Thursday, March 28, 2019

New Japan Cup 2019 Review

This is LATE, I know. I was trying to catch up before Mania weekend, but I literally got to the final round match and ran out of time so I had to wait til after I finish this series up. But here's the top matches from the NJCup with thoughts and star ratings <3

Tomohiro Ishii vs. Yuji Nagata - First Round Match - Night One - 3/8/19

Main event of the first night of NJCup action and the first stand out match of the tournament here. This has a lot of his history behind it as Ishii has lost in the first round of the cup to Nagata twice in years past. Plus, in more recent memory, they've been brawling ever since the night after Wrestle Kingdom at New Year's Dash and it has been boiling ever since. So, with that in mind, the fighting spirit/strong style display we got here made perfect sense. It wasn't even a minute or two in before the stiff strikes began to be thrown and it was only 8 or 9 minutes before Nagata was bleeding from the mouth. From top rope exploders to breathtaking forearm battles in the middle of the ring, this ruled on every front if you like this style of wrestling and it was super well built.

Match rating - ****

Kazuchika Okada vs. Michael Elgin - First Round Match - Night Two - 3/9/19

Any time Okada & Elgin step foot in a ring together, I think we pretty much know what to expect. A barnburner. This was no different with the action being heated as you got down the stretch. Many people didn't fuck with this match because it didn't feel believable and Okada matches like this tend to have a similar formula (as do Elgin matches, if we're being honest *power move* *nearfall* repeat) and a year or two ago, I probably would've felt the same, but I've admittedly become an Okada mark as of late so everything he does, I enjoy to some extent plus the action here wasn't bad at all and kept myself and the crowd invested. Okada comes out on top after a bunch of back and forth.

Match rating - ***3/4

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Shota Umino - First Round Match - Night Three - 3/10/19

Huge coming out party for the young lion, Shota Umino. Even though he was the obvious underdog and had likely no chance to win, it didn't always feel like it and they did a good job of making him look like a believable opponent for the Ace without pushing it too far. Really simple, but amazingly executed stuff here.

Match rating - ***1/2

Zack Sabre Jr vs. EVIL - First Round Match - Night Three - 3/10/19

I've been a mark for all their matches so far so I was excited for this one and it did deliver, although I'd probably put it at the bottom of my list of meetings between the two. It wasn't bad at all, but their last few encounters definitely topped it. None the less, it was still a badass edition to what would end up the best night of the tournament so far. The defending NJ Cup champion, Sabre, bests EVIL yet again despite a valiant effort from the LIJ star.

Match rating - ***1/2

Kota Ibushi vs. Tetsuya Naito - First Round Match - Night Three - 3/10/19

Watched this with Donnie after I heard rave reviews about it and holy fuckin' smokes. This was so much more than I even expected from them. Ibushi & Naito went out and had another absolute banger. It honestly felt like they were trying to end each others' career, it was insane and only got crazier down the stretch. False finishes, BOMBZ, everything. Best match of the tournament so far, seek this out.

Match rating - ****1/2

Minoru Suzuki vs. Satoshi Kojima - First Round Match - Night Four - 3/11/19

Hell of a match between two old heads here. It was stiff from start to finish and the sense of struggle displayed throughout was sick. It felt like both guys REALLY wanted this victory and they were beating this piss out of each other to get it. Suzuki comes out on top and Kevin Kelly does a good job illustrating the fear Jay White has of a Suzuki win in this tournament.

Match rating - ***3/4

Hirooki Goto vs. SANADA - First Round Match - Night Four - 3/11/19

Final first round match. Goto desperately needs a win to attempt to make himself relevant again. He & SANADA had a hard fought match here with a super fun finishing stretch. The final 10 minutes were real good and the entire match kept a good pace as a whole. They go for each other's finishers and do a cool callback with the finish. SANADA gets a pretty big win here.

Match rating - ***1/2

Tomohiro Ishii vs. Taichi - Second Round Match - Night Five - 3/13/19

Taichi always seems to turn it up in the cup every year. Last year he had an awesome match with Tanahashi and here, he knocked it out of the park with Ishii. Taichi played the cheapskate early and managed to get the advantage with rakes to the eyes and even a ref bump. Ishii would end up luring him into playing his game though and this turned into a slugfest with a slew of moves being exchanged. The crowd was super into all of it and the Ishii comeback ruled.

Match rating - ***3/4

Will Ospreay vs. Lance Archer - Second Round Match - Night Six - 3/14/19 

Probably the best match Lance Archer will ever have. He played the big guy role so well and Ospreay worked perfectly from underneath. On top of that, they threw some insane spots in here and the crowd ate all of it up. Ospreay hitting Archer with a spanish fly is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to wild shit they threw into this match. One of my personal favorites from the tournament here. Great match.

Match rating - ****

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Ryusuke Taguchi - Second Round Match - Night Seven - 3/16/19

I just could not get invested in this at all. The work was fine, but with Tanahashi just coming off an IWGP Title loss, there was no way in hell that he was gonna lose to Taguchi here. With that in mind, this felt like a super drag to me. Taguchi controls most of things then Tana comes back with two slingblades and a bridging tiger suplex for the win.

Match rating - **3/4

Zack Sabre Jr vs. Kota Ibushi - Second Round Match - Night Seven - 3/16/19

A re-match from last year's semi-finals in this year's quarter finals. This one in particular really had me on the edge of my seat because of how difficult it was to logically figure out who would win this. Sabre defeated Ibushi in route to winning the NJ Cup last year, but Ibushi defeated Sabre in route to the G1 Finals later in the year. So this was a tiebreaker. The chemistry these two have rules, so the counter work here was the true highlight. A couple of close near falls near the end, a real struggle between the two in the closing minutes and in the end, Ibushi gets caught locked in Orienteering with Napalm Death and ZSJ IS STILL UNDEFEATED IN THE NEW JAPAN CUP. Tanahashi is up next in another rematch from last year.

Match rating - ***3/4

Minoru Suzuki vs. SANADA - Second Round Match - Night Eight - 3/17/19

In this tournament, we've gotten to see the rematch of two sick LIJ/Suzuki-gun pairings. The first being Sabre & EVIL, the second being this. Sabre & EVIL were unable to top their previous meeting, but Suzuki & SANADA did the opposite and knocked this shit completely out of the park here. An absolute grueling contest and a huge match/moment for SANADA. The final few minutes are super intense with both men struggling for control when SANADA locks in the skull-end and Suzuki is still hooking the ankle and twisting it in excruciating fashion. In the end, SANADA picks up a massive victory.

Match rating - ****

Tomohiro Ishii vs. YOSHI HASHI - Quarter Final Round Match - Night Nine - 3/20/19

CHAOS members collided in both tournament matches on this night. Here we have an underappreciated YOSHI HASHI bowing up against a highly respected Ishii. Lots of fire and angst from YOSHI and Ishii threw it right back, testing his stablemate. I felt like this plodded along at some points, but the good points of this were GOOD. Ishii puts YOSHI away with a brainbuster.

Match rating - ***1/4

Kazuchika Okada vs. Will Ospreay - Quarter Final Round Match - Night Nine - 3/20/19

Another banger between these two. A lot of people chalk their matches up to being underwhelming, but given the two's track record of insanely praised matches individually, I imagine the criticism is just harsh considering that because there was nothing bad about this at all. To me, you got what you would want from the two outside of a blow away classic which was a solid back and forth contest that pulls you to the edge of your seat on an occassion or two. Nothing crazy, but damn good and another fantastic first cup performance for Ospreay despite Okada besting him yet again.

Match rating - ****

Zack Sabre Jr vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi - Quarter Final Round Match - Night Ten - 3/21/19

Sabre is still undefeated in the cup. Last year, he beat Tana in the finals and here we have the rematch so not only are the stakes high as far as who goes to the semi's - can Tana beat Sabre in the tournament he has owned? And, can Sabre stay undefeated against a Tanahashi that is desperate to make it to MSG. They did a good job of telling this story with a traditional pro wrestling match with Sabre being a little over zealous and in the end, it costs him. Great stuff albeit not as good as their final round contest last year, this definitely was a suffice follow up and a hell of a way for Sabre to take his first loss in the New Japan Cup.

Match rating - ****

Kazuchika Okada vs. Tomohiro Ishii - Semi Final Round Match - Night Eleven - 3/23/19

Okada & Ishii have had amazing matches in the past so I was hyped for this one and it beyond delivered. Call backs to their previous contests, believable false finishes, fighting spirit galore, counter after counter. This straight up ruled in every way. Ishii beat Okada in the G1, but on this night, Okada took the W after a spinning piledriver followed by the rainmaker. The show of respect & emotion from both men after the match was the icing on the cake.

Match rating - ****1/2

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. SANADA - Semi Final Round Match - Night Eleven - 3/23/19

I usually hate the english commentary but they really gave a good telling of the backstory to this one. We are in Sanada's hometown, or close to it at least, and Tana is NOT the favorite. Made for a cool dynamic and a hot final few minutes with a good pop for the finish to boot. Drags a little in the middle, but overall real solid and worth a look.

Match rating - ***1/2

Kazuchika Okada vs. SANADA - NEW JAPAN CUP FINALS - 3/24/19

Alright, I'll be real honest. I didn't feel this at all. I knew SANADA wasn't winning, as I think most people did, so this didn't have the believability of the Tana match. Plus it's standard Okada formula and SANADA isn't someone who can accent that in a way that makes a good match so ye, I was snoozing this whole thing. Okada wins and onward to MSG he goes to dethrone the Switchblade lets rock.

Match rating - **1/4

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