New Japan Pro Wrestling
New Japan Cup 2017
March 12, 2017
Amagasaki, Hyogo, Japan
Amagasaki Baycom Gymnasium

Watch: NJPW World

Yuji Nagata & Jushin Thunder Liger def. Tiger Mask & David Finlay

The prelims were shuffled around due to Manabu Nakanishi coming down with the flu, so the original opener of Finlay vs Tomoyuki Oka (which would have been a first time match) was changed to this. A totally skippable two star special where nothing happened of note. **

Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa def. Satoshi Kojima, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Hirai Kawato

Bullet Club attacked Kawato before TenKoji made their entrance. Once things settled down, this built to a Kawato hot tag. He was promptly murdered by Loa, who finished him off with a nasty sit out tombstone that made the crowd gasp. Kawato’s dead behind the eyes selling was terrifying and incredible. Kojima continues to be over way more than usual, and if this were a company that wasn’t booked so rigidly and deliberately, I’d suggest a nostalgia push was in order to strike while the iron is hot. The first two bouts were kept very short. **1/2

Tetsuya Naito, EVIL, Hiromu Takahashi, BUSHI def. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Michael Elgin, Ryusuke Taguchi, KUSHIDA

The big EVIL push continued here, putting away Taguchi with the EVIL STO one night after his complete and decisive dismantling of Tanahashi. Elgin was the standout on the babyface side, and this was a level above the two prelim bouts, but the endless LIJ 8-man tags are starting to feel very samey to me at this point. If you don’t watch every New Japan show, you probably find these way more entertaining than I do. I’m burning out on them. ***

Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, Toru Yano, Gedo, Jado def. Takashi Iizuka, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Taichi, TAKA Michonoku, El Desperado

One night after writing that Okada is the one veteran who never takes these types of matches off, he made me look like a dope by doing almost nothing here.

In the grand scheme it means absolutely nothing, but it was amusing watching a Suzuki-gun team made up of Takashi Iizuka and four juniors take an Okada & Goto led CHAOS side to the limit in a competitive match. Yano pinned Despy, so in three of the four first half bouts a New Japan Cup round one winner from a night earlier was booked strong by scoring a fall on night two. This was the best match of the first half, highlighted by Gedo’s great babyface in peril segment. In fact, I thought Gedo was the most entertaining wrestler and best worker on the entire first half of the show. ***1/4

New Japan Cup Round One
Juice Robinson def. Yujiro Takahashi

The long beat down by Yujiro to start the match played right into Robinson’s strengths as a worker, but the problem here was that Yujiro always struggles to put together compelling heat periods (one of the few highlights of which was a well timed Miami Shine spot that I actually bought as the finish). Juice’s hope spots were the highlights, especially a hellacious bump into the corner on a missed cannonball, and a big lariat that Yujiro sold like a champ that set up the Pulp Friction finish. Juice was really great here, and with a slightly better dance partner, this could have been a damn good match. Still, it was solid, and it’s hard to believe that Juice Robinson (who should have won the Observer award for Most Improved) is now at a point where he’s winning matches in major tournaments. He’s earned it. ***1/4

New Japan Cup Round One

This was good, but lacking something that I can’t put my finger on. It took a while to get going, and then became a battle of surviving each other’s finishes, taking turns scratching and crawling out of butterfly locks and Skull Ends. The finish was ambitious, with SANADA catching Y-H coming off the top rope directly into a Skull End that Tacos was unable to escape. A slow start and some minor flubs in execution kept this from being as good as it could have been. ***1/4

New Japan Cup Round One
Katsuyori Shibata def. Minoru Suzuki

Despite Suzuki really laying it in with some stiff strikes, this wasn’t the brutal war I was expecting, and it never really got going or hit a second gear. There was no discernible story, as it was basically Suzuki dominating the entire match until Shibata beat him with the choke/PK combo essentially out of nowhere, with zero build or climax, in what was an incredibly flat finish. This was straight up dull and uninspiring, and while I appreciate some of the stiff work, in terms of expectations versus reality, this may have been the most disappointing match I’ve seen since Chris Benoit vs Eddie Guerrero at One Night Stand 2005. ***

New Japan Cup Round One
Tomohiro Ishii def. Kenny Omega

In the span of about one hour, the two favorites to win the entire tournament were both eliminated.

This was great, easily the best match of either night, and one of the best matches of the year. In an interview with Bryan Alvarez & Dave Meltzer in January, Omega expressed his interest in working with Ishii. It was clear after watching this that Omega had an incredible Ishii match laid out in that magnificent, deranged mind of his. Omega is simply on a different level than the rest of the world right now when it comes to delivering drama in a big match setting, and the One Winged Angel has been brilliantly established as the most dangerous move in wrestling by failing to hit it. Omega is either going to use the move to win the IWGP title, or someone is going to kick out of it and blow the roof off whatever building they’re in, but either way, Omega has an incredible moment cooking in his maniacal brain when it comes time to finally pay this off.

Tomohiro Ishii may very well be the best pro wrestler walking the Earth, especially when it comes to selling, but in this match he put in what may have been his best performance yet from an offensive execution standpoint. Never mind the top rope rana (!!!), there is no chance I didn’t wake up a few neighbors when Ishii reversed the One Winged Angel into a cutter/stunner/Ace Crusher. Everyone knows Ishii is good, but his name always seems to be forgotten when people talk about the best in the world. That needs to stop. I’m not sure I can name five wrestlers today who I can confidently say are better overall professional wrestlers than this man, and I can’t think of one who has the innate ability to get crowds to rally behind him with such ease. I’m not someone who cares all that much about who wins or loses matches, but Ishii never fails to suck me in to root for him, and that’s precisely what pro wrestling is all about.

This is what happens when the most driven and talented man in wrestling gets in the ring with the best overall package. Despite how great this was, my gut is telling me they have an even better one in them. ****1/2

Final Thoughts

New Japan Cup always seems to leave me flat, especially the early rounds. Aside from Omega/Ishii and Tanahashi/EVIL, this year is no different. In terms of story, three of the favorites have been knocked out, leaving Shibata as the last pre tournament trendy pick standing. I’d be a little surprised if they burn off the Okada/Shibata match this soon. But if not Shibata, then who? Would they dare have Ishii challenge Okada, and trust that match to draw? EVIL has been pushed the hardest lately of the remaining men. The boldest move would be to have SANADA beat EVIL in the final and shock the world by challenging Naito. It feels too soon to split SANADA off from LIJ, but he has the top level main event upside that EVIL lacks. We’re a Shibata loss away from a shocking winner.

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