Zack Sabre Jr. and Hiroshi Tanahashi tussled in a blow-away final to decide who wins this year’s New Japan Cup!

This year’s finals are in Niigata, and Kevin Kelly’s joined by Juice Robinson and a more familiar face on commentary as Don Callis has made the trip.

New Japan Cup 2018 – Final: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Sabre got here with wins over Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi and SANADA, while Tanahashi qualified with wins over Taichi, Bad Luck Fale and the aforementioned Juice Robinson. Can Zacky Two Belts become Zacky Two Belts, One Cup?

I feel bad for even thinking of that pun.

It’s a third-time singles meeting for these two – Zack won their first meeting in the opening day of last year’s G1, while Tanahashi got a win back with a successful Intercontinental title defence at Destruction in Hiroshima two months later. Of course, they were both great matches!

They don’t go shooting out of the gate, with the usual measured approach seeing Sabre try and grapple Tanahashi down to the mat, before making a beeline for that left arm and wrist of the Ace. Tanahashi manages to escape with a drop toe hold, but Sabre’s right back on top of him, grinding fists and elbows into Tanahashi’s back in a bid to wear him down. Sabre keeps on at Tanahashi’s arm, but quickly switches to a heel hook as Tanahashi looked to be heading to the ropes… and eventually pulls himself to the floor to try and gather his thoughts. It sort-of works as Tanahashi returns to grab a headlock as he grounded Sabre, only to get caught in some headscissors as the Rev Pro champion effortlessly switched things around.

They go back and forth with headlocks and headscissors, before a shoulder tackle knocks Sabre down… where he’s met with another headlock! Tanahashi keeps hold, before switching into a side Russian legsweep… only for Tanahashi to take too long following up with a back senton as Zack roughs-up the Ace with an armbar into the ropes.

Uppercuts follow from Sabre, who takes down Tanahashi after an attempted receipt, going back to the perpetually-injured arm of Tanahashi with an armbar before nailing an up-kick to it. Tanahashi tries to punch his way back in, but Sabre’s right back in it with a double armbar as a switch flicked within Zack, who pulls right back on the “good” arm of the Ace.

Tanahashi again fights back, getting a boot up to a charging Sabre, before throwing in a flying forearm a la Tito Santana as he built up to a slam and a flip senton off the middle rope. For once Sabre didn’t counter a flip into an armbar! The follow-up comes with some body blows to Sabre in the corner, but Zack’s right back with an Octopus hold, intensifying it by removing part of the arm sleeve… only for Tanahashi to escape it with a Dragon screw!

We’re dealing with counters next as they slip back and forth between abdominal stretches, with Tanahashi grabbing the spare arm to finish him off with a pumphandle slam for the heck of it. Just like that though, Sabre climbs over Tanahashi and into a triangle armbar, only for Tanahashi to escape and turn Zack around into a Cloverleaf! Despite being pulled into the middle of the ring, Sabre’s able to roll free and grapple his way into a cross armbreaker attempt, fighting Tanahashi’s attempts to resist it before ultimately taking… another Dragon screw!

Sabre rolled to the outside to avoid any further offence, but Tanahashi scales the ropes and nails a High Fly Flow crossbody to the floor. Back inside, Sabre cuts off a Slingblade before forcing Tanahashi to skin the cat… and catches him with a heel hook as soon as he gets back in! Stomps follow to Tanahashi’s body, with extra focus being placed on the legs, before Sabre kicks away at the “Ace”… before he blocks a Dragon screw with a guillotine choke.

The counter comes with some rolling neckbreakers from Tanahashi, turning the third one into an inside cradle for a near-fall, before heading up for another High Fly Flow… but again he misses as Sabre countered after the impact with a heel hook. Eventually Tanahashi gets to the ropes, but it’s a similar story as they go back to trading right hands, with Tanahashi’s weakened right arm reducing the impact of his blows, which led to Sabre sweeping the leg as he saw the Ace crumble to the mat.

Tanahashi tries to counter a PK with a Dragon screw, but Zack counters into a Euro clutch for a very near-fall, before the pair fought over a backslide… only for Zack to switch back into the Euro for another two-count! A PK follows for another two-count as the ref was out of position, so Sabre decides to go back to the heel… only for Tanahashi to sit down on it and instead pull him up for an attempt at a Dragon suplex, which Sabre escapes.

Out of nowhere though, a Slingblade connects for a near-fall, as does a Dragon suplex as Sabre held firm… a High Fly Flow to the back squashes Zack, but Tanahashi rolls him over to hit a second one… and this time he misses as Sabre rolled away! Tanahashi’s clutching his knee as Sabre regroups, only for Tanahashi to hit a Euro clutch of his own for a near-fall… before Sabre kicked out and trapped Tanahashi in another wacky submission, blending together a leg spreader, a Stretch Muffler and a leg grapevine, pulling Tanahashi into the middle of the ring as the hold – dubbed “Orienteering with Napalm Death” – forced Tanahashi to tap!

Clean as a sheet, with Tanahashi’s body unable to last one more match against a man who’d shown his proficiency as someone who’ll happily wear down any body part… Zack Sabre Jr. has won the New Japan Cup – a little more than a year after his debut in the promotion! That’s four fantastic matches out of four for Sabre, but right now it’s the result of the trophy win that’s the focus as Zack Sabre Jr. swaps the London Cockpit for Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan on April 1st. Here’s to him coming back to Britain with more gold, eh? ****¾

A very regal, and, dare I say it, almost British-looking trophy that wouldn’t look out of place at the Tower of London… It’s all too easy to say that this tournament “made” Sabre in New Japan – after all, how many folks have we seen get built up to beat Okada, only to lose and end up “just a guy” on the shows afterwards? Nevertheless, this has been a tournament showing that has set Sabre up to be a star… as to whether the trigger’s pulled on that remains to be seen.

Judging by what happened afterwards, we’re getting Sabre vs. Okada at Sakura Genesis on April 1st… with Sabre being the guy who stands in the way between Okada tying Hiroshi Tanahashi’s record of consecutive title defences!