Previews

New Japan Cup Preview 2020, Part 1

Ciaran Hayward previews the left side of the 2020 New Japan Cup bracket.

This is your in-depth preview for 2020’s New Japan Cup!

I have you covered from corner to corner with the history of the prestigious Cup and a look at this year’s participants, their New Japan Cup stats and the first round matchups. This is everything you need to be prepared for 3 weeks of New Japan’s finest taking aim at the current king, Double Champion Tetsuya Naito.  

What is the New Japan Cup?

The New Japan Cup is an annual single-elimination tournament. This is different to the G1 Climax, which is round-robin style. In the New Japan Cup, if you win you progress to the next round and if you lose, you are eliminated. Every match is all or nothing. This year the field consists of 32 entrants and will require 5 consecutive singles victories to win the entire tournament. The winner of the New Japan Cup gets a stunning trophy and this year earns the right to challenge Tetsuya Naito for both the IWGP Heavyweight & Intercontinental Championships. 

When is the New Japan Cup?
The tournament begins on 16th June and the final will be held on 11th July with a total of 9 shows being held during that time period. The winner of the tournament will challenge Naito for both his titles at Dominion on 12th July. All shows will be available live on NJPW World. 

History of the New Japan Cup
The New Japan Cup began in 2005 and the inaugural winner was Hiroshi Tanahashi. Last year the winner of the Cup was Kazuchika Okada, who successfully went on to challenge Jay White for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in Madison Square Garden.

There have been 10 unique winners of the New Japan Cup; Hiroshi Tanahashi (x2), Giant Bernard, Yuji Nagata (x2), Hirooki Goto (x3, record holder), Kazuchika Okada (x2), Shinsuke Nakamura, Kota Ibushi, Tetsuya Naito, Katsuyori Shibata and Zack Sabre Jr. Last year the tournament had 32 participants enter the field for the first time ever. Traditionally the tournament has 16 entrants, although this varied in 2007 and 2009 (14 entrants) and 2010 (15 entrants). The increased size in 2019 allowed junior heavyweights Ryusuke Taguchi and Will Ospreay to compete and even Young Lion Shota Umino.

The increased size meant it would require 5 wins to lift the New Japan Cup, compared to every year prior requiring 4 wins. In 2014, the Cup winner was given the choice of challenging for the IWGP Heavyweight or Intercontinental title for the first time, rather than automatically challenging for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. On every occasion but one, the winner has chosen to challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. The one anomaly came in 2014 when Shinsuke Nakamura won the Cup, challenged Tanahashi for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship and was victorious.

The conversion percentage of New Japan Cup winners successfully challenging for the title is only 36%, with there being 5 consecutive losses for the Cup winners from 2008 – 2012, a streak that was broken when Okada beat Tananashi in 2013.

Why This Year Is Special

The Double Gold Dash that engulfed the wrestling world surrounding Wrestle Kingdom 14 makes this New Japan Cup entirely unique. For the first time in New Japan history one man holds both the IWGP Heavyweight & Intercontinental Championships, Tetsuya Naito. There is more to fight for than ever before in 2020’s Cup as the winner will challenge for both of Naito’s titles! Here’s what the Champion had to say prior to defending both his titles against KENTA at The New Beginning in Osaka; “I personally think that after this, we don’t need to defend both titles together. Maybe my challenger can choose. If it’s some special opponent, well maybe that’s different. But otherwise, pick one you want to go for.” Whether Naito agrees or not, NJPW believes that the New Japan Cup winner constitutes being “a special opponent.” Given the calibre of the 32 men entering the Cup this year, it’s hard to disagree. 

How Covid-19 Has Impacted The Tournament

The Cup was set to take place in March but was cancelled due to Covid-19. The brackets have since changed drastically with 14 of the original 32 entrants now changed in the field. Due to travel restrictions, there are only 2 foreigners competing in the tournament; originally there were 14. Due to the circumstances, New Japan has elected to add junior heavyweights to the tournament for the first time ever to fill the gaps in the brackets! Predominantly the New Japan Cup is a heavyweight tournament and although juniors have competed in the competition in the past, it is unchartered ground to have such a large contingent from the junior division in the tournament, with 12 of the new 14 entrants being juniors. 

Before we look at all individual men entering the battlefield and their first-round matches, here are the entire brackets.

In the first round alone, 6 junior heavyweights will face a large task as they go up against heavyweights, with 4 of those 6 matches being first time meetings. It is inevitable that that a favourite and past tournament winner will exit immediately given the matchup of Kota Ibushi vs Zack Sabre Jr. Of the 16 first round matches there are only two that have juniors facing off, YOH vs BUSHI and Uemura vs Kanemaru, interestingly guaranteeing that at least two juniors will be making the second round. 

The addition of the junior heavyweights adds an extra level of intrigue to the Cup. It is the norm for heavyweights to defeat juniors, it tends to be the end to most tag matches that involve both divisions, but that will not be the case in this tournament. Regardless of where their allegiances may lie, every junior will be fighting for the pride of their division that they rightly believe should not be treated less than the heavyweights. Leading that charge will be the current IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, Hiromu Takahashi. 

Left Bracket

Togi Makabe

Previous best – 2 x Finalist (2007 & 2010)

Makabe’s 13th time entering the New Japan Cup

The former IWGP Heavyweight Champion has a storied career with New Japan but one achievement he has never claimed is that of New Japan Cup winner. Makabe came close by reaching the finals twice before but was defeated by Nagata in 2007 and Goto in 2010. He has not made it past the second round since 2012 and left the competition in the first round to Colt Cabana last year. With his close friend Liger just retired, Makabe may be realising that he needs to take these rare opportunities when he can, as eventually there won’t be any chances left.

Yota Tsuji

Previous best – N/A

Making his New Japan Cup debut

The Young Lions are also helping fill the brackets this year but Tsuji will be adamant that he is more than just filler. Slighted from the original brackets in March, Tsuji felt disgruntled that members of the LA Dojo were entering the Cup in his stead. Now afforded with the opportunity to compete in the tournament he will be confronted by his trainer in Makabe in the opening round. A battle of grizzled experience against energetic youth. 

Tomohiro Ishii

Previous best – 2 x Semi-Finalist (2017 & 2019)

Ishii’s 12th time entering the New Japan Cup

The Stone Pitbull forced his way to the semi-finals last year before being stopped by Chaos teammate Okada. He is seemingly incapable of having a bad match and often brings out the best in his opponents, although that can often lead to his own downfall. On the two occasions he has made the semi-finals he has been stopped short by the man who would go on to win the tournament. It might not lessen the blow but he has the knowledge that it took the literal best man of the Cup to take him down on those occasions. If Ishii makes it to the second round he will possibly meet Togi Makabe, the man who knocked him out of the Cup in the first round in 2010.

El Desperado

Previous best – N/A

Making his New Japan Cup debut

This first time singles meeting has the potential to be the sleeper hit of the first round. El Desperado only competed in 3 singles matches throughout 2019, in part due to a broken jaw that side-lined him for 5 months and meant he missed Best of the Super Juniors. Despy is no stranger to a fight but he will have to bring more than fighting spirit with him on this occasion if he wants to knock down the much beefier Stone Pitbull. The Suzuki-Gun man has no concerns with bending the rules and it will be interesting to see how he approaches this mammoth challenge.

Toru Yano

Previous best – 4 x Semi-Finalist (2008, 2011, 2013 & 2016)

Yano’s 15th time entering the New Japan Cup

Yano has competed in the New Japan Cup every year except for the first year the Cup was introduced in 2005, making this his 15th consecutive year being a participant. For all the shenanigans the trickster likes to pull he has made the semi-finals 4 times. He has the innate ability to pick up a victory over anybody and is the ultimate upset master. Of the 14 times Yano has entered he has been knocked out in the first round only 5 times, the last time being in 2014 to Minoru Suzuki. For the last 3 years he has only made it as far as the second round before bowing out but it all it takes is a moment of mischief and Yano will be making his way deeper into the brackets.  

Jado

Previous best – N/A

This is his New Japan Cup debut

Predominantly a tag team wrestler, Jado finds himself in very unfamiliar territory as he has not wrestled as a singles competitor since Wrestle Kingdom 10 in January 2016, and that was in a Rumble match. He is one of only 3 Bullet Club members in the 32 man field. His lack of singles matches and tournament experience is a distinct opposite from Yano, the most experienced man in New Japan Cup history. This first round match could be the most lopsided of them all, but Jado will head to the ring with some of his own tricks up his sleeve. The winner of this matchup could be facing the colourful Hiromu Takahashi in the next round.

Tomoaki Honma

Previous best – First round (x7)

Honma’s 8th time entering the New Japan Cup

Given his track record in the New Japan Cup, it seems almost guaranteed that Honma won’t be making it out of the first round. Despite this being his 8th entry into the tournament, Honma does not have a single victory in Cup action, having been eliminated in the first round 7 times. He may have thought his luck was changing given he is going up against a junior heavyweight in the first round but disaster seems primed to strike again as his first round opponent is the junior ace.

Hiromu Takahashi

Previous best – N/A

His New Japan Cup debut

As the current IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Hiromu has been extremely vocal about his desires to lift the junior heavyweight division to new heights. His lofty dreams of challenging for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship whilst the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion are entirely attainable. The dream match with Tetsuya Naito at the Anniversary Event may have been cancelled but now he can make that match even more noteworthy by being the first junior heavyweight in history to win the New Japan Cup and then challenge Naito for the dual championships. His first round match against is wholly winnable and he has simple path to the quarter finals. Should he be successful in the first and second round then a thrilling matchup with Tomohiro Ishii is to be expected, and if Hiromu manages to put the Stone Pitbull down then he will very likely be confronted by Kazuchika Okada in the semi-finals!

Kazuchika Okada

Previous best – 2 x Winner (2013 & 2019)

Okada’s 4th time entering the New Japan Cup

The Rainmaker has only entered the Cup 3 times in the past and is accustomed to looking from the outside in, simply because he is already the Champion when the Cup begins. The current Champion is ineligible to enter the Cup but take’s an interest in seeing how the brackets progress with the knowledge they will be defending their gold against the eventual winner. In those 3 appearance it has been all or nothing for Okada. He may have won the tournament 2 of the 3 times he has entered, a remarkable feat, but in 2015 he lost in the first round to Bad Luck Fale. This is his golden ticket to get back where he belongs, atop the throne as the King of the King of Sports, a title that was stripped from him at Wrestle Kingdom 14. Interestingly, if he does win the Cup and go on to face Naito, it will be the first time he challenges for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. 

Gedo

Previous best – N/A

His New Japan Cup debut

Okada must have been smiling when his new first round opponent was revealed; an impossibly rare chance to get his hands on Gedo. Without Jay White to save him, Okada will look to impart some revenge on the Judas that betrayed him. Gedo is filling the void left by Jay White in this match and you have to imagine he wishes the original Cup took place so he wouldn’t have to face up to his past transgressions. A singles meeting took place between Gedo and Okada before with Okada earning the victory and it seems like history will repeat itself here.

Yuji Nagata

Previous best – 2 x Winner (2007 & 2011)

This will be Nagata’s 13th time entering the New Japan Cup

Nagata has taken down stiff competition in his years of entering the New Japan Cup, including when he defeated Shinsuke Nakamura in 2011 to win the Cup for a second time. He sits alongside Okada as a two time winner of the New Japan Cup. In his last 6 entries into the Cup he has only made it past the first round once. Blue Justice may be considered one of the New Japan Dads but the Third Generation star still has a lot of fight left. With the recent retirement of his former tag team partner Manabu Nakanishi still fresh in all our minds, Nagata may look to use that to add fuel to his fire and become the second man to win the Cup for a third time. There is a storied history between Nagata and his first round opponent Minoru Suzuki, a story that spans G1 Climaxes, Wrestle Kingdoms and New Japan Cups. This same first round matchup took place during the 2012 and 2013 Cup and on both occasions Suzuki eliminated Nagata.

Minoru Suzuki

Previous best – 1 x Semi-Finalist (2014)

Suzuki’s 6th time entering the New Japan Cup

The King went to war with Moxley and came up short and now he’s gunning for the New Japan Cup. Suzuki has only made it as far as the semi-finals once and on that occasion in 2014 was eliminated by Shinsuke Nakamura. Last year he was eliminated by finalist SANADA in the second round. As the Suzuki-Gun leader he will look to lead by example and ensure the Cup final ends with him taking on one of his faction found on the other side of the bracket. At 52 and 51 years of age Nagata and Suzuki are two veterans are still capable of putting on a top tier match. Technical but stiff, beautiful but ugly, eloquent but violent. Almost 17 years after their first ever singles match against each other, these two titans of Japanese wrestling will clash once more with the winner likely to meet Okada in the second round.  

Yuya Uemura

Previous best – N/A

His New Japan Cup Debut

The second Young Lion entering the field is a man pegged for junior heavyweight greatness. It’s highly unlikely we would have seen Yuya enter the New Japan Cup in the next few years given the weight division he was headed for so this may be the only opportunity he gets to compete in the tournament. Before New Japan had to cancel shows, Yuya made his most shocking statement in his career when he recklessly attacked Minoru Suzuki; a scenario that ended in Yuya’s demise but earned him a begrudging respect from the King. 

Yoshinobu Kanemaru

Previous best – N/A

This will be Kanemaru’s New Japan Cup Debut

Prolific for his tag team wrestling in a New Japan ring, Kanemaru has not seen much singles action outside of the yearly Best of the Super Juniors. He may be thankful that his first round match is against a Young Lion that will allow him to readjust to the singles arena. His second round opponent will likely be another junior heavyweight, one he is incredibly familiar with and whom he has never lost to, Taiji Ishimori. 

Gabriel Kidd

Previous best – N/A

His New Japan Cup debut

The last Young Lion filling out the field and by far the least experience within a New Japan ring. Kidd only made his NJPW debut in January and now miraculously finds himself in the New Japan Cup. Representing the LA Dojo and by proxy Katsuyori Shibata, the Englishman will look to put on a good showing it what might be an unachievable win this early in his career.

Taiji Ishimori

Previous best – N/A

This will be Ishimori’s New Japan Cup debut

One of the best in his weight class, Ishimori is another junior making the jump into the deep New Japan Cup. The former IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion has a chance to break new ground and prove himself among the heavyweights. Should he make the quarter-finals he may end up against Okada. A match that you didn’t know you wanted but you know will blow the roof off of any venue in the world.

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You can find me on Twitter @CiaranRH. Thanks for reading.

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