New Japan Cup 2015 – Finals
Sunday March 15, 2015
Hiroshima Sun Plaza Hall
Hiroshima, Japan
Airing on Delay at NJPWWorld.com

When New Japan Pro Wrestling flipped the script on their annual spring tradition, the New Japan Cup, allowing the eventual winner to challenge for the singles title of his choosing (IWGP Heavyweight, Intercontinental and the NEVER Openweight), the tournament became harder to predict than anytime in recent memory. With three different title shots up for grabs, the list of possible winners grew ten-fold. No longer forced to only choose main events, NJPW had a number of different directs to go with the multi-week tournament.

The Final Four is a glowing example of how diverse this year’s Cup has been as all four men: Hirooki Goto, Kota Ibushi, Tetsuya Naito and Togi Makabe all pose a real threat to take home the crown. Will NJPW finally give Kota Ibushi the main event singles push many have waited for? Will Hirooki Goto take home his fourth New Japan Cup? Will Togi Makabe get a shot at the NEVER Championship he never lost? Hey, Naito could use another solid singles run too, right? There was many ways NJPW can go here, each with their own positives and negatives.

What’s funny abuot the Final Four is how big of surprises a few of the participants are. We obviously hosted a New Japan Cup pick’em contest (if you were apart and want to see where you stand, head over to www.voicesofwrestling.com/njcup15/standings) and that gave us some cool data on who our fans and the general public thought would make it to the Final Four and who would eventually take the Cup home.

The four favorites to win the whole thing were obvious picks to most New japan fans: Kazuchika Okada (27%), Katsuyori Shibata (18%) and Hiroshi Tanahashi (12%). Surprisingly, the man with the highest predicted championship probability? Kota Ibushi at 29%.

The rest of the final four were barely blips on the radar as far as winning the whole thing. Togi Makabe was the highest of the rest at 5% with Tetsuya Naito grabbing 4% and poor old Hirooki Goto at 0%. More surprisingly, Goto and Naito were below 10% to even make it to the Final Four with Naito only grabbing 5% and Goto at 6%.

Outside of the actual tournament itself, the theme of this year’s New Japan Cup has been the influx of young talent as Yohei Komatsu and Sho Tanaka (long-time young boys) have been in their biggest roles yet while new young boys Jay White and Bullet Club’s Cody Hall also find themselves in prominent matches.

Voices of Wrestling will have live coverage of the event as well as a review from Bryan Rose sometime in the morning after the shows live airing. You can discuss the New Japan Cup and all things wrestling at our forums (www.voicesofwrestling.com/forums) which as of yesterday, have full Tapatalk support for you mobile message boarders.

Jay White, KUSHIDA & Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Mascara Dorada, Ryusuke Taguchi & Tiger Mask

Rich Kraetsch: This has the looks and feel of a Fire Pro Wrestling Random Select match which is a shame because there’s a lot of talent hidden in there. You probably don’t care what I actually think about this match so let me take this opportunity to talk about KUSHIDA and how strong of a singles talent I think he could be. I know he got the Junior Title last year only to cover for an injury but I truly believe NJPW is wasting a huge opportunity with the 31-year-old. Oh yeah, the match, uh, Dorada, Taguchi & Tiger Mask with New Zealand young boy Jay White taking the fall.

Prediction: Mascara Dorada, Ryusuke Taguchi & Tiger Mask

Bryan Rose: Only one of these gents is a young lion. Young lions get pinned a lot, you see. Easy choice here. But it also sounds like a pretty darn fun opener. I’ve seen enough New Japan six man tags in my lifetime, but this one won’t be so bad. I’m guessing either Dorada or Tiger Mask get the win to set up them up as challengers for their upcoming title matches.

Prediction: Mascara Dorada, Ryusuke Taguchi and Tiger Mask

Fujiwara Armbar: Dorada pins Jay White after everyone gets their bit in is the order of the day, but that’s fine. Predictable, but fine. Dorada needs more building ahead of his eventual IWGP Jr. match with Kenny Omega, whilst Tiger Mask spending time apart from superhero buddy Jushin Liger might make a few casual fans believe that he can take the NWA Jr. title away at a later date. Rich is right though, KUSHIDA deserves better than makeweight status.

Prediction: Mascara Dorada, Ryusuke Taguchi & Tiger Mask

Yohei Komatsu & Satoshi Kojima vs. Sho Tanaka & Yuji Nagata

Rich Kraetsch: The ascension of Komatsu & Tanaka continues as they are fresh off their highest profile match (teaming with Hiroshi Tanahashi & Yuji Nagata respectively) on the last televised event of the New Japan Cup. What’s the next step for the two? Who knows but I’m starting to get the feeling they aren’t going on excursion and could be used as real talents in New Japan starting, well, whenever they want. These two are just that good and can easily slide into a role tomorrow. I’m probably jinxing it and they’ll be on their way to PWS in a few days.

Anyway, this match should be a lot of fun as Tanaka continues his partnership with Nagata and Komatsu teams with Kojima for the first time since New Beginning in Sendai. It’s hard to get a read on wins and losses with the young boys but Nagata & Tanaka were on the losing end against Komatsu & Tanahashi, so this is their revenge. Tanaka & Nagata win with Komatsu taking the fall.

Prediction: Sho Tanaka & Yuji Nagata

Bryan Rose: This sounds pretty fun. The Young Lions are awesome and Kojima/Nagata interactions will probably be great. I’m guessing Kojima wins here, it makes sense. He’s probably the next contender for the NWA title, so him pinning Tanaka would set him up nicely. Will be a pretty good match to boot!

Prediction: Yohei Komatsu and Satoshi Kojima

Fujiwara Armbar: This match is very appealing to me, and I wish to subscribe to its newsletter. Komatsu and Tanaka are really being helped in the booking by being kept away from the morass of multi-man tags and being allowed to shine in singles matches and these more intimate tag affairs alongside elite or formerly elite workers. Maybe they look like ready made stars because they’re emerging in a fashionable New Japan whilst excursionistas Hiromu and Watanabe are looking at the lights of unexotic halls, but the opportunity is there to really curate the joy people get out of them and break with tradition by keeping them hot in their homeland.

Prediction: Sho Tanaka & Yuji Nagata

New Japan Cup 2015 Semi-Final
Togi Makabe vs. Hirooki Goto

Rich Kraetsch: Only 10% of the participants in our New Japan Cup pick’em thought Hirooki Goto would make it this far. I won’t get on their case, I’m shocked he was there too but it’s about time we stop doubting him in these situations. Goto is a 3-time New Japan Cup winner — this is HIS tournament. With that said, he’s definitely losing here as Makabe is my pick to win it all and challenge for the NEVER title. Depending on your tolerance of Makabe, this could be a really fun match but it can also be a bore. I’d look for it to be a sleeper.

Prediction: Togi Makabe

Bryan Rose: Hmm, this is a tough one. Goto has the history of winning the tournament. And to me, Makabe seems like the one to win it this year. The storyline fits since he never really lost the NEVER title, so winning this tournament and looking to regain it makes sense. Their last match was a doozy, so I have high expectations for the contest, even if this is just the New Japan cup.

Prediction: Togi Makabe

Fujiwara Armbar: These two resurrected an old war late last year as Goto returned the favour of a crocked jaw suffered during G1 23 to Makabe, meeting on the opening night of G1 24 in a fine bout won by Goto. A better match followed at Destruction in Kobe, with Makabe gaining some measure of revenge. As for this, it’s a tough call. I’d like to think that the NEVER addition to the tournament is a maguffin and that Ishii owes a title defence against Makabe as a point of honour. My overall prediction is that the winner of this match picks up a kayfabe injury that they sell to defeat in the final. For matchmaking purposes, I’m taking the more mobile Goto.

Prediction: Hirooki Goto

New Japan Cup 2015 Semi-Final
Tetsuya Naito vs. Kota Ibushi

Rich Kraetsch: Not many predicted this as one of the semi-final matchups but man am I glad we’re getting it. I’ve become a huge Naito fan over the past year so I could be biased but this has me more excited than anything else on the card. Current tag partners put it all on the line for a chance at a singles title. It’s a cool narrative and the crowd should be molten hot for this one.

Ibushi has had an unbelievable year thus far and continues to show up on our Match of the Month countdowns. Naito goes without saying, with the right opponent, in the right situation, he delivers. This is that opponent and this is that situation. These two last faced off at the 2013 G1 Climax, in a match that received ****¼ from Dave Meltzer. Both guys have improved leaps and bounds since the summer of 2013, so my hopes are high for this one as a Match of the Year candidate. Tetsuya Naito moves onto the finals and a battle with Makabe.

Prediction: Tetsuya Naito

Bryan Rose: This should be a fantastic match. I remember their G1 match a few years ago, and it was really good. Kota Ibushi is a totally different worker now than he was back then, though- he’s actually better. Natio’s always been awesome, so together I think this should be a hell of a match, if the environment fits. The emphasis here when it comes to the New Japan Cup isn’t necessarily having the best match, so who knows if they can have a match that lives up to potential. As for who would win…I think it could go either way. In the end, I feel it’s going to be Naito. Even though there’s been some surprises in the tournament, I also feel it’s been kind of conservative at times, so I think we’ll see Natio pick up the win here, even though I really like the idea of Ibushi in the finals.

Prediction: Tetsuya Naito

Fujiwara Armbar: When Rich sent the VOW pick’ems over to me I sheepishly picked Naito, not able to make a real case for anyone else winning it. Now we’re at the final four, I struggle to look past Ibushi – were it not for the fact New Japan tend not to prominently feature persons headlining elsewhere, which Ibushi is as reigning top title holder in DDT. Booking Ibushi does require breaking with established protocol and ultimately that’s what I’m backing to win out because he is a once-and-forever star and Naito, as great as he is and as much as I am looking forward to this match, is a yeoman designed to send him into the stratosphere.

Prediction: Kota Ibushi

Tomoaki Honma & Katsuyori Shibata vs. Tama Tonga & Cody Hall

Rich Kraetsch: Cody Hall has it pretty damn good doesn’t he? Komatsu and Tanaka have been wearing jumpsuits and holding ice packs for five years now and this little whipper-snapper gets a match fourth from the top? Life isn’t fair. Look on the bright side, he’s definitely taking the fall here and he’s definitely going to get his ass kicked by Shibata throughout. My other prediction: Honma will attempt a Kokeshi and miss it — just wait and see!

Prediction: Tomoaki Honma & Katsuyori Shibata

Bryan Rose: I think this will be better than people think it will be. Tama Tonga is pretty good, even though he’s almost never good strong and usually loses. At least this time he won’t be doing the job since Cody Hall is here. He has presence and could actually be very good down the line. It’ll take time, though. i don’t see Shibata and Honma losing this. I’m guessing the safe bet is Hall is taking the penalty kick and a kokeshi for the loss.

Prediction: Tomoaki Honma and Katsuyori Shibata

Fujiwara Armbar: Presence and genetics may Young Master Hall have, but the Bullet Club side here is overmatched greatly in terms of perceived and actual quality. Their attempt to hold back the overwhelming physical force of Shibata or the hurricane of personality behind Honma should be similar to watching someone attempt to bat back the tide with a thimble.

Prediction: Tomoaki Honma & Katsuyori Shibata

Captain New Japan & Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Kazushi Sakuraba & Yano

Rich Kraetsch: Oof, this is not going to be good. I enjoy the Cap and obviously I’m a huge fan of Hiroshi Tanahashi but avid NJPW watches know what we’re getting here. We’re getting Yano comedy, Sakuraba working with the smallest amount of effort possible, Tanahashi sitting it out to rest his back and Captain New Japan taking 99.9% of the match.

Prediction: Captain New Japan & Hiroshi Tanahashi

Bryan Rose: I’m going to be edgy here. I know it’s something people won’t like, but I think Yano is destined to meet Tanahashi at Invasion Attack. So with that in mind, Yano has to pin Captain New Japan here. And if you’re thinking this is going to be an excellent match, think again. I think it’ll be better than people think, though. Yano’s got his gimmick down pat so his antics are usually pretty funny, just as long as he doesn’t face Iizuka and Suzuki for the millionth time.

Prediction: Toru Yano and Kazushi Sakuraba

Fujiwara Armbar: Well I like everyone here just great actually and having binged on Sakuraba matches in UWFi and various MMA promotions I am now fully on board the Saku Express and am happy to have him do whatever the hell he likes wherever the hell he likes. Word on Insider St. is that they’re building to a Tanahashi-Yano singles match, which might sound a bit disenfranchising to those workrate-orientated hardcore US fans engaged at the top of the year but the two work well together and it should offer breathing room for the serious singles matches being groomed for the top three singles titles.

Prediction: Kazushi Sakuraba & Yano

CHAOS (YOSHI-HASHI, Tomohiro Ishii, Kazuchika Okada & Shinsuke Nakamura) vs. Bullet Club (Yujiro Takahashi, Bad Luck Fale, Doc Gallows & Karl Anderson)

Rich Kraetsch: I’m sure this will be fine but I just can’t do another Bullet Club/CHAOS clusterfuck multi-man. New Japan could desperately use some Dragon Gate influence in their booking and start moving guys around to create some fresh matchups. I’ve been over Bullet Club for months so I won’t get into that but even the guys in CHAOS seem to blend together now. They are all supremely talented (save for YOSHI-HASHI) and I’d love to see them against one another some more rather than lumped together in these boring, dime-a-dozen tag matches. Okada & Nakamura will be ghosts for most of this match, YOSHI-HASHI will take most of a damage and he gets pinned by Bad Luck Fale.

Prediction: CHAOS (YOSHI-HASHI, Tomohiro Ishii, Kazuchika Okada & Shinsuke Nakamura)

Bryan Rose: Not feeling it. What it feels like is a good house show main event, where they’ll do the standard eight man tag and maybe amp it up a bit since they’re second from the top. I don’t need to see a New Japan tag match for a good while, honestly. As for who wins, I’m guessing Okada. He’s set to face Fale somewhere down the line for his big win, so it makes sense to set it up here.

Prediction: CHAOS

Fujiwara Armbar: It is best for these matches to choose a pet issue that the match might highlight, so here is mine for today: Karl Anderson has been looking a lot better as of late, isn’t he? His match with Naito in Round 1 was less Steady Eddie than usual, continuing a quietly impressive run that caught the eye early in December’s Tag League. Whilst I’m not about to clap hands and advocate that long-awaited Anderson singles run to commence, and maybe he sometimes looks good based on the company he keeps, it is to his exchanges with the combined excellence in CHAOS I will await.

Prediction: Bullet Club

New Japan Cup 2015 Finals
Winner of Semi-Final vs. Winner of Semi-Final

Rich Kraetsch: Based on my picks we have Makabe vs. Naito which is actually on paper a worse match than both semi-finals but what can you do? The plan from the beginning of this tournament seemed to be Togi Makabe winning the tourney and challenging for the NEVER title he never lost. It seems too simple to happen, too lame, too prediction, whatever but this isn’t the G1 Climax, it’s the New Japan Cup and sometimes it is lame and predictable. I think both men will give it their all but it probably ends up being a whimper of a main event, even if I’m fans of both guys.

Prediction: Togi Makabe

Bryan Rose: I have Makabe vs. Naito in the finals. It sounds weird, but I think it’ll work. I don’t remember any of their matches off the top of my head, but both work hard so it’ll probably be the best match on the show since they’re headlining. So the big question is, who wins? That’s a good one. Naito could totally win this and I wouldn’t be totally surprised. But then again, he and Ibushi seem to be in a tag program, so I don’t know where that leads them. Makabe makes the most sense. He was a built in storyline to win and I think he’ll pull it off.

Prediction: Togi Makabe

Fujiwara Armbar: Mr. Optimistic here has predicted, or willed in a deluded fashion, a final between Kota Ibushi and Hirooki Goto. And that final will see the Golden Star beat an injury-carrying Aramusha and ultimately challenge Shinsuke Nakamura to a third match for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. Much like Rich with his scenario, it seems too simple and predictable, but Sumo Hall is not small and with uncertainty over AJ Styles’ next opponent, it would at least be prudent to give current company titan Shinsuke Nakamura a clash that people will drop big yen for. After all, it’s quite possible that Nakamura was meant to win the G1 clash between the two and lose in a quick rematch scheduled for Wrestle Kingdom 9. Either way, we’re getting a big main event.

Prediction: Kota Ibushi