New Japan Cup 2018: The Final

New Japan Cup 2018: The Final

After twelve days and fourteen matches of varying quality, the 2018 New Japan Cup came down to two world-class stars as the final of the tournament went live from Nagaoka, Japan on March 21 with the winner able to challenge for either the NEVER Openweight Championship, IWGP Intercontinental Championship or the IWGP Heavyweight Championship on April 1 at Sakura Genesis.

Running through three men apiece, both finalists, Zack Sabre Jr. and Hiroshi Tanahashi, had something to prove. The Japanese star had an ongoing grudge with two of the three choices which awaited the winner. Not only could he opt to halt the record breaking Okada from outdoing his feats, but Tanahashi also had the option of extracting revenge against Minoru Suzuki whom he dropped the IWGP Intercontinental Championship to in January.

Current Evolve Champion, Zack Sabre Jr., had something entirely different to establish. Out to ascertain that legends were just that, his dominant performance against Naito and Ibushi in previous rounds had brought a new super heel to life – a role that Sabre would only grow into if he came out on top.

In results from the Final of the New Japan Cup:

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Zack Sabre Jr.

Zack Sabre Jr. defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi in an astonishing 34:10 ‘Match of the Year’ contender to win the 2018 New Japan Cup. A bout which for many had a shock result, combined all that was good from both men’s previous outings and turned the dial up until smoke began to pour from whatever fictional machine it’s placed on.

If you expected a finals collision between two of the best in the entire world – that tag can be pinned on 80% of the New Japan locker room – to be slow and plodding then you really don’t know Japanese wrestling at all. Regardless of the fact they had well over half an hour to fill, the offering began with some excellent mat work in which both men exchanged the advantage numerous times using headlocks, side Russian leg sweeps, and Sabre’s usual brand of technical mastery, which has been highlighted to the maximum in this year’s tourney.

The game plan for the foreign invader was clear only a few minutes in. Take what he’d done to Naito and Ibushi and expand, wearing down his older and wiser foe to pure exhaustion. Battering the arm with relentless and vicious shots, Sabre got his way until Tanahashi countered the game plan by backing the heel into the corner where the pair traded jarring shots. Attempting to throw the Englishman off of his game, the Japanese marvel executed a stunning somersault senton, which was wonderfully countered into an octopus stretch. This was only the beginning and before the end, we would be drained completely.

Dragon screw, a second octopus, triangle choke into a cloverleaf, it was all go and the pair rarely let up trading reversal after reversal, counter after counter with the story of Tanahashi being the only one able to outmaneuver Sabre played out to perfection. Unfortunately for the gallant countryman, it wouldn’t last long and a high fly flow to the outside would prove to be the final meaningful input he had in the brawl.

As the bout progressed with pace, the ageing star began to fade until he made the ultimate mistake. Thrown from the confines of the squared circle, Hiroshi caught the top rope and skinned the cat, leaving his leg exposed in the process. Zack Sabre Jr. needed no second invitation, pouncing on the limb with savage ruthlessness. Even a neckbreaker and high fly flow couldn’t dampen his spirits, the latter he overturned into a hyper tense knee lock in another flawless spot.

Britannia ruled these waves as Sabre dominated proceedings in exceptional fashion, eyeing the cup and all the perks that went with it. Relentless work on the foundation put Hiroshi at a distinct disadvantage. Sabre countered a dragon whip into a bridging suplex for a heated near fall and damn near punted Tanahashi’s head into the stands with a penalty kick. Harry Kane has some serious competition for Russia. A desperation dragon duplex was repealed, but Sabre lost momentary control walking directly into a slingblade, regaining it moments later when another high fly flow attempt brought the favorite crashing down on the already injured knee.

The writing was on the wall and fans began to smell an upset, not to mention the birth of a new heel that will expand New Japan’s profile in the United Kingdom, especially considering their new international DVD distributor is located there, what a genius move by all involved. The fearless Tanahashi had nothing left to give. Sabre applied his new submission finisher, ‘Orienteering with Napalm Death’ – an interesting designation – and to the shock of everyone watching Hiroshi tapped only seconds later. It was the right decision.

Following the bout, the answer everyone had waited for was given. Zack Sabre Jr. will challenge Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. If he wins, he’ll be only the sixth foreigner to hold the prestigious title in its history behind, Big Van Vader, Scott Norton, Bob Sapp, Brock Lesnar, and AJ Styles. The announcement ended with a tense stare down between champion and challenger.

What an excellent bout and finale to a mostly enjoyable tournament. Tanahashi looked strong in defeat, keeping up with the young blood until the very end and losing only after he’d given everything. It was a hero’s downfall. He will now presumably target the gold he lost in the New Year and set his sights on establishing a record that Okada cannot break. New Japan Pro Wrestling have done themselves no harm over the past two weeks, exhibiting the next wave of talent that will keep them ticking over for years to come.

As for Zack Sabre Jr., well the world of professional wrestling is literally his oyster. The promotion have high hopes and big plans for the British star, as evident by his overriding booking and a willingness to put him over three of the biggest stars the country will ever see. The question now is, will it be four?

By the time the IWGP Heavyweight Championship is put on the line at Sakura Genesis on April 1, Kazuchika Okada will have been champion for exactly 21 months and 13 days, having been defeated in singles competition only once in the G1 Climax tournament in August 2017 by Kenny Omega. It’s a tall order for a young man, but records were made to be broken and hurdles placed to be conquered. You can say what you like about his chances, but I truly believe that Zack Sabre Jr. will be the man to dethrone the king of Japanese wrestling. It would be criminal to halt his charge now.

Such a monumental victory for Sabre would be the making of him and give the title picture longevity going forward. An unbeatable heel champion would, in my opinion, despite the popularity of Okada, be a bigger draw in the long run than a peerless babyface. That has been proved countless times over the years.

Whatever the outcome, I urge you to see Kazuchika Okada vs. Zack Sabre Jr. for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship on April 1. It’s going to be a classic.

On the undercard:

  • Shota Umino defeated Tetsuhiro Yagi
  • Taichi defeated Tomoyuki Oka
  • Tanga Loa, Yujiro Takahashi, and Bad Luck Fale defeated Michael Elgin, Toa Henare, and Togi Makabe
  • Davey Boy Smith Jr. and Lance Archer defeated Toru Yano and Tomohiro Ishii
  • David Finlay and Juice Robinson defeated Hirooki Goto and YOSHI-HASHI
  • BUSHI, SANADA, Hiromu Takahashi, and Tetsuya Naito defeated El Desperado, Takashi Iizuka, Yoshinobu Kanemura, and Minoru Suzuki
  • Chuckie T and Kazuchika Okada defeated Chase Owens and Kota Ibushi

6 years ago by Wrestle Talk


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