Saturday’s New Japan Cup tournament card took place from Korakuen Hall with two matches from the second round taking place.
In the first tournament match, Hiroshi Tanahashi defeated Ryusuke Taguchi in 17:17 using the Dragon suplex, which had added significance. This match was Taguchi mixing his comedic elements with the constant hip attacks (the “B Triggers”) with a more serious tone down the stretch that you’ve come to expect when Taguchi is placed in big-match scenarios. Taguchi took a lot of the match and tried to lure Tanahashi into a fist bump but was caught going for the cheap shot to the gut. Taguchi had several false finishes from a Tiger suplex, a Bom a Ye, and countering Tanahashi’s own version of the Dodon with a roll up. Tanahashi got up and used a Dragon suplex for the victory.
Announcer Chris Charlton added context stating that Tatsumi Fujinami invented the Dragon suplex on a card at Madison Square Garden where the winner of the New Japan Cup will challenge for the IWGP title. I always like when someone wins with a different maneuver or submission, so it trains the audience to bite on finishes using those backup moves in the future.
This wasn’t the best match of the tournament and I’d rate Tanahashi’s match with Shota Umino ahead of this, but it was a very good match. Taguchi is a great performer when placed in these bigger matches with an undeniable connection to the audience as the underdog on the cusp of something greater.
The main event saw Zack Sabre Jr. submit Kota Ibushi in 16:08 with Orienteering with Napalm Death.
Their backstory includes Ibushi holding wins over Sabre at the last two G1 Climax tournaments while Sabre defeated Ibushi in last year’s New Japan Cup and remains undefeated in New Japan Cup matches.
I was very surprised Ibushi lost the match as I had pegged him going to the final, at the very least.
Ibushi was shut down through the first half of the match with Sabre having a submission for every opening Ibushi gave him. Sabre torqued Ibushi’s neck with his feet playing off the first-round match where Tetsuya Naito attacked the neck.
Ibushi ducked a penalty kick and immediately hit a powerslam and moonsault off the second rope. Sabre tried to get the cobra twist submission and Ibushi turned it into the set up for the tombstone and that was countered with Sabre using the European clutch.
They had a phenomenal sequence with Ibushi gaining control of Sabre’s wrists as he bridged Sabre with a German, held on and went for the Kamigoye, Sabre ducked through the wrist control he transitioned to get Ibushi’s leg. From there, he slowly exerted control and applied Orienteering with Napalm Death as Ibushi tapped.
Ibushi was heartbroken from the loss and sold the emotional gravity of the defeat.
The win by Sabre sets up a rematch of last year’s final with Hiroshi Tanahashi in the third-round, which takes place on Thursday.
The second-round wraps up Sunday at Korakuen Hall with the following matches:
*Colt Cabana vs. Toru Yano
*Minoru Suzuki vs. Sanada