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 three weeks of New Japan’s finest taking aim at the current king, Double Champion Tetsuya Naito.
Yesterday, we took a look at the left side of the bracket so naturally, we will now look at the right side.
Previous best – 2 x Winner (2005 & 2008)
Tanahashi’s 11th time entering the New Japan Cup
For the sixth consecutive year the New Japan Cup will be graced by The Ace. A finalist in 2018 and semi-finalist in 2019, Tanahashi is always in the discussion to win anything he challenges for. Although, in 2015, 2016 and 2017 he was knocked out in the first round, one of those in less than 3 minutes by Toru Yano!
There has been discussion, over the last few years, that Tanahashi may be a bit too beaten up or a bit too old, but he is quick to disprove the doubters through his iron will and remind us why he is the Ace of the Universe. In 2018, that reminder came when he won the G1 Climax 28.
In 2019, he defeated Kenny Omega in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom 13 for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. In 2020 he has already become IWGP Tag Team Champion for the first time in more than 15 years. Could Tanahashi look to let us know he’s still one of the best by winning the New Japan Cup as well?
Previous best – Second Round (2019)
Taichi’s 3rd time entering the New Japan Cup
Taichi kicked off 2020 with a heated rivalry against Kazuchika Okada. He came up short when they met in singles action but it was, for many, the best match of Taichi’s career so far.
If the Taichi we saw take on Okada in Sapporo turns up for the New Japan Cup then he has a real chance of making serious progress. But he has struggled in the New Japan Cup the last 2 years, only making it as far as the second round. In 2018 he was stopped in the first round, albeit to Tanahashi who would go on to make the finals.
He made it a step further before he was halted by Ishii in one of the stand out matches of last year’s tournament. If he can make it to the third round this year we might consider that a success but as for Taichi himself, success only means being the absolute winner. Interestingly he could face his tag team partner ZSJ in the second round if he progresses.
Previous best – 1 x Winner (2015)
Ibushi’s 4th time entering the New Japan Cup
The layout of Wrestle Kingdom 14’s Double Gold Dash inevitably meant that one of the four men included would be losing twice in the Tokyo Dome and that cross fell on Ibushi to bear.
That weight on a lesser man would make them crumble, but Ibushi is no normal man. He’s the Golden Star and he is shining bright once again, having won the IWGP Tag Team Championship and now has plans to stun his opponents and win the Cup for a second time.
Ibushi is one of only 5 men to win the New Japan Cup during their tournament debut. But since his win of the 2015 Cup it has been an unkind time of year for him, as he was knocked out in the second round by Zack Sabre Jr. in his previous Cup efforts in 2018 and 2019.
Ibushi may need to channel the darker side of his persona that we see rear it’s volatile head on big occasions if he wishes to progress further this year than his last 2 attempts.
Zack Sabre Jr.
Previous best – 1 x Winner (2018)
ZSJ’s 3rd time entering the New Japan Cup
The Technical Wizard won the New Japan Cup in his Cup debut in 2018, becoming only the second foreigner to win the tournament (after Giant Bernard in 2006) and the first British man to lift the Cup.
Last year he made the quarter-finals but the ever cocky Submission Master got too confident and fell to Tananashi. ZSJ is arguably the best tournament wrestler in the world today thanks to his vast repertoire of winning techniques.
From his methodical submissions to constricted pinning combinations, he can seize a win at any moment. Zack has his eyes set on winning IWPG gold for the first time in his career having already taking aim at Jon Moxley’s IWGP US Heavyweight Championship and Kota Ibushi’s and Hiroshi Tanahashi’s newly won IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships.
First up, on the Suzuki-Gun member’s hit-list is becoming only the fifth man to win the Cup more than once. Zack has a perfect record against Ibushi in the New Japan Cup but outside the Cup Ibushi holds all the victories.
Previous best – Quarter-Finalist (2008)
3rd time entering the New Japan Cup
Taguchi enters the Cup as the only junior heavyweight with previous experience in the field. He competed last year and made it to the second round where he was stopped by Tanahashi, the same man who also ended his tournament hopes in 2008.
Against a different opponent in the first round he may have been a favourite to make it out of the gates, but unfortunately for him, he is coming up against a favourite to win the entire tournament.
Previous best – 1 x Finalist (2019)
SANADA’s 4th time entering the New Japan Cup
SANADA is seemingly on the cusp of greatness. His loss in the finals to Okada last year set off a spectacular series of matches between the pair. They would meet 4 times in singles action in 2019, even earning the coveted Tokyo Sports Match of the Year award for their battle at King of Pro Wrestling.
SANADA ended with a one-three record against Okada for the year but was firmly established as a top contender in New Japan. However 2020 has not been kind for the LIJ man, starting with a defeat at Wrestle Kingdom 14 followed by a loss to Jay White at The New Beginning.
He is the only member of Los Ingobernables de Japon to not currently hold any Championship.
His efforts in the Cup have progressed as best as any person could hope, with each year being better than the last. 2017 he made it to the second round; 2018 he made it to the semi-finals; 2019 he made it to the finals. If he continues his upward year on year trend then SANADA will be facing his LIJ comrade for gold at Dominion.
Previous best – N/A
His New Japan Cup debut
The powerhouse of the junior heavyweight division has his ideal opponent in the first round. This match took place at Best of Super Juniors 26 and was one of the stand outs of the entire tournament, with Shingo taking the win on that occasion.
With a win SHO will assert himself as the first to challenge for Shingo’s championship and he will become only the second junior to defeat Shingo in a New Japan ring, the first being Will Ospreay.
Both men have the frightening combination of power and speed that is incredibly hard to replicate. This is guaranteed to be one of the best matches of the first round, if not the entire tournament.
Previous best – N/A
His New Japan Cup debut
One of the most ferocious wrestlers in the world today, Shingo is as formidable as they come.
The current NEVER Openweight Champion has an outlandish combination of speed and power that helped him go undefeated for 8 months, from his debut in October 2018 to his first defeat which came at the hands of Will Ospreay during the Best of Super Juniors final in June 2019. Since then he has made the jump to heavyweight and competed in the G1 Climax but this will be his New Japan Cup debut.
It would be expected that the Dragon Shingo would burn through his opponents and make some serious headway in the brackets but he finds himself in the mostly hotly contested section of the entire tournament. A win against Shingo could lead to a match against his LIJ ally SANADA in the second round.
Previous best – 2 x Semi-Finalist (2005 & 2007)
Tenzan’s 10th time entering the New Japan Cup
Tenzan has not made it past the first round since 2011. Last year even saw him eliminated by Taguchi, a rare case of a junior defeating a heavyweight. He may be a four time IWGP Heavyweight Champion but much like his TenCozy tag team partner Kojima, he has found little success in the New Japan Cup. He had made it to the semi-finals twice but on one of those occasions he didn’t even compete until the semi-finals!
His efforts in 2006 allowed him a bye to the second round of the 2007 Cup but then an injured Shinsuke Nakamura would have to forfeit his quarter-final match with Tenzan, pushing Tenzan straight through to the semi-finals. The record books may say that Tenzan made the semi-finals but he also lost his first and only match in the tournament that year.
Previous best – 1 x Quarter Finalist (2019)
YOSHI-HASHI’s 7th time entering the New Japan Cup
Everything’s coming up YOSHI-HASHI! He had never made any progress in the New Japan Cup until last year, having been eliminated in the first round on all five occasions. But last year he made it to the quarter-finals and lost to Ishii in one of the hardest fought battles of his career.
If he can equal his previous best and make the quarter-finals again this year it would be deservedly earned. Tenzan and YOSHI-HASHI have met more than 40 times in the past but never in a singles match.
Previous best – N/A
His New Japan Cup Debut
A rivalry that is usually confined to the tag team division is making a rare appearance in the singles arena. YOH’s single experience is confined to Best of the Super Juniors given tag team success with SHO as Roppongi 3K is his foremost goal. Both members of R3K find themselves against LIJ opposition in the first round of the Cup, with YOH’s partner SHO taking on Shingo. The winner of this match will meet either former IWGP Heavyweight Champion Hiroyoshi Tenzan or YOSHI-HASHI in the second round.
Previous best – N/A
His New Japan Cup debut
The masked LIJ man comes up against an opponent he is all too familiar with. BUSHI, alongside Shingo, spent many months battling Roppongi 3K for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships and although this is a singles match, a victory for BUSHI may help get him back in prime position for challenging for those titles again. Both men hold a singles victory over the other so this match will be the tie-breaker.
Previous best – Second Round (2016)
Kojima’s 7th time entering the New Japan Cup
Surprisingly Kojima has only made it past the first round once in his 6 previous attempts. Despite winning the 2010 G1 Climax and being a two time IWGP Heavyweight Champion he has never found his footing during the New Japan Cup. Recently teaming with Manabu Nakanishi during his retirement matches allowed him and all the New Japan Dads to show the world that they can still keep up with the best.
On February 20, a 10-man tag match at Korakuen Hall ended when Kojima hit EVIL with a huge Cozy Lariat to get the three count, a loss that EVIL will not have forgotten.
Previous best – 1 x Semi Finalist (2017)
EVIL’s 4th time entering the New Japan Cup
The LIJ man has not found much success in singles action this year despite being dominant as one of the current holders of the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Championship. Of his three times previously entering the Cup he has lost in the first round twice.
Most notable of those losses was last year; prior to the start of the Cup he was a true contender to make the finals but was sharply eliminated by Zack Sabre Jr. With EVIL’s lacklustre start to singles competition this year he will have to quickly shift things into his favour if he has any hope of making a dent in the stiff competition across the board.
As he often reminds us “Everything is Evil”.
So, will that include the New Japan Cup this year?
Previous best – 3 x Winner (2009, 2010 & 2012), record holder
Goto’s 13th time entering the New Japan Cup
Goto holds the record for winning the New Japan Cup more than anybody else but lost in all three of his challenges for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship that followed to Tanahashi, Nakamura and Okada. He has reached the finals a further three times, making him a six time finalist, another record that he holds.
Despite his impressive record, last year saw Goto eliminated in the first round by SANADA, the first time he had been eliminated straight away since 2011. But interestingly, he would then go on to win the Cup the following year in 2012. A first round loss one year was eclipsed by his triumph the following year…Could history repeat itself?
Previous best – Second Round (2010, 2013, 2015)
10th time entering the New Japan Cup
Yujiro is essentially a New Japan Cup veteran but has never made it past the second round. The Bullet Club man hasn’t had any success in the Cup but he does have a history with the current Double Champion.
He combined forces with Tetsuya Naito to form the No Limit tag team and they won both the IWGP Heavyweight and Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships during their time together.
Since then Yujiro has been left in the shadow of Naito. Naito has gone on to unprecedented heights, the peak for Yujiro was his NEVER Openweight Championship win in in 2014.
Goto knocked Yujiro out of the Cup during the 2010 and 2012 Cup and now they meet in the first round again. With Goto’s impressive record in both the New Japan Cup and against Yujiro, it looks almost certain that Goto will progress to the second round.
You can find me on Twitter @CiaranRH. Thanks for reading.