The New Japan Cup is a yearly tournament that is a highlight of many New Japan Pro Wrestling fans’ calendar. Although initially postponed due to the recent pandemic, the company announced that it would be holding the tournament when it returned last month. The format remained the same with the usual two-bracket system and shot at the Heavyweight Champion at stake. But, the field this year was much wider with not only heavyweight wrestlers but also juniors and Young Lions.
This meant that fans got to see matches they never expected to see between their favourite wrestlers which led to some Match of the Year candidates.
10. Minoru Suzuki v Yuji Nagata – New Japan Cup Night 2
Despite not resembling your traditional wrestling match, this bout was something to behold and one of the toughest of the tournament. There has always been a long-standing rivalry between Suzuki and members of the Third Generation club and, in particular, Yuji Nagata.
Nobody was surprised when their match started with forearms, slaps and elbows. The first five minutes at of the match consisted of the two stood in the centre of the ring throwing strikes and slaps. When this finally stopped, the brutality moved around the ring with Suzuki utilising a chair and using everything as a weapon. However, Nagata’s heart meant that he never stopped fighting back, even when he was bleeding from the mouth.
What made this match even more effective and brutal was the fact that there was hardly anyone in the arena. This just meant that the sounds from each hit and counter echoed around the arena.
Surprisingly, Nagata managed to hit a backdrop hold after 20 minutes to get the win. However, both men showed that, despite both being over 50, they had the same fire and passion for the industry. It also showed how much New Japan respects its veterans because they were given the freedom to go and just beat the hell out of each other.
9. EVIL v SANADA – New Japan Cup Night 8
Fans have previously seen matches between the two Los Ingobernables de Japon tag team partners in last year’s G1. The match showed the ability of the members to put aside any personal relationships to win a match. There was something very different about this bout which made fans at home feel both excited and uncomfortable.
Initially, the match started quite normally. Both men used their very diverse styles to get the upper hand on an opponent they knew very well which led to several reversals and standoffs. EVIL was using his strength and SANADA used his agility and speed. However, after a semi-civil start, things started to change. Throughout the tournament, fans noticed a harsher and more brutal side to EVIL.
Following a very dangerous move that saw SANADA fall on his head, Evil saw an opening and chose to capitalise on it. Pushing aside Red Shoes, EVIL hit his partner with several low blows. He then hit the chair he’d put around Sanada’s neck with another. This then led to one final Everything is Evil for the win.
What made this match good was not only the contrasts in style but also the lack of empathy and respect EVIL had for his long-time partner. The actions that came later in the tournament explained this mindset and made things a lot clearer for fans but didn’t stop them from enjoying it.
8. Taiji Ishimori v Yoshinobu Kanemaru – New Japan Cup Night 5
The rivalry going into this second-round match not only stemmed years but also promotions. Ishimori has always pointed out in post-match comments that he seemed to have some sort of allergy to Yoshinobu Kanemaru. This seemed to be the reason that the Bone Soldier had never beat the Suzuki Gun Heel Master in a singles match.
At first, it seemed as if the match was going to go the same way as the previous ones with Kanemaru using all of his skills and brains to get that quick and easy finish we’ve seen in the past few matches. On top of that, regardless of sneaky tactics, Kanemaru is a very able wrestler utilising a very unique and dynamic style. However, Ishimori is, in a lot of New Japan fans’ eyes, THE hybrid athlete. Fighting back with a mixture of speed, strength and agility, the Bone Soldier found a way to get the advantage over his arch-nemesis in less than 10 minutes with his finisher Bloody Cross.
What made this match such an important match in the tournament was that it was a fairytale victory with a long history. For Ishimori, he managed to defeat the one person who always seemed to have his number. This match not only was a breakthrough for Ishimori but showcased two Jr Heavyweight veterans in Japan.