Next up in our delayed New Japan Cup coverage – a trio of bangers, among which was Shota Umino’s biggest test to date, as the Young Lion made his cup debut.

We’re from Amagasaki this time, again with English commentary from this tour’s reliable duo of Kevin Kelly and Rocky Romero. You know the score – five undercard tags we won’t cover, and then into the third lot of first-round matches…

New Japan Cup 2019 – First Round: Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan
Taguchi was a replacement in the tournament for the injured David Finlay – and with the winner getting a shot at the IWGP champion in Madison Square Garden, there’s an outside chance of him becoming the 69th IWGP champion. Nice.

Taguchi tries to offer a fist bump to Tenzan, but it’s just a ruse as he trolls his opponent with some hissing… pretending to do Mongolian chops only to go for something else. A shoulder tackle knocks down Taguchi, who tries to come back with chops, only to get clocked with some Mongolian chops from Tenzan. A hip attack from Tenzan sees him become the troll, as he then proceeded to… Mongolian chop Taguchi’s rear end.

More traditional chops follow as Tenzan had Taguchi in the corner, asserting the weight-class differential, but Taguchi’s able to make a comeback, largely using his arse. A springboard missile dropkick gets Taguchi a near-fall, before he looked for his “Oh My Garankle” ankle lock… but Tenzan’s able to get to the ropes in double quick time. Taguchi stays on top with the Three Amigos, only for Tenzan to counter the third suplex for a near-fall. Elbows follow from both men as Taguchi runs into a Mountain bomb, before he almost snatched the upset with a small package. Tenzan retaliates with a uranage for a two-count, then transitioned into an Anaconda Vise, which Taguchi turned into a crucifix roll-up for a near-fall.

From there, a Bummer-ye hip attack followed for a two-count, before Taguchi went back to the ankle lock, only for the veteran Tenzan to escape. Taguchi’s back with a dropkick, only to get caught with a spinning heel kick as Tenzan proceeded to go to the top rope… scoring with a swandive headbutt for another two-count, before Taguchi caught him with a roll-up for the upset! A little on the slow side, but a perfectly serviceable tournament match that didn’t outlast its welcome. **¾

New Japan Cup 2019 – First Round: Shota Umino vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
So, given the field of 32, if you think that this is a “random draw”, you’re out of your mind. This was a trial-by-fire for Shota Umino, who’s currently head and shoulders above the rest of the Young Lions… despite having the customary “zero wins” under his belt.

Still, Umino gave Zack Sabre Jr. an almighty scare last month, so you never know…

Umino starts by cheap-shotting Tanahashi in the corner, showing he wasn’t going to be over-awed by the ace, nor show him too much respect. A headlock’s clung onto as Umino forces Tanahashi to push him away before the recently-deposed champion found his way in with a simple chinlock. Some headscissors from Umino are escaped as Tanahashi goes back to the side headlock, restraining the Young Lion before he upped the ante with a bodyslam and an elbow drop for a two-count.

Tanahashi keeps Umino on the mat with a leg lock, forcing Umino into the ropes. The Young Lion fights back as the match threatened to become one-way traffic, throwing forearms and getting back up when Tanahashi blasted him with uppercuts, before a dropkick caught the Ace off guard. More forearms and elbows from Umino seemed to have Tanahashi on the back foot as he tried to go for a bodyslam. Eventually, Umino landed it as he proceeds to roll Tanahashi into a Boston crab, but Tanahashi was too strong as he was easily able to power out. Dragon screws follow as Tanahashi swapped places, this time rolling Umino into a Lion Tamer, dragging Shota into the middle of the ring as the Young Lion was almost forced to tap.

Fortunately, Umino’s able to get to the rope, only for Tanahashi to slam and crash into him with a flip senton for another two-count, as another fightback saw him take Tanahashi into the ropes with an elbow, denying a Slingblade before he slapped Tanahashi to the mat. A suplex keeps Tanahashi down, as does a missile dropkick, only for another Boston crab to end in the ropes as Tanahashi again frustrated. Umino then takes it a step further, rolling Tanahashi into his own Cloverleaf, before his attempt to drag Tanahashi into the middle of the ring ended as the Ace overpowered him and got to the ropes. The pair continue to exchange strikes, as a barrage of elbows had Tanahashi on those proverbial jelly legs, only for a Fisherman suplex to get countered out of with a Twist and Shout neckbreaker.

A small package from Umino nearly upsets, as the crowd were biting on everything he was doing… and that seemed to make Tanahashi snap as he Dragon screwed Umino’s leg into the mat, before he rolled in a Cloverleaf for the eventual submission. Ah, this was pretty close to the Sabre/Umino outing, but Shota had to weather a storm this time before he got his licks in. Trust me, in the years to come, this’ll be used as “the match” that’ll be credited for his ascent. There’s a start in that Umino kid, mark my words. ****

New Japan Cup 2019 – First Round: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. EVIL
Last year’s tournament winner is back – and he’s not exactly got a straightforward first round draw either.

We’ve a tentative start as EVIL clung onto a side headlock, taking Sabre down to the mat before he bulldozed Sabre as Zack tried to push him away. A knuckle lock restrains Sabre next, but he rolls backwards to reverse it as EVIL just countered with a hammerlock. Sabre gets free and tries to rush in with a PK, only for a chop to follow as he finally found some headway with a cross armbreaker as the pair tried to neutralise each other’s offence.

Sabre comes back with some joint manipulation and a hammerlock to force EVIL to the mat for a two-count. EVIL blocks another PK, and comes back with a sidewalk slam, before a suplex threw Zack back to the mat for another two-count. A full nelson helps Zack restrain EVIL, but it’s quickly powered out of as a knee takes Sabre down once again, only for him to counter a bulldog with a hard-fought Cobra twist. That EVIL instantly reversed. A clothesline from EVIL neutralises a charge from Sabre for a near-fall, before Darkness Falls for another two-count. Roll-ups back and forth almost led to the win, as Sabre was being forced to wrestle EVIL’s style of match… succeeding as he rolled out of a backslide to blast the LIJ member with another PK.

Stomps from Sabre look to wear EVIL down some more, finally catching him in an Octopus stretch, dragging EVIL down to the mat as the Rev Pro champion looked to be on a clear course to victory. EVIL using the referee as a human shield, then as an assist for a Magic Killer helped stem the tide. A superplex keeps it EVIL, before Zack tried to counter Everything is EVIL into a Zack Driver, before an O’Connor roll was stuffed. A discus lariat almost gets EVIL the win, but another crack at Everything is EVIL was countered into a Victory Roll, then into an Octopus stretch as Sabre pulled EVIL down to the mat with an Octopus stretch, trapping and stretching both legs for the tap out. Some excellent sequences here as Sabre was forced to step outside his usual comfort zone – and once again, he had EVIL’s number. ****

Kevin Kelly got a little giddy ahead of the main event… I don’t blame him.

New Japan Cup 2019 – First Round: Kota Ibushi vs. Tetsuya Naito
As usual, Naito’s not in any rush to get going, as he slowly removes his main event entrance gear… and we finally get going with one of the most eagerly-awaited matches of the opening round.

The opening exchanges start with Naito grabbing hold of some hair to break a headlock, before the pair evade each other’s offence, then counter out on the way to a stand-off. After a brief break on the outside, Naito begins to throw elbows at Ibushi, before he took him onto the apron for a version of the Combinacion Cabron dropkick.

Staying outside, Naito throws Ibushi into the guard rails, then into the timekeeper’s table, before they headed back to the ring, where Naito kept up the focus on Ibushi’s neck. Elbows are thrown into Ibushi’s head and neck, sending him into ropes once again, where Naito just brushes him with boots before Ibushi struck back with a nice dropkick off the ropes. Another kick from Ibushi puts Naito down for a standing moonsault, but it’s only good for a near-fall, before a ‘rana took Naito outside… where he’s able to block a Golden Triangle moonsault, bu catching Ibushi with a neckbreaker on the apron. Ow.

Inside again, a running dropkick gives Ibushi a nasty landing, as does a hanging neckbreaker out of the corner, before Ibushi had to elbow his way free of an attempt at Gloria. A German suplex gets flipped out of as Naito comes in with an enziguiri, before he ate a German suplex in response as another blink-and-you’ll-miss-it exchange burst to life. This time, it’s Ibushi throwing back, as he and Naito traded forearm shots, before a huge spinebuster saw Naito turn an atomic drop into a rather different landing. Ibushi’s taken up top next, where he had to fight out of a German superplex attempt, sending Naito onto the apron before he tries to deadlift him back into the ring with a German suplex of his own. Naito counters, and eventually dropped Ibushi onto the edge of the apron with a sit-out tombstone. Just. No. Ow.

Somehow, Ibushi kicked out, before he blocked a Destino and turned it into a package tombstone piledriver… this time with Naito kicking out as Ibushi seemed rather too pleased with himself. Ibushi lands a spinning roundhouse kick flush into Naito’s head, before the Ingobernable countered back with a tornado DDT off the ropes… only for Ibushi to sucker him in with a lariat! A Last Ride powerbomb is next for a near-fall from Ibushi, who couldn’t land Kamigoye and instead got caught with a running Destino as Naito tried to finish it in a flash. Still, Ibushi’s got something left in him, as he kicked out and shoved off a second Destino, catching Naito with a high kick, then a Bomaye knee… but it’s still not enough! A Praying Mantis Bomb’s next… and that’s quickly followed up with a Kamigoye… and Kota Ibushi’s through to the next round after a brutal war. Absolutely sublime stuff, starting a little slow but it really picked up towards the home straight as Ibushi left it all in the ring to get the win. ****¾

Ooh, what’s that? Ibushi vs. ZSJ in the second round? Yes please!

So night three was the first real good night when it came to tournament action, with everything delivering as expected. Perhaps they went a little too heavy on Kota Ibushi teasing a cup run, but it’s still early days as we are almost done with the first round matches. New Japan World’s got these shows sliced up into just the individual matches – and I don’t think I need to tip off any more which bouts you need to go out of your way to see!