New Japan Pro Wrestling
New Japan Cup 2017
March 11, 2017
Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium
Aichi, Japan (Attendance: 4515)

Watch: New Japan World

TAKA Michinoku & El Desperado def. Ryusuke Taguchi & Hirai Kawato

I don’t think he’ll ever be a star, but Hirai Kawato is coming along quickly and has become a guy that you can’t skip because you might miss a man die in the ring. This kid (as in, a literal teenager, as he still hasn’t celebrated his 20th birthday) bumps like a complete lunatic, and this roster of veterans, in this case noted sadistic young boy torturer TAKA Michonoku and stiffer than a dead body El Desperado, love to beat the every loving shit out of him. If my rating looks too high, I assure you it isn’t. Taguchi took the night off and stayed out of the way while Kawato had a few months shaved off of his career by two men that should probably be brought up on assault charges. Great opener. ***1/4

Satoshi Kojima, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Jushin Thunder Liger def. Manabu Nakanishi, Tiger Mask, Tomoyuki Oka

This average as fuck match was rolling along, doing average things and being average, when out of nowhere Kojima took Oka’s head off with the strongest arm and spared us a few extra minutes of mediocre. Kojima is over. I mean, guys like Kojima and Tenzan are always over to a degree, but lately Kojima is over more than usual. He can still go, and if they wanted to, they could totally give him a legit singles push and it would work. Nothing wrong with this, but it was just a match. **1/2

Kenny Omega & Yujiro Takahashi def. Tomohiro Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI

YOSHI-HASHI has been scoring so many falls lately that I was convinced Yujiro would take the L here, so the result surprised me a little. This was t-shirt Kenny, but he worked harder than he usually does when it’s a t-shirt match. YOSHI-HASHI sold the One Winged Angel like absolute death, above and beyond what you normally see for a finish, which I don’t think was happenstance. They are setting that move up to produce a huge moment, either as the downfall of Okada, or for a memorable kick out. ***1/4

Tetsuya Naito, SANADA, Hiromu Takahashi, BUSHI def. Katsuyori Shibata, Juice Robinson, KUSHIDA, David Finlay

This opened up with an odd spot. Hiromu was either still selling the leg from the Taguchi match, or slipped coming off the ropes and just went with it as if it was on purpose. Either way, KUSHIDA went along with it too, so it all ended up working out. This wasn’t bad, but unless I’m just getting tired of these, it was the worst LIJ muti-man tag I can recall. SANADA was the clear standout (including a very tasty sequence with Shibata), and won it with the dragon sleeper on Finlay. **3/4

Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, Gedo, Jado def. Minoru Suzuki, Takashi Iizuka, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Taichi

This was pretty damn great when Okada was in with Suzuki, and pretty damn awful when Taichi was doing anything aside from being hit with the match ending Rainmaker. Sometimes wrestling fans will pile on a certain wrestler to the point it becomes unfair, but Taichi legitimately sucks the life out of everything he touches. His matches always follow the same mundane routine, without the goofy charm of a Toru Yano or Takashi Iizuka. If you can stomach Taichi, the Okada/Suzuki sequences were money, and a possible prelude to a second Okada/Suzuki title match if Suzuki wins New Japan Cup. A lot of veterans take nights off on cards like this, but Okada never, ever does. ***

New Japan Cup Round One – Yuji Nagata def. Tanga Loa

This was Loa’s NJPW singles debut, and if I had it my way, it would be his singles finale. I’ve been the conductor of the Guerrillas of Destiny hype train lately, and I really do think GOD is one of the best tag teams in the world right now, but this man has no business working high profile New Japan singles matches. This was lifeless, had no energy, and was probably the worst New Japan singles bout since Doc Gallows was stinking up G1 undercards. Even Cesaro and Jinder Mahal thought this sucked. *3/4

New Japan Cup Round One – Toru Yano def. Tama Tonga

A typical Yano tournament match, with an abrupt schoolboy finish. This felt like Misawa/Kobashi compared to the previous match. **1/4

New Japan Cup Round One – Bad Luck Fale def. Michael Elgin

This reminded me of the Braun Strowman RAW matches against Big Show and Mark Henry. Methodical, but not in a negative way, with two large men doing large men things. Some will call the finish a mild upset, but Fale is booked in such a way that he is capable of beating anyone on the roster. ***

New Japan Cup Round One – EVIL def. Hiroshi Tanahashi

After thoroughly dominating Tanahashi at every turn during the build, I was somewhat surprised that EVIL won the match. In fact, this match largely mirrored the post match beatdowns EVIL had given Tanahashi over the last few weeks, with EVIL using his signature double chair attack to the head in the early moments and Tanahashi putting together relatively little offense after that aside from hitting his crossbody High Fly Flow to the floor and making a brief, albeit intense (including shoving Red Shoes aside) comeback towards the end of the match. This thoroughly one sided domination worked, as the crowd rallied behind Tanhashi the entire way, wanting, and probably expecting, the big come from behind win. Instead, EVIL borrowed from the BUSHI playbook and used mist to cut off the final, desperate comeback and hit the EVIL STO to pick up the win and stun the crowd. The show ended with EVIL telling the crowd that “Everything is EVIL!” with one foot on Tanahashi’s chest.

New Japan finds themselves in an interesting place with Tanahashi, who is still without question a big enough star to headline from time to time, but clearly slotted a notch below the top, while also still having enough credibility to give guys like EVIL sufficient rub when they beat him. This is a critical 18-24 month stretch in terms of taking advantage of that dynamic, before he loses that cache with fans due to too many losses. ****

Final Thoughts

An average show with a fascinating main event. If you watch the bookends and skip everything else, you won’t be missing much. I loved Kawato’s spirit in the opener, and the main event was not what I was expecting at all. Tanahashi has embraced his role as the fading star who puts people over, and not shockingly, he is proving to be great at it. His days of being recognized by the masses with awards and accolades are probably over, but matches like this one against EVIL and his WrestleKingdom bout against Naito show that Tanahashi is still an elite level performer, albeit in a role that is less apt to earn acclaim.