NJPW New Japan Cup Quarter Finals
March 20 2019
YOSHI-HASHI vs. Tomohiro Ishii
Kevin Kelly buries YOSHI-HASHI saying he looked like shit in round one…before going on to say he looked better against Chase Owens. He didn’t. He’ll need to properly show up here but he comes out here looking timid as ever.
Once Ishii starts battering him it gets better. Tacos looks super aggressive. The chops, with accompanied yelling, are a statement of intent.
If YOSHI-HASHI showed this fire more frequently he wouldn’t get my ire but he’s so consistently disappointing because he can be this good and he isn’t. He really gets in Ishii’s face and they trade on the strikes and I feel like YOSHI-HASHI is actually trying his little heart out. They maintain the character stuff so despite getting fired up YOSHI-HASHI is overcome in strike duels and Ishii gives him a shoeing. It’s more that YOSHI-HASHI gets back up and shows that fire despite getting his ass handed to him. That he keeps coming at Ishii although he knows how it’ll end. YOSHI-HASHI brings it so much that Ishii ends up bleeding from the chest from his chops. But it’s not just that. It’s the flash pins, it’s the aggression, it’s the variety that he brings. This is a great YOSHI-HASHI performance. Tacos survives 20 minutes but then eats a brainbuster and counts the lights. Great effort from YOSHI-HASHI. You wish he’d bring this more often but also it shows how much he cared about this because he busted a gut to get his ass handed to him.
Final Rating: ****1/4
Will Ospreay vs. Kazuchika Okada
For anyone expecting some kind of blowaway match here I’m not. Basically because I saw the match that got Will hired against Okada from Rev Pro and it was good but not great. While both guys have improved since you either have that chemistry or you don’t.
To be fair to them this starts really strong. Much better than the first match (in Reading of all places). Their counters are smooth and both guys know each others offensive style. Case in point is Ospreay kicking Okada in the head in mid-Rainmaker pose. Beautifully done. Also Okada armdragging out of the Stormbreaker and then murdering Will with a John Woo dropkick. The match is full of stuff like this. The only real criticism is that the match is one of the Okada epics and it’s too long so there is too much resting in between spots. Whereas the previous match was loaded with energy and hit 20 minutes and went home. That said everything in this match is good. It does feel important. It does feel smart and well planned. While I feel Ospreay is holding back to make Okada look better he also breaks out some insane counters at speed and sickening bumps when Okada does deliver. The Rainmaker puts Will away but he proved a point here. He is a main event.
Final Rating: ****
March 21 2019
SANADA vs. Colt Cabana
This is certainly a singles match I did not expect to see on a New Japan show this year. Or any year.
English language comms are definitely supporting Colt as an underdog story. Cabana has a great background in World of Sport style and that gels nicely with SANADA’s own mat skills. It’s a neat clash of techniques and part of the story is that Colt is using some of the same moves as Sabre, who won New Japan Cup last year. It’s almost implied that the New Japan boys can’t beat the Brits. At least in March.
I do like Cabana attempting to figure out the Paradise Lock but not knowing how to apply it, which leads into some sneaky roll ups. Unfortunately the pace goes out of the contest after that and Colt does a lot of stalling. I do like that Colt has a few ways to escape Skull End. It shows he’s prepared but also that SANADA won’t win with such a basic hold first time out. As the match progresses I really buy into Colt’s approach and want him to win. I feel like he’s so different that SANADA could blame a lack of preparation and come back to win a second match. But instead SANADA uses the Destino approach to get into Skull End and Colt submits. New Japan clearly want to push SANADA and when Milano Collection AT is wearing your t-shirt you’re clearly going places.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Zack Sabre Jr vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Zack beat Tana on route to winning the New Japan Cup last year.
This may have him coming in overconfident but he did submit one of the tournament favourites in Kota Ibushi. I genuinely don’t know which way this goes as a result. Maybe the main event of MSG is the lure that has Tanahashi go over but a Sabre win tells a better story perhaps. That Tana cannot figure Zack out. The way to beat Zack is usually to bait him into doing stuff he doesn’t want to do but Sabre’s cockiness means he’ll do tests of strength and strike duels. The counter to this approach is that Zack can start decimating anyone from anywhere. It’s conceivable he can beat anyone due to the joint manipulation and vast array of submissions. Tanahashi still thinks he can apply holds of his own, rather than keeping his distance and hitting big spots. He persistently keeps reversing and trying for an abdominal stretch for example. If anything it’s Zack that changes gears and in using the PK he gets Tanahashi away from him and inflicts damage. Basically Zack is the smarter guy until he leaves his leg exposed and allows a series of dragon screws through the ropes. Tactically it’s a fascinating match to watch. I would understand if it wasn’t your cup of tea but I love it. It’s a total throwback. Your mileage will also vary if you know who won as part of the thrill is seeing the match develop and the tide sway one way then the other. I love Sabre just slipping out of a dragon screw. A lot of what makes him so special is doing stuff that no one else can do.
There are a tonne of false finishes in this with both guys looking like they might get the win only for a last gasp kickout. Tanahashi in particular gets cheeky and pulls out a pinfall win by effectively stealing Zack’s approach. Using a Tatsumi Fujinami spot to pin Sabre and advance. As with Okada going deep it’s very apparent this year’s New Japan Cup is Serious Business. Great match.
Final Rating: ****1/4
A really strong Quarter Final line-up from NJPW. They’ve definitely treated New Japan Cup differently this year, as is evidenced by Okada and Tanahashi being in the semi-finals in such big matches. Okada vs. Ishii and Tanahashi vs. SANADA could have been the final in previous years. It feels like they’re setting up for a big, big final on Sunday to make the tournament feel more important and the winner going forth to MSG to challenge for the big title also feels important. New Japan Cup has always been a weaker tournament for New Japan but at the same time somewhat fascinating because an oddball midcard guy could pick up the win or it could be a real legitimate title threat like when Shibata won it. This year feels different. I hope that they maintain the importance of NJ Cup next year but also use it as a springboard to push someone as historically that’s been an ideal tournament to do it in. I totally understand the urge to go big this year because the MSG show feels like it’s going to be a major step for New Japan in America and they need that razzmatazz.