New Japan Cup Opening Night Report: Kazuchika Okada vs. El Desperado

Photo Courtesy: NJPW

By: Mark Buckeldee

Welcome to this POST Wrestling report for New Japan Pro Wrestling’s New Japan Cup Night 1. When it was announced that the New Japan Cup was expanding to 48 wrestlers people started hoping about New Japan using outsider Japanese talent. Others thought that we were getting a US block on New Japan Strong or maybe New Japan had got their hand on some visas. Instead, we got every warm body in New Japan and CIMA.  Ironically, there were wrestlers on the anniversary show the night before who would have been much more interesting than the likes of Jado, Gedo, or Tomoaki Honma.

This was the second of two consecutive shows held in Nippon Budokan in Tokyo, with an announced attendance of 2007 fans, over 1000 less than the 50th Anniversary show. This was the lowest attended show at Nippon Budokan in the COVID era. It was lower than NOAH and Stardom’s shows in the venue.

All the matches on this show were first-round matches in the New Japan Cup. They kept the 5G Lab camera gimmick from the 50th Anniversary show. Honestly, they need to drop that as it adds nothing and looks awful.

1 Taka Michinoku vs CIMA – A decent match with a bit of everything with obvious clunkiness before the finish.

2 Tomoaki Honma vs YOSHI-HASHI – Much better than expected, with a less broken down than expected Honma and the now reliable YOSHI-HASHI.

3 Yuji Nagata vs Hirooki Goto – A good, enjoyable heavyweight clash with arm work and striking.

4 Togi Makabe vs Jeff Cobb – Another match that was better than you would expect, as Makabe went Lariat crazy trying to stop Cobb from throwing him around the ring.

5 Toru Yano vs Taichi – A decent Yano comedy match with Yano using a new weapon.

6 Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Yoh – A good but not great match where Yoh tried to play Tanahashi at his own game.

7 Yujiro Takahashi vs Tetsuya Naito – Sometimes good, sometimes clunky with an unpopular finish. Not as good as it could have been.

8 Kazuchika Okada vs El Desperado – A great match with fiery underdog Desperado trying to overcome the aggressive, larger Okada. – RECOMMENDED

Taka Michinoku vs CIMA

This was a battle between two of the most famous proponents of the lucharesu style, with Michinoku coming from Michinoku Pro and CIMA coming from Ultimo Dragon’s Toryumon system. They had only had one singles match, back in 2005.

CIMA showed off his versatility, using chain wrestling and a tope before tying Michinoku up in knots. Michinoku used his own grappling skills to keep on top of CIMA, with CIMA panicking when Michinoku locked in the Just Facelock. A back cracker was the start of CIMA’s comeback, although Michinoku cut that off with an Oklahoma roll and a knee strike that showed enough daylight to kill a vampire. The match broke down as they traded big strikes, with CIMA awkwardly waiting to be kicked multiple times. CIMA fought off the Just Facelock before Michinoku transitioned into a 3 in 1 submission that forced CIMA to reach the ropes. CIMA used a flurry of offense, getting a nearfall with the Perfect Driver before pinning Michinoku with the Meteora.

CIMA pinned Taka Michinoku via Meteora (9:48)

This looked like it was going to be a good match before it got a bit clunky when CIMA had to sell. I don’t know if that was a lack of chemistry or CIMA trying to ensure that he looked better than Michinoku. It got back on track when CIMA regained control, but it was not as good as I hoped. That said, it was nice to see CIMA in New Japan and hopefully, he has a better match against his next opponent.

Tomoaki Honma vs YOSHI-HASHI

Everyone knows that Honma is very broken down, and honestly, he should have retired by now. YOSHI-HASHI dominated Honma with forearms and chops. The crowd got behind the underdog Honma, who fought back with a DDT before dishing out some chops of his own. A Kokeshi rocket let Honma hit the Kokeshi, but YOSHI-HASHI dodged a 2nd rope Kokeshi Rocket and hit a top rope Headhunter for a two count. Honma avoided Karma and hit a pair of Kokeshi rockets and the top rope Kokeshi for a huge nearfall. YOSHI-HASHI lost a Lariat battle and they traded forearms and slaps before Honma used a thudding shoot headbutt, only for YOSHI-HASHI to fire back with a Lariat and the Karma to win the match.

YOSHI-HASHI pinned Tomoaki Honma via Karma (9:45)

This was much better than I expected. Honma looked less broken down than usual and he was fired up, using his wide array of headbutt-based offense. This was short, no-nonsense and the crowd was fully on board with this good undercard match. YOSHI-HASHI has grown into one of New Japan’s more reliable solid hands, and he showed it here. The match was structured to get the crowd behind Honma while YOSHI-HASHI used his much-improved striking and his fire to control the match. This might honestly go down as Honma’s last good singles match.

Yuji Nagata vs Hirooki Goto

Some of the round one matches in this tournament felt like they should have taken place in the later stages. This was one of them. Goto and Nagata were evenly matched before Goto Lariated the ring post. Nagata targeted the arm with arm breakers and kicks, forcing Goto to use a headbutt and kicks to fight back. They fought on the top turnbuckle, ending when Nagata hit an avalanche exploder for a nearfall. Both men showed fire and Goto hit a desperate Lariat before getting a nearfall with the Ushi-Goroshi. After a Nagata Brainbuster they traded forearms, only for Nagata to catch Goto with the Nagata Lock 2 and the zombie armbar. Nagata looked strong but Goto blocked a backdrop suplex and used the Goto-Shiki cradle to steal the win against the run of play.

Hirooki Goto pinned Yuji Nagata via Goto -Shiki cradle (12:37)

This was another good, short match. The mix of arm work and striking made for an enjoyable, exciting match. Nagata is not as good as he was five years ago, but this was still a good, enjoyable undercard singles match.

Togi Makabe vs Jeff Cobb

Cobb suplexed and slammed Makabe into the ring post for an early count-out tease. The strength of Cobb was on full display when he hurled Makabe across the ring with a release pump handle suplex. Makabe fought back with desperate Lariats, only to fall victim to Cobb’s running backdrop suplex for a nearfall. They traded forearms, punches, and Lariats before Cobb dodged a King Kong knee drop.  Cobb proved that he had the stronger Lariat before pinning Makabe with the Tour of the Islands.

Jeff Cobb pinned Togi Makabe via Tour of the Islands (8:10)

Like the Honma match, this was better than I expected. They kept this short and let Makabe show lots of fire while Cobb got to throw him around. It was impressive how effortlessly Cobb threw Makabe around the ring. It was pretty good by Makabe’s current standards, taking a lot more bumps than usual. While the match was often less engaging when Makabe was in control, Makabe was a good choice as he put over Cobb’s power and striking.

Toru Yano vs Taichi

Taichi invited Yano to remove the turnbuckle pad, but Yano expected a trap, so he invited Taichi to do it. Unsurprisingly Yano immediately ambushed Taichi and removed the turnbuckle pad anyway. Yano tried to kidnap Taichi’s valet using a plastic sack, only for Taichi to shove Yano in the sack. Yano eventually found the ring to avoid a count-out and Taichi tried to powerbomb Yano while he was still in the sack. Somehow Yano escaped both the powerbomb and the sack. Yano ripped off Taichi’s trousers and nearly pinned him in the confusion. Taichi nearly won with the Gedo Clutch before he pinned Yano using the Yokozuna style elbow. That’s Yokozuna as in the Sumo rank, not the WWF wrestler.

Taichi pinned Toru Yano via Yokozuna style elbow (6:25)

This was another good match. Yano’s brand of comedy often feels stale but the use of the sack and the sack powerbomb tease made it feel a little fresher. Not the best match on the card but a nice change of pace.

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Yoh

This was a first-time match. Tanahashi used a headlock to control Yoh, so Yoh attacked Tanahashi’s leg with strikes and holds. Tanahashi also attacked the leg, locking in the Texas Cloverhold and forcing Yoh to crawl to the ropes. Yoh went back to the leg with a desperate flurry of Dragon Screws before trying to apply the Calf slicer. Tanahashi reached the ropes and got back into the match with multiple twist and shouts and a Dragon Screw. Yoh got a nearfall with a German Suplex, only for Tanahashi to eventually fight back with a Sling Blade. Yoh hit a Sling Blade of his own and got a nearfall with a Falcon Arrow onto the knee. Tanahashi ran into a thrust kick, but he escaped two attempts at the Direct Drive and won the match with a Dragon Suplex.

Hiroshi Tanahashi pinned Yoh via Dragon Suplex (16:50)

This was a very good match. The story of young up and comer attacking Tanahashi’s leg has been around for over a decade now (Naito used in around 2010) but it’s a formula that works. Yoh looked good in places, but he lacks energy and charisma for me, meaning that I struggle to get behind him. In the end, this was a good Tanahashi singles match but not a great one, and I would have liked to have seen a little more from Yoh.

Yujiro Takahashi vs Tetsuya Naito

Yujiro and Naito have a long, storied past. As NO LIMIT they were a featured tag team before Yujiro turned on Naito in 2011. New Japan repeatedly tried to make the feud between these two a big deal, but it never felt like it really clicked. However, this is the first singles match between these two since 2014. As such it has generated some interest with parts of the fan base.

This started with one of the most awkward lock-ups that I can remember. Takahashi was like a rookie going through a new sequence at times in the opening minute. After a strong start from Naito, Takahashi gained control after a hotshot and got a nearfall with a version of Jeff Jarrett’s Stroke. Naito was a step above Takahashi for most of the match, frequently being more aggressive. Takahashi fought back by relying on his arsenal of big slams.

Naito used his wrist clutch elbows to the neck and hit the Esperanza, only to get caught by Yujiro with the Miami Shine. They traded forearms, with Yujiro winning the exchange. Naito blocked the Pimp Juice and Big Juice DDTs, hitting a German Suplex, an Abesigiri, and a flying forearm. Takahashi rammed Naito into the referee and Yujiro’s House of Torture teammates EVIL & SHO ran in to attack Naito. Takahashi said that he did not want his teammates’ help, only to low blow Naito with an evil grin on his face. Takahashi went to hit Naito with his cane, but Naito kicked Yujiro in the Takoyakis and pinned Takahashi with a Jackknife cradle.

After the match EVIL attacked Naito and Naito kicked EVIL in the groin to huge applause.  After the match, Naito insisted on Japanese guest commentator Jushin Thunder Liger raising his hand. When Liger finally entered the ring, Naito walked off.

Tetsuya Naito pinned Yujiro Takahashi via Jackknife cradle (18:11)

I’m not sure how to rate this match. It was surprisingly clunky and awkward at times, with Takahashi making weird mistakes or being slow to run spots. Sometimes I wonder if I am too harsh on Takahashi and then I spot things like that. The finish involved a House of Torture run in and it lacked aggression from Takahashi at times. On the other hand, there was some very good action, Naito was on good form and the finish worked well with House of Torture’s usual antics backfiring on them. So, this was a good match, but that was mostly down to Naito and it is not something worth seeking out.

Kazuchika Okada vs El Desperado

It is a recent New Japan tradition to have the Heavyweight Champion facing the Jr Heavyweight Champion on the anniversary show. This year, New Japan decided to save it for the start of the New Japan Cup.  These two have never had a singles match, with Okada being on his excursion in TNA when Desperado debuted as a Young Lion.

Desperado joked about the height difference between him and Okada before trying to take Okada down with shoulder tackles. Okada went for the Rainmaker early, but Desperado countered it into the Numero Dos, forcing Okada to reach the ropes. Desperado then threw Okada around the ringside area before attacking the knee inside the ring. Okada fought back with the flapjack and decided to throw Desperado around the ringside area. Desperado fought back with chops and a dropkick to the knee.

Okada struggled as Desperado repeatedly attacked the knee with kicks and a Prison lock. Okada tried to fight his way out, but he was unable to and had to use a rope break. The Heavyweight Champion gained time by dropkicking Desperado off the top rope, with Desperado bouncing off the apron on the way down. That was followed by a DDT on the floor and Okada slowly recovered in the ring. Desperado avoided a count-out, but Okada caught him with another DDT when he returned to the ring.

Desperado desperately avoided a reverse neckbreaker and he caught Okada with a Spinebuster. The Junior Heavyweight champion stomped on the knee and mocked the Rainmaker pose. Okada got angry and absorbed a flurry of chops before hitting Desperado in the face with a John Woo dropkick. Okada’s knee played up as he went for an elbow drop, which led to him landing badly on his knee. Desperado capitalized with a chop block, the Guitarra del Angel, and a frog splash. Okada reversed the Pinche Loco into a reverse neckbreaker but tweaked his knee at the same time. He locked in the Money Clip, but Desperado countered with an arm drag, only to run into a dropkick.

Okada hit the Elbow drop the second time of asking but Desperado fought to avoid the Rainmaker. Desperado went back to the knee, including countering a dropkick into a Dragon screw in mid-air and locking in the Numero Dos in the middle of the ring. Somehow Okada escaped and locked in the money clip as the crowd clapped along in support of Desperado as he tried to escape the hold. Okada dragged Desperado around by the wrist, begging Desperado to show more spirit. Desperado countered the rainmaker with a huge forearm and the Pinche Loco. They traded big counters and huge forearms, as Okada blocked the Pinche Loco and hit Desperado with a dropkick to the face. Desperado roared and got back to his feet after the dropkick but the sit out Tombstone and the Rainmaker were enough for Okada to defeat Desperado.

Kazuchika Okada pinned El Desperado via Rainmaker (26:21)

This was a great match, with Desperado showing that he could hang with the best in New Japan. He showed great fire and threw some hellacious chops that left welts on Okada’s chest. Desperado’s mix of desperation, selling and leg work made him stand out and it was a great underdog performance.

For his part, this was some of Okada’s best leg selling. While he ignored the leg in the finishing stretch at times, he frequently went back to selling the knee. That selling choice also meant that we still got the usual explosive Okada offense, mixed in with some heavy forearms and a great mix of cockiness and anger.  This was really enjoyable and felt fresh, especially with Okada feeling like more of a physical threat due to the size difference. Desperado countering the dropkick into a dragon screw and Okada absorbing Desperado’s chops before a John Woo dropkick to the face were two great moments. This is definitely worth going out of your way to watch.

Show summary

Coming into this show, it felt like a one-match show. While I felt that many of the undercard matches exceeded my expectations (I’m looking at you, Honma & Makabe), this was a one-match show. Then again, what a match it was. Desperado yet again proved that he could bring it in big main event spots. His fire and striking were great, and Okada was fantastic as the bigger man forcing Desperado to fight from underneath. I hope that we get more matches like this from Okada this year.

This year’s New Japan cup will have a lot of highs and lows. Hopefully, we get higher highs instead of lower lows, but time will tell. The bigger story coming out of this show was the attendance. The 50th Anniversary show drew over 1000 fans despite the absence of a big singles match. Was it the sense of occasion and nostalgia? Did the presence of Fujinami and Fujiwara make the event feel more unique? Was it something as simple as this show lacking the likes of Shingo Takagi?  We will never really know but New Japan will need to make some changes soon as I don’t know if the end of COVID restrictions on its own will be enough to bring the fans back in their thousands. If we don’t see significant changes to attendance within six to nine months, then I would not be surprised to see New Japan’s ownership making some big changes.

About Mark Buckeldee 61 Articles
Hailing from Oxfordshire in the UK, Mark Buckeldee writes show reports for POST Wrestling.