Welcome back to Sports Obsessive’s coverage of the New Japan Cup! If you’ve missed our previous tournament coverage, you can find them here:
Yuji Nagata, Gabriel Kidd, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kota Ibushi vs Zack Sabre Jr, Taichi, Minoru Suzuki and El Desperado
As expected, this match had the simple purpose of advancing the ongoing story between Golden Aces and Dangerous Tekkers. The majority of the in-ring action was fought between the two tag team championship rivals, with Zack and Ibushi providing an excellent exchange while Tanahashi and Taichi brawled throughout.
We also got another hard-hitting exchange between Yuji Nagata and Minoru Suzuki, reminiscent of their war from Night 2 of the tournament.
El Desperado eventually got the win for his team by pinning Gabriel Kidd. Kidd looked brilliant in defeat, taking both Desperado and Suzuki down for a brief period. I don’t think he’ll remain a Young Lion for much longer.
The brawl between Dangerous Tekkers and Golden Aces continued into the post-match, with the heels refusing to let go of a submission hold. This served its purpose extremely well; the title match is seemingly all but official for Dominion and has a strong amount of heat behind it. Good stuff.
Winners: Suzuki-Gun (Desperado, Sabre, Suzuki, Taichi)
Los Ingobernables De Japon (Bushi, Shingo, Naito) vs CHAOS (SHO, Goto, Ishii)
This was a pretty stacked 6-man tag team match, with all competitors being somewhat involved with each other. The primary focus of the match was the ongoing blood-feud between SHO and NEVER Champion Shingo, as expected. The two men tore into each other multiple times throughout, with SHO seemingly trying to match Shingo in his striking ability to prove his worth as a NEVER title contender.
Double champion Naito took a bit of a backseat in this match, not really having a lengthy period in the ring. He can somewhat be excused for that though. After all, his main focus will be the winner of the New Japan Cup.
SHO eventually got the win for his team, hitting the Shock Arrow on BUSHI. This gives him some more momentum heading into the inevitable title match against The Dragon.
The two heated rivals had an excellent exchange in the post-match, with Shingo once again seeming to deny his adversary an opportunity at his championship. SHO hit a spear after dodging Shingo’s attempt to hit him with the title belt. This was brilliant. I cannot wait for the rematch.
Winners: CHAOS (SHO, Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii)
Hirai Kawato revealed as The Grand Master
The series of video vignettes that have been played throughout the tournament finally culminated with the reveal of the Grandmaster – former Young Lion, Hirai Kawato!
The returning star came out to the empty arena and was attacked by Suzuki-Gun’s DOUKI. Yes, DOUKI. The man who was pushed aside in favour of Jado and Young Lions in the New Japan Cup bracket.
This felt quite underwhelming considering the amount of hype that was built up. But it could be the beginning of something bigger. So I’ll hold off on any major criticism for now.
We then had the intermission for ring cleaning.
EVIL vs SANADA
We then got to the much-anticipated semi-final between two of LIJ’s biggest stars, EVIL and SANADA.
The match began with SANADA offering the handshake to EVIL. The gesture was timidly accepted by EVIL, who then tried to take advantage and hit EVIL. A brief exchange of reversals followed, with SANADA trying to lock in the Skull End.
The action quickly spilt to the outside, with EVIL sending SANADA headfirst into the ring post while his head was trapped in a chair. This was a great way to continue the ruthless streak that EVIL has developed in this tournament.
Both men hit variations of the Magic Killer at points during the match – EVIL using the referee for assistance, SANADA using the ropes. This was a good little reminder that the two men are tag team partners and know each other extremely well as a result.
SANADA tried to transition into the Skull End multiple times as the match progressed, which is slightly annoying considering the number of tools he has at his disposal. It comes across as predictable and somewhat lazy.
We then got to the closing stretch. After many people (myself included) completely dismissed the possibility of anything major happening, we got the biggest shock of the tournament so far. EVIL sent his opponent into referee Marty Asami, knocking him to the outside. We then got the biggest turn in recent memory, as EVIL hit 2 low blows and the baseball swing chair shot on the man he had accomplished so much with. Everything came to an end with \EVIL’ intentions.
In one of the biggest shocks of the tournament, EVIL advanced to the finals, seemingly throwing the tag team with SANADA out of the window in the process. This was stellar. From the in-ring action to EVIL’s character development, everything was done well.
MAIN EVENT: Hiromu Takahashi vs Kazuchika Okada
This was easily a top-5 match of the tournament.
The majority of people knew that this was only going to end in one way. But Okada and Hiromu put on a clinic that made all of us believers in the Junior Heavyweight Champion. The Time Bomb showed incredible heart throughout, fighting back at everything Okada threw at him. He hit the Time Bomb and got heart-stoppingly close to advancing to the final.
As expected though, Okada eventually got the win. But Hiromu lost nothing in defeat, surviving multiple Rainmakers and opting to pass out in the Cobra Clutch instead of tapping out. Okada put him over in the post-match, admiring his fighting spirit and offering a future rematch.
So the final is set. Kazuchika Okada vs EVIL. July 11th.
I don’t think it would be hyperbole to say that this was the single best night of the tournament so far. Everything delivered in the way it needed to, the tournament matches told brilliant stories and we got a major curveball thrown in the form of EVIL advancing. I’m really looking forward to the tournament finals (and beyond) after the events of today. Nothing is as predictable as we first thought, it seems.
The MVP of the night (and tournament) goes to Hiromu Takahashi, who more than proved himself among the heavyweights throughout the tournament. I look forward to seeing what he does next.
Stay tuned as fellow Sports Obsessive writers, Chris and Conor, cover the rest of the tournament (and future events)!