This year’s new Japan Cup will start this Thursday, (March 3) and will continue until March 12 (Final). The winner will have the right to challenge either the NEVER Openweight Champion (Katsuyori Shibata, the IWGP Intercontinental Champion (Kenny Omega) or the IWGP Heavyweight Champion (Kazuchika Okada). Now that the stage has been set, let’s have some fun predicting stuff!
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Bad Luck Fale:
On the surface, this looks like a no-brainer since Tanahashi is one of the two most-cited top-favorites to win this and Fale has been nowhere near the upper-card ever since his feud with Okada came to an end. But if you scratch a bit, you’ll realize things might not be as simple. Tanahashi will always be cited as top-favorite to any tournament he enters, but, in this case, what would be achieved by him winning? His already lost decisively against Okada so I don’t see NJPW revive that particular feud. He will want a re-match against Omega, but, the truth is, since the IC title was vacant when the two clashed at new beginnings, Tanahashi will get his re-match no matter what. So top-favorite yes, but on name-value alone then because it’s actually very unlikely Tanahashi will win this year’s NJC.
This is were Fale might come in, not by pinning Tanahashi one-on-one, but by stealing a victory with the help of his Bullet Club’s teammates. That’s actually Fale’s only possible role this year, either he does that or he’s yet another scalp added on Tanahashi’s already richly decorated belt. I still go with Tanahashi as the winner here though, simply because it might give us a very intriguing match in the quarter-finals, but more on this in the preview for the next match.
Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Michael Elgin:
I can be very short about Tenzan, the veteran is here to make up the numbers. Nothing more. But, while Elgin is not often sited as a candidate to win, he could very well be the dark horse of this tournament. Ever since he first appeared in NJPW, Elgin has been cited as potential opponent for just about everybody and that includes NEVER Champion Shibata and Heavyweight Champion Okada. And for good reason since Elgin, who had become completely stale in ROH, made an immediate connection with the Japanese crowds thanks to his power moves-based style and his in-ring presence. Furthermore, the last obstacle against a prolonged Elgin push was removed when Elgin signed a two-year deal with NJPW a couple of weeks ago. The length of the contract is relevant here as NJPW usually works with one year deals, so this certainly hints at long-term interest towards Big Mike. Does all of the above mean that Elgin might be the surprise winner? Perhaps not, but it certainly doesn’t hurt his chance. I fully expect him to, at least, win this first round match, which would mean we could have a Tanahashi/Elgin clash in the quarter-finals. The two friends have worked well together in the past months, so this would be a very intriguing match. And IF Elgin wins that one, that would give him the only thing he’s been missing up until now, a huge win over one of NJPW’s top stars. After that, the sky is the limit for Big Mike…
Winner: Michael Elgin
Togi Makabe vs. Tama Tonga
This match has to been seen as a continuation of the feud between NJPW Tag team Champions GBH and the Bullet Clubas none of those two has much of a chance of making it to the semi’s, let alone win this. That being said, there has been quite a bit of speculation about who Tonga’s new tag team partner is going to be, and something tells me we will finally know his identity, just after Tonga scores a big victory over Makabe (I think), so that’s certainly something to look forward to.
Winner: Tama Tonga
Yuji Nagata vs. Hirooki Goto:
Same match as last year, but with a very different feel. Last year, Nagata just came out of a losing effort against Nakamura at NB, while Goto was right on the verge of receiving the push that would lead him to IC gold. Goto won convincingly and would make it to the Final (where he lost against Kota Ibushi). This year, Nagata has promised that he wasn’t done yet while Goto is stuck in a storyline slump, after his loss to Okada at this year’s New Beginning. To further add to his woes, Goto is also stuck between Okada and Shibata, storyline-wise, which, let’s face it, isn’t a very comfortable place to be right now. So, the question is, does Goto suffer one more loss? How will Shibata react to that? Will Okada then once more tell him that his only option to re-invent himself is to join CHAOS? And how will Shibata react to THAT? Then again, there is a (perhaps somewhat remote) possibility of Goto coming out of this as the surprise winner. If they wanna accelerate the current storyline, then having Goto win, call out Okada, surprise everyone by accepting Okada’s invitation to join CHAOS and then challenge Shibata for the NEVER title would actually make sense. Of course that would also leave Okada without clear challenger for Invasion Attack, but that’s something that can be worked around. I’m gonna go with Goto for this match, because, even without winning this tournament, something will definitely happen to advance the aforementioned storyline.
Winner: Hirooki Goto
Tomoaki Honma vs. Satoshi Kojima:
Kojima is an interesting case. Like Nagata he has stated he wasn’t done yet. Unlike Nagata, fans and observers would actually welcome one more solid push for the master of the Lariat. The reason for that is that Kojima has been impressing everybody with his performances in recent months. The 45 year old is still in great shape, very popular, has (mostly) avoided injuries these last few years and, most importantly, can still wrestle up a storm inside that ring. Does that mean NJPW throws Kojima at Okada for Invasion Attack? That might be a bridge too far, but do not count this veteran out, I expect at least a deep run from him. As for Honma, well, he will entertain, he will miss some Kokeshi’s, land others, but in the end the heroic loser will, well, lose. By the way, if Kojima indeed beats Honma here, then that’s yet another team (TenKoji) that would have reasons to challenge GBH for the tag team belts. Could be interesting.
Winner: Satoshi Kojima
Toru Yano vs. Yujiro Takahashi:
This is basically the comedic relief match between two wrestlers whose main offensive move is the low blow. Most logical winner here would be Yano because, even if he’s a mid-card player, he’s still light-years ahead of the irrelevant Takahashi. Unless, of course, Takahashi once again starts to bring his girlfriend with him, then I won’t mind him surviving until the quarter finals. Whoever wins, becomes lunch for Kojima though…
Winner: Toru Yano
Tomohiro Ishii vs. EVIL:
Rather difficult to predict this one. EVIL could use a big win. Indeed while the artist formerly known as Takaaki Watanabe has been booked to look like a bad-ass in tag matches or as interference runner for Naito, as a singles wrestler he hasn’t exactly set the wrestling world on fire since his return to NJPW. Problem is, whomever wins this match will face Naito in the quarters. While Naito could probably pull off some Fingerpoke Of Doom-type scenario (a move the typical Japanese crowd would NOT find very amusing in normal circumstances), it would actually achieve little. So Ishii has to be the favorite for this match, but The Stone Pitbull is in a bit of a strange place right now, after losing twice, in a decisive manner, to Katsuyori Shibata. If he wins this tournament, and that’s a big if, he could challenge the NEVER champion again, continuing the CHAOS/Shibata/Goto storyline, but I deem this quite unlikely. No the Stone Pitbull will growl, bite and kick some asses the way only he can do, but, he won’t go beyond the quarters.
Winner: Tomohiro Ishii
Yoshi-Hashi vs. Tetsuya Naito
The result of this match is a foregone conclusion, Naito will destroy that other NJPW Heroic Loser that is YOSHI-HASHI. But the real question is, will Naito win this year’s New Japan Cup? Since turning heel, Naito has completely revived his career, to the point that the once stale as last month’s bread wrestler is now right on the verge of being welcomed back to the main event scene. With open arms I might add. So, yes, I deem a Naito win very likely here, but, who will he challenge if he does? IC Champ Omega has Tanahashi to play with, while Heavyweight champ Okada and NEVER Champ Shibata are starting to work towards a clash. Shibata who also has some unresolved issues with Naito. See what I’m getting at here? Okada vs Naito WILL happen this year, but there is actually little reason to have it happen at Invasion Attack. We’ll see how things turn out, but this could get very interesting…
So if I’m right (and the chance of that is slim), we would get the following quarter-finals:
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Michael Elgin
Tama Tonga vs Hirooki Goto
Toru Yano vs Satoshi Kojima
Tomohiro Ishii vs Tetsuya Naito
But I’m not the one with the booking plan of course, and Gedo has surprised us before. Many times even. So we’ll have to see what happens.
Top favorite: Tetsuya Naito
Top Favorite who won’t win: Hiroshi Tanahashi
Dark Horse: Michael Elgin
Outsiders: Satoshi Kojima and Hirooki Goto
If hell freezes over: Yuji Nagata, Tomohiro Ishii
Busy with other things: Tama Tongo, Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma
Bodyguards Inc: Bad Luck Fale, EVIL
I’m just here to sell DVD’s: Toru Yano
I swear I’m gonna win one this time (no you won’t): YOSHI-HASHI
Can someone point me towards the infirmary: Hiroyoshi Tenzan
Dude, where is your girlfriend: Yujiro Takahashi
Tags: bad Luck fale, EVIL, Hirooki Goto, hiroshi tanahashi, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Katsuyori Shibata, kazuchika okada, Kenny Omega, Michael Elgin, New Japan Cup 2016, njpw, Satoshi Kojima, Tama Tonga, Tetsuya Naito, Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma, Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano, Yoshi Hashi, Yuji Nagata, Yujiro TAkahashi