Hiroshi Tanahashi’s opponent in the New Japan Cup final was found out as Hamamatsu played witness to the second semi-final!

New Japan Cup 2018 – Semi-Final: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. SANADA
Bad Luck Fale is sporadically on the call with Kevin Kelly here… and I’m not making any comment, since Fale could quite literally kill me. TAKA as Zack’s hype man has really grown on me though, even is Sabre looked a little unsure of it!

It’s a first-time singles meeting here, and we have a cagey opening stretch as Sabre took his usual measured approach, going right after SANADA’s left arm and wrist. SANADA returns the favour with a wristlock, forcing Sabre to roll through to reverse the hold as the pair ended up going back and forth en route to a stalemate.

Sabre’s right back to the wristlock though, this time going for the right arm, but SANADA turns it into a knuckle lock for a brief test of strength as Sabre switches out into a double armbar as he keeps things firmly on the ground. The two jockey over a surfboard stretch, with SANADA taking Sabre to the mat as he wrenches back on the arms, only for Zack to roll through and get taken outside as SANADA just nonchalantly flipped into the ring… much to the chagrin of the Rev Pro champion.

SANADA keeps up after Sabre cooled down though, reversing out of a stranglehold attempt to catch him in the same hold as the Ingobernable seemed to be matching the “Technical Wizard” move for move. A ‘rana surprises Sabre to the outside, where SANADA followed in with a plancha for good measure, before heading back to keep him down with forearms.

SANADA tries to go for the Paradise Lock, and although he’s countered into an armbar, it’s a Skull End that teases another submission as Sabre escapes and goes at both arms with kicks. Sabre goes right back to the wrist as he torqued heavily on it as he started to go through his mental Rolodex of submissions, but he eventually rolled SANADA into the ropes with headscissors.

A leapfrog attempt from SANADA’s pulled down as Sabre’s right back to submission attempts, building from an STF into a Fujiwara-style armbar, before going back to the wrist as SANADA got back to his feet. Second time was the charm for the double leapfrog dropkick, before managing to trap Zack in a Paradise Lock… leading to the eventual low dropkick to the arse.

Another submission attempt followed as Sabre fought back, but they’re way too close to the ropes… so he goes right to the Octopus stretch once he’d gotten SANADA in the middle of the ring… but SANADA escapes and manages to land a high-angle back suplex for a near-fall as you sensed that the momentum wasn’t done shifting. A missed moonsault earns SANADA a running back elbow and a PK as Sabre collapsed to the mat.

Zack’s back up first though, and he’s right back after SANADA’s left arm and wrist once again as we crossed the 20 minute mark… just in time for SANADA to go for a TKO, only for Sabre to counter it with a mounted Kimura… which SANADA slips out of an somehow into a swinging Skull End! The counters continue as Sabre escapes and snaps the arm between his feet, before an O’Connor roll lead to a Euro clutch for a near-fall… and right back into a Skull End!

We’re trading Skull Ends and Euro Clutches here as the pair came ever-closer to victory, with Sabre monkeying around SANADA as he looked for different submissions to apply out of TKOs. Finally SANADA nails it though, countering out of the triangle armbar, but Sabre kicks out at two, before a Tiger suplex rudely dumped him high on his neck for another near-fall.

SANADA tries to follow up with a moonsault, but he lands in another triangle armbar, which Sabre switches right as it was about to get turned into a powerbomb, changing the hold up into a double armbar, throwing in some headbutts to the ribs before SANADA verbally submitted. We’re still without a tap out, but Zack’s in the final as his thunderous performance through the New Japan Cup continued unabated. Perhaps not the best showing, but still really good graps! ***¾

We’re heading towards the end of our catch-up for the New Japan Cup – the winner of which gets a title shot of their choosing at Sakura Genesis on April 1.