Tuesday, March 13, 2018
Instead of spending time worrying about the mostly irrelevant undercards on these shows, I decided to do one big review of only the eight first round tournament matches.
This is a rematch from last year’s first round (**¾), which Juice won. According to Kelly, Yujiro has lost in the opening round in five of his nine Cup appearances. Yujiro took Juice to the mat and wore him down in the early stages. He came in with a plan and constantly cut off Juice’s comeback attempts. Like most good heels, Yujiro was more than willing to take a countout win. Juice was valiant and made it back to the ring. The fans rallied behind Juice. Each move got a great response. His gut buster looked great. Yujiro used the Yano special (low blow and cradle) for a near fall that the fans bit on. They also were shocked when Juice kicked out of a rough looking powerbomb/backbreaker type move. Juice came back with a powerbomb for two, before winning with Pulp Friction in 16:08. Better than I thought it would be. Yujiro did good heel work, though his heat segment lacked a bit. Still, Juice is a top notch underdog babyface and he got the crowd totally invested. Best Yujiro match in a while.
Though this tournament is typically one filled with upsets, many expected Ishii to make it far or even win. With the way they’ve built up Jay White driving a wedge into CHAOS and suggesting guys in there should go after Kazuchika Okada, it would make sense. Especially since Ishii is one of the few to beat Okada in the past two years. Anyway, these guys went with the kind of match I want from them. However, it was nowhere near the level of their excellent G1 25 bout (****½). They were evenly matched in some areas, but Elgin was clearly the stronger. Ishii refused to stay down as Elgin threw everything he had at him. There were several moments where it looked like Ishii was basically going to die. He took some scary bumps, including a Splash Mountain where he landed on his head. Even Elgin was concerned for Ishii’s health. He remained sloppy throughout, before winning with Burning Hammer in a whopping 29:07. Imagine thinking Elgin A) going over Ishii, B) in a thirty minute match, and C) in 2018, was a good idea. I swear, Gedo’s booking love baffles me. The match was good, though scary at many points. Elgin’s sloppiness was tough to get past. If you want to watch these guys kill it, check out 2015.
Both guys are capable of good singles matches, with the right opponents. They don’t feel like that kind of opponent for each other. Anyway, these guys went out and had a HOSS FIGHT. They brawled around the ring and into the crowd. I got a kick out of Archer busting out some Undertaker style OLD SCHOOL. His character work throughout this made it more fun than I expected. Fale eventually picked up the win with the Grenade in 11:02. I was impressed with this. It wasn’t some mind blowing match, but it was what it needed to be. Two big guys hammering away each other, with good character stuff from Lance to put it over.
This is Taichi’s second heavyweight singles match, and Tanahashi’s first since New Beginning. Tanahashi busting out some black gear is interesting. Maybe it’s like Hogan wearing black in 1995 to channel his darkness. Taichi played this wisely. He avoided contact early and even teased getting himself counted out. It’s an old school stall tactic, but one that worked for heat here. Once we moved past that segment, the match picked up. Taichi began showing off moves we didn’t get to see often when he was a junior heavyweight. It showed that there’s something more to him than we’ve come to expect. They made the fans believe in Taichi’s near falls, especially one that came after a low blow and rollup. Tanahashi hasn’t made it past the first round of this tournament in four years, so a loss is very believable. Tanahashi made the big comeback and won with High Fly Flow in 23:53. The best Taichi singles match I’ve ever seen. Slightly better than the Naito one. They told a very good story, with Tanahashi having to overcome his past demons in this tournament and Taichi throwing every trick at him.
Their G1 Climax match last year was good, but nowhere near great. This was much better. There was a sense of urgency behind YOASHI’s offense and it felt like he desperately wanted to get a big win. Ibushi is always reliable for a great big match, so I wasn’t worried about him. HASHI came across as a guy who was disgruntled. Like, at the world. He’s not as good as the top guys in NJPW and it bothers him. He threw everything he had at Ibushi, including busting out a Canadian Destroyer. Ibushi decided this arena had a balcony worth diving off, so he did a moonsault off one for the biggest high spot of the match. Though HASHI gave his best performance since the Omega match in the G1 26, the fans just never fully bought into him as a threat. The Butterfly Lock got less of a reaction than another guy’s submission would. He got many near falls, but fell to the Kamigoye after 22:33. Very good match and the best that YOSHI’s had in quite some time. Ibushi is on fire right now and seems incapable of having a bad match. Really strong back and forth stuff.
They are two of my favorite guys to watch. Their G1 match was very good (***¾). Sabre targeted the left arm of Naito, which made sense because it’s been the focus of recent Suzuki-Gun attacks and because it limits Destino. Everything Sabre did looked incredibly fluid. He transitioned into moves with the greatest of ease. He had Naito scouted so well, finding counters for all his signature stuff. Sabre added the legs to his focus, twisting Naito in absurd ways. Naito showed tons of fire and desperation. However, Destino was countered or block at every turn. That included two counters in the final stretch that led to Sabre applying a brutal looking submission to earn the win in 22:43. A fantastic match that played to Sabre’s strengths. It reminded me of his G1 outing against Tanahashi. Meanwhile, this was the best babyface work by Naito in a very long time. He nailed all the expressions, selling, hope spots, and desperation. Sure, he took HASHI and Taichi lightly, but has now lost another big match in 2018.
Okay, so this was exactly what I didn’t want it to be. I wanted one of two things. Either a Davey Boy win or for Yano to win in short order. That’s when Yano is at his best. He gets in, does his comedy, and gets out. When they drag his matches out past seven or so minutes, it gets rough. They did all the stuff you expect from a Yano match, except they made it last excruciatingly long. And it was all so Yano could win by countout at 12:52. Look, I enjoy Toru Yano. But this was too much. Arguably the worst match all year from any promotion.
A strange choice for a main event. Chuckie is not established in NJPW and is replacing Beretta, while SANADA is a Tag Team Champion. There was a bit of everything in this match. Chuckie showed a bit of his famous comedy side, they did some brawling through the crowd, and showcased mat work. Chuckie played the role of the aggressor from the start. I didn’t expect it, but was pleased to see it, as it allowed him to seem like a threat against his bigger star opponent. SANADA has been getting lots of pops lately, so him having to come back got a good reaction. Chuckie got very close on a flash pin and with the Awful Waffle. He escaped the Skull End, so when SANADA applied it again, he decided to let it go after a bit and resort to the moonsault to advance in 21:31. This was a good match. Some solid back and forth, with a good enough showing for Chuckie to establish that he can be taken seriously.
So, the first round is up. The quarterfinals are set up as Juice Robinson vs. Michael Elgin (in what world is that better than Juice vs. Ishii?), Bad Luck Fale vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (a favorite of Gedo’s that he uses too often), Kota Ibushi vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (their G1 match was incredible), and Toru Yano vs. SANADA (meh).
Overall: A mostly good first round of the New Japan Cup. I question several booking decisions (another Tana/Fale match and Elgin advancing), but all the matches cracked three stars outside of the dreadful Yano/Davey bout. Night three had the best two matches in Ibushi/HASHI and Naito/Sabre. Those are the only matches that felt like they were “must see”, but other than the one stinker, it’s worth checking out.