wrestling / Columns

Hamilton Ranks the 2020 New Japan Cup (Until The Final)

July 6, 2020 | Posted by Ian Hamilton
New Japan Cup 2020 Hiromu Takahashi Tomohiro Ishii

This year’s New Japan Cup was delayed – but with the tournament now at its final stage, following a condensed “tour” of empty arena shows, we’re almost there.

This coming Saturday and Sunday sees New Japan head to Osaka-Jo Hall for a pair of shows – Saturday featuring the New Japan Cup final, while Sunday sees the New Japan Cup winner take on Tetsuya Naito for the IWGP heavyweight and Intercontinental straps.

Of course, the current pandemic meant that while the initial brackets were retained, we lost a LOT of names due to travel restrictions. Gone were Jeff Cobb, Toa Henare, Chase Owens, Colt Cabana, Bad Luck Fale, Jay White, Juice Robinson, Alex Coughlin, David Finlay, Tanga Loa, Mikey Nicholls, Will Ospreay, Karl Fredericks and KENTA. In their place were Yota Tsuji, El Desperado, Jado, Tomoaki Honma, Hiromu Takahashi, Gedo, Yuya Uemura, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Gabriel Kidd, Taiji Ishimori, Ryusuke Taguchi, SHO, YOH and BUSHI.

So… how did we get here… and if you don’t want to sit through a load of empty arena matches, what’s worth picking out?

Be aware: there will be some unavoidable spoilers in here, by the very nature of how these single-elimination tournaments work! I hear they’re a unique format…

30. New Japan Cup – July 02 2020 – EVIL vs. YOSHI-HASHI [NR]

This makes it to the bottom of the list by default since it was a two-minute non-match due to YOSHI-HASHI’s bum knee.

AVOID

29. New Japan Cup – June 16 2020 – Toru Yano vs. Jado [*]

This could have been passable had it been brief. They went nine minutes, and even with Jado having a proxy for him in Yujiro Takahashi… it wasn’t good.

28. New Japan Cup – June 17 2020 – Gedo vs. Kazuchika Okada [*¼]

We knew going in this would be storyline heavy… and it was. It went fifteen minutes long, and it felt every single second of it.

FOR COMPLETISTS

27. New Japan Cup – July 01 2020 – YOSHI-HASHI vs. BUSHI [**½]

26. New Japan Cup – June 16 2020 – Yota Tsuji vs. Togi Makabe [**¾]

25. New Japan Cup – June 23 2020 – YOH vs. BUSHI [**¾]

24. New Japan Cup – June 23 2020 – Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. YOSHI-HASHI [**¾]

23. New Japan Cup – June 17 2020 – Gabriel Kidd vs. Taiji Ishimori [**¾]

The current pandemic gave openings for a lot of names who weren’t originally in the field. Step forward Gabriel Kidd, who stayed in Japan during the entire lockdown… and managed to get himself a debut in the tournament. Sure, the loss was expected, but it’s yet another milestone in the renewed career of New Japan’s latest Young Lion.

WORTH YOUR TIME

22. New Japan Cup – June 23 2020 – Hirooki Goto vs. Yujiro Takahashi [***]

21. New Japan Cup – June 22 2020 – Ryusuke Taguchi vs. SANADA [***]

20. New Japan Cup – June 17 2020 – Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. Yuya Uemura [***]

19. New Japan Cup – June 24 2020 – Hiromu Takahashi vs. Toru Yano [***]

Some glorious silliness here, which drew a lot of comparisons to DDT because of the prop comedy and what have you. I went three, but the belly laughs watching it was a full five stars.

18. New Japan Cup – June 22 2020 – Taichi vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi [***¼]

17. New Japan Cup – June 23 2020 – EVIL vs. Satoshi Kojima [***¼]

16. New Japan Cup – July 02 2020 – Taichi vs. SANADA [***¼]

15. New Japan Cup – June 24 2020 – Taiji Ishimori vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru [***¼]

These two have had a long and storied history, and going into this second round clash, Kanemaru had never lost to Ishimori. While the result may have been surprising, given the context of the show it took place on, it could well be significant down the line…

14. New Japan Cup – July 01 2020 – Kota Ibushi vs. Taichi [***¼]

13. New Japan Cup – July 01 2020 – SANADA vs. SHO [***¼]

12. New Japan Cup – July 02 2020 – Taiji Ishimori vs. Kazuchika Okada [***½]

11. New Japan Cup – June 16 2020 – Tomoaki Honma vs. Hiromu Takahashi [***½]

Or “Hiromu drags a pretty damn good match out of Honma, kicking and screaming,” as some have called this…

10. New Japan Cup – June 24 2020 – Kazuchika Okada vs. Yuji Nagata [***½]

9. New Japan Cup – July 03 2020 – EVIL vs. SANADA [***½]

MAKE TIME FOR THESE

8. New Japan Cup – July 01 2020 – EVIL vs. Hirooki Goto [***¾]

Hirooki Goto always seems to be an outsider in tournaments, but in recent times he’s been falling a little sooner than he used to. A battle of two men who can be inconsistent ended with something of a surprise winner – and a reminder that just because you’re usually in a tag team, doesn’t mean you should be permanently slotted…


7. New Japan Cup – June 22 2020 – Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Kota Ibushi [***¾]

The better of the two matches in the first round involving the IWGP tag team title feud, although the entire “tour” has seen more than its fair share of interactions between Sabre/Taichi and Tanahashi/Ibushi. Here though, was a battle between speedy strikes and confounding submissions… along with a history that saw ZSJ undefeated against Ibushi in the New Japan Cup.

6. New Japan Cup – July 03 2020 – Hiromu Takahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada [***¾]

The second semi-final was a bit underwhelming for my money – but that was mostly for the length of it. Almost half an hour in an empty arena setting is always going to be a tough sell – and while I believe this would have fared much better with an audience, Hiromu largely being on the defensive is likely to be a milestone that New Japan will harken back to in the years to come.

5. New Japan Cup – June 24 2020 – Tomohiro Ishii vs. Togi Makabe [***¾]

It says a lot that the first time we see Tomohiro Ishii’s name on this list is in the top five. Ishii always seems to be right up there with tournament MVPs, and this was a fantastic match against a man who rarely takes a bump. Do you like your strikes? You’ll like this match – and there’s better left on this list!

4. New Japan Cup – June 16 2020 – Tomohiro Ishii vs. El Desperado [***¾]

The first round of the cup threw up a few matches that, on paper, were far from even. Desperado vs. Ishii being one of them… but instead we got a hell of a shift from Desperado, who surprised a lot of people with his performance here. Desperado’s rarely seen as a singles guy – on the strength of this outing, that needs to change.

MUST SEE

3. New Japan Cup – June 22 2020 – SHO vs. Shingo Takagi [****½]

In last year’s Best of the Super Junior, Shingo swept aside SHO as part of his unbeaten run in the block stages… and with Shingo having moved up to the heavyweight division, many expected this to be an easy win for the NEVER champion. Myself included. How wrong I was. This was every bit as great as their first match, and had this been in front of a crowd to buoy this along, this would likely have brushed those fabled full five stars…

2. New Japan Cup – July 02 2020 – Hiromu Takahashi vs. Tomohiro Ishii [****½]

It was tough to pick between the top three, and these last two in particular… but this is a very close second. Ever since the pandemic meant that Hiromu didn’t get his match with Naito at the anniversary show, Hiromu became a lot of people’s pre-tournament favourites. Problem was, the way the brackets worked out, Hiromu was going to face two massive roadblocks if he were to make it to the finals.

Enter the brick outhouse that is Tomohiro Ishii. Hiromu was always going to have to dig deep to get past the five-time former NEVER champion… and that he did. Even if it meant he delivered a sheer-drop facebreaker in his bid to ape Ishii’s finisher… another instant classic of New Japan’s brief empty-arena era… get this watched!

1. New Japan Cup – June 17 2020 – Minoru Suzuki vs. Yuji Nagata [****½]

My favourite match of the tournament by a hair’s breadth, this match ticked pretty much every box you needed in the empty arena era. A long and storied history? Check. Solid strikes? Check. A match that feels like it flew by? Check.

Everyone’s favourite murder grandpa celebrated his 52nd birthday with this match which featured oh-so-many of those clonking elbows, with the first quarter of their 20-minute match literally being back-and-forth elbows. That might sound rotten to some, but it says a lot that they were able to do it AND keep it fresh for so long.

So that’s it. All thirty New Japan Cup 2020 tournament matches ranked for you in order… giving you plenty of time to cherry pick before the finals this coming Saturday (11th). The show itself starts on NJPWworld.com at 4am Eastern, 9am British Summer Time, with the winner of the final between Kazuchika Okada and EVIL taking on Tetsuya Naito in a double-title match at Dominion on the very next night, with that card starting at 2am Eastern, 7am  British Summer Time.

article topics :

New Japan Cup, Ian Hamilton