[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 entire second round of the tournament, which took place over days 5 to 8.]
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 moving into the second round include the NEVER Openweight Champion Will Ospreay, Tomohiro Ishii, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada and Kota Ibushi. After a little bit of ‘trimming the fat’, so to speak, the second round is ready to kick things into another gear.
+ Minoru Suzuki (w/ TAKA Michinoku) vs SANADA (New Japan Cup Round 2): the long history between these two was at the forefront of the story telling, and the match was good as well. It did take me a little bit to get into it — roughly the half way mark, or so — but once it kicked up a notch, it didn’t let up. If it was SANADA who won, then I hope he goes all the way. If it was Suzuki, then of course I am okay with that, because Suzuki is terrifying and amazing
+ Colt Cabana vs Toru Yano (New Japan Cup Round 2): this was the comedy match I thought we would have got in the first round, but they saved it for here, and it was just fantastic. The comedy was funny, and the wrestling was well done, so really this had it all. I’m shocked that I liked it so much
+ Zack Sabre Jr. (w/ TAKA Michinoku) vs Kota Ibushi (New Japan Cup Round 2): this was really good. A rematch from lat year (in the second round again, no less), these two once again gave it their all. Ibushi’s striking is just at a level above everyone else, and Sabre’s style just fits in with the NJPW roster so smoothly. It’s been a few years now, I think, since ZSJ joined Suzuki-gun, and I can’t say how much I have turned around on him. I still hold out hope that we’ll see an Omega/Ibushi or one more Golden Lovers match in NJPW one day
+ Lance Archer vs Will Ospreay (New Japan Cup Round 2): really good, especially from Archer, which was a bit of a surprise from a tag team specialist. Archer is just the most recent for the ‘giant slayer’ thing Ospreay has going for him, and while the winner may not be a surprise, how it happens was well worth the journey. Archer pulled out all the stops, including perhaps the highest and hardest chokeslam I may have ever seen (and I’m a huge fan of Kane, so just think how many that must be). Ospreay also looked good, but that is to be expected, and this was another really good second round match
+ Taichi vs Tomohiro Ishii (New Japan Cup Round 2): absolutely fantastic, which frankly is not something I thought I’d ever say about a Taichi match, and especially not when it was well and truly 50-50 as to who should get the credit. Taichi was absolutely on fire, in front of this bipartisan crowd, but as always I can’t help but love Ishii when he does that black, ‘are you kidding me’ stare and stands firm against whatever strikes are thrown. This was great, and easily one of the matches of the entire tournament
+ Chase Owens (w/ Jado) vs YOSHI-HASHI (New Japan Cup Round 2): neither of these guys are particularly known for the epic, main event style matches, which made this unexpectedly good. Owens is always a solid hand, and he really knows how to play to the crowd to get himself hated, but this proved to be one of YOSHI-HASHI’s better matches. The winner sets up an interesting match in the next round
– Ryusuke Taguchi vs Hiroshi Tanahashi (New Japan Cup Round 2): I’m sad to say, Tanahashi here is going back to that same, boring dude I couldn’t stand in the first half of the G1. Obviously he turned it on for the second half or so, but this match did nothing for me, and frankly it was almost entirely Tana’s fault. Taguchi looked great as the experienced underdog, but this match never seemed to click
– Mikey Nicholls vs Kazuchika Okada (New Japan Cup Round 2): this was easily the weakest of the first half of the second round, thanks mostly due to the simple fact that Nicholls was literally never a chance to beat Okada (which hopefully doesn’t count as a spoiler). There have been upsets in the tournament, sure, some even coming in this round, but this was never going to be one of them. Okada looked good, Nicholls looked okay, but I just had no investment in this match
Should you watch this event: I can hardly believe that my two least favourite matches involved arguably the two biggest stars in NJPW right now, Kazuchika Okada and Hiroshi Tanahashi, and while that may be more on their opponents, it still takes two to tango. With the field being whittled down even more, this was a good round, but never quite great, except for Taichi/Ishii, which may be the best match of the tournament.