After the prior week had given us the quarter-finals, New Japan were back on the road for a show that featured the semi-finals of this year’s New Japan Cup.

We’re in Shizuoka for the seventh day of the New Japan Cup tour, a short, seven-match card headlined by those semi-finals…and the set-up of this building is weird, as there is an entrance, but the aisle is in a funky place… so the guys all come out on the stage and walk down the side of the arena to get to the ring.

Juice Robinson, David Finlay & Tomoyuki Oka vs. Yuji Nagata, Hirai Kawato & Katsuya Kitamura
So apparently, Kitamura isn’t always beet red – he’s just taking the sunbed times that Tomoaki Honma booked before his injury.

Oka and Kitamura start off going back and forth from a lock-up as Oka was eventually pushed into the ropes… for a rather unclean break. Kitamura eventually clubs Oka down to the mat, but he’s easily hiptossed for a near-fall, before Finlay comes in and grabs a headlock onto Kawato, who’s still trying to fight above his station. A spinning forearm takes down Finlay, as does a hiptoss, before the comeback saw Robinson land a back senton on Kawato… which annoyed Nagata so much that he broke up the pin. Kawato and Oka traded shots briefly, ending with a nice dropkick from Kawato before he tagged in Nagata to just boot the hell out of everyone.

Nagata drills Oka with a Yakuza kick in the corner, then with a series of knees, before Oka gave him a taste of his own medicine with an overhead belly-to-belly suplex. Robinson comes in for some Dusty punches, only to take a low dropkick from Yuji, before an armbar attempt was quickly broken up by Finlay.

Kitamura came back in as Yuji and his Young Lion Kids went to work on Robinson, ending with a Boston Crab on Juice by Kitamura. Nagata and Kawato tied up the rest with submissions, but Finlay powered free and broke up the hold before Juice flipped out of a suplex and eventually decked Katsuya with a clothesline. That got him a two-count, but a Pulp Friction eventually took them over the line for the win. A fun six-man opener, and its always nice to see some new Young Lions on the scene… even if one of them (Kawato) is scrappy like a little terrier… **½

Suzuki-gun (El Desperado & TAKA Michinoku) vs. Gedo & Jado
Desperado immediately takes down Jado at the bell with kicks, but the tables quickly turn as Jado throws him to the outside… where he grabs a chair from the timekeeper’s table before rolling back inside.

Gedo pokes TAKA in the eye after some Dusty punches, but the Suzuki-gun pair come back with a big boot as TAKA just grinds his first into Gedo’s forehead. Desperado kept up the pressure with a Gory Stretch, squatting as he did so, before flipping Gedo over into a DDT for a near-fall. The tables almost turned as Jado teased the rope-hung DDT, but Desperado avoided it, then landed a diving uppercut before TAKA came in… and fell into a crossface from Jado. Somehow, TAKA rolls backwards and reverses the hold, but Jado gets free and hits that DDT to win the match. Yeah, it was a match… it didn’t do anything for me apart from kill time, I’m afraid. And I guess prove to Jado that the DDT that injured Honma was a freak accident. *¾

Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Taichi, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & Takashi Iizuka) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Satoshi Kojima, Jushin “Thunder” Liger & Tiger Mask
We get the usual Suzuki-gun jump start, and for some reason el Desperado’s just there standing on the apron for the fun of it.

Suzuki takes his shots at Kojima, but the camera switches to the ring as we see Taichi choking away on Liger. Iizuka trips Liger as he tried to come back, and for some reason we’ve got Taichi choking the ref as the action spilled into the crowd, where Suzuki chokes Kojima with a chair. The focus returns to the ring as Taichi tries to unmask Liger – and succeeds to some degree as we see everything below the eyes, before Liger pulled the mask back over his face. We get Suzuki grabbing a knee bar as Liger was draped over the apron, before he takes some mocking Mongolian chops from Taichi.

Liger manages to roll up Taichi for a near-fall, before he had to fend off the onrushing Iizuka, finally taking the lunatic down with a Shotei. In comes Kojima for his rapid-fire chops and the top rope elbow, but Iizuka kicks out at brings in Suzuki to fly into Kojima with a PK for a near-fall. Tenzan breaks up the offence with some Mongolian chops and a headbutt, as the tag champs double team Suzuki before bringing in Tiger Mask.

Just… why?

Taichi runs in and tries to attack Tiger Mask, but he clears house himself as everyone gangs up on Suzuki, which leads to a Tiger Driver on Suzuki for a near-fall. Minoru comes back with a rear naked choke, then a Gotch piledriver… and that’s it. A really rushed finish, and another Suzuki-gun match that left me really cold. **

Hiroshi Tanahashi, KUSHIDA, Michael Elgin & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, Hiromu Takahashi, SANADA & BUSHI)
A rather slow start sees BUSHI pull Tanahashi’s hair in the ropes as Naito tried to capitalise, but the Intercontinental champ quickly found himself battered into the corner with a load of avalanches , before he’s whipped into Taguchi’s rear end… but that’s stopped as the Ingobernables used the numbers game to turn things around.

Tanahashi’s caught in a STF by BUSHI, before Takahashi and SANADA end up taking a pair of Dragon screws, as Elgin tagged in and threw SANADA around with ease. Elgin fights off of a BUSHI and Naito double-team, taking them down with a Samoan drop/fallaway slam before SANADA leaps into a German suplex for a near-fall. Another German’s flipped out of, before we go back to KUSHIDA and Takahashi.

Naito comes in to keep it uneven, but he takes a hiptoss and a cartwheel dropkick, before catching Takahashi in a cross armbreaker. It’s broken up, as KUSHIDA again has to fend off a disadvantage, as he hits a Pele kick to BUSHI before bringing in Taguchi for his leapfrog/drop down sequence. Taguchi gets isolated and caught with a four-way diving dropkick, only for the cover to be broken. BUSHI turns a hip attack into an atomic drop, but Taguchi quickly recovers by catching him with a La Magistral cradle, and that’s the win! Another basic Ingobernable tag, but so far this is really a by-the-numbers show. **½

Bullet Club (Kenny Omega, Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, Toru Yano & YOSHI-HASHI
We start with Toru Yano against Tama Tonga’s new ring gear, and it’s not long before we get a Benny Hill chase series that ended in a tag to YOSHI-HASHI.

The ring filled after a botched bit of interference from Omega, which led to YOSHI-HASHI getting a near-fall on Tonga. After Tama Tonga turned things around, Omega came back in and went to work over YOSHI, taking him down with a chop, and it was quickly clear that YOSHI-HASHI was going to be the whipping boy of the CHAOS team. A back suplex gets a near-fall as YOSHI’s kept isolated, exacerbated by a Tama Tonga leaping neckbreaker, then a legdrop/kneedrop combo as the Guerrillas of Destiny double-teamed him. Eventually YOSHI-HASHI made a comeback, landing a flipping neckbreaker before tagging out to Goto, but that momentum quickly ended with a lariat from Loa, as Omega came in.

Omega and Goto trade shots for a spell, before Goto pulled him back into an over-the-knee backbreaker. In came Okada, who went straight for Omega with a back elbow, then another one in the corner, as a DDT led to another diving uppercut. A low dropkick takes out Okada’s knee in preparation for the Kotaro Crusher as the rest of the Bullet Club hit the ring to pepper Okada with avalanches in the corner.

The Guerrillas hit their fireman’s carry/neckbreaker combo, but Takahashi apparently was the legal man… and somehow he was able to score a near-fall on Okada with a clothesline and a fisherman buster. Toru Yano got a turn, but was quickly beaten to the outside by the Guerrillas, allowing Okada to come back with a dropkick and an elbowdrop to Takahashi, as a slow-mo Rainmaker got the win.

Eh, it was decent, everyone seems to be holding a LOT back for this show. The crowd especially… **¾

New Japan Cup – Semi-Final: Bad Luck Fale vs. EVIL
EVIL jumped Fale at the bell as they immediately went outside – with EVIL wiping out a stage hand when he rammed Fale into the guard railings. They went for the EVIL chair spot early, but Fale fought out of it and threw EVIL into the barricades, then the ring post.

Fale controlled EVIL after that, taking him to the back of the arena to be slammed into the wall, then strangled with a fan’s scarf. A bit of the crowd barrier’s dropped onto EVIL, as Fale just sauntered back to the ring in search of a count-out – but not before he tries to block EVIL’s path back. EVIL’s forced to hurdle the barrier to get back in before the count, where Fale just laid into him some more with forearms to the back.

Fale sits on EVIL for a camel clutch, before going for a big splash that misses. He misses a clothesline, and gets one in return as both men again end up outside as EVIL goes for the chair spot again, this time succeeding in batting it off his head. The big man came back quickly though, squashing EVIL in the corner and landing a big splash for another two-count, before going for the Grenade… which is where the shenanigans started.

EVIL leapt out of the hold and grabbed the referee – allowing BUSHI to come in and spray Fale. A series of clotheslines finally knocked down Fale for a two-count, as Tama Tonga had rushed in to pull the referee out, then hit a spin-out reverse DDT. BUSHI takes down Tonga with a missile dropkick as those two fought to the back, before a headbutt and a forearm from EVIL leads to an STO attempt.

Fale elbows out and picks up EVIL, eventually having to settle for a huge lariat as a Grenade and a Bad Luck Fall booked Fale’s place in the final. Well, this was much better than I was expecting – and the result was surprising too. ***

New Japan Cup – Semi-Final: Tomohiro Ishii vs. Katsuyori Shibata
Your main event here, and this should blow everything out of the water. A technical start leads to Shibata stomping on Ishii’s forearm and elbow, as he looked to get an armbar in early, before his attempt at a diving dropkick in a corner was brutally cut-off by a shoulder tackle from Ishii.

Ishii takes Shibata into the ropes for some chops and forearms, then into the corner, but Shibata races out for the big boot as he lays in his forearms, before finally landing that diving dropkick. An abdominal stretch keeps Ishii at bay, but somehow he manages to power his way towards the ropes, only to start an elbow battle as both men laid into each other something fierce… and. They. Did. Not. Stop!

Shibata edged ahead there, only to be knocked down hard with a single shot from Ishii, then again with a shoulder tackle. They went back to the elbows, before Shibata popped up from a powerslam and dropped Ishii with another boot, as more elbows led to almost an Anaconda Vice.

Although the pace slowed down here, the intensity did not, as Shibata’s stomps riled up Ishii into chopping him in the throat repeatedly. A German suplex takes down Shibata once more, before Ishii laid into him hard with a series of lariats… which Shibata rolled back up from, just to take another. The sliding lariat gets a near-fall, so they go back to the brutal strikes, as a Shibata spinning backfist just earns him a Pele kick.

Both men then plonked themselves on the mat for a sit-down slap war, with increased ferocity as they stood up, before a Shibata sleeper was turned into a back suplex. He popped up and gave Ishii a German, before a PK attempt was blocked and turned into a cross armbreaker from Ishii. Shibata just about makes the ropes to free himself, so he gets some more kicks and then replies with a diving knee.

Shibata pulls up Ishii into a rear naked choke, and clings onto it despite Ishii turning it into an armbreaker. That’s turned into a sleeper suplex, but Ishii pops back up… and straight back down after a diving knee that gets a one-count. More one-counts follow, because both of these men are bloody inhuman. Another rear naked choke from Shibata’s leads to a PK, but he goes back to the choke rather than a pin, just to make sure Ishii’s out cold, and that forces the referee to wave this off. Shibata’s in the final against Bad Luck Fale… and I would be a fool to expect anything NEAR this level tomorrow. ****¼

After the match, Ishii came to and tries to go for Shibata again, grabbing him by the kneepad as trainers try to hold that ice pack on him.

Well, Ishii/Shibata was easily the best thing on this show – brutal, hard-hitting and deliberate. It’s just a shame that the rest of the card was such a slog to get through. In truth, they’d have been better off just releasing the semi-finals and saving the rest of the show for the live crowd, as these undercards have been pretty much bland.