New Japan Pro-Wrestling kicks off its 2020 edition of the New Japan Cup on Wednesday, March 4th, at Korakuen Hall. The winner of the tournament receives a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Tetsuya Naito, on March 31st at Sakura Genesis. The field of thirty-two will be looking to replicate the result of last year’s winner, Kazuchika Okada, who won the tournament and went on to defeat then champion, Jay White, for the title.
Here I will be predicting the outcome of every opening round match. Why do I embarrass myself like this? If you have any disagreements please make them known on Twitter.
March 4th – Korakuen Hall – 4:30am EST
Bad Luck Fale vs Colt Cabana
If you look at the history of Toru Yano, New Japan enjoy their goofy first round upsets. Bad Luck Fale is someone who has never been bounced out of the first round. That is until last year when then junior heavyweight, Will Ospreay, scored the upset win. The combination of Fale sliding down paired with New Japan loving these upsets has me believing this will be Cabana’s round.
Prediction: Colt Cabana
Toru Yano vs Chase Owens
Speaking of Yano, here he is with his first round match. Last year we saw Owens first entry into the tournament which he used to scored a win over then IWGP US Heavyweight Champion, Juice Robinson, earning himself a title shot later that month. Yano bounced Davey Boy Smith Jr. not just out of the tournament, but the entire company with his first round elimination in 2019. Since we already saw the “comedy dream match” last year, I’ll side with it not repeating this time around.
Prediction: Chase Owens
Togi Makabe vs Jeff Cobb
More eyes will be on Jeff Cobb than ever after making his AEW debut earlier this month. Cobb is no stranger to New Japan tournament, having already competed in several tag leagues, a G1 Climax and last year’s New Japan Cup. Anything remotely looking like a singles push for Makabe came to a screeching halt in 2016. Since then he’s wracked up several six-man titles and tag leagues but he’s on the fast track to replacing Nakanishi in the opening match role.
Prediction: Jeff Cobb
Tomohiro Ishii vs Toa Henare
Henare has his chance for revenge ever since being defeated by Ishii in Korakuen Hall back in 2018. Ishii was in the main event of last year’s New Japan Cup at Korakuen Hall where he bounced Nagata out of the first round. Henare may be well and ready enough to score this win but considering the lack of star power in this portion of the bracket, Ishii needs to be the glue to hold everything together or else you’re left with Cabana, Owens, Cobb and Henare. Who is paying to see those matches?
Prediction: Tomohiro Ishii
March 7th – Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium – 4:00am EST
Juice Robinson vs Alex Coughlin
This is a cool spot for Coughlin which also shows he’s a heavyweight prospect. Obviously there won’t be an upset here but Juice comes from the same system and will know how to get the best out of the young lion so this is a cool match.
Prediction: Juice Robinson
David Finlay vs Tanga Loa
Since the winner of this match will go on to face Juice, I don’t think Finlay will come out with the victory. New Japan don’t love to put guys in the same tag team against one another, it’s not their style. This is Loa’s first New Japan Cup since 2017 when he had a memorably awful match against Nagata. So happy he’s back AND advancing to the second round.
Prediction: Tanga Loa
Minoru Suzuki vs Yuji Nagata
I don’t care what anyone says, I’m picking from the heart. Logically, New Japan uses Suzuki WAY more than they do Nagata. But this is for Nakanishi. I want Nagata to go out there and prove to his buddy that these guys can still get the job done. Everything in the brain says this is obviously going in Suzuki’s favor but if you don’t have hope, how is life worth living?
Prediction: Yuji Nagata
Kazuchika Okada vs Jay White
Last year’s tournament winner against the man he went on to beat in order to recapture the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Huge first round match. These guys have only been the same ring three times since last April. Spoiler: I think Jay White is winning the entire tournament which means he’d have to beat Okada here. He also has history with Juice who is the same quarter of the bracket so I believe that’s the direction they’re headed.
Prediction: Jay White
March 8th – Baycom Gymnasium – 2:00am EST
SANADA vs Mikey Nicholls
Nicholls is back! If you’re a SANADA fan you must love this match up. Last year we saw Okada defeat Nicholls before going on to win the entire tournament. Let’s see if SANADA can squeeze any more good luck out of Nicholls this time around. SANADA having a strong 2019 only to lose his two singles match so far this year is brutal but there’s zero chance he slides down below Nicholls.
Zack Sabre Jr. vs Kota Ibushi
The Tanahashi/Okada of the NJPW World generation in that it happens at least once every year and it’s always great. In terms of match quality you can bookmark this one as having the highest ceiling of the entire first round. Aside from the quality, since Naito isn’t in the tournament and I’ve bounced Okada in the first round, Ibushi needs to advance. Sabre defeated Ibushi in last year’s tournament and their series has a tendency of going 50-50 so I’m confident in this one.
Prediction: Kota Ibushi
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Taichi
Tanahashi has a history of early exits in the New Japan Cup. Since I have his partner (Ibushi) advancing, and New Japan doesn’t like putting tag partners against each other, this lines up perfectly for Taichi to pull off a monumental win. I think we saw Taichi’s ceiling in terms of booking early this month against Okada. The guy is no spring chicken. Soon to turn 40 next month, there’s not going to be some super push coming for Taichi but this win keeps him in a respectable mix.
Will Ospreay vs Shingo Takagi
Oh wait, maybe this is the first round match with the highest ceiling! The rematch of last year’s BOSJ makes its way to the opening round of the New Japan Cup. What a massive match to put in this position. Eight months later the two are now official heavyweights and holding both the RPW British Heavyweight and NEVER Openweight titles respectively. Like my other pick, since Shingo and SANADA are on the same team, I don’t see that match happening. Instead, I see Ospreay making it through and adding another win against Shingo.
Prediction: Will Ospreay
March 9th – Kochi Prefectural Gymnasium – 5:00am EST
KENTA vs Karl Fredericks
Like Juice, KENTA has received a young lion for his opening round match. Obviously we know the winner but this is a good spot for Fredericks. He’ll be able to get in KENTA’s face and have the crowd firmly behind him as he is forced to overcome the shenanigans. KENTA will come off like a jerk for bullying someone outside of his class. Perfect placement for a young lion with the charisma of Fredericks.
Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs YOSHI-HASHI
I’d love to make the same excuse I made for picking Nagata here. In some ways it would make sense. Y-H doesn’t have the range of Suzuki and has never been positioned as anything other than a NEVER Openweight hopeful (also against Suzuki). Tenzan on the other hand is a four time IWGP Heavyweight Champion. Sure, the last reign was fifteen years ago BUT WITH THE POWER OF NAKANISHI!!! But no, Tenzan is cooked. As much as I’d prefer a Tenzan/KENTA match, I won’t make two absolutely foolish picks. YOSHI-HASHI, I guess.
Hirooki Goto vs Yujiro Takahashi
When was Yujiro’s last singles win over someone who wasn’t a young lion? Tomoaki Honma, G1 Climax 2015. I can end this right here. I think I will.
Prediction: Hirooki Goto
Satoshi Kojima vs EVIL
WITH THE POWER OF NAKANISHI!!! I can’t emphasize enough how much I want this to happen. Who cares about EVIL at this point? At one time I was an EVIL supporter and as much as I still want to be, the guy has shown very little progress since beating Okada in the 2017 G1 Climax. How many times have we seen Goto versus EVIL? Too many. I still remember that awful 2018 New Beginning match so I’m not exactly thrilled about it in 2020. Kojima and Goto would be so much fun but it’s not happening because New Japan doesn’t love me.
If these predictions come true, this will be round two:
Tomohiro Ishii vs Jeff Cobb
Chase Owens vs Colt Cabana
Jay White vs Yuji Nagata
Juice Robinson vs Tanga Loa
Kota Ibushi vs Taichi
SANADA vs Will Ospreay
KENTA vs YOSHI-HASHI
Hirooki Goto vs EVIL