Review: Some Hits, Misses In 2017 New Japan Cup

Jesse Staab was impressed with the early matches, but there were some letdowns later in the tournament.

Within all pro wrestling organizations, there exist multiple hierarchies: one pay-per-view means more than another. A particular championship is more sought after than another. Within the hierarchy of yearly singles tournaments in New Japan Pro Wrestling, the New Japan Cup sits firmly below both the G1 Climax and the Best of the Super Juniors. Part of the reason for this is history. The NJC entered the frame in 2005, while the upcoming BoSJ and G1 Climax will be the 24th and 27th runnings of each in their current form. Those upcoming tournaments also stretch across many weeks, which adds a certain level of gravitas to them that the NJC lacks due to its single elimination nature. Did this year’s New Japan Cup put the tournament on the path to eventually upsetting the established order in the world of NJPW? No, but for both longtime fans and newcomers alike, it offered plenty to be happy about.

While some may have been upset about tournament favorites going out in the First Round, this helped to establish some newer faces as legitimate forces within NJPW and created a sense of unpredictability that carried throughout the entirety of the NJC. Most importantly though the tournament et up a mouth-watering matchup for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship that is bound to end up on countless Match of the Year lists.

Here are some thoughts on the tournament:

First Round

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. EVIL

One of John Cena’s greatest attributes is the fact that he elevates the status of whoever his opponent is just by standing next to them. For those unfamiliar with NJPW, Hiroshi Tanahashi is comparable.

The comparison of these two is made more than it should be largely out of pure laziness, but for this particular point, it holds up and is worthy of mention as a frame of reference. In this match, Tanahashi’s opponent was EVIL, the clear Second-in-Command in the white hot Los Ingobernables de Japon faction led by Tetsuya Naito. Both men brought their best and justified their spot as the main event of the tournament’s opening night. However, the lack of a clean finish was somewhat disappointing. Obviously EVIL — as the heel — will do anything to win, but if he’s going to truly receive a bump in status, perhaps it would have been better to do it with a clean win. In the case of Tanahashi, New Japan has to be careful, because ultimately, wins and losses do matter. If the “Ace of the Universe” is going to stay capable of elevating the younger crop of stars, he has to win more than he loses.

Juice Robinson vs Yujiro Takahashi

This match was nowhere near the best match of this tournament or even the first round. So, why bring it up? For one, it was still a really good match.

More than that, though, this match highlights some of the things that solidify NJPW as the top promotion in the world of pro wrestling. For those who have followed the career of Juice Robinson, formerly known as CJ Parker in NXT, this match provided a great payoff. Other than notable exceptions such as AJ Styles, very few people in NJPW rocket to immediate stardom and title contention. This slow-burn type of calculated and logical long-term booking makes the story of these wrestlers and their eventual rise that much more enjoyable to watch unfold. What might seem like an insignificant win over a lackluster opponent to those not invested in the product is a milestone achievement followers of New Japan and a sign of bigger things to come for a wrestler who is continuously proving his doubters wrong.

Kenny Omega vs Tomohiro Ishii

If one were to criticize the 2017 New Japan Cup by saying it peaked too early, they would make a legitimate point because this match showcased two of the world’s best performers. Kenny Omega — arguably the hottest name in pro wrestling since Wrestle Kingdom 11 — lost in the opening round. Though, I find it hard to believe that anyone could feel disappointed. Was it logical that Tomohiro Ishii could defeat Omega? Yes, considering Ishii got a win over IWGP Heavyweight champion Kazuchika Okada during last summer’s G1 Climax. Was it predictable? Absolutely not. A must see match that will have you jumping out of your seat.

A must see match that will have you jumping out of your seat.

Quarterfinals

Nothing here is crying out to be watched immediately, but with the exception of Bad Luck Fale vs Yano, these were all solid matches. Ishii vs Sanada stands out as the strongest of the bunch, so if you want to check out any quarterfinal action, that would be the one to go for. After the gem of a main event from the second night, it was inevitable that these quarterfinal bouts would feel like somewhat of a let down.

Semifinals

Tomohiro Ishii vs Katsuyori Shibata

These two put on an absolute classic back at Wrestle Kingdom 10 and they did it once again here.

If you are unfamiliar with matches between Ishii and Shibata they are, in a word, “violent.” Violence is exactly what I expected, it is exactly what I got, and I loved every second of it. If you think that means this match didn’t tell a story, you couldn’t be more wrong. Neither of these two were willing to back down or show signs of weakness as they continuously put each other through the ringer and jumped right back up to offer as good as they got. The story of two individuals refusing to concede to the other and gaining each other’s respect in the process continues to be utterly captivating. Must watch.

Finals

Much like the Quarterfinals, the culmination of the 2017 New Japan Cup suffered from having to follow an incredible match the previous night. Despite that, Bad Luck Fale vs. Katsuyori Shibata was still a very good match and put a bow on a tournament that offered plenty of surprises and two matches so good you should stop whatever you are doing right now to go watch them.

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