The last quadrant of the 2023 New Japan Cup kicks off from Yamanashi on March 10 with a first-time matchup between Kyle Fletcher and YOSHI-HASHI and what is sure to be a hard-hitting affair between Shingo Takagi and Aaron Henare.
In this year’s New Japan Cup, each bracket quadrant is filled with six heavyweight wrestlers, with two securing first-round byes. In the upper-right quadrant, New Japan Cup legend Hirooki Goto and NEVER Openweight champion Tama Tonga draw the byes, placing them directly into the round of 16. The other four wrestlers in the quadrant will wrestle for the chance to fight their well-rested peers. New Japan Cup debutant Kyle Fletcher is the only wrestler in this group who has wrestled in less than four New Japan Cup tournaments. This section of the bracket features the other half of the current IWGP Tag Team Champions, YOSHI-HASHI, and the KOPW Provisional Champion, Shingo Takagi. The United Empire’s Aaron Henare rounds out the bracket in a quadrant that is genuinely anyone’s for the taking. Below we’ll look at the facts, figures, and history that help us predict who will advance to the final four on March 19.
It has been three years since YOSHI-HASHI advanced past the round of 16, and he has only done so twice in his nine New Japan Cup tournaments, but in a quadrant that is genuinely anyone’s for the taking, we can’t rule out the resurgent YOSHI-HASHI to reach the final four. YOSHI-HASHI lost in the first round of his first five New Japan Cup appearances, but since he shook that streak, he has advanced past the first round in four straight tournaments. This year, YOSHI-HASHI draws newcomer Kyle Fletcher in the first round. Without much of a scouting report to work from, YOSHI-HASHI will rely on his experience with Fletcher in tag matches, most notably their World Tag League final in 2022. YOSHI-HASHI’s path to the final four would be complicated if he gets past Kyle Fletcher. In the second round, he would move on to his tag team partner, Hirooki Goto, before meeting the wrestler who advances through the bottom half of the quadrant in the elite eight.
Kyle Fletcher recently made his NJPW singles debut in a win over Robbie Eagles on NJPW Tamashii, and he looked plenty comfortable without his Aussie Open partner, Mark Davis. Fletcher has only wrestled one wrestler in this quadrant in a singles match; he faced off with Shingo Takagi in early 2020 in RevPro, where he logged a loss. We know little about how Fletcher will perform as a singles wrestler in NJPW. Still, he has a clear path to earn Aussie Open a tag team championship match if he can defeat current tag team champions YOSHI-HASHI in the first round and Bishamon’s Hirooki Goto in the second. Fletcher is a valid wild card, and we’ll know quite a bit more about his NJPW singles future via his performance here.
All signs point to a resurgent New Japan Cup tournament from Hirooki Goto. Goto is the most decorated New Japan Cup participant of all time. He is the only wrestler to win the tournament three times, and with that comes the most all-time New Japan Cup match wins with 25. He also enters this year’s tournament with a first-round bye and a 12-3 singles record against wrestlers in the quadrant. In his first tournament match, Goto will either face his Bishamon tag-team partner, YOSHI-HASHI, or a young up-and-comer in Kyle Fletcher. Should Goto get past his second-round matchup, I’d guess he’s hoping for Tama Tonga in the round of 8. Goto has Tama Tonga’s number and boasts a 7-0 record against the current NEVER Openweight champion in singles matches throughout their career.
Hirooki Goto is 10-4 in his first match in New Japan Cup tournaments, and regardless of whom he draws throughout the tournament, Goto can never truly be ruled out of a New Japan Cup, as it is a tournament where he has thrived.
Shingo Takagi has reached the semi-final or beyond in two of the three New Japan Cup tournaments that he has wrestled in, most notably reaching the final of the 2021 tournament against Will Ospreay. Takagi enters this year’s tournament while holding the KOPW Provisional Championship. The last time Shingo entered a tournament as a champion, he lost in the first round, which led to a NEVER Openweight Championship defense against SHO in 2020. Still, Shingo enters his first-round match with Aaron Henare as the favorite to move on, but Henare may enter with the extra motivation of earning himself a shot at the KOPW, hoping to upset the former IWGP World Heavyweight Champion.
Aaron Henare enters his fourth New Japan Cup with just one win, and that was in the 48-man 2022 tournament when he drew Young Lion Yuto Nakashima, but The United Empire’s ultimate weapon is always a threat to buzz through some singles matches. Henare has stretched his legs in singles matches in the last 365 days, logging a 10-8 record. Those ten wins are the second-most among wrestlers in this quadrant, leading me to believe Henare is tuned up and ready for tournament action.
Henare is still seeking his signature New Japan Cup victory, and he has the unique opportunity to capture that win in the first round against former IWGP World Heavyweight Champion Shingo Takagi. If Henare can advance against The Dragon, I could imagine him riding that wave of momentum to a path through the quadrant and into the final four.
Tama Tonga will enter the 2023 New Japan Cup as the reigning NEVER Openweight Champion. There have been ten New Japan Cups since the NEVER Openweight Championship came into existence, but the reigning champion has only competed in five New Japan Cup tournaments. For many years, a NEVER Openweight Championship match was on the table as a prize for the winner of the tournament, but that has been abandoned in recent years as wrestlers eye the top prize in NJPW, the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. Similar to Tama Tonga’s New Japan Cup history, the NEVER champion has been eliminated in their first match of the tournament in three of the five tournaments they have participated in. Tama Tonga
Tama Tonga’s 1-8 record against the rest of the upper-right quadrant is a little deceiving. In NJPW, Tama Tonga has wrestled Hirooki Goto in more singles matches than anyone else, and he is 0-7 in those matches. If we take his 0-7 record against Goto out of the equation, Tama Tonga is just 1-1, and that pair of matches occurred against YOSHI-HASHI. While I have no doubt Tama Tonga is gunning for the final four, I imagine he is hoping he will get there by conquering his most common foe and vanquishing Goto in the tournament in which he made his name.
Samsa’s Quadrant Prediction
The way I look at it is this: you can’t bet against Hirooki Goto in the New Japan Cup unless you have a very compelling reason to do so, and I think Tama Tonga may be a compelling enough reason to bet against Goto. Tama is committed to being the best NEVER Openweight Champion of all time, and what better way than to be the first reigning NEVER Openweight champion to get past the quarter-finals in the New Japan Cup? Tama has one last monkey to shake off his back to get there: his winless history against Hirooki Goto. If Goto and Tama Tonga meet in the round of eight, all bets are off, but I’m still putting my money on the current NEVER Openweight Champion to advance into the final four.
Part 1: https://www.njpw1972.com/144089
Part 2: https://www.njpw1972.com/144205
Part 3: https://www.njpw1972.com/144530
Chris Samsa is a professional wrestling statistician and research assistant supporting the NJPW English Broadcast team since 2019. Follow him on social media here.