New Japan Pro Wrestling
New Japan Cup 2020 Night 7
July 2, 2020
Korakuen Hall
Tokyo, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

Japanese professional wrestling is finally beginning to ease its way out of the COVID-induced empty arena era, but not before New Japan Pro Wrestling can hit us with nine, count ‘em, nine empty arena contributions of their own. While I did miss the wildly deep NJPW talent roster, and while the New Japan Cup has provided a number of fantastic bouts, I’m more than ready to wrap this thing up and get to Osaka-Jo on the 11th, back out in front of audiences. I’m tasked with reviewing the penultimate edition of the series, so join me in saying almost-goodbye to empty arena New Japan. Like that dude you let crash on your couch after a party who still hasn’t gone home the following afternoon, you were cool for a bit but I won’t miss ya.

New Japan Cup Quarterfinals – Hiromu Takahashi def. Tomohiro Ishii

We’re opening with Hiromu and Ishii? Bless us all. For starters, Hiromu’s Suicidal Tendencies jacket reminds me that Tomohiro Ishii kinda gives me modern day Mike Muir vibes. Mostly though, these two embody the things I’ve come to appreciate most in a crowd-free wrestling environment – stiff lariats, gross elbows and minimal bullshit. 

That’s exactly how I’d describe the bout’s opening minutes. Ishii batters his foe with chops that echo through the empty Korakuen Hall, and asks for more when Takahashi returns fire. Hiromu is happy to oblige, and for a time the two appear to be trading on equal ground. Ishii’s not a very big guy, and while his frame certainly qualifies him as a heavyweight, his shorter stature has helped me buy into his tournament matches against juniors, despite knowing how the company books matches between the two divisions. Eventually, Ishii begins to get the better of brute force exchanges, with Hiromu taking bumps off multiple hard lariats that will make you wince.

The junior champ is forced to utilize his speed advantage, connecting with slick headscissors and D, his triangle choke, until he wears Ishii down enough to really open up the arsenal. When Ishii kicks out of the Time Bomb, I’m certain the heavyweight’s going over the junior again. When Hiromu scores with Ishii’s signature Vertical Drop Brainbuster, I’m less sure. By the time he hits Time Bomb II, the super-finish he debuted at Wrestle Kingdom, it’s a wrap for our dear Stone Pitbull. Shocking to no one, this match kicked ass. I can’t even get mad at it for decimating my bracket. My new favorite match of the tournament; this is all I wanted empty arena wrestling to be. ****¼ 

New Japan Cup Quarterfinals – EVIL def. YOSHI-HASHI

Right from the get-go both men are playing off things that were established in yesterday’s show. YOSHI-HASHI walks to the ring with slight limp, after apparently hurting his knee in his prior match against BUSHI. Even more interesting (than YOSHI-HASHI? Imagine that.) is after leaning into sometimes uncharacteristic dirty tactics against Goto yesterday, EVIL takes a chair to YOSHI-HASHI’s hurt knee before the opening bell sounds. Unfortunately, he does little else. The attack leaves Y-H prone for a sharpshooter that ends the match as quickly as it began. After the bell, EVIL does not relent, stomping on the knee until the two are separated. While this was seemingly a way out to keep an injured YOSHI-HASHI from having to wrestle a match, I’m hoping EVIL continues this trajectory back toward mean heel territory. Like Milano Collection A.T., I’ve got a big soft spot for that spooky dude, and roughing people up like a badass suits him better than being LIJ’s fourth ranked tweener. Not so much a match as an effective segment. **

Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi & BUSHI def. Hirooki Goto, SHO & Yuya Uemura

One of the major subplots of the New Japan Cup has undoubtedly been Yuya Uemura’s rippling new musculature, and when and how we’re going to see more of it. Full disclosure, I’ve hardly paid any attention to these tag matches on the prior shows, often fast forwarding to their finish to see if Gedo snuck in anything I should be paying attention to. That said, I’m happy to drop in on this one for a quick catchup on Yuya’s deltoids. 

In all honesty, there’s not a lot to say here. Look at the names, five wildly talented pro wrestlers and a young lion who’s recently transformed into a mesmerizing, hulking monster. There are strong exchanges between the pairings of SHO-Shingo and Naito-Goto, until you get to the part in the New Japan six-man tag where someone is left in the ring with the young lion. Here, it’s BUSHI, who closes out Yuya with an iffy-looking Fireman’s Carry Codebreaker-type deal. A neat little match, nothing you need to go out of your way for. Shingo holds up his NEVER belts and mouths off to SHO afterward, so it appears we’re headed toward a title match between those two. You know I’m down. **¾ 

Before we continue, the commercial for the NJPW Card Collection app where Will Ospreay just keeps screaming “WHOA!” at a phone is really something. Arrite, NEXT: 

New Japan Cup Quarterfinals – Kazuchika Okada def. Taiji Ishimori

Two things I’ve got my eye on in this match: We’re still seemingly on a crash course toward the oft-predicted Okada/SANADA rematch in the finals. The potential for Bullet Club hijinx here is one of the few remaining potential obstacles left on that path. Also, I love Okada as much as the next guy, but I don’t always love how he takes that main event style pacing into matches that don’t really warrant it. Here, outside the main event slot, in a first time matchup against a very game Taiji Ishimori, I hope to see him pick up the pace a little. 

Okada coming through the stands in a glow-in-the-dark robe? What a king. We’re definitely off to the right start. Okada begins in control, but it’s only mere minutes before he’s on the outside being beaten with a ratchet wrench by Gedo while the Bone Soldier holds the ref and says, “Hey, don’t look over there.” Afforded the opening by Gedo’s toolset, Ishimori goes on the attack and puts on a show. We get a Sliding German early, and another Gedo distraction sets up a gorgeous triangle moonsault to the outside. Ishimori elects to work the neck, building toward the Yes Lock (as listed by the New Japan website, honest!) he’s been employing as of late. For his part, Okada’s selling is typically fantastic, including a world-class sell on a Cipher UTAKI late in the match. A combination of size discrepancy and nimble opponent make moves like the flapjack and Air Raid Crash neckbreaker look tremendous. 

Outside interference can wear on you in a tournament match like this, but I could vibe with it here as the only way to justify Ishimori getting this kind of offense against Okada, who still comes off to me as the final boss in New Japan. I still find myself groaning at the ref bump. Thankfully, Gedo is quickly thwarted this time, and Okada secures the win with the Cobra Clutch, a hold he’s done a great job establishing over the course of the tournament. A breezy, fun 17 minutes with little filler, and it’s nice to see Ishimori get some shine. ***½ 

New Japan Cup Quarterfinals – SANADA def. Taichi

The track toward the SANADA and Okada rematch continues here, and with Taichi seemingly en route to a tag title match against Tanahashi and Ibushi, a SANADA victory appears more and more likely. That said, New Japan’s blindsided countless times, and both of these men are coming off fantastic performances on the prior show (against Kota Ibushi and SHO respectively) so I think it’s safe to say our main event has tremendous potential to bang.

Taichi again is quick to take it outside the ring. As burnt out as I am on brawling around an empty Korakuen Hall, I do appreciate Taichi choking out SANADA with a barrier advertising Fire Pro Wrestling World. Come see me on PS4, Taichi.

SANADA whips out the rope-assisted variation of the Paradise Lock in front of Milano, and the two trade Fonzie thumbs before SANADA wallops Taichi with a knee. From here the match enters its next gear. Taichi starts making with the stiff kicks and high angle backdrops while SANADA proves the stronger technician, slyly finding openings for roll-ups or the rope-assisted Magic Killer. SANADA lands his moonsault transition into the Skull End relatively early, and a run-in from Yoshinobu Kanemaru keeps Red Shoes from seeing Taichi tap out to the hold. Taichi capitalizes by locking in his trainer Toshiaki Kawada’s signature Stretch Plum, and transitioning it to his opponent’s signature Skull End. SANADA takes control back with a Keiji Mutoh-esque hurricanrana, but as he sets up for the moonsault Kanemaru returns. This time, Taichi eschews all formalities and goes right for a COLOSSAL kick in the balls, complete with thigh slap. Before Taichi can follow with the Gedo Clutch, SANADA perseveres and counters with an O’Connor Roll for the victory. A lot of the action here was good, and I appreciated the string of nods to their respective mentors, but between some disjointedness and it coming on the heels of another interference-laden match, for me this one tops out at “good.” ***

Final Thoughts 

While the main event didn’t particularly grab me, this was a fairly strong show. Okada and Taiji Ishimori overdelivered, the EVIL and YOSHI-HASHI segment made the best of a difficult situation and made EVIL come off like a boss, and the opener was probably one of my top two or three matches in any company from this empty arena period. The semi-finals are now set: 

  • Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiromu Takahashi 

I’m less certain about an Okada/SANADA conclusion than I was two hours ago. There’s something very interesting brewing with EVIL, and with Hiromu’s victory today the possibility remains that New Japan is gifting us the Takahashi/Naito bout we lost with the cancellation of the Anniversary show. All will be answered tomorrow, July 3rd, at the final empty arena New Japan Cup show, featuring both semi-final matches.