The finals of the New Japan Cup were set-up as the prospect of a LIJ-headlining weekend in Osaka…

Once again we’re in Korakuen Hall with just Japanese commentary on the live feed. Kevin Kelly will backfill with English commentary long before next week’s finals in Osaka-Jo Hall – where we’ll actually have some fans in attendance!

Quick Results
El Desperado, Minoru Suzuki, Zack Sabre Jr. & Taichi pinned Gabriel Kidd, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi & Yuji Nagata in 12:10 (***¼)
SHO, Hirooki Goto & Tomohiro Ishii pinned BUSHI, Tetsuya Naito & Shingo Takagi in 13:15 (***¼)
New Japan Cup – Semi-Final: EVIL pinned SANADA in 20:10 (***½)
New Japan Cup – Semi-Final: Kazuchika Okada beat Hiromu Takahashi via referee stoppage in 27:00 (***¾)

Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Zack Sabre Jr., Taichi & El Desperado) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi, Yuji Nagata & Gabriel Kidd
You’ll be shocked to learn that Suzuki-gun didn’t jump their opponents before the bell. Instead, they powdered to the outside before the bell, as we had a delayed start with Taichi and Tanahashi getting us underway.

From the opening tie-up, Taichi takes Tanahashi into the ropes… where he gets held by Sabre as the tag title feud blew up right away. Ibushi comes in to level things off as elbows and a standing splash gets a two-count for Tanahashi… but Suzuki-gun rush the ring as Sabre and Taichi again double-team Tanahashi, trapping him in the ropes for some Dragon screws.

Everyone’s outside and into the guard rails now as Taichi gives us our daily visit to the bleachers, before he choked Tanahashi with the Fire Pro Wrestling World guard rail. They head back to the ring, as Taichi puts the boots to Tanahashi’s leg, before Suzuki tagged in and tweaked away on the leg some more with a toe hold. Desperado’s in next, rolling Tanahashi over in a half crab, following up with a splash to the leg, as Gabriel Kidd of all people came in to break it up. Sabre and Taichi throw the IWGP tag titles into the ring – so Taichi could distract the ref as Sabre tied up Tanahashi’s knee. Uppercuts break up Sabre’s kicks to the knee before Tanahashi tried to elbow his way to freedom, ending up with the pair struggling over a backslide as Tanahashi went “stuff this” and hit a Twist and Shout neckbreaker instead.

Ibushi tags in and cracks Sabre with a dropkick and a ‘rana as he pulled ahead… a head kick knocks Zack down, before Ibushi moonsaulted into a triangle choke. Kidd tries to make the save, but Taichi dispatches him to the outside, so Sabre could hit a Pele kick to the arm of Ibushi, as he tried to open up a new point of attack. An Octopus hold from Sabre’s escaped as Ibushi almost won with a roll-up, before another Pele from Ibushi was caught and turned into an ankle lock. In the end, Kota has Zack down with another head kick as the pair end up crawling to their corners for tags.

YES! Nagata and Suzuki come in to pick up where they left off weeks ago with elbows and kicks, as Suzuki just blistered Nagata in the corner. Yuji escapes a cravat as it’s back to those elbow strikes… which Suzuki laughs off before he went for a Gotch piledriver. Nagata countered out with a back body drop before sending Suzuki flying with an Exploder. Kidd tags in to risk his life with elbows on Suzuki. Of course, Suzuki walks through them and just slaps Kidd into the corner. Desperado comes in to help out, but Kidd finds a way through with a pair of dropkicks before he caught Despy with a chop in the corner. A suplex is thwarted though… so Kidd hits another dropkick before he went for a jack-knife cover on Desperado… which turns into a high angle Boston crab!

Taichi breaks the hold up as Suzuki-gun flood the ring, sparking a Parade of Moves as Tanahashi and Ibushi hit planchas to the outside as Jushin Thunder Liger was getting very excitable on commentary. In the end though, a simple punch and Pinche Loco was enough for Desperado to escape with the win. This picked up big time in the second half, with Kidd showing plenty here – but being a Young Lion comes with a LOT of losses. ***¼

After the match, we have another scrap between the quartet involved in the tag title feud – as they brawl to the back…

Hirooki Goto, Tomohiro Ishii & SHO vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi & BUSHI)
SHO’s leg isn’t taped up anymore… which is a good thing for him. Meanwhile, BUSHI’s given EVIL his belt back, so he’s the only one in the team (rightfully) with one strap…

SHO had eyes for Shingo again before the bell, and cleared the ring so he could get first dibs against the NEVER champion. They rush in with a long lock-up, which gets shoved off as Shingo tries for a shoulder tackle… which doesn’t have any effect, Neither does SHO’s, so they trade elbows before Shingo shoved away a hiptoss attempt before getting knocked down by SHO. An elbow from SHO caught Shingo by the ear, before cornering Shingo with some boots as a tag brings in Ishii.

Yup, we get chops. Shingo pushes away and cracks Ishii with elbow strikes. Shingo takes time to attack SHO on the apron, but that self-made distraction costs him as Ishii strikes back with more chops… until LIJ flood the ring and clear the apron to make sure they get the upper hand back. On the outside, a DDT from Shingo leaves SHO in a heap, while Naito came back in to lay into Ishii with some right hands. BUSHI’s in next, and of course he chokes Ishii with his t-shirt, before a chinlock and some fish hooking kept referee Kenta Sato somewhat exasperated. Ishii gets free and chokes BUSHI with his shirt, but Naito breaks that up before he lands a targeted over-the-knee neckbreaker on Ishii for a near-fall. A slap to Ishii’s bald head just annoys him, and Naito ends up paying for it as he gets dumped on his head with Ishii’s scoop slam. Jeeez…

Goto tags in to keep the momentum going, clattering into Naito with a clothesline in the corner before a backdrop suplex gets him a two-count. An ushigoroshi’s easily slipped out of as Naito comes in with a back elbow… and keeps going as he smashes that elbow into Goto repeatedly in the corner. Naito misses a running boot in the corner as Goto fought back, but BUSHI runs in as a seesaw sunset flip/low dropkick combo put LIJ back on top.

Tags get us back to SHO and Shingo, and yes, they charge into each other like bulls. Bulls trading clotheslines. CHRIST. Shingo switches it up with a suplex, but his sliding lariat misses… he catches a spear from SHO, only to get suplexed, before some Ishii-like elbows helped take SHO into the corner. We’re back to the back-and-forth clotheslines until a backdrop suplex from Shingo was met with rolling Germans from SHO, before a series of clotheslines ended with a big lariat from Shingo.

BUSHI returns, clocking SHO with an enziguiri and a DDT as he looked to clean house… but a missed dropkick on Ishii provided a brief glimmer of hope… that BUSHI promptly snuffed out. LIJ rush the ring to ripple-team SHO, leading to a back cracker from BUSHI for a near-fall, before another Parade of Moves broke out. We’re back to Shingo and SHO, ending with a Pumping Bomber from Shingo, as BUSHI then picked up the pieces, looking for the F5 Codebreaker deal… but instead lands a reverse spin kick.

SHO drops BUSHI with a lariat as he came back with a struggle of a Power Breaker to BUSHI for a near-fall, before a Shock Arrow earned the victory. I’m here for more of SHO vs. Shingo, likely next weekend, and it sure does look like the empty arena setting is being used to test out SHO’s credentials as a future star, eh? ***¼

After the match, SHO went to grab Shingo’s NEVER title, then hit a spear. Just to make sure you know we’re getting that match again: this time in front of fans!

We get a new promo for the Grand Master. He’s got a name now: Master Wato – yes, it’s the former Young Lion Hirai Kawato. He’s coming soon… by which we mean now. Wato hits the ring and he’s very blue. He says a few words before DOUKI attacks him from behind with his pipe, and there’s your returning feud for Master Wato.

That was bold to debut him before they returned to having crowds… but it’ll be interesting to see how Wato has improved after his somewhat-maligned excursion in Mexico.

After the cleaning break, we got the titles for World Pro Wrestling – as this portion of the show was airing live on BS Asahi. That also meant more adverts and some odd pauses as we waited for the TV breaks.

New Japan Cup 2020 – Semi-Final: EVIL vs. SANADA
There’ll be at least one LIJ member in the final… the question is, which of the former multi-time tag team champions will be challenging in Osaka? They’ve had two prior singles matches, both in the G1, and have shared a win apiece in those…

SANADA offered a handshake at the bell, which EVIL accepted… but it’s the cue for them to go for their finishers early as they instead reached a stalemate. EVIL comes forward with a kick and a side headlock, but he’s pushed into the ropes… and comes back with a shoulder tackle before SANADA awkwardly flipped free of a side headlock. EVIL heads outside as SANADA composes himself… and after using a clothesline to keep SANADA on the outside, EVIL decided to follow out with an Irish whip to take his tag partner into the railings.

Next, EVIL goes under the ring for a chair, as SANADA wasn’t exempt from EVIL’s usual furniture treatment, with SANADA getting thrown into the ring post chair-first. The referee starts counting, but SANADA gets back inside in plenty of time, only to get thrown down as EVIL began to grind his elbow in SANADA’s face. SANADA elbows out of a headlock before meeting an onrushing EVIL with a low dropkick, sending him crashing to the mat. Another low dropkick keeps EVIL away before a ‘rana took him outside, with SANADA following up with a plancha for good measure. Back inside, SANADA gets a two-count, but EVIL quickly gets back in as he hands off a kick from SANADA to the ref, allowing EVIL to hit a thrust kick.

EVIL keeps going, hanging up SANADA in the ropes for a push-down stomp that gets a near-fall, before another thrust kick led to a Fisherman’s suplex tease… which SANADA countered out of with a rope-assisted Magic Killer instead for a near-fall. The favour’s returned as EVIL uses the referee for a Magic Killer, which sent Marty Asami hurtling into the ropes. The pair trade right hands as they fight back to their feet, but it’s SANADA who looked to be building momentum… only for an EVIL clothesline to stop him as Darkness Falls connects for a near-fall. EVIL looks to fo for Everything is EVIL, but SANADA counters out and flips into a Skull End for a brief moment, before landing a Tiger suplex for a near-fall. Another Skull End follows, as EVIL’s dragged down to the mat, but he holds on through the arm drop gimmick as SANADA pulls him back up… only for EVIL to flip his way free and eventually land a lariat for a near-fall.

More finisher teases forces SANADA to try a Shiranui… landing on his own head in the process as he proceeds to get a two-count. On the replay it looked like SANADA may have taken more of it on the shoulder, but he’s having a hard time getting back up, before he managed to roll through and catch EVIL in a Skull End, dragging him to the mat and trapping the body. The arm drop gimmick looked to finish it off, but SANADA lets go and heads up for a moonsault… which he crashes and burns on.

EVIL pulls the referee into an onrushing SANADA… then threw SANADA into him a second time for good measure. All so he could hit a low blow as the referee was down on the floor. Cue more chairs, which he brings into the ring as he does his baseball trick, leaving SANADA writhing on the mat. EVIL gets rid of the evidence, before he stomps SANADA right on the ding ding, rather than go for a Darkness Scorpion. Stopping to roll the referee back inside, EVIL picks up SANADA for Everything is EVIL… and that’s it! A rather decisive, if not clean, win, as EVIL booked his ticket to the final. This wasn’t too bad, but at twenty minutes, it could have done with a little tightening up – and that scare with SANADA’s Shiranui towards the end almost took me out of it. I only hope this goes somewhere other than “forgotten about”… ***½

They replay Hiromu’s path to the semis, including some video of Yano shaving his head nine years ago… and now the hair clippers stuff makes sense for newer viewers!

New Japan Cup 2020 – Semi-Final: Hiromu Takahashi vs. Kazuchika Okada
C’mon Hiromu!

There’s a height and weight advantage for Okada here, who doesn’t exactly race into action in this first-time outing. They eventually lock up, but Okada takes it to the ropes and mock-clean breaks… only for Hiromu to switch things around as he does the same to Okada. Then rush in with a clothesline as he landed the first clear shot. Forearms from Hiromu help to knock Okada down, before Hiromu recovered from a missed dropkick, only to have to fight his way out of an early attempt at the Cobra clutch. They head outside, where Okada hits a neckbreaker on the mats, before heading back in to hit a slam and a senton atomico to Hiromu for a very delayed one-count.

Chops from Hiromu offered some resistance, but a neckbreaker snuffs that out. My feed drops briefly, and recovers with Hiromu throwing some more chops that sent Okada outside, where he followed up with a shotgun dropkick off the apron that sends Okada crashing through the gate. Rather than stay on him, Hiromu rolled back into the ring to try and the count-out… before he changed plans and brought Okada back in to get a one-count from a cover.

A suplex from Hiromu’s escaped by Okada, who then run sinto a superkick as Hiromu did the deal at the third attempt for a near-fall. Okada responds with a flapjack, which took Hiromu into the corner… and he’s DDT’d out of it for a near-fall as Okada looked to maintain control. After a slam, Okada heads up top, but Hiromu’s up to avoid an elbow drop as he instead caught Okada with a German suplex to buy him some more time. They trade elbows as they climbed back to their feet, but Okada’s elbows seemed to land a little harder as Hiromu took time to collect himself ahead of another exchange. An uppercut takes Hiromu into the corner, as does a shotgun dropkick, before a second dropkick took Hiromu off the top rope and to the floor.

Following Hiromu outside, Okada whips him into the barriers, then booted him into the no-crowd. A draping DDT a la Jado off the guard rails brought Hiromu back into the ringside area, before a missile dropkick back in the ring keeps Hiromu on the mat. It’s enough for just a two-count though, as the one-way traffic showed no signs of easing up.

Of course, that’s the cue for Hiromu to find his way back in with some dropkicks, one of which sent Okada sailing into the corner, where he’s met with a running clothesline as Hiromu took him up top for a superplex. Instead though, Okada elbows his way free, as Hiromu chops back ahead of a running dropkick that took Okada to the floor. Okada tries to get back into the ring, but he’s caught with a sunset bomb from Hiromu, which lands first time, as Hiromu finally seemed to have forced an opening.

Returning to the ring, Hiromu nails a Dynamite Plunger for a near-fall, but another dropkick from Okada stops all that momentum as the former IWGP champion almost threw that out of desperation. A tombstone piledriver followed, before Okada applied a Cobra clutch, but Hiromu escapes by picking Okada up and running him into the corner with a death valley driver. Hiromu starts again, picking up Okada for a Time Bomb, but it’s escaped as Hiromu then tried his luck with a Rainmaker?! A Rainmaker that almost wins, at that!

From there, a Time Bomb lands for another near-fall, before Hiromu countered a discus Rainmaker with the D… and clung onto it despite Okada powerbombing his way free, so much so that he almost win with the roll-up. Okada manages to get free with a Gedo-ish Complete Shot, as he was certainly digging into his former manager’s bag of tricks… before going back to the old faithful dropkick. It had a brief effect, as Hiromu’s right back in with a lariat, before a Time Bomb 2 was countered into a spinning tombstone from Okada.

Okada reapplies the Cobra clutch, but Hiromu again powers out… only to get folded up by a rolling Rainmaker. It’s back to the Cobra clutch from there, before a Rainmaker took Hiromu down. Okada holds onto the wrist, pulling Hiromu up for a second as he spammed the Cobra clutch one more time, holding on until the referee stopped the match. Hiromu never tapped, but this felt like it was too much, too soon for Hiromu in a match that felt achingly slow at times. Sure, Hiromu beating Okada would have been a monster upset, and this is a better part of the story to tell for the long run, but Okada in this empty arena setting just hasn’t clicked well. ***¾

The finals of the New Japan Cup take place next Saturday, starting at 9am UK time (4am EST/1am PST) – that’ll be at the end of a full card, before Dominion on the next night… which starts a whole two hours earlier. We’re almost nailed on for a rematch of Okada vs. Naito – a match they’re no longer protecting… unless we see a sudden swerve with EVIL going rogue?

I’m not sure if the “Okada epic” was a wise choice of main event here in the no-fans setting. Certainly, the match would have stood out more with an audience, rather than the sometimes-plodding way it came across in the first half, which was a bit of a chore to watch. Imagine that given who was in the match! As for the show as a whole though, with fewer matches they went over the two-hour slot we’ve been used to. At least we’re done with Only (No) Fans for New Japan now – and those who’ve struggled without an audience to bounce off of should get back to normal from next weekend.