The 2019 New Japan Cup tour schedule has been announced and will take place over a twelve show period beginning March 8th and ending March 24th. This will be the longest tour in the tournament’s history, breaking the previous record by two days. The tournament has never exceeded sixteen participants so I will stay at that limit but wouldn’t be shocked if the number was increased this year. The winner receives a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship on April 6th at Madison Squad Garden. As of this moment, Kota Ibushi is the only confirmed participant which leaves fifteen empty spots. Let’s figure this out!
1. Kota Ibushi – Ibushi announced at The New Beginning in Osaka that he’d be participating in the tournament.
2. Hiroshi Tanahashi – Having just lost the title, Tanahashi is an unofficial guaranteed lock.
3. Kazuchika Okada – Ever since losing the title last summer, Okada has struggled to find his way back in title contention. New Japan Cup is the perfect opportunity for his comeback.
4. Zack Sabre Jr. – Last year’s tournament winner has his crown to defend.
5. Tetsuya Naito – It’s unusual for a title holder to participate in the New Japan Cup but Naito has stated his goal is to hold both the IC and Heavyweight Championship.
6. EVIL – Although he missed last year’s tournament due to injury, EVIL is a key player in the heavyweight division.
7. SANADA – Like EVIL, SANADA is a high ranking member and is another lock.
8. Juice Robinson – Yes, Juice is the current U.S. champion and in years past that would exclude him from the tournament. This year it’s been announced that the winner will face the IWGP Heavyweight Champion and since Naito is lobbying to get involved, I see no reason for Juice to be excluded.
9. Will Ospreay – Same reason for Naito and Juice applies to Ospreay. Yes he’s the NEVER Openweight Champion but the tournament winner will not have an opportunity to challenge for his title.
10. Minoru Suzuki – He’s getting up there in age but until it’s made official, there’s no reason to count Suzuki out.
11. Taichi – 2018’s surprise entrant made his New Japan Cup debut against Hiroshi Tanahashi. He was excluded from the G1 later in the year but has since won the NEVER title and recently challenged for the IC title. Taichi is here to stay.
12. Hirooki Goto – Out of the spotlight due to the U.S. visa issue, Goto is the only three time winner of the New Japan Cup. No way he misses out.
13. Tomohiro Ishii – Another guy out of the spotlight because of The New Beginning in USA debacle. Ishii is a cornerstone, he’s definitely in the tournament.
14. Bad Luck Fale – For five consecutive years Fale has been featured in the tournament and was recently in a singles semi-main event. Nothing is changing with Fale any time soon.
15. YOSHI-HASHI – Despite always on the bubble, YOSHI-HASHI continues to squeak his way into tournaments. With the roster growing, he’s not a lock, but until he’s bumped, YOSHI-HASHI is another guy here to stay.
16. Chase Owens – I believe Owens will be taking the spot held for years by Yujiro Takahashi. He recently signed a deal with the company and has become an undercard favorite over the last year.
Notable Snubs: Togi Makabe, Toru Yano, Tama Tonga, Michael Elgin, Satoshi Kojima, Tomoaki Honma, Lance Archer, Davey Boy Smith Jr., Yuji Nagata, Yujiro Takahashi, Tanga Loa, David Finlay, Toa Henare
There are more than enough wrestlers to justify extending the number of participants. Tetsuya Naito has thrown his hat into the ring but that doesn’t mean he’ll be accepted nor would his inclusion automatically mean Juice Robinson and Will Ospreay are locks. One, none, or all three may be in the tournament. Chase Owens and YOSHI-HASHI are two bubble boys. I wouldn’t be shocked if neither made it in and we instead see the likes of Toru Yano and Tama Tonga or even David Finlay and Toa Henare. There are several ways for the lineup to turn out so ultimately we’ll just have to wait and see.
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