Full card revealed for Budokan event
NJPW will celebrate its 49th anniversary this Thursday in the historic Nippon Budokan with an incredible card that will see El Desperado face Kota Ibushi, as Ibushi walks to the ring for the final time as double IWGP Champion before the titles are unified under the World Heavyweight Championship umbrella. Plus New Japan Cup 2021 will get underway as the spring classic tournament gets started!
Main event: Double IWGP Heavyweight & Intercontinental Championships Kota Ibushi vs El Desperado
Singles record: 1-0 Ibushi
The main event sees a semi regular Anniversary Event tradition continue as double IWGP Champion Ibushi meets new IWGP Junior Heavyweight singles and tag champion El Desperado.
Sunday night at Castle Attack, Desperado completed a seven year journey to the top of his division; a journey that began with his opponent here tonight. It was on January 4, 2014 that the world first saw Desperado, coming down to the ring to issue a challenge to then new IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Ibushi. After Ibushi retained his title against Despe, the two formed an alliance of sorts with Desperado being a part of NJPW hontai before defecting to Suzuki-Gun where he really tapped into his true self.
Both men took unique routes to the top of their respective weight classes in the intervening years, but, said Desperado after a long journey, he now seeks redemption for that early career defeat. In fact, Desperado would ask Ibushi for a championship opportunity Thursday in the Budokan; after this bout was initially set as a special singles match, the champion asked for the belts to be put on the line one final time, and that will indeed happen tonight.
Yet while Ibushi was keen to sneer at Desperado Sunday in Osaka, reminding the masked man that he ‘sucked that night seven years ago’, it is a much changed man that stands opposite Ibushi tonight. After a king making performance albeit in defeat in the Best of the Super Junior finals in December in this building, Desperado is expected to bring the fight to Ibushi in the main event, and victory is not out of the question. With both men aggressive strikers with unorthodox wrestling styles, this is by no means a foregone conclusion. Ibushi has been the junior heavyweight in this anniversary weight class clash in the past; in Desperado’s debut year of 2014 in fact. Could he be the first heavyweight to be defeated? If so, from not having a match on upcoming tours just ten days ago, El Desperado could have it all and become the first IWGP World Heavyweight Champion.
5th Match: New Japan Cup 1st round: 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 smothering 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?
4th Match: New Japan Cup 1st Round: 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.
3rd Match: CHAOS (SHO, Tomohiro Ishii & Kazuchika Okada) vs Los Ingobernables De Japon (BUSHI, Shingo Takagi & SANADA)
The third match of the evening sees an explosive pair of previews for New Japan Cup first round matchups. On Sunday in Ota, Kazuchika Okada will take on Shingo Takagi, while Tomohiro Ishii will meet SANADA on March 9 in Okayama. All four men will be highly motivated going into the tournament, while BUSHI and SHO, both having come up short in IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship matchups this month, will want to rewrite their narrative for 2021, and put themselves next in line for new champion El Desperado.
2nd Match: Ryusuke Taguchi, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Toa Henare, David Finlay & Juice Robinson vs BULLET CLUB (Jay White, Taiji Ishimori, Chase Owens KENTA & EVIL)
The second match of the evening sees FinJuice, KENTA and Toa Henare all make their returns to Japanese competition in a ten man tag with plenty of consequences for the New Japan Cup. All eight heavyweights in this match are a part of the March tournament, with Tanahashi and EVIL looking to scout competition as they receive their first round byes. Who gains the upper hand as both teams jockey for position?
1st Match: Master Wato, Gabriel Kidd, Tomoaki Honma & Hirooki Goto vs Suzuki-Gun (DOUKI, Zack Sabre Jr., Minoru Suzuki & Taichi)
The night’s action will kick off with an eight man preview of the first round of New Japan Cup 2021. With Gabriel Kidd facing Zack Sabre Jr, Tomoaki Honma meeting Minoru Suzuki and Hirooki Goto set to take on Taichi in the first round, who will get the upper hand, and what lessons will be learned before the spring classic kicks off?