For the past few weeks, I’ve been looking ahead and making predictions for the qualifying rounds of the New Japan Cup USA and seeing how I’ve done against the actual results. Week 1, my predictions didn’t fare well, with only one correct from the actual results. Last week, was a big improvement, with my preview being 100% accurate as NJPW Strong aired! So, I stand at 4-2 overall, with 3-1 in the actual qualifiers. Not a bad position, but I’m eager to continue my success.
This Friday sees another two qualifiers and a tough challenge for a Young Lion taking on a formidable opponent making his return to NJPW Strong after a run of (mainly) success in Japan so far this month.
Alex Coughlin returned to NJPW Strong two weeks ago as the Road to Strong Style Evolved started – teaming with Karl Fredericks to gain a victory over fellow Young Lions, Clark Connors, and Kevin Knight. Coughlin had spent significant time on the shelf with a neck injury, and (due to Clark Connors’ graduation) became The Captain of the L.A. Dojo while he was out of action. He was impressive in his return, showing the world his injury has healed with a series of bridges out of pins and into submissions. He showed fire and intensity, even squaring up to his partner to show his determination to make a mark on what he will see as ‘his’ show. The most impressive part of Coughlin’s showing was lifting both of his opponents for a double gut-wrench side-slam. Coughlin has admitted his absence was a dark period for him, but he’s back and better than ever.
Jeff Cobb hasn’t been on NJPW Strong for almost three months. His last match proved to be fateful for Rust Taylor, whose “white belt performance” saw him kicked out of Team Filthy and banished from New Japan Pro-Wrestling of America. Cobb, meanwhile, headed to Japan to win 24 of his last 27 matches – albeit most of those were tag matches as part of The United Empire. He did manage to make it through the first round of the New Japan Cup, defeating Satoshi Kojima, but lost to EVIL in the second round. Cobb’s almost inhuman power and strength have been on show in recent weeks, as he’s thrown around opponents as if they were stuffed toys.
As much as I liked seeing Coughlin’s fire and fight two weeks ago, I think Jeff Cobb is too much, too soon for The Captain. Coughlin will no doubt be looking at his tag team partner from episode 30, Karl Fredericks, who graduated from Young Lion’s status after a battle against Cobb. But Cobb won’t have forgotten that, and will not take Alex lightly – he knows how good a trainer Katsuyori Shibata is, and how dangerous the L.A. Dojo athletes are. Both men are extremely powerful and athletic, so there will be some standout moments for sure. However, I can’t see past Cobb’s experience and Coughlin’s relative ring rust after so long out leading to a Jeff Cobb victory.
New Japan Cup USA 2021 Qualifying Match:
Ren Narita comes into this match off the back of an incredibly hard-fought victory over Chris Dickinson at night 2 of New Beginning in USA. Narita is on excursion at the L.A. Dojo at the end of his Young Lion status, but Shibata is seemingly unhappy with what he’s learned so far in Japan. Shibata has demanded more emotion and expression out of Narita and got that three weeks ago. Nobody expected Shibata to survive long against Dickinson, let alone make The Dirty Daddy submit. But Narita not only managed both, he looked impressive at the same time. His chops were lethal, and the transitions between submissions look way beyond his experience. Narita will see the New Japan Cup USA tournament as not only a development opportunity to face some of the best in NJoA, but also the chance to show Shibata, and the rest of NJPW, how far he’s come.
Misterioso has had a relatively quiet, but successful, 2021 so far. Victorious in a dominating performance against Barrett Brown, he has followed that with being on the winning side in eight-man and six-man tag team action. Big Papi Pump, as Alex Koslov likes to call him, has recently shown a more vicious side to his repertoire, using his size and power advantage well against smaller opponents. But don’t let that fool you, he is incredibly agile for his size and wrestles a luchador style that Narita is largely unfamiliar with. Misterioso not only hits hard but from different angles.
This is going to be a close match, but I would expect Narita’s desire to impress to drive him forward. He’s already proved he can overcome bigger and stronger opponents and will want to continue that momentum to enter the tournament proper.
Well, now, this matchup makes me happy. I could watch these two in the ring repeatedly – whether as a tag team or against each other.
Brody King has a history in last year’s New Japan Cup USA but will want to forget his first-round defeat at the hands of Tama Tonga. He comes into this match with a mixed record so far in 2021. Recently he’s formed an alliance with The Riegel Twins, and has brought out an aggression in the duo, but has tasted defeat twice and victory only once in tag matches alongside them. King did pick up a significant win over JR Kratos on the Road to Lions Break Contender in a brutal battle and will look to build on this against his former tag team partner.
Bateman picked up a win over Clark Connors on the Road to New Beginning and has been victorious in eight-man tag action. However, he tasted defeat on his debut at the hands of Ren Narita, and Connors pushed him hard – in Bateman’s own words “he made me beat him, and for a cruel man like myself, that’s all you want”. Still an enigma to most NJoA fans, he won’t have the same air of mystery to someone who knows him very well.
Brody King and Bateman spent a large part of 2018 as a tag team. Whether you saw them as The Freakshow or Violence Unlimited, their intensity, power, and ability to absorb pain were on display regularly. King’s power and strength perfectly complimented Bateman’s technicality and unorthodox approach to wrestling. They have also crossed paths as opponents, with Bateman having a superior record over King. In fact, the only time King has pinned Bateman was in a three-way match back in September 2017. They renewed their acquaintance with each other on episode 26 of NJPW Strong, on opposite sides of an eight-man tag team match, but didn’t really renew hostilities.
Thankfully, for us fans at least, we don’t have to wait that long to see them lock horns. Both men will look to finish this as quickly as possible, as they know what the other is capable of. King has the edge in a straight-up fight, but Bateman has an advantage on the mat. That said, they will have counters for each other’s counters, so the rule book could be thrown right out of the window. This could go either way, but King’s desire to avenge his loss in the 2020 New Japan Cup USA tournament, and to get a proper shot at the NJPW United States Heavyweight Championship (after being defeated by KENTA for the Challengers Briefcase) should see him come out on top.
No matter which way this goes, this won’t be the last time we see King and Bateman in an NJPW ring together. I, for one, welcome any future engagements, and hope this is the start of some beautiful brutality!
New Japan Pro-Wrestling STRONG –Strong Style Evolved airs on Friday, March 19, 2021 (10 pm ET, 9 pm CT, 7 pm PT in America) / Saturday, March 20, 2021 (3 am GMT in the UK / 12 noon JST in Japan), available on New Japan World and Fite.TV.