The Super J-Cup is a single-elimination junior heavyweight tournament held in various years since 1994. Not a true annual event but rather a special one that takes place on special occasions, the Super J-Cup has been something of a mixed bag throughout its history.
The original tournament in 1994 was widely touted as one of the greatest professional wrestling events to ever take place, creating probably more new Japanese wrestling fans in the Western world than anything else of that era and going on to reach legendary status.
The second tournament (1995) failed to excite fans on either side of the Pacific to anything close to the same degree, and the following tournaments afterward have been pretty hit or miss ever since.
How will this year’s Super J-Cup be remembered? While it’s unlikely that it will stand up next to the legendary original version, on paper at least there’s no reason why it can’t go down as one of the better ones. We’ll see if that turns out to be the case.
Before we get into this year’s participants, let’s take a look back at the entire history of the Super J-Cup.
As mentioned earlier, the Super J-Cup has occurred with varying frequency since the original incarnation. Though New Japan hosted the original tournament and obviously hosts this year’s as well, for a while, the host promotion varied considerably, with a number of other junior-focused promotions taking the reigns (though NJPW always sent participants to every tournament). It seems to have settled now into an NJPW event, as New Japan will have hosted the last three after this year’s version.
Super J-Cup: 1st Stage
April 16th, 1994
Host Promotion: New Japan Pro Wrestling
Format: One-night 14-man tournament
Final: Wild Pegasus (Chris Benoit) def. The Great Sasuke
As already mentioned, the original Super J-Cup is widely considered to be one of the greatest pro wrestling events of all time. The 14 participants broke down as six from NJPW (including the winner, as Benoit was a NJPW roster member at this point), three from Michinoku Pro (the founder of which, Sasuke, was the other finalist), two from FMW, one from Genrichiro Tenryu’s WAR promotion (future NJPW booker Gedo), one from CMLL and one from the obscure Social Progress Wrestling Federation (founded by Yoshiaki Yatsu). Benoit and Sasuke both received byes to the quarterfinals and wound up being the two finalists, which I suppose makes sense.
Super J-Cup: 2nd Stage
December 13th, 1995
Host Promotion: Wrestle Association R
Format: One-night 14-man tournament
Final: Jushin Thunder Liger def. Gedo
Despite our first promotion shift, from NJPW to WAR, this Super J-Cup in many ways feels like a sequel to the previous year’s. The location and format are exactly the same (with Benoit again getting a first-round bye, this time joined by Jushin Liger) and nearly half the field is the same as well. All four of NJPW’s participants appeared the previous year, along with Gedo from WAR and Masayoshi Motegi from SPWF. The eight new competitors break down as an amazing trio from WAR of Lionheart (Chris Jericho), Ultimo Dragon and a very young Masaaki Mochizuki, plus Dos Carsas from CMLL, Damian 666 (representing FMW here), and finally a trio of newcomers from Michinoku Pro: Gran Naniwa, Hanzo Nakajima and Shoichi Funaki.
Yes, that’s the Funaki you’re thinking of.
Despite that unique collection of talent the tournament is generally considered to be nowhere near as good as the original; many fans at the time put the blame on Gedo’s run to the finals, as he was considered a very uninteresting choice to go on a deep run compared to some of the other talent even in the WAR contingent alone. So yes, people on the internet were complaining about Gedo long before anyone took issue with his booking decisions.
Super J-Cup: 3rd Stage
April 1st & 9th, 2000
Host Promotion: Michinoku Pro
Format: Two-night 16-man tournament
Location: Sendai City Gymnasium & Ryogoku
Final: Jushin Thunder Liger def. CIMA
Following the 1995 edition, the Super J-Cup would go on a four and a half year-long hibernation before returning in 2000, hosted by Michinoku Pro.
This edition of the tournament was the first to take place over multiple nights; the northern Japan-focused MPro wanted to put on a show in their home base, so the entire first round took place on the first night in Sendai before heading back to Ryogoku for the last three rounds. It was also the first tournament to expand to 16 wrestlers, finally doing away with the two first-round byes, and the first tournament to feature a qualification mini-tournament, as Big Japan Pro Wrestling put on a 6-man tournament to decide their representative (ultimately won by Men’s Teioh).
The participants came from a wider range of promotions this time, with nine companies featured versus the six of the first two. This broke down as two from Battlarts (a shoot-style promotion), one each from BJW, CMLL, FMW, WCW (Kaz Hayashi!) and the obscure Wrestle Dream Factory, five from hosts Michinoku, just two from NJPW (Liger and a young Shinya Makabe, probably better known to you as Togi), and two from Toryumon, the precursor company to Dragon Gate. It was one of those two Toryumon representatives that made the biggest splash in the tournament by far, as CIMA’s run to the final made him a lot of new fans and caused quite a stir in Japanese wrestling at the time, despite his ultimate loss to two-time champion Liger.
Super J-Cup: 4th Stage
February 21st, 2004
Host Promotion: Osaka Pro Wrestling
Format: One-night 8-man tournament
Location: Osaka Jo Hall
Final: Naomichi Marufuji def. Takehiro Murahama
Nearly four years later the next Super J-Cup would be undertaken by Osaka Pro, which perhaps is fitting since they originally started as an MPro off-shoot. The Osaka Pro version of the tournament went back to one night, was the first to reduce the tournament field all the way down to 8 participants and just three rounds, and was the first to not feature the finals in Ryogoku, as the event took place at Osaka Jo Hall (today probably known to you as the annual site of Dominion). The eight competitors were Taichi Ishikara (still had his last name, does not yet have Miho, not a very good trade-off) from AJPW, Kazuya Yuasa from Michinoku Pro, Wataru Inoue from NJPW (the only time NJPW ever sent only one competitor to a Super J-Cup), Goa and Takehiro Murahama from Osaka Pro, winner Marufuji from NOAH, Jun Kasai (!) from ZERO-ONE, and Garuda from Wrestling Marvelous Future.
This is perhaps the least memorable of all the Super J-Cups, with many noting at the time that the non-tournament semi-main event of CIMA, Heat (Minoru Tanaka) & KENTA defeating Liger, Osaka Pro founder Super Delfin and Jinsei Shinzaki was a far bigger deal than anything in the tournament itself. This would be the final version of the tournament to be hosted by a promotion other than NJPW.
Super J-Cup: 5th Stage
December 22nd & 23rd, 2009
Host Promotion: New Japan Pro Wrestling
Format: Two-night 16-man tournament
Location: Korakuen Hall
Final: Naomichi Marufuji def. Prince Devitt
Nearly six years later the Super J-Cup would finally be revived by NJPW, the first time they hosted the tournament since the inaugural 1994 edition.
It returned to both a two-night event and a 16-person, four-round format. Both nights took place at Korakuen Hall, by far the smallest building to ever host a Super J-Cup up until this point. Both NJPW and Japanese wrestling, in general, were in the midst of a severe depression in late 2009, so this is perhaps not much of a surprise (Wrestle Kingdom 4 a few weeks later likely did no more than 20,000 fans, a far cry from where we are nowadays). But the list of participants for this event is still staggering: Dragon Gate’s YAMATO, Danshoku Dieno (!) & Kota Ibushi from DDT, Hayato Jr. Fujita from Michinoku Pro, AKIRA, Gedo, JADO, Jushin Liger, Koji Kanemoto, Prince Devitt (of course the future Finn Balor), Ryusuke Taguchi & Taichi from NJPW, Osaka Pro’s Tigers Mask (not Tiger Mask, two different guys!), Pro Wrestling FREEDOMS’ Gentaro, and finally defending champion Marufuji and the sadly recently passed away Atsushi Aoki from NOAH. Quite the mix there of guys who were already legends by this point and a number of wrestlers who were destined to do some amazing things in the future.
Marufuji would ultimately become the second wrestler to win back-to-back J Cups, as he defeated the young Devitt in the final.
Super J-Cup: 6th Stage
July 20th & August 21st, 2016
Host Promotion: New Japan Pro Wrestling
Format: Two-night 16-man tournament
Location: Korakuen Hall & Ariake Coliseum
Final: KUSHIDA def. Yoshinobu Kanemaru
It was another long wait for the sixth Super J-Cup, as the tournament was gone again for six and a half years. It returned with a strange tournament that in many ways was considered something of a flop. This was right in the middle of the “NJPW owns NOAH” period, so the vast majority of the participants came from those two companies: five each from NJPW (BUSHI, Liger, KUSHIDA, Taguchi, & Will Ospreay) and NOAH (Daisuke Harada, Kenoh, Taichi, Taiji Ishimori & Kanemaru). The remaining six competitors were filled out with AJPW’s Yuma Aoyagi (barely removed from young lion status at this point so not exactly their top junior), CMLL’s Titan, DG’s Eita, Gurukun Mask from the Okinawa-based Ryukyu Dragon Pro Wrestling, Kaientai Dojo’s Kaiji Tomato and Ring of Honor’s Matt Sydal (pre-‘Hawaii Vacation’ days for poor Matt). What turned off many viewers immediately was that five of these six non-NJPW/NOAH competitors were eliminated in the very first round at Korakuen, with only Matt Sydal from NJPW’s American partners ROH making it through.
This tournament also started a bit of a backlash to Taichi, who cheated his way into the semi-finals at Tokyo’s Ariake Coliseum and basically became this tournament’s equivalent of 1995 Gedo. You may also notice that three of the five NOAH participants in this tournament are with NJPW today. NJPW and NOAH would, of course, split just four months after this, and the entire Suzukigun unit (of which both Taichi and Kanemaru were members) immediately returned to NJPW at the following New Year’s Dash on 1/5/17. This was quite the sneaky move by Kanemaru, who had joined Suzukigun after they came to NOAH from New Japan but somehow returned to NJPW with the group. Ishimori would take a while longer to come over, as he didn’t depart NOAH until March of 2018. He would then be introduced as the second generation Bone Soldier by Tama Tonga about two months later, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Back to this tournament itself, it wasn’t considered a very good one at the time and looks like a bit of a historical oddity now, years removed from the NJPW/NOAH relationship.
Super J-Cup: 7th Stage
That finally brings us to the present day.
This year’s Super J-Cup differs from that of the previous years in many different ways. Though it is still a 16-man, four-round tournament like many of the past events, this is the first Super J-Cup ever to be spread across three shows instead of two. It is also, of course, the first-ever Super J-Cup to take place in the US. Perhaps most notably of all, this will be the first-ever Super J-Cup to feature no outside Japanese participation whatsoever; all five Japanese wrestlers in the tournament come from NJPW. All told, the event features 10 wrestlers from NJPW (you could count El Phantasmo as RevPro too if you want but at this point, he’d have to at least be considered NJPW/RevPro), three from CMLL, one from ROH, and two surprise American indie outsiders.
The tournament was originally announced as being put on by NJPW, CMLL and Ring of Honor, which perhaps makes it more than a little surprising that there’s just one ROH participant, but ROH is running two shows of their own elsewhere in the US on the same weekend (you can read more about the breakdown of the NJPW/ROH relationship and ROH’s struggles in general in my recent column). All told I think NJPW did a great job assembling some surprising outsiders and putting together a neat tournament bracket, but you do have to acknowledge that this is a departure for the Super J-Cup compared to past years. Hopefully, another Super J-Cup featuring talent from all across the Japanese promotional spectrum can return someday, but given New Japan’s current lack of connections with other companies in Japan, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting on it.
With that out of the way, let’s preview the tournament! You can see the full bracket below. Keep in mind that unfortunately none of these three shows will be airing live on New Japan World; the official word is they will be up for video-on-demand viewing sometime in September, with no specific date given.
The first round of the 2019 Super J-Cup will take place on Thursday, August 22nd from the sold-out Temple Theater in Tacoma, Washington. This will be NJPW’s debut in Washington state. The show will open with a non-tournament tag team match featuring the producer of this year’s Super J-Cup, Jushin Thunder Liger, teaming with LA Dojo young lion Karl Fredericks to take on the team of Shota ‘Shooter’ Umino and Ren Narita. This is the only non-tournament match of the show, with all eight tournament matches taking place afterward. Let’s dive right in, and we’ll tackle these in the listed card order.
Rocky Romero (NJPW) vs. Soberano Jr. (CMLL)
The night begins with a clash between New Japan and CMLL, the first of many first time ever singles matches on the card. Romero and Soberano have only ever even been in the same ring together twice, as they were on opposite sides of two different eight-man tags on back-to-back nights during Fantasticamania 2018. Though like most of the field (including his opponent) Rocky will be competing in his first Super J-Cup, he did go all the way to the finals of the previous NJPW junior heavyweight tournament held on American soil, the 2005 Best of the American Super Juniors one-night tournament held by ROH. Romero, then as the masked Black Tiger, wasn’t able to win that tournament and the prize of a spot in the 2005 Best of the Super Juniors league, falling to the pure might that was Dragon Soldier B (aka Kendo Kashin, the newest WWE PC trainer). Can he use that experience to go even further this time, or will he go out via a young luchadore in the very first round?
Clark Connors (NJPW) vs. TJP (Free)
TJP, the ex-TJ Perkins, is our first of two surprise entrants from the American independent scene. He was the winner of 2016’s acclaimed Cruiserweight Classic and thus became the first holder of the reactivated WWE Cruiserweight Title, but after he lost the title to veteran Brian Kendrick a few months later it was all kind of downhill from there for his WWE run. He finally departed the company earlier this year and returned to the US indies in May, including a brief return to his old stomping grounds in Impact. But TJP is no stranger to NJPW either, as he made his first appearance in NJPW all the way back in October 2002 as Pinoy Boy, also appeared in the company in 2005 as Puma, and finally appeared as TJP in the 2011 BOSJ (where he finished with 6 points). He was one of the original trainees from the first iteration of the LA Dojo, and that makes this matchup with current LA Dojo trainee Clark Connors even more interesting. What you essentially have here is the Inoki era LA Dojo vs. the current era LA Dojo, and given that TJP seems likely to win, it looks like Inoki will get the victory this time around. As you may have guessed, this is the first time Clark and TJP have ever been in the ring together, let alone in a singles match.
Caristico (CMLL) vs. BUSHI (NJPW)
The second NJPW vs. CMLL match of the night features another wrestler who has a great deal of past history with New Japan. Caristico, who you may know better as either the original Mistico or as Sin Cara, is a former IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion, having held the title for a little under three months in 2009. He was so popular in Japan as Mistico that it seemed to even carry over to the second Mistico (Dragon Lee’s brother, who is not in this tournament; he was also the original Dragon Lee, before the current Dragon Lee, if you’re not confused enough yet) when he would come over to Japan for the Fantasticamania tours. Indeed I’ve seen lucha fans joke that the only place the second Mistico was over was in Japan.
At any rate, it will be Caristico who will compete in his first Super J Cup (though he was in a six-man tag at the 2016 edition), facing off against veteran LIJ junior BUSHI. BUSHI is one of just four wrestlers in this year’s Super J-Cup with prior experience in the tournament, as he competed in the 2016 edition where he lost to eventual finalist Yoshinobu Kanemaru in the 1st round. He’ll be looking to avoid a repeat early exit here, though I would think his chances against the Mexican star might not be high. This is yet another first time ever singles match, again featuring two wrestlers who have never even been in the same ring as each other before.
Ryusuke Taguchi (NJPW) vs. Jonathan Gresham (ROH)
Grandpa Taguchi is not just one of our four competitors with prior Super J-Cup experience, he’s the only wrestler in the entire field to have competed in two prior J-Cups. In 2009 he defeated indie sleazeball Gentaro in the first round and then beat veteran Koji Kanemoto in the quarter-finals before finally falling prey to eventual champion Marufuji in the semis. In 2016 he got another first-round win over NOAH’s Daisuke Harada before losing to finalist Kanemaru in the quarters. So Taguchi has never exited in the first round in his two prior J-Cups, which perhaps give ROH’s lone representative Jonathan Gresham quite the challenge. Will ROH be done in the Super J-Cup in the very first round, or will Taguchi finally fail to make it to at least the quarter-finals? This match is, you guessed it, a first-time-ever matchup, though these two have been in the ring with each other a couple times: on opposite sides of a six-man tag in Revolution Pro in September 2018, and both were in the G1 Supercard Honor Rumble earlier this year.
Robbie Eagles (NJPW) vs. El Phantasmo (NJPW/RevPro)
Perhaps the only first-round match of the 2019 Super J-Cup with a pre-existing storyline is this one right here. Eagles was brought into New Japan by the BULLET CLUB in October 2018 (after making a couple appearances during their Australian tour in February) to be Taiji Ishimori’s partner in the Super Junior Tag League. Despite winning their first two matches, they ultimately finished a disappointing 3-4 and failed to make the finals. El Phantasmo was brought in from NJPW’s UK affiliate Revolution Pro earlier this year as the latest BULLET CLUB junior, and the abrasive ELP and Eagles seemed like oil and water almost immediately. Things most came to a head in the BOSJ, when Eagles seemed to take great offense at ELP interfering in his match with his longtime friendly rival Will Ospreay (interference that was successful in getting Eagles the victory). Then suddenly Taiji Ishimori decided to challenge Roppongi 3K for the IWGP Jr. Tag Team Titles with his partner…..El Phantasmo. The new team was successful where the Ishimori/Eagles pairing had failed, defeating R3K to become the 60th champions on June 16th during the Kizuna Road tour.
A few weeks later, during the latest NJPW tour of Australia, Eagles made a move that many expected was coming but perhaps not quite as soon as it did: he officially left BULLET CLUB for CHAOS, choosing to join up with Ospreay. Now, he will face his former BC stablemate for the first time since leaving the unit. This is our first match of the night that isn’t a first time ever singles match, as they fought on May 19th in the BOSJ with Phantasmo getting the victory (albeit via cheating). No matter who comes out on top this time around this won’t be the end of this developing feud, as they’ll be on opposite sides of a non-title tag match the following weekend at Royal Quest in London (Eagles & Ospreay vs. ELP & Ishimori).
YOH (NJPW) vs. Dragon Lee (CMLL)
Our third and final NJPW vs. CMLL matchup is one that might be my most hotly anticipated match of the entire show. YOH, one-half of Roppongi 3K, goes one-on-one with the recent IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion Dragon Lee. Both SHO and YOH showed signs of breaking out as singles junior stars in this year’s Best of the Super Juniors, so a deep run by either one of them in this tournament may be the next big step for that. On the other hand, Dragon Lee has had a great year for himself in NJPW already, winning the junior title at Madison Square Garden at the G1 Supercard event, and can’t be counted out when it comes to going on a deep run of his own. We’re right back to first-time-ever singles matches here, with their only previous meeting being a tag team match between Roppongi 3K and the team of Dragon Lee & Ryusuke Taguchi at the NJPW x CEO show in June 2018.
SHO (NJPW) vs. Taiji Ishimori (NJPW)
Our only match of the night between two Japanese wrestlers is right here in the semi-main event, as the other half of Roppongi 3K goes one-on-one with Taiji Ishimori. Ishimori is our third competitor with previous Super J-Cup experience, as he lost in the first round in 2016 to the eventual champion KUSHIDA. As mentioned earlier, Ishimori along with his partner El Phantasmo just took the IWGP Jr. Tag Team Titles from SHO and his partner YOH, so SHO will be looking to get some measure of revenge here by handing Ishimori his second straight first-round exit. This will be the second singles meeting between these two, as they met earlier this year in the BOSJ with Ishimori getting the victory. SHO paying him back for both those losses and moving on to the next round thus seems likely.
Will Ospreay (NJPW) vs. The Amazing Red (Free)
In our main event of the evening, Will Ospreay gets a match that he had apparently asked for himself, as he takes on US indie legend the Amazing Red. Red is easily the most surprising participant of this entire tournament, as he had previously announced his retirement from wrestling shortly before Wrestlemania weekend. But apparently, the lure of competing in his first-ever Super J-Cup was too much for him to resist, as he will come back to the ring to face Ospreay at Ospreay’s request. If you’re not familiar with Red he was a major force in US indie wrestling in the early-to-mid 00s, competing for TNA’s original X Division and very early ROH among other places. While he never appeared in NJPW before, he did have a short run in AJPW in 2003 under a couple different names (mostly under the name Spriggan, but he did use the name Misterio Red in one match as well). Red will look to pull off what would have to be considered a major upset over the reigning IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion, especially considering Ospreay is coming off his first-ever G1 Climax and a win over Hiroshi Tanahashi as well. This will be the first-ever singles meeting between the two, though they did compete in a six-way elimination match once in a UK indie promotion way back in May of 2015. Also worth noting that Ospreay is our fourth and final repeat Super J-Cup competitor, as he competed in the 2016 tournament. Despite coming off his first Best of the Super Junior win that year, he was unable to win the Super J-Cup, losing in the quarter-finals to Matt Sydal, so he’ll be looking to do more than a little better this time around.
After the first round is over we move on to the also sold-out San Francisco State University Life Events Center (geez, try saying that three times fast) on Saturday, August 24th. Here we get all four quarter-final matches, so those will be covered below. NJPW claims we will get “8-10 matches” in total, presumably featuring the various losers of the first-round action, and they also note that Jushin Thunder Liger will again be in action as well.
Ospreay/Red Winner vs. SHO/Ishimori Winner
A lot of juicy possibilities for this quarter-final match. If we assume Ospreay is beating Red, which seems likely, we will either get a first time ever singles match between Will and SHO or a rematch between Ospreay and Ishimori from the 2018 BOSJ opening night (they haven’t faced each other since Ishimori won that one, his first match as the new Bone Soldier). If Red wins, well, this whole tournament just got thrown into chaos and who knows what happens here.
Connors/TJP Winner vs. Eagles/ELP Winner
With all due respect to LA Dojo young lion Clark Connors, TJP is very likely moving on to the quarter-finals. Given that he’s freshly out of WWE this year, you probably won’t be surprised to learn that both Eagles and El Phantasmo have both never faced him before.
Taguchi/Gresham Winner vs. YOH/Dragon Lee Winner
Lots of possibilities here! If Taguchi wins, you either get a rematch from this year’s BOSJ where Taguchi picked up the victory or a third meeting between he and Dragon Lee with Lee already ahead 2-0 in the series. If Gresham wins, he’ll either be facing YOH for the first time ever or rematching with Dragon Lee, who he’s lost all three singles matches against (two of which took place this year alone).
Caristico/BUSHI Winner vs. Romero/Soberano Winner
Finally, our last quarter-final match again has a number of interesting possibilities. Will this be an all-CMLL match between Caristico and Soberano? Will Rocky Romero face BUSHI, the man he trash talks relentlessly on English commentary and just so happens to be 0-3 against in singles matches (he’s faced him in the BOSJ in 2012, 2016 and 2019 and lost all three times)? Will it be a weird Caristico-Romero or BUSHI-Soberano match with no history to speak of? We’ll soon find out!
Semi-Finals & Final
Finally, the 2019 Super J-Cup wraps up at the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach, California (just outside of Los Angeles), a familiar home now for NJPW as this will be their third show there (though first in almost a year). There will be three tournament matches on the show, the two semis and the final, as a new Super J-Cup champion will be crowned. The event also will feature some bonus star power from a few of the heavyweights, namely Tetsuya Naito, Juice Robinson and G1 finalist Jay White. All three will only be appearing on this show. Finally, Jushin Thunder Liger will once again be in action.
So there you have it. The Super J-Cup is just around the corner. Who will join a very short list of Super J-Cup champions? We’ll soon find out!