New Japan Pro Wrestling
New Japan Cup 2021 – Night 8
March 14, 2021
Amagasaki Memorial Park Gymnasium
Amagasaki, Hyogo, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

Night 8 of NJPW’s New Japan Cup 2021 brings us the Semi-Finals to the prestigious Spring tournament that will determine the next challenger to Kota Ibushi’s IWGP World Heavyweight Championship.

So far, the tournament has proven to be full of surprises and upsets from its opening round, which is the true charm of a tournament format: the unexpected being made manifest. On the other hand, this New Japan Cup faces multiple outside challenges as well: the drag of clap crowd reactions in the COVID-era, a New Japan Cup 2020 that seems to have been more recent than perhaps it actually was, and a wealth of preliminary performers given bracket slots due to the lack of gaijin talent NJPW has access to in these trying times. As with many of this promotion’s extended events, Night 8 of the New Japan Cup 2021 features a healthy dose of the roster competing in the undercard, crowned by a pair of tournament matches, which is where the real stakes to this event can be found. 

THE UNDERCARD

The lead-up to the New Japan Cup tournament has an egregiously long set of trios matches before we get to the semi-finals of the tournament. With a total of 4, the six-man matches of the New Japan Cup Night 8 extend past the show’s intermission phase.  Not only that, but most of the trios matches seem to focus on the rivalries born from the previous rounds of the tournament as opposed to the ones yet to come, so there’s not even a feeling that watching the minute-by-minute of these matches will reveal what may be yet to come in the New Japan Cup.

  • CHAOS (Yano Toru, YOSHI-HASHI, and Tomohiro Ishii) def. David Finlay, Yuya Uemura, and Yota Tsuji, with a pinfall on Tsuji by Ishii
  • BULLET CLUB (KENTA, Chase Owens, and Bad Luck Fale) def. Suzuki-Gun (DOUKI, Minoru Suzuki, and TAICHI), with a pinfall on DOUKI by Owens
  • CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, Kazuchika Okada, and SHO) def. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, BUSHI, and Shingo Takagi) with a pinfall on BUSHI by SHO
  • Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson, and Toa Henare def. BULLET CLUB (Jay White, EVIL, and Yujiro Takahashi) with a pinfall on Takahashi by Tanahashi.

If you look at the outcomes of the matches above and just imagine how they likely went in your mind, then you’re probably pretty close to how the matches played out in reality. 

New Japan Cup 2021 Semi-Final
SANADA def. Yuji Nagata

This match wears two faces for me.  On the one hand, Yuji Nagata’s slower pace is a boon for SANADA. Without having to rush when facing the older Nagata, SANADA’s offense seems to be much cleaner and in proper placement.  Without having to work the quicker pace of his contemporaries in a match with the veteran Blue Justice, the potential that fans and wrestling pundits have seen in SANADA for years comes much more to the forefront, as Nagata isn’t working so swiftly that the chances for one of the small mistakes in SANADA’s matches that always seem to add up to occur. 

On the other hand, Yuji Nagata does not seem to be the sort of competitor that should pose any sort of challenge to someone of SANADA’s athleticism.  The difference between the two is stark when seeing them next to each other in the ring: SANADA is bigger, taller, younger, and faster than Yuji by a wide margin.  So it doesn’t stand to reason that Yuji Nagata should be able to put SANADA through his paces as much as he does in this match. Especially given the fact that SANADA is praised for being such a gifted natural athlete as a central part to his character, and it’s readily apparent he’s never giving his full effort in this contest.

The match itself is a very back-and-forth affair.  As mentioned above, given the age and physicality difference, SANADA is selling far too much.  However, for the first three-quarters of the match, we see SANADA turning in a strong performance, showcasing a smarter approach to his matches than we sometimes see (read: no paradise lock).  Likewise, although his cold stoicism doesn’t always resonate with U.S. audiences, the crowd in Amagasaki responded well to him, clap restrictions notwithstanding.  Unfortunately, the closing stretch exposed weaknesses in SANADA’s game that impacts my enjoyment of his efforts.  His Skull End Dragon sleeper always seems sloppy when he’s trying to choke someone out by gripping their forehead, or his misplaced moonsault to put Nagata away.  ***½

New Japan Cup 2021 Semi-Final
Will Ospreay def. Zack Sabre Jr. 

“When Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept for there were no more worlds to conquer.” – Plutarch

The rivalry between Will Ospreay and Zack Sabre Jr. is a well-documented affair.  But their contest on March 14 in the semi-final round of the New Japan Cup 2021 was different.  This was unlike their matches before:  Will was now the leader of the United Empire, and of an entirely different demeanor and disposition than in encounters with Zack in the past.  Likewise, Will doesn’t approach his matches in quite the same way anymore.  While in many cases, a heel vs heel dynamic can be unwieldy and tell a muddled story, that was not the case here.

Ospreay opened the match up with a flurry of high-speed, high-impact offense, looking to put ZSJ away in the opening minute. It was apparent right away that Sabre was surprised by this new Will, one whose offense punished every minor mistake, and maximized every offered opportunity – much in the same way that ZSJ does to others.  Moreover, Zack struggled in this match.  While he was able to execute well-timed, and well-placed counters, as well as execute masterful submission holds (the hallmark of any ZSJ match), he was not able to create strings of offense.  The Submission Master found that his chain wrestling hand one or two links at best at any given point in the bout.  Not only that, but Ospreay had plenty of counters for Zack’s offense as well, neutralizing many of the natural advantages ZSJ brings with him to any given contest.

Likewise, the banter and trash-talk in the ring was a perfect accent in this match.  Two arrogant heels with a lot of history, spitting venom at one another for years and years of rivalry.  However, Will was now playing the game in a very similar manner to the way Zack had done to him in the past.  There was a sense of a passing of the torch, though perhaps it wasn’t a consensual one, with Will coming closer and closer to claiming victory with each passing minute. 

As the match came to its closing stretch, Sabre was able to start executing his offense with more certainty and with more successful transitions from one move to the next, but only to a certain degree.  Will was still in the fight the entire way.  And worse, ZSJ’s attacks started to have a desperate quality about them, as if Zack was coming to realize that this was indeed an all-new, all-different Will Ospreay, one that would need to be put away by any means necessary if the Dangerous Tekker was going to win the night.  But this was merely a prelude to the inevitable.  A definitive Storm Breaker put Zack Sabre Jr. away, and with this victory, not only was Will Ospreay that much closer to the New Japan Cup, but he’d also put ZSJ in his rearview mirror.  The way a Commonwealth Kingpin likely would.  ****1/2