New Japan Pro Wrestling
New Japan Cup 2021 Night 2
March 6, 2021
Korakuen Hall
Tokyo, Japan


Notes From The Undercard

The opening battle (Taiji Ishimori, Chase Owens and Jay White def. Yuya Uemura, David Finlay, Toa Henare ***) was a fun sprint that, much like the opener from last night, overachieved.  Henare is a stocky bundle of violence and he really seems to have outgrown the purgatory between Young Lion status and getting a proper push.  Chase and Finley had another bicker, which was certainly better than the sum of their parts.  Finley was positioned as the leader here, despite Henare embodying the role in practice.  Uemura continued to impress, particularly in his selling, before Ishimori put him away.

It was odd to see Tetsuya Naito getting a bit of revenge against O-Khan in the second match (Great-O-Khan, Will Ospreay def. Jeff Cobb Tetsuya Naito, BUSHI and SANADA ***) as he dragged O-Khan around by his hair, but it didn’t last long and the slow bubble under O-Khan continued to roll.  It was nice to see United Empire battle someone other than TenKoji, as the repetition was starting to sour the feud slightly.  Ospreay going after Naito and stretching him a bit showed a hunger to move up the card from a wrestler who knows how to play the game, which was great.  Cobb continues to bully juniors by tossing BUSHI around and pinning him.  Another fun match.

New Japan Cup 2021 First Round Match
Minoru Suzuki def. Tomoaki Honma

This match was built brilliantly yesterday, with Tomoaki Honma making it clear that he is ready to sacrifice his neck to advance in the New Japan Cup.  Some might think that was crazy, but Suzuki took it as an invitation.  Suzuki is always the smartest man in the room, and he spent the match creating situations where Honma would make himself look foolish.  Suzuki, like many in his stable, is always able to elevate the story through his reactions and this was evident here.  Honma “powering up” was met with mocking encouragement, which made Honma’s stunted comeback more impressive than it had any right to be.  

Honma told an excellent story here.  He never had any chance of winning this tournament, and he must have known that when he put his boots on.  However, he refused to let Suzuki disrespect him.  When Suzuki put his hands behind his back and let Honma hit him, the wonderfully self-destructive head butt that Honma delivered was a powerful reminder that pride is often more important than dignity.  

This match was a great story, told by two men who love pro-wrestling.  This is worth seeking out.  ****

New Japan Cup 2021 First Round Match
KENTA def. Juice Robinson

Wrestling is a visual medium, and the entrances alone wrote pages.  KENTA, still wounded from his high profile loss to Moxley, was a picture of slighted violence.  He was a walking frown, ready to kill anything that stood in his way.  I can only imagine what he felt when the court jester Juice danced his way to the ring.

What he felt was made clear in the opening exchange with KENTA dragging Juice around by his ridiculous haircut.  KENTA plays the mocking bully better than anyone, and that was certainly on display here. Unfortunately, this match felt like blocked pieces planned in a locker room rather than a cohesive fight.  KENTA used the bell to transition into a control period but it felt contrived.  They tried to show us a swinging pendulum, but it never really got the height it needed.

It was never bad, and a horrendous DVD exchange gave Juice the chance to show some of the blue-eye fire that he is so good at, but ultimately this match was a whisper when I wanted a shout. ***½

 New Japan Cup 2021 First Round Match
Shingo Takagi def. Kazuchika Okada

These two competitors had what many consider the best match of the G1, but unfortunately excitement for this match has been tainted by rumours of Okada’s serious back injury.  It certainly makes his egregious use of the Money Clip make sense, but it also brings into question the morality of using badly injured wrestlers.  There’s a blind pride in wrestlers working through injuries, but if the injury is as serious as the rumours suggest, I would be much more comfortable with Okada missing the New Japan Cup entirely.  This is the Covid Cup, and will be as inconsequential as it is ever going to be.  If it takes a few years off his career, is it worth it?

Did I notice Okada slump slightly? Absolutely.  But quality shines through, and Shingo showed an often unlauded skill when critics analyse wrestling.  He was able to make Okada look great, despite the context of this match. This further cemented Shingo as being one of the best wrestlers of his generation.  Shingo ran this match, keeping the focus on him through mocking the Rainmaker pose and battering Okada.  He structured a great match that overcame all potential hurdles.  Okada’s offense came in short, powerful bursts and Shingo kept the gaze firmly on him when Okada needed time.

That being said, they did a top rope superplex.  Would they have done that if Okada had a slipped disc?  Well, yes.  Wrestlers aren’t very bright.

The constant, rotational return to the Money Clip, while necessary , was still boring.  In a company where finishers tend to be sudden bursts of whiplash, the Money Clip stands out as being particularly plodding.  Shingo is the only man I have seen sell it well, and even he struggled here.

This match may have felt “by the numbers” at times, but the closing exchange of this was simply two of the best wrestlers in the world grabbing us by the hand and taking us on the wildest ride.  The work was captivating, the exchange of Rainmakers had me on the edge of my seat and there were several near falls that had me convinced it was over.  The final Made In Japan was brutal.

When Shingo finally reaches the heights he deserves, I hope Okada remembers this match and comes back for more.  If they can do this during an injury-plagued NJ Cup first round, just imagine what they can do in the Dome.  ****¼

Final Thoughts

This was another good New Japan show, and a pattern is starting to develop.  If the three bald spoilers aren’t at ringside, the shows are good.  It’s almost like New Japan sticking to what put them on top – quality in-ring work – is what they should be leaning into.  What a crazy concept.