Preview: New Japan Cup 2021 (3/4/21-3/21/21)

New Japan Cup Card

The New Japan Cup is the first annual tournament in the New Japan Pro Wrestling calendar. The main focus of this tournament is to crown a number one contender for the brand new IWGP World Heavyweight Championship at Sakura Genesis. This tournament features 30 participants and in this preview of the New Japan Cup card, we will cover the matches and favorites for the tournament.

Left Side of The Bracket

Satoshi Kojima vs. Jeff Cobb

Photo / NJPW

Satoshi Kojima and Jeff Cobb have had a history since the beginning of 2021. This has been notably seen in clashes between the team Kojima and Hiroyoshi Tenzan and The Empire (Will Ospreay, Great O-Khan, and Cobb). Cobb doesn’t have much potential to go further in the New Japan Cup, with the winner of this match taking on EVIL in the second round. Kojima has an even smaller chance, as he would have to defeat Cobb and also go on to face EVIL. It should be an easy win for Cobb here in the opening round.

Hirooki Goto (2009, 2010 & 2012 New Japan Cup Winner) vs. Taichi

Hirooki Goto is usually one of the heavy favorites of the tournament. He has been in the finals of many of these tournaments while having won three of them. Goto faces off against Taichi in a throwback to their 2018 rivalry for the NEVER Openweight Championship. Taichi has a mixed record in this tournament, going out in the first round in 2018 and making it to the semi-finals in 2019. The last bout between them led to Taichi defeating Goto for the NEVER Openweight Championship. Goto has many major rivals like Kazuchika Okada, KENTAMinoru Suzuki, and Shingo Takagi to look out for further down the New Japan Cup card. There is even a potential rematch of the 2016 New Japan Cup finals against Tetsuya Naito in the cards. With a new attitude from Taichi in recent weeks, this could be a breakout tournament performance. On an interesting note, Taichi could go up against Suzuki later down the line in a Suzuki-gun vs. Suzuki-gun bout.

Tetsuya Naito (2016 New Japan Cup Winner) vs. Great O-Khan

New Japan Cup Card
Photo / NJPW

Tetsuya Naito has had a very mixed relationship with the New Japan Cup. Naito won this tournament back in 2016. However, since that win, he has dealt with bad luck regarding the New Japan Cup. This is perhaps best highlighted by his elimination in the first round in 2018 by Zack Sabre Jr. The Great O-Khan is making both his singles tournament and New Japan Cup debuts against Naito in their first-ever encounter. While Naito does have that mixed history, he could also be a heavy favorite within this tournament. Later on, he could face the likes of Toru Yano and major rival EVIL within the New Japan Cup card. Naito could also potentially face off against Okada or Takagi in the bracket final. This could be a definitive performance for Naito if he can break this “curse.” While Naito works toward New Japan Cup redemption, the Great O-Khan is on the hunt for his first major victory. 

Tomoaki Honma vs. Minoru Suzuki

Suzuki taking on Tomoaki Honma seems like a thrown-together match, as they have not been involved in a feud together recently. While Suzuki has had a very mixed record, Honma has the worst. To date, Honmna has lost in every New Japan Cup that he has been part of. Suzuki is the favorite here, with potential bouts against Taichi and KENTA further down the New Japan Cup card. Suzuki dedicated himself to having one of the best years of his career in 2020. He could make 2021 even more dominant by winning the New Japan Cup, even if it is on the more unlikely side of things. It could set up another incredible match with Kota Ibushi for the new IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. 

Toru Yano vs. Bad Luck Fale 

Photo / NJPW

Toru Yano and Bad Luck Fale have been feuding for the past few months over the King of Pro Wrestling title, which Toru Yano still holds. In the last encounter between these two, Yano defeated Fale in a fatal four-way match also involving Chase Owens and BUSHI. While Yano is infamous for tournament upsets, he is facing someone who has had success in this tournament before. Fale was a finalist in both the 2014 and 2017 New Japan Cups. This tournament could be the start to once again legitimizing the Underboss of Bullet Club or, Yano could run away with the upset once again. 

Kazuchika Okada (2013 & 2019 New Japan Cup Winner) vs. Shingo Takagi

Okada and Takagi have only faced off once before, in the 2020 G1 Climax, with Okada picking up the victory. 2021 will be Takagi’s second attempt at capturing New Japan Cup glory while Okada is a two-time Cup winner. Okada now wants to become the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion against a person who has been unsuccessful in previous tournaments so far. This is one of those matches to look out for, as these two could one of the best of the entire New Japan Cup card. 

In terms of future matches, if Takagi wins, he would have knocked off a key player of the tournament and could face off against Goto and Suzuki later on. It could also lead to the first-ever meeting of Takagi and KENTA. If Okada wins, he could revisit his rivalry with Goto from 2016 or renew his continued feud with Suzuki. This match is unique in that it genuinely could go either way. 

Juice Robinson vs. KENTA

Juice Robinson was scheduled to have a match against KENTA at Wrestle Kingdom 15 with the briefcase containing a shot at the IWGP United States Champion on the line. Sadly, this match was unable to take place due to Robinson suffering an injury. Now, the anticipated second match between Robinson and KENTA will finally take place in the New Japan Cup. In terms of history, this will be KENTA’s first attempt at the New Japan Cup, while it is Robinson’s fourth attempt. In terms of favorites, KENTA seems to be a heavy favorite, as he could use this as a catalyst to get back into his feud against Ibushi, as well as elevate Bullet Club. This is one of those matches where it is pretty hard to call, as it could easily go either way. 

Right Side of The Bracket

Tomohiro Ishii vs. SANADA

New Japan Cup Card
Photo / NJPW

Since his debut for NJPW in 2016, SANADA has had some of the most successful runs in the New Japan Cup. He advanced to the second round in 2017, the semi-finals in 2018, the finals in 2019, and again to the semi-finals last year. Tomohiro Ishii, on the other hand, has a mixed record within this tournament. The Stone Pitbull has never made it to the finals, only as far as the semi-finals in 2017 and 2019. These two would notably have the occasional bout in the yearly G1 Climax and faced each other in the 2017 New Japan Cup. The current record between them is 2-1, with Ishii in the lead. SANADA could be a favorite in this tournament, however, considering their history, Ishii could also be a favorite. Upsets are a thing that this tournament is famous for, so anything can happen. 

Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Will Ospreay

Will Ospreay and Hiroyoshi Tenzan have a similar story to that of Kojima and Cobb; they have been clashing for the last couple of months, and Ospreay almost injuring Tenzan as a result. In terms of favorites of this tournament, it seems like an easy win for Ospreay. Ospreay is a heavy favorite within this tournament, and many predict him to win the New Japan Cup this year. Ospreay could revive a feud against Zack Sabre Jr, Hiroshi Tanahashi, and even Jay White in this tournament. There is also the potential for a Wrestle Kingdom 15 rematch against Okada in the finals. 

YOSHI-HASHI vs. Yujiro Takahashi

Photo / NJPW

YOSHI-HASHI and Yujiro Takahashi may not have the potential to win this tournament outright, but some key wins could be huge for YOSHI-HASHI. It should also be noted that YOSHI-HASHI is in the same bracket as Jay White, with whom he has been feuding. If White defeats Tanahashi, YOSHI-HASHI could get his revenge on him. Sadly for Takahashi, it would appear he is just considered pin-fodder for the tournament. It seems like an easy victory for YOSHI-HASHI, to continue to face his rival White.

Gabriel Kidd vs. Zack Sabre Jr (2018 New Japan Cup Winner)

In terms of history, Zack Sabre Jr and Gabriel Kidd have a rivalry going back to the early days of What Culture Pro Wrestling. ZSJ was the one to dethrone Kidd for the WCPW Internet Championship in 2017. Since becoming a young lion, Kidd has not had much luck in winning matches. This is typical within New Japan for wrestlers when they are young in their careers there. ZSJ is a favorite this year, as young lions, in general, do not have the potential to go deep into the tournament. He also does have the potential to revive old feuds with Ospreay, Tanahashi, or Ishii. There is also the potential for the first-ever encounter between Zack Sabre Jr and Jay White. 

David Finlay vs. Chase Owens

New Japan Cup Card
Photo / NJPW

David Finlay and Chase Owens have a history going back to the 2020 New Japan Cup USA tournament. It was there that Finlay would defeat Owens in the first round. Owens has been unlucky as of late, having lost his most recent match against Toru Yano. Meanwhile, Finlay has been in a successful tag team with Juice Robinson; the duo even appeared for IMPACT Wrestling recently. While making his New Japan Cup debut, Finlay also can revisit his rivalry with Jay White; the two had a feud back when they were young lions. While Owens did make the second round in 2019, he’s not a favorite for this year’s tournament.

Yuji Nagata (2007 & 2011 New Japan Cup Winner) vs. Yota Tsuji

Yuji Nagata is one of the top veterans of the company and is facing off against a young lion in Yota Tsuji. This bout could be the start of a rise for Nagata, as the winner does have the potential to face off against Ishii or SANADA. Later on in the bracket, Nagata could even revive his feud with Tanahashi and could have a technical masterpiece against Zack Sabre Jr. Tsuji, like most young lions within this tournament, has no real chance of winning.

Toa Henare vs. Jay White

Photo / NJPW

In the main event of the March 10th show, Toa Henare will go one-on-one with Bullet Club leader Jay White. Jay White could be viewed as another key favorite for this tournament for a few reasons. White is currently riding a wave of momentum with a win over Ishii and is positioned as one of NJPW’s top stars. However, this bout could lead to a unique story, with both men being from the same city in New Zealand. Their careers went down different paths: one became a star and main eventer, while the other dealt with injuries. 

If Henare wins, it would be one of the biggest upsets of the tournaments. He could get a match against fellow World Tag League compatriot Tanahashi, and he could also get to face Ishii in a first-time-ever encounter. This match seems like an easy win for White, with his current momentum and card positioning weighted heavily against Henare. With that, White has the potential to make it deep into the New Japan Cup. A match against Tanahashi could make him an easy contender for the NEVER Openweight Championship. If he wins that bout, he could even finish his rivalry with YOSHI-HASHI. If White gets that far, he could easily win the tournament for the first time in his career.

Hiroshi Tanahashi (2005 and 2008 Winner) and EVIL (2020 New Japan Cup Winner)

Now that the entire first round has been run down, let’s talk about the two men who are in this tournament with byes into the second round: Tanahashi and EVIL. EVIL won the 2020 New Japan Cup, thus adding himself into the second round. He has the potential to go far in this tournament as the most recent winner and former IWGP Heavyweight Champion. Potential opponents for him include Naito, Cobb and, Okada, two of which are former rivals. 

Tanahashi also received a bye going into this tournament, as he intends to elevate the NEVER Openweight Championship in this tournament. For Tanahashi, competing in the tournament as a champion means any major loss could set the victor up for a title shot at Sakura Genesis in April. Realistically though, Tanahashi doesn’t have much potential for this tournament, for the simple reason that he is a champion already. It’s the season that is highly anticipated, with it being the first tournament of the year and now with the card officially broken down, it is now time for the New Japan Cup

Potential of Winners

Heavy Favorites

  • Jay White
  • Kazuchika Okada
  • Sanada
  • Tetsuya Naito
  • Zack Sabre Jr
  • Will Ospreay
  • KENTA
  • Hirooki Goto
  • EVIL
  • Great O-Khan
  • YOSHI-HASHI

Unlikely

  • Jeff Cobb
  • Toru Yano
  • Taichi
  • Shingo Takagi
  • Juice Robinson
  • Yuji Nagata
  • Hiroshi Tanahashi
  • Tomohiro Ishii
  • David Finlay
  • Minoru Suzuki

Easy Pins

  • Yujiro Takahashi
  • Chase Owens
  • Bad Luck Fale
  • Yota Tsuji
  • Toa Henare
  • Gabriel Kidd
  • Tomoaki Honma
  • Hiroyoshi Tenzan
  • Satoshi Kojima

Stay tuned to Last Word on Pro Wrestling for more on this and other stories from around the world of wrestling, as they develop. You can always count on LWOPW to be on top of the major news in the wrestling world, as well as to provide you with analysis, previews, videos, interviews, and editorials on the wrestling world. Make sure to watch New Japan Pro Wrestling on NJPW WORLD.

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