SANADA turns a corner while Naito puts a stop to ELP
March 5 saw the New Japan Cup kick off in a sold out Korakuen Hall, the first two tournament clashes a battle of mental wills as much as physical prowess.
Tetsuya Naito would start the tournament officially with El Phantasmo. Normally not shy of getting a negative reaction, ELP would endear himself to the crowd early, before reactions to Naito’s mockery with vicious attacks and a stunning stage dive followed by a quebrada on the outside.
Much to Phantasmo’s anger, Naito, perhaps frustrated at the cheers his opponent was getting, continued pushing his ELP’s buttons before targeting the neck. His leg full Nelson would torture Phantasmo, who created space with a stunning dropkick before landing a second rope elbow and attempting Sudden Death. The kick would be ducked though, and a swinging DDT sent ELP bouncing headfirst across the ring as Naito took charge.
Esperanza followed for Naito, but ELP went to his partner Taiji Ishimori for inspiration with a Cipher Utaki and the Yes Lock. As Naito made the ropes, a tenacious, Phantasmo nonetheless scored a top rope Frankensteiner and then Thunder Kiss ‘86 for a long two. Victory seemed near, but CR2 would be countered into a spike DDT and then a running Destino; Phantasmo had the full version scouted but not a Polvo De Estrella that gave a flash pin three.
The other first round match of the evening was a battle of frenemies in SANADA and Taichi. SANADA had been on a cold streak and complained of a gap between his brain and body in the ring; Taichi sensed that gap and angrily swatted away a plancha attempt before drilling his foe with a DDT on the hardwood floor.
More intent on drawing the competitive flame from his rival than simply winning the bout, Taichi angrily barked at SANADA as he tried to elicit a furious response. That was just what Taichi got though, and the earlier DDT on the outside was seen and raised to a piledriver on the parquet.
Now a fired up SANADA was giving Taichi the fight he desired, and matched the Holy Emperor blow for blow and flash pin for flash pin. Taichi came within a hair of a Gedo Clutch victory and then a dangerous backdrop suplex with a crisp bridge. SANADA would get even closer, locking in Skull End and finding Moonsaults to the back and front but still only barely getting cheated on the three.
The intense seesaw of a bout continued until Taichi’s own Black Mephisto was used against him. SANADA followed up with Skull End before landing a new finish to score three. Post match, SANADA rejected a fist bump from Taichi in favour of a proper handshake before leaving the ring, his sights now set on KENTA.
Tetsuya Naito will now meet Chase Owens in round two in Aichi March 11, while SANADA faces KENTA. The New Japan Cup first round continues on Monday March 6, with David Finlay facing Tomohiro Ishii and Yujiro Takahashi versus Shota Umino.