By Chris Vetter, ProWrestling.net Contributor (@chrisvetter73)
New Japan Pro Wrestling “New Japan Cup”
March 8, 2023 in Fukushima, Japan at Big Palette Fukushima
Streamed on New Japan World
This is show three of the 11-show, 17-day tournament. 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 two tournament matches.
Kevin Kelly provided live commentary. Chris Charlton was in Tokyo so we had no English translation. This event was held in one of the smaller venues NJPW runs, and the crowd is maybe 700-1,000, all floor seating. In an interesting note, some of the lineups were shuffled, as David Finlay is now in the Bullet Club; he was originally booked to team with babyfaces on this tour.
1. Shota Umino and Yuto Nakashima defeated “The Mighty Don’t Kneel” Zack Sabre Jr. and Kosei Fujita vs. at 7:39. Shota advanced to the second-round by defeating Yujiro Takahashi on Monday; this match serves as a preview of the next round, as Umino will face Sabre. Zack wore his TV title. Sabre and Umino opened with standing reversals. TMDK worked over Yuto. Umino and Sabre fought again, with Sabre hitting some European Uppercuts at 5:00. Umino hit a dropkick on Fujita’s knee and worked over the leg. Umino applied a submission hold around the neck and cranked on the leg until Fujita tapped out. Solid opener.
2. “Bullet Club” David Finlay, Kenta, Juice Robinson, and Chase Owens (w/Gedo) defeated Douki, Taichi, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, and Taka Michinoku at 8:29. All eight brawled at the bell. Kenta worked over Kanemaru, and the BC kept Yoshinobu in their corner. ELP stood on Kanemaru’s groin as he was tied in the Tree of Woe at 3:30. Kanemaru finally hit a DDT on ELP and they were both down. Taichi made the hot tag at 5:00 and he hit some spin kicks to Finlay’s thighs. Finlay hit a side slam for a nearfall.
Taka made the hot tag and he applied a chin lock and cranked back on Finlay’s neck; ELP was in the ring and ‘cheering’ for Finlay to break free from the hold, but he didn’t help, either. Strange. Taka hit a running knee to the chest for a nearfall. However, Finlay hit the Trash Panda neckbreaker over his knee to pin Taka. Basic and what you’d expect. Douki was barely in the ring. They told a story during the match of El Phantasmo appearing to not being on the same page as Finlay or trusting him as a new member of the Bullet Club, and he left the ring by himself ahead of his teammates.
3. “United Empire” Great-O-Khan and Aaron Henare defeated Bushi and Shingo Takagi at 9:57. Another tournament preview, as Shingo will face Henare later this week in first-round action, and they opened against each other, trading stiff forearm shots. All four brawled to the floor, with O-Khan whipping Bushi into the guardrail at 2:00. Back in the ring, the UE worked over Bushi in their corner. Shingo tagged in and hit more stiff forearm shots on O-Khan, then a double DDT for a nearfall at 5:30.
O-Khan hit a T-Bone Suplex on Shingo. Aaron hit a Samoan Drop on Shingo for a nearfall. Shingo fired back with a Dragonscrew Legwhip on Henare. Henare hit a Blue Thunder Bomb on Bushi for a nearfall at 9:00. Henare hit a punch to the stomach, and he applied the Full Nelson until Bushi tapped out.
* Chase Owens joined Kevin Kelly on commentary for the remainder of the show.
4. “Los Ingobernobles de Japon” Hiromu Takahashi, Tetsuya Naito, and Sanada defeated Lio Rush, Honma, and Tama Tonga (w/Jado) at 10:28. Naito and Sanada have also advanced to the second round. Kelly pointed out to Chase that he could face Kenta if they both advance. No. 1 contender Lio and champion Hiromu opened against each other with some fast reversals. Naito entered and hit a Rude Awakening standing neckbreaker on Rush at 3:00, and LIJ worked over Lio.
Tama made the hot tag at 5:30 and he hit a dropkick on Naito. Sanada tied Tama in the Paradise Lock and kicked him in the butt to free him. Tama hit the Tongan Twist faceplant, and they were both down. Honma entered and hit a headbutt on Naito at 9:30. Naito hit a Destino on Honma for the pin. On commentary, Chase Owens vowed that Naito won’t hit that on him in their second-round match.
5. “United Empire” Kyle Fletcher, Will Ospreay, and Jeff Cobb defeated Yoh and “Bishamon” Yoshi-Hashi and Hiroki Goto at 9:49. NJPW is clearly pushing a Bishamon-Aussie Open tag title match. Cobb opened by hitting a shoulder tackle that leveled Goto. The UE worked over Goto. Goto hit a hard clothesline on Fletcher at 5:30 and tagged in Yosh-Hashi. Fletcher hit a half-nelson suplex on Yoshi-Hashi.
Yoh made the hot tag and he traded offense with Ospreay, hitting a Northern Lights Suplex with a bridge for a nearfall at 8:00. Cobb hit the Spin Cycle spinning suplex on Yoh. Yoh hit a kneestrike to Ospreay’s jaw. Ospreay nailed the Hidden Blade running forearm to the back of Yoh’s head for the pin. First-round opponents Fletcher and Yoshi-Hashi argued after the match.
6. Mark Davis (w/Kyle Fletcher) defeated Toru Yano in a first-round New Japan Cup tournament match at 11:44. Yano removed a corner pad; Davis took it, did an elbow drop on it and threw it to the floor. They went to the floor, where Yano tied Fletcher to the guardrail, then Yano hid under the ring. Yano finally came out with a hood over his head and he stumbled into the ring, where Davis beat on him some more. This already is guaranteed to be the worst match of the tournament.
Davis hit a standing neckbreaker at 3:30. They went to the floor, where Davis hit a senton on the floor. Yano barely dove back into the ring before being counted out at 6:30. More humor with tape ensued. Davis finally hit an enzuigiri, then put Yano on his shoulders before slamming him to the mat for the pin. This was painfully long and not entertaining, but I soured on Yano’s humor a long time ago. Davis now advances to face his faction partner Will Ospreay!
7. EVIL (w/Dick Togo) defeated Ren Narita in a first-round New Japan Cup tournament match at 18:53. Narita attacked before the bell. Kevin Kelly talked about the long losing streak for EVIL and the House of Torture. Togo tripped Narita, allowing EVIL to take control. They brawled away from ringside, with EVIL choking Ren with a t-shirt at 3:00. They got back in the ring, but the ref refused to make a count because of all the cheating. EVIL hit a bodyslam for a nearfall at 5:30. Narita hit a nice Northern Lights Suplex with a bridge for a nearfall.
They went back to the floor, where EVIL again slammed Narita into the guardrail, and Togo hit Ren across the back with a chair at 9:00. In the ring, EVIL hit a suplex for a nearfall. Ren hit a release German Suplex, and they were both down. EVIL hit Darkness Falls modified DVD for a nearfall at 11:30. EVIL set up for Everything is Evil uranage, but Ren blocked it. Ren hit another Northern Lights Suplex for a nearfall at 13:00. Ren was fired up and hit a series of punches. EVIL raked the eyes.
The ref got bumped. Togo jumped in the ring, and HoT put the boots to Ren. EVIL used a chair to hit a chair placed around Ren’s neck. HoT hit the Magic Killer spinning slam. The ref returned to the ring and made a two-count at 16:00, and the crowd popped for the kickout. Ren applied a rear-naked choke. EVIL accidentally clotheslined Togo. Ren again avoided Everything is Evil, and he hit an enzuigiri. EVIL hit a low blow mule kick, then a clothesline for a believable nearfall. EVIL finally hit the Everything is Evil (Rock Bottom) uranage for the pin. EVIL advances to face Jeff Cobb in the second round.
* EVIL got on the mic and spoke to the crowd to close the show.
Final Thoughts: With EVIL and Yano in singles matches, this was a rough night of tournament action. The good news is we should have some entertaining second-round matches, as both Mark Davis vs. Will Ospreay and Jeff Cobb vs. EVIL should be really good.
The tournament takes Thursday off, then runs four straight days, Friday through Monday, before the next off-day.