Saturday, March 11, 2017
It’s time for New Japan’s annual New Japan Cup Tournament. I only gave one match in last year’s tournament four stars, but it was still mostly an enjoyable set of matches. This year’s brackets look more interesting, though three of the most anticipated matches for me (Suzuki/Shibata, Ishii/Omega and SANADA/YOSHI) are on night two.
Like his brash performance during the anniversary shows, Kawato wanted to start things out for his team. It didn’t work too well as the heels took it to him. They made sure to knock Taguchi off the apron and prevent his tag. Kawato’s fire led to the tag eventually, which meant it was time for ass attacks and other Taguchi shenanigans. Kawato became legal again and picked up a few flash pins for near falls. There was an especially good one on a backslide following a Taguchi ass attack. Taguchi was taken out, leaving Kawato to lose to a spinning side slam of sorts. Typical NJPW opener. Taguchi was there to get the crowd going, Suzuki-Gun played their typical role and Kawato showed fire.
These are the kind of matches Oka must love. He gets to work with all the NEW JAPAN DADS. Well, except Nagata in this one. Tenzan and Nakanishi had an old man battle at the start, with Tenzan busting out Kokeshi to honor Tomoaki Honma. Oka got the tag and threw around Liger for a bit. Kojima got the tag shortly after and went wild on Tiger Mask. It’s funny to me that Nakanishi and Oka look like father and son. Or the past and future of one man. Anyway, Kojima beat Oka with a lariat. Another relatively fun tag, made more enjoyable by all the dads putting in effort.
Yujiro brought one of his finest ladies ever with him, though she had trouble walking in her shoes. This was here to hype Ishii/Omega tomorrow. The Bullet Club attacked before the bell but it didn’t lead to the typical brawl outside. CHAOS turned it around and worked over Omega. Yujiro got involved, so Ishii dumped him outside. He dismissed the hell out of Yujiro, which was funny. Still, the numbers game took over, allowing the BC to get the heat on Ishii. I liked that because Ishii is great at selling and garnering sympathy. Yujiro made the mistake of slapping Ishii around, Ishii beat his ass and tagged YOSHI, who came in hot. Like Ishii though, he fell victim to the numbers disadvantage. We got back and forth from YOSHI and Omega, which was fun. Omega got his knees up on a swanton before hitting the V-Trigger and One Winged Angel to score the victory. A nice jump in quality here. Yujiro was inoffensive and the other three guys were their usual fun selves. I’m so ready for Ishii/Omega tomorrow.
KUSHIDA and Takahashi opened the action, giving a preview of their sure to be upcoming Wrestle Kingdom rematch. Knowing Taguchi had success with it, KUSHIDA went for an ankle lock early. When they were done, everyone else got their turn. It led to fun interactions between Finlay & BUSHI, Naito & Juice (he said he’d use a NJC win to challenge Naito) and SANADA/Shibata. I realized it here but I’d be all for a Shibata/SANADA match at some point soon. Finlay came in hot near the end and got some help from Juice. Shibata saved Finlay from Skull End before several guys came in for big offense. BUSHI hit Finlay with MX and SANADA made him tap to Skull End. I say this was the best thing on the show so far. LIDJ always deliver here, though they’ve had much better outings than this one. Still, it gave us a preview of Takahashi/KUSHIDA and teased some other fun possible matches.
I know Okada’s the top champion but considering this match features Jado, Iizuka and Taichi, I’d have put the LIDJ tag as the first half closer. Suzuki-Gun jumped before the match began and everyone brawled outside. Suzuki himself took joy in choking Okada on the ramp. That left Gedo to take the heat for a while. Eventually, Okada made his way to the match and went at it with Suzuki. I couldn’t get excited for it since their match heavily disappointed last month. Things broke down before shitty Taichi fell to the Rainmaker. Ho-hum. These Suzuki-Gun/CHAOS matches don’t do much for me, like CHAOS/Bullet Club. Though this wasn’t bad, Suzuki-Gun has been a major disappointment since their return.
This is the first singles match of Tanga Roa’s NJPW career. Nagata is replacing the injured Tomoaki Honma. Five minutes into this match and you know what happened? A whole lot of nothing. Roa looked lost and had no clue how to fill time. Nagata got tired of his boring shit and fired up, demanding forearm strikes and dishing it back. Nagata hit the exploder but didn’t win with it and I cringed because it meant this would continue. He countered a clothesline into the armbar for the biggest pop of the match. He got two on a brainbuster before mercifully winning with the backdrop driver. Whoever thought Roa should work ten plus minutes is a moron. I’d have switched him with Tama Tonga. At least Tonga can work ten minutes and you could hide Roa in a two minute Toru Yano special. This sucked and was the worst NJPW match I’ve seen this year. I still might be generous with this score.
Tama Tonga attacked Yano during introductions and beat him with his own DVD. That’s just rude. We got fun Yano antics as he ran from Tonga and called BREAK a ton. Yano avoided the Gun Stun and hid behind the referee. He delivered a cheap low blow and rolled up Tonga to steal it. IT’S THE YANO G1 SPECIAL! This worked fine though as I said in the previous match, I’d rather Roa get this spot since he’s so bad. Yano was more entertaining than anything in the last match.
I rather enjoyed their quarterfinal match in this tournament last year and have it at ***. This one started solidly, with each guy testing the strength of the other. After a countout tease (a staple of New Japan tournaments), Fale took over and worked a boring heat segment. There wasn’t much of that in their last match. Elgin had the highlight of the match with an impressive suplex. Towards the end, he escaped the Grenade and got another highlight on a German. Fale managed to come back and win with the Grenade. Nowhere near as good as their match last year. Kind of lifeless, dull and plodding. Also, I know New Japan likes to keep Fale strong in tournaments like this, but Elgin could’ve used a strong run after losing to Naito.
Tanahashi has lost in the first round of the previous two New Japan Cups (to Yano in 2015 and Fale in 2016). Considering the men involved and their interactions on the 45th Anniversary Shows, I was pumped for this. Tanahashi came in with a solid game plan, taking EVIL to the mat. EVIL took things outside and used a chair to gain the upper hand. That allowed EVIL to wear Tanahashi down inside. Tanahashi went into a flurry of offense before missing a senton. His next rally saw him hit High Fly Flow to the outside. Inside EVIL crotched Tanahashi up top by shoving the referee into him. Those refs sure are lenient. EVIL used the chair again, but Tanahashi fired up and shoved the ref himself! He hit a neckbreaker on the chair but EVIL got his knees up on High Fly Flow. They traded blows before EVIL came close with a lariat and modified fireman’s carry. Tanahashi survived a submission before they went into a series of counters. He hit slingblade but EVIL did his best BUSHI impersonation and spit the mist. He followed with the STO for the upset. The best thing on the show for sure. They started slow but worked into a really good match with a nice underlying story. Tanahashi acted heelish and is now 0-2 in singles matches this year. It’s like you can see his frustration growing, which I could see play out over the year. It was a big win for EVIL and I appreciated that the match was different from standard NJPW main events with a lot of chair use and such.
Overall: To start this tournament, New Japan kind of shit the bed. The undercard featured some solid tag action that did the job they needed to, but none of it was bad. However, none of it stood out either. The major problem with this show (the worst from NJPW since Destruction in Hiroshima) is the New Japan Cup itself, which is the meat of the card. Three shitty matches capped off by Tanahashi and EVIL saving this from being a total wash. Watch the main event. Two tags are worth a look if you aren’t pressed for time but not must see. Night two does look better on paper though.