Monday, March 25, 2019

NJPW New Japan Cup 2019 Top Ten Matches

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The New Japan Cup is in the history books and we got the result most of us were expecting.  Kazuchika Okada will challenge Jay White at Madison Square Garden for the IWGP Title.  This tourney boasted the biggest field of all time, with 32 men vying for this historic opportunity.  Overall it was a very enjoyable tour, with loads of restaurant-quality matches and some unexpected twists along the way, plus some refreshing new faces.  I won't go into detail about every match, but I've narrowed down what I feel were the ten best entries, in chronological order.  Okada is represented in four of these matches, which for me unequivocally makes him the tourney MVP.

1. Tomohiro Ishii vs. Yuji Nagata (March 8th) - ****1/4

These two grizzled bastards beat the piss out of each other and it was glorious.  What a way to kick off this tournament.

2. Kazuchika Okada vs. Michael Elgin (March 9th) - ****1/4

While not the best match these guys have had together, this was an excellent showing that left welts on Okada's chest for the duration of the tourney.

3. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Shota Umino (March 10th) - ****

This Shota Umino kid has it, man.  He's gonna be a major player someday.  What a gallant performance in standing toe-to-toe with the icon Tanahashi.  From a pure storytelling standpoint this was one of the best matches of the tour.

4. Kota Ibushi vs. Tetsuya Naito (March 10th) - ****1/2

A wild, high-risk outing as expected.  For most of the tournament this match was my favorite, in spite of a couple of unnecessarily dangerous moves.  Still I didn't think this match was as crazy as Ibush-Ishii from last year, or Omega-Naito from 2017.

5. Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Evil (March 10th) - ****

Sabre kicked off his tournament run with a clinic against Evil.  Just a really good demonstration of both guys' styles that flew by.

6. Will Ospreay vs. Lance Archer (March 14th) - ****

If there were any doubt that Lance Archer is a very underrated big man, this match dispelled it.  Ospreay and Archer had a damn near perfect match of this type, with Archer plowing over Ospreay for much of the bout only for Ospreay's tenacity and inventiveness to shine through.  The match-ending Stormbreaker was an incredible feat of strength for the former Jr. Heavyweight.

7. Kota Ibushi vs. Zack Sabre Jr (March 16th) - ****1/4

Zack and Ibushi had another near-classic, in which Ibushi had to once again adjust to Zack's ground-based style and show off his striking ability.  Ibushi is 2-0 against Zack in the G1 but Zack is 2-0 in NJ Cup tourneys.  Interesting stats.

8. Kazuchika Okada vs. Will Ospreay (March 20th) - ****1/2

This mentor vs. student bout was an excellent step up from their Anniversary Show match last year, with Ospreay holding his own and actually making the crowd believe he might do the impossible.  Just a fantastic showing from both guys.

9. Kazuchika Okada vs. Tomohiro Ishii (March 23rd) - ****1/2

This for me was arguably the match of the tournament, as Okada and Ishii pounded the crap out of each other, neither man wanting to back down.  Okada wrestled Ishii's type of match and came through with flying colors as always.

10. Kazuchika Okada vs. Sanada (March 24th) - ****1/4

The tournament final was suitably epic and was a fairly starmaking turn for Sanada, who was wildly popular.  My issue with it was that I never believed for a second that Sanada would win.  Clearly White vs. Okada would be the match at MSG, but I'd have maybe booked Ibushi as Okada's finals opponent to present a final match in which either guy could conceivably win.  Aside from that aspect it was a pretty great final.

That's where my head's at.  Overall I'd say the 2018 Cup is still the best edition, but this one delivered plenty of good stuff.  The MSG show should be pretty spectacular and I fully expect Okada to snap his losing streak against Jay White and regain the title.  White will get another title run in the future, but as a trial for a new main event guy I'd say White's first reign was a success.  He's grown exponentially over the past year-plus and will continue to do so.

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