It’s back to Korakuen Hall as the second round ties continued as Ryusuke Taguchi continued in his quest to become the 69th IWGP champion.

Chris Charlton’s back on commentary alongside Kevin Kelly and Rocky Romero. Yes, we’ve got the constant El Phantasmo video, which is playing for the entirety of the tour…

New Japan Cup 2019 – Second Round: Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Yeah… I think the Taguchi train stops here. But at least it gives us the line “it’s Ace, versus Arse” from Chris…

Taguchi starts by trying to ground Tanahashi with a hammerlock, before the endless rope running gets reversed, only for Taguchi to outsmart the Ace with an ankle lock… but it’s far too soon in the match to do this. An attempted cheapshot’s caught as Taguchi instead got outsmarted with Tanahashi dragging him into the ring post… for an ankle lock on the apron. Back inside, Tanahashi worked over Taguchi’s knee, grinding his fist into the side of the knee, before Taguchi decided that turnaround was fair play… and threw some punches to the Ace’s knee. So Tanahashi just hits some hip attacks, as some of Korakuen actually booed him.

Taguchi throws some legit hip attacks, catching Tanahashi in the ropes with some “B-Triggers” as Chris is genuinely trying to break Kevin and Rocky on commentary. A springboard dropkick takes Tanahashi back down, as does a plancha, as Taguchi was threatening the upset… rubbing his hands with glee as he prepared an ankle attack on the apron as he had Tanahashi’s knee almost in the ropes. Tanahashi fights back with Dragon screws in the ropes, before a scoop slam dumped Taguchi by the corner… but the Ace takes too long and gets caught in the ropes with an ankle lock as Taguchi kept going for Oh My Garankle. Of course, Tanahashi gets to the ropes, then eventually nails a Twist and Shout, only for Taguchi to hit a suplex as the pair kept rolling between the two.

Taguchi edges ahead as he prepped for a Bummer-ye, and actually nailed it for a two-count as Tanahashi wasn’t done yet. Another attempt at Dodon’s switched as Taguchi actually lands a Tiger suplex for a near-fall, before he sat down on a roll-through from Dodon for another two-count! The ankle lock’s next, which Taguchi clings onto despite Tanahashi’s attempts to push away, before Tanahashi pulled him in for a small package. A roll-up comes next for another two-count, before a palm strike and an eventual Slingblade finally has Taguchi on his back. Tanahashi then apes him some more with a Dodon attempt, coming back with another Slingblade and a Dragon suplex… and that was the death blow as Tanahashi managed to get past Taguchi without having to go for a High Fly Flow or anything like that. This was very much “second string” Tanahashi, but he was pushed to his limit as he almost was made to pay for taking Taguchi lightly. ****

Oh, and for Chris Charlton’s commentary? *****

New Japan Cup 2019 – Second Round: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Kota Ibushi
Sabre beat Kota Ibushi in the second stage of the New Japan Cup last year – and if he’s to remain undefeated in this competition, he’ll need to do it again.

Sabre grounds Ibushi early on, using headlocks and cravats to keep Ibushi from playing his own game. A shoulder tackle led to a quick kip up from Kota, who quickly had Sabre scurrying as a swinging kick forces the Rev Pro champion to roll away as the pair squared off.

Ibushi stings Sabre with kicks, but Zack quickly sweeps him back down as a heel hook forced Ibushi into the ropes as the submission game looked to be Sabre’s obvious route. I don’t even know how to call some of these almost improvised submissions as Zack went after Ibushi’s neck. Kota kicks back after a snap ‘rana caught Sabre off-guard, only for a standing moonsault to get blocked as Sabre got his knees up… and it’s back to a knee bar! Sabre tries to catch a kick, but ends up getting nailed in the forehead with a backflip kick from Kota. Zack’s instantly back as he worked a variation of an Indian deathlock, along with a cravat for good measure, before a low dropkick caught Ibushi unawares as he was being taken out of the corner. A missed PK puts Sabre in trouble as a slam and a springboard moonsault gets Ibushi a near-fall, before Zack’s attempt at a low dropkick ended with Kota leaping over it… crashing down on Zack with a double stomp as gravity did the rest!

A knee bar from Sabre’s quickly powered out of as a half-nelson suplex from Ibushi drew a near-fall. Sabre tries a German suplex of his own, but Ibushi flipped out of it… so Zack charges in with a guillotine instead as he dragged Ibushi down to the mat, before Kota escaped… countering out of a Zack Driver attempt with a lariat.

Ibushi tries for a package tombstone, only for Sabre to escape with a Euro clutch for a near-fall as Kota instead responds with a palm strike – right as you felt the match was about to reach a crescendo. Sabre traps Ibushi in a triangle armbar, only for Kota to Last Ride his way free for a near-fall, before he tried to backslide his way into a Kamigoye… instead, we get a straight-jacket German as the counters continued to pour in, as Sabre avoided Kamigoye and went for a heel hook. That’s transitioned into Orienteering with Napalm Death, and despite Ibushi bring right by the ropes, he tapped out as Zack Sabre Jr. booked his spot in the quarters after a beautiful match. Kota came close, but once again, Zack Sabre Jr. had his number – and a flash submission gets the cup wrestler through. Make time to watch this match! ****¼

After the bland Okada/Nicholls match, the pair of cup matches here will make you fall in love with the New Japan Cup once again. More please…