NEW JAPAN PRO WRESTLING
NEW JAPAN CUP 2018: NIGHT 5
MARCH 14, 2018
Watch: NJPW World
EL DESPERADO/YOSHINOBU KANEMARU DEF. RYUSUKE TAGUCHI/TETSUHIRO YAGI
Yagi is a former baseball player, and thus is technically behind his Young Lion peers, who all have some kind of wrestling background. He’s very passionate and sells well, as he spends most of this match bumping for Despy and Nobu. Helping out the Young Lions is a good spot for Taguchi. It adds a bit of responsibility and gravitas to his otherwise silly persona. The backstage promos from Despy have been really funny, with him complaining about the tag champions being put in the opener against “the pervert and a young boy”.
He has a point, because unless Taguchi and a Young Lion are going to get a title challenge at some point, something they haven’t deserved thus far, then putting Despy and Nobu in this spot is bang out of order and just goes to show what Gedo thinks of the Jr. tag team titles. They should really just get rid of them, or merge them with the Heavyweight tag titles. For what it’s worth, I think Despy and Nobu are having a good run as genuine heels, rather than cool heels who the fans love. You’re not supposed to like these guys. Another welcome caveat is the relative lack of SZG interference in their matches, which has changed them from my least favourite faction in 2017 to my favourite so far this year. Despy gets the submission win over Yagi with Numero Dos in an unremarkable match with the usual buttock-based silliness from Taguchi. **
DAVID FINLAY/TOA HENARE/REN NARITA DEF. YUJI NAGATA/TOMOYUKI OKA/SHOTA UMINO
Out of this current crop of Young Lions, a lot of people are saying that Shota Umino has the most star potential, and he certainly stood out in this match. Henare gets a rare win with a Samoan Drop on Umino. This is nice to see, especially in a match with two more senior wrestlers in Finlay and Nagata. This was a quick, fun match with everyone getting their spots in. **½
LANCE ARCHER/DAVEY BOY SMITH JR. DEF. YUJIRO TAKAHASHI/TANGA LOA
After listening to the New Japan Purocast, I’m having second thoughts about Archer’s crowd hydration entrance. Maybe people don’t want to be spat on when they go to a wrestling show. Anyone who suffered through the latter half of 2017 and the endless GoD/KES wars will know what to expect here, except with the best worker (Tama Tonga) removed from the equation. Tama not being around really exposes Tanga Loa as a limited worker. That said, I have a newfound appreciation for Yujiro and felt sad for him after he lost to Juice because he looked really upset in his backstage promo and said that was his big chance to get back on track and make it in the G1. If he can put in performances like he did against Juice more consistently then I wouldn’t necessarily be against him going into the G1, but the fact is that he simply isn’t one of the 20 best wrestlers in the Heavyweight division. I don’t want any of these guys in the G1. KES win with the Killer Bomb on Yujiro in a dull match. The win at least helps to reestablish Killer Elite Squad, which will hopefully lead to some new and interesting matches with The Young Bucks and Golden Lovers now in the mix. **¼
KOTA IBUSHI/CHASE OWENS DEF. ZACK SABRE JR./TAKA MICHINOKU
On a slightly tangential note, ZSJ’s submission that he used to beat Naito is called Orienteering With Napalm Death, a reference to a joke made by British comedian Stewart Lee, who shares a lot with ZSJ in terms of their left-wing political beliefs.
And I was in the front row of the TV show in question, so in a way, I think I helped inspire ZSJ to his current status.
Hearing the Japanese commentators grappling with the name of the move is quite the contest in and of itself. As I said earlier, SZG are doing great work this year. Despy and Nobu are doing well in the Jr. Tag division, Suzuki is arguably the wrestler of the year in NJPW, Taichi has impressed with his recent matches, TAKA is great as ZSJ’s hype man, and ZSJ feels like he’s been elevated as the crown jewel in the faction, maybe even being groomed to eventually take over from Suzuki. Iizuka is still shite, but we can’t have everything. Zack’s match with Ibushi in last year’s G1 was one of my favourites, so I’m really excited about their cup match tomorrow, which we get delicious glimpses of tonight.
The interactions between Owens and TAKA are also a lot of fun, and Owens and Ibushi have added a few team moves to enhance one of my low-key favourite tag teams of the year. I’m genuinely delighted when Chase gets the win with a package piledriver on TAKA. This was a good match, with all the participants showing good chemistry and Ibushi throwing in some wild spots that are worth an extra half star at least. ***¼
TORU YANO/TOMOHIRO ISHII/CHUCKIE T DEF. TETSUYA NAITO/BUSHI/SANADA
I liked the Yano/SANADA G1 match last year, in which SANADA tied up YTR in the Paradise Lock out on the ramp for the countout win. Their wildly different personas really meshed well, with the poker-faced SANADA cooly deflecting all of Yano’s bullshit. The crowd all shriek with excitement when Naito tags in, so he’s still wildly popular with the fans. He and Ishii go at it with some nice callbacks to their match at King of Pro Wrestling last year. SANADA hits an awesome rolling cradle on Yano that goes on for so long that I feel a bit sick.
He also successfully puts on the Paradise Lock and shoots a thumbs-up at Milano, who chided him for messing it up against Chuckie on Monday night. Yano gets the win after a low blow and roll-up on BUSHI. Another decent match that set up the SANADA/Yano match well. ***
MINORU SUZUKI/TAKASHI IIZUKA/TAICHI DEF. KAZUCHIKA OKADA/HIROOKI GOTO/YOSHI-HASHI
Interestingly, this match contains the IWGP Heavyweight, Intercontinental and NEVER Openweight champions. In keeping with the theme of this tour, Okada again looks completely off his face.
Lots of crowd brawling and Iizuka biting YH’s shoulder, as Milano explains that Iizuka wears a mouthpiece because he bites so hard that it throws his teeth out of alignment. I hate when that happens. The dynamics between Suzuki and Tacos are quite interesting, with some references to their feud over the NEVER title last year. Most of this match consists of YOSHI-HASHI getting beaten up, although there seems to be a fair bit going on between Okada and Suzuki which makes me wonder whether they’ll have another match sooner or later. Okada wins by choking out Iizuka with the Cobra Clutch, which they’re working really hard to establish as a credible finisher. He hasn’t once used the Rainmaker. This match dragged a bit with the SZG shenanigans, making a mockery of my earlier praise. **¾
NEW JAPAN CUP 2018 QUARTER FINAL
JUICE ROBINSON DEF. MICHAEL ELGIN
Elgin’s new jacket is a bit too big around the middle and makes him look like a giant bottle of Coke.
The early parts are somewhat ponderous, with this tough crowd very quiet for long stretches. To me, Juice no longer feels like a massive underdog, and this match layout reflects this, as he trades moves with Elgin early on as if they’re on equal footing. I’m genuinely nervous when Large Michael goes to the top rope after the mishaps with Ishii. Elgin gradually takes control and begins to dominate Juice with power moves, with Juice is bumping like a madman here, making Elgin look like a monster. Then, out of nowhere, Juice wins with an inside cradle. I felt the finish came quite abruptly, and that the match never really got into top gear. I’ve seen that most people really enjoyed it, but it could’ve lasted another few minutes and lacked that final sprint that has made prior matches so thrilling.
Still, this is a massive win for Juice. I’m not sure it’s fair to call him a huge underdog any more, especially as more than a few people were tipping him to win the cup, including Kevin Kelly. He’s challenged for all the singles titles apart from the big one, and has now got several prominent wins under his belt. He might not necessarily win a title anytime soon, but is being established as an upper midcarder who is more than capable of sneaking a win over the bigger names. Friday’s semi-final will be one of, if not the biggest match of Juice’s career thus far. This result doesn’t necessarily hurt Elgin, who shows good sportsmanship after the match which the crowd appreciates. A very good match, but lacked the drama and intensity of both their first round matches. ***¾
NEW JAPAN CUP 2018 QUARTER FINAL
HIROSHI TANAHASHI DEF. BAD LUCK FALE
The first half of this match involves Tanahashi basically running away and making Fale chase him, followed by lots of crowd brawling and guard rail spots. There are some nods to their previous encounters – Tanahashi beat Fale by countout in last year’s G1, so Fale tries to win by countout here. This is like every other Tanahashi v Fale match, with Tana playing the plucky David attempting to take down Fale’s Goliath. It’s fine, but Fale is too slow and technically limited to really make the match exciting until he starts teasing the Bad Luck Fall. He’s good at what he does, and it’s by no means a bad match, but the earlier nights of this tour have perhaps spoiled me and unfairly raised my expectations.
That said, I really enjoyed the finish of this match as Fale attempts a Bad Luck Fall onto the guard rail, only for Tanahashi to kick off the ring post, sending Fale over the railing as Tana scrambles back in for the countout win yet again. It’s these clever finishes that make all the other countout teases more meaningful, and a credit to both guys that a countout is a satisfying finish. Tanahashi is beginning to reestablish himself after the Suzuki defeat, and there is a ready made story for him if he manages to win the cup. The prospect of him getting the chance to not only become IWGP Heavyweight champion again but prevent Okada from breaking his single-reign defence record adds a whole extra layer of drama to the rest of the week’s events. Hiroshi Tanahashi will face Juice Robinson in Friday’s semi-final at Korakuen. ***½
NJPW New Japan Cup 2018 Night 5 featured a skippable undercard with two cup matches that didn’t quite reach the highs of previous nights, but are still very much worth watching.