For the first time in its history, the New Japan Cup will consist of a mammoth 32 entrants and with that comes the inclusion of Singles Champions to fire up the action. In another turn of events, the winner of this years Cup will not choose a title to challenge for, but they will earn a guaranteed Championship match against current IWGP Heavyweight Champion Switchblade Jay White at Madison Square Garden. If you are a new fan or unsure of the product, I think this is a great time to get involved. All shows will be live on NJPWWorld.com and there will be English commentary for every show supplied by the incomparable Kevin Kelly who is second to none at providing analysis that is informative to die-hard fans and those just joining in. Get your preview below for one of the most exciting tournaments of the year that kicks off on 8th March as we delve into the opening round matches:
Friday 8th March – Korakuen Hall (Tokyo)
Juice Robinson vs Chase Owens
The IWGP US Champion Juice Robinson runs the risk of a future challenge for his title with every match he competes in. If he loses to Chase Owens, not only will Juice be knocked out of the tournament but he could be challenged for his current Championship by Chase in the future. Chase has been a constant in NJPW and has stuck with the Bullet Club amidst the Elite/BC turmoil. A lot rides on this for both men, making this an intriguing start to the cup.
Manabu Nakanishi vs YOSHI-HASHI
YOSHI-HASHI has been lackluster since return from injury and will be hoping to turn his fortunes around during the tournament. Despite teaming with Okada on occasion he still seems to be missing something to help complete the package. He kicks things off against a road-block in Nakanishi who has the experience edge over the younger competitor.
Tomoaki Honma vs Taichi
Honma hasn’t had many (or any?) singles matches since returning from his devastating injury. Is the master of the kokeshi ready to compete in such a high stakes tournament? He won’t be getting any sympathy from his opponent, as Taichi will be on the hunt to make up for his defeat to Tetsuya Naito at The New Beginning.
Yuji Nagata vs Tomhiro Ishii
The animosity has been building between these 2 and this promises to be the hardest hitting match of the night, perhaps the entire tournament. These 2 no-nonsense wrestlers will be taken to their limits as they try to march on to the 2nd round.
Saturday 9th March – Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium (Aichi)
Mikey Nicholls vs Hikuleo
This match sees the NJCup debut for both men who will be hoping to prove they belong. Nicholls make his NJPW return for the first time since leaving NXT (where he was known as Nick Miller). Hikuleo has been plagued by injury and returned at Honor Rising to help his brothers in GoD claim the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships. This match gives both competitors a spotlight to shine.
Kazuchika Okada vs Michael Elgin
The Rainmaker is trying to get back on track to the IWGP Heavyweight Championship scene that has forgotten him. He picked up a huge win over Bad Luke Fale recently to kick-start his campaign but he now has the solid task of Michael Elgin, who will be appearing in his 4th consecutive NJCup and has been a determent for many wrestlers in his time with NJPW.
Will Ospreay vs Bad Luck Fale
Ospreay seems to be on the precipice of being a heavyweight and being added to the tournament is a huge landmark for the NEVER Openweight Champion. The
Aerial Assassin has recently picked up pinfall victories over Ibushi, Davey Boy Smith Jr. and Jeff Cobb in his quest to change weight class but he comes up against a super heavyweight in Bad Luck Fale. Fale is a NJCup veteran and may send Ospreay slamming back down to the Juniors. And an Ospreay loss could see a future defense against Fale.
Toa Henare vs Lance Archer
Henare has been waiting for a chance to prove himself and he is finally getting an opportunity. But he comes up against the 6ft8in Lance Archer, who may prove to be too big of a task. In a match that is almost akin to David vs Goliath, Henare will be hoping to fell the giant.
Sunday 10th March – Baycom Gymnasium (Hyogo)
Kota Ibushi vs Tetsuya Naito
The first round will see the exit of a fan favourite as Ibushi and Naito go up against each other. Ibushi has recently declared he will be staying with New Japan whilst Naito has ambitions of being the first dual IWGP Heavyweight & Intercontinental Champion. The last time these 2 men met was at the G1 Climax 28 which saw Ibushi be victorious. If the Golden Star has his hand raised again, he will not only be a potential winner of the tournament but may well challenge Naito for his IWGP Intercontinental Championship, knocking down the ambitious walls that Naito wants to build for his legacy. This is a match that would be welcomed in the finals but is now being showcased early.
EVIL vs Zack Sabre Jr.
ZSJ always had the upper hand against EVIL until their latest singles match saw the King of Darkness finally pick up a victory. As the winner of last year’s NJCup, ZSJ will be hoping for a repeat but faces a more difficult task as the field has double the amount of entrants compared to last year. EVIL will aim to put the nail in Zack’s coffin and make the best of his time as a singles competitor, having just lost the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Shota Umino
Umino is being given the biggest opportunity of his career by competing in this years tournament despite still being a Young Lion (get this man on excursion please!). But his opening match could not be more difficult as he goes up against the Ace who will have revenge on his mind and be hoping to get his hands on Jay White at MSG. The youthful Umino will compete with his grit and fire in the hopes it is enough to overcome the vast experience gap. Tanahashi has won the NJCup twice already and will be aware that he has to be at his best if he wants to defeat the aspiring Umino.
Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs Ryusuke Taguchi
A last minute change of plans sees Taguchi takes the place of the injured David Finlay. The Funky Weapon is notoriously known for being the 69th IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion and has now been gifted the golden chance to become the 69th IWGP Heavyweight Champion as well. But to earn that coveted benchmark, he has to get past the veteran Tenzan first.
Monday 11th March – Takamatsu City General Gymnasium #1 (Kagawa)
Togi Makabe vs Colt Cabana
Another debut will be made in Colt Cabana who recently connected with the Japanese audience during Honor Rising. Although he may be a master of comedy in the squared circle, it shouldn’t be forgotten that Cabana is a proficient technical wrestler. Makabe is a constant threat in NJPW to any wrestler and if Cabana plays the clown too much, he could be leaving this tournament early.
Hirooki Goto vs SANADA
Having won the NJCup a total of 3 times, more than any other competitor in NJPW history, Goto is perhaps the worst opponent you could come up against in the tournament. SANADA is a man who is recognized as being full of talent but doesn’t always show up. SANADA has proved himself a exemplary singles wrestler having had a stellar 2018 and a win over Goto in the opening round could be the boost he needs to go all the way to the finals, having reached the semi-finals last year.
Satoshi Kojima vs Minoru Suzuki
Resentful that he was not included on the main card for Wrestle Kingdom 12, Suzuki is out for blood and he doesn’t care who’s blood it is. But standing in his path is a man he has faced many times throughout his career and knows how to get the job done in Kojima. Suzuki knows that all it takes is one Gotch Style Pile Driver to put any competitor away for the 3 count but often his stubbornness to hit the move can lead to his downfall.
Toru Yano vs Davey Boy Smith Jr.
2018’s NJCup saw these 2 men face off in the opening round and Yano walk away with the count-out victory. Yano will implement the style of wrestling only he can implement to try overcome the unfiltered power of Davey Boy Smith Jr., who is bigger and badder than ever before.
This is the most interesting NJCup since I have started watching NJPW. The number of entrants makes it difficult to speculate on who could win the entire tournament and the inclusion of Champions adds an extra layer to many of the matches. 2 of the men I would guess to be favourite are facing each other in the first round! By the end of March we will know who is taking on Jay White at Madison Square Garden. But that bodes another question; can the 2019 New Japan Cup winner stop the meteoric rise of the Switchblade?