After starting with sixteen just last Thursday, we are down to four remaining in this year’s New Japan Cup. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson, Zack Sabre Jr. and SANADA are the only ones who still have the option to challenge either Kazuchika Okada, Minoru Suzuki or Hirooki Goto on April 1st at Sakura Genesis. The possibilities are plentiful as we head into the semifinals so let’s talk about the potential outcomes.
The man many still refer to as the Ace of New Japan, myself included. Back in late January, Tanahashi lost his IC title to Minoru Suzuki via referee stoppage. Tanahashi’s injuries leading up to his match with Suzuki were well documented and Suzuki exploited those injuries in order to break the will of the Ace. What should be noted is that Tanahashi refused to tap out to Suzuki, instead the referee determined that he was unable to defend himself and ended the match. If he were to win the Cup he very well may look to get his revenge on Suzuki. Also a possibility is Tanahashi challenging Kazuchika Okada for the heavyweight title. Their last meeting for the title was at Wrestle Kingdom 10 where Okada came out victorious and claimed the role as the new ace. Later that year they met in the G1 Climax tournament and the match ended in a thirty minute draw. Either Suzuki or Okada would be a likely challenger for Tanahashi.
A fan favorite underdog, Juice has managed to sneak his way into the semifinals, picking up an upset win over Michael Elgin. Juice has become known for these big surprise wins that result in him receiving title opportunities. Last year he pinned both Hirooki Goto and Tetsuya Naito in tag team matches that lead to him getting shots at both the IC and NEVER titles. He also surprised everyone later in the year when he beat Kenny Omega clean during the G1 Climax and received a US title shot. If Juice were to win the tournament he could realistically challenge anyone but has stated himself that he wants to challenge Goto for the NEVER title, which is understandable. Okada has been on an incredible winning streak and Suzuki is not someone a smart man would challenge.
Zack Sabre Jr.
A surprise to many for making it this far, Sabre has defeated both Tetsuya Naito and Kota Ibushi along the way to the semifinals. The only remaining man who feels like a real obstacle for him in this tournament is Hiroshi Tanahashi. If Sabre were to defeat the Ace he definitely would not challenge his boss, Minoru Suzuki. That brings the possibilities down to Okada or Goto and with Sabre’s cocky attitude it’d surprise no one if he challenged Okada. Although Sabre has only received one title shot so far in his New Japan career, he has wins over Shibata, Tanahashi, Naito and Ibushi. He remains winless over Goto so that remains a possibility although one I find unlikely.
The most recent challenger for Kazuchika Okada’s heavyweight title, SANADA has had the easiest path to the semifinals. He defeated Chuckie T., who was making his singles debut in New Japan, and Toru Yano. He now faces the man who submitted his boss in the first round. The odds are stacked against SANADA but if he were to win, Okada would be the man he’d challenge. He currently sits at an 0-4 singles record against Okada and would like a chance to correct his mistakes. Make no mistake, it’s definitely possible for SANADA to come out of the tournament as the winner but the odds are definitely not in his favor.
Hiroshi Tanahashi (def. Taichi/Fale) vs Juice Robinson (def. Yujiro/Elgin)
Despite the bond these two men share, Tanahashi is looking past Juice and that may end up leading to his downfall. These two tagged earlier this morning and Tanahashi was too busy posing for pictures to even acknowledge Juice. The Ace decided against tagging him in once the match started, choosing their other teammate, Michael Elgin, instead. This wrinkle in their match adds a lot of intrigue into the story. If Tanahashi were to be showing Juice respect, you could draw the conclusion that Tanahashi was going to win but have the respect for Juice. Now, it seems like Juice has even more to prove as Tanahashi won’t even look him in the eyes. Tanahashi has made it to this point with relative ease, if he continues to overlook Juice he’s in for trouble. I don’t see Juice pulling off a win of this magnitude but if he were, this would further show New Japan’s trust in Juice.
Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi
Zack Sabre Jr. (def. Naito/Ibushi) vs SANADA (def. Chuckie/Yano)
Coming off back-to-back massive singles wins over Naito and Ibushi, SANADA seems to just be another body for Sabre to defeat. SANADA is Okada’s most recent challenger so him getting another shot so soon, especially if he’s to lose, seems unlikely. He’s gone far in the tournament so losing to someone who made the finals, and possibly won the Cup, isn’t a huge loss to his stock within the company. Sabre seems to have a rocket attached to him as he’s flying up the ranks of New Japan, now even having his own shirt. He seems much more likely to be the one to win and advance to the finals at this stage in both men’s stories.
Prediction: Zack Sabre Jr.
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