The madness of March can only mean one thing: New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) begins the annual tournament, the New Japan Cup, once again taking the form of an open-weight, single elimination tournament. On Day 1, the first half of round one will take place, amounting to eight matches on the show, where each winner will also already know their impending round 2 opponent. In the main event, the current IWGP World Heavyweight Champion will face the current IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, in a match often reserved for the Anniversary shows, as Kazuchika Okada does battle with El Desperado. Old friends turned rivals will battle in the semi main event, when Tetsuya Naito and Yujiro Takahashi face off, and two straight-laced fan favourites collide when Hiroshi Tanahashi battles the junior heavyweight up-and-comer, YOH. Rounding out the card, Taichi will look to end the run of notorious spoiler, Toru Yano before it begins; one half of the IWGP Tag Team Champions, YOSHI-HASHI, will face Tomoaki Honma, while the other half of the tag champs, Hirooki Goto, must contend with Yuji Nagata, and; one of the top favourites for the tournament, Jeff Cobb will battle Togi Makabe. Finally, kicking off the show, TAKA Michinoku returns to NJPW from Just Tap Out (JTO), to battle the GLEAT superstar, and well-traveled and worldly CIMA.
+ Kazuchika Okada vs El Desperado (New Japan Cup 2022 First Round Match): with the winner set to face off with Master Wato, frankly either decision would have made sense in the story. That said, I was absolutely 100 per cent behind my main man Despy, and that made this match something incredible. I was not a fan of the final minute or so, because I think it made both wrestlers come across very poorly, but overall this was a really good match
+ Tetsuya Naito vs Yujiro Takahashi (w/ Pieter) (New Japan Cup 2022 First Round Match): I was so much more invested in this match than I thought I would, thanks in part to a fun non-wrestling sequence in the middle (and it’s not often I would say that when a House of Torture member is wrestling). Gedo awaits the winner in the next round, which potentially made for a very interesting outcome were Yujiro to have won, and a certain destruction if Naito emerged victorious
+ Hiroshi Tanahashi vs YOH (New Japan Cup 2022 First Round Match): I did like this, but frankly I feel like people were making a bigger deal out of this than I would have. The winner here has Bad Luck Fale to contend with, so either winner could have been a fun story. I’ve made no secret that Tanahashi is not one of my favourites, and I believe his best years are well behind him, and as competent as YOH is, I don’t see YOH as a future top champ of any division
+ Jeff Cobb vs Togi Makabe (New Japan Cup 2022 First Round Match): here we go, with a nice thicc boy match to start off the cup properly. Makabe still occupies that spot, for me, where he could realistically pull off an upset – though maybe Cobb is not the guy to make that bet against. Cobb looked really good here, despite his playing up the taped left leg. This was short but sweet, and the winner facing Satoshi Kojima in the next round guarantees another banger
+ Yuji Nagata vs Hirooki Goto (New Japan Cup 2022 First Round Match): I enjoyed this, because it was the first one that felt like an actual match. Either man could realistically have won, and that really created an exciting atmosphere. I wasn’t thrilled with the immediate finish, but overall this was good, and most certainly better than the next match the winner will have against Dick Togo
– Taichi (w/ Miho Abe) vs Toru Yano (New Japan Cup 2022 First Round Match): this was the comedy match, and I could take or leave it. Yano’s antics work in the G1 because there are so many matches it can be a welcome break. But I didn’t care for it here, especially when Taichi is known for putting on such bangers. The winner here will automatically advance through the next match (due to an injury to Hiroyoshi Tenzan), and in that regard I think the winner was the correct choice
– Tomoaki Honma vs YOSHI-HASHI (New Japan Cup 2022 First Round Match): apparently YOSHI-HASHI has never defeated Honma, which is an interesting fact. And while there were a few good striking trades, frankly I never really gave Honma much of a chance. Whether that proved true or not, it meant it was difficult to get invested in this match, especially with Kosei Fujita waiting for the winner
– CIMA vs TAKA Michinoku (New Japan Cup 2022 First Round Match): I do get a kick out of seeing CIMA in NJPW, but this was a nothing happening match, with much of the focus being placed on the winner having to face Yoshinobu Kanemaru in their next match. In the first meeting since 2005 for these two, CIMA looked crisp, and TAKA looked like the veteran he obviously is, but it’s hard to consider this anything but a spot filler
> I may have missed something in my short break from NJPW, but I’m not sure why eight competitors were given byes into round 2, especially when those competitors are people like Gedo, Dick Togo, and young lions.
Should you watch this event: Tournaments in NJPW are always a mixed bag, particularly these early rounds, simply because how just how many people realistically do not stand a chance of winning their matches, let alone the tournament altogether. I appreciate that is a me problem and not entirely indicative of the tournament itself, but it just means that I can’t get into a select few of the matches this early on.