[Please note: due to moving house and having no internet, I am incredibly behind. To save time, I will review only the tournament matches themselves, and split them into as big a chunk as I can. So here is the first half of the first round, which took place over days 1 and 2.]
New Japan Pro Wrestling’s (NJPW) annual openweight tournament the New Japan Cup is upon us, and for the first time 32 men will fill out the tournament brackets, with the winner receiving a IWGP Heavyweight Championship match against current champion, Jay White, at the Madison Square Garden joint-show with Ring Of Honor. Entrants on the first two days include the hard hitting Tomohiro Ishii, long time rival Juice Robinson, longest reigning IWGP Champion Kazuchika Okada, and the current NEVER Openweight Champion, Will Ospreay, so White could be in for a huge title defense in only his second outting.
+ Mike Elgin vs Kazuchika Okada (New Japan Cup Round 1): these two were given the extra long ‘main event’ style match, and for the most part it was well worth it. These two have had good chemistry in the past, and a few old-school stylings from Elgin helped differentiate it from their previous affairs, but it was the classic go-tos that made it all the more exciting. This was great, and most definitely the best match of the first two days
+ Yuji Nagata vs Tomohiro Ishii (New Japan Cup Round 1): to say this lived up to the hype would be an understatement. A bloody mouth, and beaten up chest and what is sure to be a sore back when they wake up tomorrow are just some of the things on display from both men in this brutal strike-fest. Ishii will always be one of my bois, but dammit if Nagata isn’t just something special, even as he hits his fifth decade on the planet. This was everything you could ask for out of a main event, and it’s almost a shame it was in the first round
+ Chase Owens vs Juice Robinson (New Japan Cup Round 1): this was really good, but frankly I think it was slightly dampened by just how good Taichi/Honma turned out to be before it. There was one English speaker in the crowd who was being an incredibly obnoxious jerk to Juice, but it did at one point play into the match, so I have to give props to Juice and Chase for their improv skills. Juice is an early favourite, and frankly my dark horse to win, so I really enjoyed this match
+ Taichi vs Tomoaki Honma (New Japan Cup Round 1): I am genuinely surprised at how much I liked this match. Honma pulled off some incredible stuff considering his injury – and I know I harp on about it, and he wouldn’t be wrestling if it was unsafe, but I still get that uneasy feeling every time he gets in the ring
– Bad Luck Fale (w/ Jado) vs Will Ospreay (New Japan Cup Round 1): truthfully, this never really clicked for me, and I can’t even really say why. Osprey is so successful that it’s not really fair to call him an underdog, even against someone the size of Fale, and Fale plays best when he can just rag doll his opponents and look dominant, which he can’t really do against the NEVER Openweight Champion. I don’t know know what it was, but maybe the winner will have a bigger role to play in the future
– HIKULEO (w/ Jado) vs Mikey Nicholls (New Japan Cup Round 1): fresh of his requested release from NXT, Mikey Nicholls (aka Nick Miller of TM61) returns to NJPW to face off against the “little brother” of the G.O.D. Unfortunately, HIKULEO is impressive in size, not skill, and Nicholls is above average in skill, but below average in size. The relative new-ness of both men meant there little emotional investment in this match, and frankly it never got above “okay”
– Lance Archer vs Toa Henare (New Japan Cup Round 1): Henare has been on a roll lately, but I can’t say that Lance Archer was a good opponent to show off his strengths (which include his literal strength). Archer looked good as a monster, but Archer will never be a top singles guy, so it was a strange match up, which I can only assume will mean bigger things for the winner in the next rounds
– YOSHI-HASHI vs Yoshinobu Nakanishi (New Japan Cup Round 1): I don’t even know the last time I saw Nakanishi in action, certainly in a singles match. This was not a particularly good match, but it had a few really good moments between the monotony
Should you watch this event: With an even split of good and bad across the first two days, it is the easiest of answers: just watch the good ones. The results in these tournaments are the most important part, unless you are a fan of one of the match participants, but otherwise just stick to whatever I rate a positive.