NJPW New Japan Cup
March 23 2019
Tomohiro Ishii vs. Kazuchika Okada
I want Ishii to win the IWGP title. He doesn’t even need to hold it for ages or anything. Just win it once so I can have a jolly nice celebration of the greatest wrestler of his generation. New Japan are cowards if they never do it. If Switchblade can win it, based on factional warfare, then why can’t Ishii? Okada is a complete dickhead here. Refusing the clean break and kicking at Ishii’s head in a mocking fashion. It’s almost like they’re not actually friends. I keep waiting for CHAOS to splinter more and I feel like Jay was a missed opportunity. There’s a lot of attitude here with both guys keen to prove their superiority. It must eat at Okada that he’s the leader of CHAOS and yet Ishii is your stand-out guy on every show. Meanwhile Ishii must be miffed that he’s killing himself and Okada has four title runs and every record in IWGP history.
Ishii brings it all here. The intensity and drive that you see from him when he’s at his very best. And Okada is equal to it in almost casual fashion. Like the dropkick that comes out of nowhere or when he decides to no sell strikes now. It’s a far more controlled performance from him compared to 2016 where Ishii beat him. Okada seems one step ahead on everything. Even when Ishii pulls out a counter, it’s usually out of desperation and Okada is one step ahead. The only time Ishii catches him out is with the armbar out of nowhere.
Which is Ishii switching it up. Okada is expecting strikes all day long. Even headbutts but sudden limb work is a game changer. On top of that both guys are intent at taking bumps square on the neck, to really emphasise how on the edge this match is. I feel like it’s even more emphasized towards the finish as the spots get bigger and eventually the Rainmaker is too much for Ishii despite all of his hard-hitting counters.
Final Rating: ****1/2
SANADA vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
From a booking perspective it’s interesting they put this on second. With Okada already through either guy could win. Whereas if it happened first and say SANADA won then it becomes obvious that Okada wins his semi. Now either guy can win the main event and it would make sense. SANADA in the traditions of the NJ Cup as he’s due a push. Tanahashi because they’re making the NJ Cup a big deal this year. Nothing is bigger than Okada vs. Tanahashi.
The crowd really want SANADA to win, which pisses Tana off and we get Tanahashi leaning heel as a result and controlling the match.
Tanahashi is hugely focused and takes SANADA’s knee apart. It gives SANADA a hill to climb and he’s constantly battling against Tanahashi’s control. When they get into the business end it’s where SANADA starts to shine because he’s so crisp and clean that he can steal moves and just nail them. His Twist and Shout is perfect. Where the match really gets me is the roll ups. Tanahashi, who looks tired by his standards, goes for a lot of flash pins to take SANADA out of his usual game and they all feel like false finishes. Tana tries to get clever by doing the same clutch that pinned Sabre and leaves his head fully exposed for Skull End. As his eyes are covered Tanahashi cannot see where he is in the ring and cannot escape. He taps and SANADA scores the biggest win of his career to date.
Final Rating: ****
March 24 2019
SANADA vs. Kazuchika Okada
Okada is 4-0 against SANADA but SANADA is in his first New Japan Cup final, having bested the companies top guy to get here. It’s a double whammy for New Japan: push a new guy and make the tournament meaningful and also giving us a massive main event at MSG. The crowd want SANADA here, which is interesting to me as the company clearly want Okada at MSG for the main event. SANADA’s big win being the victory over Tanahashi.
The match plays like a game of chess with two tacticians looking to approach the match from different angles. Okada largely controls while SANADA is more showy in displaying his superiority. The biggest problem the match faces is that both guys are a little emotionless in their work so while they go about business in a tidy fashion I’m not as engaged as I could be. I’ve come to terms with this being the Okada way, which is why he was such a good dominant champion but SANADA needs to bring some heart and fire. This is the biggest match of his career to date. It’s ok to be all methodical when you’re crushing midcarders but in the main event you need to step it up.
SANADA goes about his business but he slowly starts to feel it. You have a little roar when he goes after Skull End. You have a nod here and there as he gets successes. He’s feeling it! The same with Okada. When he finds counters at key moments he shows how he’s relieved to be finally getting momentum against a tough opponent.
As we approach the 30 minute mark the match gets very intense. SANADA coming so close to victory with Skull End. The cheeky little counters are great. I also love how the match escalates and builds. Sure, it was slow and detached for 15 minutes but then it wasn’t. Okada grabbing SANADA’s foot to stop him getting to the buckles and giving himself a little recovery time is wonderful selling.
It pays off and the Rainmaker sends Big Kaz to MSG to challenge Jay White.
Final Rating: ****1/2
The New Japan Cup has always felt like a means to an end rather than a tournament worth tuning into. This year’s extended tournament gave us far superior quality one night after another. Everyone turned up for this. The tournament struggled a little towards the end as the winner had to be a big name to headline MSG and yet the company also really wanted to give SANADA the win. The trouble with that is SANADA vs. Jay White isn’t going to satisfy the New York crowd and a big issue with Jay being champion rather than Kenny Omega. Anyway, the quality was excellent throughout this tournament and it’s probably the best New Japan Cup ever.