Updated: Mar 23
With the brackets finally announced, it is time to get excited for the first of New Japan’s fabled annual tournaments; the 16-man, single elimination competition - The New Japan Cup.
And with a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Sakura Genesis in April on offer, as well as the respect of being named in the same breath as past winners Hiroshi Tanahashi, Yuji Nagata, Shinsuke Nakamura and Tetsuya Naito, the stakes are certainly high, especially with the additional eyes that the recent upsurge in popularity of the product has brought!
So, without further ado, it’s time to preview the tournament and predict our winners and losers, as well as looking at those 16 wrestlers included and some of the more notable names omitted!
With past winners such as Kota Ibushi, Tetsuya Naito and Hiroshi Tanahashi included in the tournament, it certainty lends credibility and validity to anyone who can overcome the odds and win the cup. It is also nice to see names such as Juice Robinson, Tomohiro Ishii and YOSHI-HASHI included, as they look for this chance to boost their stock, and capture the gold from Okada at Sakura Genesis.
Speaking of Okada, his passionate wish to be included in the New Japan Cup seems to have gone unanswered, whilst other notable exceptions include Kenny Omega, current Intercontinental Champion Minoru Suzuki and Cody.
Some surprising names have been included mind; both members of KES return to New Japan for the first time since January’s New Years Dash, while Chuckie T makes his New Japan Cup debut against SANADA. Which leads me to the most frustrating omission of the 2018 bracket - Beretta.
Having left the success of Roppongi Vice in order to seek fame as a Heavyweight, Beretta seemed to be relegated to a mere pawn in 6-Man Tag Team matches, or to the odd match with Best Friend Chuckie T. Many people, myself included, saw this year’s New Japan Cup as Beretta’s coming out party, a stage on which to show what could do, but alas it was not meant to be. We wish Chuckie T the best, and hope beyond hope that Beretta gets his chance in the G1 Climax!
Looking at what we do have however; Naito and Sabre promises to be one of, if not the match of the tournament, while Ishii vs. Elgin and Ibushi vs. YOSHI-HASHI could be ones to look out for!
As for predictions, Ishii will edge out Elgin, with Juice overcoming The Tokyo Pimp. I believe they will then be joined by an almost broken Tanahashi, who will just scrape through against a seemingly reinvigorated Taichi, and Fale will get the better of Lance Archer.
On the other side of the bracket, perhaps surprisingly to most, I’m going for YOSHI-HASHI to surprise us all and take out Ibushi, setting up a possible redemption match against previous foe, Tetsuya Naito who will beat Sabre in, as already stated, a match of the tournament contender. The last Quarter-Final places will then fall to SANADA who will overcome debutant Chuckie T, and Toru Yano, who will be brutalised but will ultimately sneak a victory over Davey Boy Smith Jr.
Pure speculation now, as the remainder of my predictions do really depend on how well I have predicted the opening round, but I think the final will be contested between Tomohiro Ishii and...YOSHI-HASHI. Yes, I believe New Japan are looking to light a fire under the extremely underrated HASHI! After his feud with Naito leading into The New Beginning in Osaka, people sat up once again and realised that YOSHI-HASHI can actually go in the ring, it is merely his character that is incredibly dull.
This does not mean I think he is going all the way, absolutely not. This has to be Ishii’s year. After a wayward end to 2017 tagging with Yano, Ishii deserves another shot at the gold when you consider just how many stellar encounters he has had in the past year; his matches against Omega are believable. He is underrated, a fan-favourite and delivers in spades when required, why on earth wouldn’t they give him a chance? I know I’d tune in to a Ishii vs. Okada main event at Sakura Genesis, wouldn’t you?
So there you have it ladies and gentlemen, a whistle-stop preview and some outlines of predictions for my first taste of New Japan Tournament goodness, I simply cannot wait...