Hello everyone! Welcome to the month of March. If you’re of Irish descent, congratulations! You are now legally allowed to celebrate your heritage by wearing a leprechaun outfit and getting shit-faced drunk on green beer. No one will even bat an eye. But if you’re not Irish, or if you have enough sense to not get blasted to the point where you’re puking over a nice pair of buckled shoes, March means that it’s time once again for the New Japan Cup!

The New Japan Cup is New Japan Pro Wrestling’s annual single-elimination tournament. It will run from March 9 to 21. The winner of this tournament will receive a championship match of their choosing at NJPW Sakura Genesis on April 1. They may compete for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, IWGP Intercontinental Championship, or NEVER Openweight Championship.

The rules of this tournament are so simple that even Jim Ross can comprehend them. There will be a first round, a quarterfinals, a semifinals, and a finals. If a wrestler wins their match, they’ll move on the next round. If they lose their match, they’ll have a long flight home… unless of course they live in Japan, in which case it would only be a short flight home (or perhaps a mildly inconvenient bus ride). The tournament will start with a first round of sixteen wrestlers. From sixteen we will drop down to eight in the quarterfinals, then down to four in the semifinals, and then down to two in the finals. Whomever wins the finals on March 21 will win the 2018 New Japan Cup. It’s easy like Sunday morning.

This year’s field of sixteen is a diverse mix of first-time entrants and seasoned veterans, former winners and perennial losers, odds-on favorites and ultimate underdogs. Here is the bracket for the first round:

So without further ado, let’s take a gander at the lineup for the 2018 New Japan Cup!

Participants

“Unbreakable” Michael Elgin
3rd year
Previous NJC experience: 2016 (Semifinals loss), 2017 (First round loss)

“Big Awkward” Michael Elgin is entering his third New Japan Cup this year. Elgin’s New Japan career hasn’t been the same since he lost the IWGP Intercontinental Championship to Tetsuya Naito at Destruction in Kobe 2016. Like a veggie burger at a rural Texas barbecue, he’s been put on the back burner. He lost in the first round to Bad Luck Fale in last year’s NJC and failed to make a sizeable dent in the 2017 G1 Climax. Elgin also lost the few featured matches he had in 2017 to Naito, Cody, and Minoru Suzuki. He’s maintained the status quo so far in 2018, but winning the New Japan Cup could put Elgin back in the high life again.

Facing off against Michael Elgin in the first round is…

“Stone Pitbull” Tomohiro Ishii
9th year
Previous NJC experience: 2006 (First round loss), 2007 (First round loss), 2008 (First round loss), 2009 (Quarterfinals loss), 2013 (Quarterfinals loss), 2014 (First round loss), 2016 (Quarterfinals loss), 2017 (Semifinals loss)

The roughest, toughest, and gruffest man on the New Japan roster could also wind up garnering the most support. Tomohiro Ishii’s ability to gain sympathy from the fans stands in sheer defiance of his personality; he is as effervescent as a pile of bricks. But every year, without fail, we all find ourselves rooting for Ishii to win the tournament. And every year, without fail, we are let down when he gets eliminated. It’s a vicious cycle. Ishii has never won “the big one.” Hell, he’s been in the tournament eight times and only made the semifinals once. Chances are he won’t win this “big one” either. But Tomohiro Ishii is one tough cookie. And as long as that cookie has a little bit of fight left in him, there is hope.

“Heart and Honor” Juice Robinson
2nd year
Previous NJC experience: 2017 (Quarterfinals loss)

Juice Robinson does indeed have a lot of heart. He also has a lot honor. Unfortunately neither of those do him any favors when it comes to winning high-profile matches, but they are quite helpful in making him an endearing underdog wrestler. So even when he comes up short against Naito or Kenny Omega, his affability and babyface spirit keeps him high in our hearts. Juice’s entrance into this year’s New Japan Cup could add an interesting wrinkle to the proceedings. In a post-match promo at The New Beginning in Osaka, Juice noted that should he win the New Japan Cup, he would challenge IWGP U.S. Heavyweight Champion Jay White.

The New Japan website has made it clear that the winner can only challenge for one of the three championships listed above, but you never know. If Juice Robinson defies the odds and wins the tournament, we could be cheering on the “Moon Child” to win the U.S. Title at Sakura Genesis.

Taking on Juice Robinson in a rematch from the first round of last year’s New Japan Cup is…

“Tokyo Pimp” Yujiro Takahashi
9th year
Previous NJC experience: 2010 (Quarterfinals loss), 2011 (First round loss), 2012 (First round loss), 2013 (Quarterfinals loss), 2014 (First round loss), 2015 (Quarterfinals loss), 2016 (First round loss), 2017 (First round loss)

Cue the grimy guitars and sultry “You make me feel so good” voice-over because here comes Yujiro Takahashi. Like Tomohiro Ishii, Yujiro will be entering his ninth New Japan Cup this year. Unlike Ishii, Yujiro has never managed to make it past the quarterfinals. Given his recent track record of doing, well, almost nothing of note these past few years, I don’t like Yujiro’s chances of making it out of the first round. Maybe he’ll get his revenge on Juice and advance to the quarterfinals. More likely he’ll eat another Pulp Friction. But hey, the man surrounds himself with gorgeous women and carries a sweet cane. So who’s the real winner here?

“Once in a Century Talent” Hiroshi Tanahashi
9th year
Previous NJC experience: 2005 (Winner), 2006 (Semifinals loss), 2008 (Winner), 2010 (Quarterfinals loss), 2012 (Finals loss), 2015 (First round loss), 2016 (First round loss), 2017 (First round loss)

Go Ace! Go Ace! Go Ace! Go Ace! Go Ace! Hiroshi Tanahashi is returning to the active roster after taking a little more than a month off due to acute osteoarthritis in his right knee. I’m sure Tanahashi will not play up the injury at all, nor will his opponent continually attack his knee to garner boos. Nope. Not gonna happen. The fact that Tanahashi is a golden god in New Japan (a five star man, if you will) and a former two-time winner of the New Japan Cup would make him a heavy favorite. Still, you can’t deny that Tanahashi has not had the best of luck when it comes to his more recent attempts. He’s lost his three previous first round matches in major upsets (to Toru Yano in 2015, Bad Luck Fale in 2016, and EVIL in 2017), so Tanahashi falling yet again in the first round here would not be a total shock.

Should Tanahashi become the second man to win the New Japan Cup three times (Hirooki Goto is the only one to do it so far), he has a few options. He could challenge Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Okada has made ten successful defenses of his IWGP Heavyweight Championship during his current reign. The record is eleven and it’s held by, you guessed it, Hiroshi Tanahashi. Tanahashi could stop Okada from tying and potentially breaking the record by ending the Rainmaker’s reign. The other option is Tanahashi challenging IWGP Intercontinental Championship Minoru Suzuki. Suzuki won the belt off Tanahashi at New Beginning, mercilessly attacking the knee and putting him on the shelf. A New Japan Cup win for Tanahashi could earn him a shot at revenge. Decisions, decisions, but he’ll have to win the tournament first.

This year Tanahashi goes one-on-one in the first round against…

“The World’s Slyest Wrestler” Taichi
1st year

The first of three new entrants in this year’s tournament, Taichi was allowed entry into the New Japan Cup because he recently moved up to being a heavyweight. No longer will he terrorize the junior division with his tear-away pants and misguided notion of how hammers work. He’s moving on up, baby! And what a month to do so. He already has a high profile match scheduled for March, that being against Tetsuya Naito on New Japan’s 46th Anniversary Show on March 6 (which you may have already seen by the time you’ve read this). But a first round match against another New Japan main eventer in Hiroshi Tanahashi? That’s just another scoop of ice cream on Taichi’s sundae. The odds of him beating both men are slimmer than Scott Hall’s toothpicks, but as far as his match against Tanahashi is concerned, he does have history on his side. Tanahashi has lost three-in-a-row in first round matches. If Taichi is his usual crafty self, we could be seeing that losing streak extend another year.

“The Underboss” Bad Luck Fale
4th year
Previous NJC experience: 2015 (Finals loss), 2016 (Quarterfinals loss), 2017 (Finals loss)

Currently one-third of the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Champions with the Guerrillas of Destiny, Bad Luck Fale enters his fourth New Japan Cup looking to add more gold to his collection. Out of his three previous appearances in the tournament, Fale has made the finals twice. Surprising? Hell no. If you read the profile I wrote on Fale for Voices of Wrestling’s 2017 New Japan Year-in-Review ebook (available to purchase here), you’d know that Fale is a dominant force in New Japan’s annual singles tournaments. He’s the big bad monster who terrorizes the village before getting slain by the hero in the end. In 2015, that hero was Shinsuke Nakamura. Last year it was Katsuyori Shibata. Will we see a new hero take down Fale in the finals this year? Or will Fale crush that hero and finally win his first tournament?

In a battle of the super heavyweights, Bad Luck Fale takes on…

“American Psycho” Lance Archer
4th year
Previous NJC experience: 2012 (First round loss), 2013 (First round loss), 2014 (First round loss)

If you’re looking for a decorated tag team wrestler in New Japan, look no further than Lance Archer. Archer is a three-time IWGP Tag Team Champion with Davey Boy Smith Jr. and won the 2011 G1 Tag League with Minoru Suzuki. When it comes to the New Japan Cup, that’s a different story altogether. Despite his large frame, punishing moveset, and caustic attitude, Archer has never been able to make it past the first round. 2018 can be Archer’s chance to break the cycle. The only thing standing in his way is Bad Luck Fale. There’s gonna be a lot of grunty beef slamming in that one folks, so look out.

“Head Hunter” YOSHI-HASHI
5th year
Previous NJC experience: 2012 (First round loss), 2015 (First round loss), 2016 (First round loss), 2017 (First round loss)

Let’s talk about YOSHI-HASHI for a second. The guy has managed to slowly claw his way out of being the CHAOS laughing stock and into the role of plucky midcarder, earning three singles title matches in 2017 and recently engaging in a short feud with Tetsuya Naito. But the poor bastard just can’t seem to make any headway in the New Japan Cup. It’s been first round loss after first round loss in all four of his NJC appearances. It’s not like YOSHI-HASHI has stumbled out of the gate; somebody padlocked the gate shut and he’s been running headlong into it for four straight attempts. So yes, YOSHI-HASHI is most certainly an underdog in the tournament. But every underdog has their moment in the sun, so maybe this will be his year.

Welp…

“Golden Star” Kota Ibushi
2nd year
Previous NJC experience: 2015 (Winner)

Sorry Yosh, this will not be your year. Another heavy favorite in the tournament, Kota Ibushi has a perfect record in the New Japan Cup at 1-0. He is one of four people to have ever won the NJC in their first attempt; the other three are Hiroshi Tanahashi, Giant Bernard, and Kazuchika Okada. Three years later, Ibushi will use his world class talents to try to make it 2-0. Interestingly enough, Ibushi’s Golden Lovers tag partner Kenny Omega is not in this year’s tournament despite being eligible. Omega has stated that he wants to finish his business with the Bullet Club civil war before focusing on anything else. In an interview, Ibushi responded that he was thankful Kenny wasn’t in the tournament because then he would have to fight him. “I don’t want to fight someone I’m close with,” he said. Awwwwwwwwwwww.

“Uncontrollable Charisma” Tetsuya Naito
7th year
Previous NJC experience: 2010 (Semifinals loss), 2011 (First round loss), 2012 (Quarterfinals loss), 2014 (Quarterfinals loss), 2015 (Semifinals loss), 2016 (Winner)

Speaking of heavy favorites, look who’s back. After a year off from competing in the tournament due to holding the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, Tetsuya Naito returns for his seventh New Japan Cup. The NJC has treated Naito very kindly in the past. His 2016 victory gave him his first IWGP Heavyweight Championship reign when he challenged and defeated Okada for the belt at Invasion Attack. He’s also made it to the semifinals twice in previous attempts, including his first year in the tournament. Naito has had a slow go of it so far in 2018; he failed to reclaim the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Wrestle Kingdom 12 and then moved on to much lesser feuds against YOSHI-HASHI and Taichi. If Naito wants to restart the motor, the New Japan Cup is the perfect place to do it. On the other hand, the New Japan Cup has seen its fair share of first round upsets. Naito could be out of the running sooner than he would like.

Tetsuya Naito’s opponent in the first round will be…

“Technical Wizard” Zack Sabre Jr.
1st year

Our second new entrant in the tournament is representing both Suzuki-gun and the Labour Party. What a combo. From PWG to RevPro to wXw to Evolve and beyond, Zack Sabre Jr. has used his superb technical wrestling skills to win championships and tournaments all over the world. Sabre punishes his opponents with a barrage of submissions and strikes, his creativity seemingly knowing no bounds. Sabre can use that genius here to win the New Japan Cup, but he’ll have to go through Naito first. The two met in last year’s G1 Climax, with Naito emerging victorious. Sabre winning the rematch and the tournament could bump his stock significantly in New Japan, as well as inspire confidence in people everywhere who can’t wear baseball caps.

“Sublime Master Thief” Toru Yano
13th year
Previous NJC experience: 2006 (First round loss), 2007 (First round loss), 2008 (Semifinals loss), 2009 (First round loss), 2010 (Quarterfinals loss), 2011 (Semifinals loss), 2012 (First round loss), 2013 (Semifinals loss), 2014 (First round loss), 2015 (Quarterfinals loss), 2016 (Semifinals loss), 2017 (Quarterfinals loss)

Toru Yano has the distinction of competing in the New Japan Cup more than any other wrestler. He’s been in every single iteration of the tournament with the exception of the inaugural run in 2005. That’s impressive. Of course Yano has never actually won the tournament despite so many attempts. (Does that make him the Peter O’Toole of the New Japan Cup?) Yano’s position in the tournament is that he’s a wild card. He can beat anyone using his wits and his unsportsmanlike conduct. Just ask Hiroshi Tanahashi in 2015. Yano has made the semifinals four times in his career, so don’t be shocked if he makes it a fifth.

Going up against Toru Yano in the first round this year is…

“British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith Jr.
3rd year
Previous NJC experience: 2013 (Semifinals loss), 2014 (First round loss)

Like his Killer Elite Squad counterpart Lance Archer, Davey Boy Smith Jr. has had greater success as a tag team wrestler in New Japan than as a singles wrestler. Where Smith and Archer differ is that Smith has actually fared a bit better in the New Japan Cup. In his first attempt, Smith made it all the way to the semifinals before losing to Hirooki Goto. It’s been four years since Smith has had any singles matches in New Japan, so it’ll be interesting to see how well he does in a one-on-one scenario after so long.

“Kentucky Gentleman” Chuckie T
1st year

Get ready to pop some dogs and talk some hogs because BIG DUST is making his New Japan Cup debut. It’s kind of a given that Beretta was supposed to get this spot in the tournament, but he got injured. Who better to take his place than his tag partner and best friend Chuckie T? This is Chuck’s singles debut in New Japan and if you’ve been following his career for a long time like I have, you know how big a deal this is. For years it’s seemed like Chuck Taylor has always been the bridesmaid, never the bride. He’s seen many of his contemporaries pass him by and achieve greater stardom in WWE: Bryan Danielson, Seth Rollins, Cesaro, Kassius Ohno, Sami Zayn, Kevin Owens, Johnny Gargano, Tommaso Ciampa, Adam Cole, Kyle O’Reilly, Ricochet, Roderick Strong, and pretty much the entire 205 Live roster.

With an opportunity to win the New Japan Cup and challenge for a title, Chuckie can finally make his mark on a grand stage like New Japan Pro Wrestling.

To round out the list of competitors, Chuckie T’s opponent will be…

“Cold Skull” SANADA
2nd year
Previous NJC experience: 2017 (Quarterfinals loss)

SANADA is entering his second New Japan Cup coming off a loss to Okada at The New Beginning in Osaka. He was mere centimeters away from winning the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, but the “Rainmaker” took out the “Cold Skull” once again. SANADA’s first NJC appearance ended in a loss in the quarterfinals; not the worst place to finish, but obviously not the best. A year older and a year wiser, SANADA could go much further this time around. A key thing to note is the placement of matches on the bracket. Both SANADA and Naito could make it to the semifinals against each other. It would be the first time the two Los Ingobernables de Japon members ever wrestled in a singles match together. Will it be LIJ vs. LIJ? Only time will tell.

 

FEATURED FIRST ROUND MATCHES

The first round has some tantalizing matches on the horizon, including:

  • Michael Elgin vs. Tomohiro Ishii – This one’s going to be an absolute slobberknocker.
  • Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Taichi – Can Tanahashi break the curse? Or will Taichi make a statement in the heavyweight division?
  • Kota Ibushi vs. YOSHI-HASHI – Ibushi can have a great match with a box of Cheez-Its and YOSHI-HASHI will bring the underdog babyface fire.
  • Tetsuya Naito vs. Zack Sabre Jr. – Two of the very best in the world.
  • Chuckie T vs. SANADA – LET’S GO CHUCK TAYLOR YOU’RE THE BEST WRESTLER IN THE WORLD YOU’RE IN WAY BETTER SHAPE THAN SANADA!

SCHEDULE AND CARD LINEUPS

All events will be shown live on New Japan World with select events featuring English commentary.

*HIKULEO suffered a knee injury on 3/3 which is currently undisclosed. This may affect the card lineups.*

MARCH 9, 2018
TOKYO, KORAKUEN HALL
ENGLISH COMMENTARY AVAILABLE

Tomoyuki Oka, Katsuya Kitamura, & David Finlay vs. Chuckie T, Toru Yano, & Hirooki Goto
HIKULEO & Bad Luck Fale vs. Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Lance Archer
BUSHI, SANADA, & Tetsuya Naito vs. El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, & Zack Sabre Jr.
Toa Henare, Togi Makabe, & Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Taichi, Takashi Iizuka, & Minoru Suzuki
YOSHI-HASHI & Kazuchika Okada vs. Chase Owens & Kota Ibushi
New Japan Cup 2018 First Round Match: Juice Robinson vs. Yujiro Takahashi
New Japan Cup 2018 First Round Match: Michael Elgin vs. Tomohiro Ishii

MARCH 10, 2018
AICHI PREFECTURAL GYMNASIUM
LIVE ON NJPWWORLD

Shota Umino & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. El Desperado & Yoshinobu Kanemaru
Tomoyuki Oka & Yuji Nagata vs. David Finlay & Juice Robinson
Katsuya Kitamura & Michael Elgin vs. Toru Yano & Tomohiro Ishii
Toa Henare & Togi Makabe vs. Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Takashi Iizuka
BUSHI, SANADA, & Tetsuya Naito vs. TAKA Michinoku, Zack Sabre Jr., & Minoru Suzuki
Chuckie T, YOSHI-HASHI, Hirooki Goto, & Kazuchika Okada vs. HIKULEO, Chase Owens, Yujiro Takahashi, & Kota Ibushi
New Japan Cup 2018 First Round: Bad Luck Fale vs. Lance Archer
New Japan Cup 2018 First Round: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Taichi

MARCH 11, 2018
HYOGO, BAYCOM GYMNASIUM (AMAGASAKI MEMORIAL PARK GYMNASIUM)
LIVE ON NJPWWORLD

Tomoyuki Oka & Yuji Nagata vs. Katsuya Kitamura & Ryusuke Taguchi
Shota Umino vs. El Desperado
Toa Henare, David Finlay, Juice Robinson, & Michael Elgin vs. HIKULEO, Chase Owens, Yujiro Takahashi, & Bad Luck Fale
Toru Yano, Tomohiro Ishii, & Hirooki Goto vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Davey Boy Smith Jr., & Lance Archer
Togi Makabe & Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Taichi & Takashi Iizuka
Chuckie T & Kazuchika Okada vs. BUSHI & SANADA
New Japan Cup 2018 First Round: YOSHI-HASHI vs. Kota Ibushi
New Japan Cup 2018 First Round: Tetsuya Naito vs. Zack Sabre Jr.

MARCH 12, 2018
KAGAWA, TAKAMATSU CITY GENERAL GYMNASIUM #1
LIVE ON NJPWWORLD

Ryusuke Taguchi & Shota Umino vs Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado
Yuji Nagata, Katsuya Kitamura, & Tomoyuki Oka vs Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi, & HIKULEO
Michael Elgin & David Finlay vs Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI
Tetsuya Naito & BUSHI vs Zack Sabre Jr. & TAKA Michinoku
Hiroshi Tanahashi, Togi Makabe, Juice Robinson, & Toa Henare vs Minoru Suzuki, Lance Archer, Takashi Iizuka, & Taichi
Kazuchika Okada & Tomohiro Ishii vs Kota Ibushi & Chase Owens
New Japan Cup 2018 First Round: Toru Yano vs Davey Boy Smith Jr.
New Japan Cup 2018 First Round: Chucky T vs SANADA

MARCH 14, 2018
SHIZUOKA, FUJISAN MESSE
LIVE ON NJPWWORLD

New Japan Cup 2018 Quarterfinals: WINNER Elgin/Ishii vs. WINNER Juice/Yujiro
New Japan Cup 2018 Quarterfinals: WINNER Fale/Archer vs. WINNER Tanahashi/Taichi

MARCH 15, 2018
TOKYO, KORAKUEN HALL
ENGLISH COMMENTARY AVAILABLE

New Japan Cup 2018 Quarterfinals: WINNER YOSHI-HASHI/Ibushi vs. WINNER Naito/Sabre
New Japan Cup 2018 Quarterfinals: WINNER Yano/Smith vs. WINNER Chuckie/SANADA

MARCH 16, 2018
TOKYO, KORAKUEN HALL
ENGLISH COMMENTARY AVAILABLE

New Japan Cup 2018 Semifinals: TBD

MARCH 18, 2018
SHIZUOKA, ACT CITY HAMAMATSU
ENGLISH COMMENTARY AVAILABLE

New Japan Cup 2018 Semifinals: TBD

MARCH 20, 2018
NIIGATA, AO-RE NAGAOKA
ENGLISH COMMENTARY AVAILABLE

New Japan Cup 2018 Finals: TBD