The 2021 New Japan Cup gets going at Budokan Hall, while the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental titles were defended for the final time before being unified as New Japan held their 49th Anniversary show.

Quick Results
Hirooki Goto, Gabriel Kidd, Tomoaki Honma & Master Wato pinned DOUKI, Minoru Suzuki, Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi in 10:29 (***)
EVIL, Jay White, Chase Owens, KENTA & Taiji Ishimori pinned Ryusuke Taguchi, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson, David Finlay & Toa Henare in 7:39 (**½)
SHO, Kazuchika Okada & Tomohiro Ishii pinned BUSHI, Shingo Takagi & SANADA in 9:00 (**¾)
New Japan Cup 2021 – First Round: Jeff Cobb pinned Satoshi Kojima in 11:49 (***½)
New Japan Cup 2021 – First Round: Great-O-Khan defeated Tetsuya Naito via referee stoppage in 20:20 (***¾)
Kota Ibushi pinned El Desperado in 20:36 to retain the IWGP Heavyweight & IWGP Intercontinental Championships (****)

We’re at Budokan Hall in Tokyo for this one, with English commentary via studio from Kevin Kelly, Gino Gambino and Chris Charlton. Poor Chris blew out everyone’s eardrums.

Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Taichi, Zack Sabre Jr. & DOUKI) vs. Hirooki Goto, Tomoaki Honma, Master Wato & Gabriel Kidd
Interestingly, Gabriel Kidd wasn’t the first one announced for his team… we have the obligatory jump start, but Honma lands an early Kokeshi on Suzuki.

Honma charges Suzuki into the corner so Kidd could tag in to try and shorten his life while commentary’s playing with their volume sliders. Kidd and Sabre trade elbows on the apron, with Gabe knocking Zack flying to the floor, before Suzuki’s hanging armbar in the ropes sent Kidd to the outside also.

Everyone scraps on the floor as we get some surprisingly blue jokes… back inside, DOUKI gets a two-count on Kidd, who then got both his ankles worked on in the corner by Suzuki and Sabre. Taichi stands on Kidd’s head in the corner, before Sabre came in to take his shots before snapmares led to an attempted PK. Sabre misses as Kidd gets up and cartwheels in for a dropkick before Goto and Taichi came in to lock horns.

Goto’s clothesline drops Taichi, who rolls away as Goto tries to suplex DOUKI onto him… only to end up suplexing Taichi onto DOUKI. It’s like having your own YOSHI-HASHI! Taichi chokes his way out of an ushigoroshi, throwing Goto back to the mat ahead of some Kawada-style kicks.

Taichi comes back in with a Stretch Plum, but things end up in the corner as DOUKI tagged back in to try his luck with clotheslines. An enziguiri from DOUKI staggers Goto as the Suzuki-gun troops flood the ring, leading to a springboard stomp from DOUKI onto Goto for a near-fall. From the kick-out… we get the DOUKI Chokie! Honma breaks it up with a Kokeshi, but gets tossed outside by Suzuki as DOUKI looks for a Daybreak DDT on Goto… but Goto blocks it. An eye rake takes Goto into the ropes as Master Wato flew in to remind us of his presence… before an ushigoroshi and a GTR gets the win. A pretty solid opening tag as we warm up for upcoming New Japan Cup matches. ***

Bullet Club (EVIL, KENTA, Chase Owens, Jay White & Taiji Ishimori) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Juice Robinson, David Finlay, Toa Henare & Ryusuke Taguchi
It’s a welcome return for Toa Henare, who’s been away since the New Japan Rambo two months ago to the day… and in case you missed it, it turns out that Texas Heavyweight title Chase Owens has been carrying around is legit – it’s a title held in the past by the likes of Tom Prichard, Charlie Haas and, erm, Red Shirt Security Kevin Northcutt. Yeah, I’m being facetious with the picks of ex-champions…

Henare and White start us off… eventually locking up as Henare backs White into the corner. My feed drops and we’re back with KENTA and Juice, with the latter’s newly afro’d hair being grabbed at before KENTA kicked away at him. Dusty punches offered a way back in for Juice, who gets a two-count before KENTA got isolated for a five-on-one mugging.

Payback quickly followed as the Bullet Club gang up on Tanahashi, before EVIL tagged in to go for the heavily-chained abdominal stretch. Chase comes in to work over Tanahashi’s left leg, while Ishimori ends up taking some elbows as Tanahashi fought out of the corner… eventually sidestepping a low dropkick before a Dragon screw had Ishimori down.

David Finlay tags in as Chase Owens came in to take some clotheslines and a diving uppercut. A diving uppercut off the top rope gets Finlay a two-count, but an O’Connor roll into a knee strike decks Finlay as EVIL looked to pick up from Chase’s handiwork. He couldn’t quite do it though, as Finlay misdirects a thrust kick and hits a neckbreaker, before Taguchi tagged in… and ate Everything is EVIL for the quick win. Part of me got a kick out of them making Taguchi out as a geek for the finish, but he’s not in the New Japan Cup so it’s not like it’s going to do any long-term damage. **½

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Shingo Takagi, SANADA & BUSHI) vs. Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii & SHO
Shingo and Okada start us off, previewing their New Japan Cup match on Saturday. They lock-up with Okada taking Shingo into the ropes, but Shingo attacks on the break before he’s elbowed into the corner.

Ishii tags in, but wants SANADA instead of Shingo as we get that preview, with swings and misses before SANADA misses a charge into the corner ahead of a double leapfrog and dropkick from SANADA. SANADA boots away SHO and Ishii before BUSHI came in with headscissors amid a big ol’ Parade of Moves.

Shoulder tackles see Shingo and Ishii butting heads, before a BUSHI trip led to a low dropkick as SANADA regained the upper hand. Stomps from SANADA keep Ishii down, while BUSHI tagged in for a spot of t-shirt choking which leads to a back suplex as SANADA was still legal for a two-count on Ishii.

SANADA grabs a Skull End, but Ishii suplexes out of it as we buffer. Tags bring us back to Okada and Shingo as I refresh the feed… they’re back trading elbow strikes before Shingo cornered Okada with a clothesline. Okada comes back in with a Money Clip, but Shingo shrugs it away only to get decked with a big boot. SHO’s in, but he gets met with a Shingo clothesline as BUSHI tagged in to hit a missile dropkick.

BUSHI targets SHO with a snap DDT for a two-count, before an attempt at the Terrible is broken up as Ishii starts a big ol’ Parade of Moves. A spear from SHO takes out Shingo, before he went for a deadlift German suplex on BUSHI, leaving him down ahead of a clothesline off the ropes, before Shock Arrow gets SHO the win. Fun while it lasted, but this was surprisingly brief given the short card. **¾

Announcement time going into the interval: they’re running a big stadium tour in a couple of months’ time: Wrestle Grand Slam in Yokohama Stadium on May 15… Wrestle Grand Slam in Tokyo Dome on May 29… that’s usually when we see Best of the Super Junior, so who knows where that’ll land in the calendar this year.

New Japan Cup 2021 – First Round: Jeff Cobb vs. Satoshi Kojima
Kojima pinned Cobb on the second Castle Attack show last weekend – which leads to this quite convenient New Japan Cup match as opportunity for payback for “the Hatchet.” Yes, that is the nickname they’ve given Cobb.

Kojima works over Cobb’s arm early on, but an arm wringer’s countered with a front facelock as they head into the ropes. Shoulder tackles from Kojima barely budge Cobb at first, but Cobb pops up and hits one of his own before a whip took Kojima into the corner. He sidesteps a charge and returns with Machine Gun chops before the top rope elbow was avoided.

Cobb charges Kojima back into the corner then hits a lariat, before a headbutt knocked down Kojima. A standing dropkick wipes out Kojima for a two-count, as did a standing moonsault as Cobb was racking up those near-falls. In the corner, Cobb hits his own Machine Gun chops… but he too gets stopped as he went up top, with Kojima’s superplex bringing the big man down to earth with a bump.

A Shining Wizard knocks Cobb to the outside as Kojima rolls back the clock with a plancha… but he’s caught as Cobb hits some backbreakers and a slam on the floor. Kojima recovers to chop block Cobb’s knee on the apron ahead of a DDT on the edge of the ring, before they returned to the ring as an elbow drop off the top on Cobb gets a two-count.

Another DDT from Kojima leaves Cobb down, but the Koji cutter’s blocked as Cobb ragdolled his way in for a German suplex. A leaping uppercut into the corner from Cobb leads to an Oklahoma Stampede, but Kojima slips out and counters with the Koji cutter and a brainbuster for a near-fall.

Cobb hits back with a Spin Cycle and a gutwrench powerbomb for a near-fall, before Kojima was sent into the ropes for a Tour of the Islands. He counters out and hits a short clothesline for a two-count, before Cobb punches his way out and looked to trade clotheslines. Kojima’s wins out though, but a search for the Cozy lariat ends with Cobb snatching Kojima with a Tour of the Islands… and that’s Cobb through to the second round! Cobb faces EVIL in the second round, but he didn’t have it all his own way as Kojima pushed him more than you’d expect given Cobb’s recent form. ***½

New Japan Cup 2021 – First Round: Great-O-Khan vs. Tetsuya Naito
After a string of high-profile losses in singles matches, this is do-or-die for both men. Naito desperately looking for form after losing the double gold in January, while O-Khan is in need of a big win.

O-Khan’s somewhat tentative to start, inching Naito towards the ropes before he got thrown outside with Naito faking out a dive as he mocked O-Khan’s head claw pose. At least O-Khan found it funny. Back inside, a side headlock from Naito restrains O-Khan, who replies with a grounded head-and-arm choke that Naito needed to break via the ropes.

Things spill outside, where O-Khan absolutely CHUCKS Naito into the barriers, breaking the gate open before they returned to the ring. O-Khan sits on Naito in the corner, then stretches the arms before Naito found a way back in with a diving kick. A back elbow and a low dropkick has Naito ahead, before he took O-Khan into the corner for Combinacion Cabron.

Pulling O-Khan up by his braid, Naito looks for a neckbreaker, eventually getting it for a two-count. A cravat keeps the focus on the neck, but O-Khan gets to the ropes before he booted Naito back down. Mongolian Chops from O-Khan follow, as Naito tweaks his right knee, and you’d better believe O-Khan was on that like a dog with a bone. Going under the ring, O-Khan gets a chair, having tied up Naito’s leg around the ring post… he swings and hits the chair by the ring post, getting Naito’s knee as well, before a knee breaker saw O-Khan dump Naito onto the opened-out chair.

Naito beats the count-out, but O-Khan just puts a chaw onto the knee before lifting him up for almost-an-Eliminator. That gets a near-fall, with O-Khan following up with almost a Calf Slicer as he then went back to the knee claw. A second Elim-in-knee-tor (sorry) is countered with a DDT from Naito, who takes O-Khan into the corner for some clotheslines and a Diamond Dust for a near-fall.

Going back to the braid, Naito pulls O-Khan up for Gloria, but it’s blocked as he ends up being picked up for a facebuster. A reverse powerslam drops Naito for another two-count, before O-Khan called for the regular Eliminator, but Naito escapes and runs in for a Destino! He can’t follow up with the pin as Kevin Kelly mercifully spares his microphone… a second Destino is attempted, but O-Khan elbowed away before he ate an enziguiri.

Another Destino’s blocked as O-Khan runs in with a big lariat for a two-count, before he went back to a leg lock on Naito’s right knee. Naito tries to roll into the ropes, but O-Khan just adjusts the knee bar and tightens it as we pass the 20-minute mark until the referee waves it off! Great-O-Khan finally picks up a big win – and faces the winner of Toru Yano/Bad Luck Fale in the next round… and potentially a quarter-final clash with Jeff Cobb. Some good stuff here from O-Khan who’s still finding his feet among some fans, but that first big win should put him in good stead. ***¾

IWGP Heavyweight & IWGP Intercontinental Championship: El Desperado vs. Kota Ibushi (c)
It’s the last ever defence of both of those belts, as New Japan announced that they’re going to be merged into a new IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. Just as Etsy and eBay sellers had gotten used to selling copies of the old belt…

A little over seven years ago, El Desperado made his return from excursion and challenged then-IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion Kota Ibushi. He lost that night, but we’re back again as Desperado grabbed a litany of recent opportunities – winning the vacant junior title last Sunday and then calling his shot for this match later that night.

Desperado’s taken into the ropes early on, before he took Ibushi to the mat, looking to work the wrist early on. Ibushi countered by going down and working over the leg, as they looked to find a hold that would give them a momentary advantage. A chinlock from Ibushi is countered out of, as Desperado goes inbetween the ropes to tie-up Ibushi’s arm.

Despy stomps on Ibushi’s foot, but runs into a kick to the chest before they head outside, where Despy takes the Bret Hart bump into the guard rails. Back inside, a slam gets Ibushi a one-count, as he takes Desperado into the ropes for some boot-choking, before Ibushi forces Desperado back into the corner.

An Irish whip’s reversed as Desperado takes Ibushi into the corner, then hit a low dropkick ahead of a Dragon screw as Ibushi was tied up. Numero Dos followed, but Ibushi gets to the ropes quickly, before Desperado’s stomps to the knee looked to set up for Guitarra del Angel. Ibushi slips out and comes back with a slam, before he’s kicked to the outside as Despy cuts off a moonsault.

Desperado hits the ropes for a tope con giro to Ibushi in the aisle, before a Guitarra de Angel back inside gets a near-fall. A double knee drop to Ibushi’s knee comes next, before Ibushi countered a low dropkick by leaping into a double stomp, crushing Despy in the process. More mid kicks from Ibushi are almost laughed off by Desperado, who snaps back in by rolling up Ibushi into a Numero Dos, but again Ibushi drags his way to the rope to force the break.

Ibushi blocks Pinche Loco, but couldn’t quite get Desperado up for a Jig ‘n’ Tonic, before a second leaping stomp caught out Desperado’s low dropkick. Might want to retire that move tonight, Despy… Ibushi pushes on with elbows and kicks, but Desperado butts heads again as Ibushi’s fire earned him an Angle Slam for a near-fall.

Desperado heads up top for a beautiful frog splash that almost gets it, before Pinche Loco was again blocked… before a right hand from Despy KO’d Ibushi at the same time a head kick landed. Another Pinche Loco’s blocked as Ibushi returns with a clothesline, before a Last Ride powerbomb gets a near-fall.

Ibushi signalled for Kamigoye from there, but Desperado countered with El Es Claro to almost nick two more belts… before Ibushi kicked out and nailed another head kick. Another Kamigoye’s countered into Numero Dos as they were hitting their stride for the New Japan frantic finish, which led to kickouts and Kamigoyes as we sailed past the 20-minute mark… only for one more measured Kamigoye to get the win as Taichi watched on in disbelief. Kota Ibushi retains the double gold, and El Desperado becomes the trivia answer for down the line as “the last man to challenge for those belts,” as the 33+ year history of the IWGP Heavyweight title comes to a close. ****

This was a rather steady anniversary show from New Japan, one that found a way to give us some matches of substance – albeit by starting the New Japan Cup a day early. The statement of intent out of New Japan as well, by announcing two stadium shows for May, also indicates that, at least for the foreseeable future, the schedule of way-too-regular shows is going to be the norm, at least until Japan eases up on crowd restrictions as the promotion looks to shake things up with bigger shows outside of their usual calendar.