Day One of the 2017 New Japan Cup tournament is in the books and four of the company’s best have advanced in Bracket A into the second round. Yuji Nagata, Bad Luck Fale, Toru Yano, and EVIL kept their championship dreams alive with their victories this morning.
Eight more will do battle within Bracket B in hopes not only remaining in the field but ultimately be the last man standing when all is said and done. A Cleaner looks to reclaim his shot at immortality, a graduated young boy aims for his first major championship ever, a deadly rivalry will see gas doused on the flame, and two standouts of their respective factions set out to prove they are capable of fulfilling both their potential and destiny.
Juice Robinson vs. Yujiro Takahashi
In August 2015, Juice Robinson ventured into New Japan following several years within World Wrestling Entertainment’s developmental system as CJ Parker. While seeing action in FCW and NXT, he displayed raw, natural ability but hadn’t found the missing ingredient that prevented him from climbing up the ladder.
All the pieces of the puzzle have begun to come together for him and he is a poised for a potentially great 2017.
After pushing Never Champion Hirooki Goto to the limit at New Beginning in Sapporo, Robinson looks to completely shed his young lion status and reach the greatest heights he can imagine in his first New Japan Cup outing. In order to do so he will have to find a way around the crafty tactics of Bullet Club’s resident PIMP.
Yujiro Takahashi has found spurts of success as a member of both CHAOS and Bullet Club but hasn’t tasted singles gold since a brief run as Never Openweight Champion in 2014. In recent months he looks to have rediscovered a taste for victory that matches his taste for lovely female companionship. This will be his seventh New Japan Cup appearance, only advancing out of the first round in three.
Robinson has found himself but will need to be prepared for everything Takahashi brings to the table. He comes off laid back making a grand entrance but is still a dangerous competitor between the ropes. He and Tetsuya Naito as No Limit once dominated the tag team scene for a reason.
It may come down to who can land their signature move first as this should be a nip and tuck battle. Either Pulp Friction moves Robinson forward or he becomes another victim of the Tokyo Pimps, giving Takahashi plenty to celebrate behind closed doors.
Yoshi-Hashi vs. SANADA
Yoshi-Hashi, long considered the unsung hero of CHAOS, will be making his fourth New Japan Cup appearance and looking to finally advance out of the first round. His three previous outings resulted in early eliminations at the hands of La Sombra (2012), Yujiro Takahashi (2015) and Tetsuya Naito (2016). Looking past the defeats however and you find a man who has grown quite a bit over the years. In the five years he’s been back with New Japan since an excursion in Mexico’s CMLL, Yoshi has become CHAOS leader Kazuchika’s Okada personally selected tag team partner for many big tag matches and participation in the annual World Tag League. He has given tough challenges for the Never Championship, ROH World Championship and the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships. His biggest win to date was a pinfall victory over Kenny Omega in last year’s G1 Climax. Having been so close to establishing himself in the top tier, that motivation combined with his mastering of a double underhook submission move could lead him to greater heights this tournament.
It won’t be easy in the least bit however. His opponent is somebody he knows all too well. A rival inside and outside the ring, the hatred shared with LIJ’s SANADA sets the stage for an explosive confrontation. SANADA has upped his game in a major way after stints with Impact Wrestling and Keiji Muto’s Wrestle-1 promotion. He turned up last April to help Naito defeat Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Invasion Attack and hasn’t looked back since. His new aggression has yielded him two reigns with fellow LIJ cohorts BUSHI and EVIL as Never Six Man Tag Team Champions and a major pinfall victory over Hiroshi Tanahashi at last year’s G1 Climax; that particular win is considered to be when he truly arrived as a singles star. At last year’s Dominion, Yoshi-Hashi submitted him in a tag team encounter which he has never forgotten or ceased looking to avenge.
It will be a battle of submissions as SANADA brings with him the deadly Skull End to match up with Yoshi’s Butterfly Lock. Yoshi-Hashi also utilizes Karma which SANADA will have to avoid. If both men can properly channel their respective hatred for the other, victory in his and the loser is left out in the cold, filled to the brim with regret and sorrow.
Kenny Omega vs. Tomohiro Ishii
Bullet Club’s leading man in charge, “The Cleaner” Kenny Omega, could potentially be the most motivated wrestler of the sixteen involved in this year’s Cup. Though this is his first appearance in the tournament, he is no stranger to making history and elevating himself to the top of the pack. Last year he became the first gaijin to win the G1 Climax in the entire history of the tournament and no doubt he would relish becoming the second ever gaijin to win the New Japan Cup as well. Doing so would put him back in a place he feels he should have conquered already. At Wrestle Kingdom 11 he came within a hair’s reach of dethroning Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship but The Rainmaker managed to put him away as he had so many others prior. After he and the entire Bullet Club were absent for most of February, they returned to pick up key victories at a pair of Honor Rising shows. Now Omega has a single goal in mind and that is to finally defeat Okada and set an entirely new era for New Japan’s biggest prize.
Standing in his way is the Pitbull of Okada’a CHAOS. Making his ninth NJ Cup appearance, Tomohiro Ishii has only ever known one direction and that is straight ahead regardless of how much damage is suffered in the process. Always a viable and threatening contender to any championship in the world, Ishii is a former four time Never Champion, ROH World Television Champion, and just recently held the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships with Yano. His distaste for Bullet Club will only fuel his desire to make Omega a permanent part of the canvas with his brainbuster. His ability to withstand ungodly amounts of punishment will make it that more difficult for Omega to connect with the One Winged Angel, the same move Okada was able to avoid at the Tokyo Dome. Ishii would love nothing more to break on through to a level many feel he has been more than ready for the past few years.
So whose desire is stronger? Which man will go that extra mile to secure themselves another shot at glory? Will Omega power through the Pitbull or will the Cleaner ironically be needed cleaning up off the canvas?
Minoru Suzuki vs. Katsuyori Shibata
When Minoru Suzuki resurfaced at New Year Dash in January, he and his Suzuki-Gun faction were primed for a complete takeover. He immediately targeted Kazuchika Okada and after extensive targeting of his leg, he was the heavy favorite when they met at New Beginning in Sapporo for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. What he didn’t count on was Okada’s fighting spirit to hit its highest peak and allow him to survive with both his health and championship. Yet even that setback hasn’t slowed Suzuki down. If anything it further reinforced he was on the right track; it would just require a different avenue of reaching the end game. This will be his third appearance in the New Japan Cup. In 2014 he reached the semifinals but was ultimately eliminated by eventual winner Shinsuke Nakamura.
Going into Day 2 he will stand across the ring from a warrior he has inexplicably chosen to make an enemy of. Katsuyori Shibata will be making his third NJ Cup appearance and will be out for victory and revenge as he sets out to be the title contender fans have been wanting him to be for the past several years. 2017 hasn’t been too favorable for the Penalty Kick kingpin however. At Wrestle Kingdom 11, he dropped the Never Championship to Hirooki Goto and at the 45th Anniversary Show, Suzuki assisted Zack Sabre Jr in defeating him for the British Heavyweight Championship; adding further insult was Sabre Jr joining SZG immediately after the win.
This will likely be the hardest hitting match of the entire tournament. Both are known to take punishment and laugh in the face of their opponents. Sometimes Shibata will sit or stand mid-ring allowing the hardest kicks and forearms to be delivered.
Both are submission experts and the jockeying for the right moment to strike will be a true chess game inside a wrestling ring. Both also like to set up their finisher maneuvers with a choke; whoever is able to fully lock theirs in is all but certain to get his hand raised.
Suzuki will either Gotch Piledriver his way to the next round or pay the ultimate penalty.