Kevin Kelly and NJPW of America CEO, Takami Ohbari, hosted a press conference (watch below) yesterday to announce NJPW STRONG will see NJPW’s best compete every single Friday night starting August 7 at 10 PM ET (3 AM BST) on NJPW World. Starting NJPW STRONG will be the first-ever New Japan Cup USA tournament. An eight-man single-elimination tournament contested over three weeks on STRONG, the winner will be granted a future opportunity to challenge for the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship.
Episode one will see all four first-round matchups, with the lineup as follows:
- Karl Fredericks vs KENTA (First singles meeting)
Originally planned for the first round of the New Japan Cup in Japan when it was first announced in March, Karl Fredericks finally takes on KENTA one on one in the opening round of New Japan Cup USA. Since the Japanese version of the New Japan Cup was postponed, Karl Fredericks has undergone a significant transformation, leaving behind the Young Lion black trunks and coming into his own with a new appearance and attitude.
Although that new attitude was brought into check by Jeff Cobb at the season finale of Lion’s Break Collision, Fredericks is nonetheless in peak form going into this bout with KENTA, and with strong personal motivation. The influence of Katsuyori Shibata on Fredericks is no secret, and KENTA’s betrayal of his former best friend to join BULLET CLUB almost one year ago is still fresh in the young ‘Alpha’s’ memory. Throughout Lion’s Break Collision, Fredericks was insistent that the faction system at play in New Japan Pro-Wrestling was not for him, and that he wouldn’t be rushing to join a group for acceptance in the same way that he feels his first-round opponent had.
- Jeff Cobb vs Tanga Loa (First singles meeting)
Originally scheduled to face Togi Makabe and David Finlay respectively when the New Japan Cup was originally announced for Japan, Jeff Cobb and Tanga Loa now face off in the first round of New Japan Cup USA. A former six-time IWGP Tag Team Champion, Tanga Loa’s singles record is a bigger question; believe it or not, this will be Tanga Loa’s second-ever singles match in NJPW, and the first in three years (for the record, that first match in New Japan Cup 2017 against Yuji Nagata ended in a loss).
For his part, Jeff Cobb is on fine form, having scored a hard-fought victory over Karl Fredericks in the main event of Lion’s Break Collision’s season finale. Already with NJPW tournament experience after last year’s G1 Climax saw him to a respectable eight points, Cobb is defeated one on one in NJPW thus far this year between New Beginning in USA and Lion’s Break Collision, and he’s looking to ride that wave on the way to a Tour of the Islands for one half of GoD.
- David Finlay vs Chase Owens (Singles record: 1-0 Owens)
The only pairing in the New Japan Cup that isn’t a first time meeting, Chase Owens and David Finlay’s sole singles meeting was nevertheless way back in 2016, and ‘Big Match Debbie’ has progressed a long way since his defeat to BULLET CLUB’s Crown Jewel all those years ago in Iwate.
That said, his proudest achievements of World Tag League 2019 victory and the IWGP Tag Team Championships have been attained with Juice Robinson at his side. With the Flamboyant One injured for the time being and taking the “every man for himself” format of the New Japan Cup into account, Finlay must deliver in only his second singles match since returning from a shoulder injury in late 2019.
Appropriately enough that singles contest was a battle for the IWGP (United States Heavyweight Championship against then-titleholder Lance Archer; Finlay now gets a chance to reset and start another drive for the red and gold. Owens is no opponent to be looked past, however; the canny in-ring style and ability to bend the rules in his favour could make Owens the dark horse of this tournament; don’t forget that in last year’s New Japan Cup a victory over Juice put Owens on his own path to challenge for the United States title last spring. Both men will be highly motivated to move on in the cup and leave a solid mark on NJPW STRONG in the process.
- Brody King vs Tanga Loa (First singles meeting)
The final first-round matchup sees ROH’s Brody King face off against Tama Tonga. NJPW fans were first introduced to Brody King during last year’s Best of the Super Juniors tour, where his incredible size, strength and power made his Lucha influenced style and high flying ability all the more impressive. Now on STRONG King has the opportunity to make sure his name is on the lips of every NJPW fan once more.
Standing in his way is Tama Tonga. The fourth BULLET CLUB member in as many first-round matchups, Tonga is no doubt intent on ensuring that the Cup, and subsequently the IWGP US Heavyweight Championship, makes its way to the faction by any means necessary. Should the ‘Good Bad Guy’ himself make take that spot, so much the better for Tonga.
EVIL’s defection from Los Ingobernables De Japon at the New Japan Cup finals in Osaka Jo Hall sent shockwaves throughout New Japan Pro-Wrestling. Among the controversies caused was the fact EVIL was a NEVER 6-Man Openweight Tag Team Champion at the time, along with LIJ teammates BUSHI and Shingo Takagi.
At the post-Dominion press conference, the King of Darkness made it very clear he had no interest in retaining his title, and the 6-Man titles have been vacated. As a result, new champions will be crowned in Korakuen Hall in the August 6-9 Summer Struggle events, with an eight-team tournament taking place.
Here are the Tournament entrants:
- CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada, SHO & Toru Yano) – Combined NEVER 6-Man reigns: 4
After Toru Yano proved to be the difference-maker in a CHAOS vs BULLET CLUB tag team encounter on July 31 in Korakuen, he now joins SHO and Okada in a trio. Yano is an experienced NEVER 6-Man champion with four reigns with different partners over the years, but SHO and Okada seek their first reign; indeed Okada has never held any championship in NJPW other than the IWGP Heavyweight. As Okada broadens the horizons of pro-wrestling with KOPW2020 this summer, this would be another new experience for the Rainmaker.
- BULLET CLUB (Yujiro Takahashi, Jado & Gedo) – Combined NEVER 6-Man reigns:1
Only one NEVER 6-Man Championship reign between this BULLET CLUB trio, and even then, one of the title’s shortest, a three-day reign for Yujiro alongside Bad Luck Fale and Tama Tonga in February of 2016. Jado and Gedo have never held the NEVER gold, and in fact, are looking for their first championships in NJPW in over 13 years when they were last IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions. Do not doubt the connections and teamwork that the World Class Tag Team possess, however, nor their ability to break every rule in the book on the way to success.
- Los Ingobernables De Japon (Shingo Takagi, SANADA & BUSHI) – Combined NEVER 6-Man reigns: 8
One can’t doubt the championship pedigree of the LIJ trio in this tournament. Four reigns for BUSHI, three of which coming with SANADA and one with Shingo, certainly gives this team a ton of credibility. Pushing them over the edge to make favourites for the tournament though is the fact that Shingo Takagi and BUSHI were two-thirds of the 6-Man champions before EVIL defected in the first place. Add that almost supernatural non-verbal communication that LIJ members seem to always have, and smart money goes on this trio.
- Suzuki-Gun (Minoru Suzuki, El Desperado & DOUKI) – Combined NEVER 6-Man reigns: 0
No championship history for this Suzuki-Gun trio does not mean for a second that they shouldn’t be feared. El Desperado certainly showed that he has the NEVER style fighting spirit when he battled Shingo Takagi for the singles NEVER Openweight Championship at Sengoku Lord, and Minoru Suzuki has his own history with NEVER. The NEVER label has a reputation for hard-hitting, anything goes battles and this Suzuki-Gun trio is the embodiment of the toughness needed to survive.
- Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi & Master Wato – Combined NEVER 6-Man reigns: 3
Three combined reigns for this trio all come from Hiroshi Tanahashi in different combinations over the years, the last coming in 2017. The question lingering around this tournament is whether the Ace is still in any kind of championship-winning state; ever since a convincing defeat at Dominion saw Golden☆Ace relived of the IWGP Tag Team Championships, Tanahashi has been in rough form. It seems as if wins for hontai against Suzuki-Gun have come in spite, rather than because of, Tanahashi’s presence, and Kota Ibushi has grown increasingly frustrated with the Ace’s crisis of confidence. With Wato having a similar kick based style to Ibushi, chemistry could be strong; one has to wonder though whether this tournament is the last chance for Ibushi and Tanahashi.
- Suzuki-Gun (Zack Sabre Junior, Taichi & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) – Combined NEVER 6-Man reigns: 0
No NEVER 6-Man Championship experience belies the fact that this is one of the most solid trios in the tournament when it comes to pure teamwork. Dangerous Tekkers’ IWGP Tag Team Championships are proof of that, as is Yoshinobu Kanemaru’s history as one of the longest-reigning IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions of all time. The three will be looking for any excuse to expand Suzuki-Gun’s collection of gold.
- Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma & Ryusuke Taguchi – Combined NEVER 6-Man reigns: 4
Taguchi Japheel? Great Bash Taguchi? No matter, this trio of veterans will have fun in the ring but dole out damage to match. Taguchi has been the key man behind three NEVER championship-winning teams, and one cannot question his credentials as a player-manager. More 6-Man gold could well be in reach.
- CHAOS (Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii & YOSHI-HASHI) – Combined NEVER 6-Man reigns: 1
They might only have one NEVER 6-Man Championship reign between them, and that being for just one day as Tomohiro Ishii formed a shortlived championship team with Beretta and Toru Yano, but this could be a dark horse trio to look out for. Any pairing of this trio would make for an effective tag team, and indeed has done in the past, most recently when Ishii and YOSHI-HASHI had a strong World Tag League showing last year. Don’t bet against this CHAOS trio.
All pics and videos courtesy of NJPW and NJPW of USA