With the plans for the 2020 New Japan Cup currently destroyed it gives us an opportunity to look back at the splendour of 2019’s New Japan Cup!
The latest to fall victim to the Coronavirus is the New Japan Cup. Regrettably, but understandably, NJPW have made the difficult decision to cancel the first 8 shows at the behest of the Japanese Ministry of Health. Whilst it’s unknown what will happen with the 2020 New Japan Cup, I’ve taken this as an opportunity to look back at the best matches that took place during last year’s tournament.
Should the 2020 Cup still take place be sure to keep your eyes peeled for my in-depth preview, but for now I’ve selected the seven best matches from the 2019 New Japan Cup! The below matches are in order of when they took place and not in order of preference.
Will Ospreay vs Lance Archer – Night 6 (Second Round) March 14th 2019
This is the perfect wrestling tale of David vs Goliath. I cannot think of a better in-ring story that personified the insurmountable odds of trying to overcome a giant like this match did. Ospreay has brought the best out in many wrestlers and pitting him against Archer gave us what many were calling the best match of Archer’s career. The mountain of a man that is Lance Archer was previously restrained to tag-team action and proved himself as a formidable singles competitor during this match that took full advantage of both his and Ospreay’s stylistic differences. This is the match that set the monstrous Archer on path to having his most successful year in New Japan, a year that saw he be an MVP of the G1 Climax and win the IWGP US Heavyweight Championship. As AEW’s newest signee, Archer will have a contingent of fresh faces ready to face his wrath and they’ll all be reminded that everybody dies!
Kota Ibushi vs Zack Sabre Jr. – Night 7 (Second Round) March 16th 2019
This was the fourth singles meeting between these two men with each match coming in tournament action, either the G1 Climax or New Japan Cup. ZSJ and Ibushi are two of the best wrestlers in the world today and every time they step into the ring together they create something memorable, with this instance being no exception. Ibushi went into the Cup as a favourite to win the entire tournament and hit a punishing roadblock in the shape of the Technical Wizard who, at the time, had never lost a New Japan Cup match. Interestingly, their New Japan Cup paths were set to cross again in the first round of the 2020 brackets but it’s currently unclear what will be happening with the planned matches.
Colt Cabana vs Toru Yano – Night 8 (Second Round) March 17th 2019
This was a dream match for many, including me. These 2 titans that could headline Wrestle Kingdom instead met in the second round of the Cup. The 2 best comedic wrestlers in the world were given the time to show just how fun wrestling can be. Colt Cabana made his full NJPW debut by competing in the Cup last year and quickly became a fan favourite, breaking down any language barriers through his wrestling and comedic prowess. It’s almost impossible to watch this match without a smile on your face.
Minoru Suzuki vs SANADA – Night 8 (Second Round) March 17th 2019
I expected a technical match with the usual abuse from Suzuki that he forces onto his unfortunate opponents, but what I did not expect was for the 50 year old veteran to compete in the 2nd longest match of the tournament. At over 28 minutes, this match saw Suzuki and SANADA put on a clinic. It showed the strong-style NJPW is known for. Suzuki spends this match brutalising SANADA in that nasty way only Suzuki knows how, but SANADA refuses to give the veteran the satisfaction of keeping him down on his quest for glory.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Zack Sabre Jr. – Night 10 (Quarter Finals) March 21st 2019
A rematch of the New Japan Cup 2018 final saw the Ace have the opportunity to avenge his loss from 1 year prior. Zack’s ability to win via a multitude of submissions was the perfect foil to the iron will that Tanahashi possesses. At this point in the Cup Tanahashi had won in a different fashion in every match, noticeably not going for the High Fly Flow. He won with the Cloverleaf submission in the first round and a Dragon Suplex in the second. When it was time for the quarter finals, the Ace had a few more tricks at the ready to try catch ZSJ off guard during this match. ZSJ headed into this even cockier than usual but the Submission Master would soon learn why you should never bet against Tanahashi.
Tomohiro Ishii vs Kazuchika Okada – Night 11 (Semi-Finals) March 23rd 2019
The last time these 2 competed in singles action against each other was the 2016 G1 Climax in a match that garnered 5 stars from fans and critics. Throwing the Stone Pitbull in the ring for a rare singles match against Okada was always going to give us a potential match of the tournament, but we ended up with a strong match of the year candidate. Ishii is perhaps the most consistently high performing wrestler in the world, I don’t think the man is capable of having a bad match. These two men understand professional wrestling on a different level to any of us. If you only see one match from this tournament, make it this.
Kazuchika Okada vs SANADA – Night 12 (Finals) March 24th 2019
Every match in NJPW has the innate ability to make you think any competitor can win even if you think the result is a foregone conclusion, and this was on show for over 33 minutes during this encounter. This seemed like the official coming out party for SANADA. It’s widely agreed that he could be a major player for NJPW given the right circumstances. By reaching the finals of the New Japan Cup SANADA cemented himself as a star in the best singles match of his career, up until this point. This match would set off one of the hottest feuds of 2018 and would lead to Okada facing SANADA a further 3 times, with the pair even earning the coveted Tokyo Sports Match of the Year award for their battle at King of Pro Wrestling.
You can find me on Twitter @CiaranRH. Thanks for reading.