Unpredictable and unprecedented matchups abound in first round of New Japan Cup starting June 16
Today the always unpredictable New Japan Cup was given an unprecedented edge, as NJPW’s return to action was accompanied with the news that the tournament would be held for the first time without spectators, and as an openweight tournament.
For the first time ever, 13 of the 32 entrants in the New Japan Cup will be junior heavyweights, all still competing with the ultimate goal of facing Tetsuya Naito for the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships at Dominion in Osaka Jo Hall July 12. That creates some incredible opening round matchups, the second half of which are outlined below!
DAY THREE: Monday June 22 7:00PM JST
Hiroshi Tanahashi (11th entry, 6th consecutive, 2005, 2008 winner) vs Taichi (3rd entry, 3rd consecutive)
Singles record: 1-0 Tanahashi (watch on NJPW World!)
An intriguing first round indeed, NJPW’s Ace collides with it’s ‘Black Saint’ on night three of the tournament. These two have only met in singles competition once, in a match that just so happened to be the first round of the New Japan Cup in 2018. Then, Tanahashi defeated the freshly turned heavyweight Taichi, but after the self proclaimed emperor had a revelatory 2019, he’ll be a different man when he takes on Tanahashi.
Then there’s the added intrigue of what happened after the main event back in Korakuen Hall February 21. Tanahashi and Kota Ibushi, Golden☆Ace defeated GoD to lift the IWGP Tag Team Championships for the first time, but laying in wait were Dangerous Tekkers. Taichi and ZSJ both assaulted the new champions, putting both Tanahashi and Ibushi in the mood for revenge. For taichi and ZSJ meanwhile, a chance to strengthen their case for a future title opportunity now that NJPW is back in business.
Kota Ibushi (4th entry, 3rd consecutive, 2015 winner) vs Zack Sabre Junior (3rd entry, 3rd consecutive, 2018 winner)
Singles record: 4-2 Ibushi
Ibushi and ZSJ have proven themselves to be perfectly matched opponents for a long time now, although Ibushi is slightly drawing ahead in the record books. That’s something ZSJ will be looking to amend, while reminding the Golden Star that both his victories over Ibushi have come in the New Japan Cup. Both Ibushi and ZSJ share the distinction of having won their debut NJCs, but the focus is on the here and now, both men looking to claim their second trophies while also strengthening their aforementioned tag team cases.
Ryusuke Taguchi (3rd entry, 2nd consecutive) vs SANADA (4th entry, 4th consecutive)
First singles meeting
Ryusuke Taguchi found himself inserted into last year’s New Japan Cup and surpassed a lot of expectations. Putting away the veteran heavyweight Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Taguchi pushed Hiroshi Tanahashi hard in the second round, only to succumb to a Dragon Suplex in Korakuen Hall.
For all of Ryusuke Taguchi’s…unorthodox nature, he is one of the most orthodox and technically capable wrestlers in NJPW; for him to fall to a classical move like a Dragon Suplex will have grated hard. That’s an emotion he’ll carry with him into another match with an orthodox master in the form of SANADA.
Cold Skull SANADA meanwhile, has to come into this year’s New Japan Cup as a favourite. Making a hard fought final last year against Kazuchika Okada, SANADA only has to take one more step to finally gain a major singles cap in NJPW. Last year, after defeating Okada in a nail biter of a G1 Climax match in EDION Arena, SANADA admitted that after a rocky relationship, he loved Osaka after all. He’ll love it even more if it’s the site of him overthrowing his own Los Ingobernables De Japon leader for double championship gold.
Shingo Takagi (New Japan Cup debut) vs SHO (New Japan Cup debut)
Singles record: 1-0 Takagi (watch on NJPW World!)
In the original New Japan Cup lineup, Shingo Takagi was set for a hotly anticipated Best of the Super Jr. 26 rematch against Will Ospreay. For the time being at least, travel restrictions will put paid to that match, but it’s safe to say this BoSJ rematch will be a tremendous substitute.
SHO and Shingo have been tied together ever since Takagi debuted in NJPW back in October of 2018. Then positioning himself as an ‘openweight’, Takagi took SHO’d position as the most powerful junior heavyweight in NJPW, something SHO deeply resented. The result was an intense roller coaster ride of an opening night BoSJ 26 matchup that Shingo ultimately came out on top of.
In the wake of Best of the Super Jr., Takagi would enter the G1 Climax, and in the wake of the G1, he officially became heavyweight. There was every indication that his issues with SHO were bubbling under the water however; when Shingo defeated Hirooki Goto in Sapporo in February to win the NEVER Openweight Championship, SHO was right at the commentary desk to stare him down.
Here then is a match with everything to win as far as SHO is concerned; a victory will not only be the biggest singles win of SHO’s career, it would see him through to the second round and all but guarantee a future chance at NEVER gold.
*An additional special match will also take place on this card
DAY FOUR: Tuesday, June 23 7:00PM
Hiroyoshi Tenzan (10th entry, 2nd consecutive) vs YOSHI-HASHI (7th entry, 6th consecutive)
First singles meeting
Last year’s New japan Cup saw YOSHI-HASHI turn a corner of sorts, and plenty of heads in a battle with Tomohiro Ishii. His 2020 campaign starts with a tough first round matchup against a Tenzan with fire in his belly and much to prove. Before NJPW went on pause, Tenzan helped to end Manabu Nakanishi’s career with plenty of tag team victories with the Yajin; that retirement behind him, and with the time to rest up any nagging injuries, can he string together success as a singles wrestler once more?
YOH (New Japan Cup debut) vs BUSHI (New Japan Cup debut)
Singles record: 1-1
YOH and BUSHI often wrestle as two sides of the same coin. Both men are praised as the thinkers of their respective regular tag teams, with YOH being the strategist of Roppongi 3K, and BUSHI providing the analytical arm of his teams with Hiromu Takahashi and Shingo Takagi.
In singles, they also seem equally matched; discounting a string of defeats to BUSHI while still a Young Lion, YOH is 1-1 with BUSHI in a pair of Best of the Super Junior outings. Coolness under pressure may well be the key to this match, and they key to a second round; without a crowd in play, perhaps tactical smarts and clear thought will prove to be even stronger than normal; who will be the master of human chess on the night?
Satoshi Kojima (7th entry, 2nd consecutive) vs EVIL (4th entry, 2nd consecutive)
Singles record: 1-0 EVIL (Watch on NJPW World!)
The first singles meeting since 2017 makes a chance for two men to make their story in 2020. In recent months, EVIL had been somewhat lost in the Los Ingobernables De Japon shuffle, as his comrades moved on to greater success. A loss in Sapporo to Tomohiro Ishii was a bitter blow, but since twice defending the NEVER Openweight 6 Man Tag Championships won in the Tokyo Dome, some of the old EVIL confidence had been surging back before all momentum stoipped in New Japan. For Kojima, 2020 had been about taking on the biggest singles challenges, as bouts with the likes of Ultimo Guerrero and Jeff Cobb let the world know he can still go in the ring despite the retirements of contemporary figures like Jyushin Thunder Liger and Manabu Nakanishi. The result in on the last night of opening round action will be a hard hitting affair, no doubt.
Hirooki Goto (12th entry, 2nd consecutive, 2009, 2010, 2012 winner) vs Yujiro Takahashi (10th entry)
Singles record: 14-1 Goto
The last match in the first round sees Hirooki Goto take on Yujiro Takahashi. The record books strongly favour Goto here; although this is the first time in five years the two meet one on one, Yujiro is looking for only his second win in his 16th match with Goto, the last victory for him coming on Christmas Eve 2011. Goto’s status of Mr. March, with three past Cup wins isn’t to be sniffed at either, but upsets often take place in the first round of the New Japan Cup, and Yujiro will be betting big on the last night of the cup. After an eye injury put his 2019 cup on ice, could it be ice in a champagne bucket of success for Yujiro and Pieter after the 23rd?
*An additional special match will also take place on this card.