New Japan Pro Wrestling
New Japan Cup 2017
March 19, 2017
Shizuoka, Japan
Act City Hamamatsu

Watch: NJPW World

Juice Robinson, Tomoyuki Oka & David Finlay Jr. Def. Yuji Nagata, Katsuya Kitamura & Hirai Kawato

Katsuya Kitamura reminds me a lot of Ben-K from Dragon Gate in the sense that he’s so different from all of the other young lions. Something is clearly different about his presence and the way he carries himself and how he looks. First of all, the guy’s 31 years old, he’s no child, but he’s still on the same level as a guy like Kawato, who is a child, though he’s presented in a totally different way than Kawato or even Oka is. He has more attitude, more personality, more charisma, and I cannot help but feel we’re watching the development of someone special. I’m probably putting him over too hard, this was only his second match to make tape, but man am I excited to follow his progression. He took the fall to Juice in what was a thoroughly entertaining opener. ***

Jado & Gedo Def. El Desperado & TAKA Michinoku

While the match wasn’t anything to write home about, I always enjoy watching a bunch of sleazeballs having a go at one another. Jado seems to be a bit more motivated after the Honma incident earlier in the month so has been relatively inoffensive in his last few matches, as has TAKA since he hasn’t been teaming with Taichi. Surprisingly, TAKA was the one to take the fall and not Desperado, so that’s something worth noting since Desperado’s been the Suzuki-gun fall-guy forever. **

Minoru Suzuki, Taichi, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Takashi Iizuka Def. Satoshi Kojima, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Jushin Thunder Liger & Tiger Mask IV

Standard Suzuki-gun multi-man. Big brawl at the start. Taichi took his pants off. Suzuki wrapped a chair around Kojima’s head. Takashi Iizuka stumbled around like an idiot. What more can I say? Suzuki-gun is the absolute pits, the worst unit in wrestling and is a total lost cause. I thought the addition of Zack Sabre would help but what help is he when he’s not there. I was done with them two months after they invaded NOAH in 2015, I was into it when they came back to New Japan in January, and two months later, like clockwork, I want no part of them. *3/4

Michael Elgin, Hiroshi Tanahashi, KUSHIDA & Ryusuke Taguchi Def. Tetsuya Naito, Hiromu Takahashi, BUSHI & SANADA

Everyone worked harder than usual here for whatever reason. I’ve grown numb to these LIJ multi-mans since most of them are samey and uninspired, but on occasion you’ll get one like this where there’s something more to it. Elgin’s interactions with SANADA were absolutely off the chart and made me desperate to see a big singles match between the two in the near future. KUSHIDA and Hiromu were the other two standouts as we inch closer to their junior title bout next month. As always, BUSHI took the fall and continues to serve little to no purpose in these matches when he’s not spitting colored water. ***3/4

Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, YOSHI-HASHI & Toru Yano Def. Kenny Omega, Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa & Yujiro Takahashi

Run-of-the-mill standard issue mid-card multi-man. I’m over Omega’s whole tongue-in-cheek house show act. I get that it’s who he is and that he’s probably never going to change, it just isn’t doing it for me at this point. I can’t say he doesn’t work hard when he’s in rainbow pants mode, but I can’t say he does work hard either. Sometimes he works hard, sometimes he doesn’t. I guess at least one of the multi-mans had to be bland and uninspired. **1/2

New Japan Cup Semi-Final Match
Bad Luck Fale Def. EVIL

Fale’s uniqueness really does go a long way in this company. He’s so different from everyone else. He feels different. His matches are different. He’s slowly improved as a worker over the past few years to the point where I’d go as far as to say he’s pretty damn good. I would say this over-delivered because I wasn’t expecting a whole lot, but it was moreso a reminder that the guy can go. EVIL held up his end as the two brawled around the building at the start, which was a great way to establish that it wasn’t going to be another easy win for Fale and was also a great way to make EVIL look good in the process since Fale is booked like world-beater. Fale had to overcome a lot in order to pull out the victory between BUSHI spitting in his face and all the usual LIJ shenanigans but eventually put away EVIL with a Bad Luck Fall to advance.  ***1/2

New Japan Cup Semi-Final Match
Katsuyori Shibata Def. Tomohiro Ishii

I truly believe if Tomohiro Ishii started pumping out what he’s pumping out now ten years ago, he’d be considered one of the greatest wrestlers in history, and that’s not hyperbole. I genuinely mean that. At the same time, however, I feel like his age is what’s part of what makes him so special. He’s 41 years old, he’s no spring chicken, and he’s only been on this current run for a few years. I’m not ready to call him one of the greatest ever and I’m not sure I ever will be, but I am ready to call this run one of the greatest runs ever. People are going to look back on this run in 15 years or so and question why he was never considered an all-time great. Night after night, every time out, this man delivers better than most of the guys ten years younger than him. He did it with Kenny Omega on the 12th, and he did it again here with Shibata.

I’m not someone who worries about selling in my wrestling. Good selling is good selling, but I don’t view selling as this super important thing that can only be done one way, and I don’t think it matters as much in certain matches. I don’t think all wrestling need to be done a certain way and needs to follow one set of rules. Ishii and Shibata are too stubborn and too proud to sell for one another, that’s the story they’re going for. Ishii wants to prove that he’s tougher than Shibata, and vice versa. Both of them want to show that they have the bigger balls, that they have more guts. Why would they show one another that they’re in pain? If selling is that important to you and you can’t look past a lack of selling in any instance, if you don’t like the story they’re going for, which is your right, than this isn’t for.

Ishii showed a ton of heart in the closing stretch where Shibata wouldn’t let up on him but still couldn’t put him away because of the old man’s stubbornness and pride and unwillingness to quit. Ishii kept powering through. Ishii fought through the pain and no-sold everything Shibata threw at him until Shibata couldn’t take it anymore and had to choke him out in order to put him away. Ishii wasn’t pinned, Ishii didn’t submit, Ishii had to be choked out, and his emotion afterward really put it all into perspective as the young lions had to drag him away while he was scratching and crawling to get back in the ring.

Even more dramatic and even more brutal than some of their previous encounters. Ishii and Shibata took everything I love about pro wrestling and squeezed it into a 22-minute match that had me jumping off my couch like an idiot as I watched it in the middle of night with full knowledge of who won. God, this shit is really good sometimes, isn’t it? ****3/4

Final Thoughts:

A bland, unremarkable show with two good matches, a great main event and nothing else. If you read the card before watching the show and thought about how the matches would play out, that’s exactly how they played out. You were right. Nothing truly over-delivered. Nothing was worse than expected. Standard low-level New Japan show you’ll forget about in three days bar Shibata vs. Ishii.

Be on the lookout for New Japan Cup Finals review coming in the next day. We’ll also have final results/standings for our annual New Japan Cup pick’em contest.