The 2018 New Japan Cup rolled into Amagasaki for the latest batch of first-round matches… and they’re both doozies!

New Japan Cup 2018 – First Round: Kota Ibushi vs. YOSHI-HASHI
With Kenny Omega having opted not to take part in the tournament – presumably so he could pretend to be a bear in ROH – the other half of the Golden✩Lovers stayed behind to carry the proverbial can…

From the opening tie-up it’s pretty cagey stuff, with both Ibushi and YOSHI-HASHI keeping stuff on the ground as they tried to chip away at each other. It’s YOSHI-HASHI who looked to be the early aggressor with hip tosses and back elbows, but Ibushi’s right back in it with a kick to the chest as we hit reset.

An attempt at a wristlock from Ibushi ends with YOSHI-HASHI scurrying into the ropes, returning with a DDT and a ‘rana as he kept Ibushi at bay… only to be thwarted as his early attempt at a flipping powerbomb ends with a back body drop. Ibushi comes right back in, taking YOSHI-HASHI down for a standing moonsault for a near-fall, but it’s still remarkably even as Ibushi popped right back up from a flipping neckbreaker and drilled a sitting YOSHI-HASHI with a running knee.

Ibushi teases a suplex from the ring to the floor, but instead the pair ended up jostling on the apron, ending with a Bunker Buster as Ibushi again shows us… he hates his goddamned neck.

Still on the floor, YOSHI-HASHI whips Ibushi into the crowd, via the guard rails, but Kota’s able to respond with a ‘rana in the crowd… and. Oh God. There’s a balcony there. Yep, Kota’s seen it, and he moonsaults off of it onto YOSHI-HASHI below.

Ibushi takes the match back to the ring, where a bridging German suplex almost got him the win, before YOSHI-HASHI headbutted away from a Kamigoye attempt, as the pair instead traded forearms and hard slaps before Ibushi cut down YOSHI-HASHI with a head kick… but it’s not enough as YOSHI-HASHI’s back with a facebuster out of a powerbomb attempt before he nearly snatches victory with a Destroyer?!

A butterfly lock looked to force a submission, but Ibushi gets a foot to the rope, only to get met with a powerslam as YOSHI-HASHI kept racking up those near-misses. Ibushi flips out of Karma and unloads with more kicks, only to get dropped by a Western Lariat for another two-count… and again with a running sit-out powerbomb!

It’s back to the butterfly lock, but again Ibushi makes it to the ropes, only to get dropped again with some running double knees as YOSHI-HASHI was getting closer… another crack at Karma looked to be blocked, as Ibushi countered out into a Rainmaker-style lariat, before a Kamigoye attempt was reversed into a German suplex for a near-fall… and then finally… Kamigoye for the win! Another understated performance from YOSHI-HASHI as his New Japan Cup run ended at the first hurdle… but a phenomenal outing to keep the run of good matches here going. ****¼

New Japan Cup 2018 – First Round: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Tetsuya Naito
Zack’s got different music here – although it’s made by New Japan, which means we’re probably not going to be hearing “Mother” anytime soon. He’s got TAKA Michinoku out as his version of Gedo, complete with a catchphrase for him “Just Tap Out”… and he’s got both of his Rev Pro belts with him too, as we’re back to the familiar aesthetic for ZSJ.

These two have one prior meeting, by the way, in last year’s G1… which Naito won in an outing that a lot of folks handed out a lot of snowflakes to.

Naito took his sweet time disrobing, much to the chagrin of Sabre, who responded to Naito’s early mind games by just attacking him and going straight to business. Of course, Naito was smart to it, with the crowd on his side as he teased a dive… only to roll into the middle of the ring to tranquilo!

When Sabre returned to the ring, Naito put the boots to him, ahead of some elbows in the corner, only for his legsweep corner dropkick to be thwarted as Sabre wrapped Naito’s arm in the ropes and worked over the limb on the apron. It continued on the floor, as Sabre targeted Naito’s left arm even more as Sabre was comfortably in control.

Naito punches free of the arm work and lands a neckbreaker to buy himself a little time, before following up with a reverse DDT and a baseball slide dropkick to a sitting Sabre, as the Ingobernable looked to chain together his offence. That legsweep dropkick finally comes off, but Naito’s attempt at a headscissor submission ends pretty quickly, so he just goes back in with elbows instead. Sabre hits back with a Pele kick to the arm, before rolling Naito down to the mat for a double armbar, before following up with an Octopus hold in the middle of the ring. Naito makes it to the ropes, but Sabre’s right on him, at least until Naito rushes in with an elbow to the neck as the pair went back and forth. Naito’s rolling kick’s caught and turned swiftly into a STF, then into another wacky submission as Sabre flipped from hold to hold to stretch until another rope break was called.

A leg sweep from Sabre brings Naito crashing down to the mat, where a heel hook follows, before Naito escaped and hit a German suplex to give himself more breathing space. It nearly backfires though, as Sabre’s Euro Clutch and a PK get him a pair of near-falls, before he rolled right back into the heel hook, this time scissoring the leg as Naito was again forced to pull himself towards the ropes in order to keep his cup dreams alive!

Sabre’s right back on Naito after that rope break, kicking away at the leg, only for Naito to come back with an enziguiri and Gloria for a near-fall! An attempt at Destino’s easily shoved away, but Naito goes right back to it… only for Sabre to pull him down into another heel hook variation, trapping the leg with a Stretch Muffler as Naito tried to punch his way free before the addition of a leg spreader and more wacky torture eventually forced the submission! TAKA was perhaps a bit disappointed that Naito didn’t “just tap out”, but it’s still a first round exit as Naito continued to stutter after coming up short at WrestleKingdom. ****½

Well then! Two fantastic matches bell-to-bell were on tap for us on day three, and the first round comes to a conclusion on day four with… SANADA vs. Chuckie T and Toru Yano vs. Davey Boy Smith Jr. I think the streak may be over…

We’ll be playing catch-up for the New Japan Cup – which wrapped up earlier today – with the winner getting a title shot of their choosing at Sakura Genesis on April 1!