Match: New Japan Cup First Round- Tetsuya Naito vs El Phantasmo
From retiring pro-wrestling legend Keiji Muto in the Tokyo Dome to living a very different but uniquely best in class life through the Fantasticamania tour, Tetsuya Naito has had a wild month. Yet El Ingobernable isn’t satisfied with getting top billing in just any Tokyo Dome event, but specifically Wrestle Kingdom 18 on January 4 2024, and the Tokyo Dome roll call still evades Naito. The first big chance for him to reach that goal point will be to win New Japan Cup and take the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship from Kazuchika Okada at Sakura Genesis.
In his path? Perhaps the tournament’s major dark horse, El Phantasmo. In the immediate wake of Jay White’s departure from Japan at New Beginning in Osaka, ELP came up short of Tama Tonga’s NEVER Openweight Championship, but the Headbanga still seems uniquely poised to fill the power vacuum left by the Switchblade. The New Japan Cup trophy would be a big step to attaining that very goal; can he shock a Tetsuya Naito in Korakuen, a venue where El Ingobernable hasn’t lost a singles match since summer 2016, to do so?
5th Match: Tomoaki Honma, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Kazuchika Okada vs CHAOS (YOSHI-HASHI, Tomohiro Ishii & Hirooki Goto)
On March 6 in the main event of 51st Anniversary, the Dream Team of Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kazuchika Okada will challenge for IWGP Tag Team Championship gold against the Bishamon champion side of Hirooki Goto and YOSHI-HASHI. Though Tanahashi and Okada seem to have near invulnerable status as individuals, time will tell whether they can snatch tag gold together against a formidable combination in Bishamon. Tonight, it’s a formidable trio that Tanahashi and Okada face along with Tomaki Honma; during the peak of the pandemic, YOSHI-HASHI, Hirooki Goto and Tomohiro Ishii were figures of stability with a year plus run with the NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag team Championships. Their bonds as a trio are all but unbreakable, and it will be a trying preview indeed for the number one contenders.
4th Match: CHAOS (Lio Rush, Toru Yano & YOH) vs Los Ingobernables De Japon (BUSHI, Hiromu Takahashi & Shingo Takagi)
Before Lio Rush and YOH take on Hiromu Takahashi and BUSHI in tag action at Anniversary on March 6, it’s a six man tag for Rush in his NJPW return, and a unique situation teaming with Toru Yano for the first time. Rush and Shingo is sure to be a pairing to keep an eye on as well, but the Bad Child only has eyes on Hiromu Takahashi and the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship at March 21’s tour closer.
3rd Match: Yuto Nakashima, El Desperado & Minoru Suzuki vs BULLET CLUB (Gedo, Chase Owens & KENTA)
For the very first time, the STRONG Openweight Champion hits Japanese rings when KENTA takes his freshly won gold into trios action in Korakuen. He and Chase Owens are sitting pretty with byes into the second round March 11 in Nagoya, but El Desperado and Minoru Suzuki will not give them a moment’s breathing room, and will be bringing out the underground streetfighter in Yuto Nakashima to boot.
2nd Match: Master Wato, Ryusuke Taguchi, Ren Narita & Shota Umino vs HOUSE OF TORTURE (Dick Togo, SHO, Yujiro Takahashi & EVIL)
With the ever capable coaching guidance of Ryusuke Taguchi, the young generation of Hontai stars in Wato, Umino and Narita go head to head with HOUSE OF TORTURE. First round New Japan Cup previews are in store for Shota Umino and Ren Narita with Yujiro Takahashi and EVIL respectively; will Korakuen be a sign of things to come?
1st Match: Ryohei Oiwa & Tama Tonga vs TMDK (Kosei Fujita & Zack Sabre Jr.)
NJPW World TV and NEVER Openweight Champions take their selected kohai proteges to battle in the opening bout of the evening. With the potential evident of a champion versus champion semi final in the New Japan Cup, competition is set to be fast and fierce from the opening bell as the NJC tour gets underway.