Rejoice cruiserweight (or Junior heavyweight, as you prefer) fans, arguably the greatest round robin tournament in history is back after a seven year absence. This will be the sixth edition of this tournament, originally the brainchild of one Jushin “Thunder” Liger and whose goals has always been to make new Junior Heavyweight stars.
16 wrestlers from various promotion have been entered into the tournament, the first round will happen this Wednesday (at the Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan), while the Quarter-Finals, emi-Finals and Final will all happen on August, 21 at the Tokyo’s Ariake Coliseum. If you guys have any questoions about the tournament, feel free to sak them below, in the comment sections. But now, it’s time to take a look at this year’s first round matches and participants:
Jushin Thunder Liger (NJPW) vs Eita (Dragon Gate):
I don’t think Jushin Liger needs much introduction at this point. A true Legend of this sport, Liger was the driving force behind the inaugural Super J Cup way back in 1994. A two-times winner (in 1995 and 2000), this will be Liger’s fifth participation in the event (out of six editions). But beyond his incredible past achievements, the 51-year has proven time and again that he can still go, the most recent proof was his amazing match against IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion KUSHIDA at this year’s Wrestling Dontaku.
His first-round opponent will be Dragon Gate’s Eita. The 24 year old (and graduate from the Dragon Gate Dojo) is widely considered one Japan’s most talented Junior Heavyweights and a sure-fire future star. Interestingly, Eita his no stranger to the Kurokuen Hall crowd, having assembled recent blinders against Akira Tozawa in that very place.
Liger seems to be the obvious favorite here, simply because of his name, but, the Super J-cup was originally created to give more exposure to less known but ultra-talented Junior Heavyweights, and Eita fits that bill perfectly. That’s all Eita needs at this point really to get to the next level, more exposure. Oh and a victory over a legend like Liger couldn’t hurt either. Therefore…
Tuma Aoyagi (AJPW) vs Taichi (Suzuki-Gun):
Originally, ZERO-ONE was supposed to participate in this tournament, but, for unknown reasons, they decide to pull out. Therefore All Japan Pro Wrestling Tuma Aoyagi was chosen to participate. The 20 year old Aoyagi will be the youngest participant this year. While he has only two years of experience, he has shown good potential and charisma, judging from the few clips I’ve seen of him at least. His participation did fuel some speculation about the potential of future collaborations between AJPW and NJPW (and the wrestling gods knows that the struggling AJPW need all the help they can get) so it will be interesting to see what comes out of this
This will be Taichi’s third consecutive Super J-Cup apparition (he lost in the first round in his two previous participation). His most recent success has been a nine month reign as GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion (over at NOAH) last year, losing the title to Ishimori last December. The 36 year old has been a member of Suzuki-gun for the past five years, so expect some shenanigans here.
Taichi’s experience and likely back-up form his Suzuki-gun friends makes him the odds-on favorite here. An upset is still possible I guess, but, given Aoyagi’s limited experience, I’m guessing he’s here to learn and get some exposure and a first round loss against Taichi will accomplish just that.
KUSHIDA (NJPW) vs Taiji Ishimori (NOAH):
Undoubtedly THE first round match every fan is looking forward to. KUSHIDA is, of course, the current IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion and has had a fantastic 2016 until, assembling great matches against the likes of BUSHI, Kyle O’reilly, Will Opsreay, Jushin Liger and Omega. He seems to be the odds-on favorite to win this whole thing, which is exactly why he probably won’t. Indeed, KUSHIDA has already been firmly established as NJPW’s Junior Heavyweight Ace, so he doesn’t really need to win here, this tournament will likely be a vehicle to create new feuds for him for the coming months.
Ishimori is one of Japan’s top stars, not currently working for NJPW. A two-times GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion, and holding the record for longest reigning GHC Champion, Ishimoru has had to take a back-step to veteran Kanemaru in recent months. No doubt he will want to take the opportunity this tournament offers him to re-establish himself as one of Japan’s top Juniors (not that he really needs that, but, storylines you know).
So, can Ishimori upset the IWGP Jr Heavyweight Champion? Well, I wouldn’t dismiss the possibility out of hand. Both are amazing workers one can already be sure this will be an amazing match. In the end this will probably be about who needs it the most. And then, considering Ishimori needs to muscle himself back into title contention (whether this will be for the GHC or IWGP title remains to be seen) and that NOAH’s wrestlers certainly need the exposure (and considering NJPW has a stake in the promotion it’s in their best interest to make this happen), I’m going for the upset.
Kenou (NOAH) vs Gurukun Mask (Ryukyu Dragon pro Wrestling):
Kenou can be considered the Junior Heavyweight version of Shibata. A former karate champion and trained by Jinsei Shinzaki, the 31-year old generally uses stiff kicks and strikes to overwhelm his opponents. He also has more or less the same shiny disposition as Shibata (meaning he’ll rather kick your head off than shake your hand).
Gurukun Mask is a 44 year veteran of the Japanese wrestle circuit. He hasn’t wrestled many high-profile matches (or I should say high-visibility matches) but he was entered into this tournament at the recommendation of Jushin “Thunder” Liger himself.
I read that those two have crossed paths before, so this should be an interesting match-up. As for the winner, Kenou has probably much more to bring to the table than Gurukun Mask at this point. Add to that that the Kurakuen Hall crowd will be firmly behind him and I think it’s safe to say you have your winner right there.
Ryusuke Taguchi (NJPW) vs Daisuke Harada (NOAH):
After months (or even years) of indulging himself with silly comedy routines, Taguchi returned to form at this year’s BoSJ tournament where he had an impressive run, even making it to the final. Even more impressive, by dropping his comedy routine (more or less) Taguchi displayed to the world he still can be a pretty goo wrestler when he wants to. The question is always the same with Taguchi. Will we see his more serious side (almost guaranteeing a good match) or once again his overblown comedy act (which makes me yawn more than anything else)? I’m obviously rooting for the former.
Harada is one of the top players of NOAH’s current Junior heavyweight division. He is the current GHC Junior Heavyweight tag team champion (with Atsushi Kotoge) and a former GHC Junior Heavyweight Champion. A very solid wrestler Harada is one of the favorites to make it into the Final.
It’s pretty much the same story as with the other NOAH entrances, it’s in NJPW’s best interest to give them more exposure, so…
BUSHI (Los Ingobernables de Japon) vs Yoshinobu Kanemaru (Suzuki Gun):
This match will almost certainly be a heart-breaker for me. I really hope BUSHI will win because he has been excellent since his return, both in his role as Los Ingobernables’ interference runner and as an in-ring performer.
Don’t get me wrong, the 39-year old Kanemaru used to be one of Japan’s top Junior Heavyweights, and is one of the most decorated Junior Heavyweights in history, but he’s also way past his prime and has been know to phone it in in recent years. That said, the fact he’s the current GHC Jr Heavyweight Champion probably means he’ll go through to the second round
The fact that both belong to heel factions almost guarantees all sorts of shenanigans here. I’m still hoping that BUSHI will win, as he brings so much more to the table than Kanemaru nowadays, but…
Winner: Probably Kanemaru but I hope BUSHI (please?).
Titan (CMLL) vs Will Ospreay (CHAOS):
Titan is one of CMLL’s best and most well-known Luchadors. He’s also no stranger to NJPW fans, since he participated in the 2013 BoSJ Tournament and makes regular appearances on the joint CMLL/NJPW FantasticaMania shows. Earlier this year he already wowed the Japanese crowds with an awesome match against Barbario Cavernario for the National Welterweight Championship (Titan lost). It was more than likely that match that earned him a spot in this tournament.
As said before, Will Ospreay is well on his way to become a major Jr Heavyweight superstar, due to his impressive win at this year’s BoSJ tournament and his two excellent matches against IWGP Champion KUSHIDA. The fact he lost two title matches in a row hasn’t really slowed him down much, so most expect him to shine once more during this tournament.
This should be one of the top matches of this first round, Ospreay is the obvious favorite (o win the whole thing actually) but if anyone can beat him and get away with it it’s Titan. Still going for the obvious choice though…
Winner: Will Ospreay
Matt Sydal (ROH) vs Kaji Tomato (Kaientai Dojo):
I don’t think I have to explain who Matt Sydal is, with his unique aerial offense he has wowed crowds around the world. The 33 year old has recently enjoyed a rather good run as IWGP Jr Tag team Champion (alongside Ricochet) and his an highly dependable performer who always gives his best whatever the circumstances. He is no favorite to win the tournament but a potential quarter-final against Ospreay already has fans salivating.
I must admit Tomato is one of the entrants I know the least about. Trained by Taka Michinoku, Tomato is a 4-time UWA World Middleweight champ in Kaientai Dojo. And that’s all I really know about him. I hear he’s a solid, if somewhat unspectacular wrestler.
This seems like a no-brainer, Sydal should get through. Then again, in wrestling, we should always be weary of the unknown so Tomato might surprise us all. Still, my pick is…
Winner: Matt Sydall
And there you have it. On paper,, this looks like one hell of an event, and there is no doubt in my mind this first round will already produce some barn-burners. Expect a full review this Thursday, until then, have fun!
Tags: ajpw, BUSHI, cmll, Daisuke Harada, Dragon Gate, Eita, Gurukun Mask, Jushin Liger, Kaji Tomato, Kushida, Matt Sydall, njpw, Pro Wrestling NOAH, ROH, Ryusuke Taguchi, Super J-Cup, Taichi, Taiji Ishimoru, Titan, Tuma Aoyagi, WXill opsreay, Yoshinonu Kanemaru