After a surprisingly fantastic show in Day 1, and a follow-up card for Day 2 which was good enough, we’re already halted at the final train station for the 2016 New Japan Cup finals. We’ve had good matches, we’ve had short matches, and we’ve had upsets along the way, which brings us the final 4 of Michael Elgin, Hirooki Goto, Toru Yano, and Tetsuya Naito. The winners of the semi-final matchups will face off in the main event of the show to see who wins the New Japan Cup…as things will get interesting quickly with the post-match promo from whomever wins. Naito has already said he’s not challenging for anything if he wins. With that being said, with a fairly “per-usual” card sans the Cup bouts, let’s see if New Japan can continue to deliver as we’re already in the third month of 2016.
Ah yes. The customary young lions opener that energizes the crowd and potentially big fans at home. In case you missed the stats, Jay White was up in the ‘televised match’ series 3-1. Although not nearly their best singles match together, this was still a fun watch as per usual, not going long, and the fact the guys manage to mix it up quite a lot adds to the “not wanting to shrug when this is on my TV” factor. There was less submission based offense this time around, with lots of brawling elements added in instead. Uppercuts galore mixed with one guy getting worked over at a time until they went all out. We got some solid near falls with roll-ups, which led to Jay White transitioning an O’Connor Roll into a single leg crab, which then was changed to a double, which then he executed his knee to the face crab for the tap out victory. Finlay keeps choking in these openers. White continues to prove that he’s the master of the Boston Crab, not David.
I was more interested in petting my dog than watching the match at the time. What did you expect? Whilst I saw this as filler, a lot in the live crowd took this in as a grand time to be had, and you can’t fault a card for having something like this on it. The main highlight of the match was Tiger Mask pulling out a Tope Suicida on Liger. The Liger/Tiger match series may still have some legs. Juice did well, as did Captain being ‘comedic’ (I say that loosely) relief. We got a good near fall from Juice and Captain in the closing stretch that had elevated drama on the roll-up because of Captain recently winning a match. Juice still kicked out however, and tapped out Captain with an Anaconda Vice. Liger and Tiger, to no surprise of mine, did indeed have a mini standoff. Juice and Liger celebrated to cap things off which would always be a cool sight in my mind. P.S., Tiger Mask may or may not still be holding the NWA World Jr. Heavyweight Championship. Put 2 and 2 together.
The CHAOS vs. Ingobernables de Japon feud continues. Sometimes the best things are done in short bursts. This tag was an extension of said feud going on, and the Tomohiro Ishii and EVIL interactions proved they aren’t done just yet. The first part of the tag saw heat get put on the YOSHI-HASHI hot tag, filled with good time workover as I like to call it. Whenever EVIL gets to tee-off on a chair-ridden head, it’s a great time. The finishing stretch saw lots of Ishii and EVIL hoss sequences, and even better, EVIL selling at large for the best YOSHI-HASHI lariat I’ve ever seen, and an Ishii one on top of that. That wasn’t enough however, as the Ingobernables and their EVIL (no pun intended, or maybe) ways helped them win this time. Out of nowhere on a bounce back Ishii offense attempt, EVIL tackled the ref, BUSHI hit a Tope Suicida on YOSHI-HASHI, and Ishii was hit with a lariat of EVIL’s own followed up by an STO for the victory. After the match, a little bit of a beatdown commenced with EVIL holding the ROH Television Championship hostage. Could we see a defense in Japan for Ishii? Interesting.
For all people want to critique the usage of Yano, when it comes to big moments and matches in tournaments, he’s the go to guy for drama in matches. That’s what happened here, and I am legitimately giving a literal minute match ***1/2. It told the story of Yano’s entire tournament, and continued on Naito’s path to potential gold all whilst condensing it into one extremely short match in which I bit for every pinfall that occurred. Yano attacked Naito from behind whilst his YTR theme played in the background and Naito was in the corner — Naito being blindsided when he was most tranquilo, and Naito kicked out, even out of the means Yano beat Kojima, the hair pull roll-up! Naito got rammed into the exposed turnbuckle, and kicked out. Naito was rolled-up after being low-blowed behind the refs back yet he dragged the ref with him knowing that this was going to be the case. Naito then executed his jackknife roll-up for the win. You could not have told a better story in a minute or two.
Although not as short as aforementioned beautiful simplicity, this match told a similar story with a bit of a broader storyarch. Elgin from the start knew that Goto has been getting cheap wins, and that knowing he is the strongest man on the roster, he needed to pull out everything as soon as possible to try and pin Goto. We got a rolling senton off the apron, the vintage delayed suplex, 2 German’s and a Tiger Suplex, the top rope Falcon Arrow, as well as the Buckle Bomb — but just when he was about to hit the final blow, Goto managed to turn the match around with a headbutt counter to Elgin’s lariat. Elgin tried to hit the same lariat yet again but Goto caught the arm and turned it into the flash roll-up he likes to use for the pinfall (update: Goto Ni Shiki). Hirooki Goto vs. Tetsuya Naito is your 2016 New Japan Cup final.
Oh, and comm. pointed out how Goto won NJC qualifiers w/out using his normal finishers, reflecting his new "a win's a win" attitude.
— E. Key Oide (@e_key_oide) March 12, 2016
This match was used as rocket fuel to propel Satoshi Kojima and Katsuyori Shibata into 2016 rivalsphere. That is A-OK in my book, and when you added in well done Taguchi comedy and grumpy Tenzan trying to fend that off plus serve as an in-betweeener for Kojima and Shibata, you got the beginnings of money printing. The in-ring was not all that much except for literally all Shibata and Kojima interactions. We got separation between the two yet so much content to take in. For example, Shibata would continually boot Kojima off the apron, and when the two finally met in the ring, Shibata was able to counter Kojima’s top rope elbow ritual out of hatred Shibata ended up being taken out with a 3D, and Taguchi was pinned after a Koji lariat, making Kojima look strong. What also did such was the fact that during post-match, Satoshi Kojima laid out Katsuyori Shibata with a lariat! 2016 ladies and gentlemen. Kojima is coming for the NEVER Openweight Championship. Invasion Attack is already shaping up to be one helluva card. Props to our own Izzac for predicting all of this.
There are times where a match just makes you think to yourself: “wrestling can be damn cool sometimes.” This was one of those matches. It wasn’t blowaway in-ring, it didn’t advance any particular stories or title feuds, but it was simply a unique and fun watch — especially in the grand spectrum of things that NJPW multi-mans tend to be. Between all the unique dynamics in the match, which were way more enjoyable than on first thought of the match on paper, this was that one word descriptive: unique. Between Sakuraba playing hide and seek with Nakanishi’s large body, Okada grappling it up with both veterans, and Sakuraba pulling out a plancha at the end of the match, hitting such on Nagata — I’m glad I stayed up for this show, and this was one of the reasons, even with the star rating taken into consideration. The sequences that had me most giddy were that of Manabu Nakanishi and Kazuchika Okada. Nakanishi has allocated a constant soft spot in my heart, and I will never mind watching him try his hardest, although I know he should be retired by now. It took way longer for Okada to do his signatures than expected, but after very good reversals of momentum, Okada hit his dropkick/elbow drop combo followed by a Rainmaker for the win. Also, I really enjoyed how we got a first Okada comeback complete with a DDT, but not fully capitalized on as we didn’t get the full package until the finish. The IWGP Heavyweight Champion is a complete performer, but not near-perfect just yet.
They needed to put a co-main event on paper, so they put together this. It’s ironic how Yujiro’s been in all of Tanahashi’s lax matches as of late, however, it makes complete sense that the stable feuding with Great Bash Heel for their tag belts are here. This was the definition of an average match. It did a lot of solid and a whole lot of nothing at the same time. Tanahashi managed to be the star of the match sans Honma even though still keeping it limited, because of what he got out of Fale this time around again. Honma from beginning to end was the main focus, it was as always the underdog story being told. A hidden gem of the show was the fact that Tama Tonga did exactly what he could have done to make a basic segment of the match more interesting — steal a photographers’ camera and take pictures whilst the faces were being beat down. The finishing stretch was fun, with Tanahashi taking out Yujiro and Fale with a High Fly Flow, and Tonga pinning Honma after catching him in a Gun Stun — even after Honma delivered a rocket Kokeshi and regular Kokeshi. After the match, Bullet Club cleared house, including Fale hitting the Samoan Spike on Tanahashi. The big takeaway here was the fact that Tama Tonga announced his ‘mystery’ tag team partner who will be challenging Great Bash Heel for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships at Invasion Attack. It’s his brother, otherwise known as Camacho from WWE or Micah from TNA.
Everything continues to slip away from Hirooki Goto. This match continued the narrative that Goto is a choker, that Goto will never be a solidified top guy, that Goto will never be as good as Naito or as Los Ingobernables. The story of the match saw Goto use everything in his arsenal from multiple Ushigoroshi’s to the Shouten Kai to desperation offense staying alive; yet Naito still managed to overcome the obstacle that is “Mr. New Japan Cup.” At times I doubted the main event was doing much for me, and at times I really enjoyed it, therefore I’m about in the middle of the conversation. What really mattered was the finish, the finishing stretch, and the build to big moments. I expected Naito to get pinned with the Shouten Kai, not kick out. I expected Goto to use his new ‘Goto Ni Shiki’ roll-up, but he never did. They went the honest way with the main event, where in-ring action triumphed all, and the best man won. However, at one point, Los Ingobernables did interfere, but Goto was able to at least fend EVIL off. Another big moment saw the avalanche Ushigoroshi in use, but guess who still won? Goto gave everything, but Naito managed to pin him after a Destino reversal to what would have been a second and definitive Shouten Kai. I’m not going as longform as I did for Ishii vs. Naito because that was so much more complex. Although the Goto story continues to be told, it’s still hollow on many fronts, and the main event was very moves based — and what we were about to find out, was that the post-match was much more important anyways.
And it indeed mattered more than the main event. So many webs come out of the fallout of the tournament. The Ingobernables beatdown Goto after the match which led to Okada making the save as well as a handshake between the two. Okada tricked Naito into doing what he wasn’t going to do, challenging him at Sumo Hall for Invasion Attack. The match is seemingly set, but don’t count on it until it’s officially announced. My bold prediction is that Goto is going to be involved in said main event, maybe even aligned with Naito. This show was entertaining and still felt short even though it clocked in at exactly 3 hours. All the tags were enjoyable and had a purpose as well as a definitive ending. The New Japan Cup semi-final matches were good-great, with Yano and Naito pulling off one of the best 2 minute matches ever, then came the main event and the finals, which told a good story, had solid in-ring action, but most importantly; the aftermath setup much more than a title shot would in theory. I love this current version of New Japan. Tonight setup Ishii vs. EVIL for the ROH World Television Championship, Katsuyori Shibata vs. Satoshi Kojima for the NEVER Openweight Championship, Camacho & Tama Tonga vs. Great Bash Heel for the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship, and presumably Kazuchika Okada vs. Tetsuya Naito for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Invasion Attack is just under a month away, and it looks to be a great one.