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NJPW ‘New Japan Cup 2019’ First Round Predictions

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The 2019 edition of the New Japan Cup kicks off on March 8th at Korakuen Hall for a twelve day tournament with the winner receiving the right to challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Madison Square Garden. For the first time ever the field will consist of thirty-two participants, seven former Cup winners and seven others making their New Japan Cup debut. The single-elimination tournament will conclude on March 24th and the winner will challenge champion Jay White at MSG on April 6th.

We are joined today by Thomas Fischbeck, a regular contributor for Voices of Wrestling’s DDT branch. Thomas is one of the most active wrestling twitters going today. Give him a follow @rasslinratings where you can find him giving ratings to every match he comes in contact with.

Our mission is to give our predictions on who will win each first round match of the tournament. As always, please feel free to give us your input on twitter.

Friday, March 8th – Korakuen Hall
Tomohiro Ishii vs Yuji Nagata
Robert: The tag interactions between Nagata and Ishii have been a serious highlight over the last two months. Nagata is motivated stay relevant in a climate that’s moving further and further away from him and there’s no better opponent for him than Ishii. If you want a standout match, you face Ishii. While I don’t think Nagata wins, he’ll be able to turn back the hands of time for a night and remind everyone he’s still got plenty left in the tank.
Prediction: Tomohiro Ishii

Thomas: The tournament kicks off with what will be a sleeper for the top match of round one as Tomohiro Ishii takes on Yuji Nagata. This match was built up on New Year’s Dash for the New Beginning In USA show (which JUST made tape a month after the fact) but was eventually pulled due to visa issues. They also squared off on opposite sides in a tag match on the Honor Rising tour and showed some great chemistry so I’m expecting a good one here. Ishii is obviously winning, though, as much as I’d like to see one last Nagata run after his awesome G1 performance a couple of years ago. Let’s just hope they give this one some time.
Prediction: Tomohiro Ishii

Tomoaki Honma vs Taichi
Robert: Understandably, Honma hasn’t been the same since his injury. The broken neck he suffered was career altering but it’s heartwarming that he’s still able to do what he can. Taichi has filled the void left by Honma since the injury and has become one of the most popular acts in the company. He’s taken several key singles losses of late to both Will Ospreay and Tetsuya Naito, but Honma is someone he can rebound with and show he’s not a complete geek.
Prediction: Taichi

Thomas: Honma has done essentially nothing of note since returning at Budokan during the G1 Finals last year, not even participating in tag league, while Taichi has shined over the past few months and put in great performances against the likes of Will Ospreay and Tetsuya Naito. Taichi gets one of the biggest reactions in all of New Japan, and I recently turned a corner on the guy, he rules. I’d have him as a sleeper to make a deep run in this tournament, but this match probably won’t be great given Honma’s age and Taichi’s antics.
Prediction: Taichi

Manabu Nakanishi vs YOSHI-HASHI
Robert: Incoming: Nakanishi glory run part two! No, that’s not happening. Y-H will advance.
Prediction: YOSHI-HASHI

Thomas: Manabu Nakanishi made a big impression on the few New Japan fans that watched World Tag League 2018, so I’m hoping we get more of that Nakanishi and not the one that seems to always be bored in six-man opener tags. YOSHI-HASHI is YOSHI-HASHI, aggressively fine for the most part, a JAG, and while I’d die laughing if New Japan put Nakanishi over here, the chances of that are slim to none against a full-time “real” roster member, give me YOSHI.
Prediction: YOSHI-HASHI

Chase Owens vs Juice Robinson
Robert: Many have Chase Owens circled as the breakout star of 2019 and a New Japan Cup entry is a good start. I don’t think anyone would mind a big upset win for Owens in order to catapult him quickly up the ranks to fill the void left by The Elite. I’m not confident that they do an Owens challenge for the US title match at MSG so he’s a tough pick here. With that said, Owens is someone the fans are ready to see make his way up the card.
Prediction: Juice Robinson

Thomas: I can’t be completely chalk, so I have to pick a few upsets, and why not this one here? It should be noted that New Japan hasn’t announced the match order for these cards yet at time of writing, and I think especially if this ends up main eventing the Korakuen show you should keep an eye on this. Juice needs a challenger for MSG, and should he get through this match, I don’t think YOSHI-HASHI, Ishii, or Taichi really makes sense for that spot. Chase Owens is over huge with the American crowds as a past member of the Omega version of Bullet Club, and he has put in great work on the New Japan undercard for years now. I think he gets a spot to shine at MSG by way of pulling the first round upset here in what I hope to be a good match.
Prediction: Chase Owens

Saturday, Match 9th – Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium
Toa Henare vs Lance Archer
Robert: Like Chase Owens, Toa Henare is receiving an opportunity to show his growth as a wrestler. He’s yet to break out but has a chance to shine and show off his heart against the bigger man in Lance Archer. Archer has been directionless since losing the tag titles last January and other teams in Suzuki-Gun have leap frogged both he and Davey Boy Smith Jr. in the tag title picture. Henare cold very well use this win to catapult himself up the ranks and while I think that’s more exciting than an Archer win, I don’t think it’s happening. I see this side of the bracket being used for Ospreay to defeat all of the giants and Archer is certainly a giant.
Prediction: Lance Archer

Thomas: This is another match where we should be on upset alert, but I don’t think Toa Henare is quite at the stage in his career where he can pin mid card guys just yet. I don’t love Archer, but he’s winning this one. I’d be interested to see him in a singles role in the future if he shows something here, though, as KES feels quite dry to me currently.
Prediction: Lance Archer

Will Ospreay vs Bad Luck Fale
Robert: Ospreay lifting Jeff Cobb onto his shoulders for Storm Breaker is a moment that can only be topped by Fale. I see no way for that to happen but can you imagine? Fale gets a lot of heat for being limited due to his size but his plays his role well and a match against the dynamic Ospreay has me excited. With the Bullet Club and Chaos feuding, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see Fale take out the NEVER champion. Since I have Okada losing above, I’ll say Ospreay wins here to keep the balance in Chaos but I can see the two results being swapped.
Prediction: Will Ospreay

Thomas: Bad Luck Fale frankly sucks. He’s put in effort in like three matches in the past year, and I don’t think being asked to job to a guy considered a junior a few months ago will go far to help that. I think if Fale was motivated these two could have a really fun match with the high flyer going up against the solid base, but I won’t get my hopes up. The winner here isn’t in doubt, although I will be interested to see what Ospreay uses as a finish, because there is no way he is getting Fale up for the Stormbreaker… right?
Prediction: Will Ospreay

Mikey Nicholls vs HIKULEO
Robert: New Japan’s most recent signing is former NXT star, Nick Miller, now known as Mikey Nicholls. Nicholls is an LA Dojo original alongside Rocky Romero, Daniel Bryan, etc. so he has a pedigree with NJPW and is a former GHC Tag Team Champion in NOAH. HIKULEO recently returned from injury but is still very likely to be used in his role as Bullet Club young boy. With Okada claiming Nicholls as Chaos, he’ll be here to showcase as the faction’s newest member.
Prediction: Mikey Nicholls

Thomas: Mikey Nicholls, one half of TM61 in NXT (and TMDK in NOAH previously) faces off against the returning HIKULEO, in the Bullet Club member’s first match back from an ACL injury over a year ago. I’m really interested to see what these two can do here, because I can’t remember seeing a singles match from either at any point previously. Generally, in Japan, returning guys take the fall to show they are still recovering from injury, see Yuji Okabayashi in Big Japan late last year or Isami Kodaka in BASARA this year, and I think that trend continues here as we see the debuting Nicholls picking up the win.
Prediction: Mikey Nicholls

Kazuchika Okada vs Michael Elgin
Robert: My big upset in round one is Elgin advancing over Okada. Making his return from injury, winning his recent lawsuit, the winds are at Elgin’s back. The former IC and NEVER champion should be extra motivated to prove himself to the fans once again. The most popular pick is for Okada to win this entire tournament. I would not be shocked in the least, this is more of a glory pick. Okada is the odds on favorite to win but Elgin has the opportunity to open the bracket up for everyone.
Prediction: Michael Elgin

Thomas: At first glance, Kazuchika Okada seems like the favorite to win the New Japan Cup. Okada-White is the obvious match to do at MSG to continue their rivalry, but if you do that match, Okada kind of has to win for the sake of the story, and I’m not sure New Japan is the type of company to have back to back title reigns end with zero defenses. I think New Japan leans into the “Broken Kazu” story again this summer leading into the G1. Michael Elgin’s scandal has been turned on its head, and while I won’t get into details here, it seems like most bad blood has simmered off. Elgin had an awesome 2017 but did practically nothing in 2018 (potentially because of the scandal), what’s a better way to get it him back in the mix than knocking off Kazuchika Okada here. Should Okada win this one it could set up super interesting matches with fellow CHAOS members, potentially Will Ospreay in the quarterfinals and/or Tomohiro Ishii in the semifinals, but I’m not sure New Japan wants to burn those matches right now. This is probably the first round result I’m most interested in, and the match should be really good too.
Prediction: Michael Elgin

Sunday, March 10th – Baycom Gymnasium
Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs Ryusuke Taguchi
Robert: Originally scheduled to be David Finlay, an injury has caused a change of plans. Finlay was very likely in line to receive a big win over Tenzan in the first round and advance to a match against Tanahashi. That would have been huge for Finlay but Sunday night it was announced that Ryusuke Taguchi would be his replacement. On his quest to become the 69th IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Taguchi has his work cut out for him going up against Tenzan. The heavyweight/junior hierarchy is strong in New Japan and no matter what his condition, Tenzan is too old school of a guy to take a loss to a junior.
Prediction: Hiroyoshi Tenzan

Thomas: David Finlay suffered a shoulder injury in the Honor Rising Day 2 main event teaming with Juice Robinson against the Briscoes, leading to an X to be added to the New Japan Cup roster. Many people think this will be another young lion like Ayato Yoshida, but I think it would be cool if we got Despy or someone like that in here (I don’t think they’ll put Shingo in because they are doing the “hasn’t yet taken a fall” story with him) or maybe Ryuske Taguchi on his quest to become the 69th IWGP Heavyweight Champion. Whether against a young lion or a junior, Tenzan has to be the favorite here. The only way I could see Tenzan losing would be if NJPW brought in a fly in guy like RevPro’s Mark Davis.
Prediction: Hiroyoshi Tenzan

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Shota Umino
Robert: Young lion, Shota Umino, has been popping off the screen for the better part of six months now. The most recent example is his match against Zack Sabre Jr. at Honor Rising. Umino showed he can hang with Sabre and proved to everyone he’s ready for his next step forward. Enter: Hiroshi Tanahahi. That match with Sabre has every fan legitimately excited to see what this young lion can do against Tanahashi. Even though we all know the result, we’re eager to see what Umino brings to the table.
Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi

Thomas: New Japan has done a story with Tanahashi in the New Japan Cup where he often struggles to get out of the first round, but a loss here would be far and away the biggest upset I’ve seen since I started watching New Japan. Shota Umino is already good enough that he doesn’t really need an excursion, but this would be a fun send-off match for him if he’s going soon. I’m really excited to see what Umino does here, especially after he and Zack Sabre put on a legitimately awesome match on Honor Rising day one, but the winner isn’t in question.
Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi

EVIL vs Zack Sabre Jr.
Robert: Zack Sabre Jr. ran the table in last year’s New Japan Cup, tapping out all of the big stars on his way to winning the Cup and main eventing Sumo Hall against Kazuchika Okada. This year, he faces a man in the opening round who beat him just one month ago in EVIL. Sabre had the benefit of being new to his opponents last year but this year there’s been enough time for him to be scouted, as proof by EVIL’s win. I see EVIL getting another win and forcing Sabre to change up his approach.
Prediction: EVIL

Thomas: Zack Sabre has pinned EVIL like six times over the past six months in tag matches, but EVIL got the singles win on the first New Beginning in Sapporo show earlier this year. Sabre is my favorite gaijin in the company, and after winning the tournament last year and being built up as a single elimination tournament specialist, I think he can’t really go out in the first round. ZSJ has amazing chemistry with Ibushi and Naito, and his G1 match vs Ibushi was one of the most underrated matches of 2018 to me. I think the submission master gets the best of EVIL again here.
Prediction: Zack Sabre Jr.

Tetsuya Naito vs Kota Ibushi
Robert: Eyes popped out of heads a la Daisuke Sekimoto in his match against Yuji Hino when this was announced as an opening round contest. This is a match that could easily headline Wrestle Kingdom and yet here it is in the first round of the New Japan Cup. Ibushi recently signed a long term contract with the company which proves to New Japan that he’s serious. It’s always hung over fans heads that Ibushi will never see great success in New Japan because he refuses to sign full time. That changes now and I think they reward him with a big win over IC champion, Tetsuya Naito.
Prediction: Kota Ibushi

Thomas: There is a legitimate case to be made that these are the two best wrestlers in the world (and I think I would agree with that case). Their G1 matches in 2017 and 2018 were both incredible, I went ***** on both. The chemistry between these two is absurd and this is far and away my most hyped match of the tournament. It is interesting, though, that they meet in the first round, because these would probably be two of the favorites to win the tournament. I think the most likely way this goes is an Ibushi win to set up an IC Title match at MSG or on Sengoku show in April. No matter who wins, this should be a great match, and I don’t think it will be the last time Naito threatens to be a double champion.
Prediction: Kota Ibushi

Monday, March 11th – Takamatsu City General Gymnasium #1
Togi Makabe vs Colt Cabana
Robert: Stuck somewhere between the third generation and current generation, Togi Makabe is at the point where he’s still in the G1 Climax but isn’t picking up the big wins anymore. He’s right on the cusp of falling out of this current crop. With his opponent being Colt Cabana, it’s a tricky pick. Cabana is likely there to be on commentary more so than actually making it far in the tournament but he can reasonably beat someone like Makabe. This feels like a dartboard throw more than any other match.
Prediction: Togi Makabe

Thomas: This final show looks… not great. Togi Makabe is clearly the bigger star here, but a win would likely send him into a match against a fellow third of the NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Champions: Toru Yano. I think it’s much more likely we get Cabana winning here to set up the comedy Cabana-Yano match in the second round after they teamed together and picked up a win on Honor Rising day two. Another thing to mention with Cabana (that I brought up on my Wrestling Omakase appearance last week – cheap plug) is that he will appear on both this NJ Cup tour and DDT’s America show in the span of the month, shocking given the two biggest companies in Japan have barely worked together in recent years.
Prediction: Colt Cabana

Toru Yano vs Davey Boy Smith Jr.
Robert: These two met in the first round of last year’s New Japan Cup and coincidently it’s turned out to be Smith’s last singles match in New Japan. Smith has been popping off the screen a lot lately by showcasing his technical skills mixed in with his ability to be a natural powerhouse. I’ve been saying for a while now that I hope he gets more opportunities to showcase. He gets his win back over Yano.
Prediction: Davey Boy Smith Jr.

Thomas: DBS Jr has put on some size recently and as I mentioned earlier, I’d be interested to see KES split up, they are getting quite stale as a tag team. I think we get a Yano low blow and roll up here to send him to a second-round match against Colt Cabana, but looking down the line, I think we get Yano vs SANADA in the quarterfinals in a rematch of an awesome comedy G1 match last year. It can’t be written off that we might get a DBS win to set up a Suzuki-gun six-man title challenge, but I think the former scenario is much more likely.
Prediction: Toru Yano

Satoshi Kojima vs Minoru Suzuki
Robert: This rivalry spans back to their history in AJPW where in 2007 they had a match for the Triple Crown Heavyweight Championship. Suzuki and Kojima will provide a nice old school flavor that’s always welcomed. An injury to Kojima last year took him out of the running for the G1 so it’s tough to tell where his exact positioning is in the company right now. Suzuki recently had a match for the tag titles so he’s still clearly in the mix. While Suzuki is the safer pick, I’d be all for seeing more from Kojima.
Prediction: Minoru Suzuki

Thomas: What an awesome first round matchup that we’d never get to see if the tournament had stayed at 16 participants. These two legends square off in a singles match for the tenth time in their careers. They’ve had matches in the champion carnival, the G1, and even a Triple Crown match back in 2007. The result won’t be in doubt, but this will be an interesting test for Kojima as he makes his case to get a final run in the G1, a run that he probably would have gotten in 2018 had he not been injured. Suzuki and SANADA traded falls on the two New Beginning in Sapporo shows last month, and I think they continue their rivalry in the second round.
Prediction: Minoru Suzuki

Hirooki Goto vs SANADA
Robert: Hirooki Goto returned to singles matches last month in his ROH TV title challenge against Jeff Cobb. It was nice to see Goto wrestle other faces and show an edge rather than have to play the fiery babyface overcoming Suzuki-Gun shenanigans. Goto’s at his best when dishing out a war and he should have no problem bringing the best out of SANADA. I see big things coming for SANADA in this year’s tournament and if these two are motivated, they’re capable of turning some heads.
Prediction: SANADA

Thomas: I really loved these two’s match in the G1 last year, it was one of the most underrated matches of the tournament. They had incredible chemistry and a seeming ability to perfectly transition between each other’s signature moves. This doesn’t have much competition to be MOTN on Night 4 here, but I think it could be a sleeper match of the first round. As for the winner, Goto is clearly being cycled down right now, and SANADA is my pick to win the whole tournament. His flashy moves appeal to the North American fans, and with MSG already sold out, there is no reason to burn Ibushi-White for the first time or Tana/Okada-White given there is still plenty of money to be made with those matches in Japan.
Prediction: SANADA

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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