Need to catch up on the first part of the biggest New Japan Cup of all time? Or perhaps you just want to compare opinions on what we’ve seen so far? Well, here are my six favourite matches from the first round.
6. Chase Owens vs. Juice Robinson – Night One
When Chase Owens gets a rare opportunity to shine in a singles match, he always seems to deliver, but this may just be his best match in NJPW to date. It seems as though these two were intent on completely destroying each other in this highly violent match filled with dangerous spots. After several gasp-inducing moments and captivating false finishes, the whole entertaining encounter was capped off by a surprise victory that will hopefully lead to more chances to shine on a bigger stage.
5. Zack Sabre Jr. vs. EVIL – Night Three
Since 2018, ZSJ and EVIL have developed quite the rivalry, having a series of great matches with each other, and Zack sending some wonderfully inventive insults over to the LIJ member. This first round New Japan Cup match centered around the two foes exchanging a series of counters with each other, attempting to better the other man and prove they were the more skilled, the result of which was great to watch from start to finish.
4. Kazuchika Okada vs. Michael Elgin – Night Two
When it comes to big main event matches, hardly anyone in the world can come close to the masterful performer that is Kazuchika Okada. Along with being a fantastic wrestler with all the athletic gifts any competitor could hope for, The Rainmaker has the aura of a superstar surrounding him when he crafts these epic masterpieces. Whilst this is probably not the best Okada will be able to offer us in the tournament, it is still a solid example of why he is one of the greatest wrestlers of this generation.
3. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Shota Umino – Night Three
Simple pro wrestling storytelling at its best. Two men at the opposite ends of their careers, each with more to gain than just advancing through the tournament with victory. Umino, the rookie, aiming to get the biggest upset victory in NJPW history. Tanahshi, the veteran, determined not to lose against a plucky underdog, otherwise his reputation would be in shatters.
Although the match is limited by the range of a young lion’s moveset, it is certainly not limited when it comes to excitement and drama. There is a false finish towards the end of this match which elicited a reaction that will cover your body in goosebumps. A master and a rookie colliding in one of the best young lion bouts you will ever see.
2. Kota Ibushi vs. Tetsya Naito – Night Three
Of all the first round matches that were announced prior to the tournament, this was certainly the most anticipated. The fact that one of these two top stars had to leave the tournament at the very first hurdle is shocking, yet it certainly did make for a great match.
At the beginning of the year, there was serious concern that Ibushi would no longer be a part of the New Japan roster, but in February those worries were kicked away when he announced that he would be staying with the company full time. And now, with him seemingly committing to NJPW permanently, it seems more likely than ever that he could go on to capture the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, a journey which all starts with this brutal bout.
Naito vs. Ibushi will leave you entertained and probably clutching at your neck in pain. The amount of times each man is dropped onto their head in such a small period of time during this match is both concerning and strangely thrilling. It’s two of the best in the world trying to pretty much destroy each other, and it makes for fantastic viewing.
1. Tomohiro Ishii vs. Yugi Nagata – Night One
It was clear from the main event of the very first show that we were in for one hell of a tournament.
Tomohiro Ishii seems to have chemistry with everyone he comes into contact with, being able to adapt to a multitude of styles and sizes. When he goes up against Yuji Nagata, you know they’re going to deliver a pure slug fest, and this first round match may just be the best encounter they’ve ever had.
Going back-and-forth with a multitude of stiff strikes and shots from bell to bell, Nagata and Ishii beat the absolute crap out of each other in the most entertaining way possible. Two ultra tough veterans determined to exhibit their stone-hard wills and burning hot fighting spirit, neither willing to stay down without one hell of a fight.
If you love physical, brawling fights, you absolutely need to watch this. The crowd explodes throughout marveling at these two warriors physically brutalizing each other, and you can’t help but get swept up by it. No doubt we will still be talking about this one at the end of the year.
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