The lower-left quadrant of the 2023 New Japan Cup will kick off on March 8th with two first-round matches from Big Palette Fukushima. Like the upper half of the left side of the bracket, this quadrant is heavy on one unit, as it features three wrestlers in The United Empire, which begs the question: will The United Empire representatives be more motivated to face their unit mates, or have they strategized a way through for one of their members?
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Each bracket quadrant is stacked with six heavyweight wrestlers this year, with two securing first-round byes. The lower left will kick off with perennial New Japan Cup competitor Toru Yano, in his eighteenth New Japan Cup, welcoming a newcomer to the tournament and one-half of The United Empire’s primary tag team, Mark Davis. In the main event from Fukushima, 2020 New Japan Cup winner EVIL will face the hot hand of Ren Narita in their first-round bout. Below, we’ll look at how all the statistics, history, and other nuggets add up to give us our lower-left quadrant’s pick to advance to the final four.
Ren Narita returned from his excursion to the LA Dojo in the fall of 2022. He immediately buzzed through the IWGP NJPWWorld Television Championship tournament on his way to meet last year’s New Japan Cup winner, Zack Sabre Jr., in the final. Narita held his own but ultimately fell short against ZSJ. Narita now finds himself in his first New Japan Cup, but unlike most first-timers, Narita enters with some tournament success. He will start his tournament with a familiar foe in EVIL, vying for a shot at Jeff Cobb in round two.
Narita enters the 2023 New Japan cup with the best record in his quadrant. Many fans point to this tournament as a next-level coming-out party for the Son of Strong Style. Still, his path to the final four is littered with landmines, including Narita’s first-round match against EVIL, which is, at best, a coin flip for the bracket pickers.
It’s tough to put a definitive prediction on Ren Narita’s first New Japan Cup tournament, but even with a swelling fanbase behind him, Narita isn’t likely to be the quadrant’s representative in the final four.
EVIL won this tournament about two and a half years ago when it was moved to the summer of 2020, but it feels like it’s been an eternity since that moment. EVIL used the Cup victory as the conduit to join BULLET CLUB, start HOUSE OF TORTURE, and become the thorn in Tetsuya Naito’s side, as he proceeded to defeat the then-Double Champion at Dominion, establishing himself as a main event threat through the end of 2020. EVIL remained a threat into the 2021 tournament when he reached the semi-finals, only to be vanquished by former Los Ingobernables De Japon unit mate Shingo Takagi.
EVIL enters this year’s tournament in a bit of a different spot. He has been occupied with the NEVER Openweight Six Man Championships, and his House Of Torture cronies are often outsmarted when they try to play foil to more straight-laced wrestlers. That doesn’t change the fact that EVIL is always a threat to go deep into a tournament, but drawing a path that begins with the hot hand of Ren Narita, then Jeff Cobb, and then one of Will Ospreay, Mark Davis, or Toru Yano, it is not a very clean path to the final four for EVIL this year.
Jeff Cobb’s 9-1 singles record against wrestlers in this quadrant is the best among this year’s field, and he won’t even have to lift a finger before reaching round two, as Cobb is one of eight wrestlers in the tournament to draw a first-round bye. Cobb’s tournament will start against either Ren Narita or the only wrestler in this quadrant that has defeated him in the past, EVIL. Even though Cobb avenged his loss to EVIL when he beat him in 2021’s G1 Climax tournament, I bet that Cobb is hoping for EVIL to advance past Ren Narita so he can be the one to send EVIL home from this year’s single-elimination tournament.
If Jeff Cobb can get past his second-round matchup, he would then meet either Toru Yano or one of his unit mates in Will Ospreay or Mark Davis. Cobb has proven to be a threat in any major tournament, so his presence here can’t be discounted. Still, this quadrant’s other first-round bye recipient, Will Ospreay, seems to be the favorite of the other triad. While that is circled as a dream match on many brackets, Cobb would likely enter that match as the underdog, and meeting his United Empire leader could serve as a roadblock for the former Olympian.
Toru Yano has participated in all but the first New Japan Cup tournaments, and he is just 16-17 in Cup matches. Of course, by nature of never winning the tournament, Yano has the most New Japan Cup losses of all time, but his ability to play spoiler is a factor that can never truly be accounted for with facts and figures. The dichotomy of Toru Yano’s New Japan Cups represents the truly random nature of his performance throughout the years. Yano has been eliminated in the first round six times, he has reached the semi-finals four times, and he enters the tournament with a virtual 50/50 win-loss record.
Adding to Yano’s chaotic New Japan Cup existence, he draws Mark Davis, who is making his NJPW singles debut in the first round of this year’s tournament. With minimal history, it is nearly impossible to pick a winner between the Sublime Master Thief and The United Empire’s tag team specialist. If Yano can move past Davis in the first round, he’ll find a first-time singles matchup against Will Ospreay waiting for him. Does Yano’s opponent path matter when he is sure to deploy distraction and trickery regardless of who is in the other corner? We’re sure to find out as the tournament progresses.
Even in the presence of Toru Yano, Mark Davis serves as the wild card of the lower-left quadrant. The Aussie Open heavyweight will have his first singles match in NJPW when he steps into the ring against Toru Yano on March 8th. With no statistical history to draw from, my analysis begins and ends with speculation regarding whether he will be more motivated or less motivated to move past the first round to meet The United Empire’s founder and leader, Will Ospreay, in the second round. Based on the competitive and supportive nature of The United Empire, I’d bet Davis enters his first-round match driven to advance, and, regardless of his next match-up, I’d bet the rest of his United Empire brothers will be cheering him on as well.
Will Ospreay’s 10-2 New Japan Cup record and .833 winning percentage are the best in New Japan Cup history. Ospreay has participated in three New Japan Cup tournaments; he won in 2021 and was eliminated in the quarter-finals by Kazuchika Okada in 2019 and again in the quarter-finals by Zack Sabre Jr. in 2022. Both of the wrestlers who eliminated Ospreay went on to win the tournament. Should Ospreay advance to the quarter-finals in this year’s tournament, he will face Ren Narita, EVIL, or Jeff Cobb. Even if we disregard the round that it occurred, defeating Will Ospreay in the New Japan Cup is a rite of passage that would put a feather in any wrestler’s cap.
Given the volume of singles matches that Will Ospreay wrestles, it is incredible that he has only wrestled five matches against wrestlers in this quadrant, which leaves plenty of opportunities for Will to dig into his bag of classic strategies to buzz through this quadrant and log a first-time victory over at least one wrestler on his way to the final four.
Samsa’s Quadrant Prediction
This is the only quadrant of the tournament that I feel the need to go “chalk” in. Will Ospreay spent 2022 at the absolute top of his game, and his start to 2023 has been no different. He has shown himself to be incredibly motivated after his Wrestle Kingdom loss to Kenny Omega, and this quadrant is his for the taking. My bet is on Will Ospreay to advance to the semi-finals, regardless of how many United Empire members he has to prove dominance over along the way.
Chris Samsa is a professional wrestling statistician and research assistant supporting the NJPW English Broadcast team since 2019. Follow him on social media here.