Thursday, March 3, 2016
Today, NJPW’s yearly New Japan Cup Tournament began. It’s a three night tournament featuring 16 participants. The winner gets a shot at the title of his choosing between the IWGP Heavyweight, IWGP Intercontinental and NEVER Openweight Titles. With no AJ Styles, Karl Anderson, Doc Gallows or Shinsuke Nakamura, the star power is lacking this time around, but it does open things up a bit. Add in the fact that you don’t have to challenge for the top title and it really gives it an (almost) anyone can win feel.
Before the show, there were three big announcements. One, Michael Elgin has signed a two year deal, which most of us knew already. Two, Katsuyori Shibata signed a contract and will no longer be a freelancer. Hopefully it leads to him getting very prominent roles for the rest of the year. Lastly, the Super J Cup will be returning later this year.
These are pretty much the worst two wrestlers in the tournament. At least Toru Yano can be hella entertaining. Yujiro Takahashi…not so much. Takahashi attacked Yano during his entrance. He beat him up outside for a bit but Yano is a tricky bastard. He ended up hitting Takahashi with a low blow and just beating the count back into the ring. This is how I want my Takahashi matches. The shorter, the better.
Fresh off of signing a two year deal with New Japan, it was pretty clear from the start that Michael Elgin was going to win this one. Hiroyoshi Tenzan is a legend but he’s past the point of really making an impact in this tournament, especially against someone like Elgin. They worked a good little match based around power. Elgin showed off some of his impressive offense and Tenzan got in hope spots. Commentary, even though I can’t understand them, did a good job of making close calls and near falls sound huge. When Tenzan applied the Anaconda Vice, you believed he might pull off the upset. Elgin put him and his mullet down with the Elgin Bomb. It’s amazing how things have turned around for Elgin thanks to his spectacular G1 run last year. Really good effort from both men in a match that ended up being way better than expected.
Here we had an interesting matchup. Togi Makabe is one half of the IWGP Tag Team Champions, which Tama Tonga has promised to come after alongside the new Bullet Club member, whenever he debuts. Tonga attacked before the bell, making the Bullet Club 2-2 in doing that tonight. We got a countout tease as he worked over Makabe. After some back and forth, Makabe looked to be on verge of a win. Tonga put the referee in harm’s way, which was enough to distract Makabe and allow him to nail the Gun Stun (complete with machine gun taunt in honor of Karl Anderson). He hit Veleno to score the biggest win of his singles career. It felt like Makabe was kin of going through the motions, but Tonga continues to impress me. His offense is just unique enough to stand out and he has the advantage of being Gedo’s favorite thing; a gaijin.
When the brackets for the tournament were first announced, this match stood out to me the most. I’ve come to really enjoy the work of both men and they delivered a strong match here. The crowd loves both men, so they were way into this more than any other match so far. They went back and forth with a bunch of near falls. Honma missed Kokeshi of course but still had an opening to win. He survived a big lariat from Kojima but eventually fell to a second one. It was the longest and best match on the show so far. I was surprised to see both Honma and Makabe fall in the first round. Anyway, this was a lot of fun and had a very hot crowd to boot. The final few minutes were pretty breathtaking. With the win, Kojima meets Yano in the next round.
Apparently, you’re only invited to this match if your name starts with the letter “K”. This is right in my wheelhouse because I love watching KUSHIDA mix it up with the heavyweights and I relish any chance to see Shibata kick the shit out of Okada. Shibata was great against both guys actually. An actual singles match between KUSHIDA and Okada would probably kick all kinds of ass. KUSHIDA’s counter of the Rainmaker into the Hoverboard lock is one of my favorite counters of that move I’ve ever seen. Sakuraba broke it up though, leading to Okada putting down KUSHIDA with the Rainmaker. A good match between four good performers. I really also like the flow of the show so far, with nothing lasting too long.
After the match, Kazuchika Okada gets on the microphone and directs his words to KUSHIDA. A video comes on the screen and it’s Will Ospreay! He announces that he’s the newest member of CHAOS and will be challenging KUSHIDA for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title on April 10th at Invasion Attack. Okay, that match alone has me sold on that show.
Right off the bat, I want to say that I disagree with the decision to have Goto win here. If they’re really going with the depressed angle for Goto, a loss here would have crushed him. He owns this tournament, having won it three times in the past. In typical Goto fashion, he lost every shot at the title coming out of it though. Hell, I would have booked him against Toru Yano and had Yano steal it from him, really stinging him. Goto was back in the white gear from New Beginning, but without the Hakushi paint. Anyway, the match featured some hard hitting stuff from both guys. Nagata even locked in his trademark armbar but it wasn’t enough. Goto put him away after Goto-Shiki. Solid match here. Goto will meet Tama Tonga in round two.
Tetsuya Naito, a heavy favorite to win this tournament, came out rocking a white suit. Personally, I’d like to see Naito take the IWGP Heavyweight Title from Okada at least by Dominion and carry it into Wrestle Kingdom 11. He’s been that good since the heel turn. YOSHI-HASHI is notoriously bland so I didn’t have high expectations. They managed to surprise me though. YOSHI did well and had more than a few moments where you actually believed he would somehow pull it off. BUSHI stayed out of it, which was good because Naito shouldn’t need help beating a lower card guy. Naito nails everything about his character. He just gets it and that was very evident throughout this match. He withstood everything YOSHI had and won with Destino. Better than I expected.
This was another match that stood out when the cards were announced. Outside of a match with Hirooki Goto, EVIL hasn’t had much opportunity to shine in a singles role. EVIL attacked before the bell, which Naito didn’t need to do because he was the favorite, which EVIL isn’t. He brought chairs into play, opening one on Ishii’s head and slamming a second chair into it. It was a great visual, especially seeing the chair fly off of Ishii’s skull. This was a great, hard hitting, good old fashioned hoss battle. It was the best work EVIL has done since becoming the new character and another in a long line of strong performances from Ishii. He defeated the Los Ingobernables member with the Brainbuster. Best match of the show and certainly worth a look. Ishii will now face Naito in the second round.
I feel like Bad Luck Fale is pretty underappreciated. He always catches flak as he’s a bigger worker that avoids flashy stuff. Sometimes he can be dreadful, but most of the time, he plays his role as a monster well. In the past, he’s had some strong matches with Tanahashi, even beating him in the past two G1 Climaxes. This was about what you’d expect from the two of them. They played the big man/little man dynamic, which they usually do rather well. The very protected Bad Luck Fall finish is something that Tanahashi was sure to avoid and he escaped it several times. He tried for High Fly Flow but Fale caught him in midair before hitting the Bad Luck Fall to win. He moves to 3-1 against Tanahashi in four solid matches. Tanahashi was an interesting draw in the tournament because he could either go out now like he did and rest up some ailments or he could have gone on to win and get a rematch against Kenny Omega. This opens the door for fresh possibilities. Fale will take on Tanahashi’s partner Elgin in the second round in what should be a fun hoss battle.
Overall: I’ll take nights like these every single time out. It’s the definition of an easy watch. Everything on the show is solid enough, with some things even being borderline great. If you can only see one thing from this show, I suggest EVIL/Ishii but the whole event is worth checking out. Hopefully, the rest of the tournament follows this format as I had a fun time watching night one.
The WWE announced some new programming for the WWE Network this year. The biggest news was the inception of the Global Cruiserweight Series, where wrestlers under 205 pounds from around the world will compete in a giant tournament of sorts on the WWE Network. Today's list features the ten men that qualify for the weight limits that I want to see participate the most. I'm not including any guys currently on TV, like Chad Gable. I'm also including some longshots but it's really a mixture of personal preference and possibility of appearing.
10. Alex Shelley/KUSHIDA
I’m kind of cheating with my first pick. I chose two guys and paired them up because of the fact that, not only are they tag team partners, but they’re also potential longshots to compete. KUSHIDA is currently the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion and is under contract to New Japan Pro Wrestling. He should anchor and fix their rather broken junior heavyweight division. However, on a personal level, I would love to see him involved in this, despite it being very doubtful. The same goes for Alex Shelley. I’m not sure if he’s under contract with NJPW, but he does work there sporadically while spending more and more time with Ring of Honor lately. He is pairing up with Chris Sabin again, leading to more Motor City Machine Guns fun. Either way, if any of these two, or both, would be able to find their way into this tournament, it would make for fantastic television. KUSHIDA has quickly become one of my favorite wrestlers, while Shelley has been high on that list since he caught my eye in the mid-2000s.
If I was making this list a few months ago, you would certainly not have found Kamaitachi on my radar. It was until the end of last year that he caught my eye after watching a great match against Dragon Lee in CMLL. Then, when CMLL and New Japan Pro Wrestling presented Fantasticamania, they had a rematch that ranks as my second favorite so far this year. Kamaitachi is a product of the New Japan Dojo. For those unaware, the graduates of the dojo work the undercard of NJPW shows, mostly jobbing to veterans. Once that’s over, they go on excursion and that’s what landed Kamaitachi in CMLL. Doing my research, he’s gone on to quickly make a name for himself as one of the best cruiserweights on the planet. That match I mentioned from Fantasticamania actually saw Kamaitachi become the World Lightweight Champion, adding an accomplishment to back my claim of him being one of the best in the world. Like some others on this list, he’s kind of a longshot to appear in the series, but it would be a ton of fun.
8. Rey Mysterio
With the recent news that Rey Mysterio would be interested in working with the WWE once again, this one is kind of a no-brainer. His last two or three years with the company were pretty lackluster and it ended with Rey seemingly being held hostage in his contract. He was finally rid of the WWE last February. Since then, he has worked for AAA, is appearing in Lucha Underground and a few other independent promotions. If he really does want back in with the company, the Global Cruiserweight Series would be an ideal way. Mysterio is, hands down, the most successful cruiserweight in WWE history. Not only did he win the Cruiserweight Title itself several times, but he also did things no other cruiserweight had ever accomplished. He’s won the Royal Rumble, the World Heavyweight Title, several Tag Team and midcard titles and would be the biggest name involved. He shouldn’t win the whole thing, but several solid performances and a hard fought loss to someone could make that person’s career. Even if he just showed up as an ambassador or a similar role, it would do wonders for this entire thing.
7. Will Ospreay
Flippy, high spot offense has never really been my thing. When I first heard about Will Ospreay he didn’t intrigue me. Then I saw him take part in Pro Wrestling Guerilla’s Battle of Los Angeles last year and came away less than impressed (which some people weren’t happy with me about). Then, I checked out Revolution Pro Wrestling. Ospreay is great there. I’ve watched him have great matches with the likes of AJ Styles and Marty Scurll and have grown to enjoy his work. PROGRESS is also a great place to check out to see the best of Will Ospreay. He’s one of the most exciting British wrestlers currently around. Already with about four years under his belt, Ospreay is just 22 years of age. It’s crazy to think that there are guys like Ospreay out there, who cite matches from the mid-2000’s as the reason for getting into the business. Ospreay is one of the few guys that retweeted the breaking news about the Global Cruiserweight Series, clearly showing that he’s interested. He did recently sign with New Japan but should still be a viable option.
I’d say Ricochet is pretty much the prototypical cruiserweight in the world of wrestling right now. Something about Ricochet just stands out but one specific trait ranks above all. He is the most athletic wrestler I have ever seen. He takes to the sky with an ease that is unmatched. I know Neville has the nickname, but gravity really seems to have forgotten about Ricochet. The guy has found success pretty much everywhere he’s gone. From smaller independent promotions to winning the Battle of Los Angeles in 2014 to success in Dragon Gate to winning the Best of the Super Juniors and IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Titles in the past few years to shining as the flag bearer for Lucha Underground under the guise of Prince Puma. I actually really prefer Ricochet as Puma. Something clicks better for him when he’s under the mask but either way he would show up, he’d be a welcome addition. I’ve heard he has a multi-year deal with Lucha Underground and he’s also gone on record to deny involvement in the Global Cruiserweight Series. Still, he’s been a freelancer for his whole career, so there is some hope held on that he could make an appearance.
5. Kyle O’Reilly
When it comes to the New Japan Junior Heavyweight division, I am no shy in voicing my opinions about it being incredibly disappointing. The two men who have delivered consistently for them are KUSHIDA and Kyle O’Reilly. I’ve mentioned KUSHIDA already but Kyle O’Reilly is just incredible. He’s currently one half of the best tag team in wrestling, reDRagon, and should be set for a Match of the Year candidate rematch against KUSHIDA at some point this year. He also has risen his profile in Ring of Honor, competing for their World Title on multiple Pay-Per-Views. O’Reilly would bring something different to the table than a lot of other cruiserweights, just like he does for New Japan. O’Reilly isn’t your typical high flying cruiserweight. He is more in the vein of guys like Chris Benoit and Dean Malenko in WCW, where they added an ability to bring technical expertise to a world of high flyers. Considering his deal with ROH, O’Reilly is another that doesn’t seem like a safe bet, but he would bring something special to the tournament.
Lucha Underground has quickly become my favorite pro wrestling program to watch in the entire world. One of the standout guys throughout both seasons so far has been Fenix. Not only is he one of the most incredible performers currently wrestling, he’s also insanely young, having just turned 25 at the end of 2015. It is actually remarkable to be as good as he is at his age. In the top ten of my giant Top 100 Matches of 2015 list, Fenix was the youngest competitor to appear (seriously, go watch that match with Mil Muertes). So far in season two, Fenix has spent most of his time wrestling someone his own size, King Cuerno. Their matches have been great and things like that are what we could hope for if Fenix found a way into the Global Cruiserweight Series. He was among the better guest performers in PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles last year. No matter how you slice it, Fenix is a guy that delivers almost every single time out. If the WWE had upped the weight limit to 215 pounds, I’d have added Pentagon Jr. to this list. As it stands at 205, Fenix should be the most sought after Lucha Underground property.
3. Manny Andrade (La Sombra)
Part of me feels like the Global Cruiserweight Series was born to make Manny Andrade a star. One of the biggest signings that the WWE has made for NXT, the former La Sombra has plenty of tools to become a star on his own, but this series could really help him establish himself. He’s been wrestling for about half of his young life already, making him something of an expert. He’s not your typical flashy cruiserweight easier. There’s more to him than meets the eye. The guy held the CMLL Universal Championship and was a founding member of Los Ingobernables, which now has Tetsuya Naito among it’s members. He was acquired by the WWE a while back but has yet to make his television debut. Andrade has been working the NXT live event circuit under his real name and this series later this year would be the perfect way to introduce him. I could see him winning it and immediately becoming a player on the NXT roster. Considering his placement in the company, he is almost a lock for this experiment.
2. Zack Sabre Jr.
The second I read about the Global Cruiserweight Series, my mind shot to Zack Sabre Jr. He’s a guy I’ve desperately wanted to come in and help the New Japan Junior division and I feel like he could bring the same shot in the arm to this tournament. Sabre is the best technical wrestler in the world right now. Think about this. Daniel Bryan won Wrestling Observer’s Best Technical Wrestler award for nine straight years. The man to end the streak? Zack Sabre Jr. There’s something about him that is just so captivating. There aren’t many guys that I can watch purely work the mat only and be completely enthralled. Add in his ability to seamlessly chain wrestle and deliver some surprisingly stiff strikes and you’ve got one of the best all-around performers in the world. Sabre could be the Dean Malenko of this tournament, only even better. He works for multiple promotions (RPW, PWG, Evolve) and even faced AJ Styles recently. The thing that stands out is his work for Evolve. Triple H has partnered up with them and Sabre was even featured on wwe.com last year. If anyone besides Andrade feel like a shoe in, it’s Sabre. They can’t possibly not include him. Right?
1. Kota Ibushi
Since he moved up from the Junior Heavyweight ranks to become a full-fledged Heavyweight in New Japan, it was hard to think about Kota Ibushi when the Global Cruiserweight Series was first announced. He actually didn’t even cross my mind until I read that he became a freelancer. Not being under contract to NJPW or any company opens things up wide for Ibushi. Despite being pushed as a heavyweight in recent years, Ibushi clocks in at under 205 pounds. He had one of the best 2015’s of any wrestler in the world, not just in Japan. His match against Shinsuke Nakamura was a MOTY contender and he faced a variety of opponents, almost always with great results. He is one of those guys that can be among the best strikers in the world, while rivaling someone like Ricochet in the athleticism department. I honestly feel like, while under contract with them, Ibushi was one of the three best performers in New Japan, even ahead of current champion Kazuchika Okada. If he or Sabre show up in this tournament, they could easily steal the show. The company could plan for La Sombra or someone else to win but if a guy like this catches lightning in a bottle, they could hear that fan reaction and change plans. That’s how good a guy like Ibushi is.