The first round of this year’s New Japan Cup concluded with a show that largely mirrored night one… up until a match-of-the-year contender in the main event.

Unlike last year, the quarter finals will be held across four successive shows, with New Japan World putting up those matches after the fact. Piecemeal viewing for the win! Also for the win today: dubbed in music and commentary!

Tiger Mask & David Finlay vs. Yuji Nagata & Jushin “Thunder” Liger
For some reason I was expecting Tomoyuki Oka to appear here, but I’ll take Nagata and Liger too! Apparently we were meant to get Oka vs. Finlay here, but Manabu Nakanishi coming down with the ‘flu forced a reshuffle…

This felt like a match that was just there to pad out the card, with Finlay working over Liger in the early going, before Tiger Mask came in to choke away on his sometime-tag partner. Nagata made the tag and ran into Finlay with a Yakuza kick, before an overhead belly-to-belly got a near-fall. Tiger came in to try and snatch a win with a roll-up on Nagata, before Liger broke up the pin on a Tiger Driver.

Nagata came back with an Exploder for a near-fall, before falling into a heel hook that gave way to the eye-rolling armbar… and Tiger tapped?! That’s the first time in a while for that, the only thing of note on this match to be fair. **¼

Bullet Club (Bad Luck Fale, Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima & Hirai Kawato
Kawato ran to the ring as he usually does and into the bear pit as the Bullet Club beat him down three-on-one. Finally Tenzan and Kojima made their way in for the save, only for Fale to blast past the pair of them, and then start picking apart at Tenzan.

After coming off on the worse end of a headbutt, Tama Tonga took a Mountain Bomb before Kojima came in and continued the offensive. The machine gun chops and a top rope elbow get Kojima a near-fall, before he landed a Koji Cutter. No pin was attempted, as they went for a TenKoji Cutter, and that’s where things fell apart for the champs.

A spear from Tonga cut off a Strong Arm lariat, before Kawato tagged in and ran into a Tanga Loa big boot. He had to kick out of a Blue Thunder Driver pretty soon after, before a brief comeback ended by way of a headbutt and a sit-out tombstone, a la Owen hart! Bye bye Kawato…It’s so weird that as the tag champions, Tenzan and Kojima are in this role, but I guess their title win wasn’t exactly planned, so… *shrugs* **½

Hiroshi Tanahashi, Michael Elgin, KUSHIDA & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, Hiromu Takahashi, BUSHI & EVIL)
Another Ingobernable tag match, and the continuation of the stop-start EVIL push, it seemed.

We started with EVIL and Tanahashi in the ring whilst almost everyone else spilled to the floor, with Naito smacking Taguchi’s arse on the guard railing. The Ingobernables targeted Tanahashi after his loss last night, but Tanahashi caught Naito’s outside-in dropkick and hit a Dragon screw instead, before Big Mike came in and booted Naito back down. A slingshot into the ring turned into a slam that got Elgin a near-fall, as we segued into a preview of KUSHIDA/Takahashi (again), before Taguchi came in to hit BUSHI with a bunch of hip attacks.

Just when Taguchi looked to be getting the upper hand, the rest of the Ingobernables hit the ring to turn things back around, eventually leading to EVIL landing the STO on Taguchi for the win. Not much of note, a fun tag match, but little to write home about. **¾

Suzuki-gun (Takashi Iizuka, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Taichi, TAKA Michinoku & El Desperado) vs. Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, Toru Yano, Gedo & Jado
Jump-start! Well, the Minoru-less Suzuki-gun had to make an impact out of the gate, but Iizuka quickly found himself whipped into the guard rails by Okada whilst Jado found himself fending-of the IWGP junior tag champs Taichi and Kanemaru.

Gedo took over, poking TAKA in the eyes before going after Kanemaru… before he was tripped by Taichi, who went to work, choking the camera cable around Gedo. Iizuka went after Goto, throwing chairs at him in the crowd, whilst TAKA (of all people) raked away at Okada’s eyes. We got the Taichi gimmickery with the bell hammer again, before Iizuka bit away at Gedo’s chrome dome, which led to the Suzuki-gun B-team laying waste to him. TAKA and Taichi did the low blow/three-count spot, but Gedo finally made a comeback and brought in Okada who landed a couple of forearms, then a flapjack to Desperado. Taichi forces the ref to “69 him” to avoid an elbow from Okada, but the champion managed to hit a neckbreaker to Iizuka before bringing Goto.

Goto gets a spinning heel kick in the corner, then a back suplex for a two-count on Iizuka, before taking out Desperado with an ushigoroshi. In comes Yano for a roll-up that’s easily broken up as Suzuki-gun take aim at him, but the Master Thief hit a double low blow to Iizuka and Desperado, before rolling up the latter for the win. It was what it was; inoffensive, but nothing memorable either. **¾

Look, I know that services like New Japan World make it easy for fans to see more shows than they would usually have access to; but when tags like this are being used to build up bigger matches down the line, perhaps it’s an idea NOT to do the same old stuff in every match? Taichi’s a bit of a slog to watch at the best of times, but this just highlighted the problem of having so many shows on World – when the same stuff happens all the time!

New Japan Cup 2017 – First Round: Yujiro Takahashi vs. Juice Robinson
Takahashi started off with the upper hand, blasting Robinson with a Fisherman’s buster on the outside as he seemed to relish the rare occasion of having a spotlighted singles match.

Back inside, Robinson fought free of a headlock, before whiffing on a dropkick as Yujiro retained the upperhand. Some Dusty punches from Juice were finally ended with a STO-like backbreaker, then a Russian legsweep and a back senton for a near-fall. Takahashi came back with a Stroke, before hitting the Fisherman’s buster again, then reversed a Pulp Friction into a reverse DDT to almost win the match.

A Miami Shine (Fireman’s carry swinging slam) nearly got the three for Yujiro, but that kick-out sparked a comeback from Juice that ended when he missed a cannonball in the corner. Juice fought out of a Pimp Juice DDT then blasted Takahashi with a lariat, before finally getting the win with Pulp Friction. A heck of a match – and better than most of the cup matches from night one! ***½

New Japan Cup 2017 – First Round: SANADA vs. YOSHI-HASHI
Another decent outing, but this felt very much fractured at the start with both guys heading to the outside rather than keep it in the ring. SANADA took over on the outside, dropping YOSHI-HASHI on the guard rails, then kept up with a rear chinlock back inside.

YOSHI-HASHI countered out of a Skull End then hit a Bunker Buster as he took over with chops, before landing a flipping neckbreaker off the ropes. A springboard dropkick from SANADA gets him some breathing room that led to a snap TKO off the ropes for a near-fall, then another Skull End that forced YOSHI-HASHI to crawl towards the ropes for a break.

SANADA kept going for the Skull End, but YOSHI-HASHI was equal to it, and almost won it himself with a left-armed lariat. An old-school shoulderbreaker takes down SANADA, before a powerbomb with a jack-knifed cover led to a near-fall, but a blocked senton bomb promptly put the brakes on YOSHI-HASHI’s momentum… or so it seemed! A butterfly lock was applied to SANADA, but he was able to fight his way to the ropes, only for YOSHI-HASHI to roll back into the middle of the ring with the hold on.

YOSHI-HASHI continued, and managed to hit the senton at the second attempt for a near-fall, before Karma (a pumphandle driver) was elbowed out of. At the second attempt, SANADA flipped out of Karma into a Skull End, but couldn’t keep hold of it, before a moonsault off the middle rope saw him land another Skull End that forced the win. Pretty good, but this was rough around the edges at points. ***¼

New Japan Cup 2017 – First Round: Minoru Suzuki vs. Katsuyori Shibata
After the build-up, I have to admit, this was a slight disappointment – and no, I’m not being harsh because Taichi was out there!

Plenty of grappling early on, before the match exploded with Shibata booting Suzuki from the ropes as they then swung and missed with PK attempts. A kick from Suzuki seemed to wind Shibata early, but he was able to hit a snapmare then a kick to the back, before tying up Suzuki in a figure four that took some working on. Suzuki hit back with a rope-hung armbar, which allowed him to fall into some beatings from Taichi on the floor, before Suzuki threw Shibata into the guard railings.

They headed into the crowd where Suzuki used a chair to choke Shibata with, before finally grabbing a cross armbreaker in the ring – but Shibata was too close to the ropes. Some running Yakuza kicks followed for Shibata, who went back-and-forth with Suzuki for a spell, ending with a diving dropkick into the corner that left both men laying.

A butterfly suplex was good for a near-fall, as Shibata fought to hold onto an Octopus hold, but was helpless as Suzuki staggered into the ropes for a break. Suzuki replied with an Octopus of his own, which too was broken via the ropes, so they started to exchange elbows instead, which left us briefly with a dribbling Suzuki on the mat.

Suzuki fought back to grab a sleeperhold, sinking Shibata to the mat, before pulling him up for a Gotch piledriver. Shibata fought out, then hit back with an STO and a German suplex, before they swapped sleepers, leading to a death valley driver (of all things!) by Shibata! One Shotei and PK later, and Shibata snatched the win out of nowhere. This was good and hard-hitting, but it lacked a lot of the heat and intensity that their warm-up matches had – much like Shibata/Ospreay earlier in the year… ***½

New Japan Cup 2017 – First Round: Kenny Omega vs. Tomohiro Ishii
During his time “off” from New Japan, Omega had campaigned for this match during media interviews. In hindsight, I’ll just thank New Japan for giving it to us!

You could tell that this was Serious Kenny, as he was shirtless, and not clowning around too much for the opening shoulder tackle exchange with Ishii. Omega teased an early One Winged Angel by clipping Ishii’s knee on the apron, but instead he had to make do with an Asai moonsault off the guard rail, before Ishii recovered and decided to try for a suplex in the aisle. Instead, Omega blocked it and slammed him against the corner of the ring apron, before they returned to the ring as Omega retained the upper hand.

A gunshot-like chop rocked Ishii, who roared back when he was taken into the corners, only for another chop to knock him down. Speaking of being knocked down, a shoulder tackle from Ishii almost dumped Omega on his head, before a brainbuster collected a near-fall. Omega went low with a dropkick, before hitting the Kotaro Crusher (leg lariat to the back of the head) as he looked to make a comeback. The Finlay Roll and a springboard moonsault gets Omega a near-fall, before he made the bad call to start exchanging chops with Ishii. Who just chopped him in the throat.

Omega recovered briefly to hit a ‘rana, but ended up taking something much worse when he blocked a superplex attempt, as his top rope powerbomb attempt was blocked, then met with a headbutt, and turned… into a hurricanrana from Tomohiro Ishii. Now I’ve seen it all!

A Golden Triangle/Last Ride powerbomb gets a two-count for Ishii, who had the crowd largely behind him, before he nearly dumped Omega on his head with a German suplex, then grabbed another two with a lariat. The sliding lariat’s avoided, but that elbow isn’t, only for Omega to cut-off Ishii with a DDT to end that momentum. A cross-legged over-the-knee brainbuster helps Omega take Ishii to the outside, where he was virtually helpless as Omega’s Terminator tope con hilo left both men on the floor.

Back inside, Omega headed up top and landed a dropkick to the lower back of Ishii, then folded him up for a two-count, before he tried for a Dragon suplex. Instead, a German suplex had to make do, but Ishii popped up into a big boot, before Omega’s V-trigger knee almost got him the win. A Doctor bomb gets another two-count for Kenny, who then went for a Dragon suplex and switched it into the One Winged Angel… which Ishii got out of and tried for himself!

Instead, Omega fell into a pop-up German suplex, then engaged in a forearm battle that sent Ishii down briefly. More forearms took Ishii down to the mat, but he replied with a headbutt and a knee trembler, before succeeding with the sliding lariat for another two-count. Some more big boots led to another V-trigger from Omega, only for him to take another lariat from Ishii as the near-falls kept coming!

Omega avoids a sheer-drop brainbuster, then throws in another V-trigger that sent Ishii into the middle ropes. He tries for the One Winged Angel again, before dropping Ishii down for a German suplex, as a snap Dragon suplex took Ishii into the corner. Yet another V-trigger seemed to set-up for the One Winged Angel, but again Ishii spun out, only to take a poison ‘rana… but of course, those never win a match!

Another One Winged Angel attempt gets countered into a Stunner by Ishii! Enziguiri! Ishii keeps up with a headbutt, then hits a massive lariat to flip Omega inside out for another two-count! Eventually, Ishii hit the brainbuster, and that brought to an end the best match of the entire weekend in New Japan. Sublime stuff. ****½

Look, this was a big match between two of the best in the world at what they do, and it delivered. For all of the disappointing matches on Saturday, this was a home run… and then some! If you believe in yin and yang, this was well worth sitting through the dross of the first night, that’s for sure!

Compared to night one, this was a much better show. Yes, the undercard stuff was inconsequential and patterned, but it wasn’t as much of a slog, whereas all of the Cup matches were worthy viewing as well. It’s a shame that they’re spreading out the quarter-finals, but I guess that’s going to be better for their welfare – and at least they’re not throwing all four full shows onto World, just the cup matches.

What Worked: That main event! Yes, it ruined a lot of people’s predictions for the cup itself, but it seems that so far, Kenny Omega’s “internal list” of matches he’s pressing for are going to plan. Now, if only Kota Ibushi were to make a change from shooting himself with fireworks in east London and try something else…

What Didn’t: Again, the undercards aren’t meant “for us”, but if these are being shown as part of a live stream, it’d be nice to get something different once in a while. Like Taichi not running through his checklist of cheats every damned time.

Thumbs: Middle, pointing up for the main event