[Please note: to save time, I will review only the tournament matches themselves, and split them into various sized chunks. So here are seven first round matches, which took place over days 1, 2, & 3.]
Following two special kickoff matches on the 49th Anniversary event, New Japan Pro Wrestling’s (NJPW) annual tournament, the New Japan Cup, begins in earnest. Six tournaments matches will take place across the first three nights: on night one, Bad Luck Fale will face historic tournament spoiler, Toru Yano, before multi-time former winner Hirooki Goto, battles Taichi; on night two, well-worn veterans Tomoaki Honma and Minoru Suzuki will battle, followed by old rivals Juice Robinson and KENTA will contending against each other, before two pre-tournament favourites collide as Kazuchika Okada and Shingo Takagi go to war in the main event; for night three, young lion Gabriel Kidd looks to upset the technical wizard Zack Sabre Jr., and Will Ospreay battles Hiroyoshi Tenzan in a first round match.
+ Shingo Takagi vs Kazuchika Okada (New Japan Cup 2021 First Round Match): unsurprisingly Shingo was fantastic, and Okada was better than last year by far, but the Money Clip experiment is a resounding failure. Every time Okada goes for it, even when it is the finish of the match, the live audience loses all interest, and I personally just dread the idea of the match ending that way. This was great, and probably the best match of the first round so far
+ Minoru Suzuki vs Tomoaki Honma (New Japan Cup 2021 First Round Match): this was objectively not a flashy match, but god damn I got a kick out of Honma’s guttural growls as he and Suzuki just exchanged wickedly stiff shots to each other’s chest and face. This had all the making of a lacklustre dad fight, but Suzuki is something special, and Honma was significantly better than anybody would have expected from him
+ Taichi vs Hirooki Goto (New Japan Cup 2021 First Round Match): as a fan of both of these guys, I really enjoyed the back and forth action here. The crowd was in a frenzy, and surprisingly mostly evenly split, and popped (in clap form) for all of Goto’s big moves. I do really like Goto, so I understand completely. Taichi is a mixed bag, and I often say it takes certain opponents (read: Ishii) to bring out the best in him, but I think Goto was just as good for Taichi as some of those opponents are
– Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs Will Ospreay (New Japan Cup 2021 First Round Match): maybe I missed an announcement somewhere, but why is Tenzan using the Mongolian Chops again already? He used it recently, and I was sure that the gist of it was that he would be disqualified. but apparently not. This match was nothing special overall, and seemingly only served to end this TenKozy/United Empire rivalry, one way or another
– Gabriel Kidd vs Zack Sabre, Jr. (New Japan Cup 2021 First Round Match): two things are true here: (1), this was objectively the biggest match of Kidd’s career; (2), Gabriel Kidd has absolutely zero chance of winning this. With that in mind, this was really good, and can only be a sign of bigger and better things to come for Gabriel Kidd. Sabre did as Sabre does, and the match was fine, but nothing special
– Juice Robinson vs KENTA (New Japan Cup 2021 First Round Match): I never really noticed the size difference here, and so Juice really looked like a monster in there against KENTA, including a huge, Kane-style powerbomb. Something about this match didn’t quite click for me, so it was only ever good and not great, especially considering these two were supposed to battle at Wrestle Kingdom before those plans were altered
– Bad Luck Fale vs Toru Yano (New Japan Cup 2021 First Round Match): this was mostly comedy, and while it was not all terrible, I still think it was good to get this one out of the way early
> maybe I just never noticed before, but at least Juice Robinson and Shingo Takagi seemed to have slightly remixed entrance music, and I finally got a good listen to Will Ospreay’s new United Empire song
> I have nothing against Gabriel Kidd, but the fact he (as a young lion, be it junior or heavyweight at this stage) was in the tournament and SHO was not, after having one of the best matches against Shingo last year is a bummer
Should you watch this event: Shingo/Okada was always going to be a must see match, but it was Suzuki/Honma that really surpassed all expectations. All of the positives above are worth watching, and maybe even Kidd/Sabre and Juice/KENTA if you like those guys. Otherwise, you know the drill: all the matches will be better than these.