The last 3+ months have been turbulent worldwide. We’ve been in the grip of the biggest worldwide pandemic in over a hundred years, we’ve seen widespread civil unrest here in the United States for an extremely just cause (Black Lives Matter: donate and get involved), and we’ve simply dealt with more uncertainty than the vast majority of us are used to dealing with in our daily lives. It’s caused disruption in big and small ways, and I’m about to describe by far one of the smallest: three months ago, at the end of February, I was working on a preview of the 2020 New Japan Cup. Before I could complete that preview, New Japan canceled the Cup in what would be the first of many event cancellations to come.

Now, here in June, the New Japan Cup is suddenly and unexpectedly back. The tournament will be held this year in front of no fans for the first time, except for the final which will be held on July 11th at Osaka Jo Hall as part of a two-night event, NJPW’s first shows in front of fans since the pandemic began. For the first time ever, the winner will receive their title shot on the following night, challenging Tetsuya Naito for both the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Titles in the main event of Dominion 2020. And finally, many months later, my preview was able to be taken out of the WordPress draft mothballs, completed and used. Hurray!

The New Japan Cup is a single-elimination tournament held annually since 2005. Last year the tournament expanded to 32 competitors for the first time ever, giving us the largest NJC of all time. Once again the 2020 edition will feature 32 men competing for the crown, and in an added twist (born of necessity since many heavyweight wrestlers from overseas are still unable to get into Japan due to ongoing entry bans) we have returned to the openweight roots of the tournament’s first year. In many tournaments of the past (2014 through 2018) the winner could have picked to challenge for either the IWGP or Intercontinental Title (and some years the NEVER as well), but this will be the first time the winner automatically receives a shot at two titles simultaneously.

Let’s start our preview of the 2020 New Japan Cup by looking back at the past. Who won each year? What did they go on to do with the title shot they earned?

All tournaments consisted of 16 men unless otherwise noted.

Previous New Japan Cup Tournaments and Winners

  • 2005: Hiroshi Tanahashi def. Manabu Nakanishi. As we just mentioned, this was an openweight tournament with many juniors taking part. Also, the winner did not receive a title shot. This was the only time that happened.
  • 2006: Giant Bernard def. Yuji Nagata. Lost to IWGP Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar on 5/3 at Fukuoka International Center (New Japan Cup Special Night 2).
  • 2007: Yuji Nagata def. Togi Makabe to win a 14-man tournament that featured Hiroyoshi Tenzan and Giant Bernard getting byes to the 2nd round. Defeated IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi on 4/13 at Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium (Circuit 2007 New Japan Brave Night 5).
  • 2008: Hiroshi Tanahashi def. Giant Bernard. The tournament went back to 16 men and, again, was openweight with several juniors participating. Tanahashi lost to IWGP Heavyweight Champion Shinsuke Nakamura on 3/30 at Korakuen Hall (New Dimension).
  • 2009: Hirooki Goto def. Giant Bernard to win a 14-man tournament that featured Yuji Nagata and Bernard getting byes to the 2nd round. Goto lost to IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi on 5/3 at Fukuoka International Center (Wrestling Dontaku).
  • 2010: Hirooki Goto def. Togi Makabe to win a 15-man tournament after receiving a bye to the 2nd round. He lost to IWGP Heavyweight Champion Shinsuke Nakamura on 4/4 at Korakuen Hall (New Dimension).
  • 2011: Yuji Nagata def. Shinsuke Nakamura to win after the tournament returned to the 16-man format.  It would remain as a 16 man tournament until 2019. Nagata lost to IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi on 4/3 at Korakuen Hall (New Dimension ~Pray, Hope, Power~).
  • 2012: Hirooki Goto def. Hiroshi Tanahashi. Lost to IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada on 5/3 at Fukuoka International Center (Wrestling Dontaku).
  • 2013: Kazuchika Okada def. Hirooki Goto. Defeated IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroshi Tanahashi on 4/7 at Sumo Hall (Invasion Attack).
  • 2014: Shinsuke Nakamura def. Bad Luck Fale. This was the first year the champion had the opportunity to choose either the IWGP Heavyweight or Intercontinental title rather than just getting an automatic Heavyweight title shot (this would be expanded to include the NEVER title the following year). Nakamura was the only man to ever choose the IC. He defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Intercontinental Title on 4/6 at Sumo Hall (Invasion Attack).
  • 2015: Kota Ibushi def. Hirooki Goto. Lost to IWGP Heavyweight Champion AJ Styles on 4/5 at Sumo Hall (Invasion Attack).
  • 2016: Tetsuya Naito def. Hirooki Goto. Defeated IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada on 4/10 at Sumo Hall (Invasion Attack).
  • 2017: Katsuyori Shibata def. Bad Luck Fale. Lost to IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada on 4/9 at Sumo Hall (Sakura Genesis).
  • 2018: Zack Sabre Jr. def. Hiroshi Tanahashi. Lost to IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada on 4/1 at Sumo Hall (Sakura Genesis).
  • 2019: Kazuchika Okada def. SANADA to win the first-ever 32-man tournament, the first tournament to feature other singles champions since 2014, and the first tournament to be for an automatic IWGP Heavyweight Title shot since 2013. Okada defeated IWGP Heavyweight Champion Jay White on 4/6 at Madison Square Garden (G1 Supercard), the first time the NJC winner received their title shot anywhere other than Japan.

So, there you have it. The entire history of the New Japan Cup.

If you’re keeping score at home, the NJC winner ended up going just 5-9 in their chosen title shot; if you remove the Nakamura Intercontinental outlier, they’re 4-9 in IWGP Heavyweight title shots. But after Okada broke a two-year streak of the NJC winner failing to defeat the champion, will the 2020 New Japan Cup winner be able to follow in his footsteps, this time in Osaka Jo Hall for the first time ever? Hell, it could be Okada himself again!

So with that bit of history out of the way, let’s take a look at the full bracket and then break down the entire field!

New Japan Cup 2020 Participants

TOGI MAKABE

Affiliation: New Japan Army/GBH
Past NJC Results: Lost in Quarterfinals to Yuji Nagata (2006), Lost in Final to Nagata (2007), Lost in Semifinals to Hiroshi Tanahashi (2008), Lost in 1st Round to Shinsuke Nakamura (2009), Lost in Final to Hirooki Goto (2010), Lost in Semifinals to Nakamura (2011), Lost in Semifinals to Goto (2012), Lost in 1st Round to Yujiro Takahashi (2013), Lost in 1st Round to Bad Luck Fale (2014), Lost in Semifinals to Goto (2015), Lost in 1st Round to Tama Tonga (2016), Lost in 1st Round to Colt Cabana (2019)

The Unchained Gorilla is one of only two wrestlers to reach the New Japan Cup final at least twice without ever winning it (the other being Bad Luck Fale in 2014 & 2017), losing to Yuji Nagata in 2007 and Hirooki Goto in 2010. Between his two finals and four semifinals appearances, Makabe has gone deep in the NJC many times, though he was out in the first round in four of his last five appearances. Last year was his first appearance in the New Japan Cup since 2016, but sadly for him he was unable to get past newcomer Colt Cabana (who has since already departed NJPW for AEW). Given his opponent in the first round this year though it’s quite likely he’ll at least see the second round for the first time since 2015. He could have old rival Tomohiro Ishii waiting for him there, and it’s interesting to note that the two haven’t met in a singles match since the 2017 G1 Climax. Ishii has beaten Makabe in three straight matches (2017 & 2016 G1s plus a NEVER title match at King of Pro Wrestling 2015) after Makabe had won all six of their prior singles meetings dating back to the first round of the 2010 New Japan Cup.

YOTA TSUJI

Affiliation: New Japan Army
Past NJC Results: None

With many NJPW regulars still stranded overseas you’re going to see a lot of wrestlers competing in their first New Japan Cup ever this year, and Tsuji is certainly one of them. The brawny Young Lion has, let’s face it, very little chance of getting past the veteran Makabe in the first round, but it should still be a valuable experience for the youngster.

TOMOHIRO ISHII

Affiliation: CHAOS
Past NJC Results: Lost in 1st Round to Yuji Nagata (2006), Lost in 1st Round to Nagata (2007), Lost in 1st Round to Hiroyoshi Tenzan (2008), Lost in Quarterfinals to Yutaka Yoshie (2009), Lost in 1st Round to Togi Makabe (2010), Lost in Quarterfinals to Hirooki Goto (2013), Lost in 1st Round to Tetsuya Naito (2014), Lost in Quarterfinals to Naito (2016), Lost in Semifinals to Katsuyori Shibata (2017), Lost in 1st Round to Michael Elgin (2018), Lost in Semifinals to Kazuchika Okada (2019)

CHAOS’ Stone Pitbull has appeared in the NJC 11 times, but has only made it out of the first two rounds twice. After it looked like he was making some progress- getting out of the first round in 2016 and then finally making it to the Semis in 2017- he was stopped dead in his tracks by Elgin two years ago in 2018. But last year he bounced back with his deepest run ever- since the 2019 tournament was the first to ever feature 32 wrestlers and five rounds instead of four, reaching the semifinals was the farthest he’s ever gone (the equivalent of making it to the finals before 2019). Unfortunately he wasn’t able to topple his leader in CHAOS Kazuchika Okada, but there’s no shame in losing to the guy who won it all. This year he faces off with a junior heavyweight in the first round, which has to make him a heavy favorite to advance and face off against longtime rival Togi Makabe in the second round. A second straight run to at least the semifinals looks more than possible for Ishii this year, with no one in his quarter of the bracket that he wouldn’t be considered a favorite to beat.

EL DESPERADO

Affiliation: Suzukigun
Past NJC Results: None

The first of many junior heavyweights making his New Japan Cup debut this year, Suzukigun’s resident luchadore has drawn a hell of a tough round 1 opponent in the Stone Pitbull and has to be considered a heavy underdog to make it through. But upsets happen every year in the NJC and you have to figure at least a couple juniors we aren’t expecting will get past their opponents, so why not Despy? He may have been considered an odds on favorite to win the Best of the Super Juniors this year (and still would be one in the event we get a BOSJ after all), so Ishii looks past Desperado at his own risk.

TORU YANO

Affiliation: CHAOS
Past NJC Results: Lost in 1st Round to Giant Bernard (2006), Lost in 1st Round to Shinsuke Nakamura (2007), Lost in Semifinals to Bernard (2008), Lost in 1st Round to Milano Collection AT (2009), Lost in Quarterfinals to Togi Makabe (2010), Lost in Semifinals to Yuji Nagata (2011), Lost in 1st Round to Hiroshi Tanahashi (2012), Lost in Semifinals to Kazuchika Okada (2013), Lost in 1st Round to Minoru Suzuki (2014), Lost in Quarterfinals to Kota Ibushi (2015), Lost in Semifinals to Tetsuya Naito (2016), Lost in Quarterfinals to Bad Luck Fale (2017), Lost in Quarterfinals to SANADA (2018), Lost in 2nd Round to Colt Cabana (2019)

Toru Yano brings the longest active streak of any New Japan Cup participant, as he’s appeared in every single NJC since 2006, which will make this his 15th straight appearance.  This means the only one he’s missed is the very first edition in 2005. He also hasn’t failed to win at least his first round match since he lost to Minoru Suzuki in 2014, so he’ll be trying to make this his sixth straight year of getting out of the first round. Should he get past Jado (which, let’s face it, he probably will) he could be faced with either former GBH stablemate Tomoaki Honma or the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion Hiromu Takahashi in the second round. And should he reach the quarterfinals, he could have either one of two different men he’s held the IWGP Tag Team Titles with before, Togi Makabe or Tomohiro Ishii, waiting for him.

JADO

Affiliation: BULLET CLUB
Past NJC Results: None

With the vast majority of their membership being foreign wrestlers (and one Japanese!) who are stranded overseas, BULLET CLUB unsurprisingly has the lowest representation of any of the units in this year’s New Japan Cup at 4 (CHAOS has 7 while LIJ and Suzukigun each have 5, with the New Japan Army making up the remainder), and on top of that 3 out of the 4 are junior heavyweights with no prior NJC experience. That of course includes Jado, who will have to call upon every bit of his veteran wiles to get past his old CHAOS mate Yano and earn BULLET CLUB a spot in the second round.

TOMOAKI HONMA

Affiliation: New Japan Army/GBH
Past NJC Results: Lost in 1st Round to Takashi Iizuka (2007), Lost in 1st Round to Giant Bernard (2008), Lost in 1st Round to Iizuka (2009), Lost in 1st Round to Toru Yano (2010), Lost in 1st Round to Togi Makabe (2015), Lost in 1st Round to Satoshi Kojima (2016), Lost in 1st Round to Taichi (2019)

Poor Honma has the unique distinction among this year’s competitors of the most New Japan Cup appearances without ever making it out of the first round, a trend that continued last year when he lost to Taichi in his return to the Cup after missing two years due to a spinal cord injury. This year he has an interesting draw in his continued quest to win the first NJC match of his career: on paper at least a heavyweight should always be considered the favorite against a junior, but Honma hasn’t just drawn any junior, he’s drawn the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion. And frankly, Honma doesn’t beat much of anyone these days. Can the master of the Kokeshi finally earn his first New Japan Cup victory?

HIROMU TAKAHASHI

IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion
Affiliation: Los Ingobernables de Japon
Past NJC Results: None

The reigning IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion will be competing in his very first New Japan Cup, and for Hiromu there’s a ton on the line here. Like everyone else he’s trying to earn a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental Champion Tetsuya Naito, but it has a special meaning for Hiromu, who was supposed to face Naito in the main event of the Anniversary Show back in March (just a day before the NJC was originally supposed to kick off) before it was cancelled. For Hiromu this will be a tough road, but perhaps he can use the added motivation of finally getting his destined shot at Naito (this time with Naito’s belts on the line!) to take him all the way to victory. The only prior reigning IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion to ever take part in this tournament was Tiger Mask IV back in the very original New Japan Cup in 2005, and unfortunately he can’t provide Hiromu with much reassurance: he went out in the very first round to legend Masahiro Chono. On the other hand, you can look at that as certainly a low bar for Hiromu to clear!

KAZUCHIKA OKADA

Affiliation: CHAOS
Past NJC Results: Won Tournament (2013), Lost in 1st Round to Bad Luck Fale (2015), Won Tournament (2019)

Kazuchika Okada just doesn’t compete in very many New Japan Cups, and there’s a very simple reason for that: he’s usually the IWGP Heavyweight Champion when they take place. He’s very used to being the guy defending his title against the winner (as he did successfully against Goto in 2012, Shibata in 2017 and Sabre in 2018, with his only loss coming to Naito in 2016) but doesn’t often find himself fighting for said title shot himself. His record when he does have to compete is pretty incredible though: twice he’s not only won the entire tournament but he’s gone on to win the IWGP Heavyweight Title as well. Look at it like this: just four times in history the New Japan Cup winner has also won their IWGP Heavyweight Title shot, and Okada alone is responsible for half those wins. Pretty crazy right? On the other hand, he has one other appearance too- a first round loss to Bad Luck Fale in 2015. So either he wins the entire tournament and the IWGP Heavyweight Title, or he loses in the first round. Given his first round opponent this year, it might be time to worry if you’re a Naito fan. A win over his ex-manager would set up a really interesting second round matchup though: either he’ll face longtime rival Minoru Suzuki (who he has an impressive 5-1-2 record against in singles matches, including yet another win in their last meeting, August 2019 in London for the IWGP Heavyweight Title) or he’ll face Yuji Nagata in a singles match for only the second time in his career. Their only previous singles meeting was a G1 Climax match way back in 2015, which Okada won.

GEDO

Affiliation: BULLET CLUB
Past NJC Results: None

Upon seeing Gedo’s first round matchup in the 2020 New Japan Cup, one thing comes to mind immediately: Gedo clearly slept with the wife of either NJPW Chairman Naoki Sugabayashi or President Harold Meij, and this is his punishment. Okay, it’s more like “Jay White can’t make it, so here’s the next best thing” as White and Okada were first round opponents in the original New Japan Cup bracket, but it’s funnier to imagine that this is payback for infidelity right? Barring some kind of BULLET CLUB shenanigans (which, let’s face it, you can never fully count out) Gedo has 0.000000000000% chance of beating the Rainmaker. Enjoy your beating sir.

YUJI NAGATA

Affiliation: New Japan Army
Past NJC Results: Lost in 1st Round to Hiroshi Tanahashi (2005), Lost in Final to Giant Bernard (2006), Won Tournament (2007), Lost in Semifinals to Hirooki Goto (2009), Lost in 1st Round to Yujiro Takahashi (2010), Won Tournament (2011), Lost in 1st Round to Minoru Suzuki (2012), Lost in 1st Round to Suzuki (2013), Lost in 1st Round to Goto (2015), Lost in 1st Round to Goto (2016), Lost in Quarterfinals to EVIL (2017), Lost in 1st Round to Tomohiro Ishii (2019)

Yuji Nagata has one of the deepest New Japan Cup resumes of any competitor, with three trips to the final and two tournament victories. However, he’s also gone out in the first round seven times, making him a bit of a ‘feast or famine’ competitor. Nagata is also the first competitor we’ve covered who is in the exact same first round match he was originally scheduled for in the previous New Japan Cup 2020 bracket: in another words when the bracket came out pre-COVID he was matched up against Minoru Suzuki then, and he’s matched up with him again here. Only 6 of the 16 first round matches in the New Japan Cup are the same as the original bracket (the others are all on the other side of the bracket: Tanahashi-Taichi, Ibushi-ZSJ, Tenzan-YH, Kojima-EVIL and Goto-Yujiro) so this will almost be like a strange window into a different universe where the NJC took place as planned.

MINORU SUZUKI

Affiliation: Suzukigun
Past NJC Results: Lost in Quarterfinals to Togi Makabe (2012), Lost in Quarterfinals to Toru Yano (2013), Lost in Semifinals to Shinsuke Nakamura (2014), Lost in 1st Round to Katsuyori Shibata (2017), Lost in 2nd Round to SANADA (2019)

The leader of Suzukigun has had less success in this than you might expect for someone of his stature, as he’s only made it as far as the semifinals once in five tries. His first round opponent this year will be Yuji Nagata, someone he’s faced in singles matches ten times in the past, but this will be their first meeting since 2013. Their record is exactly tied at 5-5, although perhaps working in Suzuki’s favor is that 2 of his 5 wins came in…..New Japan Cup first round matches, in 2012 and 2013. History would seem to be on Suzuki’s side here. Their other meetings date all the way back to 2003, where Nagata beat Suzuki in a singles match at Yokohama Arena. They’ve also met in four G1 Climaxes (2-2, Suzuki won in 2004 and 2005 but Nagata won in 2012 and 2013), and three times at Wrestle Kingdom- a win for Suzuki in a match for AJPW’s Triple Crown Title at the original WK in 2007, while Nagata won two non-title matches at WK4 (2011) and WK7 (2013). There’s just so much history between these two, which has to make this one of the most anticipated matchups in the entire first round.

YUYA UEMURA

Affiliation: New Japan Army
Past NJC Results: None

Our second of three Young Lion competitors in this year’s New Japan Cup, Yuya Uemura’s chances obviously aren’t great to move on to the next round. Like his compatriots he’s here to soak up the experience, and as a bonus given who he’s facing in the first round he might get a shot of whiskey too (although who knows if Kanemaru’s still allowed to spit now!).

YOSHINOBU KANEMARU

Affiliation: Suzukigun
Past NJC Results: None

Yet another debuting junior heavyweight, everyone’s favorite drunk Uncle Nobu has a great shot of debuting with at least a trip to the quarterfinals, which is pretty incredible. Why do I say that? Well, he’s got a Young Lion in the first round who he should handle easily, and then look who he’ll have waiting for him: either another Young Lion in Gabriel Kidd or, far more likely, another junior heavyweight in Taiji Ishimori. And oh yeah, Ishimori isn’t just any junior heavyweight: he’s a juinor heavyweight who Kanemaru has a 11-0-1 record against in singles matches, dating back to their time together in Pro Wrestling NOAH! That’s right, they’ve faced each other twelve times going all the way back to 2006 and Ishimori has never once beaten Kanemaru, including in four GHC Jr. Heavyweight Title matches, one Junior Heavyweight League in NOAH and two Best of the Super Juniors in NJPW since they both ended up in this company. Pretty incredible. So all Kanemaru has to do to reach the quarterfinals is beat a Young Lion and then beat either another Young Lion or a wrestler he’s already beaten eleven times. That’s what we call an easy path, my friends. Of course he could have Kazuchika Okada waiting for him after that but hey, it can’t stay easy forever.

GABRIEL KIDD

Affiliation: New Japan Army
Past NJC Results: None

Hey, who knew Gabriel Kidd was still in Japan?! Kidd is just one of two non-Japanese wrestlers competing in the 2020 New Japan Cup thanks to the still-ongoing entry ban, as he apparently decided to ride out this whole coronavirus thing in Tokyo at the dojo (and given how it ultimately has gone elsewhere, that was probably a wise decision). As a Young Lion he has very little shot of getting out of the first round, but unlike every other foreigner in the company except one British vegan he’ll at least get to compete in this tournament, so good for him I guess!

TAIJI ISHIMORI

Affiliation: BULLET CLUB
Past NJC Results: None

Ishimori, like many other people on this side of the bracket, is competing in his very first New Japan Cup. At first glance he has a pretty easy draw with a Young Lion in the first round, but as we covered above to make it to the quarterfinals he’ll likely have to do something he’s never been able to do dating back 14 years: beat Yoshinobu Kanemaru. The almost-certain Kanemaru-Ishimori showdown for a spot in the quarterfinals is already something I’m very much looking forward to. Can the BONE SOLDIER finally turn back his eternal rival?




HIROSHI TANAHASHI

IWGP Tag Team Champion
Affiliation
: New Japan Army
Past NJC Results: Won Tournament (2005), Lost in Semifinals to Yuji Nagata (2006), Won Tournament (2008), Lost in Quarterfinals to Tetsuya Naito (2010), Lost in Final to Hirooki Goto (2012), Lost in 1st Round to Toru Yano (2015), Lost in 1st Round to Bad Luck Fale (2016), Lost in 1st Round to EVIL (2017), Lost in Final to Zack Sabre Jr. (2018), Lost in Semifinals to SANADA (2019)

We’ve reached the other side of the bracket finally, and thankfully for your humble author this side features many more wrestlers who were scheduled for the original 2020 tournament (12 out of 16 vs. just 6 out of 16 on the left side).

The Ace of the Universe has a long history when it comes to the New Japan Cup, and not all of it is positive. He’s won this tournament twice, though both wins came quite a long way back in 2005 and 2008. Like Kazuchika Okada, he also skipped many tournaments due to being a champion at the time, but he has a much worse record when the tournament winner cashed in their title shot on him: he lost the IWGP Heavyweight Title to tournament winners Yuji Nagata (2007) and Okada (2013), and also lost the IWGP Intercontinental Title to Shinsuke Nakamura (2014) when Nakamura became the first (and so far only) winner to select an IC shot. He did successfully defend the Heavyweight strap against Hirooki Goto (2009) & Nagata (2011), but that still leaves Tanahashi with a 2-3 record against NJC winners. To add insult to injury, after his own win in 2008 he failed to beat Nakamura for the IWGP Heavyweight Title, and he didn’t even get a title shot for his victory in 2005!

Last year Tanahashi made it to the semifinals before losing to SANADA, which means he’s won 3 matches in each of his last two New Japan Cups (since in 2018 3 wins got you to the finals, before it was expanded from 16 to 32 men last year). It’s a huge bounceback for him after he went out in the first round three years in a row from 2015 to 2017, and he’ll be looking to keep it going this year. But doing so won’t be easy: he’s got the always unpredictable Taichi in the first round, who has to be considered an upset candidate (especially when he’s still got those iron fingers to call on….), and should he get past the Holy Emperor he would either have his own IWGP Tag Team Champion partner Kota Ibushi or the man who beat him in the 2018 finals, Zack Sabre Jr, waiting for him. That’s easily the toughest path just to reach the quarterfinals that we’ve seen so far, but if anyone can pull it off it’s the Ace!

TAICHI

Affiliation: Suzukigun
Past NJC Results: Lost in 1st Round to Hiroshi Tanahashi (2018), Lost in 2nd Round to Tomohiro Ishii (2019)

The Holy Emperor looked to be focused on winning the IWGP Tag Team Titles back before NJPW shut down, as he and his ‘Dangerous Tekkers’ partner Zack Sabre Jr. made it clear they were looking for a shot at the then-new champions Tanahashi & Ibushi. All four then found themselves matched up together in the original 2020 New Japan Cup bracket, and that has remained true this time around: Taichi will face Tana, and the winner faces the winner of Ibushi-ZSJ in the second round. Taichi thus gets a chance at revenge for 2018, when Tanahashi eliminated him in the first round in his very first New Japan Cup appearance. Can he build on reaching the second round last year and go on an improbable run this time around? He’ll have to claim some pretty major scalps just to make it one round further in 2020, but stranger things have certainly happened.

KOTA IBUSHI

IWGP Tag Team Champion
Affiliation
: New Japan Army
Past NJC Results: Won Tournament (2015), Lost in Quarterfinals to Zack Sabre Jr. (2018), Lost in 2nd Round to ZSJ (2019)

The Golden Star had a charmed New Japan Cup way back in 2015 when he won the tournament in his very first appearance, but ironically enough his next Cup run was ended by another wrestler on his way to winning it on his very first try, ZSJ, in 2018. Last year Kota was in what was easily the biggest match of the entire first round when he beat then-IWGP Intercontinental Champion Tetsuya Naito (he’d then go on to unseat Naito for that title about a month later at G1 Supercard in Madison Square Garden; guess who he’d be facing if he wins this thing?), but he then came up against Zack Sabre Jr. again in the second round and once again was defeated by him. And look who he’s got in the first round this year: yep, that slimy ‘ol Brit himself. If Kota is finally able to avenge those two New Japan Cup exits, he could very well have his IWGP Tag Team Championship partner and mentor Hiroshi Tanahashi waiting for him next. This is one tough corner of the bracket.

ZACK SABRE JR.

Affiliation: Suzukigun
Past NJC Results: Won Tournament (2018), Lost in Quarterfinals to Hiroshi Tanahashi (2019)

In 2018 Zack Sabre Jr. became the fifth wrestler to win the New Japan Cup on his very first try, joining Hiroshi Tanahashi in 2005, Giant Bernard in 2006, Kazuchika Okada in 2013 and Kota Ibushi in 2015, but failed to win the IWGP Heavyweight Title from Okada at Sakura Genesis. He followed that up last year with a decent run that saw him beat some pretty heavy hitters in the first two rounds in EVIL and Kota Ibushi, but his tournament was ultimately ended in the quarterfinals at the hands of the Ace, Hiroshi Tanahashi. Tana’s win would set off a memorable 2019 feud for the two of them that saw Ibushi successfully defend his British Heavyweight Title against him at Madison Square Garden, lose to him at the G1 and then lose his British title in London at Royal Quest, but finally end the feud with a victory back in Japan during the Destruction tour to regain the belt (he since went on to lose the title to the absent Will Ospreay just before the COVID shutdown). Should ZSJ be able to beat Ibushi in this tournament for the third straight year he could very well find himself face-to-face with Tanahashi yet again in the second round; on the other hand, he could just as easily be facing his ‘Dangerous Tekkers’ tag team partner Taichi instead.

RYUSUKE TAGUCHI

Affiliation: New Japan Army/Taguchi Japan
Past NJC Results: Lost in Quarterfinals to Hiroshi Tanahashi (2008), Lost in 2nd Round to Tanahashi (2019)

Ryusuke Taguchi has to be the luckiest bum enthusiast on this side of the Pacific: last year he made it back into his first New Japan Cup in 11 years after David Finlay had to pull out due to a shoulder injury, and this year despite not being originally scheduled for the tournament he sneaks in again due to a little worldwide pandemic. Oddly enough despite being separated by such a long period of time both tournaments went nearly exactly the same for the ‘ol Gooch: win a first round matchup against a bonafide NJPW legend (2008 against Jushin Thunder Liger, 2019 against Hiroyoshi Tenzan), lose in the next round to Hiroshi Tanahashi. Things will finally be different this time around though- he’s got a wrestler very much in his prime in the first round in SANADA, and to have the honor of being eliminated by Tanahashi for a third straight year he’d have to get all the way to the quarterfinals, which doesn’t exactly seem likely. But hey! Don’t count out this lovely, lovely man!

SANADA

Affiliation: Los Ingobernables de Japon
Past NJC Results: Lost in Quarterfinals to Tomohiro Ishii (2017), Lost in Semifinals to Zack Sabre Jr. (2018), Lost in Final to Kazuchika Okada (2019)

Sometimes New Japan Pro Wrestling is booked in such a way that it resembles a math equation, and looking at SANADA’s past New Japan Cup results should make you stop scrolling, stroke your chin and go “Hmm….”. He debuted in 2017 where he went out in the quarterfinals, in 2018 he lost in the semifinals, and in 2019 he lost…..in the final, to the man who became known as his rival Kazuchika Okada. Well, what else is left in SANADA’s progression than for him to win the New Japan Cup?! He was probably a favorite to win this thing in the original one, so I don’t know why he wouldn’t still be a favorite now. It would also set him up for a rare intra-LIJ title match against Tetsuya Naito at Dominion, which you’d think would be a crowd pleaser to the many LIJ fans in Japan. So what does his path look like to at least get back to the finals? It’s actually a little more difficult than you might think: he’s a heavy favorite in the first round against Taguchi for sure, but then he’s most likely to draw the reigning NEVER Openweight Champion (and another fellow LIJ member) Shingo Takagi in the second round, and should he make it past Shingo he’s guaranteed to have a pretty tough quarterfinal with one of Taichi, ZSJ, Tanahashi or Ibushi waiting for him. But if he makes it to the semifinals, I think he would have to be considered a favorite against anyone who comes out of the fourth “quarter” of the bracket- look at it for yourself, there’s no one there SANADA shouldn’t beat right? So if he can make it through his quarter, which admittedly is probably the toughest one of the entire tournament, I think he would be a pretty heavy favorite to at least make it to the finals for the second straight year. And after that, who knows? We could easily be talking about an all-LIJ main event at Dominion.

SHO

IWGP Jr. Tag Team Champion
Affiliation
: CHAOS
Past NJC Results: None

SHO has to be considered one of the biggest beneficiaries of the missing foreigners, as he gets to slide into what would have been Will Ospreay’s spot in the first round, facing his old rival Shingo Takagi as a result. Shingo is of course the reigning NEVER Openweight Champion who briefly feuded with SHO during their time in the junior division together last year, including a very memorable match in the Best of the Super Juniors. SHO lost that match and was also never able to pin Shingo in any of their junior tag matches together, which he’s kept as a chip on his shoulder even after Shingo moved up to heavyweight following BOSJ. Even before the shutdown there were some early teases of a possible Shingo-SHO NEVER title match (with the still-junior SHO taking advantage of the openweight nature of the belt to get a title shot), but now SHO doesn’t have to wait that long: he gets another shot at Shingo in the first round of the New Japan Cup. Is this possibly your upset special of the tournament? A win here would surely put SHO in line for that NEVER title shot he wanted, and it would even things up in this budding rivalry. Keep your eyes peeled on this one!

SHINGO TAKAGI

NEVER Openweight & 6-Man Tag Team Champion
Affiliation
: Los Ingobernables de Japon
Past NJC Results: None

Shingo Takagi has a unique distinction here: he’s the only wrestler making his debut in this year’s pandemic-scrambled New Japan Cup who was actually included in the original 2020 New Japan Cup bracket before the shutdown. This makes sense given that he moved up to heavyweight at the end of last year’s G1 Climax, which explains his absence from the 2019 tournament but also would have made him a shoe-in for this one. He’s also still SHINGO TWO BELTS, as LIJ currently hold so many titles that they actually have two different wrestlers who are double champions at the same time. Interestingly enough Shingo is also the only wrestler who was already facing a champion in the first round of the original bracket (British Heavyweight Champion Will Ospreay) who is now facing a different champion in the new bracket, in this case one-half of the IWGP Jr. Tag Team Champions SHO. Should Shingo be able to turn back his young rival he’ll be faced with a possible all-LIJ matchup in the second round in the form of SANADA (the only wrestler in LIJ who currently doesn’t hold a title).

HIROYOSHI TENZAN

Affiliation: New Japan Army
Past NJC Results: Lost in Semifinals to Hiroshi Tanahashi (2005), Lost in Quarterfinals to Tanahashi (2006), Lost in Semifinals to Togi Makabe (2007), Lost in Quarterfinals to Makabe (2008), Lost in Quarterfinals to Toru Yano (2011), Lost in 1st Round to Karl Anderson (2012), Lost in 1st Round to Anderson (2013), Lost in 1st Round to Michael Elgin (2016), Lost in 1st Round to Ryusuke Taguchi (2019)

Tenzan made his return to the New Japan Cup after a two year absence last year but was upset by junior heavyweight Ryusuke Taguchi in the first round. The veteran New Japan Dad hasn’t gotten a win in this tournament since 2011, which to put that in perspective is so long ago that a different company owned New Japan Pro Wrestling, but he’ll be in another winnable match against CHAOS’ perennial loser YOSHI-HASHI this time around. Can Tenzan pick up his first NJC win of the Bushiroad era, or is he destined to lose to the ultimate loser?

YOSHI-HASHI

Affiliation: CHAOS
Past NJC Results: Lost in 1st Round to La Sombra (2012), Lost in 1st Round to Yujiro Takahashi (2015), Lost in 1st Round to Tetsuya Naito (2016), Lost in 1st Round to SANADA (2017), Lost in 1st Round to Kota Ibushi (2018), Lost in Quaterfinals to Tomohiro Ishii (2019)

A big round of applause for our old pal YOSHI-HASHI, who I was just making fun of above yes, but guess what? He finally won a couple New Japan Cup matches last year! That’s right, after going out in the first round five straight times, everyone’s favorite lovable loser rallied to beat Manabu Nakanishi and Chase Owens, making it all the way to the quarterfinals before his tournament was ended by his longtime stablemate (and frequent 2019 tag partner) Tomohiro Ishii. And here’s something I can’t believe I’m saying: chances are YOSHI could be making it to the quarterfinals for a second straight year! All he has to do is beat another New Japan Dad in the first round in Tenzan and then he’s guaranteed to be facing a junior heavyweight in the next round in either YOH or BUSHI, giving him probably the 2nd easiest route to the quaterfinals at worst (I think Kanemaru’s “beat a Young Lion and then beat a guy you’ve literally never lost a singles match to in 12 tries” route is still easier, but it’s at least close). Lock it in! YOSHI-HASHI to the quarterfinals, again!!! (Yes, he’s definitely tapping out to the Anaconda Vice now.)

YOH

IWGP Jr. Tag Team Champion
Affiliation
: CHAOS
Past NJC Results: None

We’re almost done with these junior heavyweight debuts, as we’ve got our last two in the same matchup here. Neither guy are strangers to each other either, as BUSHI along with his ex-junior tag partner Shingo Takagi feuded with YOH and SHO throughout late 2018 into mid-2019 over the junior tag belts. So YOH will know what to watch out for, and we’ll give you a hint: it’s BUSHI’s trademark green mist. And if you’re wondering, a possible YOH vs. SHO showdown (which has never happened since they came back together as Roppongi 3K in the fall of 2017) would happen in the quarterfinals, should they both make it through.

BUSHI

NEVER 6-Man Tag Team Champion
Affiliation
: Los Ingobernables de Japon
Past NJC Results: None

Our final junior heavyweight making his debut in this year’s tournament, you can never bet against the Jet Black Death Mask to pull off an upset or two, thanks to that aforementioned green mist. If he can get past his old rival YOH he would have either Tenzan or YOSHI-HASHI waiting for him in the next round, and neither is exactly Okada let’s be real. New Japan Cup Quarterfinalist BUSHI? Hey, you never know. My dude has a singles win over Zack Sabre Jr, shit happens.

SATOSHI KOJIMA

Affiliation: New Japan Army
Past NJC Results: Lost in 1st Round to Togi Makabe (2011), Lost in 1st Round to Tetsuya Naito (2012), Lost in 1st Round to Tomohiro Ishii (2013), Lost in 1st Round to Katsuyori Shibata (2015), Lost in Quarterfinals to Toru Yano (2016), Lost in 1st Round to Minoru Suzuki (2019)

Kojima made his first appearance in the New Japan Cup in three years last time around, but despite putting up a good fight against the man who once usurped control of his own unit from him he was unable to make it out of the first round. This tournament has never really been all that great for Kojima- he’s got all of one win in six tries, and it’s against Tomoaki Honma of all people in 2016. It would take a major upset for him against a wrestler in his prime in EVIL for him to just get a second New Japan Cup win, but maybe the Strongest Arm can surprise us. Don’t forget that he actually pinned EVIL just before the shutdown, in an eight-man tag team match back on February 20th, so if he can pull it off one more time he’ll be moving on to face either Hirooki Goto or Yujiro Takahashi in the second round.

EVIL

NEVER 6-Man Tag Team Champion
Affiliation
: Los Ingobernables de Japon
Past NJC Results: Lost in 1st Round to Tomohiro Ishii (2016), Lost in Semifinals to Bad Luck Fale (2017), Lost in 1st Round to Zack Sabre Jr. (2019)

Last year was a pretty disappointing one for the King of Darkness in hindsight, as he simply didn’t have very many high-profile wins at all and fell well behind his partner SANADA. You can argue that all kind of started at the New Japan Cup, where SANADA went all the way to the finals while EVIL lost in the very first round to ZSJ. Should EVIL want to start turning things around in the restarted 2020 he’ll look to start by avenging the pinfall loss to Satoshi Kojima we just talked about in his profile, which would send him to a possible second round match against someone he has a lot of history with in Hirooki Goto. Here’s a fun scenario to think about: what if EVIL’s attempt to make up ground against SANADA sees him come face-to-face with his longtime partner himself? If it happens, it would be all the way in the semifinals.

HIROOKI GOTO

Affiliation: CHAOS
Past NJC Results: Lost in 1st Round to Manabu Nakanishi (2005), Lost in 1st Round to Hiroshi Tanahashi (2008), Won Tournament (2009), Won Tournament (2010), Lost in 1st Round to Shinsuke Nakamura (2011), Won Tournament (2012), Lost in Final to Kazuchika Okada (2013), Lost in Quarterfinals to Minoru Suzuki (2014), Lost in Final to Kota Ibushi (2015), Lost in Final to Tetsuya Naito (2016), Lost in 1st Round to SANADA (2019)

Hirooki Goto has the record for the most New Japan Cup wins, having won the tournament in 2009, 2010, and 2012. Of course I shouldn’t have to tell you that he failed in his title shot all three times (against Tanahashi, Nakamura, and Okada respectively), but perhaps the fourth time could be the charm for Goto, if he can win just one more! In addition to his three tournament victories, he’s lost in the finals three more times, so his six trips to the final is by far the most in NJC history (Tanahashi has appeared in four finals, and then you have Giant Bernard & Yuji Nagata tied with three each). Goto made waves last year when he entered the ring at the Anniversary Show alongside the likes of Okada and Tanahashi and proudly declared he would win the entire tournament……only to lose in the first round to SANADA. Yeah, that was a real “the G in Goto stands for Geek” moment. But he’s got a decent draw this year in the form of perennial underachiever Yujiro Takahashi, which should at least give him a good shot at not repeating that kind of embarrassment.

YUJIRO TAKAHASHI

Affiliation: BULLET CLUB
Past NJC Results: Lost in Quarterfinals to Hirooki Goto (2010), Lost in 1st Round to Manabu Nakanishi (2011), Lost in 1st Round to Goto (2012), Lost in Quarterfinals to Davey Boy Smith Jr. (2013), Lost in 1st Round to Shelton X Benjamin (2014), Lost in Quarterfinals to Togi Makabe (2015), Lost in 1st Round to Toru Yano (2016), Lost in 1st Round to Juice Robinson (2017), Lost in 1st Round to Robinson (2018)

The ‘ol Tokyo Pimp has had very limited success in the New Japan Cup, which pretty much mirrors his level of success in NJPW in general over the last decade. He’s made it out of the first round just three times (in nine tries), and has never made it past the second round of this tournament. The last time he even won a match in this thing was 2015, so likely before many of you reading this ever even watched NJPW, and that first round win was over YOSHI-HASHI. Not exactly the biggest victory in wrestling history there. His other two wins actually came against former IWGP Heavyweight Champions in Yuji Nagata (2010) and Togi Makabe (2013), so good for Yujiro I guess, but that’s also a long time ago now. If he’s going to earn just his fourth victory in this tournament, he’ll have to beat a man who’s already ended his New Japan Cup runs twice before in Hirooki Goto. I don’t like his odds, but who knows.




New Japan Cup 2020 Schedule

The New Japan Cup this year will take place across 9 shows (down 3 from last year). All but the finals will take place in an empty arena (in front of no fans) from a currently undisclosed location, but the final will take place in front of a “1/3rd full” Osaka Jo Hall. The winner will immediately get their title shot against Tetsuya Naito, for both belts, the following night in front of another 1/3rd crowd at Dominion.

Below you can find the full schedule of tournament matches. All shows will air live on NJPW World.

Tuesday, June 16th: 1st Round

Togi Makabe vs. Yota Tsuji
Tomohiro Ishii vs. El Desperado
Toru Yano vs. Jado
Tomoaki Honma vs. Hiromu Takahashi
+1 non-tournament match

Wednesday, June 17th: 1st Round

Kazuchika Okada vs. Gedo
Yuji Nagata vs. Minoru Suzuki
Yuya Uemura vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru
Gabriel Kidd vs. Taiji Ishimori
+1 non-tournament match

Monday, June 22nd: 1st Round

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Taichi
Kota Ibushi vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
Ryusuke Taguchi vs. SANADA
SHO vs. Shingo Takagi
+1 non-tournament match

Tuesday, June 23rd: 1st Round

Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. YOSHI-HASHI
YOH vs. BUSHI
Satoshi Kojima vs. EVIL
Hirooki Goto vs. Yujiro Takahashi
+1 non-tournament match

Wednesday, June 24th: 2nd Round

Makabe-Tsuji Winner vs. Ishii-Desperado Winner
Yano-Jado Winner vs. Honma-Hiromu Winner
Okada-Gedo Winner vs. Nagata-Suzuki Winner
Uemura-Kanemaru Winner vs. Kidd-Ishimori Winner
+1 non-tournament match

Wednesday, July 1st: 2nd Round

Tanahashi-Taichi Winner vs. Ibushi-ZSJ Winner
Taguchi-SANADA Winner vs. SHO-Shingo Winner
Tenzan-YH Winner vs. YOH-BUSHI Winner
Kojima-EVIL Winner vs. Goto-Yujiro Winner
+1 non-tournament match

Thursday, July 2nd: Quarterfinals

All four quarterfinal matches will take place on this show
+1 non-tournament match

Friday, July 3rd: Semifinals

Both semifinal matches will take place on this show
+2 non-tournament matches

Saturday, July 11th: Final

Osaka Jo Hall (1/3rd capacity)
7-9 matches in total for the event (including the NJC final)

And that’s it! Thank you for reading. If you would like additional New Japan Cup coverage, I recorded a pick ’em where I gave all my predictions (alongside VOW contributor Tyler Forness) on the Wrestling Omakase Patreon, which you can subscribe to for just $5 a month.

Enjoy the return of New Japan Pro Wrestling!