Metalhead’s Riff: Tournaments Are Fun! (New Japan Cup presentation and predictions)

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Another interesting week in the wacky world of wrestling, with one mega-signing for ROH, anticipation rising for that same promotion’s 13th anniversary show, and ROH (again) confirming that this year also, the Global Wars supershows (collaboration with NJPW) will be held in may. That should be Awesome again. Speaking of NJPW, They announced their brackets for their annual New Japan Cup (but more on this later as this will be the main course of this week’s column). Oh and the card for WM 31 is taking shape and looks like a… well.. errrrmh… Oh hell I don’t know, i Don’t even wanna write about that, give me back my Japanese wrestling!

Concerning Samoa Joe’s signing with ROH, this was, for me, the best thing he could have done. I know some were hoping he would sign with NXT, but, turn it any way you want, as explained last week, NXT still is WWE and WWE simply isn’t his scene. Signing with ROH will liberate Joe from the (figurative) chains TNA put around him with their booking, and, from a personal point of view, I would much rather see Joe being is good, old, charming, head-butting and ass-kicking self than watching an toned-down, WWE version of that.

Now, moving on to my main subject of this week, I am gonna let you all in on a little secret about myself (although my chosen title might have given this away somewhat). I love tournaments. I know, I know there have been bad ones in the past, and not everyone likes them, but still, whenever I hear that word, I tend to sit straight, pay attention and start looking at the brackets and try to figure out who has the best chances, what will unfold, and what possible storylines could come of it. Which is exactly what I propose to do right now whit a preview of the New Japan Cup.

NJPW’s New Japan Cup is a single-elimination tournament that has been held since 2005 (originally in April, then moved to Mars in 2007). This event has become a fixture in the Japanese wrestling scene. Since 2006 the winner  received a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship. In 2014 however that rule was changed to include the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, allowing then-winner Shinsuke Nakamura to successfully challenge Hiroshi Tanahashi for said belt. This year, another belt has been added, the NEVER Openweight Championship is now also on the list of titles that can be challenged. That particular match will happen on NJPW’s next big Pay-per-view event, Invasion Attack, to be held on April the 5th.

Now, let’s see who’s amongst this year’s hopefuls. I’ve put the matches in order of the tournament table, meaning the winners of match 1 and 2 will face each other in the first quarter final, match 3 and 4 in the second, match 5 and 6 in the third, match 7 and 8 in the fourth. QF winners 1 and 2 will face each-other in the semi’s, same as winners of QF 3 and 4. Hopefully this will make tings easier to follow. After a short presentation I will be adding my own predictions. Oh, and the first round of the tournament is scheduled for next week Wednesday, the quarters next Saturday.

 

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Toru Yano:

probably the easiest one to call. Tanahashi is still at the very top of NJPW’s hierarchy and probably THE favorite to win this. The fact that he lost the Heavyweight Championship at NB in Osaka to AJ Styles and would very much like to avenge that loss further cements his status. Toru Yano on the other hand is an card opening, bad comedy act who should considering himself lucky to even be in this thing. Besides he already won the price for “Dumbest Look Ever on a Tournament Photography”, so he’ll be happy with that. No way Yano beats Tanahashi, not in this universe, not in any universe.

Winner: Tanahashi

Kota Ibushi vs. Doc Gallows:

Ibushi has really been on the rise lately and could realistically pose a serious threat to Tanahashi in the quarters. few would really be shocked if he was to win this whole thing, and go on to challenge AJ styles for the Heavyweight Championship. Nakamura is also a possibility, but those two already butted heads in a absolute blinder at Wrestle Kingdom 9, so that is less likely. On the other hand, Ibushi just won DDT’s (his home promotion) KO-D Openweight Championship against Harashima in what I read was a quality match-up. Ibushi having a dual contract with both DDT and NJPW this might be detrimental to his chances of winning this, since in Japan are supposed to defend, or at least represent their belts on a regular base (unlike some other promotions I could name). Having a very busy shedule ahead of him some might be concerned about Ibushi’s freshness when Invasion Attack finally happens.                                                                                                         Finally, the rumor mill has it that Ibushi and Naito (who have formed a special occasion tag-team since the second half of 2014) might make their Golden Stardust team a  regular happening and challenge current champions Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson.

And while I’m saying that, his opponent just happens to be Doc Gallows. Imagine that. This reinforces the rumor about a clash between the champions and Golden Stardust of course. Also bear in mind that Meiyu Tag (Goto and Shibata) did exactly the same thing last year (Shibata beating Anderson and Goto beating Gallows) en route to taking the titles at Invasion attack.

Gallows is just here to provide a brick wall for Ibushi to crash trough, and give the latter an excuse to challenge for the titles.

Winner: Ibushi

Tetsuya Naito vs. Karl Anderson:

Pretty much the same story as above. Naito has had little going on lately, while this tournament might give him an opportunity to get something of a build-up towards an eventual challenge for a single title, the Golden Stardust Theory actually makes more sense. Naito is behind Okada, Tanahashi and even Ibushi in the hierarchy so him beating all of them is very unlikely. A tag-team run seems to be the way forward or him.

Anderson is the same story as gallows but less brick wall, more talent.

Winner: Naito

Kazuchika Okada vs. Bad Luck Fale:

This is a rather strange one. after weeks, months even of build-up, the Okada-Fale match happens here? Ok then.

In some other promotions I would scream Double DQ or something right about now, so they can have their grudge match at Invasion Attack, but this is not any other promotion, and in NJPW such things do not happen. This is actually pretty difficult to call. Given his status Okada is a favorite to win the whole thing. Fale, on the other hand, while limited, is the kind of foreign monster heel Japanese promotions like to push. Whoever wins or looses, you can bet their match at Invasion Attack is still on, so I’m gonna go with Okada here, while Fale might be costing him his quarter final match. Not a common occurrence in NJPW but the way they’ve been tip-toeing around each-other this might be the way they will go.

Winner: Okada until the QF’s.

Togi Makabe vs. Tomoaki Honma:

The addition of the NEVER title to the list of championships that can be challenged and the fact that Makabe has never lost the tiltle in the ring (reminder: he was stripped of the title at NB in Sendai due to illness) might point to him winning it all. Might, but I don’t think so. In my opinion the addition of the NEVER title is nothing more than a red herring to fool us into believing Makabe has a chance to begin with. Remember, this isn’t the WWE, Makabe isn’t Daniel Bryan, win or loose he WILL receive his title shot against current champion Ishii, that’s a given.

So, why this match then? And here is where I disagree with many wrestling observers who predict that Honma has zero chance in winning this match. Honma’s popularity has never been higher, he’s red hot after that amazing match against Ishii, in the best shape of his career, and while part of his popularity is the fact that he seldom wins (Japanese love hero losers apparently), winning here won’t hurt that a bit i think. In fact having him  make a deep run into this tournament to ultimately fail against Tanahachi for example might be exactly what the audience wants. Can Honma win the tournament? That is probably a bridge too far, but I’m making him my dark horse in this thing.

Winner: Honma after finally nailing his diving headbutt.

YOSHI-HASHI vs. Yujiro Takahashi:

YOSHI-HASHI is pretty much in the same boat as Honma, a talented jobber to the stars with lots of heroic losses, but the biggest difference is, while popular, YOSHI-HSHI is nowhere near Honma’s levels of crowd reactions.

Takahashi on the other hand needs a win badly or he will join the heroic losers club, only problem is, he’s a heel so he’ll be just a loser. I hope YOSHI-HASHI cause I wanna see him and Honma in the QF’s but I Think Takahashi because he needs it more, and someone in Bullet Club has to win.

Winner: Takahashi because I never get what I want.

Yuji Nagata vs. Hirooki Goto:

This is another match where I tend to disagree with the general opinion. Most give Nagata as winner here but I disagree. The theory behind is that Nagata is receiving a mini main-event push while Goto has already won the event three times in the past(and failed in his subsequent title quests three times also).  Yes, but I still say Goto will take this one. Won’t make much difference to Nagata, he’ll be featured at Invasion Attack in some capacity anyway, and it’s more interesting to put Goto trough because…

Winner: Goto because…

Satoshi Kojima vs. Katsuyori Shibata:

Because isn’t it just a little bit too convenient that the two members of Meiyu Tag just happen to be on the two last matches of the bottom bracket? Can you say battle between tag-team partners? I certainly can. Too good an opportunity to pass up It will be Goto vs Shibata in the last QF.

Kojima does need a good showing here, but doesn’t really need to win. Besides he already has a NWA title shot against former tag-team partner and current NWA Heavyweight Champion Hiroyoshi Tenzan in his future.

Shibata actually has to be seen as a very serious contender to win it all, a relatively easy easy bracket, he was already primed to win this last year but was surprisingly defeated by Shelton X benjmin, this could very well be his year. Another bonus would be that matches against either Nakamura or AJ Styles would be fresh and highly anticipated. Shadow favorite behind only Tanahashi for me.

Winner: Shibata.

 

So, there you have it, if anything I predicted here holds true ( and remember, my record in predictions is abysmal) we would get the following quarter finals:

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Kota Ibushi

Tetsuya Naito vs Kazuchika Okada

Tomoaki Honma vs Yujiro Takahashi

Hirooki Goto vs Katsuyori Shibata

Looks like a scorcher on paper, certainly will be so in execution.

That’s all from me this week, I’ll be sure to update you all on the results next week, so you can gloat at how many I got wrong.

Have fun you all!

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