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Hamilton’s New Japan Cup 2020 Preview

June 10, 2020 | Posted by Ian Hamilton
NJPW New Japan Cup 2020

After over 100 days off, New Japan returns to action next week, with a reformatted and rescheduled New Japan Cup. Originally scheduled for this past March, the tournament was abandoned as the promotion’s calendar was cleared.

This morning’s press conference confirmed New Japan’s return to action, and in turn a rather different-looking field of wrestlers to those originally announced back in February. With travel restrictions still in place, it’s an import-free line-up – which will tip off who stayed in Japan for these last few months. Gone from the original field are the likes of Jay White, Bad Luck Fale, Colt Cabana, Will Ospreay and Jeff Cobb – but this isn’t an all-Japanese line-up either. Nor have they reshuffled the brackets…

The entirety of the 2020 New Japan Cup will air on NJPW World, starting next Tuesday (June 16). While the majority of the tour is behind closed doors, it will wrap up in front of fans, with the New Japan Cup final show on July 11 in Osaka-Jo Hall, before the rescheduled Dominion in Osaka-Jo Hall the next night will feature a full card, including Tetsuya Naito defending both of his belts against the New Japan Cup winner.

There’ll also be a mystery show the day before the first Cup show (Monday June 15), just to get us back into the habit of the early starts. The card for that will be announced at bell time, and will air at 7pm Japanese time – much like most of the tour.

Let’s take a look at what we know so far for the Cup matches…

June 16 – 7pm JST / 11am BST / 6am EST / 3am PST

* First Round Togi Makabe vs. Yota Tsuji
– There’s quite a few Young Lions in the field this year, and while the end results probably won’t be a shock, this will be a grand old test for Tsuji, against one of New Japan’s grumpier sods. It may not be one that’ll set the star ratings alight, but expect Tsuji to bring it in defeat here… Prediction: Togi Makabe.

* First Round Tomohiro Ishii vs. El Desperado
– Almost half of the field this year is made up of Junior Heavyweights, so we’ll be in for a lot of openweight matches… on paper, this should be an easy win for Ishii, but with Suzuki-gun likely to be lurking around in the background, Ishii shouldn’t treat this as a gimme as he looks to improve on his semi-final appearance in last year’s cup. Prediction: Big Tom.

* First Round Toru Yano vs. Jado
– Good ol’ comic relief. You’ve got to go back to November 2013 for Jado’s last singles match in New Japan, against the future YOH. I wouldn’t expect Jado to make it to the second round, nor this one to go any particular length of time. Prediction: Toru Yano.

* First Round Tomoaki Honma vs. Hiromu Takahashi
– Our first night of cup action is rounded off with another openweight match, and it’s yet another first time meeting as current IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion Hiromu Takahashi takes on Tomoaki Honma. Hiromu’s been making a lot of noise about potentially merging the Best of the Super Juniors with the G1 Climax this year – and before the shutdown, he had been ready to take on Tetsuya Naito at the Anniversary show. Can Hiromu re-book that match – this time making it for the gold? Don’t bet against him… Prediction: Hiromu.

(plus one other non-tournament match TBA)

June 17 – 7pm JST / 11am BST / 6am EST / 3am PST

* First Round: Kazuchika Okada vs. Gedo
While not a first-time match, this is chock-full of history. Gedo, the man who nurtured Okada into the world-beating champion he became… only to abandon Okada after he lost the IWGP title to side with Jay White. Their one prior meeting came in December 2018, as Okada got some swift revenge on the Road to Tokyo Dome shows… and I fully expect a similar result here. Prediction: Okada.

* First Round: Yuji Nagata vs. Minoru Suzuki
– Inject this into my veins! This is one of the few matches from the original line-up that’s been kept, and it’s one that instantly leaps off the page. A storied rivalry, these two haven’t faced off in singles action for almost seven years, and with these two having a 5-5 record against each other, this is really a coin flip of a match. A brutal, violent coin flip of a match, that is, which will be an utter delight for my Wednesday lunchtime. Prediction: Murder Grandpa Suzuki.

* First Round: Yuya Uemura vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru
– Another Young Lion entrant here, but Yuya Uemura’s perhaps got the biggest mountain to climb, at least in terms of recent form. Winning the wooden spoon by finishing bottom of 2019’s Young Lion Cup, Uemura’s got a LOT to prove here, and with his mentor-figure of Tiger Mask on the shelf with diverticulitis, Uemura’s going to be up against it. Putting up a fight is the least we expect here from him. Prediction: Kanemaru.

* First Round: Gabriel Kidd vs. Taiji Ishimori
– G’wan Kidd! Making his New Japan debut just before the shutdown, Gabriel Kidd snuck in a few high profile singles matches, albeit in defeat, as the former WCPW Internet champion finds his feet under the tutelage of Katsuyori Shibata. It’ll be interesting to see what’s been learned during his enforced stay in Japan, but against a former IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion, I fear this may be all too straightforward for the Bone Soldier. Prediction: Taiji Ishimori.

(plus one other non-tournament match TBA)

June 22 – 7pm JST / 11am BST / 6am EST / 3am PST

* First Round: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Taichi
– A rematch from the tournament two years ago, Tanahashi needed over twenty minutes to dispose of a newly-heavyweight Taichi. Fast forward to 2020, and Tanahashi is one half of the IWGP tag team champions… and was targeted by Taichi and Zack Sabre Jr. shortly after winning them as well. A rare tournament match that feeds into an obvious storyline – I’d expect these two to split the wins… with my prediction here being: Hiroshi Tanahashi.

* First Round: Kota Ibushi vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
– Now here’s a match that’s got a lot more pedigree in singles action. This’ll be the third year straight that these two have met in the New Japan Cup, with ZSJ winning both of those. That sort-of takes the edge off of Ibushi having the perfect record over Zack in their G1 Climax outings… and I see that continuing here as they build up to a tag title match, perhaps at Dominion? Prediction: Zack Sabre Jr. Even if it means we get ZSJ vs. Tanahashi yet again…

* First Round: Ryusuke Taguchi vs. SANADA
– A first-time meeting here, as Taguchi enters the New Japan Cup for the third time… but in the first round, against a perennial favourite, Taguchi has his work cut out for him. Will Taguchi be goofy or serious? That’ll likely determine the result, but I don’t see SANADA taking an early exit either, especially as he is the only man in LIJ without gold right now. Prediction: SANADA.

* First Round: SHO vs. Shingo Takagi
– A rematch from the first night of the Best of the Super Junior tournament last year, we’ve a fine replacement for the originally announced Ospreay/Shingo outing. Sure, Shingo’s no longer a junior, which may tip-off the result here. Last year, SHO pushed Shingo to the limit, but came up short as Shingo would go on to run the field, before coming up short in the final. I’d not be shocked to see a repeat here – and build more tension within LIJ with a SANADA/Shingo match in the second round. Prediction: Shingo.

(plus one other non-tournament match TBA)

June 23 – 7pm JST / 11am BST / 6am EST / 3am PST

* First Round: Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. YOSHI-HASHI
– “There’s always next year,” seems to be YOSHI-HASHI’s mantra. Having had endless tournaments where fans and pundits alike tipping him for success, only to fall short time after time. Tenzan in the first round on paper is a tough opponent, especially given that Tenzan has had time off to heal up, but you’d have to expect YOSHI-HASHI to get the win here given that time is hardly on Tenzan’s side. Prediction: YOSHI-HASHI.

* First Round: YOH vs. BUSHI
– Another one out of the Best of the Super Juniors, these two have often been “the other man” in their respective tag teams. The official New Japan preview lists these two as having a 1-1 record, based on them swapping wins in the last two Best of the Super Junior tours, but BUSHI does hold four more wins from back when YOH was a Young Lion. That’ll count for nothing here, but this is another pick’em kind of match. I expect neither man to mount a serious challenge, nor indeed anyone from this corner of the bracket, so I’ll toss a coin. BUSHI gets to face the back of socks. Prediction: BUSHI.

* First Round: Satoshi Kojima vs. EVIL
– A curious clash this, with EVIL going in as one third of the trios champions, and having won their only prior singles meeting, back in 2017’s G1 Climax. In recent years, these two have barely faced off, limiting their ring time to World Tag Leagues and such like. Similar to how Tenzan’s on the down swing of his career, so is Kojima unfortunately, and I’d be surprised if he pushed out EVIL this early on. Prediction: EVIL.

* First Round: Hirooki Goto vs. Yujiro Takahashi
– Our final first-round match sees another perennial “nearly man” in New Japan, as Hirooki Goto looks to win the New Japan Cup for a record-extending fourth time. His form so far in 2020 has been a little erratic, beating KENTA for the NEVER Openweight title at the Tokyo Dome, before promptly losing it to Shingo Takagi on his first defence. The way the brackets fall this year could see that as a semi-final… and if you’re wondering “hey, am I overlooking Yujiro?”… well, you’re right. You’ve got to go back to 2011 for the last time Yujiro beat Goto in singles action, and if you don’t count the USA shows, Yujiro’s not had a singles match since September 2018. He’s almost of the radar, and likely to be out in round one. Prediction: Goto.

(plus one other non-tournament match TBA)

June 24 – 7pm JST / 11am BST / 6am EST / 3am PST

Four second round matches plus a non-tournament match.

My picks? If we’re getting Makabe vs. Ishii, Yano vs. Hiromu, Okada vs. Suzuki and Kanemaru vs. Ishimori, we’ll have a lovely smorgasboard of matches there. Okada vs. Suzuki jumps off the page as a delightful second round match, but from those eight, I’d predict Ishii, Hiromu, Okada and Ishimori to make it through to the quarters.

July 1 – 7pm JST / 11am BST / 6am EST / 3am PST

Four second round matches plus a non-tournament match.

Our remaining second round match from my picks would be Tanahashi vs. ZSJ, SANADA vs. Shingo, YOSHI-HASHI vs. BUSHI and EVIL vs. Goto. Only one of those is pretty straightforward, with YOSHI-HASHI expected to make it to the quarter finals. Since I’m putting myself on the spot… Zack Sabre Jr., Shingo and Goto will round it out.

July 2 – 7pm JST / 11am BST / 6am EST / 3am PST

Four quarter-finals plus a non-tournament match. From my awful predictions, this’ll give us Ishii vs. Hiromu, Okada vs. Ishimori, ZSJ vs. Shingo and YOSHI-HASHI vs. EVIL. I’m trying to steer away from too many intra-unit matches here, but lets call the upsets here. I’ll go for Hiromu, Okada, Shingo and YOSHI-HASHI to win their quarters…

July 3 – 7pm JST / 11am BST / 6am EST / 3am PST

Two semi-finals plus two non-tournament matches…but the YOSHI-HASHI dream dies here. I’m calling wins for Shingo and Okada. Sorry Hiromu, but your road to a heavyweight title shot ends here.

July 11 – 5pm JST / 9am BST / 4am EST / 1am PST

New Japan Cup final – featured as part of a full 7-9 match card. Will it be Kazuchika Okada vs. Shingo Takagi? Will New Japan “burn off” Shingo vs. Naito in front of a third-full Osaka-Jo Hall? Or will they go back to Okada/Naito once again?

July 12 – 3pm JST / 7am BST / 2am EST / 11pm PST (Saturday July 12)

Dominion in Osaka-Jo Hall – featuring Tetsuya Naito defending the IWGP Heavyweight and IWGP Intercontinental titles versus the New Japan Cup winner as part of a full 7-9 match card.

After so long without New Japan shows, it’s going to be mighty-weird getting back into the habit of waking up at stupid o’clock on the weekend to watch these. It’ll be interesting to see how New Japan tackles the “only (no) fans” portion of the tour, as they were one of the few major promotions to not run at all during the pandemic. With the venues for the early stages also unknown, it’ll be interesting to see where they run: will it be the likes of Shinjuku-FACE (like DDT’s been running; a venue New Japan’s used before for the Lion’s Gate shows), or will it be somewhere completely different?

article topics :

New Japan Cup, NJPW, Ian Hamilton