NJPW New Japan Cup Final
March 21 2018
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Zack Sabre Jr
This has been the match they’ve built up to all tournament. Sabre with his technical excellence against Tanahashi with his experience and star power. Zack put Kota Ibushi and Tetsuya Naito away but Tanahashi is a different prospect altogether. Plus Tana is the opponent that makes the most sense for Okada to face at Sakura Genesis.
Tanahashi is more aggressive and focused than any of Sabre’s opponents to this point. He knows he can beat Zack by taking his leg and by reducing Sabre’s mobility to allow crazy high spots. He also knows he can work through the pain of injuries because he literally does that every match. I love that Zack is able to shut down Tanahashi any time he attempts some heroic showboating bullshit like skinning the cat.
Tanahashi’s persistent legwork is the core of his game, which is different to every approach Zack has faced and yet when it comes to technical wrestling there is no one better. While Tanahashi can put Zack in trouble he can’t keep him there because any attempt to chain moves results in another Sabre submission hold on Tana’s already broken knee. One of my favourite Sabre counters is him stepping out of the dragon screw, blowing everyone’s mind, and going right into the bridging pin.
I’m particularly pleased with Sabre going into the sequences he did with Shibata. The idea being that those are the hardest to cope with. The ones that he saves for a big time opponent like Tanahashi. Didn’t need them to beat Naito or Ibushi but this match is more important. Tana gets way more offence than anyone has over the NJ Cup on Zack but he’s also frequently countered, allowing Sabre to remain strong as he has looked all tournament.
The end sees Tana simply unable to get anywhere near the ropes, both his legs tied up and he has no choice but to tap out. Zack Sabre Jr has beaten Hiroshi Tanahashi, by submission, clean as a whistle in the middle of the ring. What a star-making tournament this has been for Zack Sabre Jr.
Not only that this match managed to culminate the two major storyline arcs they’ve been working on throughout the tournament. The Rise of Sabre: Technical Wizard and Tanahashi vs. his own body. It’s been a shockingly great little tournament, which normally occupies a dead space in New Japan’s booking. Best match of the tournament too. All hail Gedo!
Final Rating: ****1/2