A spot in the main event at Madison Square Garden was on the line as Kazuchika Okada and SANADA battled in a final for the ages.

Kevin Kelly, Rocky Romero and Excalibur were back on commentary from Niigata’s Aore Nagaoka.

New Japan Cup 2019 – Final: SANADA vs. Kazuchika Okada
The numbers don’t look good for SANADA, who’d lost all of his singles outings to Okada, including an IWGP title shot at the New Beginning in Osaka a little over a year ago.

We get going rather tentatively, with Okada and SANADA taking their time to work over each other’s wrists, as Okada took it to the mat in the opening minutes. SANADA got free and grapevined the legs, as they went back and forth on the way to a stand-off. The next go around has Okada working an armbar, which SANADA quickly escaped, only to get wrestled down in a wristlock as another sequence ended with SANADA having to fight his way free. SANADA tries to return the favour, going for a waistlock, before they swapped wristlocks as SANADA then tried to go for the legs, only for Okada to get free as the pair ended in another stand-off. The crowd remained staunchly behind SANADA despite the ongoing stalemate, but SANADA suddenly turns up the pace… and still can’t find a way through. A side headlock from Okada keeps the match at a crawl, before SANADA found a way to trip him and roll Okada into a Paradise Lock at the first time of asking!

After kicking Okada free, SANADA gets met with an elbow before his double leapfrog dropkick was stopped, with Okada throwing him outside for a plancha of his own.

Back inside, Okada keeps up on SANADA with elbows, before a simple neckbreaker drew just a one-count. A low dropkick to a seated SANADA follows, as the pace is kept low with a chinlock, which SANADA fought free of before… Okada just wrapped him up in another chinlock. Second time was the charm as SANADA got free, this time following through with the double leapfrog/dropkick, before Okada snuck back in to avoid the plancha… only to get low bridged to the floor as SANADA had to fake out the dive and cannonball off the apron as he finally took down the Rainmaker. SANADA’s attempt to maintain an advantage ends when Okada caught him with a back elbow off the ropes. A spiking DDT planted SANADA for a two-count, before he rolled SANADA up off the mat and into the neckbreaker slam as Okada was finding slight ways to change up his usual offence. The top rope elbow drop is next as Okada gets his Rainmaker zoom out, but it feels far too soon to be even going for it, as SANADA just elbows out and found his way back with a springboard missile dropkick.

A strike battle broke out as Okada looked to maintain the upper hand, and found himself stopped with a European uppercut from the hometown boy. Okada regained that advantage when he lifted SANADA to the top and dropkicked him to the floor, exacerbating the nerve issues that commentary had been playing up throughout the match. Those aren’t helped when SANADA’s taken into the guard rails, then DDT’d off of them, before Okada seemingly floated in the air with a missile shotgun dropkick back inside, as SANADA was fading. Okada tries to add to that further with a tombstone, going back to the hold every time SANADA tried to go for a Skull End, but in the end it’s SANADA who nails the tombstone. A Skull End looks to be next, as SANADA clung onto the former IWGP champion, before he let go and switched up with a Tiger suplex for a near-fall. A moonsault from SANADA’s stopped by the knees of Okada, before he’s quickly caught in a Rainmaker.

Rather than go for the pin, Okada pulls him up… and lands a dropkick before scooping SANADA up for a tombstone. He’s not going for the near-fall spams though, as he just picks up SANADA again for a Rainmaker, but SANADA counters with a standing Sliced Bread into a Skull End… but Okada rolls out and we get some Skull End/Rainmaker attempts from both sides. Seems Okada’s been watching tapes, but he didn’t avoid a reversal as SANADA swings the former champion in a Skull End, until Okada managed to roll back and get a near-fall. The kick-out doesn’t move Okada much as SANADA’s able to immediately re-apply the Skull End, before he let go… to just go for a cover, rather than a moonsault. Okada kicks out, so SANADA heads up for a moonsault, which misses as Okada rolled away! We crossed the half hour mark with SANADA no-selling a shotgun dropkick, before rolling elbowing himself out of a Rainmaker as he quickly followed in with a TKO for a near-fall. Another attempt at the moonsault is delayed as Okada despairingly clung onto SANADA’s leg, before grabbing him on the top rope.

It doesn’t work as SANADA moonsaults into a Skull End, only for Okada to flip back himself into a leaping tombstone, as he again went for Rainmaker… this time with SANADA booting his way free. A discus Rainmaker manages to find its mark after some more back and forth in the corner, before he pulls up SANADA into one more Rainmaker for the win. This was another war, and one of those matches that is a classic… but likely to be forgotten pretty quickly since the result was called by many. ****½

This one went a hair longer than that IWGP title match in February 2018, but sadly had the same result. We’re getting Okada vs. Jay White at the Garden over WrestleMania weekend, and that is perhaps the match some pundits had called ages ago. That brings a fantastic New Japan Cup to an end – a tournament that many feared was going to be heavily diluted because of the expanded field and lengthened tour… it turned out to not be the case, as this was one of the highest rated cups to date.