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New Japan Cup: Potential Winners Ranked

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When determining your possible winners of the New Japan Cup you must go through a checklist and see who meets all the requirements. While either the Heavyweight, Intercontinental or Openweight titles can be challenged for, it’s most likely going to be the Heavyweight belt the winner chooses. This would mean that the person must be perceived as a credible contender for the top title, immediately eliminating more than half of the field. Also to take into consideration are recent challengers. Not very often does someone receive two chances at the title within a single reign. Kenny Omega had this opportunity but not by his choice, he was called out by Okada himself. This doesn’t mean the option is impossible, only less likely. Previous champions is something else to make note of, especially those who held the Heavyweight title. The more credible you are, the more likely the challenger. Here is my ranked list of the most likely winners of this year’s New Japan Cup.

1. Hiroshi Tanahashi
– Yet to challenge for IWGP Heavyweight Championship
– 7x IWGP Heavyweight Champion
– 2x New Japan Cup Winner
Certainly an obvious choice, I must admit, but for good reason. Tanahashi has yet to challenge Okada and their last singles match in 2016 went to a draw. Although he’s stated he would no longer challenge Okada, he’s also said he’d never attempt the High Fly Flow to the floor. For the last three years he has lost in the opening round and this time around he has Taichi, who is known to win by hook or by crook. New Japan loves the story of Tanahashi overcoming the odds and his real life injuries play well into that story. If Okada successfully defends his title one more time, he ties Tanahashi’s single reign defense record.

2. Kota Ibushi
– Yet to challenge for IWGP Heavyweight Championship
– 2015 New Japan Cup Winner
– Main event experience
As a pervious winner of this tournament, Ibushi’s main event experience certainly helps him feel capable in this position. On top of that, he’s a fresh opponent for Okada. Ibushi has an undefeated record New Japan Cup, winning in his only appearance in 2015. Despite never winning a heavyweight division title in New Japan, he’s someone that fans would easily be able to get behind as a credible threat.

3. Zack Sabre Jr.
– Yet to challenge for IWGP Heavyweight Championship
– Main event experience
– Convincing wins
Having Sabre up this high on the list may be controversial but I’m a strong believer that Okada’s next challenger will be a fresh opponent. His main event experience is limited, I’ll admit that much. The only appearance in the position was his match against Tanahashi last year and it wasn’t a marque show by any means. Sabre did manage several huge wins in 2017, defeating Shibata, Tanahashi and Ishii so while not the most credible on the list, there are some standout victories.

4. Michael Elgin
– Yet to challenge for IWGP Heavyweight Championship
– 1x IWGP IC Champion
– Main event experience
Putting all the personal feelings on Elgin aside, he is someone credible. He’s held titles in New Japan before and has several main events under his belt. The fans take to his size, seeing him as someone who is extremely powerful and capable of defeating anyone. His strongest asset is the fact that he’s never been given an opportunity for this title so it’d both elevate him to win the Cup and be a logical next challenge for Okada.

5. Tetsuya Naito
– 1x IWGP Heavyweight Champion
– 2016 New Japan Cup Winner
– Marque match
While not a fresh match, it’s one people would like to see happen again. Fans wouldn’t be disappointed in the slightest if they saw the names of these two on top of the card. We saw Naito win the Cup in 2016 and go on his way to defeat Okada the next month. Seeing that again just two years later doesn’t seem ultra likely but it’s also a safe match. That is, unless they’re planning on having Okada win again. If that’s the case, I wouldn’t have Naito be this year’s winner.

6. Tomohiro Ishii
– Yet to challenge for IWGP Heavyweight Championship
– Fresh/unexpected challenger
– Possible IC title challenger
Along with many others, I’m really pulling for Ishii to surprise everyone by winning the Cup. His story is one that would lead to a lot of possibilities. Not often do stablemates have championship matches but he did defeat Okada in the 2016 G1 Climax. If he doesn’t want to go that route, he could challenge Suzuki for the IC title and if victorious, members of Chaos would hold every singles title in the company. As a fan of Ishii, I’m familiar with the heartache of rooting for him and his positioning on this list is proof of such.

7. Juice Robinson
– Yet to challenge for IWGP Heavyweight Championship
– Fresh/unexpected challenger
– Trending upwards
2017 was a huge year for Juice, receiving title shots for both the IC and Openweight belts. He was unsuccessful but thanks to his heart, found himself in G1 and surprised everyone when he defeated Kenny Omega. This lead to a US title shot where he again fell short. Big year filled with stellar performances. This would be his biggest win yet and while I’d be supportive of him winning the Cup, I’m not going to bet money on Juice right now.

8. SANADA
– Main event experience
– Trending upwards
There is no good reason for SANADA to win again and challenge Okada so soon. He had a career performance against Okada last month and another defeat would be unlikely to hurt him, but still many others are more worthy right now.

9. Davey Boy Smith Jr.
– Yet to challenge for IWGP Heavyweight Championship
– Fresh/unexpected challenger
Smith Jr. hasn’t received a singles title opportunity in New Japan since 2013 and to put it bluntly, he won’t get one here. This is not a knock on him as a wrestler, Smith is very underrated, but his positioning leaves no indication of future singles title opportunities.

10. YOSHI-HASHI
– Yet to challenge for IWGP Heavyweight Championship
– Fresh/unexpected challenger
– Possible IC title challenger
Y-H holds similar reasons to Ishii with the differences being he’s not nearly at that level. While he could be the one to challenge Suzuki for the IC, even that seems unlikely. He’s coming off back-to-back singles losses to Naito and SANADA and likely would have to defeat both on his way to the Cup. This isn’t his battle to win.

11. Toru Yano
– Yet to challenge for IWGP Heavyweight Championship
– Fresh/unexpected challenger
– Possible IC title challenger
Before you laugh, Yano does have history of messing with Suzuki. The question is, how can he possibly win this tournament? You’d risk making a mockery of your system by having Yano win four matches in a row via low blows and roll ups. Simply put, it’s extremely unlikely to happen.

12. Bad Luck Fale
– Main event experience
Put Fale in a match with Okada or Tanahashi and you’re guaranteed a fun match. He has great chemistry with both and delivers something memorable every time. Fale has already challenged on this reign and would be unlikely to challenge any other champion. His story right now seems to be lost in the shuffle.

13. Taichi
– Yet to challenge for IWGP Heavyweight Championship
– Fresh/unexpected challenger
Can you imagine the rage people would feel if Taichi was this year’s winner? It’d be a true upset story that would get mentioned as one of the more memorable moments of the year. It’s not impossible but would be a decision many would question. Indeed a fresh match, nonetheless.

14. Yujiro Takahashi
– Yet to challenge for IWGP Heavyweight Championship
The most you can say for Yujiro is that he hasn’t challenged yet. The guy hasn’t challenged for much of anything for years now. He’s just floating around, being someone most people pay no mind to anymore.

15. Lance Archer
– Yet to challenge for IWGP Heavyweight Championship
Another challenger Okada hasn’t had yet and one we’re less likely to see than Yujiro. He does have IC challenge experience but he’s never won a single match in the three Cups he’s appeared.

16. Chuckie T.
– Yet to challenge for IWGP Heavyweight Championship
The only man to have less heavyweight singles match experience in New Japan than Taichi. Chuckie T. comes in as a replacement for Beretta. Any win Chuckie manages to make should be considered a huge upset.

Robert McCauley hasn't missed an NJPW show since the launch of NJPW World. Always be on the look out for his reviews where he shares results and gives his honest opinions on the goings-on of New Japan Pro-Wrestling.

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