Following the March 15th New Japan Cup 2021 event, we have just eight competitors left. Dubbed the “elite eight,” these men are all-in with a chance to win a shot at the IWGP World Heavyweight Champion, Kota Ibushi. But, only one can win, and in this article, we will take a look at the performers that we see as the favorites to walk away as the New Japan Cup 2021 winner.
New Japan Cup’s “Elite Eight”
- Toru Yano
- Shingo Takagi
- Will Ospreay
- David Finlay Jr
- Jay White
EVIL, Yano, Takagi, and KENTA are the final four on the left-hand side of the bracket. They will compete on March 16th to whittle that down to just two competitors.
Ospreay, SANADA, Finlay, and White represent the final four on the right-hand side of the bracket. They will compete on March 18th to whittle that down to just two competitors.
At least six of the eight remaining competitors are in with a reasonable chance of winning the tournament. EVIL and Jay White are former IWGP Heavyweight Champions and EVIL even won this tournament just last year. Ospreay, Takagi, KENTA, and SANADA are also in with a good shot of victory as all four are in the top tier of performers in NJPW and could challenge for the top titles at any time. With that said who are our favorites to win?
With his heel turn late last year against Kazuchika Okada, Ospreay solidified his spot as a major player in NJPW. Since then he has become the leader of his own faction and had a marquee singles match against Okada at Wrestle Kingdom. While he lost to Okada at the Tokyo Dome, this elevation ensured that he would become a staple of the top title picture. Ospreay is in need of a first real big win since his heel turn and the New Japan Cup could be that launchpad. Not only would he likely have to defeat SANADA and Jay White to win the tournament, but, his match with Ibushi (presumably) at Sakura Genesis, would be a worthy main event. An excellent match in that spot with an old rival would be another feather in Ospreay’s cap as he gets lined up for an eventual run with the world heavyweight title.
The New Japan Cup has often been used to elevate people from the upper mid-card area to the title scene for one-off title challenges. Shingo Takagi fits that mold as he has just dropped the NEVER Openweight Championship and has never had a high-profile title run. Takagi winning the tournament and going on to have a killer match with Ibushi (again, presumably) would be a very typical way of elevating Takagi and getting an eye-catching main event for Sakura Genesis. This match would also make storyline sense as Ibushi has run through Los Ingobernables De Japon members, Tetsuya Naito, and SANADA already. Takagi is the only other LIJ heavyweight and would represent the group’s last chance at reclaiming the top title for the foreseeable future.
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