The New Japan Cup continues into the second week as we have a loaded line-up – featuring SHO vs. Shingo!

We’ve only got Japanese commentary for those of us watching live. Kevin Kelly will be around to backfill with English commentary in the coming days. We’re inside an empty Korakuen Hall for this week’s shows.

— I can only repeat what I’ve been saying at the start of my last few reviews. Believe. Support. Learn. Change. Love those who have fought for this change.

Quick Results
El Desperado, Minoru Suzuki, DOUKI & Yoshinobu Kanemary pinned Yota Tsuji, Yuji Nagata, Yuya Uemura & Gabriel Kidd in 10:30 (***)
New Japan Cup – First Round: SANADA pinned Ryusuke Taguchi in 15:45 (***)
New Japan Cup – First Round: SHO pinned Shingo Takagi in 17:00 (****½)
New Japan Cup – First Round: Kota Ibushi pinned Zack Sabre Jr. in 15:00 (***¾)
New Japan Cup – First Round: Taichi pinned Hiroshi Tanahashi in 21:45 (***¼)

Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, DOUKI, Yoshinobu Kanemaru & El Desperado) vs. Yuji Nagata, Gabriel Kidd, Yuya Uemura & Yota Tsuji
We’re opening with the “buffer” match, and you’ll be shocked and appalled to learn that Suzuki-gun jumped their opponents.

Yuji and his rather large sons were taken outside, as Nagata and Suzuki picked up right where they left off on Wednesday. Gabriel Kidd stayed in the ring to deal with DOUKI, charging him down with a shoulder tackle before he got dead weighted on a bodyslam attempt. A back elbow helps Kidd off on that slam for an early two-count, as Uemura tagged in to continue the momentum. DOUKI low bridges Uemura to the outside as the mugging resumes, and I think Nagata and Suzuki have been elbowing each other this whole time. DOUKI uses his pipe to choke Uemura with, while Suzuki just resorts to some camera cabling as Uemura took a hard suplex from Kanemaru back inside the ring.

Desperado’s in next, landing some bodyslams as the Suzuki-gun lads were cycling through tags. Uemura tries to fight back on Suzuki, but a CLONKING elbow damn near KOs him. Oh boy. He’s able to kick out at two though, so Kanemaru’s back to put the boots to him some more. Another Uemura fight back can’t quite get him out of the corner, as Suzuki grabbed him by the hair for a goddamn slap to the face.

All of Suzuki-gun gang up on Uemura again but he manages one more fight back, hitting a suplex as tags bring in Suzuki and Nagata. ALL THE ELBOWS! Nagata throws in some kicks too, including a running front kick in the corner before he was snapmared and punted by a PK from Suzuki. They go back to slaps and elbows, with Suzuki CLONKING into Nagata, before a rear naked choke attempt almost turned into another Backdrop Hold. Suzuki drags Nagata into the corner to tag out, as Desperado ends up running into an overhead belly-to-belly for his troubles. Tsuji and Kidd come in next to try and clear house, and the lads work well together as Kidd threw Despy to Tsuji for a bodyslam that almost wins it.

Kidd leaves to take care of DOUKI, as Tsuji spears Desperado out of his boots… but the follow-up Boston crab is kicked apart by Kanemaru, sparking a Parade of Moves as the ring filled, then emptied. Of course, Suzuki and Nagata keep elbowing each other, as Tsuji looked to suplex Desperado in the ring, only to get caught with a spear from the masked man. Tsuji blocks a Pinche Loco, then charged down Despy as he fought back with a suplex for a near-fall… but the momentum ended there as Despy slapped Tsuji silly and put him away with the Pinche Loco. A fun opener. I’m not going to get bored of Suzuki/Nagata, am I? ***

New Japan Cup 2020 – First Round: SANADA vs. Ryusuke Taguchi
One of the early tournament favourites has dropped a lot of his entrance gear for this. Taking Taguchi seriously, is he? Is Taguchi the real king of sports, given his fondness for them?

We’ve a tentative start as the pair lock-up and head into the ropes, with an eventual clean break. SANADA goes for a waistlock, but Taguchi escapes by grabbing the wrist, before his attempt at a side headlock ended with escapes as the pair went back and forth over hammerlocks. Another side headlock from Taguchi is countered as the pair end up in a stand-off, which led to Taguchi offering afist bump that he tried to cheapshot his way out of. SANADA catches it as the pair hit dropkicks at the same time, before SANADA’s own peace offering was laughed off by Taguchi. He then took it as they both went for cheapshots, which get caught, and we’re firmly in the sort of comedy routine that works better with fans.

Of course, Taguchi trips SANADA and manages to roll him in what he thought was a Paradise Lock, but SANADA was never tied up, and instead just waited for Taguchi to have his fun before he tied up the “Funky Weapon” properly. A brief trip outside led to Taguchi getting dropkicked in the arse, which he sold like Peter Griffin’s shin. Taguchi tries to go for a hip attack, but whiffs badly. SANADA keeps on top of Taguchi with a chinlock, but there’s a quick rope break as SANADA keeps going with elbow shots. Taguchi gets a boot up in the corner, before he countered a sunset flip with a low dropkick to buy himself some time. From there, Taguchi went for the Three Amigos, but SANADA floats into a Skull End on the third one… only to get suplexed anyway. Taguchi summons the spirit of Nakamura on us, but he just runs into a low dropkick from SANADA… and rolls outside for some respite.

SANADA goes for a plancha, but he misses as Taguchi lands a springboard body press to the outside. Back inside, he surprises SANADA with a low dropkick as Oh My Garankle followed… but SANADA gets to the corner and floats over into a Skull End, only for Taguchi to roll out back into the ankle lock. Despite pushing away, SANADA can’t avoid the hold, nor can he enziguiri his way free as Taguchi wrenched in the hold… only for SANADA to counter with one of his own as he navigated back into a Skull End. Taguchi tries to club his way free, eventually doing so with knees… only for SANADA to swing him around in the hold before almost succumbing to a roll-up. More roll-ups scare SANADA, but in the end he countered a hip attack into an atomic drop before a Japanese clutch gets him the win. This started out way too slow in terms of pace, but got better as the match progressed. SANADA needing almost sixteen minutes to put away a junior in Taguchi does him few favours though. ***

New Japan Cup 2020 – First Round: SHO vs. Shingo Takagi
A rematch from last year’s Best of the Super Juniors, and hopefully this’ll be an absolute cracker to take us into intermission.

They come charging out of the blocks, with SHO lariating the hell out of Shingo… before the pair battered each other with forearms. Corner clotheslines follow, as do shoulder tackles before a lariat from SHO took down Shingo for a two-count. SHO tries to end it in the opening minute with a cross armbreaker, but a break’s forced… only for SHO to put in a few cheeky boots. Some boot choking in the ropes serve to only annoy, as SHO continued to follow with PK-like kicks to a downed Shingo. Despite taking a dropkick, Shingo’s right back as he clotheslines SHO over the ropes ot the outside, where he ends up getting hurled into the guard railing before he took another kicking.

A DDT on the floor keeps SHO down, as did a barrage of Danielson elbows back inside, as a standing knee drop followed. We’re quickly back to strikes as Shingo chopped and jabbed away at SHO, before he caught a spear, only to get met with a suplex for good measure. A lariat and a spear surprises Shingo for another two-count, but he blocks a cross armbar attempt as SHO ends up repeatedly jarring the arm over his shoulder. Shingo somehow responds with a lariat, before he hauled up SHO for an attempt at noshigami. It’s blocked, as SHO instead grabs the arm and peppered Shingo with a barrage of kicks that left both men down. Duelling lariats follow, before SHO got ragdolled with a snap Saito suplex. He’s right back up to reply with some rolling German suplexes, before more back-and-forth strikes led to a Pumping Bomber from Shingo. A sliding lariat’s next, before was lifted up for a noshigami that almost won the match.

More corner clotheslines keep SHO rocked, but he’s able to fight out of a superplex attempt, headbutting Shingo on the top rope as he instead flipped over and caught Shingo with a Power Breaker in the middle of the ring. Ow. SHO gets back up for a clothesline, which dumps Shingo on his shoulder… but he kicks out at one?!

Undeterred, SHO picks up Shingo for a deadlift German suplex, and bridges it to almost get the three-count… before an attempt at Shock Arrow was blocked. A back body drop gets Shingo free as it’s back to the lariats, and the elbows, before a jab from Shingo caught SHO off guard. A headbutt’s next, before he hauled up SHO for Made in Japan… but it’s still not enough! The Pumping Bomber gets us a little closer, as Shingo measured up SHO for the Last of the Dragons… only for SHO to roll out into an armbar!

Shingo goes for the ropes, but SHO switches into a Shock Arrow, hitting a pair of them for what has to go down as the upset win! This was absolutely fantastic stuff, again perhaps starting a little slow, but that quickly went by the wayside as they both dug deep. A monumental win for SHO, and one that I’d have gone higher on had we had a crowd. ****½

Cleaning time…

New Japan Cup 2020 – First Round: Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Kota Ibushi
Our first of two cup matches that just happen to involve the tag title scene…

Sabre’s only wins over Ibushi have come in the New Japan Cup, and he starts by slithering to the mat, trying to go for Kota’s legs. The pair head to the mat, but can’t force an opening so Ibushi decides to start aiming for Sabre with kicks. Zack replies by maneuvering into a cross armbar, but Ibushi escapes as Sabre turtles up to try and avoid a crucifix. Instead, Sabre rolls through and rolled Ibushi into a choke… but it’s right by the ropes as the break is called. Back inside, Ibushi stings Zack with kicks as he proceeded to kick his leg out of his leg, grounding Sabre ahead of a chinlock. That too ends in a rope break, as Sabre looked to push on… but the heel hook ends in the ropes. As did the follow-up attempts.

Kicks from Ibushi take Sabre down as a standing moonsault nearly puts him away, before Sabre’s attempts to confound Kota led to him running into a Frankensteiner, taking Sabre outside… where he walks away from a Golden Triangle tease. Instead, Sabre catches Ibushi and drags him out of the ring as a heel hook on the floor forces the referee to call for a separation ahead of the count-out tease. Of course Kota beats it as Sabre continues to focus on the legs of last year’s G1 winner, before he got caught out with a clothesline. Sabre tries to go for Kota’s leg again, but Ibushi transitions up into a Dragon suplex attempt, only for Sabre to escape and twist the arm ahead of an Octopus stretch.That turns into another modified heel hook as Sabre wrenches away, only for it to once again end in the ropes.

Sabre tries his luck with a crucifix pin before he went to the arm… but Ibushi tries to powerbomb free before landing an overhead kick to get himself some distance. Zack’s back, but his Zack Driver is escaped as Ibushi came back in with a knee strike, as Kamigoye proceeded to get the definitive win. Sabre’s run of New Japan Cup wins over Ibushi is over… which makes me nervous for the result of the next match. ***¾

New Japan Cup 2020 – First Round: Taichi vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
There’s only been one prior meeting between these two, with Tanahashi needing almost 25 minutes to beat Taichi in last year’s cup. Since then he’s gained some fantastic spikey shoulder pads.

You’ll be shocked to learn the Suzuki-gun representative attacked Tanahashi before the bell, powerbombing him out of the corner during his entrance. Tanahashi stays down, and with referee Red Shoes Unno removing his tag title belt, it looked like he was just going to have the match start anyway. Tanahashi gets to his knees as the bell rings, with Taichi catching him with a buzzsaw kick before he booted Tanahashi to the outside. DOUKI’s there to attack him with a pipe behind the referee’s back, before Taichi returned to choke him with camera cables. Back in the ring, Taichi takes Tanahashi to the ropes for some choking, then it’s back outside as Tanahashi recovered by whipping Taichi into the guard rails.

DOUKI tries to pounce, but he’s scared off as Tanahashi gets attacked from behind again, allowing Taichi to throw him back into the rails. They head into the (no) crowd, as Tanahashi’s thrown into the bleachers. Of course, Red Shoes refuses to make the count when Taichi took it back to the ring for a pin…

Taichi keeps going with a snapmare and a kick to the back, but Tanahashi fires up… and got booted back down. Forearms from Tanahashi clear the way as he measures up Taichi for some body blows before a slam and a flip senton off the middle rope drew a near-fall. A Dragon screw’s next, but Taichi’s able to fight back as he took down Tanahashi for another buzzsaw kick… which gets caught. So Taichi rakes the eyes and goes back to the kicks, aiming for Tanahashi’s quads before catching him out with a Saito suplex. Taichi looks to follow with a Last Ride, but instead opts for some Kawada-style kicks to soften up Tanahashi… who floats out of the powerbomb and instead caught Taichi with a Gunn Slinger!

A Slingblade keeps the flow going, but Taichi kicks out, and ends up eating a High Fly Flow crossbody off the top rope. DOUKI gets onto the apron to stop Tanahashi following it up, but he’s eventually slapped down, right as Tanahashi staggers into a low blow from Taichi, who then put him away with a Gedo Clutch? I mean, the referee counted three, but the bell didn’t ring, I guess they take Tanahashi’s late kick-out as a kick-out… but it nearly didn’t matter as an Axe Bomber and a Last Ride drew a near-fall.

Taichi looks to finish things off with the Black Memphisto, but Tanahashi escapes, only to get decked with an elbow. Tanahashi slaps his way back into it, before he picked up Taichi… but he just gets pulled into another Saito suplex as Dangerous T lived up to his name. An Axe Bomber to the back of the head, then an enziguiri leads to the pants coming off of Taichi, as we crossed the 21-minute mark… before a superkick and the Black Memphisto led to the win. A little longer than I felt it needed to be, given Tanahashi played dead at the start of the match… and of course those shenanigans were never going to help. It means we get Ibushi/Taichi in round two though, so expect more of the same there? ***¼

Post-match, Taichi put Tanahashi in the Stretch Plum until Ibushi came out for the save… and a staredown to boot, before DOUKI attacked. No Zack Sabre Jr. in that closing stretch there, which is interesting, as Taichi posed over the piled-up tag team champions…

Tomorrow’s rather different in terms of line-up, with BUSHI vs. YOH perhaps leaping off the page in a middling card that rounds out the first round. Today though, was easily the best New Japan Cup show so far, although these condensed five-match cards can narrow the difference between a good show and a bad one. Perhaps we’ll see that proved tomorrow? While the first two matches may be skippable for those cherry-picking, the second week of New Japan’s restart absolutely got off to a fantastic start. Even if the main event did feel a little Okada/Gedo-ish…