The New Japan Cup continued Sunday with a loaded card of opening round matches, including the main event pitting Kota Ibushi against Tetsuya Naito.
The main event did not disappoint with the two putting forth one of the best matches of 2019 and on par with a high-level G1 Climax match. This continued the strong of excellent main events from the first three nights of the tournament following Tomohiro Ishii’s win over Yuji Nagata and Kazuchika Okada defeating Michael Elgin.
It was Ibushi’s first singles match since Wrestle Kingdom and featured Naito attacking Ibushi’s neck to start the contest. Ibushi cut off Naito but was thwarted when attempting the Golden Triangle. Naito further attacked with a draping reverse neck breaker off the turnbuckle onto the edge of the apron and followed up with a brutal-looking tombstone onto the edge.
Ibushi recovered with his own tombstone hooking the legs inside the ring. Naito kicked out of the Last Ride sit-out powerbomb and landed a spinning version of the Destino for a near fall. The audience was on fire for the final minutes as Ibushi rallied after a counter for the Destino and hit a Bom a Ye, Ibushi Driller and then the match-ending Kamigoye. Kota Ibushi defeated Tetsuya Naito at 20:40.
This was outstanding, and I’d rank it ahead of Ishii vs. Nagata as the best match of the tournament after three nights.
Earlier in the show, Zack Sabre Jr. submitted EVIL in 15:34 with Orienteering with Napalm Death. This was another solid match on the show built around EVIL’s nonstop blocking and counters to Zack’s submissions, who had continued to dig deeper and deeper for submissions to catch EVIL with. It was amazing to watch these sequences that would go 3-4 attempts before something caught on. Zack manipulated the fingers in the early portion and was constantly imploring his “quicksand” style of offense. The closing sequence was incredible and ended with Zack applying the Octopus, going down to the mat and advancing the hold to Orienteering with Napalm Death.
In one of the intriguing matches, Hiroshi Tanahashi defeated Shota Umino in 14:49 with the Texas cloverleaf. I loved this match and it did so much for Umino’s stock to bring the fight to Tanahashi and push the legend.
Umino has tremendous fire and his selling is off the charts as he conveys struggle when caught in a submission and fighting to the rope. He has an unmistakable cockiness and it came out in droves as he wasn’t intimidated by Tanahashi and his aura. Umino’s first moral victory was locking on a Boston crab and later applied Tanahashi’s own Texas cloverleaf, which was the symbolic moment of the match and Umino’s big takeaway.
Tanahashi escaped the hold, took it to the next level with the inverted Dragon screw as his own shutdown of Umino and then made him tap to the cloverleaf.
Phenomenal storytelling and this match did not disappoint.
The opening tournament match of the night featured Ryusuke Taguchi defeating Hiroyoshi Tenzan in 12:09. This was the weakest match of the four on Sunday with Taguchi surprising the former IWGP champion with a cradle after Tenzan attempted a top rope head butt.
Taguchi, replacing the injured David Finlay, worked for the hip attack and after missing the first one, Tenzan attacked his butt with a literal head butt and then Mongolian chops to his ass. Taguchi applied the ankle lock several times and escaped the Anaconda Vice.
Here are the second-round matches that are set:
*Tomohiro Ishii vs. Taichi (March 13th)
*Yoshi-Hashi vs. Chase Owens (March 13th)
*Kazuchika Okada vs. Mikey Nicholls (March 14th)
*Will Ospreay vs. Lance Archer (March 14th)
*Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Ryusuke Taguchi (March 16th)
*Kota Ibushi vs. Zack Sabre Jr. (March 16th)
The following are the remaining first-round matches that take place Monday:
*Toru Yano vs. Davey Boy Smith Jr.
*Minoru Suzuki vs. Satoshi Kojima
*Sanada vs. Hirooki Goto
*Togi Makabe vs. Colt Cabana