March 8th, Korakuen Hall, Tokyo.
Manabu Nakanishi vs YOSHI-HASHI
In what in my opinion is the least appealing match of the opening day and potentially the first round,finalist of the inaugural New Japan Cup back in 2005 Nakanishi takes on a newly returned YOSHI-HASHI. Neither man particularly carries much momentum coming in to this match and I expect whoever comes out on top of this match not to go any further with a potential second round clash against IWGP United States Champion Juice Robinson or Bullet Club’s Chase Owens on the cards. If I had to pick in a winner in this one I’d go with YOSHI-HASHI but not expecting a deep run on the back of it.
Tomoaki Honma vs Taichi
I find this encounter quite an intriguing matchup,whilst in ring it probably won’t steal any shows or draw a absurd star rating it still poses one of New Japan’s biggest feel good and comeback stories in Honma against one of the promotion’s biggest turnaround’s and rising stars in Taichi. I feel like this one is a close one to call on one hand it could be a nice moment for Honma to pick up a win over the villainous Taichi however to his fairly sub par performances on his miraculous return to the promotion it would be hard to see the NJPW legend being in the mix of winning the tournament, however if Taichi was to pick up a win he is definitely a wild card in this tournament and despite a tough second round outing against Ishii or Nagata on the horizon i wouldn’t rule out the former NEVER Openweight Champion chances of a good run should he pull off the victory. I’ve got to go Taichi in this one, I would not be shocked if New Japan go the route of a feel good victory in this loaded field but Taichi has momentum after headlining recent events with Tetsuya Naito and I think he builds on that in this tournament.
Juice Robinson vs Chase Owens
Juice and Owens should throw up an interesting contest on the opening day of action,however I expect the United States Champion to have a fairly straightforward path to at least the Quarter Final stage seeing off Bullet Club’s Crown Jewel and then an impending contest against
Nakanishi or YOSHI-HASHI which I think despite a seismic upset based on the current lay of the land of NJPW victory for Robinson in that match would also be a forgone conclusion. From there it could really go anywhere with this side of the draw being loaded with top stars but if Juice can avoid Ishii as his Quarter Final opponent I have to say a semi final spot is very much for the taking.
Tomohiro Ishii vs Yuji Nagata
This one has been simmering really nicely for a few months now,with these 2 stalwarts of New Japan ready to finally explode. Thing’s started at New Year’s Dash when Ishii and Nagata couldn’t coexist on the same team and the issues were supposed to be thrashed out on the New Beginning In USA tour but visa issues put a halt to that. They they then clashed again on opposite sides of the ring as part of the Honor Rising tour and this match became inevitable,I expect this one to be an absolute slugfest and I think former 2 time IWGP Heavyweight Champion runs Ishii close, I think Chaos’ “Stone Pitbull” takes the win. Past the opening round I think Ishii has was it takes to potentially go all the way if he can come out on top in some very intriguing matchups on his side of the draw, I personally think a match with White for the title with Ishii wanting to take revenge on Switchblade and Gedo’s betrayal of Chaos makes perfect sense and Ishii is my dark horse and personal preference to take the New Japan Cup.
March 9th, Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium, Aichi.
Mikey Nicholls vs Hikuleo
This one pits newly minted Chaos member and returning star Nicholls FKA Nick Miller in NXT against Bullet Club’s young lion and younger brother of the reigning IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions G.O.D Hikuleo, Hikuleo is fresh off a long term injury and yet to have a singles match upon his return and Nicholls will look to make an immediate impact upon his return to Japan. I think this will be a reasonably decent match but not too much of a contest as Nicholls looks to make a good impression upon his return. I’m really unsure how Nicholls fair’s in the grand scheme of the tournament, I wouldn’t be shocked to see him make a deep run however he’d potentially have to pick up some big wins against fellow Chaos members to do so. The former TMDK and TM-61 man is sure to be an interesting prospect in the competition and his progress is definitely one to keep track of.
Kazuchika Okada vs Michael Elgin
This is a real tough one to call,mostly because I think Okada is either going all the way and getting a shot at White at MSG or is getting dumped out in the first round to the former Intercontinental and NEVER Openweight Champion Elgin to build on his eventual redemption. Should be a fairly decent contest between these 2 and i’m inclined to go with Elgin in this one to clear the path for some of Okada’s Chaos stablemates to make a run and to add even more importance to a solid G1 run,however I do hope this is one I have to eat my words on. If Elgin is
victorious he faces a potential match with Mikey Nicholls in one I think the new Chaos man will take a reasonably big scalp in looking to impress on his arrival in the promotion.
Will Ospreay vs Bad Luck Fale
NJPW management continue to test NEVER Openweight Champion Ospreay against larger opponents,and they don’t come much bigger than Bullet Club’s Underboss Bad Luck Fale. With Fale being a 2 time finalist and Ospreay making his debut in the tournament odds seemingly would favour the big Tongan,however the Aerial Assassin currently in his first reign as NEVER Openweight Champion rides a tidal wave of momentum heading in to this years tournament and despite the size advantage and New Japan cup experience I still have to give the edge to Ospreay in this contest. There is however a huge contributing factor that could increase or totally derail the momentum of the the Essex native,he squares of with the IWGP Heavyweight Champion Jay White in non title action just 3 days prior to this clash with White’s stablemate at the New Japan 47th anniversary show. I’m uncertain of which way the Ospreay and White contest will go but I feel Ospreay has just what it takes to get past Fale in his current vein of form and if he is to get over this giant hurdle I feel a deep tournament run could be in sight only to possibly be derailed by fellow Chaos stablemates.
Toa Henare vs Lance Archer
The final match of the second day and the last encounter on this side of the bracket is between 2 men looking to carve out some rare singles success in the promotion after the bulk of their recent NJPW careers have been spent mixing it up in the tag division. This will be a hard hitting affair and has potential to be one of the sleeper matches of the round for in ring quality, I give the slight edge to the more experienced Archer who will not be opposed to using underhanded tactics to get the job done. I expect the winner of this to come up against Ospreay and that to be the end of their New Japan Cup campaign.
March 10th, Baycom Gymnasium, Hyogo.
Kota Ibushi vs Tetsuya Naito
In what is surely the biggest matchup of the first round,we will also lose one of the tournament favourites at the first hurdle. Ibushi seems to of whipped up a frenzy amongst fans who believe he is the man to make a run at winning the New Japan Cup and taking on Jay White at MSG after his return from concussion during the New Beginning tour in which he pledged his future to New Japan despite attempts from his Golden Lovers partner Kenny Omega to lure him away to AEW. Naito has also announced his intentions to become the first man to simultaneously hold the IWGP Intercontinental and Heavyweight Championships. Quality wise this will be one of the best matches of the round,if not the tournament but is also an extremely difficult one to call however with New Japan’s booking of the competition in previous years being too heavy of an early favourite never seems to be a good thing and i’m going with Los Ingobernables de Japon
leader Naito to dump pre tournament favourite Ibushi out in the first round. If Naito were to progress he’d square off against long time thorn in his side and last year’s tournament winner Zack Sabre Jr. or stablemate EVIL, both very intriguing matches however I do expect Naito and ZSJ to meet to set up a future Intercontinental Championship match between the 2 and I do not expect Naito to make it past the round of 16 should that match become a reality.
EVIL vs Zack Sabre Jr.
As previously mentioned I expect the current Revolution Pro British Heavyweight Champion to pick up the victory in this contest, EVIL however is no pushover and has defeated ZSJ recently in singles and tag team action. I fully expect this match to also be one of the matches of the round but feel Sabre has what it takes in this environment to get the job done. As fantastic as I think it would be for ZSJ to go back to back with New Japan Cup wins I feel it’s unlikely,I feel a run to the last 8 will be his peak this year where I expect him to be vanquished by the man he defeated in last year’s final, the Ace himself Hiroshi Tanahashi. Despite this being my opinion I still hope ZSJ can at least make a run to the semi final and stand toe to toe with his stablemate and also the other half of the Rev Pro Tag Team Champions,Minoru Suzuki in an absolute dream encounter.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Shota Umino
Of all the matches in the tournament this one is the biggest foregone conclusion,however throws up an intriguing contest nonetheless. Young Lion Umino is on somewhat of a hot streak performance wise and the record setting former 8 time IWGP Heavyweight Champion Tanahashi will have no problem obliging when it comes to Umino having another fantastic contest. Past this match I expect Tanahashi to knock off the winner of the Tenzan and Taguchi match and set up a quarter final with Zack Sabre Jr. or potentially a member of Los Ingobernables de Japon,there is also the chance of a last 8 meeting with Kota Ibushi in a repeat of last year’s G1 Final should my previous predictions be wrong. I feel the Ace makes the final 4 where I expect he may meet Minoru Suzuki which could potentially derail his hopes of making the final,however i’m backing Tanahashi to make the finals and also go one step beyond last year’s efforts and go on to lift the trophy and set up an immediate rematch with “Switchblade” Jay White at the G1 Supercard at MSG to add another chapter to their already fierce rivalry.
Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs Ryusuke Taguchi
This match was originally scheduled to be a first round clash between Tenzan and David Finlay,however due to a dislocated shoulder Finlay was forced to withdraw opening up a spot for former 2 time IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion Ryusuke Taguchi to stake his claim at an opportunity of a lifetime to earn at shot at the Heavyweight gold. In what I expect to be one of the least entertaining matches of the round I feel Taguchi can cause an upset of sorts and make the second round as he always seems to be able to raise his game when stakes are high. However unfortunately for the “Funky Weapon” I think his tournament exploits will come to a halt in the second round against the man he has twice held the NEVER Openweight 6 Man Tag Team Championship with Hiroshi Tanahashi.
March 11th, Takamatsu City Gymnasium, Kagawa.
Toru Yano vs Davey Boy Smith Jr.
In what is one of the wildcard encounters of the whole first round i’m really unsure what this one will throw up,Yano is enjoying a good run of form being reunited with Togi Makabe and currently is one third of the NEVER Openweight 6 Man Tag Team Champions and Davey Boy Smith Jr. despite having limited success recently still looks impressive every time he steps in to a New Japan ring. I expect Smith to brutalise Yano and not be shy to go outside of the rules but Yano just knows how to exploit the rules just that a little more creatively and I think that is what gives him the edge in this one. If he is successful Yano could set up a potentially hilarious encounter with Colt Cabana or an intense affair with newly reunited partner Makabe both of which would prove to be very interesting encounters. I’m not really sure where I think Yano ends up in this tournament and I don’t think he comes close to winning but he could string a few wins together.
Hirooki Goto vs SANADA
3 time winner Hirooki Goto has stumbled into this year’s tournament with almost zero momentum,he dropped his NEVER Openweight Championship to Kota Ibushi after calling out the Golden Star, he was involved in the pre show gauntlet at Wrestle Kingdom and recently unsuccessfully challenged Jeff Cobb for the ROH Television Championship on the Honor Rising tour,unfortunately for Goto I don’t see his fortunes changing in this clash with SANADA. Despite winning and losing the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship alongside EVIL in early 2019,Los Ingobernables de Japon’s SANADA has looked extremely impressive and looks to build on some of that momentum here which I believe he will in this match with Goto. As far as SANADA’s long term prospects go in this tournament I think a lot of that will depend on a potential meeting with Minoru Suzuki in the second round in a rematch from their fantastic encounter of the recent New Beginning tour, SANADA has potential to make a deep run and whilst I think he’ll come unstuck against Suzuki should they meet he is not someone I’d be disappointed to see possibly go all the way in this tournament as I feel he makes a very intriguing challenger for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
Satoshi Kojima vs Minoru Suzuki
In what could be an extremely physical contest between to legends of New Japan,I expect the Suzuki Gun leader to come out on top of this one. Suzuki has many potential mouth watering matches should he make a good run at the tournament,should the competition fall in the way I expect it to I think Suzuki will take on Tanahashi in the semi final’s and although I have previously stated I think Tanahashi would be the victor in that contest,i’d be far from disappointed if Suzuki was to topple the ace and reach the finals,after all who would not want to see Suzuki brutalise Jay White infront of a packed Madison Square Garden with the championship on the line!
Togi Makabe vs Colt Cabana
The final match of the opening round throws up an unpredictable contest between Togi Makabe and Colt Cabana,in one of the hardest matches of the round to call from a standpoint of how the match will unfold and the victor this match will definitely be one to look out for. As I previously mentioned I expect Yano to defeat Davey Boy Smith Jr. which sets up a match with the winner of this contest and regardless of the result of this poses one of the more interesting second round contests also. I think Cabana may edge this one as i’m not sure NJPW want to go the route of a Yano and Makabe match just yet,however I may be wrong. If Cabana is the victor I don’t expect him to topple Yano in the round of 16.
In closing, my overall prediction for the New Japan Cup this year is Hiroshi Tanahashi who I think sees of Tomohiro Ishii in the final whom I also believe has an interesting claim to this year’s tournament. However on Ishii’s side of the draw there are various members of the Chaos faction I believe could lay claim to the final such as Mikey Nicholls and Will Ospreay,also the tournament could be blown wide open if Kazuchika Okada manages to see off Elgin in the opening round and I may be forced to rethink my entire outlook! But for now I’m going with an Ishii vs Tanahashi final and we’ll see how long it takes for me to eat my words,whatever the outcome the tournament is sure to be a crazy and enjoyable ride that I’m very much looking forward to.