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NJPW ‘New Japan Cup’ First Round Preview & Predictions



The New Japan Cup is an annual tournament held by NJPW since 2005. This is different than the tournament New Japan is most known for, the G1 Climax, in that it’s single elimination and the winner can challenge anybody holding a singles title. Shinsuke Nakamura is the only man to have won and not challenged for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Instead, he challenged Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IC title because his Chaos stablemate, Kazuchika Okada, was the Heavyweight champion. Just because you win the New Japan Cup doesn’t mean you’ll beat the champion. In fact, out of twelve challenges, only four times has the Cup winner manage to become champion, the last being Tetsuya Naito in 2016.

With the brackets for this year’s tournament being released yesterday I’m going to be giving my predictions on what we’ll see in the first round, starting March 9th and March 12th.

Tomohiro Ishii vs Michael Elgin
– Last year was Ishii’s best performance in the tournament. He made it to the semifinal round where we was defeated by Katsuyori Shibata. Although a beloved favorite, Ishii rarely makes it out of the first round. Personal feelings of Michael Elgin aside, he’s been featured in more singles matches over the last year than Ishii has and when you combined that with Ishii’s tournament history…
Prediction: Michael Elgin

Juice Robinson vs Yujiro Takahashi
– A rematch from last year’s first round contest which marked Juice’s elevation up the card and continued Yujiro’s slide down. With the ever progressing western expansion in New Japan, Yujiro has fallen down the ranks within the company. He likely only got this spot because of EVIL’s injury and should be another win for Juice.
Prediction: Juice Robinson

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Taichi
– Officially moved up into the heavyweight division, Taichi will be making his first appearance in the New Japan Cup. It would be a bold move to have Taichi beat the ace and one that would enrage fans. That’s exactly what Taichi’s purpose is but I don’t expect a Taichi super-push. Instead what I’m seeing is Tanahashi getting revenge over a member of Suzuki-Gun on his way to full redemption.
Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi

Bad Luck Fale vs Lance Archer
– Normally, every year we see Tanahashi versus Fale. It’s become so normal that it’s cliché. We very well may get it again because let’s not forget that Fale made it to the finals last year. Fale normally looks strong in tournaments so it’s perceived as a bigger deal when he loses title matches. But because of Tanahashi’s redemption story, I see Archer winning so that Tanahashi has another Suzuki-Gun member to defeat in the next round.
Prediction: Lance Archer

Kota Ibushi vs YOSHI-HASHI
– If I haven’t lost you yet, this is bound to do the trick. I believe YOSHI-HASHI will upset Ibushi. New Japan has done a careful job of slowly elevating Y-H up the card for a few years now and this would feel like the biggest win of his career. With Ibushi doing things with Omega in the tag division, a singles win for him means nothing right now. A singles win for Y-H means everything.
Prediction: YOSHI-HASHI

Tetsuya Naito vs Zack Sabre Jr.
– Since Naito didn’t beat Okada at Wrestle Kingdom, where does he go next? Challenging Suzuki for the IC title seems to be the obvious choice. He’s been attacked by Taichi and will have a match against him March 6th. On March 11th he has a match against Sabre. How does this play out? Does he beat them both and maybe Davey Boy in the semifinals on a redemption run towards Suzuki? Or does he lose to Taichi? Does he lose to Sabre? Do Suzuki-Gun torment Naito? We’ve seen the shift of LIJ over the last year, shedding their heel persona and transforming into faces. This is exactly what New Japan would do with Tanahashi, have him go on a losing streak and overcoming in the big match.
Prediction: Zack Sabre Jr.

Toru Yano vs Davey Boy Smith Jr.
– Another part of my picking Archer to defeat Fale is that you can’t have both members of K.E.S. losing in the first round. Anybody can lose to Yano. Anybody. Davey Boy will be than anybody.
Prediction: Toru Yano

SANADA vs Chuckie T.
– Being a replacement for his best friend, Beretta, Chuckie T. makes his singles debut for New Japan. SANADA is coming off a loss to Okada and possibly to YOSHI-HASHI at the anniversary show a week before this match. SANADA won’t eat three losses to Chaos in a row. Especially to someone without any prior singles history in the company and is there only as a replacement.
Prediction: SANADA

Robert McCauley watches wrestling all around Japan. In particular, he's most knowledgeable about the world of New Japan but he's always looking to learn more.