New Japan Catch Up
I’ve been in Germany for wXw 16 Carat Gold. So I missed some wrestling and included was the first round of the New Japan Cup.
March 9 2018
Yujiro Takahashi vs. Juice Robinson
Yujiro is generally accepted as one of the most dreadful NJPW workers. In a company where the standard is very high he’s under the bar. It seems a little strange even having him in the NJ Cup but that kinda shows what an unimportant tournament the Cup has been over the years. A lot of the dudes competing are only there to lose in the first round. The match is structured for Yujiro to behave like an absolute shower and Juice to fight from underneath.
Given the success levels the two have experienced over the last two years it seems a bit backwards but it’s the only way to create the illusion that the outcome is in any doubt. Yujiro does a fine job of making it look like he’ll win via evil intentions on the floor. One of which is a fisherman buster. Juice is left bleeding from the back. The assault is pretty convincing to the point where I think Juice is finished. Could we be seeing the one good Yujiro match of the year? Juice’s miracle kick-outs here feel like they’re from a big match. Hey, it turns out this is a big match. I never saw it like that coming in. It is ever so slightly sloppy, because it’s Yujiro, and a couple of spots don’t work at all but the bulk is spot on. Pulp Friction sees Juice advance and this was super. Especially for a Yujiro match.
Final Rating: ***3/4
Michael Elgin vs. Tomohiro Ishii
Elgin is problematic and that causes issues here. I’m not as into Elgin now as I was before the various scandals around him came to light. As a manipulative dickbag he’s hard to enjoy watching. However the in-ring is still solid. They smash into each other and it’s two big lads doing that style only they’re small enough to be mobile as fuck too. Ishii dishes out an assortment of chops to the throat because FUCK MICHAEL ELGIN. There’s an issue here where Elgin looks like he’s just running through stuff while Ishii is actually involved in the process of selling.
The style of match is right down my alley although I think they overegg the pudding a bit by having it run nearly 30 minutes. The sheer number of meaty strikes should reduce the run-time with attrition.
The style is a little repetitive, even if the quality is awesome throughout. While I’m perfectly prepared to allow Ishii to indulge himself for 30 minutes, I’m not so able to afford Elgin the same luxury. His reputation really is that tarnished. So while this is good, very good in fact, every little irritation about Elgin comes through in spades. With the match coming to a conclusion Ishii dies on a Splash Mountain spot, landing right on his neck. It’s so bad that Elgin has to stop and make sure he’s ok.
Luckily Ishii has no neck or he’d be dead. Ishii getting all fired up after that is a nice touch but it’s clear he’s fucked. I hope there’s no permanent damage. There’s another sloppy attempt at a bucklebomb, and luckily Elgin is freaky strong or Ishii could have gotten hurt again. Part of me loves how on the edge this match is but the rest of me thinks they’re stupid for putting that level of risky offence on show in the New Japan Cup. Elgin actually finishes with the Burning Hammer. I’m torn here between the insanity of the match but also the lack of safety.
Final Rating: ****1/4
March 10 2018
Bad Luck Fale vs. Lance Archer
If you think I’m watching this match on a catch up session you don’t know me very well. Fuck’s sake, I actually did sit through it. Are you happy now? They clobbered each other a lot and Fale won. Which is the better of the two possible outcomes.
Final Rating: *1/2
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Taichi
My only reasoning for watching this match is the buzz Taichi has been receiving of late. He’s toned back the bullshit and I appreciate that. This is Tanahashi’s first singles match since losing to Minoru Suzuki. He’s been taking time off to heal his various injuries.
Taichi has changed his entrance so Miho Abe is out first and waits for him. It doesn’t quite click. I’m not really sure what they’re going for. At this point does Tanahashi have anything left to prove? He’s wrestled at the top of his game for so many years and after he’d been written off a few years ago still continued to kill it.
Miho is into him. If that’s indicative of every female fan in Japan he still has work to do. The weird thing about Tanahashi is you get the feeling he could win G1 this year, injuries and all, and still kill it having ***** classics in the big matches. Sure, he needs more time off than ever before and he doesn’t bother turning up for tag matches but he still has that big match in him. He’s not going to waste that match on Taichi. You heard me “WASTE”. Taichi does have a new attitude, albeit one that still involves cheating…only fatter. There’s a lot of cheating here. Miho does her part. As does the mic stand. Guardrail. Chairs. I’ve seen this all before. At least it’s not oppressive, as it often is at junior level (remember that match with Liger?). Here he’s stepped up and the heavyweight take less of his bullshit. I appreciate that. Tana basically shuts the bastard down by destroying his leg, the way he’s shut everyone down since 2007. Taichi’s selling is wildly inconsistent as he’s not used to competing in matches with actual storytelling involved. His tactic is to drop Tanahashi on his head repeatedly, which isn’t ideal if you’re Tanahashi with a bad neck (and everything else at this point). Taichi and Tana end up having part of a decent match; where Taichi unloads all his actual offence (rather than the bullshit) and those near falls are far closer, far more exciting. As if Tanahashi is trying to steer the younger man down the right (royal) road.
Tana finishes with the High Fly Flow after spending 15 minutes making me think he might actually lose to Taichi. Really good match, one of Taichi’s best singles contests. Not the blowaway great match it could have been due to the first half of it being such meandering bullshit (albeit designed as such to lead to Taichi trying different things). My biggest issue is with all the legwork going nowhere. Otherwise a really fucking solid match. Way to go Taichi, you fucking prick.
Final Rating: ***3/4
March 11 2018
Kota Ibushi vs. YOSHI-HASHI
Ibushi is super over right now.
I find it exceptionally hard to picture YOSHI-HASHI standing triumphant over him. In fairness any time YOSHI-HASHI wins is an upset. He has the demeanour of a loser. I wish he’d get fired up more, like on those G1 undercards a few years back or in his opening G1 matches. That’s *almost* the YOSHI-HASHI we get here. While he’s eager to take it to Kota, he doesn’t have the aggression down and it’s clear the match lacks the spark of his better work. Kota senses the lack of excitement and decides what the match needs, in his honest opinion, is a fucking moonsault off the balcony. Well, shit, mate you had me at “moonsault”. The rest is just a bonus. It feels like a Kota procession after that until Tacos finally grows some balls and blocks Kamigoye with a headbutt. Then they start slapping each other and I am ALL FUCKING IN baby. This is one of those rare matches where they throw in a Canadian Destroyer for the sheer hell of it and it not only feels important but I bite on it being the finish. YOSHI-HASHI’s offence is entirely convincing as a match winner…but he didn’t moonsault off a balcony. He just got a bunch of near falls. If he moonsaulted off a balcony would he have won? It’s not for me to say. However he’s in this match and it feels epic. An epic with YOSHI-HASHI! They don’t happen often. Kota crushes him with Kamigoye and I am happy.
Final Rating: ****1/4
Tetsuya Naito vs. Zack Sabre Jr
I think Zack should come up to “Mother” in Japan too. Brand synergy. Instead of whatever techno business his current entrance music is.
Zack has long been regarded as the best technical wrestler in the world. So technically, he’s the best wrestler in the world. But wrestling is about more than technical skill. Luckily Zack always has one of the best personalities in wrestling and plays one of the best cocky heel guys anywhere. Even better if he’s got a belt around his waist. So it’s no mismatch for him to be sparring with someone as highly regarded as Naito. Zack dominates matches with his outlandish and creative submissions, silky smooth transitions and mean strikes. The only way he gets into trouble, is by making the whole situation personal. Getting into scraps when he could moonwalk his way to victory. That doesn’t happen here. He stays on the submissions, doesn’t let the charismatic Naito get to him and it’s a cakewalk. Sabre looks like he might burn himself stretching Naito, it’s that one-sided. It’s not the first time I’ve seen Sabre control a match and he’s effective at it. He leaves one of the best wrestlers in the world looking completely flummoxed here and that’s the beauty of Sabre. Even in places where he’s unknown he can beat the top guys, even if they’re a lot bigger than him because no one else has that repertoire. Red Shoes get very animated here because Naito taps once, almost without thinking. It’s a terrific sell of the pain that he’s in, that he basically gives up and it’s only when he’s questioned that he realises he quit and says no.
Sabre’s escape from a desperation Destino into a sickening kneebar is great stuff and when Naito tries to kick at him to escape Zack finds another hold to get him into greater trouble. It’s beautiful chaining of events. Naito finds himself in a position he’s never been in before, has no idea how to get out of and simply has to submit to prevent himself being injured. It’s another huge, huge win for Sabre. It’s proof that, on his day, if he can stay emotionally detached, he can beat *anyone*.
Final Rating: ****1/4
“You’ve got my third belt mate” – Sabre of Okada. Let’s face it, Okada has not had to deal with the likes of Sabre.
March 12 2018
Davey Boy Smith Jr vs. Toru Yano
Davey, despite being part of the awful Killer Elite Squad does tend to do better in singles. However Yano isn’t going to have a good match with him. They do some turnbuckle stuff and it doesn’t feel even remotely energised with Davey sleepwalking through it. Yano has to bring the energy and without someone getting upset with him for his bullshit it’s just not the same. I hate the ref bumps and I barely laugh, which is odd for Yano.
And the match just goes on and on and on and fuck, it’s terrible. All Davey has to do is show some ass (figuratively) and he can’t do it. Ooo, look at me I’m so serious. I’m a serious strong wrestler. Boring! Eventually Yano gets the win by count-out after nut shotting DBS on the floor. Eh.
Final Rating: *
SANADA vs. Chuck Taylor
Chuckie T is headlining a show for New Japan. What a world we live in now.
When they’re brawling over by Milano Collection AT he suggests SANADA slap on the Paradise Lock on the floor and winning via count-out. That’s a little too underhanded for our Seiya. Chuck makes a fatal error by going after a Japanese table. He gets back on track by having a solid contest against the established SANADA. It’s not as strong as most of the big matches have been in NJ Cup. In all honesty, this was a day you could completely skip. Unless you want to see Chuck kill himself with Main Event dives. And naturally he eats that fucking table. Eats it. Awful Waffle feels like death, which is nice for Chuck although SANADA casually kicks out of it. The counters around the Dragon Sleeper are cool with Taylor slipping out smoothly until SANADA gets pissed off and slaps him back down. Moonsault finishes and this match was a real grower. Started all over the place and got progressively better.
Final Rating: ***1/2
March 14 2018
We move on to round two in Shizuoka.
Juice Robinson vs. Michael Elgin
We’re at a much smaller building and the huge ceiling belies the smaller crowd. Taking the New Japan Cup on tour is a good idea, if you’re interesting in making money but less so if you’re into great wrestling. Them big tournament matches need big tournament crowds. No offence to Shizuoka. The result is a lesser match, with lesser reactions in a lesser building and I can’t escape that feeling. Plus Elgin. I’m kinda fine with Elgin as long as he’s battling talented guys who can’t elevate the match. No offence to Juice but he’s on a lower tier of NJPW than Ishii or Naito. I’m more aware than ever that Elgin is a dickbag. I just want it to be over, quickly, with Juice winning. They do build to something, after pissing around for far too long. The duelling strikes and suplexes work and I almost forget I’m watching Michael Elgin. They do get into a nice story of Elgin believing he should beat Juice and getting borderline careless about it, while Juice shows the fire he needs to progress in the tournament.
Just when it looks like Elgin is going to overpower Juice and smash him to pulpy pieces he sneaks in a cheeky roll up and boots that big bald bitch out of the New Japan Cup. Great news all round.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Bad Luck Fale vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Whenever these two wrestle it feels like a house show main event. Fale never struck as being a big, big star and he’s more the guy who the big stars beat on the house show loop. It’s not a bad position in any company to be honest. You’ll always be required to fill that role and people don’t get tired of seeing you in it. Big guy. Never wins the big, big matches but is always a threat. That’s a role Fale has been playing for years. When it comes to G1 he’s the Super Spoiler. Can beat anyone. Gedo must love him.
The trouble with the repetitive nature of Fale vs. top guys is all the matches are basically the same. Especially with Tanahashi who’s been at this particular hurdle on several occasions. G1 2014. Destruction 2015. G1 2016. G1 2017. You get the drift. Given Fale’s spoiler record the only thing about this match that does surprise me is the outcome. Although putting this on after Juice/Elgin seemed to hint at a Tanahashi win. Maybe the idea is that a finally fit Tanahashi has this unbeatable desire to reconquer NJPW all over again. He looked fired the fuck up. His intensity and impactful spots show this fire in spades. Imagine Tanahashi shovelling fire into the ring. That’s what this match represents. Fale goes a pisser on the floor and Tana beats the count to progress. Tanahashi looked in wonderful spirits here, gawd fucking love him.
Final Rating: ***1/4
March 15 2018
Two more quarter final matches tonight, as we get closer to crowning the New Japan Cup winner. For this momentous occasion we’re in Korakuen Hall.
Toru Yano vs. SANADA
SANADA is aware of Yano’s capacity for cheating and gets on him quickly, pulling his t-shirt over his head and rolling him up. I would have been entirely satisfied with that as a finish, which is part of the joy of Yano. They build a match around Yano finishes and banter based cheating. It’s a fun little match and it doesn’t outstay its welcome. SANADA stops the ref’s count on Yano’s nut shot by grabbing his hand, which is pretty cool. Skull End puts Yano away and SANADA slyly outsmarted the sublime master thief.
Final Rating: **1/2
Zack Sabre Jr vs. Kota Ibushi
This feels like a genuinely big match between two of pro wrestling’s hottest acts. Ibushi is very much a hybrid wrestler but his ground game is no match for Sabre’s capacity to torture. Every defensive mechanism seems to run headlong into Sabre’s technical skill. Whether he’s getting his dangerous kicks caught or simply failing to get airborne. Sabre has been booked super strong during this tournament and it’s refreshing to see NJPW put so much value on technical skill. Kota has weird tactics, trying to bypass the pain and stand up to break an armbar, almost decimating his elbow in the process. He does think outside the box but the outside of his box is unicorns, fireworks and flips. Do you need an elbow for any of that? Ibushi throws in explosive comebacks only for Sabre to routinely mangle him and test the limits of his muscles, joints and sinews.
Just when Kota recognises a hold, like the STF, Zack changes and finds another hold within a hold and tests the endurance of his opponent. The creativity in Zack’s mat game and his submission chaining is state-of-the-art. My only criticism of Sabre is that I don’t often buy into his bumps and his opponent getting anything on him is often wrong from a logic point of view. An example of this is him standing there waiting for an Ibushi Pele Kick. We know how fast and slick he is. Why would he wait? However a better offensive move is the powerbomb from a defensive position. Playing into Zack’s technical strengths and his size/power weakness. Makes perfect sense. Even when Kota moves quickly he finds himself jumping into trouble, which makes the odd ‘waiting’ spot even weirder. I like how Kota learns from his successes but also how Sabre finds new counters to prevent repeat business on the powerbomb spot. I’m also a big fan of the wrist control stuff with Ibushi looking for Kamigoye and Sabre using the same offensive hold to work his magic. Eventually Kota is just trapped in an inescapable hold and the ref stops it, having seen enough of Sabre’s dominance. Kota gets to say he never quit, Sabre gets another huge scalp to put over his style of professional wrestling. This was quite the contest.
Final Rating: ****1/4
March 16 2018
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Juice Robinson
They tell an interesting story here with Juice coming in super respectful and just wanting to have a competitive match with one of the idols of Japanese wrestling. Tanahashi doesn’t give a fuck and refuses clean breaks, goes after Juice’s bad leg and his weak points. Whereas Juice refuses to go after Tanahashi’s bad arm. It’s about junior sportsmanship versus experience. Tanahashi will do anything to win and because of his career people are likely to forgive his shortcuts. Juice wants to win the pure way. Tanahashi’s subtle heel work is what anchors the match. Along with his leg match game. Juice is all in for selling that leg, which sets him apart from a lot of other dudes in modern wrestling who simply can’t be fucked with selling.
The subtle work from both sides allows so much. One such slow build is the High Fly Attack being rolled through for a near fall. It shows Juice is willing to lure the superstar in, show weakness to attack while Tanahashi is all about those big bombs. It’s a good spirited effort from both guys and eventually the crowd bite into the match, in the stretch. I heard someone say the crowd was on fire for this but I’m not hearing that. Not until the later stages. Anyway Tanahashi comes up trumps after thirty minutes with a pair of High Fly Flows. The idea being that Juice hung in there for half an hour but wasn’t good enough to win just yet, plus Tanahashi felt he needed to take a few shortcuts to beat Robinson and make the final. Good effort, good storyline.
Final Rating: ***3/4
March 18 2018
I caught the end of the tag match with Tanahashi and Okada and they very much teased Tanahashi challenging Okada. I could totally get behind that. Tana would want Okada from grasping the final IWGP record.
SANADA vs. Zack Sabre Jr
Winner gets Tanahashi in the final. SANADA is the first technical wrestler Sabre has run into during this tournament so he can’t boss the mat action as easily as usual. SANADA doesn’t have Sabre’s range of skills but he’s at least in that technical ballpark. So it takes Zack a little longer to establish dominance.
They make the bizarre decision to have Bad Luck Fale on commentary for this show and he’s one of the softest spoken men in wrestling. He virtually whispers into that microphone. Eventually Sabre grinds SANADA down and as soon as he’s in charge of the match it feels like it’s only a matter of time. If the aim of this tournament was to establish Zack as an absolute killer who can beat anyone it’s done that job. The way he hooks SANADA out of the air and hauls him down into a leg lock is beautiful and he doesn’t wait there, switching to an arm, wrist control spot. SANADA, due to his lack of babyface facials, struggles to help Zack tell the story. Whereas Kota Ibushi and Tetsuya Naito combined with Sabre to tell that story. SANADA doesn’t tell stories with his stoic face. As a result I find this one to be a bit drab. Maybe that’s because I watched the Ibushi match earlier on in the day. I mean, technically it’s as good as any match Sabre has had in Japan but that doesn’t make it good ‘pro wrestling’. If you’re a mega purist you’ll be into this. Sabre eventually ties SANADA up in the middle of the ring and he gives up. This was my least favourite Sabre match during the tournament even though it was technically as good as anything in the New Japan Cup. Now he only has to make Tanahashi tap out and he’ll be in line for a title shot.
Final Rating: ***1/2
“I’ve got 7822 different submissions. I only used five or six today.” – Sabre. He points out Tanahashi is only held together with “hairspray and athletic tape”.
So the New Japan Cup, up to this point, has been a lot of fun. They’ve definitely stretched it out too much, with two matches tops on each card but watching the ‘highlights’ like I have has resulted in a viewing schedule akin to tape trading days.