After a seven-year absence, New Japan has brought back the Super J Cup – and decided to hold the first round just days after the start of this year’s G1 Climax. Fortunately, the Super J Cup is going to be a bit more spaced apart than the G1…

#TLDR: It started slow, but the second half of the first round of the Super J Cup threw out some fantastic matches, culminating in a four-star outing for Ryusuke Taguchi, and an even better affair involving KUSHIDA and Taiji Ishimori. Just a shame we had to sit through the similarly-named Taichi to get to it…

The Full Review: Tokyo’s Korakuen Hall saw eight first round matches today, featuring competitors from around the world, including ROH’s Matt Sydal, CMLL’s Titan, plus New Japan stars of past, present and future in Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Ryusuke Taguchi, BUSHI and of course, Best of Super Junior winner, Will Ospreay.

There’s a lot of guys on this card I’m not familiar with, but I’m looking forward to this!

Super J Cup 2016 – First Round: Matt Sydal vs. Kaji Tomato
Yes, Kaientai Dojo’s Kaji Tomato comes out in a red tomato costume, and acts like a cheerleader. Only in Japan, eh?

After the opening lockup, Tomato takes down Sydal with a wristlock, but the hold is reversed and the pair stand off after some legscissors. Tomato hits our first dive of the day with a plancha after Sydal had been sent to the floor with some headscissors, before coming back in with a senton dive to a standing Sydal.

Sydal flips out of a tiltawhirl and lands the legdrop-assisted reverse DDT, before working on Tomato’s legs. Tomato hits the ropes but eats a spinning wheel kick, before trying a comeback… only for his kick to Sydal’s head to get caught, with Tomato shoved to the mat for a standing shooting star press for a near-fall.

Tomato connects with a springboard dropkick off the middle rope to take down Sydal, before bounding off the ropes for an axehandle smash to Sydal. Some shoulder charges in the corner follow, before Sydal is rolled through into a kick for a near-fall. Sydal recovers to catch Tomato on the top rope, but he’s shoved down… but quickly pops up for a hurricanrana for a near-fall. From the kick out, Sydal drags Tomato for a shooting star press, but Tomato avoids it, and lands a Tiger suplex for a near-fall… he holds on for another go and another two-count as Sydal kicked out.

Sydal then fought out of an abdominal stretch to kick Tomato in the head, but the fruit-themed grappler shot in with a small package off the ropes for a near-fall. Sydal recovered to land a clothesline in the corner, then his diving double knees for a late kickout… and then the shooting star press for the win. A very fun opener, if not bordering on glorified squash levels. I’d like to see more of Tomato, if only for the wacky gimmick. **¾

Super J Cup 2016 – First Round: Kenoh vs. Gurukun Mask
So we’ve got the 44 year old Gurukun Mask – representing Ryukyu Dragon Pro – against NOAH’s 31-year old Kenoh. They start off somewhat cagey, with Gurukun kicking away at Kenoh’s legs, to little avail. Kenoh replies with some chops and kick combinations, before decking Gurukun with a pump kick.

An armdrag sends Kenoh reeling, as a dropkick takes him outside, where Gurukun looks to go flying… only to be met by a kendo stick shot from Kenoh’s cornerman. That allowed Kenoh to throw Gurukun into the ringpost on the outside, before throwing him back in for some kicks.

A single leg crab kept Kenoh on top, but Gurukun was able to drag himself to the ropes and force the break. Kenoh raked the eyes after Gurukun tried to fight back with chops, and eventually went flying after a bodyslam… but he didn’t fly the way he hoped, as Gurukun crotched him on the top and sent him to the mat with a top rope ‘rana, before Gurukun hit a tope to the outside.

Back inside, Gurukun took down Kenoh with a dropkick, then a standing senton for a two-count. Kenoh caught a kick and landed a stomp to the back of Gurukun for a near-fall, before going for the ankle lock… Gurukun pushed him off, but Kenoh bounced off the ropes and rolled back into the hold again, this time scissoring the leg. Gurukun slowly dragged himself into the ropes after what felt like an age in the hold, as the two moved into the business of kicking each other in the chest. Really hard. Like a smaller Ishii vs. Shibata match…

Gurukun dropped Kenoh with a lariat as he went for another kick, but the NOAH man kicked out at the last possible second. Kenoh went to leapfrog Gurukun in the corner, but he was caught with an Emerald Fusion then a top rope moonsault for another near-fall. Kenoh got to his feet and took another kick, but worked out of a suplex and landed a Pele-style kick, before landing a snap Dragon suplex, and a PK, but only got a two-count out of that. The end was near though, as Kenoh dropped Gurukun with a move called the Ragou – a cross-armed Gory special backbreaker into sit-out powerbomb. That looked impressive and unique… A good first round match with some fine exchanges between the two. ***¼

Super J Cup 2016 – First Round: Yuma Aoyagi vs. Taichi
The 20-year-old Yuma wrestles for All Japan, whilst the 36-year-old Taichi is technically with NOAH (on-loan from New Japan… but he’s not wrestled in New Japan since WrestleKingdom in 2015). Taichi has quite the entrance, with a dancing girl all in black parading a face mask around Korakuen Hall, which unfortunately shows just how many empty seats were left. And give Milano Collection AT a chance to take a couple of close-up shots of Taichi’s valet…

Taichi’s got a microphone stand, but New Japan World’s dubbing removes his entire singing act, which was a shame. After his valet exited, Taichi tried to tag in el Desperado in his place, before finally getting into the ring. I have a feeling this may be more comedy than classic…

An increasingly-impatient Yuma tried to attack Taichi in the corner, but was held back by the referee. Yuma finally got going with a dropkick that sent Taichi to the outside. They killed some time, and Taichi smashed a chair across Yuma’s back before finally returning to the ring, where he brushed away the youngster with his foot. Yuma hit back with a couple of uppercuts, but Taichi raked the eyes before taking the ring bell hammer to Yuma’s head.

The hammer was then used to choke Yuma as the referee remained distracted by Desperado, and the Suzuki-gun member got involved again as he attacked Yuma outside as Taichi this time distracted the ref. Taichi kept on top of Yuma, raking the eyes once more before sidestepping a dropkick from Yuma.

Yuma finally hit back with a crossbody out of the corner, then a dropkick, before a landing a couple of forearm smashes. A slingblade took down Taichi after he missed a few clothesline attempts, before Yuma landed a Yakuza kick to Desparado, then a tornillo to Taichi on the outside.

Back inside, Yuma climbed to the top and landed a diving cross body for a near-fall, before landing a somersault plancha and a running shooting star press for another two-count. Taichi blocked a Fisherman’s suplex attempt, before landing a kick to Yuma in the corner, followed by another head kick for a near-fall.

Taichi went for a powerbomb, but Yuma blocked it, only to get a facewash instead. Yuma backdropped out, as did my feed, and when it came back we saw a bunch of near-falls, including a schoolboy and a bridging pin from the ropes, before Taichi damn near kicked off Yuma’s head. Another jumping high kick got Taichi a two-count, before a superkick turned Yuma inside out, and left him prone for a Last Ride-style powerbomb for the win. Taichi’s long intro and antics bored me, but he just about won me back over by the end. **½

Super J Cup 2016 – First Round: Eita vs. Jushin “Thunder” Liger
I’ve heard a lot about Eita, but haven’t seen him wrestle… he’s in against one of the founding fathers of the Super J Cup, and Liger is met with a tope con hilo from Eita as he made his way to ringside. I think that’s what’s literally known as a jump start!

Eita throws Liger into the ringpost, before tossing him back into the ring to start working on the left wrist of Liger, who then reversed a suplex, but Eita countered that before going into the path of a tiltawhirl backbreaker from the veteran. Liger followed that up with a suplex on the floor, and went back inside to get a breather/wait for a count-out win. Eita made his way back in after beating the count at 19, but immediately scurried to the corner where he was met by Liger, who dragged him into the middle of the ring for a powerbomb.

Liger started selling his wrist though, and found himself struggling after pulling off the surfboard stretch. That being said, Liger was able to stay on top with some chops, before Eita reversed a whip into the corner, and came off the top rope with a missile dropkick. Eita missed an avalache in the corner, but delivered a boot to Liger, then some double knees and a dropkick, before a standing moonsault got him a two-count.

Out of nowhere, Eita took down Liger with an armbar, focussing on the injured arm, and even after adding some finger tweaking Liger made his way to the ropes for the break. A Shotei knocked down Eita as he primed for another corner charge, but the Dragon Gate man came back with a double armbar to Liger, and dragged him into the middle of the ring, before leaning way back, so far back that Liger’s shoulders went down… but that only helped the veteran make another rope break.

Liger nearly shocked Eita with a Thesz press for a near-fall, before landing another Shotei, then a brainbuster for the win. That finish surprised me, given that the majority of the offence came from Eita, but for a short match, this was really good. Worth going out of your way to see, for damn sure! ***¾

Super J Cup 2016 – First Round: Will Ospreay vs. Titan
We kick off the second half of the show with the winner of this year’s Best of Super Junior tournament, as Will Ospreay racks up some more frequent flyer miles!

An active early start sees both men flip out of holds and into a stand-off, before Ospreay grounds Titan with a wristlock. Titan reverses it and adds in an arm wringer, and yes, we get the back-and-forth kip ups to reverse the hold. Nice touch!

Ospreay works his way into a headlock on Titan, before they flip over each other, ending with Titan taking down Ospreay with some headscissors. Ospreay gets dumped from a fireman’s carry, but rolls out of the ring to avoid a springboard moonsault, and gets knocked off the apron with a Pele kick from Titan.

Titan goes aerial with a moonsault dive to the floor as he faked out halfway through, but Ospreay knocked him down with a dropkick through the ropes and then a shooting star press off the apron and to the floor as Milano Collection AT repeatedly uttered “oh my God” on commentary. Nice Joey Styles impression there, Milano!

After beating the count back in, Titan took some uppercuts before an elbow sent him to the mat for a two-count. Ospreay tied up Titan with an Octopus hold, then rolled through for a near-fall. They traded forearm smashes for a while, before Titan Matrix’d his way out of a shot, and found himself knocked to the outside with a spinning roundhouse kick from Ospreay.

Will went airborne again, but was caught by some headscissors from Titan that took him to the outside, and the luchador followed up with a top rope moonsault to the floor that wiped out Ospreay and a couple of the Young Lions outside as well. Back inside, Titan went flying with a springboard body splash to Ospreay for another two-count. Some chops caused Ospreay to swear like a sailor, and he was quickly caught in a figure four in the middle of the ring.

Ospreay reversed the hold, but ended up rolling closer to the ropes for the eventual break. Titan missed a leap and landed in the corner, in prime position for the Cheeky Nando’s kick, and he rolled to the outside where he took a Sasuke special from Ospreay. Back inside, the Phenomenal Forearm took down Titan, who then took a shooting star press and then a twisting corkscrew splash for a near-fall.

The diving spinning kick dazed Titan some more, and it was just a matter of time before Will nailed the OsCutter for the win. Another fun match, with a fine ending sequence. These first round matches so far have all been really short, but pretty good (Taichi excepting). ***½

Super J Cup 2016 – First Round: Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. BUSHI
BUSHI seems to have become the runt of Los Ingobernables de Japon after SANADA joined the group – and he’s not been in the best form as of late either! The 39 year old Kanemaru is another New Japan guy on-loan to NOAH – he’s currently their Junior heavyweight champion – and he too is accompanied by Suzuki-gun’s el Desperado.

BUSHI explodes off of the top rope with a dropkick to Kanemaru to start us off, before faking a dive to the outside… and then running headfirst into a Kanemaru chairshot. All whilst dressed in a suit!

Kanemaru rips up the mats on the outside and DDTs BUSHI to the floor, before putting the boots to him. They remain outside as Kanemaru stays on top of BUSHI, sending him into the commentary table, before they head into the crowd, giving some fans towards the back of Korakuen Hall an unexpected front row seat. BUSHI blocked a suplex onto the marble floor, then switched around to DDT Kanemaru before throwing Desperado into the stairway. BUSHI climbed on top of the access tunnel and dropped onto the two Suzuki-gun members with a cross-body, before methodically making his way back to the ring.

Kanemaru finally made his way back to the ring at the count of 18, and ended up taking a few more kicks from BUSHI, before they traded forearm strikes. BUSHI took him down with an STF, with Kanemaru finally making the ropes after BUSHI snuck in some face-hooking for the hell of it. After removing his t-shirt, BUSHI choked away at Kanemaru, before choking him in the ropes some more.

The pair traded shots again in the middle of the ring, before BUSHI blocked a corner charge with a kick to the head. That didn’t put off Kanemaru for long though, as he slammed him down and went for a moonsault, before being launched into the corner by BUSHI. Double knees from BUSHI followed, as did a reverse neckbreaker for a near-fall.

BUSHI followed up with a lungblower for another two-count, before an attempted MX was cut off by a dropkick. Kanemaru dragged himself to the ropes and landed a big boot and an enziguiri, before an armdrag from BUSHI went awry. A brainbuster from Kanemaru took down BUSHI briefly, and he staggered up just in time for a Deep Impact DDT (dive off the top rope into a DDT) for a near-fall.

BUSHI reversed another suplex, then turned Kanemaru into a backslide for a near-fall, before tying up the referee… that gave him a cover to spray mist at Kanemaru, but he ducked, and kicked BUSHI low and that was all it took. Another good outing here, and I was surprised at BUSHI going out in the first round, especially after his average showing in the Best of Super Junior, but I can only assume that there’s some long-term plan for him? ***¼

Super J Cup 2016 – First Round: Daisuke Harada vs. Ryusyke Taguchi
It’s another NOAH vs. New Japan match now, as one half of the GHC Junior Heavyweight tag team champions took on the former Best of Super Junior winner Taguchi.

Taguchi’s the clear favourite here, and they start off with simple holds, reversing armbars and hammerlocks, before Taguchi forces Harada into the ropes from a headlock. Harada gets shot into the ropes from another headlock, but a shoulder block doesn’t faze Taguchi, but a second one does!

Harada takes down Taguchi with a rear chinlock, before Taguchi failed at an attempt to block a sunset flip, getting nothing but mat from a sit-down splash. An atomic drop wears down Taguchi, but he’s able to pop up with a hip attack to Harada. More hip attack follows for a near-fall, as Taguchi then goes for a rear-chin lock, and then uses his rear to leap onto Harada’s legs.

A grounded Octopus hold sees Taguchi roll Harada into a series of near-falls, and the rear-end offence continues, ending with a dropkick for a near-fall from Taguchi. More sit-down splashes follow, as does a slingshot into a sit-down splash, and it seems like the Ass of Taguchi isn’t yet capable of getting the three-count!

Harada finally fires back with a snap overhead belly-to-belly suplex, before hitting some hip attacks of his own and then a clothesline to down Taguchi. A death valley bomb gets Harada a near-fall, before Taguchi blocks a Northern Lights suplex attempt, and delivers a reverse Exploder to send Harada into the corner.

Harada flies in with a dropkick as Taguchi does his Nakamura tribute pose, and finally gets the Northern Lights suplex for a near-fall. Taguchi flips out of a back suplex, and counters with a hip attack as he was almost rolled up. The pair resort to trading strikes, before Taguchi blocks a kick to the head and catches Harada in an ankle lock, but the latter’s able to reach the ropes for the break.

More hip attacks follow, but a leaping hip attack to the apron is blocked and countered with a double stomp from Harada, who must be sick of that green arse. On the apron, Harada tries for a German suplex, but Taguchi elbows free and lands a hip attack, before taking a death valley driver on the apron for the most painful spot of the match.

The pair beat the count-out at 19, and start fighting to their feet whilst trading forearms once more. An enziguiri cuts off Harada, but he jumps out of a Dodon facebuster attempt and drills Taguchi with diving double knees. Another forearm sends Taguchi to the mat for a two-count, before he’s hiptossed into a knee-strike (almost like a GTS) as Harada almost took the win.

Taguchi avoided a German suplex and rolled through into an ankle lock, but Harada switched places and returned the favour. Taguchi rolled again and this time clung onto the ankle, before letting go and landing the Dodon facebuster for yet another near-fall! Taguchi upped the stakes with the Dodon’s Throne – chickenwing into a gutbuster – and that was enough to get the win… and leave Milano Collection AT look like he’d seen Taichi’s valet again!

I’ve been critical of Taguchi in the past, but I’ll give him his due, he can pull out a fantastic match when he can be bothered! ****

Super J Cup 2016 – First Round: Taiji Ishimori vs. KUSHIDA
Round one ends with the IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion KUSHIDA against former GHC Junior Heavyweight champion Ishimori. The typical opening sees the pair go for a wristlock, reversing back and forth, then into a headlock and some headscissors before a stand-off.

KUSHIDA takes down Ishimori and tries for the Hoverboard Lock early on, but of course it’s blocked as they then go for headlocks, with KUSHIDA spinning all over the place to keep the advantage, before finally being dropkicked to the mat after a long series of rope-running.

After leaping over Ishimori, KUSHIDA knocked his opponent to the outside with a headstand kick, but Ishimori returned to take KUSHIDA to the floor with some headscissors, and then had to fake out a dive as KUSHIDA scurried away. Back inside, KUSHIDA took a knee to the midsection as Ishimori fought back, but an inverted atomic drop and a series of kicks downed the NOAH man.

KUSHIDA kept on top of Ishimori with a handstand into another dropkick for a near-fall, before almost going for a grounded chickenwing, which turned into an armbar. Ishimori tried to flip free, but couldn’t escape the hold, and was tied up on the mat before finally reaching the ropes. Back on their feet, the pair traded some chops, with a kick sending Ishimori to the mat briefly.

KUSHIDA backdropped Ishimori onto the apron, but he fired back with a springboard dropkick that sent the IWGP Junior Heavyweight champ to the floor, where he was met by a diving Ishimori. Back inside again, Ishimori sprung out of the corner and landed some diving double knees in the opposite, then a lungblower for a near-fall.

More kicks from KUSHIDA rock Ishimori, whose attempted handspring is instantly cut-off with a dropkick to the head, and then a flying senton after he’d gone to the outside for some respite. After beating another count-out, Ishimori gets dropkicked back inside by KUSHIDA, who then climbs up top for a moonsault, but gets nothing but knees in the process. Ishimori then heads to the top, but KUSHIDA pops up and hits the handstand kick again to crotch him, and follows up with a flying armbar off the top rope!

KUSHIDA tightens the hold, but Ishimori rolls forward and powers out, but KUSHIDA goes into the Fireman’s carry and briefly locks in the Hoverboard Lock, before Ishimori powers out again and switches it into a gutbuster to break the hold.

They again trade forearm strikes from their knees, but this time it’s Ishimori who gets to his feet first, but KUSHIDA fires back with a facewash, and this quickly descends into a fight once more! A roaring elbow from KUSHIDA sees Ishimori reply with a superkick, but another elbow from KUSHIDA downs Ishimori once again, before KUSHIDA’s turned inside out with a lariat for a near-fall!

Ishimori drops KUSHIDA onto the top turnbuckle, but he’s caught in a Hoverboard lock, only for Ishimori to headbutt himself free, and land a moonsault slam for a near-fall. Ishimori looks to follow up off the top again, but the 450 Splash sees him connect with KUSHIDA’s knees, before he blocked two attempts at La Mistica into the Hoverboard lock. KUSHIDA hit a Pele kick to send Ishimori to his knees, then was successful with La Mistica, before trying for the Hoverboard lock. Finally getting the move, KUSHIDA rolled with Ishimori into the middle of the ring, where he was given no choice but to tap. That was a great main event, with the crowd’s uneasy reaction towards the usually babyface KUSHIDA only adding to it! ****¼

For a show that started with a lot of short matches, this certainly blossomed into a fantastic first round of tournament action. Some of the earlier results definitely left me scratching my head, particularly given the booking of some of the matches, but as long as Jushin Liger dispatches of Taichi like he did with Eita, we’ll be left with a phenomenal final four..

Round two takes place in a month – Sunday August 21 – and will feature Taichi vs. Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Kenoh vs. KUSHIDA, Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru, and Matt Sydal vs. Will Ospreay.