The semi-finals for this year’s New Japan Cup were confirmed as Korakuen Hall played witness to another cracker of a match.

New Japan Cup 2018 – Quarter-Final: Toru Yano vs. SANADA
We’ve got the English feed running here, with Kevin Kelly being joined on the call by David Finlay. Yup.

We start with SANADA blinding Yano with his own t-shirt as he rolled him around the ring with a cradle for a near-fall. A Paradise Lock in the ropes follows, before he whips Yano into the guard rails… another Paradise Lock is attempted, but Yano shoves free and almost steals another count-out win, only for SANADA to narrowly beat Marty Asami’s count! Back in the ring, Yano chokes SANADA with a shirt as we’re firmly into his shtick… which ends with a ‘rana from SANADA, then a plancha. Yano posts SANADA as he tried to get a count-out, but he misses a chairshot, nailing the ringpost instead before the chair’s kicked into Yano… but he beats the count-out too!

Yano nearly nicks the win with a roll-up with a handful of SANADA’s mohawk as we’re back to the shtick… turnbuckle pads off, everyone runs into the exposed corner before Yano.. tries a Skull End? SANADA backflips to reverse it, but he’s rolled up for another near-fall, before he’s slingshotted into that exposed corner. For some reason Yano tries for a Last Ride powerbomb, which is escaped, before a low blow and a roll-up should have won it… but SANADA grabs the ref’s hand to stop the three-count.

Yano’s incensed, and ends up getting kicked low as he remonstrated with the referee, before he’s pulled into the Skull End for the quick tap-out. This was exactly the speed and length that Yano’s win in the first round should have been. Fun, but forgettable, except for the ref and Young Boys who are put in the Paradise Lock afterwards… **¼

New Japan Cup 2018 – Quarter-Final: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Kota Ibushi
Zack’s gone from getting a new slogan (from TAKA), to a new t-shirt for his slogan. I kinda dig it.

There’s been one prior meeting between these two, at last year’s G1, which was won by Ibushi in a match that was as great as you’d expect. Commentary paints a picture of Kota hanging out with Bullet Club, which is a thread that probably shouldn’t be highlighted here… although it does distract from Sabre’s early attempts to make Kota submit.

Ibushi’s understandably cagey after that, as he swings and misses with a kick after taking Zack into the ropes, only for Sabre to go back to the grappling game, forcing Ibushi to get to the ropes to keep him in the game. Zack makes a point of targeting Ibushi’s left arm and wrist, only for the hold to be reversed into a surfboard stretch… which Sabre easily breaks free of before he’s knocked down with a forearm.

Sabre’s right back in with submissions, working over Kota’s leg in a bid to make sure that he can’t even think about moonsaulting off of anything. All variety of leglocks and deathlocks keep Ibushi down, but the free leg of Kota’s used to kick his way to freedom, before it’s used to get a rope break as Zack went back after the legs. The gameplan changes a little as Sabre starts to go to the striking game, but Kota escapes and levels him with a kick to the chest… and again, as a standing moonsault garners a near-fall.

That offence from Ibushi is quickly snuffed out when Sabre goes to an Octopus hold, but he’s pretty close to the ropes, and after the expected rope break, we’re right back in with the strikes as Ibushi and Sabre trade forearms and uppercuts… until Ibushi ducks one and nails a bridging half-nelson suplex for a surprise near-fall! Sabre returns the favour with a Euro clutch, before rolling into a STF as he seemed more angry than anything.

After another rope break, a backflip kick from Ibushi takes Sabre down again, but the Last Ride powerbomb’s countered into a triangle armbar… which Kota powerbombs his way out of, almost getting the win on the way! The kneepad comes down as Ibushi calls for Kamigoye, but Sabre’s wise to it and counters into a sunset flip as they go back and forth with cradles for a near-fall… Sabre almost snatching the win as Kota kicked out at the very last microsecond!

With both men grounded, they slap their way back to their feet, where Sabre starts back in with the stomping game, but Ibushi fires back… only to get an up-kick to his arm before a big lariat decked the Rev Pro champion! Ibushi tries to fire back with a kick, but Zack catches and lands a PK himself, before another one’s caught by Kota… who held on despite getting slapped, and throws one of his own to send Sabre down yet again.

Ibushi’s resurgence ends as quickly as it started as his springboard moonsault’s caught on landing and turned a headscissor submission. It looked like Kota’d turned it into a Last Ride, but Sabre’s right back in with another Octopus… which Kota looked to switch out into a lawn-dart, but Sabre wriggles free and charges into a backslide as we counter, counter and counter… a Kamigoye’s avoided, as is the Euro clutch, but in the end a double-wristlock’d German suplex gets Kota a two-count. Another Kamigoye’s missed as Sabre counters into an Octopus hold, throwing in a double armbar for the hell of it as the referee’s left with no choice but to wave it off. Well, Zack’s still not made anyone tap, but he’s got two stoppages under his belt as Ibushi was left in a heap on the mat after a phenomenal performance. That’s left us with Tanahashi/Robinson and SANADA/Sabre in the semis, and I think we’re firmly into “good match territory” from here on in. Make sure you put aside twenty-odd minutes of your time for this one, it’s a doozy! ****½

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.