We’re back to Korakuen Hall from last week as the first of the New Japan Cup semi-finals got underway!

New Japan Cup 2018 – Semi-Final: Juice Robinson vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
We’re on the English feed here, with Kevin Kelly joined on commentary by David Finlay again…

Tanahashi rejects the offer of a handshake as the match starts with some tense exchanges, with Juice heading into the corner and breaking cleanly. A test of strength follows, but Tanahashi can’t straighten his right arm fully, which allows Juice to force him down into a neck bridge… but Tanahashi fires back and reverses it, forcing Robinson to bridge instead.

Robinson targets Tanahashi’s arm, but instead takes a hiptoss and a headlock takedown as the Ace tried to neutralise any offence from the upstart. A body blow from Tanahashi sees him shirk the clean break in the corner, before Juice rebounded with a roll-up to almost nick the match early on.

With a handful of hair, Tanahashi takes Juice back into the corner, where he throws more body blows as the bullying side of the Ace came through… dragging Juice into the ring post as he crotched his opponent. Commentary calls out that Juice employed a similar refusal to go after an injury last year against Kenny Omega – something that cost him then, and looked to be doing the same here as a ruthless Tanahashi trapped Juice in an Indian deathlock, holding firm despite some desperate headbutts before dragging himself to the bottom rope.

Tanahashi keeps up with a standing version of a cloverleaf, before going back into the corner as he wrenches away on the knee some more. It looked effective, as Juice buckled as he was whipped into another corner, clearly forced to slow down… but he manages to find enough to dump Tanahashi with a spinebuster before busting out those Dusty punches… only for Tanahashi to go back to the knee. A clothesline from Juice knocks Tanahashi down though, but his offence comes to a juddering halt as he crashed and burned into the corner with a cannonball. Next up are the guardrail spots, but it’s Tanahashi who’s whipped into the rails, only to get squashed with a cannonball as Juice finally connected!

Eventually Juice rolls Tanahashi back into the ring, before he slowly headed up top… too slow, in fact, as Tanahashi charges into the ropes to crotch Juice. Finally, Juice breaks with the clean-cut stuff and knocks the referee into the ropes as Tanahashi got a taste of his own medicine, before the pair started to go back and forth with forearms once again. Juice upgrades the forearms to chops as he had Tanahashi reeling into the ropes… but his gutbuster is blocked and met with a Dragon screw instead!

Another Dragon screw follows when Juice tried for a leg lariat, and it’s back to the Cloverleaf… albeit briefly as Juice managed to get his way to that bottom rope once more. Juice manages to hit back with a full nelson bomb as he countered a Slingblade, before landing a lariat as he almost booked his spot in the finals. Second time was the charm for the Slingblade though, but Juice manages to cut-off Tanahashi as he went up for a High Fly Flow, effectively punching the Ace off of the top rope.

Tanahashi recovers though and manages to nail the High Fly Flow… but Juice rolls through and almost grabs another upset as the match crossed the 25 minute mark. This has been one of those matches that’s gone fairly long without feeling it… Juice tries for a brainbuster, but Tanahashi counters out into some rolling neckbreakers, before Juice lands a lifting DDT that again got him close to victory!

Juice apes the High Fly Flow after going up top, nailing the crossbody version, then the frog splash version… but Tanahashi’s not going down to his own move as Juice seemed to be getting desperate, pleading with the referee to say it was a three count. He tries to follow-up with Pulp Friction, but Tanahashi goes to reverse it, before trying for a Dragon suplex and eventually… a slap. Yep, they’re throwing bombs again, as Tanahashi dumps Juice with a half nelson suplex before scaling the ropes for one more High Fly Flow to the back of Juice.

One more follows after he rolled Robinson onto his back, and despite all that effort, Juice Robinson exits at the semi-final stage. What a monumental effort from Juice, as he lasted almost half an hour only to fall short against the Ace of New Japan. The back-story to this is that Tanahashi is being considered a tournament favourite, as he’d likely challenge Okada in a match that would see Tanahashi try and stop Okada from meeting the record for successful title defences… but first, Tanahashi’s got to win the final! ****

Typically, the New Japan Cup is a bit of a throwaway tournament (albeit not on the levels of the World Tag League) – this year’s is far from that. Two matches remain, and from what I’ve been told, we’re not going to be let down!

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.