As reported yesterday the brackets (below) have been announced for the upcoming NJPW IWGP US Heavyweight Tournament which takes place on 1st July in Long Beach, California. The tournament will crown the inaugural Champion and features a host of International talent including three Americans (Page, Lethal, Robinson), two Japanese (Ishii & Naito), two Canadians (Omega & Elgin) and one Brit (Sabre Jr).
The eight men vowing to become the first ever NJPW IWGP US Heavyweight Champion may be familiar to the New Japan crowd but not all of them may be familiar to a more mainstream audience, and so I have devised a short summary of the eight competitors along with my predictions on who I think will win ahead of what promises to be an exciting two days of New Japan action;
Without discrediting the tournament too much, I genuinely think that having Omega win it is a bit below him right now. Omega has been stealing headlines with his feud with Omega for the NJPW IWGP Heavyweight Title and the pair have put on two of the best matches of the year already. He really doesn’t need this Title to get over anymore. I could see him being used as a great springboard victory for the eventual winner depending on what direction they are going with it and if done well would certainly not harm his position as one of the best main eventer workers in the World right now.
Elgin is a big favourite with the Japanese crowd and is probably more over in Japan than he is on the independent scene in the States. I am a big fan of his work and definitely think that he is a contender to either win the Title or failing that get very far in the tournament. A win over Omega in his first tournament match is going to be hard to achieve but if he is able to get past Omega then I really think he is one of a couple of guys who could do some solid work as NJPW IWGP US Heavyweight Champion.
Lethal’s appeal in this one for me is the crossover that he has with RoH which is obviously a key partner to NJPW’s strategy of reaching out to a more International audience. I have never really been blown away by Lethal but you can’t take away his dominance at the top of the RoH roster. He is very well known to the US market as well as the Japanese audience and I hope that we see him kick it into another gear during this tournament. Definitely a name who could win this tournament and drive the US Title but I think there are probably a few names more deserving of victory.
I would have been surprised if we hadn’t had at least one member of the Bullet Club in this tournament and so with the addition of Omega and Hangman Page we get two! It will be interesting to see how far Page progresses in this one and I must confess to not having seen too much of his singles work so am myself intrigued to see what he brings to the party. Page has predominantly been used as a tag team worker in New Japan but like Lethal also offers the crossover with RoH and so could be an outside shout at potential winner. With the Bullet Club’s Worldwide notoriety I certainly wouldn’t write that off as an option.
I would absolutely love to see Juice Robinson get the win and pick up his first big Title of his career. Robinson has been putting in the graft over in Japan and has really come into his own in the last year or so, earning himself an IWGP Intercontinental Title shot against Naito back in April. Robinson, like Elgin is hugely popular in Japan and I really think that he is deserved of a win in this tournament due to the amount of work he has been putting in developing himself in an environment which he has only been competing in for a little under two years.
Zack Sabre Jr
One of the best technical wrestlers on the planet. Period! Sabre Jr has only been with New Japan since February this year and whilst I have hugely enjoyed his work as part of the Suzuki-Gun stable, think it’s probably a bit too early to have him win this Title. I mean American fans will certainly know who is he, but I feel as though there will be an element of wanting to please the Japanese fans which could play a part in deciding who is ultimately victorious. As a fellow Brit I would love Sabre Jr to be successful but I just have a slight hesitation at this stage in his New Japan career. Give it a year or so and I certainly see him as a major contender if not Champion.
Ishii is just a bad, bad man and I absolutely love his hard hitting style. He has a style which he can adapt to take on any opponent which we have seen throughout the last year or so. His first match of the tournament is against Naito which arguably could be match of the tournament and it is going to be a shame to lose either of these men from the tournament at such an early stage. Whist Ishii is hugely popular in Japan I’m not convinced that he appeals to the mass audience which New Japan are targeting with this tournament and so don’t see him winning but could definitely make the semi-finals/finals.
Last weekend Naito was dethroned from the IWGP Intercontinental Title which he had held for 259 days and so he will be keen to get his hands back on to some more gold which he can throw around arenas and generally treat like a piece of dirt. If you have never seen Naito compete in the past you just need to watch his matches which I would argue are consistently great and would go as far to say that he is one of the most consistent main event wrestlers on the planet. I would love to see him victorious in this tournament but like Omega, believe that he is probably at a level above this Title and should be focusing his time on either looking to get back the IC Belt or looking beyond that.
As always interested to get your thoughts on who you see winning the tournament, let me know on twiter @TopRopeTony