NJPW New Japan Cup First Round Matches on March 11 & 12, 2017
Nagoya, Japan – Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium / Amagasaki, Japan – Amagasaki Baycom Gymnasium
New Japan Cup First Round: Tanga Loa vs. Yuji Nagata
Nagata replaced Honma in this First Round match. This was the opening match of the tournament. Dare I say, it was pretty good. No commentary elevated it because of the banter taking place. Loa was screaming left and right. Whether it was the fact he’s Bullet Club, so he doesn’t have to abide by the rules, or generally screaming in Nagata’s face (eventually getting a fired up retort), it added to his influence as a performer beyond “second to Tama”. It went over 10 minutes but stayed basic. Tons of back and forth until my heart nearly stopped due to a near fall. I thought, in that split second, Nagata would be losing this match. The world didn’t end though when Nagata got all his trademark offense in, then hitting a backdrop suplex for the win to advance in the Cup. Decent work.
New Japan Cup First Round: Tama Tonga vs. Toru Yano
Not only is Toru Yano king of the “short match”, but when we approach any given tournament season, and Yano is in it, I get AMPED for every match he’s in. I think back to his matches vs. Tenzan and vs. Styles in different G1’s, and how he had one of the best few minute matches I’ve seen vs. Naito in last year’s New Japan Cup. This match was awesome for the few minutes it got as expected. It’s literally spotfest, but in the Yano way. Every single time there’s minor twists put on Yano’s typical spots to keep you on your feet. On top of this we also got the playing scared interactions we get from these two every time out. As for Yano’s tricks, this time the turnbuckle spot didn’t work out, and neither did the low-blow attempts, but Yano had to hide behind the referee, launching him forward to get another shot at a low-blow, which he landed. 1-2-3, Yano advances for the second year in a row! I love Yano in tournaments. I will say this everytime I review a tournament match of his.
New Japan Cup First Round: Bad Luck Fale vs. Michael Elgin
Side note: these Cup matches fly by fast. Time is an illusion when you’re watching New Japan. We’ve had midcard combos, The King of the Short Match advance, and now a hoss battle for some extra variety. This felt like a 5 minute match, but stretched out to just over 10. It was a simple story. Who was stronger? Fale was on the offensive for a while, then Elgin would come back with shock and awe spots, like rag-dolling Fale in a German suplex. Some convincing near falls such as the standing splash helped add a little spice onto this. The deadlift apron-to-ring suplex was teased but never hit, because Elgin cares about his health. After a surge of offense, Fale hit the Samoan Spike for…..the…..win?!?! I didn’t expect that at all. An awesome shock finish for someone that remained unspoiled such as myself. This came and went at a blink of an eye but was enjoyable the whole way through.
New Japan Cup First Round: EVIL vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
This was obviously the match out of the pack that was going to take the main event build. This was, after all, the main event of Night 1. It delivered. Big (but not biggest) match Tanahashi came out to play with EVIL, who I thought was set to lose in his first round match. This combined so much of New Japan’s main event formula together that it nearly became a full on spectacle. What started as a slow traditional main event build became balls to the walls both guys try and cheat to win. It was tons of fun down the stretch. Tanahashi’s first attempt at a key to victory was by working over EVIL’s legs with slingblades. Unfortunately not a lot came out of that except for EVIL selling well for a while. The momentum kept building and building, to the point where we got three separate ref bumps. Highlights included Tanahashi hitting High Fly Flow to the outside, EVIL’s first attempt at an STO getting stuffed which led to an epic strike exchange, the valley driver near fall that caused the arena to explode a little bit, EVIL locking in a sleeper which led to two near falls, a choke out tease and a kickout (EVIL pinned Tanahashi after letting go of a submission, something more wrestlers should do), and Red Shoes being so committed to his bumps. Not even chairs, EVIL’s forte, were enough for either guy to win, as Tanahashi took a shot at EVIL’s back during the match as well. Finish saw EVIL spray mist into Tanahashi’s eyes, leading to an easy STO and victory to advance to the second round. Very well built match that told a sound story like any possible Ace main event would. They protected Tanahashi up until the blinded finish rather than have EVIL win without any other circumstance. This way, it can set up an EVIL run powered by him still managing to sneak out a cheat win vs. The Ace. The only negative is that, as resident limbwork mark of WWW, I must complain that there wasn’t more done about EVIL’s leg.
New Japan Cup First Round: Yujiro Takahashi vs. Juice Robinson
This over delivered. It was worked for the soul reason of “elevating” Juice on a tournament level. Yujiro brought (not Mao to the venue) all the offense needed to get a win, but it still wasn’t enough to beat fired up Juice~! It was kept tight at around 10 minutes, but it accomplished what it should have. Lots of near falls with Juice kicking out of multiple Yujiro staples including a reverse DDT and fisherman’s suplex. Juice would squeeze in offense only to be beaten down again. The match built to Juice overcoming Takahashi, hitting Pulp Friction for the victory and to advance to the second round. Effective tournament contest that jump starts a feel good Juice run while sacrificing someone of little value.
New Japan Cup First Round: SANADA vs. YOSHI-HASHI
I banked on these two to have a killer match on their night, and they did just that. It was a perfect balance of two wrestlers wanting to make a bigger name for themselves, matched up in a first round predicament. Lots of desperation was on display, with Skull End having been locked in, but HASHI fighting through it in an awesome minute long spot, finally dangling his foot on the second rope. In a “taste your own medicine” spot, SANADA found himself trapped in the Butterfly Lock twice, having to also dangle his foot on the rope. Aplenty near falls to go around too, with YOSHI getting a lot more offense in–swanton, neckbreakers, etc. Both the Karma and TKO were never hit, as the match was based around submissions and fast paced work. SANADA applied the Skull End for the victory and to advance to the second round. Highly enjoyable match that extracted some main event level elements to a 10+ minute first round tournament match.
New Japan Cup First Round: Minoru Suzuki vs. Katsuyori Shibata
The match became a large disconnect from what I saw as a goldmine in the buildup, to what occurred in the ring. I’m still trying to figure out what the disconnect was, but this match wasn’t nearly the epic I was expecting, although still good. Looking at it, I sound spoiled, because we ended up getting a lot of what was teased, but all the spots/animosity/Shooters™ segments in the match didn’t feel out of this world great. Suzuki controlled the match from the outset, spilling out to the outside, and having Taichi do his dirty work while distracting the ref. When we got back inside there was a laundry list of hybrid counters and submissions, plus a lone German suplex from Shibata. A lot of the match wasn’t memorable, but I enjoyed the long forearm trading spot that had to last over a minute. The finishing sequence was good with sleepers being traded only for Shibata to pull a death valley bomb out of his pocket, then hitting a PK for the win and to advance to the second round. Sadly this was yet another Suzuki match that wasn’t as great as it could have been. I’m not enjoying the NJPW in ring return of Suzuki too much.
New Japan Cup First Round: Kenny Omega vs. Tomohiro Ishii
If you noticed how I promoted our NJ Cup bracket post, or have been around me in general, you realized how much I appreciate this match finally happening. Two of the best clutch workers in the world, two of the best big match workers in the world, just, two of the best clashing in a match that hasn’t happened yet! Oh my god. It really did come to life. It was even better than I could have imagined. These types of matches are so hard to put into words, because they’re just god-tier. You blend two of the best salesmen in wrestling and you’ve already got a great match. You add a great crowd. You add all the teases and counters to signature moves. You add Ishii on an arch of getting more and more angry. You add the storyline of Omega seeking revenge, but having to go through hell in his first tournament match. So much more, and I can’t help but freak out in this splurge review. The match was by far the longest one in the tournament’s first round, but the two kept such fine attention to detail (like they both usually do, but upped even more so) that time flew by. A LAUNDRY LIST of highlights included Ishii hitting a hurricanrana, Kenny hitting a DDT on Ishii and Ishii selling it to the point where he landed on Omega in a pin position, an ushigoroshi being hit but both men falling half-dead because of their injured body parts affected, and I’m going to safe the rest for me freaking out about the finishing sequence. Ishii’s arch as alluded to saw him not be able to gain fully charged fighting spirit. He’d break down, work through the pain, come back with all his lariats and glory, but still be exposed for not taking the match all the way. We got a sequence of the year contender with Ishii trying to hulk up, dangling on the ropes, getting superkicked, only to bounce off the ropes and miss a lariat, only to collapse on a V Trigger, ONLY TO KICKOUT. PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING IS THE BEST. Ishii was pissed so he resorted to spit, an elbow, a flying knee, and a Sliding D. Still not enough. This transcended space and time when Ishii went for a headbutt but his neck gave out before he could make any contact. That is the one element I adore more than anything else in the art: attention to detail/selling/continuity. These two would continue such in wounded warrior fashion. Elbows were traded with commentary screaming 1-2, 1-2! One Winged Angel got countered so many times, as it was never hit, but the absolute best counter was Ishii hitting a FUCKING STUNNER. An enzuigiri caught Omega onto the ropes and he also got a huge headbutt. The crowd lost their shit as Omega proceeded to kickout of a lariat. Finally a brainbuster was hit for the 1-2-3 and for Ishii to advance to the next round. Holy. Shit. I didn’t mention a laundry list of other things like a closed fist punch coming out in both’s rage, and, to extend on an aforementioned point, the struggle of the One Winged Angel being hit, with the story of the finish being told parallel to the Okada Wrestle Kingdom match. Everything about this was out of this world. From the selling to the facial expressions to both possessing their big match traits, to Ishii getting increasingly mad, to both putting on MVP performances, and so on. I love this match. You need to watch it ASAP. Attention to detail y’all. It works everytime.
The rest of the tournament:
EVIL vs. Yuji Nagata on March 13
Bad Luck Fale vs. Toru Yano on March 14
Winners face each other on March 19
Katsuyori Shibata vs. Juice Robinson on March 15
Tomohiro Ishii vs. SANADA on March 17
Winners face each other on March 19
The winners of each bracket face off in the finals on March 20
After the first round exits, who’s your current pick to win the 2017 New Japan Cup? Sound off in the comments below, or Tweet us @wrestlewords.