[Please note: to try and save some time, I’m only reviewing the tournament matches themselves for rounds 1 and 2. This review concludes second round, but I previously reviewed the full first round here and here, and the first half of the second round here.]
The second round of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s (NJPW) annual tournament concludes, as the New Japan Cup cuts the competitors down to field of 16. In the main event of night 6, the biggest match of Aaron Henare’s career as he faces off with SANADA in tournament action. Henare and SANADA have faces off only once before, which ended up being a relatively easy victory for the stoic SANADA, so Henare will certainly be looking to put his new United Empire mindset to work. The history of Will Ospreay and El Phantasmo has been somewhat intertwined, including Ospreay bringing ELP into NJPW but the Commonwealth Kingpin Will Ospreay will not be looking to rekindle any lost friendships against “The Head Banga” of the Bullet Club. Meanwhile, Great-O-Khan and Taiji Ishimori face off in their first tournament matches, following O-Khan receiving a bye in the first round due to an injury to Kota Ibushi, and Ishimori receiving the random draw bye to the second round in the first place. And finally, Suzuki-gun stablemates and partners collide when Zack Sabre Jr. faces DOUKI in a match where wildly conflicting styles will clash.
Night 7, meanwhile, will feature four wildly different sort of matches to determine tournament winners. In the main event, Hiromu Takahashi will face off with Minoru Suzuki in a highly anticipated contest. Hiromu is still technically a junior heavyweight, despite the bulk he has gained since returning from his horrible neck injury, but weight classes will mean nothing to the sadistic Suzuki, who will be looking to tear apart anyone who stands in his way. In the semi-main, the heated rivalry between two members of the Bullet Club comes to a head, as EVIL and Tama Tonga battle to determine who should rightfully lead the Bullet Club; the newcoming, EVIL, or the original member, Tama Tonga. The brother of Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa, will also be in action when he gets in the ring with the former IWGP World Heavyweight Champion, Shingo Takagi, and Chase Owens will look to end the tournament dreams of Tiger Mask in the opening bout.
+ Hiromu Takahashi vs Minoru Suzuki (New Japan Cup 2022 Second Round Match): although this was an incredibly tough match for both guys, I didn’t really like the ending. I think commentary said there was over ten minutes before anything happened aside from BRUTAL chop exchanges, but that visual of bloodied and beaten chests on both men will stay with me. Hiromu is nuts, and Suzuki is almost the exact opposite, so this was a fantastic style fight and worthy main event
+ Tama Tonga (w/ Jado) vs EVIL (w/ Dick Togo) (New Japan Cup 2022 Second Round Match): it’s almost hard to judge this one, because the match itself was almost secondary to the story surrounding the Bullet Club civil war. Tama Tonga has all the makings of a top fan favourite, but I just don’t see them ever pulling the trigger on him for one reason ro another. EVIL, meanwhile, has plummeted from one of my favourites to being the ‘interference match guy’ so quickly, I would have thought it impossible. This wasn’t the best match, but all the twists and turns made it interesting
+ Shingo Takagi vs Tanga Loa (New Japan Cup 2022 Second Round Match): very similar to their G1 match from last year, this was a great big boy match. Tanga Loa looked huge, especially next to Shingo, and it was interesting to see Shingo almost like the underdog for the most part (but not totally, as it is still a former tip champ versus a tag team specialist). That contradiction in my mind made it really easy to bye either man as the winner, and that made for a great, meat-slapping match
+ SANADA vs Aaron Henare (New Japan Cup 2022 Second Round Match): I can’t take it away from SANADA, even if I don’t feel much for him, the crowd loved him. I’d argue this was the biggest match of Henare’s career so far, and he absolutely lived up to that billing as he bullied the taller but leaner SANADA around the ring. It’s more than just the fact he is an Islander that I say this, but he reminded me a lot of Tanga Loa here, in the way Loa had that breakout in the G1 last year. I was really impressed by both guys in this match, but I can’t stress enough how good Henare looked
+ Will Ospreay vs El Phantasmo (New Japan Cup 2022 Second Round Match): if the crowd was able to make noise, I feel like they would have been going nuts at a few points in this one. I never thought I’d say it, but ELP came across as such an underdog hero here, that I think his inevitable change of character will be something special (notwithstanding that he’s already kind of a guy you love to hate). Ospreay is so good at what he does, and these two went back and forth, including some variations on their own classic offence, and it was a really compelling fight
+ Zack Sabre Jr. vs DOUKI (New Japan Cup 2022 Second Round Match): this was fantastic. Stablemates fighting is not a rare occurrence in NJPW, but this felt like something a bit more special than others. DOUKI pulled out all the stops, and Sabre is always at his best when he is playing defence, so the styles really did compliment each other. This was a really, really good match with a satisfying, low-key awesome finish, and one you should not sleep on
– Tiger Mask vs Chase Owens (New Japan Cup 2022 Second Round Match): clearly the most unimportant match on day seven, while the crowd was loud with claps and noise makers, I just can’t say this was anything special
– Great-O-Khan vs Taiji Ishimori (New Japan Cup 2022 Second Round Match): I’d say this was good, but not quite as good as I was expecting. I’m never a particularly big fan of the smaller wrestler being the bad guy of a match, especially when both guys are already bad guys in the company. O-Khan is on such an upward trend it was a bit awkward to see him being beaten pillar to post by Ishimori, even though I’ve always thought Ishimori looked too big to be a junior. I can’t help but think this one would be better if they did it again sometime
Should you watch this event: Everything is starting to come together, as the competitors remaining are all high profile and potential winners (more or less, there are still some tiers between them all). Suzuki/Hiromu, Ospreay/Phantasmo and maybe even Tama/EVIL are must see, but you won’t go wrong with any of the positives listed above.