The New Japan Cup is rattling toward its thrilling conclusion, with live English coverage in Sendai on March 20 and 21. It’s no surprise then, that a look back through this week in history should turn up all manner of memorable moments from the spring classic tournament. Let’s take a look.
March 13, 2019: Dangerous T
‘Taichi go home’ had been the rallying cry for years for fans, as the self professed ‘Holy Emperor’ bullied the junior heavyweight division, antagonising every single one of his opponents, only to bail from the ring and seek any way of avoiding confrontation when things got rough. After transitioning to heavyweight however, things began to change, as ‘Taichi go home’ chants would be followed by a small but growing riposte of ‘let’s go Taichi’. It was his New Japan Cup 2019 match with Tomohiro Ishii however, that made those ‘let’s go Taichi’ chants not just the catchphrase of the contrarian, but an unironic encouragement.
Taichi trained by All Japan Pro Wrestling stalwart and notorious tough man Toshiaki Kawada, would move to NJPW in 2008, the midst of challenging times for New Japan. Taichi would later declare that his move made him one of the ‘four black saints’ who took the chance to move to NJPW during the difficult period, joined in those ranks by Milano Collection A.T., Tomoaki Honma and, his Cup opponent here, Tomohiro Ishii.
Taichi would claim that he never got the crowd respect and admiration he deserved, while Ishii would maintain that he had to fight and scrape to be in the position he reached. That resulted in a series of intense bouts between the two, the first coming here in Okayama.
March 14, 1986: No love lost on White Day
Long before the New Japan Cup was established in 2005, spring still saw a battle for power and supremacy within New Japan Pro-Wrestling. New year Dash in 1986 saw the return of several big names to NJPW looking to prove themselves. Led by the likes of Yoshiaki Fujiwara and Akira Maeda, several wrestlers had split from NJPW just over a year prior to form the upstart UWF promotion, and returning to their alma mater, were determined to show how competitive they could be against the promotion they had arisen from.
Through the year opening tour, the UWF wrestlers were pit in a mini league against one another, with the winner given a shot against Antonio Inoki. Fujiwara would be that winner, but the match with Inoki would end in controversial and hotly contested form on February 6. With much still to settle, the two groups were set to clash in elimination action on March 26, with this March 14 Kagoshima six man battle providing a preview. Fujiwara, Maeda and Nobuhiko Takada would each go on to become driving forces in the emergent world of mixed martial arts in the 1990s, but right now had their hands full with Tatsumi Fujinami, Kengo Kimura and Kantaro Hoshino.
March 15, 2015: Golden Cup
2015 had started with a loss for Kota Ibushi, opposite Shinsuke Nakamura at Wrestle Kingdom 9, but it was the first step in an explosive early part to the year. An intense period for the Golden Star had seem him return from an injury that had cost him the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship and much of the summer of 2014, only to turn heavyweight, all while wrestling with dual NJPW and DDT contracts. Resetting after the Tokyo Dome however, Ibushi set his sights on the New Japan Cup.
Driven to become the first since the tournament’s inception to win on his first try, Ibushi would get past both Toru Yano and Doc Gallows, to face Tetsuya Naito and Hirooki Goto in the same night in Sendai. Naito, a contemporary and friend (at the time) of Ibushi’s, was seeking his own means to reset, while dealing with rejection from crowds and disappointment in the win:loss column. In a phenomenal semi-final however, Ibushi emerged on top; he then had to contend with three time winner Goto.
Goto had no easy path to his fifth NJC final, having to contend with Yuji Nagata and best friend Katsuyori Shibata en route to Sendai, and then putting Togi Makabe away in eight hard hitting minutes before the main event. Goto had the edge in tournament experience, but the drive of the Golden Star was ultimately unbeatable.
March 19 2017: Bite meets fight
The true fighting spirit of a man. That’s what Katsuyori Shibata vowed to show in the 2017 New Japan Cup, and that was borne out in his campaign. With a tough draw of Minoru Suzuki in the first round, Shibata was able to move past the King, and, days later, Juice Robinson as well.
His semi-final opponent was a man he knew very well. When he and Tomohiro Ishii first met during the 2013 G1 Climax, the fireworks were instant, and extremely explosive. Intense G1 bouts joined extremely physical wars over the NEVER Openweight Championship in the coming years, creating one of NJPW’s hardest hitting and most vicious of rivalries. There was mutual respect between the Stone Pitbull and the Wrestler, but all that would go out of the window when the bell rang, and the two bulls charged at one another with predictably violent results.