Zack Sabre Jr Wins the 2018 New Japan Cup

Zack Sabre Jr has outlasted sixteen of the top performers in New Japan Pro Wrestling to become the first ever European winner of the prestigious New Japan Cup tournament. This puts Sabre in elite company, as he is the first gaijin to win this tournament in twelve years, since Giant Bernard (WWE’s Albert/NXT’s Matt Bloom) in 2005. “The Technical Wizard” has been world-renowned as the best technical wrestler in the world and that’s now been solidified after submission victories over the world’s best. Zack Sabre Jr will be the first man from the United Kingdom to challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship since William Regal in 1995. The winner of the annual tournament receives a championship match of their choice. The NEVER Openweight championship held by Hirooki Goto and the IWGP Intercontinental Championship held by Minoru Suzuki were also choices, but Sabre chose IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada in a first-time match.

First, Tetsuya Naito was submitted in the opening round to the shock of many. Then SANADA and Kota Ibushi were bent like pretzels and forced to tap out. That left “The Ace” Hiroshi Tanahashi in the Finals, a man that had a 1-1 record with Zack Sabre Jr. Sabre had defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi in the 2017 New Japan Cup with the Jim Breaks armbar. Hiroshi Tanahashi evened the odds at Destruction In Hiroshima with High Fly Flow. The tie-breaker in the New Japan Cup finals was a thrilling back-and-forth with Sabre unable to put Tanahashi away with a Penalty Kick or European Clutch. Hiroshi Tanahashi hit the High Fly Flow but made the mistake of going to the well one more time and Sabre moved out of the way from a second High Fly Flow. Tanahashi was forced to submit to Orienteering With Napalm Death, a modified Banana Split submission.

The career of Zack Sabre Jr has reached it’s pinnacle in the United Kingdom where he has reigned supreme as the British Heavyweight champion in RevPro since March 2017 and faced legends such as Kurt Angle. It was time to take NJPW by storm and the EVOLVE Wrestling Champion now gets the biggest match of his life when he faces Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Sakura Genesis on April 1. It’s a quick rise to the main events for Sabre, who debuted at the NJPW 45th Anniversary just one year ago in a British Heavyweight Championship match with Katsuyori Shibata.

ZSJ defeated Tanahashi last July in the G1 Climax (Photo: NJPW)

Some wrestlers get complacent ,whereas Sabre has only gotten better in every aspect of the game. Sabre has added Hypernormalisation, a double-armbar, to his repertoire of submissions and there aren’t many anywhere that can match those skills. Kazuchika Okada has been using the Cobra Clutch since late-2017 and gained a victory with it over Chase Owens in a tag team match on the same night of the New Japan Cup Finals. When Zack Sabre Jr won the New Japan Cup, SuzukiGun member TAKA got on the microphone only to get cut off by Okada’s manager Gedo. Gedo said Sabre will not tap out Okada because he is on another level. When we get to the showdown at Sakura Genesis, will Kazuchika Okada attempt to beat Sabre with his own game? Will Sabre succeed where others have failed and bring Okada to the breaking point? Zack Sabre Jr has made history and NJPW shows us great, unpredictable booking can still come from tournaments.