MARCH 21, 2023

Watch: NJPWWorld

Spring is the season when the flowers bloom, and several of New Japan’s budding stars went into full bloom over the course of this year’s New Japan Cup. The two biggest moves saw two men taking control of their particular units. David Finlay took control of BULLET CLUB after kicking Jay White out the door. Meanwhile, after beating Tetsuya Naito in the quarterfinals, SANADA left Los Ingobernables de Japon to become the fifth man in Just 5 Guys. Those two men met in the finals of the New Japan Cup, with a title match against Kazuchika Okada up for grabs. Let’s get into it!


The undercard as a whole was fun, thanks to a very hot crowd in Nagaoka. If you have time, just watch the whole show!

  • Just 5 Guys (DOUKI & Taichi) def. Hiroshi Tanahashi & Yuto Nakashima– In the backstage comments, Tanahashi requested to replace the injured Will Ospreay against Mike Bailey at the NJPWxImpact Multiverse United show over Wrestlemania Weekend.

  • Ryohei Oiwa & Shota Umino def. TMDK (Kosei Fujita & Zack Sabre Jr.) – After the match, Umino challenged Sabre to a NJPWWorld TV Title match. Umino beat Sabre in the New Japan Cup, but it took him 26 minutes to do it.
  • BULLET CLUB (Chase Owens, El Phantasmo & KENTA) def. Tama Tonga, Tomoaki Honma & Tomohiro Ishii – Post match, Ishii & Owens got into a brawl at ringside, so look out for that one. Phantasmo told David Finlay that he’d better win the New Japan Cup…or else.
  • House of Torture (Dick Togo, EVIL, SHO & Yujiro Takahashi) def. Strong Style (El Desperado & Ren Narita), Ryusuke Taguchi & Toru Yano – SHO hit Taguchi with a wrench, allowing Huge Yuj to hit the Big Juice for the win in a blissfully short 3 minutes. Post match, HOT beat down Despy and Narita to a good bit of heat, including spraypainting “H.O.T.” on Narita’s chest. EVIL been watching his Ruby Soho tapes from the looks of it.

  • Los Ingobernables de Japon (Shingo Takagi & Tetsuya Naito) def. United Empire (Aaron Henare & Great-O-Khan) – Naito pinned O-Khan with a roll-up to win a notably good match. Henare and Shingo stared down with the KOPW Title, while O-Khan stood over Naito with the Rev Pro British Title.
  • United Empire (Jeff Cobb, Kyle Fletcher & Mark Davis) def. CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, Kazuchika Okada & YOSHI-HASHI) – Aussie Open pinned YOSHI-HASHI with Corealis, then made a challenge for the Heavyweight Tag Titles. Cobb made several call outs of Kenny Omega, before saying he would make his way to Dynamite on Wednesday. Another notably good tag match.



I remember the first time I saw Lio Rush. It was the 2016 Top Prospect Tournament for Ring of Honor on Sinclair, against the man now known as Damian Priest in a visibly empty Nashville Municipal Auditorium.

What I saw that night made me sit up and take note. I thought ROH had found the next great cruiserweight in pro wrestling. He moved at a different speed than everybody else. His offense was great, his selling was great. When he won the Top Prospect Tournament the next week, I thought ROH had found themselves a capital-G Guy. Unfortunately, ROH was riding fat and lazy off of the BULLET CLUB train and never gave him any type of consistent push before he signed to WWE in 2017.

His WWE run never gained any steam, with his biggest push coming as Bobby Lashley’s manager. He had a blink-and-you-miss-it run in AEW, teaming with Dante Martin in a solid pairing. But between the missed opportunities in America and Rush’s continued hiatuses from wrestling – sparking the laziest jokes in the medium – it seemed like Lio Rush would be a story of the right guy coming along at the wrong time in wrestling.

Enter New Japan. Lio Rush entered as YOH’s tag team partner in the Super Junior Tag League and had a great run, leading to a stellar Tokyo Dome title match against Catch 2/2 that harkened back to the days of the Young Bucks and reDRagon. And after this title match against Takahashi, I think Lio Rush has found his home. Here, his talent can be utilized and capitalized on. With the way the New Japan schedule works, he can avoid the burnout that got to him in the past. Lio Rush and New Japan are the perfect pairing for each other, especially if it results in high-level junior heavyweight action like we got here.

Rush showed the fire and passion that has already ingratiated himself with the New Japan domestic audience. It helped that Hiromu threw bombs at this man for 20 minutes, giving Rush something to fight against. When Rush hit the Direct Drive, YOH’s finishing move, I bought that the title would change hands then and there. But Hiromu avoided the Final Hour frog splash, leading to a closing stretch that saw Hiromu pull the Dynamite Plunger out of mothballs before hitting the Time Bomb 2 for the win. I can’t recommend this one enough. ****1/2

After the match, Zack Sabre Jr. came out to make a challenge to Hiromu on behalf of the newest member of TMDK.

The Jr. Heavyweight division in New Japan suffered greatly over the course of the pandemic, as the closed borders meant less foreign talent. The pushes of guys like SHO and YOH didn’t take off as hoped for. And Hiromu winning Best of the Super Juniors for three consecutive years made the junior division feel like a hamster wheel. New Japan took notice. With the additions of Robbie Eagles and Lio Rush, plus the dedicated elevations of guys like Master Wato, DOUKI, and Francesco Akira, this junior division has a real sense of life and energy since restrictions have been lifted. With the Super Juniors tour around the corner, I’m incredibly excited for a loud and lively 2023 tournament.


The most intriguing part of this New Japan Cup Final was not the match, but the outcome. Throughout this tour, there has been some dissonance brewing between David Finlay and El Phantasmo. Finlay joined the group at the Anniversary Show with Gedo by his side, leading many to believe that he was the new leader by default. But ELP questioned the move, saying that Finlay hasn’t done anything to earn that spot. With Finlay losing here, and those two teaming up at Sakura Genesis in a six-man, I expect some big BULLET CLUB movement. Phantasmo is going to be a big-time babyface for this promotion, so I would expect him to get kicked out, leading to a big singles match between him and Finlay. But this Finlay run in the group has been mostly divorced from the rest of the unit. I don’t discount the possibility of Finlay being a red herring.

As for SANADA…he’s still SANADA.

The announcers talked about how Taichi helped SANADA wake up out of the funk he had been on for months prior. He got a huge win over Naito in the quarterfinals, which led to SANADA leaving LIJ for Just Five Guys. He changed his look, losing the shaggy hair and beard to show off that impressive jawline. He got to the final here against David Finlay, a man himself motivated to take firm control of BULLET CLUB and New Japan by winning the Cup. He got the win in front of a hot hometown crowd. New Japan did everything right to make me believe that this was a changed man.

But he’s still just SANADA.

There’s a certain spark to his work that isn’t there for me. The part of the match where you sit up and take notice that you’re watching a great wrestling match. That ability to force a match to greatness. The ever-so elusive It Factor. It doesn’t exist within Seiya Sanada, the man himself. I’m not saying that he’s doomed to fail with this renewed push. I’m not saying that if he wins the IWGP Title at Sakura Genesis, that New Japan has lost course. What I am saying is that the levels that guys like Okada, Tanahashi, Naito, and Ospreay can reach is a level that I never see SANADA reaching. He’s just not that guy.

SANADA won with his new finisher, a Blade Runner-style DDT. ***1/2