New Japan Pro Wrestling
Super J-Cup 2020
December 12, 2020
Port Hueneme, CA
Watch: NJPW World, FITE
If you’re someone who loves tournaments in wrestling, then 2020 New Japan has been the place for you! The months-long company shutdown in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of the original New Japan Cup and Best of the Super Juniors tournaments. When the company resumed operations in June, they ran a revised 32-man New Japan Cup in an empty arena setting. Following that, the company ran a tournament to crown new NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Champions, the inaugural KOPW Trophy tournament, and then another tournament to fill the vacated IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Championship. Then we had the 30th annual G1 Climax and shortly thereafter a dual tour of both Best of the Super Juniors and World Tag League happening at the same time. And that’s only in Japan. Here in the United States, the company hosted a New Japan Cup USA tournament and a Lion’s Break Crown tournament, both of which were empty arena. That’s a lot of tournaments to hold over the course of about six months.
Super J-Cup 2020 will be the tenth and final tournament of New Japan’s calendar year. It will take place on Saturday, December 12 (the day after the BOSJ/WTL finals) in the Oceanville Pavilion in Port Hueneme, CA, the same empty arena setting as the company’s U.S.-based weekly show New Japan Strong. The tournament is essentially a make-good for the lack of foreign wrestlers in this year’s Super Juniors (sans Robbie Eagles), but that doesn’t mean it should be seen as an afterthought. The lineup looks excellent on paper, and although it is empty arena, the J-Cup name does carry a certain level of prestige.
The first Super J-Cup was held in 1994 and was the brainchild of legendary junior heavyweight wrestler Jushin Thunder Liger. It was a one-night single-elimination tournament featuring 14 top juniors from various promotions around the world including NJPW, FMW, WAR, CMLL, and M-Pro. Wrestlers such as Liger, Dean Malenko, Great Sasuke, Black Tiger II (Eddie Guerrero), Negro Casas, TAKA Michinoku, Shinjiro Otani, Gedo, and Hayabusa all competed to win, but in the end it would be Wild Pegasus (Chris Benoit) who took home the winner’s purse. The event was a massive critical and commercial success, with many calling it one of the greatest nights in pro wrestling history, and a number of the tournament’s participants saw their stocks raised considerably because of it.
Since then, the SJC has been held sporadically over the years, and while other promotions like WAR (1995), Michinoku Pro (2000), and Osaka Pro (2004) have hosted it, the past three iterations of the tournament have all been hosted by New Japan (2009, 2016, 2019). The list of tournament winners is similarly short. 79 individual wrestlers have taken part in the Super J-Cup, but only five of them have ever won it.
- 1994 – Wild Pegasus
- 1995 & 2000 – Jushin Thunder Liger
- 2004 & 2009 – Naomichi Marufuji
- 2016 – KUSHIDA
- 2019 – El Phantasmo
This year’s tournament features eight wrestlers, five of whom are entering the Super J-Cup for the first time. There are representatives from New Japan, Ring of Honor, Impact Wrestling, Game Changer Wrestling, and free agents who are not associated with any one company. This will be the first year to not have any native Japanese wrestlers competing, and while that is a little disappointing, it’s understandable given the state of the world and travel restrictions.
As for stakes, it has not been said what the winner of the Super J-Cup will receive beyond the standard trophy and shiny gold jacket. Last year’s winner El Phantasmo received a shot at the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship at King of Pro-Wrestling 2019, but that was likely due to pinning the champion Will Ospreay in the semifinals. There’s been some fan speculation that the SJC winner will wrestle the BOSJ winner on night one of Wrestle Kingdom 15, then the winner of that match will face IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion Taiji Ishimori for the belt on night two, but that’s getting way ahead of ourselves with mere scuttlebutt.
Let’s take a closer look at the participant and opening-round matches!
After Karl Fredericks graduated from young lion status, Clark Connors made it his mission to not be the final man left behind in the L.A. Dojo. He grew out his mane and cranked up the intensity in the ring, fighting like hell to get wins and respect. Connors’ hard work eventually paid off when he won the Lion’s Break Crown, a tournament featuring up-and-coming wrestlers who had been featured regularly on New Japan Strong. It wasn’t exactly the 2004 Ted Petty Invitational, but for a young lion to win a non-young lion tournament is a rather big deal and a sign that the Washington native has a bright future in New Japan. Winning the Super J-Cup, though, will be another matter entirely. The field is peppered with talented veterans, including TJP to whom Connors lost in the first round in last year’s tournament. Can Connors redeem last year’s early bow out, or will the young lion shock the world once again?
Impact Wrestling’s Chris Bey signed with the company earlier in the year. 2020 has been a rough go to say the least, but Bey has made the most of it, winning the X-Division Championship from Willie Mack at Slammiversary back in July. Though he dropped the title a month later to Rohit Raju, Bey has bounced back into a feud with the Impact World Champion Rich Swann. They will wrestle for the title at Final Resolution, which takes place… *check’s notes* the same night as the Super J-Cup. How about that. Bey pulling a Rick Rude, appearing on both shows, and winning both the SJC and the Impact World Championship on the same night would be quite the feather in his cap. He certainly has history on his side when it comes to established talent wrestling young lions in the opening rounds of New Japan tournaments, so the odds are good that Bey will finesse his way to the semifinals of the “Super Bey Cup.”
If anyone has a claim to being the best wrestler in the field, it’s ACH. His mix of veteran guile, spitfire energy, and flawless technique makes him a must-watch competitor. He was a semi-regular in New Japan from 2016 to 2018, mainly competing in tournaments. He signed with WWE in 2019, but left later that year under tumultuous circumstances. It seemed like his career was over when he abruptly announced his retirement, but that would thankfully turn out to be a brief decision because he came back to wrestling soon after. When the New Japan Strong shows began, ACH was welcomed back into the fold with open arms. As far as New Japan tournaments go, he’s had more success in the Super Jr. Tag League (making the finals two years in a row) than Best of the Super Juniors (averaging six points), but he could change all of that in one night by winning the Super J-Cup.
TJP has been wrestling for quite a long time. How long? He has more in-ring experience than four other wrestlers in the tournament combined. I can’t speak for the man’s social media habits or basketball takes, but make no mistake that the 22-year pro is VERY good at wrestling. Smoother than Marcus Cor Von’s entrance theme (and that’s pretty damn smooth), TJP knows what it’s like to win junior heavyweight tournaments, having won the WWE Cruiserweight Classic back in 2016. He’s been firmly established as a solid veteran hand in New Japan’s junior division, his most prominent role seeing him team with Clark Connors in the 2019 Super Jr. Tag League. He’s not one of the favorites to win, but his match with ACH could steal the whole show.
Ring of Honor’s Rey Horus, previously known as Dragon Azteca Jr. in Lucha Underground, is one-third of the ROH World Six-Man Tag Team Champions with his Mexa Squad stablemates Bandido and Flamita. Horus may be the Frank Beard of his trio, but getting selected to represent the company over other ROH talent with more New Japan experience like Jonathan Gresham or Flip Gordon is quite notable. He was trained by Rey Misterio Sr. and is a triple crown champion in The Crash Lucha Libre, so he has the credentials, but his biggest handicap going into the tournament will be ring rust. Horus hasn’t wrestled since February, and with almost every other entrant logging in matches through the COVID-19 era, it might be a tough road to hoe for the luchador on December 12.
While technically a free agent, Blake Christian made his name on the indie scene in Game Changer Wrestling, so that is for all intents and purposes his “home” promotion. Christian’s go-for-broke style is always on display in GCW to the delight of the fans, but I find his work on New Japan Strong to be where he excels the most. The controlled environment reigns in his more overindulgent tendencies, but still gives him a platform to show off his bonkers high-flying antics like his trademark springboard 630 senton to the outside. Christian made it to the semifinals of the Lion’s Break Crown tournament, so let’s see if the 23-year-old (the youngest man in the field, by the way) can go even further and hoist the Super J-Cup trophy high.
2019 Super J-Cup winner, former IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Champion, former RevPro British Cruiserweight Champion, and all-around asshole El Phantasmo is back in a New Japan ring after ten months away. ELP is a talented guy, but he’s also the most blatant heel in the tournament with a history of low blows, ref bumps, and title belt shots to help him win matches. If you’re nervous about any skullduggery in the Super J-Cup (a natural reaction given how many Bullet Club matches have gone this year), then Phantasmo would be your main source of consternation. ELP going back-to-back with SJC victories isn’t unheard of given it’s already happened twice in tournament history with Liger and Marufuji. That said, he is also someone who’s been mostly absent from the ring during the pandemic, only wrestling once since March for a promotion called Real Canadian Wrestling. If he’s not 100% prepared, it might be a quick night for him.
Lio Rush is a busy man these days. When he’s not wrestling on the independents, he’s embarking on a rap career, appearing on the hit MTV competition show The Challenge, and writing/producing/directing his own wrestling hype vignettes, including one for the Super J-Cup. It’s clear that the former NXT Cruiserweight Champion has a lot of talent and isn’t afraid to bet on himself. Similar to ACH, Lio’s tremendous in-ring skills were almost put away when he contemplated retirement following his release from WWE earlier in the year, but so far he’s kept wrestling. He’ll be making his NJPW debut here, and he has said in a recent interview that he wants to be a mainstay in New Japan in 2021, which would be a massive coup for the company’s junior division. Don’t be shocked if the “Man of the Hour” upsets El Phantasmo and even wins the entire tournament.
Full Card for Super J-Cup 2020
- Super J-Cup 2020 Quarterfinals: Clark Connors vs. Chris Bey
- Super J-Cup 2020 Quarterfinals: ACH vs. TJP
- Super J-Cup 2020 Quarterfinals: Rey Horus vs. Blake Christian
- Super J-Cup 2020 Quarterfinals: El Phantasmo vs. Lio Rush
- Rocky Romero & Fred Rosser vs. JR Kratos & Danny Limelight
- Super J-Cup 2020 Semifinals: TBD vs. TBD
- Super J-Cup 2020 Semifinals: TBD vs. TBD
- Ren Narita & Kevin Knight vs. KENTA & Hikuleo
- Super J-Cup 2020 Finals: TBD vs. TBD