Just like last year, the New Japan Cup started as we were over in Germany… so here’s the start of us playing catch-up!

We’re not going to review the entire cards, (some of the tour matches may well pop up in Random Reviews down the line), and instead just focus on the tournament matches show by show.

Night one comes from Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, with Kevin Kelly and Don Callis on English commentary… and before we got to the cup matches, we had a video announcing the arrival of El Phantasmo in New Japan “soon”. Or to be more precise… to Bullet Club.

New Japan Cup 2019 – First Round: YOSHI-HASHI vs. Manabu Nakanishi
We start off the tournament with a match that quite easily could go either way – which is a damning indictment of YOSHI-HASHI these days.

YOSHI-HASHI tries to sucker in Nakanishi with shoulder tackles, only for the veteran to charge him down ahead of a big splash for an early two-count. A leglock from YOSHI-HASHI eventually sends Nakanishi scurrying into the rope, before a chop battle proved to be a little unwise for YOSHI-HASHI, who got knocked down with ease. Nakanishi misses a knee drop, but he’s able to recover as he slammed YOSHI-HASHI, before he reversed an Irish whip… and got dropkicked in the knee.

A Headhunter follows from YOSHI-HASHI for a near-fall, before Nakanishi caught him on the top rope, throwing him down with a superplex. Nakanishi keeps up the aerial stuff with a plancha to the floor, before a crossbody off the top almost put away YOSHI-HASHI. That’s Nakanishi done with the top rope for 2019, I feel… An Argentine backbreaker is next, which then gets turned into a Hercules cutter… but the referee had been grabbed by YOSHI-HASHI on the way down, meaning the official wasn’t around to make a count. Nakanishi, annoyed, slaps YOSHI-HASHI before the CHAOS member tried to fight back with some clotheslines. They eventually take Nakanishi down to a knee, but the veteran’s back with a spear for a near-fall, before YOSHI-HASHI caught Nakanishi with a Butterfly Lock, only for Nakanishi to push away.

YOSHI-HASHI’s right back with a superkick and some running double knees for a near-fall, before he floats back into the Butterfly Lock for the submission. This was as good as you’d expect – and still, YOSHI-HASHI is dominated, not dominant. **¼

New Japan Cup 2019 – First Round: Taichi vs. Tomoaki Honma
A year ago, Taichi made the step up to heavyweight… fast-forward 12 months and he’s had a flirtation with the NEVER openweight title, and has gained Takashi Iizuka’s Iron Fingers from Hell. Lovely.

Honma starts out by throwing forearms, but Taichi just slides to the outside, suckering Honma out… only to get thrown into the guard rails as Honma ended up clotheslining the former NEVER champion into the front row. Back in the ring, Honma chokes Taichi with his boot, before things turned around when Honma misses a Kokeshi. The pace doesn’t pick up much when Taichi’s in charge, as he heads outside to blast Honma with a chair, before he used the same chair to choke Honma with as he looked to score a count-out.

Honma’s back in the ring as a neck crank keeps him on the mat, but he’s able to get back up and chop Taichi in the throat, sending him into the corner before a bulldog brought him out. This time, Kokeshi hits its mark, but it’s not enough to put Taichi down, as he’s quickly back with an enziguiri as I start to question some life choices. Even more so when Taichi’s approximations at Kawada kicks look like they’d barely graze you.

A back body drop from Honma sees him get free, as does a headbutt and a falling lariat, ahead of a Kokeshi Otoshi… but Taichi kicks out from the sit-out piledriver. Honma heads into the corner for a swandive Kokeshi, before Taichi caught Honma in the corner again, this time with a gamengiri. A sunset bomb out of the corner keeps Honma ahead, before a diving Kokeshi gets another two-count. An enziguiri from Taichi clocks Honma in the forehead, before he followed up with a lariat to the back of the neck, only for Honma to roll him up for a near-fall. Taichi’s back with another lariat for a two-count, then a modified Dragon sleeper until Honma managed to drag himself into the ropes for the break. There’s a nasty-looking Saito suplex as Honma’s damn near dumped on his head, before the Dragon sleeper’s put back on for the eventual submission. Well, some people like Taichi, but to me it feels like a rib. Much like this match – one that I’d have been wondering “am I playing this at half speed?” if the New Japan World player offered that option. I hope to God we’re not in for a tournament of matches that are “epics for the sake of being epics”. *½

So, for the sake of disclosure, I had to stop watching after that match, lest me get too sour on things.

New Japan Cup 2019 – First Round: Chase Owens vs. Juice Robinson
On paper, this was one of those potential banana skin matches for Juice – neither man exactly being expected to win the tournament and that MSG main event… but you could just as easily see Chase upsetting Juice to set up a title match down the road.

Chase tried to neutralise things early, playing keepaway with Juice before he suckered him outside with a side Russian legsweep into the guard rails. Back inside, Chase keeps up the momentum with chops before grounding Juice in a side headlock, before a side suplex from Juice got him a foothold in the match.

Chase tries to close the door with some forearms, before he ran into a flapjack as Juice begins to mount some fresh offence. That quickly ends with a rude back body drop that sent Juice from the ring all the way to the floor, missing the apron in the process. An attempted package piledriver on the floor’s stopped when Juice charges Owens into the guard rails, then whips him hard into the other side before he just ran into a superkick.

A suplex from Chase takes Juice back into the railings, but Owens takes the match back inside and has to fight to keep the upper hand, as Juice found another way back in, only for Owens to land a backbreaker and a front suplex as the Bullet Club’s lackey was more than matching the US champion. Another package piledriver’s blocked as Robinson lifts Owens onto the apron, before a left hand knocks him down to the floor. A cannonball off the apron follows, before Chase again pulled him into the railings. Chase then went to pull up the padding around ringside as he teased a package piledriver on the wood floor, but Juice again wriggles free and back body drops him.

Back inside, a cannonball clatters into Chase, as Juice again tried to build up some momentum, only to crash and burn as Chase ducks a crossbody, then hit Juice with a Juice Box for a near-fall. Juice almost wins with the SummerSlam 92 finish, sitting down on a sunset flip, as the pair began to trade increasingly-close near-falls, before Owens gets caught with his feet on the ropes as he tried to roll-up Juice.

The same happens again seconds later as Owens held the ropes in a sunset flip, before he shoved away a Pulp Friction attempt, then came close with the Jewel Heist short lariat. From there, the package piledriver hits its mark, and Chase Owens gets the upset! Yeah, Chase may have been racking up win after win in undercard tags, but this is perhaps Chase’s biggest win in New Japan to date – and it came in a pretty solid match too, with the Korakuen crowd getting into every little bit of it. ***½

New Japan Cup 2019 – First Round: Tomohiro Ishii vs. Yuji Nagata
It may be a month overdue, but we’re finally getting Ishii/Nagata as a singles match!

Main event Nagata means we get the Pirates of the Caribbean intro for his music, while there’s a sly dig at WWE rehiring Bruce Prichard on commentary.

Anyway, we got going with a long lock-up that came to nought, before the tempo was suddenly raised as they began to exchange shots. A trip from Nagata leaves Ishii on his front, prone for an armbar from Nagata, only for him to let go as Ishii powered back up and clonked him with a barrage of headbutts.

Chops follow as Ishii pins Nagata into the corner… only for the tables to turn as Nagata switches around and throws some elbows in response. Ishii refuses to stay down though, switching back around for chops and elbows before Nagata put an end to it with a kitchen sink knee to the midsection. Kicks come next, as Nagata looked to fight back with an Exploder, but Ishii elbows free before he ran into an overhead belly-to-belly suplex.

We’re back to the elbows as Ishii and Nagata laid into each other with no remorse… and with no end in sight, either, as Korakuen clapped along rhythmically to it. After seemingly being left on the back foot, Ishii’s right back in with a powerslam and a shoulder charge to Nagata, before we’re back to strikes. Chop! Kick! Chop! Kick! Neither man budges, until Ishii found a way through with an elbow that aimed squarely for the temple.

A Twister suplex from Nagata surprises Ishii, who’s taken up top as Ishii then had to counter a superplex with a sunset bomb attempt… which instead turned into a Last Ride out of the corner as Nagata hung on. It became Ishii’s turn to head up top, looking for a superplex on Nagata, and this time he had no issues as Nagata was sent sailing to the mat for a near-fall. Just like that though, a bloodied Nagata is back with a Shirome armbar, rolling the eyes backwards in his head before he ended up rolling himself into the ropes. Nagata keeps up with some kicks, sending Ishii slumping to the mat, following in with a bicycle knee into the corner and an avalanche Exploder for a near-fall.

Nagata hits Ishii’s own sheer-drop brainbuster to come even closer, before a Saito suplex is blocked. A missed high kick from Nagata is turned into a German suplex by Ishii, but the pair are shrugging these throws off, as Ishii finally decks Nagata with a lariat, before falling to the mat himself. When they got back to their feet, they trade slaps back-and-forth, which was as perverse to watch as it was hypnotic, before the pair struck at the same time, putting them both back on the mat.

They’re still going tit-for-tat as a pair of lariats from Ishii drew a solid two-count, before Nagata hits harder with a Saito suplex, only to get a near-fall as he took his time making the cover. Another German suplex off the ropes folds Ishii in half as Nagata measures up for a kick to the chest, but still Ishii lives on as he rose from the dead with a lariat… for a one count?! Nagata tries to fight back with more kicks, only to get caught with an enziguiri and a sliding lariat, before a sheer drop brainbuster got the win. This was just as great as you expected it to be, with both guys not exactly holding back as they went to war – and managed to escape relatively intact. If you like slugfests, this is definitely a match for you! ****½

Night one of the New Japan Cup perhaps was a little wobbly, with four “epic” matches… two of which damn sure didn’t need to go as long as it did. Still, when you’re expanding the field of entrants to 32, you’ve got to expect there’ll be some who are perhaps there to make up the numbers – and we perhaps shouldn’t be overly soured by Taichi/Honma. Skip that match and enjoy the rest!