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NJPW “New Japan Cup” results: Vetter’s review of Sanada vs. Taichi, and Tetsuya Naito vs. El Phantasmo in New Japan Cup first-round tournament matches, Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and Tomoaki Honma vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Hirooki Goto, and Yoshi-Hashi

By Chris Vetter, ProWrestling.net Contributor (@chrisvetter73)

New Japan Pro Wrestling “New Japan Cup”
March 5, 2023 in Tokyo, Japan at Korakuen Hall
Streamed on New Japan World

New Japan Pro Wrestling kicked off the 11-show, 17-day New Japan Cup tournament. The building was packed. Kevin Kelly and Chris Charlton provided live commentary.

The New Japan Cup is a 24-man tournament, so we have eight first-round matches with eight byes. So, no show has more than a handful of tournament matches.

1. Zack Sabre Jr. and Kosei Fujita defeated Tama Tanga and Ryohei Oiwa at 8:02. Sabre had his NJPW TV Title belt, while Tama had his NEVER Openweight Title; if those two advance, they still wouldn’t meet until the semi-finals, so this is a weird matchup. (Usually these non-tournament matches serve as previews of upcoming singles matchups.) I am enjoying the humor of Sabre mentoring his Young Lion Fujita, teaching him to apply holds. The Young Lions started. Tama and Sabre finally faced off at 4:30, but less than two minutes later, the Young Lions were back in. Fujita applied an armbar hold, and Oiwa tapped out. Underwhelming opener as Tama was barely in the ring.

2. Shota Umino, Master Wato, Ren Narita, and Ryusuke Taguchi defeated “House of Torture” EVIL, Sho, Yujiro Takahashi, and Dick Togo at 10:12. The HoT attacked at the bell. Ren opened by hitting a Mafia Kick on EVIL. The HoT worked over Taguchi. Shota finally entered at 6:00 and he hit a flying forearm on Sho, then a fisherman’s suplex on Yujiro. Wato and Togo tagged in at 8:30, and Togo choked Wato with his wire. Wato hit a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker over his knee. Wato locked on his submission hold around the head and shoulders, and Togo tapped out. Basic and exactly what you’d expect here. First-round opponents EVIL and Ren brawled after the bell. Likewise, Shot jawed at his first-round opponent, Yujiro.

3. “Bullet Club” Kenta, Chase Owens, and Gedo defeated Minoru Suzuki, El Desperado, and Yuto Nakashima at 8:21. I need to point out that Chase has undergone a remarkable workout regimen to drop some weight. Teammates Chase and Kenta each have a first-round bye and they could meet in the quarterfinals; neither Minoru nor Desperado are in the tournament, so this match has no real Cup implications. Desperado and Gedo started, but at 2:00, Suzuki and Kenta traded some kicks to the back while the other was seated on the mat, then they traded forearm shots.

The Bullet Club began working over Yuto. Yuto applied an anklelock on Chase, but Chase reached the ropes at 7:30. However,  Chase hit a C-Trigger kneestrike, then the Package Piledriver, to pin Yuto. Kenta and Suzuki kept brawling on the floor, and Charlton reiterated that this feud has nothing to do with the New Japan Cup.

4. Bushi, Hiromu Takahashi, and Shingo Takagi defeated Toru Yano, Yoh, and Lio Rush at 6:11. Bushi wore an “Alien” movie-inspired mask. Lio is No. 1 contender, and he opened against champion Hiromu. Only Yano and Shingo are in the Cup, and they are on opposite sides of the bracket, so no Cup implications here. Lio and Hiromu traded quick reversals, with Lio diving through the ropes onto Hiromu. Bushi entered at 3:00 and hit a standing neckbreaker on Yoh for a nearfall. Yoh hit a dropkick on Shingo.

Yano tagged in at 4:30 and immediately removed a corner pad, and he whipped Shingo into the exposed turnbuckle. Shingo hit a senton and a sliding clothesline for a nearfall. Hiromu hit a superkick on Lio. Bushi dove on Yoh. Shingo got a backslide to pin Yano. Fast and fun.

5. Yoshi-Hashi, Hirooki Goto, and Tomohiro Ishii defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada, and Tomoaki Honma at 12:58. I just realized that Tanahashi isn’t in the Cup field; he opened against Goto. Tanahashi hit his second-rope summersault senton for a nearfall. Okada (who also isn’t in the tournament!) entered and also worked over Goto. Goto nailed a clothesline on Okada at 4:00. Yoshi-Hashi made the hot tag and he cleared the ring.

Okada hit a neckbreaker over his knee on Yoshi-Hashi. Okada applied the Money Clip sleeperhold at 7:30. Goto hit his neckbreaker over his knee. Okada hit his dropkick on Yoshi-Hashi. Ishii and Honma entered at 9:00 and they traded shoulder tackles. Honma missed his Kokeshi falling headbutt. They traded hard chops, and Ishii hit a side suplex for a nearfall. Honma hit a supex. Tanahashi hit a dragon screw leg whip on Goto, then one on Yoshi-Hashi.

Okada and Tanahashi hit a team suplex on Ishii, and Honma immediately hit a Kokeshi on Ishii. Honma hit a diving headbutt on Ishii for a belivable nearfall. Ishii hit a clothesline on Honma for a nearfall. However, Ishii hit a brainbuster on Honma for the pin. That was a really entertaining match. Okada and Tanahashi continued to jaw with tag champs Goto and Yoshi-Hashi as we head toward the tag title match Monday.

6. Tetsuya Naito defeated El Phantasmo in a first-round New Japan Cup tournament match at 17:32. They traded reversals and each did the ‘tranquilo’ pose on the mat. Naito mocked ELP’s silly hand gesture pose, drawing a laugh. They brawled to the floor at 3:00, and ELP hit a DDT on the thin floor mat. Phantasmo leapt from the bleachers onto Naito on the floor. ELP then hit a top-rope moonsault to the floor on Naito at 5:00, and the crowd was hot.

In the ring, Phantasmo was in charge. Naito hit a standing neckbreaker and they were both down. Naito hit a dropkick to the back for a nearfall at 7:30, then he applied a head-scissors lock submission hold. They got up and traded forearm shots. ELP set up for a Superkick in the corner, channeling HBK. However, Naito avoided it and hit an enzuigiri and a tornado DDT and they were both down at 11:30.

Naito set up for a Destino, but ELP caught him and hit a Lungblower. Phantasmo applied a crossface. ELP hit a step-up enzuigiri in the corner, then a perfect Frankensteiner, then a top-rope frogsplash for a believable nearfall at 15:30. Naito blocked the CR2 modified Styles Clash and hit a DDT. Naito then nailed a Destino for a believable nearfall; I think Kelly truly thought that was it. Naito went for a second Destino, but ELP escaped and hit a superkick. Naito got a rollup for the clean (but hardly decisive) win. That was really good. “Phantasmo just showed his main event talent,” Kevin Kelly said.

7. Sanada defeated Taichi (w/Taka Michinoku) in a first-round New Japan Cup tournament match at 24:26. Charlton and Kelly noted these are familiar foes (see my notes below.) Basic reversals to open. Sanada hit a dropkick to the knee, but he missed a plancha to the floor at 3:00. Taichi whipped him into the guardrail. Taichi removed the thin mat at ringside, and he hit a DDT onto the hard, wood floor. In the ring, Taichi was in charge, hitting a hard kick to the back for a nearfall at 5:30.

Sanada went for a dropkick but Taichi brushed it off. Taichi dominated the offense for the next several minutes, hitting some Yes Kicks to the chest at 9:00. Sanada hit a series of chops. Taichi hit some Kawada Kicks and he berated Sanada. They brawled back to the floor at 11:00, with Sanada whipping Taichi into the guardrail, then hitting a piledriver on the hard floor! They got back in the ring and traded more chops and kicks. Taichi hit an enzuigiri at 13:30, but Sanada didn’t go down; Sanada hit a roaring elbow. Taichi hit a Saito Suplex, and they were both down.

Sanada hit some European Uppercuts; Taichi hit some boots to the face. Sanada hit a dropkick at 15:30, then a TKO stunner. Sanada went for a moonsault, but Taichi got his knees up. They traded rollups. Taichi hit a back suplex for a believable nearfall. Sanada hit a Tiger Driver. Taichi hit a clothesline but Sanada popped up, and Sanada applied the Skull End dragon sleeper at 18:30. Taka screamed at Taichi to try and revive him, and Sanada eventually let go of the hold. Sanada hit a top-rope moonsault, then a second one for a believable nearfall at 20:00.

Taichi hit a superkick for a believable nearfall. They began trading clubbing forearm shots. Taichi hit an enziguri at 23:30; he went for his Air Raid Crash but Sanada escaped. Sanada then hit his own Air Raid Crash. Sanada re-applied Skull End, then Sanada hit a Jay White-style Blade Runner spinning faceplant for the pin! Kelly said he’s never seen Sanada use that move before.

* They shook hands in the ring; we’ve seen this in their past matches, that the more they fight, the more they respect each other. Sanada turned and headed to the back, opting not to speak on the mic to close out the show.

Final Thoughts: When the tournament brackets were released, I groaned when I saw Taichi vs. Sanada as a first-round match, largely because they seemingly spent all of 2022 feuding; the tournament should allow for fresh matchups with no history behind them. That said, it really felt like a flip of a coin on who was winning this one, and like Kevin Kelly, I presumed Taichi was winning here. I had seen some people on Twitter predict a deep run for Taichi.

I really enjoyed Naito-Phantasmo. Like I noted above, this is a fresh matchup with no history between them. Phantasmo has put on the right amount of size and muscle mass; he’s still agile but not scrawny either. This is one of Naito’s better singles matches of late; I liked this a lot more than the slow-paced match he had a month ago against Shota Umino.

The tournament continues on Monday with the “51st Anniversary” show, featuring newly-turned heel David Finlay vs. Tomohiro Ishii. I haven’t filled in a bracket, but I don’t see NJPW turning Finlay only to have him lose in the first round, so he wins here. Shota Umino also will face Yujiro Takahashi, and I can’t imagine the face of the future Shota loses in round 1. Monday’s show also features the tag team title match.


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