Thursday, March 22, 2018

NJPW New Japan Cup Finals Review

NJPW New Japan Cup Finals
March 21st, 2018 | Aore Nagaoka Arena in Nagaoka, Niigata | Attendance: 3,996

I probably should have done my Semi-Finals review with the Quarterfinals. Ah, well. I’ll give quick thoughts on that before doing the Finals review.

Tanahashi/Juice: I thought they told a great story and Juice gave one of his best performances ever. I do think it suffered from the NJPW thinking of “longer match = better match.” It drags at points, keeping it from being truly great. Still, a very good match and another notch in Juice’s belt as a fast rising star. [***¾]

SANADA/Sabre: Like the other semi-final match, I do feel this went too long, at 26:40. I did enjoy how SANADA made it into a grappling battle, showing that he could hang with the best there. The crowd wasn’t as invested in this as you’d expect, which kind of kept it from being truly special. There were some great exchanges in this one, though too many dead spots held it back. Sabre eventually won via submission. [***½]

Shota Umino vs. Tetsuhiro Yagi
It’s the Young Lions. You know what you’re getting from them at this point. They bring a ton of fire and energy. Lots of hard hitting strikes, and two guys who brought everything they could to this match. Even with their limited move sets, they engaged the crowd. It was an even affair throughout, with an intensity that might not be matched on the rest of the card. Umino made Yagi tap to the Boston crab in 7:40, which makes sense since Umino has been quite good lately. A fun opener. [**¾]

Taichi vs. Tomoyuki Oka
Since becoming a heavyweight, Taichi has been surprisingly better. However, that was in matches against the likes of Hiroshi Tanahashi and Tetsuya Naito. Here, he worked a young lion and toyed with him. It was a good idea since Oka brought a lot of energy in his attempted comebacks. This just wasn’t a very strong performance from Taichi. It wasn’t as bad as his junior heavyweight stuff either, though. He got the win with a superkick in 7:05. Decent. [**]

Bad Luck Fale, Tanga Loa, and Yujiro Takahashi vs. Michael Elgin, Toa Henare, and Togi Makabe
Tokyo Latina was here and she looked incredible. She was the best thing about this. It’s weird watching Michael Elgin and I just can’t get invested in his stuff. Nobody really brought any effort, except Henare. However, I missed watching his battles with Ishii. They need to go against each more often. As stated, there wasn’t a lot of effort in this and Tanga won with Ape Shit in 9:54. It happened. It was inoffensive, but is an easy skip. [*½]

The Killer Elite Squad vs. Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano
Ishii and Yano have been a steady team in NJPW whenever Ishii isn’t on a singles run. Anyway, Archer was on fire with the antics here. He had a blast spitting water on the crowd and messing with them. At one point, he rubbed an elderly woman’s towel on his crotch. Ishii got to bring the babyface fire against his larger opponents, which works. That, combined with the antics of Archer and Yano, made for a fun match. Davey looked much better here than in the singles match with Yano. The closing stretch lacked something, before Yano fell to the Killer Bomb in 12:59. It probably went a bit longer than it had to, which showed in the final few moments, but it was mostly fun. [**¾]

David Finlay and Juice Robinson vs. Hirooki Goto and YOSHI-HASHI
I’ve really been enjoying the Finlay and Juice team. This was a fluid match with some quality action. Goto and YOSHI worked well together and cut the ring in half on Finlay. Juice got to come in with the hot tag, which is something he does well. He’s on a great roll and it carried over here. Everyone was good in this, but Juice felt like the star. He scored a huge win by planting Goto with Pulp Friction in 10:23. That puts him in line for a shot at a title he came close to winning last February. This was the best thing on the show so far and featured four guys putting in strong performances. [***¼]

BUSHI, Hiromu Takahashi, SANADA, and Tetsuya Naito vs. IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Champions El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru, IWGP Intercontinental Champion Minoru Suzuki, and Takashi Iizuka
This seems to be building towards Suzuki/Naito for the IC Title. It’s not at all where Naito should be right now, but that sounds great. More importantly, it sounds fresh. Where the last match was a lot of action, this was more about mind games and brawling. These are two rule breaking, cunning factions and it shows in their matches. Suzuki-Gun was in control for most of this, showing that they’re the leaders of this domain. There was an interesting note of how Naito would jump on the grenade for his guys and take Minoru’s torture instead of them. Minoru took him into the crowd for a fight, which left SANADA to beat Iizuka with Skull End in 12:45. A good little brawl that helped build the next faction feud. I’m all in for Suzuki/Naito. [**¾]

Post-match, BUSHI and Hiromu attacked the Jr. Tag Team Champions, only for Roppongi 3K to hit the scene and clear out both teams. It seems like we’re getting the three way rematch come Sakura Genesis.

Chase Owens and Kota Ibushi vs. Chuckie T and IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada w/ Gedo
Owens and Ibushi have formed quite the team on this tour. They typically have good matches and solid chemistry. As for the CHAOS team, give me this Okada more often. He looked like he was out there having fun now. Anyway, Chase has been doing all he can to Package Piledriver Okada, which played a role here. Every combination in this was fun, from Okada and Ibushi being great to Owens’ desperation against Okada, to Chuckie being a blast, especially against Ibushi. In the end, Chase came close to beating Okada once or twice, but ended up tapping to the cobra clutch in 11:57. Better than expected, thanks to everyone putting in the work. I liked most of the interactions and this was the most likable Okada has been in a long time. [***¼]
New Japan Cup Finals: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Zack Sabre Jr. w/ TAKA Michinoku
Sabre beat Tanahashi in his G1 debut (****¼), but Tanahashi got his win back with the Intercontinental Title on the line a few months later (***¾). This was the definition of a chess match in a wrestling ring. They brilliantly played off their previous matches. Sabre knew what to target, going after Tanahashi’s battered arm and transitioning to the leg to neutralize things like the High Fly Flow. Tanahashi had his own plan, taking to Sabre’s legs. Sabre’s been a cocky little shit during this tournament and I loved how he cut off Tanahashi’s attempts to be the brash one, like he did when Tanahashi tried to skin the cat. Tanahashi’s comeback was great, aided by his continuous selling and Sabre’s growing aggression. It was as if Sabre got angrier and angrier when his offense wasn’t enough to keep the ace down. Sabre not having a specific finisher established added a lot, as almost any submission he puts on after a certain point feels like it could be the end. My favorite spot was probably Sabre stepping out of the dragon screw into the European clutch pin. Tanahashi doing the pin back to him was great, too. In the end, Sabre’s technical acumen was too much and he trapped Tanahashi in a position he couldn’t escape, forcing him to submit at 34:02. This never felt long, had a great pace to it, and every little thing they did made sense. There was tons of drama and I love that, despite Suzuki-Gun being cheats, Sabre did this entire tournament with no help. Incredible. [****½]

After the match, Sabre made it clear he was coming for Okada and the IWGP Heavyweight Title. I don’t think Okada’s reign is in danger, however, Sabre makes for the most interesting opponent for Okada since Shibata challenged him after last year’s New Japan Cup. Sabre has been spectacular in 2018 and he’s different enough that it should make the title defense a special one. 

Overall: 7.5/10. An enjoyable show from top to bottom, with only the Elgin tag sticking out as something you should skip. There are some decent matches on the undercard, though it continues to be stuff that you could miss and not feel like you’re really losing anything. Still, the Naito/Suzuki interactions and the Ibushi tag were worth it, as was another outing by the Juice/Finlay team. The tournament finals were fantastic and one of the best matches NJPW has put on all year.