This is the New Japan Cup finals, I was hoping for. Not necessarily this particular match, but one that didn't involve EVIL or SANADA. However, it being these two who had an all timer in the 2019 BOSJ tournament final certainly is a valid dream scenario and once the entrances began, I realized how perfect of a final this actually is.
These two redefined what it means to be a junior in 2019, then upped their game and joined the heavyweight division. Their BOSJ 2019 final was subsequently held as a five star classic pretty much across the board. This led to a lot of hype to their re-match in the G1 Climax last year. Now, admittedly, I was watching a ton (probably too much) wrestling at the time, so maybe I was burned out, but to me, it wasn't quite the follow up I hoped for. Sure, I went ****1/4 on it because it was still an awesome contest, but I think my brain was hoping for another close to ***** match like their Best of the Super Juniors final. So, that probably played a factor too. With my slight disappointment in their G1 match, despite it still being great (I hate rating something 4+ then complaining), I wasn't SUUUUPER wound up about this. Plus, it's hard for me to enjoy a lot of what Ospreay does these days.
Once the entrances came and the staredown began, though, this felt special. It felt like the perfect next chapter in the rivalry between these two. From a junior tournament final to an openweight/more heavyweight tournament final. It felt like natural progression for both men's careers and another chance to prove themselves, and boy did they ever.
Despite me not enjoying a lot of modern day Ospreay, his match with Zack Sabre Jr. earlier in this tournament did hit the mark for me. A nasty bloody, broken nose added to a naturally great match thanks to their history and chemistry. I went ****1/4 on the battle, Big Dave went even higher going the full five for it. So, check that match out when you get the chance. None the less, that gave this match and Ospreay's final two matches in the tournament a little bit more urgency because we physically saw the damage he's taken. Not only from the injury, but also the high quality contests he had along the way.
You can say the same for Shingo too, who not only had a fantastic string of matches in this tournament, but his entire year has been nuts with two MOTY contenders against Jeff Cobb and Hiroshi Tanahashi in January and February respectively, and now, this, an insane run to the finals of the New Japan Cup. This has taken a toll on the Dragon who entered this match a taped up and injured back, almost a sure target for the villanious Ospreay.
I just wrote four paragraphs only on the backstory of this one, so if you needed any other reason to check out this match before I even dive into the contest itself - there it is. I mention all this backstory because it was all touched on and conveyed throughout this match and in perfect fashion.
The first 10-20 minutes of a New Japan match can make it or break it for me. They tend to have a formula that can become excessive. That formula being every main event/title match/tournament final having to go 30+ minutes. This can make some of these matches feel like a snooze fest until the final 10 minute or so stretch. That was not the case here.
The first few minutes see a fast paced flurry of big move attempts and some flippy exchanges, showcasing each man's familiarity with the other. They've been here before. They were junior heavyweight rivals and standard bearers. They can't just go for spots. They are too smart for that, so onward they moved.
Shingo targets the previously broken nose of Ospreay and Ospreay targets the worn out body and taped up back of the MOTY candidate machine Shingo Takagi.
The next 15 minutes sees these two take it quite slow for the most part, but it is never uninteresting. Shingo sends Ospreay face first into the turnbuckle and to the ring apron. Moments that made me wince as nose injuries have always made me cringe and seeing Ospreay's get smashed a week prior to this has me on the edge of my seat every time it's touched. Ospreay plays the heel perfectly shoving Bea into the way of Shingo, and even sending Shingo over to where his cohorts Cobb & Great O' Khan are sitting further establishing Shingo as the outnumbered babyface. Ospreay using these simple heel tactics and targeting the taped back of Shingo more than held up his end of this portion of the match.
I also have to mention the staredown between Shingo & Ibushi as Shingo rose to his feet to try and make the 20 count after receiving an Oscutter on the floor. GIVE ME THAT MATCH.
The final 10 minutes or so sees things get turned up a notch with Ospreay realizing he's going to have to bust it all out to defeat Shingo. We get an insane reversal out of the pumping bomber into an Oscutter, the aforementioned Oscutter on the floor, a 450 splash through a fucking table and SHINGO STILL GETS UP AND KICKS OUT. Ospreay is worn down and can't get Shingo up for Stormbreaker so sits him up for hidden blade, but an exhausted Shingo collapses. Ospreay opts for Kawada kicks which invigorates a new life into the Dragon who throws fiery elbows to the face of Ospreay in the corner. Elbows which the crowd hangs on with every thrust, clapping along as Shingo tries to make his comeback.
Although, the audience couldn't verbally cheer or boo due to COVID safety regulations, you knew who they were behind here and the subtle display of that with the loud clapping made feel almost more special to me than if they could yell and shout. It made the short lived Shingo comeback attempts feel... genuine.
Shingo fights out of this exchange and nails Ospreay with Made in Japan for a hot two count false finish, but he has just taken too much punishment and can't keep up with Ospreay's energetic flurries despite fighting hard in these final few minutes. Ospreay final lands the hidden blade followed by somehow hoisting up Takagi for Stormbreaker and getting the three count.
This was an incredible match and New Japan Cup final, even if the outcome isn't what I wanted to happen or thought should happen. The post-match was the worst thing about this and completely distasteful and I'm sure I don't even have to explain why. Ospreay is the last person who should be doing this sort of thing and why was it necessary heading into a title match with Ibushi that was set up perfectly via Ospreay winning this tournament and stating why he needed Ibushi's titles more than anything in the post match promo/staredown? I don't get it.
I have a feeling we may see Ospreay take the titles from Ibushi so he can take the heat that's been received from many fans in regards to Ibushi unifying the titles. That's the only way I can see this making sense, but what do I know? We'll see what happens.
One thing I do know is this match ruled. Shingo with another amazing match added to his repertoire and looking strong in defeat as always. Truly the best wrestler in the world right now and I'm blown away that he can continue having such high quality matches on this consistent of a basis.
What a way to start my Sunday morning.
Match rating - ****3/4