On June 16th, New Japan Pro Wrestling returned to action with the New Japan Cup.
No fans were in attendance, however the hard-hitting action of strong style was back on our screens, with the tournament winner being crowned the number one contender for Tetsuya Naito’s IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
The round of 32 and half of the round of 16 are now in the books, and this week will see the tournament ramp up.
The round of 16 concludes this Wednesday July 1st, with the quarter-finals on Thursday July 2nd, followed by the semi-finals on Friday July 3rd.
The finals will take place at Osaka-Jo-Hall on Saturday July 11th, and the winner will face Naito for the IWGP Championship the very next day on Sunday July 12th at Dominion.
The 32 initial entrants have now been whittled down to 12, and in this preview we’ll be looking at the four matches that will generate the remaining quarter finalists.
Taichi vs. Kota Ibushi
Both Taichi and Kota Ibushi defeated their opponents tag team partner to reach the last 16.
Kota Ibushi defeated Zack Sabre Jr, whilst Taichi defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi. This was considered a big upset with “The Holy Emperor” Taichi beating an eight-time IWGP champion in Tanahashi. Undoubtedly, this was the biggest victory of Taichi’s career.
Known as “Dangerous Tekkers”, Taichi and ZSJ (Zack Sabre Jr) have been a thorn in the side of Ibushi and Tanahashi, since the latter won the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships from the Guerillas Of Destiny earlier this year.
Despite being a tag team champion, Ibushi has had a rough year. After winning the G1 Climax in August 2019, he failed in his attempt to wrestle the IWGP Heavyweight championship from Kazuchika Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 14, before falling to Jay White the following day.
With a tag team championship match on the horizon for “Dangerous Tekkers”, expect Taichi to pick up the victory here to build that match further.
Predicted winner: Taichi
Sanada vs. Sho
In the 2019 New Japan Cup, Sanada reached the final of the tournament before falling to Okada. Sanada is a stablemate of Naito within Los Ingobernables De Japon, but has threatened to break out on his own over the past year or so, partly because of his performances in the 2019 New Japan Cup.
On top of this, Sanada defeated Okada during the 2019 G1 Climax, and unsuccessfully challenged for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship against Okada in the fall of 2019. But he is getting closer each time. His time will come.
For Sho, reaching the last 16 of the tournament is an achievement in itself. For the past seven years he has been a tag team wrestler, in the junior heavyweight division as one half of Roppongi 3k.
In a 32-man tournament, it is unlikely Sho would even make the field usually. However with Covid-19 restricting the foreign stars from participating, more junior heavyweight wrestlers have made the cut.
Sho achieved the greatest victory of his career in the first round with victory over NEVER Openweight Champion Shingo Takagi, another member of Los Ingobernables De Japon (LIJ).
This was the biggest upset of the first round; a real bracket buster which sets Sho up for a title match against Shingo in the future.
For this match, Sanada challenging his stablemate Naito for the IWGP Championship is an intriguing prospect. He should win handily enough here, avenging fellow LIJ member Shingo Takagi’s defeat in round one.
Predicted winner: Sanada
Yoshi-Hashi vs. Bushi
Another match, another LIJ member! Bushi defeated Yoh, the other half of Roppongi 3k in round one, whilst Yoshi-Hashi defeated the legendary four time IWGP Heavyweight champion Hiroyoshi Tenzan.
Whilst Bushi is a former IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion, neither man has held any other championship of note within NJPW. It is unlikely that the winner here will be progressing beyond the quarter final stage.
For Yoshi-Hashi, he will be looking to get revenge for his CHAOS stablemate Yoh and reach the quarter final stage for the second year running.
Predicted winner: Yoshi-Hashi
Hirooki Goto Vs EVIL
LIJ and CHAOS will battle again in the final, and most intriguing of the remaining last 16 matches.
For Hirooki Goto, this is familiar ground. Having won the New Japan Cup three times in 2009, 2010 and 2012, he has also been a losing finalist on three occasions since.
Goto has enjoyed a career renaissance of late. Having struggled for victories in both the New Japan Cup and G1 Climax showcase over the past several years, he returned for the 2019 Climax leaner than ever having trained in the LA Dojo under the tutelage of former rival Katsuyori Shibata.
Picking up big victories over the likes of Jay White, Jon Moxley and Tomohiro Ishii, Goto has the form and the pedigree to go all the way in this tournament.
Standing in his way is EVIL, “The Prince Of Darkness”. Whilst EVIL has signature victories over the likes of Okada and Ibushi, he has fallen down the pecking order over the past year or so, in particular behind his tag team partner Sanada.
Expect EVIL to pick up the win here, to give us another LIJ VS CHAOS clash in the quarter finals.
Predicted winner: EVIL
It should also be noted that the official website says a “special match is planned for the event”, suggesting the four bracket bouts will be joined by an intriguing bonus. A big tag match? A title contest, perhaps? We can’t wait to find out!