Night Three of the New Japan Cup was always going to be a tough act to follow, and indeed Night Four looked to be one of the weakest rounds on paper. But with reliable stalwarts like EVIL, Satoshi Kojima, Hirooki Goto and, er, YOSHI-HASHI on the card, there was every chance it’d pull something great out of the bag. So, did it deliver? Let’s find out.
New Japan Cup First Round Match: YOH vs BUSHI
Roppongi 3K stablemate SHO had an absolute banger of a match on Night 3. Replete with brand new entrance music, it seemed as though YOH was finally poised to make his long-overdue singles push. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, everything. I am the biggest Roppongi 3K stan around, and even I have to admit this match was uncharacteristically mediocre from both competitors. The match opened with plenty of energy, but it quickly dwindled. It seems that YOH tweaked his knee on a plancha early on in the match, slowing the pace to a crawl. What followed was a poorly-paced match full of badly-executed moves and little to no chemistry – unusual for these two, who have a rich history to play off of.
It wasn’t all bad, but you instinctively expect a lot more from a veteran like BUSHI and a high-energy performer like YOH. An unfortunate blip. BUSHI eventually took YOH out with the MX, but the real star of this match was the Young Lion responding enthusiatically to YOH’s attempts to fire up the invisible crowd. A disappointment for R3K fans everywhere, but at least we still have SHO.
New Japan Cup First Round Match: Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs YOSHI-HASHI
I mean. It is what it is, isn’t it? A New Japan Dad versus NJPW’s greatest tryer. And they say God loves a tryer. That must be why luck was on YOSHI-HASHI’s side. All jokes aside, this was a surprisingly solid match which I went into with low expectations. YOSHI-HASHI looks more comfortable and confident when he doesn’t have a crowd to play to, and that rare vitality really suits him.
A barrage of Tenzan headbutts ensued, but HASHI held firm, delivering a series of thunderous chops to the New Japan veteran. Both men even took to the top rope – a Tenzan moonsault and a Y-H Swanton served as unexpected high spots in a match with plenty of energy. An Anaconda Vice looked certain to take YOSHI-HASHI down, but he held out and fought back, locking in the Butterfly Lock for the win.
Four-man tag: SHO, Toru Yano, Tomohiro Ishii and Kazuchika Okada def. Hiromu Takahashi, Shingo Takagi, SANADA and Tetsuya Naito
New Japan Cup First Round Match: Hirooki Goto vs Yujiro Takahashi
Next up, NJPW’s Most Underrated vs The Other Takahashi. Yujiro wins points for having perhaps the worst entrance theme in all of New Japan Pro Wrestling, while Goto is sporting some new and very tasteful ring attire. In a match best described as ‘perfectly adequate’, both men put in the requisite amount of effort – it’s rare to see Yujiro actually put the work in, so this made for a nice change.
Much like the preceding match, this was never going to set the world on fire, but Goto is never anything less than solid in the ring, and if there was a little Jado trickery, well, at least it kept things interesting. Highlights included Yujiro delivering a Fisherman Buster from the top rope, plus a frankly brutal looking Miami Shine. Goto shut things down with a GTW swiftly followed by a GTR. Gotta love those acronyms.
(A compelling argument could be made that there is absolutely no need for a Yujiro Takahashi singles match to go for longer than ten minutes, but that’s beside the point.)
New Japan Cup First Round Match: Satoshi Kojima vs EVIL
Bread lovers of the world unite! Everyone’s favourite New Japan Dad took on LIJ’s own Prince of Darkness in the final match of the night. This is one match that would really have benefitted from a live crowd; Kojima’s abundant charisma feels a little lost when he’s emoting into the void.
Still, it was the best match of the night, and not just because the others were comparatively weak. EVIL is in my view the most underrated of the LIJ lads; a perfect blend of strong and athletic, he’s an excellent foil for the brute strength of Kojima. Witness him selling Kojima’s patented lariat like absolute death.
Bread Dad has still got it. Although he and Tenzan are noticeably slower than they used to be, they still bring 100% in terms of effort, and it makes matches like this feel so much more high-stakes; sure, EVIL is younger, faster and sexier*, but you can’t argue with experience, and Kojma’s arsenal is honed to a fine point. To wit: a barrage of shoulder blocks, lariats and machine-gun chops wore EVIL down effectively in the initial stages of the match.
But youth will out, and EVIL’s speed, creativity and determination soon saw him break through. Taking advantage of a missed plancha, EVIL targetted Kojima’s arm (in which all of his power resides), tangling it up in a chair and smashing it against the ring post.
From then on it was a battle for control. Kojima mounted a brave comeback following a hard-hitting apron DDT, and for a while it looked like he might just clinch it after all. But EVIL had an answer for everything: two KojiCutters were countered with Darkness Falls. He bounced back from a brainbuster with a frankly ingenious one-man Magic Killer, drafting in an unwitting Red Shoes. And STILL Kojima would not stay down.
It wasn’t to be, though. Kojima went to deliver a lariat but was reversed into Everything Is EVIL. And that, as they say, is all she wrote.
*I said what I said.
Easily the weakest night of New Japan Cup action; if you’re running low on time, you can afford to skip this one in its entirety. It says something when the four-man tag was the most entertaining match on the card. Still, the main event is worth a punt, and we’ve got Toru Yano vs Hiromu Takahashi to look forward to, so perhaps Night Five will prove the antidote to tonight’s rather sluggish performances.
All media courtesy of NJPW