On March 9, the New Japan Cup kicks off once more as 16 of New Japan’s best heavyweights look to earn a big championship opportunity.
This year, the first round of the tournament will take place over four nights. Two matches on March 9 in Korakuen will be followed by two more the next night in Aichi, then March 11 in Amagasaki and March 12 in Takamatsu.
The quarter finals will take place over two nights, March 14 in Fuji and the 15th back in Korakuen seeing two tournament matches each. March 16 will see one semi final match in Korakuen, with the second semi final going down on the 18th in Hanamatsu. Finally, March 21 will see the New Japan Cup winner crowned in Nagaoka.
That winner will have the chance to wrestle for either the IWGP Heavyweight, Intercontinental or NEVER Openweight Championship in Ryogoku at Sakura Genesis on April 1st, and every single show in the tournament will be airing LIVE on NJPW World! https://njpwworld.com/
Breaking down the brackets, we start with a huge clash between Michael Elgin and Tomohiro Ishii. Whenever these two meet, neither will give an inch, and this opening round contest will be no different.
The charismatic Juice Robinson will take on Yujiro Takahashi in the opening round. This is a rematch from last year’s NJC, a match that Juice won. Robinson would ride that subsequent momentum to several title shots in 2017 and a G1 entry.
Meanwhile, Yujiro has slipped through the cracks when it comes to being chosen for the G1 Climax for two years running now. He’ll want his revenge on Juice, and to turn his fortunes as a singles wrestler around.
Hiroshi Tanahashi hasn’t been seen since losing his Intercontinental Championship To Minoru Suzuki, having his right knee all but torn apart in the process. Now he makes his return, opposite the newly heavyweight Taichi.
Tanahashi started 2018 pledging to be the first to hold the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental titles simultaneously. To even start on that track, he’ll need to beat Taichi, and with a still questionable knee. Tanahashi wants to reclaim ‘his’ era, and this could be the cornerstone of that effort. On the other hand though, Taichi may look to end the job his Suzuki Gun boss started. Heavyweight or not, you know Taichi’s willingness to bend the rules hasn’t gone anywhere.
From a new heavyweight to a pair of super heavyweights. Bad Luck Fale versus Lance Archer is a battle of the two biggest men in the competition. Fale is over 350 pounds, while Archer stands at well over 6’6’’; it’s a monster clash. Last year Fale made it all the way to the NJC finals for the second time in his career. Now The Underboss wants to finish the job. As infighting has erupted in the Bullet Club, founding member Fale has stayed true to his mantra of ‘relax,’ and his focus may bring him to the Ryogoku main event.
When Archer returned to New Japan with Suzuki Gun last year, injury and a focus on tag team contendership removes him from the NJC and G1. Now, he and his partner Davey Boy Smith Junior will be looking to make their mark, and in Archer’s case, that means ‘everybody dies’.
Moving on to March 11’s card in Amagasaki, we have Tetsuya Naito taking on Zack Sabre Junior as he makes his New Japan Cup debut. Naito may have lost his Wrestle Kingdom 12 main event against Kazuchika Okada, but he’s still as popular as ever. He’ll look to convert popularity to results and take his second NJC victory after converting his 2016 Cup win to an IWGP Heavyweight Championship reign.
Meanwhile, Zack Sabre Junior’s technical ability is unmatched in the NJC field and the entire New Japan roster. That technical ability pushed Naito to his limits in last year’s G1, and the British mat master is a dark horse in this year’s Cup.
Also in Amagasaki, it’s Kota Ibushi versus YOSHI-HASHI. YOSHI-HASHI has shown fire so far this year, immediately gunning for Tetsuya Naito, but got denied February 10 in Osaka. YOSHI-HASHI will look to get his 2018 going in earnest, but will have to do so against a Kota Ibushi who beat him in the G1 last year.
As for Ibushi, the Golden Star is riding high after a victorious reunion with Kenny Omega. He’ll look to ride those vibes to a second NJC win, after being victorious in his tournament debut back in 2015. With Kenny taking time off to rest a mild neck injury, Ibushi is fighting on behalf of both the Golden Lovers this tournament.
Closing out round one on March 12, we have Toru Yano facing Davey Boy Smith Junior. Yano has a history of big opening round upsets in the NJC, but he’ll have his work cut out trying to catch DBS unawares. Smith’s size and technique make for a formidable foe, who wants to break from his tag team wheelhouse and show his singles ability.
Finally, Chuckie T faces SANADA for the first time. Chuckie came to New Japan for last year’s World Tag League, but without his Best Friend, can he prove himself as a singles competitor? He faces a man in SANADA who may have been unsuccessful in his challenge for the IWGP title in February, but who showed he belonged in the main event scene. He’ll be motivated by another chance at championship glory- and potentially facing LIJ leader Naito down the line in the tournament.
More event info & tournament results to come & update at https://www.njpw1972.com/