Chris Samsa’s Main Event Metrics: New Japan Cup Bracketology (1/4)

Our resident statastician gets to grips with New Japan Cup 2023

New Japan Pro Wrestling’s perennial single-elimination tournament, the New Japan Cup, kicks off on March 5th from Korakuen Hall with two first-round matches from the upper-left quadrant of the tournament’s bracket. I am here to dissect the statistics and history of each entrant in this year’s contest to give you the upper hand as you fill in your brackets and make your predictions.

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This year, each quadrant of the bracket houses six heavyweight wrestlers, with two securing first-round byes. In the case of the upper-left quadrant, KENTA and Chase Owens are the lucky wrestlers with first-round byes, but the rest of the quadrant features stiff competition. There are no first-time New Japan Cup entrants in the upper-left quadrant, and this section of the bracket features one New Japan Cup tournament winner (Tetsuya Naito – 2016), one New Japan Cup tournament finalist (SANADA – 2019), and the 2020 New Japan Cup USA winner (KENTA). Below, we’ll look at each wrestler’s history, and I’ll do my best to determine who has the best chance of advancing to the semi-finals on March 19th.

SANADA has seen some success in the New Japan Cup, reaching the final in 2019 and boasting a .684 all-time winning percentage in the tournament. In his five tournaments, SANADA has reached the final once and the semi-finals twice. He has never been ousted in the first round, and we have to go back to his first New Japan Cup in 2017 to find the last time he was eliminated in the second round.

 SANADA enters the 2023 New Japan Cup with the best singles record against the five other wrestlers in this quadrant at 10-2, but the Cold Skull has been on a bit of a cold streak of late. We’d have to go back to October 2022 to find SANADA’s most recent singles victory. But this is the season when SANADA usually turns it on, and he’s drawn a familiar foe in Taichi in the first round. SANADA leads the all-time singles series with Taichi 4-1, and he is 5-1 in New Japan Cup Matches at Korakuen Hall.

We can’t discount SANADA’s recent cold streak, even with all facts and figures pointing to a SANADA victory. SANADA enters his match with Taichi as a slight favorite, but I’m not risking my bankroll on that bet.

Taichi enters his sixth consecutive New Japan Cup with a different backstory than his first-round opponent, SANADA. Taichi enters with just a 4-5 all-time New Japan Cup Record and has been eliminated in the first round twice.

 Taichi begins this year’s New Japan Cup with losing records in all three of our major categories, and he has just a 3-9 combined record against the five wrestlers in the quadrant. Even with all signs pointing to an early exit from Taichi, it is hard to bet against him, as SANADA has struggled to find success of late. Taichi will surely enter his first-round match with SANADA with a chip on his shoulder after SANADA eliminated him in the first round of last fall’s NJPWWorld Television Title Tournament. Taichi will go through this whole quadrant as an underdog, which doesn’t make him an appealing pick to reach the Final Four.

KENTA drew a first-round bye, and it’s a good thing, as he has struggled to defeat the wrestlers in this quadrant in singles matches. KENTA enters with just a 1-5 record against wrestlers in the quadrant, with his only victory occurring against Tetsuya Naito. KENTA is one of just two wrestlers in this quadrant with a winning singles record over the last 365 days.

 It is tough to predict the future of KENTA’s tournament without seeing who his first matchup is, but even with a 1-5 record against wrestlers in the upper-left quadrant, we can’t write him off as a threat. KENTA has proven himself to be a force in single-elimination tournaments. He’ll still be riding the high of his STRONG Openweight Championship victory over Fred Rosser at Battle In The Valley. KENTA is a dark horse to reach the final four.

Tetsuya Naito’s history with the New Japan Cup is about as long as it gets. This will be his eleventh entry, and Naito has been a tournament champion (2016), and just last year, he was a tournament finalist (eliminated by Zack Sabre Jr in the final. When it comes to the New Japan Cup, Naito is as close to a two-outcome wrestler as it gets. In his ten tournaments, he has reached the final four four times, and he has been eliminated in the first round four times.

 Naito enters this year’s New Japan Cup after massive victories over Shota Umino and Keiji Muto, which is likely to boost his confidence, but drawing the up-and-coming El Phantasmo in the first round puts Tetsuya Naito on upset watch during this year’s inaugural night on March 5th.

El Phanatasmo only has one New Japan Cup match to draw history from, a second-round loss to Will Ospreay in last year’s New Japan Cup. This will be ELP’s first New Japan Cup since establishing himself as a heavyweight. Drawing Tetsuya Naito in the first round gives him yet another chance to cement himself as an upper-echelon heavyweight. El Phantasmo boasts the most singles matches in the last 365 days among his quadrant-mates with 20 and a 10-10 record.

Though inexperienced, El Phantasmo’s trajectory as a heavyweight remains strong, but he is still looking for that defining victory. It is hardly rare for a fresh face to knock off a favorite in the first round of the New Japan Cup, and in the upper-left quadrant, the upset special has to be El Phantasmo.

Chase Owens enters the 2023 New Japan Cup with a 3-3 all-time New Japan Cup Record with victories over Jado, Tiger Mask, and Juice Robinson and losses against YOSHI-HASHI, David Finlay, and Shingo Takagi. Chase drew a first-round bye, so he will not have to wrestle in a tournament match until March 11, when he will face the winner of Tetsuya Naito vs. El Phantasmo. Regardless of whom he ends up wrestling in the tournament’s second round, Chase Owens will be the underdog and potentially the least likely to pull an upset over incumbent finalist Tetsuya Naito or his up-and-coming Bullet Club unitmate, El Phantasmo.

 Samsa’s Quadrant Prediction

If El Phantasmo can get past Tetsuya Naito in the first round, I see a clear path to the final four for ELP. Tetsuya Naito is historically prone to a first-round loss, and then there is a non-zero chance that ELP goes through two Bullet Club unitmates, Chase Owens and KENTA, on his way out of the quadrant. ELP may not be the safe bet to get out of the upper left of the bracket, but I’m predicting a first-round upset and smooth sailing to the final four for the relative newcomer.

Chris Samsa is a professional wrestling statistician and research assistant supporting the NJPW English Broadcast team since 2019. Follow him on social media here.