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Hamilton’s New Japan Cup 2021 Preview

March 2, 2021 | Posted by Ian Hamilton
NJPW New Japan Cup

It’s that time of year again – the New Japan Cup is back to it’s usual March window, having been delayed last year due to the pandemic. Once again, the winner of the New Japan Cup gets a title shot – this time at Sakura Genesis on April 4, and it’ll be for the new IWGP World Heavyweight Championship that the winner of Kota Ibushi vs. El Desperado at the 49th Anniversary Show will receive.

Unlike last year, we’ve got an all-heavyweight field, with some familiar names returning after having been off the last few tours. Quarantines are complete, and starting this Thursday at the anniversary show, we’ll hit our first New Japan tournament of the year. Here’s the matches, paired off for your convenience

New Japan Cup – First Round (Left Side)

EVIL – gets a bye to the second round as the reigning New Japan Cup holder… faces the winner of…

Satoshi Kojima vs. Jeff Cobb – March 4 – Kojima’s win over Cobb on the second night of Castle Attack set this one up – but Cobb’s run wild so far as part of the United Empire. I’d take Cobb for this one, but that second round match with EVIL is a big test…

Tetsuya Naito vs. Great-O-Khan – March 4 – They sure love giving O-Khan the big tests, eh? Okada, Tanahashi (twice) and now Naito within four months of returning? Whether you’re connecting with the character or not, New Japan’s behind O-Khan – but after so many high profile losses, you do wonder where this is going. Meanwhile, Naito’s on a similar lull in high profile matches, and after falling short in Osaka, losing the chance to win the Intercontinental title before it’s melted into the new Heavyweight title, a loss here could put the first double champion into a tailspin.

Toru Yano vs. Bad Luck Fale – March 5 – A do-over of the KOPW2020 feud… don’t set your expectations too high. Given the KOPW isn’t on the line here, I’d expect Fale to win here, and throw a test to O-Khan in the next round…

Hirooki Goto vs. Taichi – March 5 – We’ve had some somewhat recent skirmishes between these two for the IWGP tag team titles and the NEVER trios titles, but you’ve got to go back to 2019’s G1 Climax for the last singles outing. One-on-one, they’re 50-50 as well, including a run in 2018 where they bounced the NEVER Openweight title between each other – but with neither man currently solidified as a singles wrestler, this is a pick’em going into their match with the winner of…

Kazuchika Okada vs. Shingo Takagi – March 6 – How is this the first round?! A repeat from last year’s G1 Climax, which was an absolute belter of a match. As in legitimate Match-of-the-Year contender quality as they were in full-on “Okada needs to dig deep to get the win, but doesn’t quite pull out the Rainmaker” mode. Okada’s already gone on record saying he wants to win the New Japan Cup – and with a shot at the new IWGP World Heavyweight title waiting for the winner, it wouldn’t shock me if Okada went all the way and establishes the new belt…

Tomoaki Honma vs. Minoru Suzuki – March 6 – A first-time singles match, these two have rarely been in the same ring together. Honma’s had some very recent singles action, having been drafted in to a singles match with SANADA during the Road to Castle Attack tour; a tour that Suzuki sat out. We’ve waited since November’s Power Struggle for Suzuki to have another singles match, and you’d have to think this match ought to be a clear path to the second round?

Juice Robinson vs. KENTA – March 6 – KENTA’s still smarting from the loss to Jon Moxley on the New Beginning USA editions of NJPW Strong, having been chasing Moxley’s IWGP US title for months. This is a second-time match-up in New Japan, with Juice having won their one prior match in last year’s G1 Climax… but in their former lives in Florida, KENTA won all six matches against the then-CJ Parker. I’d have to expect a KENTA win here, but given how both have been part of the Forbidden Door stuff with Impact and AEW, this could be a pick’em…

New Japan Cup – First Round (Right Side)

Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Will Ospreay – March 7 – Unsurprisingly a first-time singles match, this has come around as part of the United Empire’s ongoing antagonising of Kojima and Tenzan. On the second night of Castle Attack, Tenzan debuted a “new”, True Mongolian Chop to get around the fact he was banned from using… but I’d not be expecting Tenzan to be making it past the first round of the New Japan Cup for the first time in a decade.

Gabriel Kidd vs. Zack Sabre Jr – March 7 – An all-British affair here, with Kidd’s scraps with ZSJ during the tail end of the New Beginning tour leading to this. These two did have a brief feud back in 2017 as part of WhatCulture Pro Wrestling – and all of those were damn good matches as well, so I’ve got really high hopes for this, even if the result isn’t in question.

Yuji Nagata vs. Yota Tsuji – March 9 – Surprisingly this is a first-time match, as Tsuji and Nagata have teamed over 30 times. On paper, Tsuji’s status as a Young Lion puts this match in no doubt, but he’s recently gotten some screen time as Hiroshi Tanahashi’s biggest fan… and almost being forced to turn on him as part of Great-O-Khan’s recent shot at Tanahashi’s NEVER title. An easy win for Nagata, you’d assume…

SANADA vs. Tomohiro Ishii – March 9 – SANADA’s had some big matches lately, but much like his LIJ leader Naito is threatening to do these days, is currently New Japan’s nearly-man, having come up short in the big spots. Meanwhile Tomohiro Ishii enters this year’s New Japan Cup with a rib injury at the hands of the Bullet Club, and you’d have to think that SANADA will make it through to the second round and rob us of a Nagata/Ishii match.

David Finlay vs. Chase Owens – March 10 – Having been away from New Japan since the World Tag League final, David Finlay’s been around a bit in the States, appearing on a singular episode of New Japan Strong as well as Impact… Finlay’s 2020 has been pretty solid as far as tournaments, making it to the quarter-finals of the ROH Pure title tournament and the final of last year’s New Japan Cup USA – including beating Chase in the first round of that. I can’t see any other result this time around, in spite of Chase’s “Texas title”…

YOSHI-HASHI vs. Yujiro Takahashi – March 10 – It’s been a while since these two have faced each other – we’re going back to 2015’s New Japan Cup, where Yujiro blitzed YOSHI-HASHI in under eight minutes. YOSHI-HASHI’s done well lately, but with neither of these men currently slotted as singles acts, this could be another pick’ em… Finlay vs. YOSHI-HASHI or an all-Bullet Club second round? Those are the polar opposites, eh?

Jay White vs. Toa Henare – March 10 – Our final first-round match is a first-timer, and it’s an all-New Zealand affair as we’ve got an increasingly testy Henare looking to make the big step up. This time last year he was due to take on Tomohiro Ishii before the tournament was cancelled, and it wasn’t until World Tag League where he returned, albeit as part of the bottom-finishing team in the league with Tanahashi. Had Jay White not had his time off, I could see this being the straw that broke the camel’s back, but with Jay White coming in off the back of a win over Ishii, I can only see him winning. By the fway, the winner of this…

…faces Hiroshi Tanahashi in the second round. Tanahashi’s been given a bye into the second round because he’s the NEVER Openweight Champion. The rest of the bracket is below:

Yeah, there’s some curious names missing – no juniors are in the field, unlike last year, but with the Best of the Super Juniors upcoming, there’s your explanation. Based on the brackets, your early favourite has to be Okada, but looking into the next level you’d have to include EVIL, Great-O-Khan (or Tetsuya Naito – that one’s literally a coin flip), Jay White and possibly Will Ospreay. Don’t be too surprised if they re-run a match from WrestleKingdom for March 21’s New Japan Cup final at the Xebio Arena in Sendai… with Ospreay/Okada being my pick for that spot.

All of the New Japan Cup shows are of course airing live, with the final two nights in Sendai (March 20 and 21) airing with live English commentary. Check the NJPW World schedule page though – while most of the midweek shows have 4.30am EST (moving to 5.30am EST when daylight savings starts on 3/14), the weekend shows all have different start times, with the finals on 3/21 starting live at 1am ET/5am GMT.

There’s also going to be a New Japan Cup USA for 2021, running on NJPW Strong alongside this (somewhat). The first qualifiers air on March 5’s edition of Strong, with The DKC vs. Tom Lawlor and Rocky Romero vs. Lio Rush.

article topics :

New Japan Cup 2021, Ian Hamilton