30 to compete in single elimination tournament starting at 49th Anniversary
The full lineup for New Japan Cup 2021 has been revealed, with 30 wrestlers participating in single elimination action starting on March 4 at the 49th Anniversary Event, and running through to March 21 in Sendai. The winner of the cup will be the first to challenge Kota Ibushi for the new IWGP World Heavyweight Championship, with that title match set to take place on April 4 at Ryogoku Sumo Hall at Sakura Genesis 2021.
Here are your first round matchups, and the two byes in this year’s tournament.
FIRST ROUND BYE: EVIL (5th entry, 3rd consecutive. 2020 winner)
Winning last year’s New Japan Cup has granted EVIL a bye out of the first round and into the second, where he will face the winner of Satoshi Kojima and Jeff Cobb in Matsuyama on March 11. EVIL has had a difficult four months in New Japan Pro-Wrestling. After being eliminated from G1 Climax 30 contention at the final hurdle by SANADA, EVIL lost to Tetsuya Naito at Power Struggle and to SANADA again at Wrestle Kingdom, before tasting yet another defeat at the hands of Kazuchika Okada Saturday night on night one of Castle Attack. Now EVIL seeks to push the reset button and certainly has an advantage by skipping the first night. Can he go all the way for the second year in a row?
NIGHT ONE: March 4, Nippon Budokan
Satoshi Kojima (8th entry, 3rd consecutive) vs Jeff Cobb (first entry)
Singles record: 1-0 Cobb
After Jeff Cobb wrestled in New Japan Cup USA in 2020, reaching the semifinals, he now battles in the Japanese tournament for the first time. His first round opponent will be a man that he defeated in the USA just over a year ago; Satoshi Kojima fell to Cobb during the New Beginning USA 2020 tour. Yet when it comes to recent records, Kojima has a huge win to boast about. Sunday night at Castle Attack, Kojima used an almighty lariat to score an upset pinfall over United Empire’s ‘imperial unit’, a landmark win in what has been a spectacular 30th year in wrestling so far for Kojima. After he brought gutsy performances against KENTA and Will Ospreay in the first two tours of the year, his tag victory Sunday could open the door to a fairytale tournament run.
Yet Cobb is not someone to look past. With United Empire still denied championship gold, the faction will be fiercely competitive through this tournament with a lot of pressure on Cobb to succeed. The Olympian is a well respected and feared tournament wrestler, tough enough to beat anyone in the world, and Kojima will be made well aware of that Thursday.
Great-O-Khan (first entry) vs Tetsuya Naito (9th entry, first in two years, 2016 winner)
Great-O-Khan and Tetsuya Naito were both arguably favourites heading into their respective title matches at Castle Attack. Both had near perfect gameplans in the ring as O-Khan dominated Hiroshi Tanahashi for the bulk of the NEVER Openweight Championship match, and Tetsuya Naito was as effective at smothing Kota Ibushi’s offense as anyone ever has. Both got caught. Via a Tanahashi crucifix, and an Ibushi Kamigoye, both tasted defeat, and the question for each man is how they will reset going into the New Japan Cup. For O-Khan, questions may be circling over whenther he can win a big match on a big stage after a pair of defeats to the Ace Tanahashi, but victory over Naito would more than check that box, as well as move himself and the United Empire forward.
For Naito, a different story. Desperate to prevent Kota Ibushi from unifying the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships, Naito nevertheless fell short, and this tournament’s winner will now be challenging for the new IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. For Naito to move forward in this tournament and indeed his career, will require him to swallow a considerable amount of pride. Can he win his first cup in five years? Or will he be stopped in his tracks?
NIGHT TWO: March 5, Korakuen Hall
Bad Luck Fale (7th entry, first in two years) vs Toru Yano (16th entry, 16th consecutive)
Singles record: 4-1 Yano, Cup record 1-0 Fale
The ironman of the New Japan Cup and the current KOPW 2021 holder, Toru Yano retains his perfect attendance record in the spring tournament by going up against Bad Luck Fale in the first round Friday. Castle Attack saw Yano retain his KOPW 2021 trophy against Chase Owens in the first ever YTR Style Strap Match, something that assuredly did not sit well with the Rogue General. After all, Fale was involved in the same four way, and the same Ranbo, along with Chase Owens, that Yano won at Wrestle Kingdom through the power of working decidedly smarter than harder. Now Fale will make Yano work very hard indeed for a spot in the second round; will pro-wrestling’s greatest polymath find a way past his giant opposition?
Hirooki Goto (13th entry, 3rd consecutive, 2009, 2010, 2012 winner) vs Taichi (4th entry, 4th consecutive)
Singles record: 2-2
The fourth first round matchup in the cup this year might be one of the hardest to call a winner for. Goto and Taichi have done battle four times in the past, and three times in the last three years, with the scoreline deadlocked at 2-2. Goto’s history in this tournament is undeniable, with three victories, but he hasn’t found his way back to the cup in the last nine years. Meanwhile Taichi had a formidable 2020 run that saw him score pinfall victories over both Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kota Ibushi before he was finally eliminated.
After both men came up short in IWGP Tag Team Championship matches in February against the Guerrillas of Destiny, they’re seeking to refocus on singles competition with a 2021 Cup victory. Who moves on in Korakuen Hall?
NIGHT THREE March 6, Ota-Ku
Kazuchika Okada (5th entry, 3rd consecutive, 2013, 2019 winner) vs Shingo Takagi (2nd entry, 2nd consecutive)
Singles record 1-0 Okada
If there is an award to be given out before the tournament starts of most explosive first round matchup, it would likely go to this one. Shingo Takagi and Kazuchika Okada are two favourites heading into the tournament this year, but one must fall in the first round.
Kazuchika Okada has been hard to stop in 2021 thus far. With a win over Will Ospreay in the Tokyo Dome garnering sweet revenge for the Commonwealth Kingpin’s G1 betrayal, and a victory over EVIL laying to rest the spectre of New Japan Cup 2020’s controversial final, Okada now seeks to move forward with his 2021. Okada wants to move back to the front lines of IWGP competition, and go back to basics; in his words ‘go back to the days where tough guys fight and the strongest wins a title belt’. With the IWGP Heavyweight Championship as we know it ending its lineage, Okada will forever be in the history books as the most successful IWGP Heavyweight Champion of all time. What mark might he make on the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship’s legacy?
For Shingo Takagi, one of the proudest competitors on the NJPW roster, February saw disappointment as he lost his NEVER Openweight Championship to Hiroshi Tanahashi. Just as injurious to his pride however was a lost to Okada in an Osaka nailbiter during G1 Climax 30, as he passed out to the Money Clip rather than submitting. Could he get revenge tonight and take out one of the top seeds in the tournament?
Tomoaki Honma (9th entry, 3rd consecutive) vs Minoru Suzuki (7th entry, 3rd consecutive)
Tomoaki Honma has not won a singles match since 2016, and is the severe underdog in this first round meeting with Minoru Suzuki, but the King himself has a poor history in this tournament, his most recent showing being a first round knockout to Yuji Nagata. Could Kokeshi make the New Japan Cup happy? It’s doubtful, but this environment is made for upsets, and the King has to stay on his toes.
Juice Robinson (4th entry, first in two years) vs KENTA (First entry, 2020 New Japan Cup USA winner)
Singles record: 1-0 Robinson
Another hotly contended first round matchup in Ota will see a match that was originally scheduled for the Tokyo Dome this year as Juice Robinson faces KENTA. After recovering from a fractured orbital at the hands of the BULLET CLUB member in December, Juice has been competing in the tag team scene in the United States, where he and David Finlay have made waves in IMPACT Wrestling. In Robinson’s view, FinJuice should have been doing so as back to back World Tag League winners and IWGP Tag Team Champions, but KENTA put paid to that last December at the Budokan.
With a shot from the briefcase he had earned during the US New Japan Cup, KENTA ruined FinJuice’s dreams of back to back WTL wins, and now enters his first Japanese New Japan Cup hoping to score a win here as well. A hard fought, violent loss to Jon Moxley over the IWGp US Heavyweight Championship on NJPW STRONG now behind him, can KENTA bounce back by not becoming the champion of the United States, but of the world?
NIGHT 4: March 7, Yamanashi
Hiroyoshi Tenzan (11th entry, 3rd consecutive) vs Will Ospreay (2nd entry, first in two years)
Yamanashi sees a tough challenge for Hiroyoshi Tenzan as he faces the leader of the United Empire in Will Ospreay. At New Beginning in Nagoya on January 30, Tenzan lost the rights to his Mongolian Chops when he was defeated by Great-O-Khan. For the next month to come, he was the subject of humiliation at the hands of Ospreay and his crew, before finally snapping and reneging on the match stipulation on February 28 at Castle Attack. Then, a series of Mongolian Chope helped he and Satoshi Kojima to victory, and put him in danger of furious vengeance Sunday.
As NJPW’s newest faction is yet to attain its first material achievement, with both Jeff Cobb and Great-O-Khan losing successive NEVER Openweight Championship challenges, the United Empire is bound and determined to have one of its members win the New Japan Cup. Ospreay will be taking no chances against Tenzan, but will take great delight in defeating him.
Gabriel Kidd (2nd entry, 2nd consecutive) vs Zack Sabre Jr. (4th entry, 4th consecutive, 2018 winner)
After being granted a surprise entry into the New Japan Cup last year, Gabriel Kidd’s position in that tournament may arguably have been as a result of a pandemic depleted roster. In 2021 however, he has more than earned his spot as Kidd sits on the bubble of Dojo graduation. Should he beat his countryman ZSJ in Yamanashi, he would certainly earn that right, but that’s a difficult task indeed.
Kidd and Sabre met three times in the UK, before Gabe began his NJPW journey. Now one on one in a NJPW ring, can Kidd show ZSJ the benefit of his hard work in the Noge and LA Dojos? Or will Sabre, refocusing on singles competition, breeze through the first round?
NIGHT 5: March 9, Okayama
Yota Tsuji (2nd entry, 2nd consecutive) vs Yuji Nagata (14th entry, 3rd consecutive, 2007, 2011 winner)
The next first round match in Okayama sees another Young Lion in Yota Tsuji step up to Yuji Nagata. Winning the unofficial ‘C Block’ of G1 Climax 30, and constantly performing impressively, Yota Tsuji seems more than qualified to break free from his Noge Dojo standing. Ordinarily this would mean an excursion overseas, one that Tsuji wants to take with CMLL, but as travel situations worldwide are affected by the ongoing COVID pandemic, Tsuji might look to take plan B. Plan B in this caser would be throwing all he has behind beating Yuji Nagata in round one in Okayama.
While the odds certainly tip in favour of Blue Justice, there is no guarantee of victory for the veteran. Could Tsuji shock the world?
Tomohiro Ishii (13th entry, 6th consecutive) vs SANADA (5th entry, 5th consecutive)
Singles record: 2-1 Ishii Cup record 1-0 Ishii
Tomohiro Ishii heads into this first round matchup with the historical edge over SANADA, but with a decided physical disadvantage. In a losing effort to Jay White at Castle Attack, White brutally punished Ishii’s ribs making it hard for the Stone Pitbull to draw breat through the majority of the match. While a late draw helps Ishii by granting him nine days rest, the ribs may be the focus of Cold Skull in Okayama. SANADA lost to Ibushi in a battle for the double IWGP titles at New Beginning; a match that started questions over whether the LIJ member was capable of a win with the lights on brightest of all. Could he silence those doubts by winning the New Japan Cup for the first time?
Night 6: March 10, Kyoto
David Finlay (first entry) vs Chase Owens (2nd entry, first in two years)
Singles record: 1-1
David Finlay goes into his first Japanese New Japan Cup with a track record to be proud of from last year’s New Japan Cup USA. Though he lost to winner KENTA, Finlay made the finals of that tournament, and his first step on the path was a victory over Chase Owens. Owens seeks revenge then, and a replay of his 2019 upset over Juice Robinson; can Owens bounce back from his OSAKA defeat at the hands of KOPW 2021 holder Toru Yano, or will Finlay step closer to his first singles gold in New Japan?
YOSHI-HASHI (8th entry, 7th consecutive) vs Yujiro Takahashi (11th entry, 2nd consecutive)
Singles record: 2-1 Takahashi Cup record 1-0 Takahashi
The first singles meeting between YOSHI-HASHI and Yujiro Takahashi in over six years comes after a New Japan Cup 2020 that both would rather forget. Yujiro had a quick exit at the hands of Hirooki Goto last year, while YOSHI-HASHI would advance in the tournament only to suffer a knee injury at the hands of eventual winner EVIL.
It was after the Headhunter returned from said injury however that YOSHI-HASHI put together an impressive game plan and finally combined his heart and effort with results to win the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championships. Though he and Hirooki Goto came up short Sunday in Osaka with the IWGP tag titles on the line, YOSHI-HASHI would like nothing more than to show he is capable of competing with the best in a singles environment. Can he do that by beating Yujiro here tonight, or will the Tokyo Pimp have more heart in Kyoto?
Toa Henare (second entry, first in two years) vs Jay White (first entry)
After vanquishing the demon that was Tomohiro Ishii at Castle Attack, Jay White left Osaka this weekend brimming with confidence for what he’s calling the New Jay-pan Cup. Certainly he is one of the favourites in the entire tournament, and the heavy favourite against Toa Henare. Yet to completely discount Henare would be doing the Maori Warrior a grave disservice. 2020 was set to see Henare’s first ever singles main event in the first round of the New Japan Cup, but instead the COVID-19 pandemic saw his cup hopes dashed as he sat on the sidelines. While he returned for World Tag League in 2020, Henare had a difficult time teaming with Hiroshi Tanahashi, and hasn’t been seen since Wrestle Kingdom.
Yet Henare takes every gap between matches seriously, and uses it to train diligently. He’ll be more than ready for this bout against his countryman in Kyoto. Could he do the unthinkable? Or will White emphatically prove that it’s still his new era?
FIRST ROUND BYE: Hiroshi Tanahashi (12th entry, 7th consecutive, 2005, 2008 winner, NEVER Openweight Champion)
As NEVER Openweight Champion, Hiroshi Tanahashi joins EVIL in beign given a first round bye, and will meet the winner of Jay White and Toa Henare on March 15 in Korakuen Hall. After retaining his title on Sunday against Great-O-Khan, Tanahashi would state that his mission going forward would be to elevate the prestige of the NEVER Openweight Championship to the same level as that of the IWGP title. With that championship evolving into the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship, could Sakura Genesis see a champion versus champion main event between two former tag partners in Ibushi and Tanahashi? Time will tell.