EVIL and Kazuchika Okada square off to find out who wins the New Japan Cup – and the shot at Tetsuya Naito tomorrow!

It’s the first big weekender of New Japan shows since we lost Larry Csonka. Regular readers will know, but if this is your first time back – the Go Fund Me for his family is still open

It’s so good to have crowds back. Sure, Osaka-Jo Hall is heavily restricted, with a crowd of 3318 on hand, but this is a sign. Hopefully a positive one. We’ve no English commentary for the live feed, but we do have the return of the “how to behave” video with dojo master Taguchi. It’s not Police Liger, but it’ll do. We’ve also got some more shows on the docket after this, including Sengoku Lord in Aichi in two weeks’ time, before a Summer Struggle run of shows in Korakuen Hall.

Quick Results
Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma pinned Yuya Uemura & Yota Tsuji in 9:20 (***¼)
Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan pinned Gabriel Kidd & Hirooki Goto in 9:50 (***)
Master Wato pinned DOUKI in 7:40 (**½)
Yujiro Takahashi & Taiji Ishimori pinned BUSHI & SANADA in 9:20 (***)
El Desperado, Zack Sabre Jr., Taichi & Yoshinobu Kanemaru pinned Ryusuke Taguchi, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi & Yuji Nagata in 12:40 (***¼)
Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi & Hiromu Takahashi pinned Toru Yano, Tomohiro Ishii & SHO in 15:00 (***)
New Japan Cup 2020 Final: EVIL pinned Kazuchika Okada in 31:50 (***½)

The show opens with a video package on the Together Project show – that first show back, almost a month ago – and what I assume was the importance of fans on wrestling. Yeah, I know diddly-squat when it comes to the Japanese language.

Yuya Uemura & Yota Tsuji vs. Togi Makabe & Tomoaki Honma
Ah yes, they have the overdubs again. We’ve a polite applause ahead of our first match back with crowds, in lieu of the crowd cheering, and we open with Tsuji and Honma leathering each other with elbow strikes.

Uemura and Makabe come in next for more of the same, but Uemura sneaks by and hits a shoulder tackle as he began to get the upper hand. An uppercut has Makabe loopy, but he’s right back with a shoulder tackle before he tosses Uemura to the outside. Yes, the guard rails come into play as the Young Lion became overly familiar with the barriers, before a bodyslam back in the ring left Uemura down. Honma’s back, but Uemura tries to fire up, only for a forearm to deck him for just a count of one. Chops from Honma take him into the corner, as Makabe tagged back in to follow up with forearms, before grounding him with a chinlock. They isolate Uemura in the corner with frequent tags, before a hiptoss out of the corner from Honma led to another near-fall.

More chops from Honma keep Uemura at bay, but he manages to get the feet up to stop Honma before a running elbow finally got him some time. A tag brings Tsuji in, who goes wild with shoulder tackles… but he has a death wish, going for Makabe on the apron before leaping into Honma with forearms. A dropkick gets a two-count for Tsuji, but Honma came right back… and misses a Kokeshi. Nature is healing. Honma’s right back with a suplex, before bringing Makabe back in… but Tsuji fires back with elbows before he caught Makabe with a spear! Uemura returns with elbows for Makabe, but a collision in the middle of the ring sets up for a dropkick from Uemura as the Young Lions tried to build momentum. Double dropkicks sets up Uemura for a Boston crab on Makabe, but Makabe is easily able to hand-walk to the ropes for freedom.

Uemura goes for a German suplex, but has more luck with a capture suplex, and almost snuck out the win with that. Another German suplex attempt is aborted, before Uemura runs into a scoop slam from Makabe, getting a two-count as Tsuji broke it up in time. Tsuji and Honma light each other up as they tried to take care of each other… a leaping Kokeshi stops Tsuji before a rolling sunset flip from Uemura nearly upset Makabe. Uemura’s momentum comes to a shuddering halt with a lariat though, before a bridging German suplex from Makabe put him away. Maybe because this was the first match back, but this was so good – all four felt energised here, and for a ten minute opener, this was absolutely great. Uemura and Tsuji raised their game here – keep an eye on Yuya… ***¼

Those applauses after big moves really warms the heart. It’s been so long since we’ve had this…

Hirooki Goto & Gabriel Kidd vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Satoshi Kojima
We’re two for two with veteran tag teams today, and everyone looks thrilled to be back in front of a crowd.

Goto and Tenzan start us off here, as Goto sinks in a side headlock… but he’s shoved off for the obligatory early shoulder tackles. Goto edges ahead, but Mongolian chops from Tenzan neutralise him, before Goto rolled out of the corner as Kojima tagged in. Kidd’s brought in too, with the sprightly Nottingham lad going to work with a wristlock on Kojima, only for them to go back and forth on the hold. Kidd takes Kojima down briefly, then comes off the ropes for shoulder tackles as he then switched up to elbows… with Kojima’s responses seemingly having an effect. A shoulder tackle takes Kidd down, before a spot of double-teaming led to Kidd running into a double shoulder tackle. Goto gets the same treatment, before Tenzan elbowed away at Kidd, taking him into the corner pads for good measure.

Chops keep Kidd there, as does a headbutt, before a suplex drew a two-count for Tenzan. More headbutts and Mongolian chops await Kidd, who replies with a dropkick before making the tag out to Goto, who takes Tenzan into the corner for a spinning heel kick. A side suplex out of the corner gets Goto a two-count, before Tenzan went back to headbutts and Mongolian chops. Goto blocks one of those, but runs into a Mountain Bomb as the match remained finely poised. Kojima comes in for machine gun chops on Goto, but Goto charges him in the corner as Kojima looked to head up top. Good restraint on those Osaka fans to not join in Kojima’s yelling there.

Kidd’s back to launch into Kojima with a back elbow and a shoulder tackle, but a Koji Cutter stops him in his tracks for a two-count. Goto breaks it up, and stays in the ring to help double-team Kojima, with a missile dropkick from Kidd almost winning the match. Tenzan and Goto have a scrap… but Kojima helps with a TenKoji Cutter on Goto before Kidd blocked one of his own. Kidd tries for a suplex on Kojima, but instead just slaps him before landing the suplex for a near-fall. In the end though, Kidd runs into a Cozy Lariat, and that’s all folks – just before the ten minute mark. Good heart from Gabe, but a familiar result for him. ***

DOUKI vs. Master Wato
It’s the returning match for the former Hirai Kawato – back in Japan for the first time since leaving for excursion in January 2018.

DOUKI goes for the Suzuki-gun jump start, but Wato avoids it and takes him outside with a dropkick before the bell, following him with a dive as we got going. Back inside, a springboard uppercut off the top rope gets a two-count for Wato… who’s then lifted outside as DOUKI dove on him as well. DOUKI puts the boots to him before whipping Wato into the guard rails… he grabs his pipe and lurks around ringside with it, before he cracked Wato in the chest with it. Wato rolls back inside, but DOUKI puts the boots to him… then raked the eyes before a running stomp to the chest got polite applause… and a two-count for DOUKI.

Wato tries to fight back, but another eye rake stops him. A dropkick from Wato buys him some time, as does a knee lift, which gets a near-fall. DOUKI’s back with a clothesline, before a slingshot DDT back into the ring spiked Wato for a two-count. Wato’s looking a little worse for wear after that DDT as DOUKI hauls him up for a torture rack into a spin-out side slam, again for a near-fall, before going for Suplex de la Luna. Wato rolls through for a near-fall though, but a thrust to the throat forces Wato to think differently, returning fire with a roundhouse kick. More kicks from Wato have DOUKI on his knees, as does a Buzzsaw-ish kick, before Wato goes all Alley Oop on DOUKI. That leaves the masked one down as Wato heads up top for a Spiral Tap, and that’s all folks. This felt very WWE-like, with DOUKI taking the match only to lose to Wato’s finish… it’s day one, but I sense there’s a lot of convincing to be done with Wato. **½

After the match, Yoshinobu Kanemaru hit the ring and attacks Wato from behind… Hiroyoshi Tenzan, of all people, makes the save. I joked that this was a Fire Pro random affair, but apparently Tenzan mentored Wato as a Young Lion – so it’s not quite as random as you’d think! (thanks to Rocky Romero of all people for the hat tip…)

And now… we clean.

Bullet Club (Yujiro Takahashi & Taiji Ishimori) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (SANADA & BUSHI)
BUSHI and Ishimori get us underway here, and we start with them heading into the ropes, for a quick break, before BUSHI flipped over Ishimori. A tijeras takes Ishimori into the ropes, as BUSHI puts the boots to him, before SANADA tagged in and decked Ishimori with a back elbow off the ropes for a near-fall.

BUSHI’s back to choke Ishimori with his t-shirt, but Yujiro quickly breaks that up before he knocked SANADA off the apron… then threw him into the guard rails. Ishimori stays in the ring to choke BUSHI with his own shirt, before Yujiro came in to hit a slam, some elbows, and a falling headbutt on BUSHI for a two-count. A chinlock from Yujiro leads to a low dropkick as he wore down BUSHI some more, confounding him in the ropes ahead of a springboard seated senton for a near-fall. Ishimori takes BUSHI up top so he can unlace his mask… and he’s trying to make the fans break code by booing loudly. Top trolling.

BUSHI strikes back with an enziguiri before a snap DDT gave him enough time to make the tag out to SANADA. Yujiro’s back too, but his attempt to powerbomb out of a SANADA ‘rana doesn’t work as he heads out and takes a plancha for his troubles. SANADA goes back to Ishimori in the ring, tripping him for a Paradise Lock… a low dropkick frees him, before Ishimori went for a Paradise Lock of his own. It doesn’t work, but the handspring enziguiri sure did! SANADA tries to finish off Yujiro with a TKO, but Yujiro bites his way free… as did SANADA. Turnabout is fair play. A low dropkick stops Yujiro before BUSHI returned with a missile dropkick to knock Yujiro outside for a wild tope suicida! Back inside, LIJ double-team Yujiro to heck, leading to a back cracker from BUSHI for a near-fall.

Yujiro manages to get back in with a neckbreaker for a near-fall, before BUSHI pushes away Pimp Juice only for a battle of backslides took BUSHI back into Pimp Juice… with Yujiro eking out the win from there. A decent mid-card tag – and we’re back to the norms of Yujiro winning falls in the middle of these cards. ***

Suzuki-gun (Zack Sabre Jr., Taichi, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi, Yuji Nagata & Ryusuke Taguchi
Kanemaru was a late swap to the line-up as Minoru Suzuki was pulled as a precaution after developing a fever… There was no Suzuki-gun jump start, so we got as close to a full airing of Tanahashi’s “Go Ace” remix as we’ll have for now, as Tana looked thrilled to be back in this setting.

Suzuki-gun try to stall things out before the bell, but we finally get going with Taichi and Tanahashi… but Taichi’s rather reticent as he stayed closed to the ropes. Of course, it’s a ploy for ZSJ to attack from behind as we get a random shot of a guy sitting backstage for a second. Ibushi comes in to even things out, as he takes down Sabre and Taichi, leading to double back elbows and some splashes on Taichi for an early two-count. Sabre’s back as he and Taichi work over Tanahashi with some trapped Dragon screws, before Taichi stretched Tanahashi’s knees some more on the mat. Kanemaru’s in for a low dropkick to Tanahashi’s knee for a two-count, before they dragged Tanahashi into the Suzuki-gun corner so Sabre could wrench the knee in the ropes some more. In the meantime, Taichi takes Ibushi into the guard rails, before Desperado began to wear down Tanahashi with a half crab… which Ryusuke Taguchi breaks up instantly.

Man, it’s weird to not hear these crowds booing this. They really are restrained, huh? Taguchi’s run-ins backfire as he’s tripped into Tanahashi before Despy threw him right back outside, as Taichi returned to kick Tanahashi’s legs in some more. Somehow, Tanahashi found a way free with a springboard crossbody out of the corner, before he took down Taichi with a Dragon screw of his own. In comes Nagata, who’s scarred from his cupping treatments, but he’s able to lay into Kanemaru with an elbow strike or two. Kicks follow, propelling Kanemaru into the corner as he then had to block an Exploder suplex out of it. Desperado’s back in to help with an eye rake, but he runs into an overhead belly-to-belly suplex before Kanemaru ate that Exploder anyway for a near-fall.

Ibushi tags in and flies with a missile dropkick, before Sabre came in and pulled him out of a leapfrog. A quick bow-and-arrow hold is escaped as kicks and a standing moonsault gets Ibushi a near-fall, but Sabre switches it back around with an Octopus stretch in the middle of the ring, wrenching back on Ibushi for good measure until Tanahashi broke the hold up. Taichi stops Tanahashi with a kick to the knee, sending him outside in agony as the tag title challengers focused on Ibushi some more. A Zack driver’s avoided as Ibushi slipped out and hit a double Pele kick… before diving in to tag in Taguchi. Sabre sidesteps an obvious hip attack, before Desperado countered a second with an atomic drop as Taguchi was having a bad night for those things. He faked out a third hip attack before finally connecting as Desperado found himself isolated for some four-in-one muggings, leading to another hip attack that led to Suzuki-gun flooding the ring to break up the cover.

The ring quickly emptied, with Tanahashi and Ibushi hitting duelling planchas, while Taguchi connected with a Bummer-Ye on Desperado for a near-fall. After an accidental run in with the ref from Taguchi, a right hand from Desperado KO’s Taguchi ahead of Pinche Loco… and that’s the win. Another solid undercard tag, but this seemed to rehash the same knee work they’d been doing to Tanahashi all “tour” long. ***¼

Post-match, Sabre and Taichi go to pose with the tag title belts, before Ibushi ran in… and got beaten down. Tanahashi fights back as Taichi’s music was playing, taking down Sabre with a Slingblade before a double-team side-suplex/elbow drop combo left Taichi laying.

Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano & SHO vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi & Hiromu Takahashi)
With YOH and YOSHI-HASHI on the shelf with long-term knee injuries the remnants of the “home” CHAOS squad are here. Hiromu’s got his copy of Weekly Pro, since he’s on the cover of it.

SHO clears his partners out of the ring, and we open up with Shingo vs. SHO… but they take a measured approach before launching in with shoulder tackles. Shingo stands firm, so SHO just belts him with forearms before a dropkick was shrugged off… and another shoulder tackle finally takes down SHO. Shingo misses a sliding lariat, as SHO takes him into the corner for a clothesline. Yano tags in but gets caught while going for the turnbuckle pads… second time was the charm as he exposes the corner. Shingo stops himself from running into it, before he swatted away the padding. Yano just rakes the eyes as Naito and Hiromu come in to hit low dropkicks as LIJ cleared the opposing apron.

Naito’s in to trap Yano with a cravat, before taking Yano to the corner for a Combinacion Cabron. Hiromu tags in to work over Yano with chops, before a clothesline and a sliding dropkick earned him a two-count. Eye rakes from Yano delay things as he hits a neckbreaker on Hiromu, before Ishii came in and picked up where he left off with Hiromu, charging him down with a running shoulder tackle. Chops from Hiromu barely faze Ishii, as he chokes him into the corner for chops of his own. Hiromu struck back, dropkicking Ishii into the ropes, before a struggle over a suplex led to Ishii elbowing Hiromu before he was folded up with a German suplex. Ishii returns the favour, but runs into a superkick before Hiromu popped up from a back suplex to land a low dropkick.

Tags get us back to SHO and Shingo, with Shingo battering SHO in the exposed corner with clotheslines and punches. SHO fought back with a suplex, before he looked to hit Shock Arrow… but a back body drop gets Shingo free. The pair tee off on each other with elbow strikes as the Osaka crowd clapped along in time, before a swivelling lariat from Shingo dumped SHO to the mat once more. Naito tags back in, and cracks into SHO with a low dropkick before SHO hit back with a clothesline. Yano’s back in too, as he rakes Naito’s eyes, but a roll-up from the double champ nearly ends it. Naito keeps going, but a hair pull blocks a neckbreaker before Naito blocked a low blow from Yano… Ishii shoves Naito into Yano as a roll-up nearly does it, as Naito gets double-teamed for a spell, leading to a clothesline/roll-up combo that almost got the upset.

Shingo and SHO go at it again as we have a brief Parade of Moves to clear things out, but Yano grabs some hair before Hiromu does some hair pulling of his own. Cue more madness as Yano charges into the corner, before a Hiromu superkick, a Pumping Bomber from Shingo, and a jack-knife roll-up from Naito gets the win at the 15 minute mark. Solid enough, but this felt like it was missing a spark outside of the SHO/Shingo stuff. ***

Post-match, the LIJ lads mess around with their belts – and Hiromu still has eyes on Naito’s two straps…

We clean once again before the main event… which gives them time to set up Katsuyori Shibata on commentary. He at least brought his own hand sanitizer!

New Japan Cup 2020 – Final: EVIL vs. Kazuchika Okada
Here. We. Go. These two have met four times previously – EVIL won the first one in 2017’s G1, but has lost all three matches since, including the IWGP title shot he earned from that G1 win.

Okada doesn’t charge out of the corner at the bell, as they take their time, taking almost a minute to even start feeling out for a lock-up. Instead, EVIL boots Okada and grabs a headlock, before replying with a lariat after he was shoved into the ropes. Darkness Falls quickly for a two-count, as my visions of a squash on Okada almost bore fruit, as EVIL went for Everything is EVIL… only for Okada to grab the modified cobra clutch, forcing EVIL into the ropes. Okada powders outside, but he throws EVIL into the guard rails before following up with a neckbreaker back in the ring. Okada’s feeling his neck early on, and that’s not helped when he’s taken outside and into the railings by EVIL. Repeatedly. Back in the ring, EVIL puts the boots to Okada, before tying his arm up in the ropes as chops kept the former champion on the back foot. A quick two-count for EVIL seems to be more mind games than an attempt to win, as he throws Okada back outside again, before kicking his arm in the guard rails. My feed drops out here, as EVIL apparently went baseball with his chairs, before heading back inside.

Back in the ring, Okada stops that momentum with a quick DDT, before a sliding back elbow off the ropes kept the door open for Okada. He lifts EVIL up top, then dropkicks him to the outside, where he takes EVIL over the guard rails… then brought him back into the ringside area with a draping DDT off the rails. Returning to the ring, Okada gets a two-count on EVIL, before his attempt at a neckbreaker slam was blocked with EVIL just throwing Okada back to the mat. Trapping Okada into the corner allowed EVIL to hit a push-down stomp in the ropes, then resumed his work on Okada’s arm with some elbow strikes, only to run into a flapjack as Okada caught him on the break.

Elbows from Okada only prompt EVIL to fight back in kind, before a blistering chop led to EVIL missing a back senton, allowing Okada to scoop him up as he looked for a tombstone. That’s blocked, as Okada instead hits a dropkick before the tombstone landed at the second time of asking. Okada then goes for the modified cobra clutch, dragging EVIL away from the ropes… but EVIL drags himself back to the ropes to force a break. Okada tries to push on, but EVIL misdirects a kick into the referee, following up with a superkick before shoving Okada back into Red Shoes so he could hit a lowblow. Time to get EVIL. More chairs come into play as EVIL stacks them up in the ring, and dumped Okada onto them with Darkness Falls.

Red Shoes is back to count a near-fall from that, before EVIL landed a clothesline in the corner… Okada’s taken up top for a superplex, before EVIL pulled him up for Everything is EVIL… but Okada fights away. An eye rake stops him again, but Okada manages to bust out a neckbreaker slam as both men were left laying. They fight back to their feet, trading elbows strikes, before EVIL threw an elbow to the knee and a rolling elbow to the chest of Okada. Another Okada dropkick takes EVIL down at the 25 minute mark, before that modified camel clutch comes back. EVIL escapes, before a spinning tombstone piledriver took him back into the hold, and yes, Okada’s spamming that hold. Now he grabs the wrist and hits a Rainmaker, then another, having circled EVIL… and it’s that bloody modified cobra clutch again. Out wanders Gedo, as EVIL got so bored of it he began to fall asleep… and out of nowhere, here’s Yujiro Takahashi of all people with an Incolle Slam?!

Gedo marches to the back as both EVIL and Okada are down. A lariat from EVIL nearly wins it, before Okada countered Darkness Falls with another bloody modified cobra clutch. Another ref bump followed, before we swap finisher teases, with EVIL mule kicking his way out of the clutch. The Darkness Scorpion looks to be next, but instead EVIL just stomps on Okada’s balls, before Everything is EVIL followed for the win. Okada’s been so defined by the IWGP title that without it, he feels… almost inconsequential. New Japan having a relatively threadbare roster with the travel restrictions doesn’t help, but Yujiro isn’t exactly a great proxy for Jay White, and it really dragged down the match – as did the “home stretch” which just felt like they repeated stuff for the sake of it. Still, at least EVIL vs. Naito tomorrow will be interesting given the jovial bickering for belts within LIJ… ***½

The New Japan Cup is EVIL… after the match, Naito comes out for the obligatory staredown… EVIL attacked Naito with the Everything is EVIL, as the Bullet Club come out to celebrate. EVIL stomps on a Bullet Club hat, and it looks like he’s done with LIJ? So what happens to his share of the NEVER trios title? The remainder of LIJ jog down to the ring to save Naito, but it’s too late – EVIL is no longer Ingobernable…

Dominion tomorrow gives us SHO vs. Shingo, Tanahashi & Ibushi vs. Taichi & Sabre, and now Naito vs. EVIL in title matches. More of the card will follow beforehand, but it’s great to be back to these big shows, eh? While on paper, the star ratings may paint this as a run-of-the-mill card, I’ve gone a little higher on this for the historical significance and the feel good factor that getting back to the point where New Japan can have shows in front of crowds. A heart-warming show. That being said, this is coinciding with Japan (the country) seeing a second rise in new cases of the coronavirus, so maybe we should enjoy this while it lasts.