By Chris Vetter, ProWrestling.net Contributor (@chrisvetter73)
New Japan Pro Wrestling “New Japan Cup”
March 18, 2023 in Gunma, Japan at G Messe Gunma
Streamed on New Japan World
This is show eleven of the tournament, featuring the semifinal matches. On Saturday, I predicted Sanada and Tama Tonga winning to advance, so let’s see what happens! This is a very small gym and the crowd is perhaps 600-800, but it is packed. Kevin Kelly provided solo commentary as the show began.
1. Shota Umino and Oskar Leube defeated Zack Sabre Jr. and Kosei Fujita at 11:04. Umino beat Sabre earlier in the tournament, and based on pre-match antics, Umino now wants a shot at Sabre’s TV title. The Young Lions opened against each other. Sabre tagged in at 3:00 and immediately went to work on Leube’s left leg. Umino got in and hit a Northern Lights suplex on Sabre for a nearfall at 6:30. They traded forearm shots and European Uppercuts. Fujita got in and hit some forearm shots. Umino hit a backbreaker over his knee at 9:00 and he applied a half-crab, but Sabre made the save.
Leube hit a running bodyslam on Sabre. Fujita got an O’Connor Roll on Shota for a nearfall, and he was fired up. Shota fired back with a release Northern Lights Suplex. Shota applied a headlock, cranked back on the chin, and Fujita tapped out. Sabre and Umino continued to jaw at each other after the bell. Decent opener.
2. “The Bullet Club” El Phantasmo, Chase Owens, and Kenta defeated Ryohei Oiwa, Toru Yano, and Tomohiro Ishii at 7:12. Silly antics at the bell with Yano clutching onto a ring pad as the Bullet Club beat him down. Ishii entered at 3:00 and he hit a German Suplex on Chase. Chase hit a running penalty kick to the chest for a nearfall. Oiwa and ELP entered at 5:00, with Phantasmo hitting a spin kick to the head. He set up for his modified Styles Clash, but Oiwa fought free. They traded rollups when Phantasmo suddenly got the pin on Oiwa. That came out of nowhere. Owens and Ishii brawled some more after the bell.
3. “The House of Torture” EVIL, Dick Togo, Sho, and Yujiro Takahashi defeated Minoru Suzuki, El Desperado, Ren Narita, and Ryusuke Taguchi at 12:10. All eight brawled at the bell. Yujiro and Desperado fought in the ring. Ren entered and hit a Northern Lights suplex on Yujiro. Meanwhile, EVIL and Suzuki brawled on the floor. In the ring, the HoT took turns working over Narita, and this went on for several minutes. Suzuki finally made the hot tag at 7:30 and hit some forearm shots on EVIL and a Mafia Kick. Suzuki applied a Fujiwara Armbar, but EVIL reached the ropes.
Suzuki set up for a Gotch-style piledriver on Togo, but Taguchi insisted he got tagged in, so Minoru tagged out at 10:00. Taguchi did his ‘player coach’ hand gestures, which ticked off Suzuki, so Suzuki chopped his partner Taguchi! Taguchi hit a mid-ring buttbump on Togo, then he applied an anklelock, but Togo rolled free. Sho entered and hit Taguchi in the head with his wrench to score the tainted pin. The HoT took back the six-man tag titles they lost to Suzuki’s team last month and ran to the back with them.
* El Phantasmo joined Kevin Kelly on commentary. ELP is actually my favorite guest-commentator of the NJPW roster.
4. “The United Empire” Kyle Fletcher and Jeff Cobb defeated Tomoaki Honma and Yoshi-Hashi at 11:17. Again, we are headed toward an Aussie Open-Bishamon tag title match, and this serves as a preview, with Fletcher and Yoshi-Hashi opening the match and traded shoulder tackles. Honma entered and missed a Kokeshi falling headbutt, and the UE began working him over. Yoshi-Hashi re-entered at 6:00 and hit a Headhunter flipping neckbreaker on Fletcher, then a Rude Awakening neckbreaker for a nearfall.
Cobb and Honma re-entered, and Cobb hit some forearms. Honma went for a bodyslam but Cobb blocked it. Honma hit a running Facewash in the corner at 8:30. Cobb set up for a Kokeshi as ELP shouted “Give the people what they want!” but he missed it. Cobb hit the Spin Cycle swinging back slam, then the standing moonsault for a nearfall. Honma headbutted Cobb in the chest. However, Cobb immediately hit the Tour of the Islands swinging powerslam for the pin. Solid match. Fletcher and Yoshi-Hashi kept arguing after the match.
* Backstory: Much like Shota Umino pinned Sabre in this tournament, Aaron Henare pinned KOPW champion Shingo Takagi.
5. “United Empire” Aaron Henare and Great-O-Khan defeated “Los Ingobernobles de Japon” Shingo Takagi and Bushi at 11:00 even. Henare and Shingo opened, and Kelly and Phantasmo talked about what sort of quirky match these two should have for the KOPW title. They all brawled to the floor, with ELP cheering on the UE. Kelly talked about the dysfunction within the Bullet Club and asked Phantasmo why they can’t get on the same page. Back in the ring, the UE worked over Bushi in their corner, with Aaron hitting punches to the gut at 4:30.
Shingo finally made the hot tag and he suplexed O-Khan for a nearfall at 6:30. O-Khan hit a Northern Lights suplex for a nearfall. Henare entered and hit a Samoan Drop for a nearfall; he set up for the Rampage football tackle, but Shingo blocked it. Bushi tagged in and hit a missile dropkick on Henare, then a dive through the ropes on him at 9:30. ELP said there isn’t a move that has “f**ked up more people than Bushi’s suicide dive,” and Kelly immediately admonished him for swearing. Funny. In the ring, Henare applied the Full Nelson on Bushi — O-Khan put Shingo in the Sheepkiller to hold him at bey — and Bushi tapped out.
* Henare got on the mic and challenged Shingo to a title match, saying he beat Shingo twice, and he wants to name the stipulation for the match! Shingo responded in Japanese, with Phantasmo providing his own funny (and undoubtedly incorrect) translation. Great-O-Khan got on the mic and also spoke to the crowd.
6. “Los Ingobernobles de Japon” Hiromu Takahashi and Tetsuya Naito defeated Lio Rush and Yoh at 10:44. Kelly continued to press Phantasmo about why there is internal strife in the Bullet Club. Hiromu and Lio started; they will square off Tuesday. Naito jumped in the ring and tugged on Lio’s braids. Lio hit an enzuigiri on Hiromu, then a huracanrana. Lio and Yoh hit a team suplex on Hiromu at 2:00. Hiromu tied up Yoh in the ropes, then he threw Yoh into the guardrail. In the ring, Hiromu applied a leglock around Yoh’s head.
Yoh hit a standing neckbreaker on Naito, and he made the hot tag to Lio at 5:30. Lio and Hiromu traded quick reversals. Yoh hit a plancha on Naito; Lio hit a dive through the ropes on Hiromu. In the ring, Hiromu and Lio hit simultaneous clotheslines, and they were both down at 7:30. Yoh hit a flying forearm on Naito, then a DDT for a nearfall. Naito hit a second-rope Blockbuster on Yoh. Yoh nailed a Falcon Arrow for a nearfall at 9:30. Lio hit a spin kick to Hiromu’s head. Yoh set up for a superkick on Naito, but Naito blocked it. Naito hit an enzuigiri on Yoh, then a tornado DDT, then the Destino flipping faceplant for the pin. Really good match.
7. David Finlay (w/Gedo) defeated Tama Tonga (w/Jado) in a New Japan Cup semifinal match at 18:47. Great-O-Khan is on Japanese commentary. An intense lockup at the bell. Tama hit a dropkick at 2:00. Finlay dropped him throat-first on the top rope and he hit a back suplex, and Tama immediately clutched at his lower back. Finlay began working over the lower back, whipping Tama into the corner. Finlay applied a Cobra Clutch on the mat. Tama ripped off his vest and hit a Stinger Splash at 7:00. Finlay bailed to the floor, so Tama hit a plancha.
In the ring, Finlay hit a chop block to the back of Tama’s left knee, and Tama shreiked in pain at 8:30. Finlay stood behind Tama and hit some crossface blows. Tama nailed the Tongan Twist swinging faceplant, and they were both down. They traded forearm shots while on their knees, then while standing. Tama nailed his rolling Death Valley Driver at 11:30, then a frogsplash for a believable nearfall. Tama set up for the Stun Gun, but Finlay blocked it. Finlay hit a stunner for a nearfall! Finlay hit a spear for a nearfall. Tama applied a Sharpshooter as we hear the 15:00 announcement. Finlay eventually reached the ropes.
Finlay hit a backbreaker over his knee, then a Dominator faceplant for a believable nearfall at 17:00. Tama hit a Bloody Sunday brainbuster for a believable nearfall. Tama again went for Gun Stun but Finlay blocked it. Finlay nailed the Trash Panda neckbreaker over his knee for the pin. Wow, what a really good match, particularly the last five minutes.
* Gedo spoke on the mic in Japanese, then once again said in English, “the rebel takes over f—ing everything!” Finlay stopped at the commentary table and jawed a bit with teammate Phantamso.
* Again, the big storyline news from Friday is that after Sanada advanced to the semifinals, he quit Los Ingobernobles de Japon and joined Taichi’s faction. Meanwhile, Davis was pinned by teammate Will Ospreay, but returned to the tournament when Ospreay bowed out because of a shoulder injury.
8. Sanada (w/Taichi, etc.) defeated Mark Davis in a New Japan Cup semifinal tournament match at 13:11. Sanada has dyed his hair black and shaved the side of his head; he looks notably different than two days ago. They brawled on the floor early on. In the ring, Sanada hit a dropkick on the knee at 4:00 then a plancha to the floor. Davis dove through the ropes onto Sanada at 5:30; that is a big man to do that move! In the ring, Davis hit a second-rope flying shoulder tackle for a nearfall. Sanada hit a top-rope missile dropkick, but Davis shrugged it off.
Davis hit a back suplex for a nearfall at 8:00. Sanada hit a TKO stunner for a nearfall. Davis hit a Bulldog Powerslam for a nearfall. Davis missed a top-rope frogsplash. Sanada went for a top-rope moonsault, but Davis got his knees up to block it, and they were both down at 10:00. Davis nailed a decapitating clothesline for a nearfall, then a diving forearm in the corner. Sanada got an O’Connor Roll for a nearfall at 12:00. Davis hit a piledriver for a nearfall, and he set up for the Waterslide slam off his shoulders, but Sanada escaped. Sanada then hit the Jay White Blade Runner swinging faceplant for the pin. Fantastic match.
* David Finlay and Gedo returned to the ring to stand nose-to-nose with Sanada. Gedo then spoke in English saying, “See you next time, Just Five Losers.”
Final Thoughts: Two really good semifinal matches. I really liked that Sanada and Davis had a fast barnburner of a match; this was far better than having a prolonged 25-minute battle. I was wrong on Tama Tonga getting to the finals; I really saw him as a likely title contender for Okada. I don’t know if the NJPW crowds are buying into Finlay’s rocket ship into the main event; I am admittedly skeptical.
One of the things I love about NJPW’s many tournaments is the way they use it to kick-start feuds. First, you have tournament matches that might not ‘make sense’ outside of a tournament, with face-face or even heel-heel that otherwise wouldnt happen. But you also can begin a feud like Shota Umino-Zack Sabre. Pretty basic wrestling concept: Shota scored one pin on Sabre, and now wants a shot at Sabre’s belt, confident he can do it again. Exact same thing with Henare-Shingo.
After a day off Monday, the tournament concludes Tuesday!
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