(Editor’s Note: So we were meant to have a review of Night 2 but quite frankly, who needs to read it to know two simple things: Suzuki vs Nagata ruled, Gedo vs Okada was trash. Anyway, next round also has Kanemaru vs Ishimori as a result of them getting a bye AKA facing a young lion. Enjoy Chris’ review below y’all.)

Night Three of the New Japan Cup has some absolute classics on paper. Zack Sabre Jr. vs Kota Ibushi and Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Taichi had a lot of personal issues going on leading into them, as well as some huge potential for some great moments. Also, SHO vs Shingo Takagi is another that could give us a huge upset if SHO manages to win. It’s so good to have NJPW back, and this is only the first round!

Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, El Desperado, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & DOUKI) vs Gabriel Kidd, Yuya Uemura, Yota Tsuji, & Yuji Nagata

Oh, how I have missed Suzuki-Gun. Although they spent much less time attacking their opponents outside the ring before the bell rang, they were just as calculated as ever. DOUKI got worked over early on, but it didn’t last long before they were back outside, with Suzuki choking Nagata next to the ring. Back inside, Suzuki brutalised Uemura, and the entirety of Suzuki-gun teamed up to take Nagata down – Suzuki clearly not impressed by being eliminated by him the other day.

El Desperado was the victim of some nice double teamwork by Kidd and Tsuji, with Tsuji locking in a Boston crab after a spear. With everyone fighting outside, Desperado managed to finish off Tsuji with the Pinche Loco for the win, following a huge slap. It wasn’t a particularly long or decent match, but a win for Suzuki-gun is a win for everyone in my book.

Winners: Suzuki-gun

New Japan Cup First Round Match: SANADA vs Ryusuke Taguchi

If you were planning on watching today’s New Japan Cup and were a little sleepy, the start of this match would be the perfect time to have a little snooze. Honestly, it was very slow-burner. Both men were playing mind games with each other, leading to duelling Paradise Locks being applied. Poor man’s Yano used his ‘Funky Weapon’ to attack SANADA as he was stuck in the ropes, and as he picked up further momentum, he landed a triangle plancha to SANADA outside the ring.

Taguchi dropkicked SANADA to his knees, then used an ankle lock four separate times, however, he was unsuccessful with each one. SANADA tried to connect with Skull End for the second time of the match, but Taguchi managed to reverse and try to pin him, almost getting a three count. SANADA hit an atomic drop, then secured his victory with a roll-up pin. It got much better, but it was easily the worst match of the night.

Winner: SANADA

New Japan Cup First Round Match: SHO vs Shingo Takagi

This was always going to be a good one, but SHO and Shingo Takagi gave it everything to make it stand out amongst every other match on the card. Takagi’s brute strength proved too much at times, but the resilience of SHO won out in the end.

An explosive start saw SHO come out swinging, hitting clothesline after clothesline until Takagi well to the mat. He continued his assault on Takagi with some blistering kicks to his back and chest. They traded blows until Takagi’s strength proved too much, shaking off a dropkick and hitting a clothesline to SHO that sent him outside. He Irish whipped SHO into the barriers and landed a picture-perfect DDT to the black padding. The experience of Takagi started to show, as SHO struggled to get back to his feet, even after entering the ring.

SHO fought back with some strikes, but Takagi took them all, striking back much harder, although SHO got a bit of respite after delivering a suplex in the middle of the ring. SHO hit a spear and went for a pin, but only managed a two count. Takagi fought back hard, flooring SHO with a huge lariat, but SHO played possum and went for an armbar, which Takagi managed to deadlift SHO up and slam him to the ground.

SHO saw red and hit a couple of German suplexes, but again, Takagi was right there ready to knock him down. SHO managed to deliver the Power Breaker whilst Takagi was on the top turnbuckle, but only managed a two count. After a huge lariat and a German suplex, SHO still couldn’t pick up the win.

Takagi left SHO disorientated after the Pumping Bomber, but only reached a two count by the referee. This was insane! SHO went for a piledriver and hit it, followed by the Shock Arrow for the win. What. A. Match. These two guys gave it everything, and now SHO is advancing to the second round, I really hope he goes all the way.

Winner: SHO

New Japan Cup First Round Match: Kota Ibushi vs Zack Sabre Jr.

The submission specialist Zack Sabre Jr. started off by trying to wear Ibushi down the only way he knows how, but Ibushi did a decent job with some reversals. ZSJ goaded Ibushi into kicking his legs, to which he obliged, but it led to a leg lock. He continued to work both legs and ankles, but Ibushi managed to grab the ropes.

Ibushi hit a kick to ZSJ’s chest, followed by a standing moonsault. The perfect specimen of a man Ibushi continued to beat down Sabre Jr., but it led to the two battling outside after a little sulk from the former Rev Pro champ. ZSJ spent much of the match using his technical arsenal to wear down Ibushi, but Ibushi’s brute force continued to get him out of some tough situations.

As always, ZSJ put on a submission masterclass. Ibushi was struggling, holding his right knee as Sabre Jr. continued to work on it. Ibushi deadlifted ZSJ into a powerbomb, then hit an overhead Pele kick. After a little back and forth, Ibushi hit a surprise Kamigoye for the win. I guess it went down how I thought it would, but I expected a bit more from Ibushi’s vast move set. I guess if anyone can drain the life out of you and close you down, it’s Zack Sabre Jr, and Ibushi was clearly knackered after the match.

Winner: Kota Ibushi

New Japan Cup First Round Match: Taichi vs Hiroshi Tanahashi

This match had been a long time coming, especially after the new IWGP Tag Team Champions being attacked after NJ Road Stage Three by Taichi and Zack Sabre Jr. The main event had a much slower pace, but every move felt like it hurt. Before the bell had even rung, Taichi powerbombed Tanahashi as he posed on the turnbuckle. Ringside staff and Red Shoes checked to see if he was alright, but Taichi kept interfering with them. When he did get back to his feet, Taichi superkicked him in the head, and back to the floor he went.

Tanahashi rolled out of the ring, but DOUKI was there to attack him whilst the referee was distracted. Taichi arrived outside and started choking Ace with camera wires, but there was no Ibushi in site. Tanahashi did all he could to fight back, but Taichi was in full control. He grabbed a chair and thrust it into Tanahashi’s stomach, then delivered another blow into his face.

It was looking pretty bleak for the current tag team champ until he gained a bit of momentum after catching Taichi with a Dragon Screw. The two traded blows in the ring, with both kicks and punches, but again, Taichi was the better man, finishing the exchange with a backdrop driver. Tanahashi got back to his feet and started to show more shades of his greatness, reversing a potential backdrop driver into a sling blade. After a swinging neckbreaker and a fully executed sling blade, Tanahashi only managed a two count.

After High Fly Flow, DOUKI got back on the apron and tried to distract Tanahashi again, which allowed Taichi to hit a low blow and pin attempt, but Tanahashi kicked out. Taichi then hit a superkick, followed by the Black Destroyer to pick up the win.

Following the match, Taichi continued to attack Tanahashi, and DOUKI jumped in the ring to stop anyone helping him. Ibushi ran down and helped clear the ring, only for Taichi to re-enter and square off against his opponent in the next round. This led to Ibushi getting smacked with the IWGP Tag Team belt, followed by the same treatment on Tanahashi. The show ended with Taichi placing his foot on both Ibushi and Tanahashi, who were lying on top of each other in the ring.

Winner: Taichi

Although the SANADA match was weak, I rather enjoyed the rest of the show. Takagi and SHO put on a great performance and was hands down the best of the bunch. This was the first night of the New Japan Cup I’ve managed to watch, and whilst I’ve heard good things about the others, I’m sure this had the best match so far. SHO vs SANADA and Kota Ibushi vs Taichi are two matches I’m keen to watch, and the thought of SHO vs Ibushi makes me very happy.

All media courtesy of NJPW