We’re into the home straight when it comes to these World Cup qualifiers, as Manchester played host to the Japanese leg.

It’s a briefer-than-usual show, barely passing the two-hour mark, as WCPW taped some extra matches that were cropped out of here ahead of a revival of Loaded. We’re joined on commentary by Dave Bradshaw and James R. Kennedy… they locked away Alex Shane, and already the crowd are happy!

We’re straight into the pre-tapes, and Mr Subtitle Man turned up for work today! Jushin Liger wants to wrestle multiple times in the tournament, and he actually busts out some English too, whilst Taguchi wants us to all look at his backside. Hey, we have a new ring announcer… who manages to bust out some Japanese as well! Well, if we’re having this outside of Japan, you may as well have something authentic!

Pro Wrestling World Cup – Japan Qualifier – First Round: Jushin “Thunder” Liger vs. Ryusuke Taguchi
THAT POP FOR LIGER! Taguchi gets some cheers too, but it’s like night and day compared to Liger… but hey, at least we get full-screen versions of their entrance videos for a bit!

Both men take the other into the ropes for a clean break, before Liger trips Taguchi for the seated surfboard stretch, only for Taguchi to hit back with a bow-and-arrow hold for a brief moment. A grounded Octopus comes next from Liger as they trade submissions, before Taguchi takes a nasty backdrop to the floor for a cannonball off the apron!

This Manchester crowd is loving every bit of this, especially when Liger went aerial again with a top rope ‘rana, but a Liger Bomb’s blocked as Taguchi backdrops free before going to work with that Funky Weapon. Back in the ring though, Taguchi runs into a tiltawhirl backbreaker as Liger again ties him up in a Romero special, before a Ligerbomb in the corner almost won the match for the veteran. From the kickout, Taguchi dropkicks Liger in the knee, then rolls him up with a La Magistral out of nowhere for the win… one that was painted as an upset, despite the pre-match tale of the tape listing Taguchi as having more head-to-head wins! A decent opener, but given these guys had another match later that night, and another tournament the next night (for Rev Pro’s British J Cup), this was always on the cards. ***

Watching the videos for the next qualifier made me a bit teary… Daryl. Enough said. Hiromu’s translated promo: “I don’t know what this tournament means, what value it has, but I’m competing in it, so I’m going to win it”. The tale of the tape shows Yohei Komatsu as being two years older than Hiromu… a fact that blew my mind given that the older one is still on excursion.

Pro Wrestling World Cup – Japan Qualifier – First Round: Yohei Komatsu vs. Hiromu Takahashi
These were much simpler times for young Hiromu, who had Daryl in tow, and he started out by raking Yohei’s eyes in the early going as Dave Bradshaw butchered “Los Ingobernables de Japon” on commentary. We’ve all done it.

A ‘rana from Komatsu takes Hiromu down, but a simple chop knocked the Tempura Boy back down for a brief second. That quickly gives way to a chop battle as the pair slapped each other’s chests silly, with Yohei capitalising as he knocks down Hiromu with a flying forearm as well.

Komatsu gets a couple of near-falls after placing his knee over Hiromu, who then makes a comeback with some more claps to the chest before attempting a sunset bomb… but Komatsu slipped off the apron rather than take the full bump. Smart move! Takahashi responds by throwing Yohei into the guard railings, and the Ticking Time Bomb looks to take over from here… only to get planted with a Downward Spiral as Komatsu kept ticking!

Hiromu elbows out of a pumphandle attempt, before he’s dumped on his head with a release German suplex… and Yohei’s getting a lot more offence in here than I ever expected. Just like that though, Takahashi throws Komatsu into the corner with an overhead belly-to-belly, before Yohei somehow comes back with some pinning attempts, getting near-falls out of O’Connor rolls and La Magistrals. More back and forth sees Yohei respond to a superkick with a clothesline and a spinning suplex for a near-fall. Komatsu no-sells a German suplex, only to take another lariat before the Time Bomb out of nowhere gets Hiromu a path into the finals. This was a lot better than just about anyone expected it to be – get this watched for a low-key good tournament match! ***¾

Pro Wrestling World Cup – Japan Qualifier – First Round: BUSHI vs. Tiger Mask
I’m a big fan of 70% of BUSHI’s entrance video being him spraying mist at Red Shoes… of course, he attacks Tiger Mask at the bell, taking him to the outside for some brawling around ringside, throwing Tiger into the ring post, and it’s all BUSHI here as Tiger Mask’s unable to get out of the blocks.

BUSHI slips, but recovers as he went after Tiger Mask in the corner, threatening to remove that mask. He doesn’t succeed, as Tiger Mask eventually gets free and superkicks BUSHI to the outside, only to get caught in a STF as BUSHI made his way back into the match. A Tiger Bomb gets a near-fall, so he followed up with a tombstone piledriver before an ambitious swandive headbutt saw the veteran crash and burn.

BUSHI tries to capitalise, but gets caught on the top rope with a butterfly superplex, only for BUSHI to grab Steve Lynskey’s hand to prevent a three count. Not sure how that’s not a DQ, but there you go… Tiger Mask tries to go for the Tiger Suplex, but it gets countered into a bridging backslide for a near-fall, as BUSHI responds by shoving the ref into the corner.

BUSHI then tries to rip off the mask with the ref distracted, before instead opting for a low blow and the MX as he booked his place in the finals. This was alright considering who was in, but I’m not a fan of the New Japan referees finding their spirit inhabiting refs around the world! **¾

Ahead of the final first round match, the ring announcer announced Tiger Hattori as the special referee. A welcome response for someone whom I didn’t expect to be involved.

Pro Wrestling World Cup – Japan Qualifier – First Round: Sho Tanaka vs. KUSHIDA
We open with a test of strength as Tanaka quickly found himself grounded… before proved himself to be an equal to KUSHIDA in the opening stages. Especially when he caught some headscissors from KUSHIDA, before raking away at the IWGP Junior Heavyweight champ’s eyes.

KUSHIDA quickly rebounds with a handstand kick in the ropes, before flying off the apron with a seated senton! Back inside, Tanaka rolls out of an armbar and powers KUSHIDA up into a wheelbarrow suplex, showing off his strength… and the useless part of his singlet! Tanaka keeps up on KUSHIDA, choking him with a boot in the corner, before hitting a deadlift Fisherman’s suplex and turning into an armbar as he tried to force a submission.

KUSHIDA makes the ropes and manages to get back in it with a Downward Spiral into the turnbuckles, before hitting a hiptoss and a cartwheel dropkick as the champ continued. A tornado DDT sees KUSHIDA roll into the Hoverboard lock, but Tanaka makes the ropes as the pair ended up trading strikes on the apron… which for once didn’t end with a move on the apron, as KUSHIDA backdropped Sho back into the ring.

That just let Sho dropkick KUSHIDA to the floor though, before throwing him back in for a deadlift German suplex, only for KUSHIDA to go back to the Hoverboard Lock, scissoring Sho’s body. Tanaka escapes with a backbreaker for a near-fall, then tries for his cross-armed Shock Arrow package piledriver… but KUSHIDA escaped into another barrage of strikes, only for his handspring back elbow to get caught and turned into a German suplex.

KUSHIDA kicked out at two though, then caught Sho in another Hoverboard Lock, before rolling him into the ring and nailing the Back To The Future small package driver for the win! Another solid outing, and if you’re the kind to read into these, both Sho and Yohei had good showings here in defeat… as opposed to squashes. ***½

The live crowd had some matches sandwiched in here, but they were saved for presumably a Loaded reboot later in the year. So we jump cut to the finals!

Pro Wrestling World Cup – Japan Qualifier – Second Round: Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Hiromu Takahashi
Daryl got another monster pop, and commentary only just started to dawn about the connection the two had. I’m not advocating that everyone on commentary needs to know everything, but it’d be nice to have them know slightly more than a casual fan so they can explain things… rather than “hey, he’s rather fond of that cat”.

Taguchi came flying out of the gate, driving his rear end into Takahashi early, who then had his Funky Weapon exposed to the masses as Hiromu tried to avoid a sunset flip. Of course, he wrestled with his arse out for a bit for a bare-cheeked hip attack, which just led to a smacked arse in the end!

In a nice call-back to their feud earlier in the year, Takahashi kept swerving away from Taguchi’s attempts to dive for his feet, before rolling to the floor to avoid an ankle lock. Back in the ring, Taguchi again goes for the ankle lock, which leads to Takahashi rolling to the outside for a game of cat and mouse… and another attempt at the Sunset Bomb, which ends up being a powerbomb onto the apron.

Taguchi gets thrown onto the crowd barriers as Takahashi took over again, slapping him to the mat before countering hip attacks into inverted atomic drops. Some of those start to connect though, and eventually gets the Funky Weapon a near-fall en route to that ankle lock! Takahashi tries to enziguiri his way free, before another La Magistral nearly booked Taguchi his place in the final.

Another overhead suplex into the turnbuckles puts Taguchi down though, but he’s still able to counter out of a Time Bomb. Instead, Takahashi tries for the wheelbarrow bomb off the middle rope, but Taguchi slips awkwardly out of it and goes back to the ankle lock instead. Hiromu’s able to crawl to the ropes to break free, before getting caught in a Dodon for a near-fall!

Taguchi goes for the Dodon again, but he counters a counter into another ankle lock, before switching that into the Dodon’s Throne for another two-count. From the kickout, Taguchi lifts up Takahashi into a torture rack, but Hiromu quickly snuck out into a wheelbarrow roll-up, and just like that… Hiromu’s in the World Cup finals! Another decent match, with a few slips at perhaps the wrong moments. ***½

Pro Wrestling World Cup – Japan Qualifier – Second Round: KUSHIDA vs. BUSHI
From the off, BUSHI uses the ref as something of a shield so he could sneak in a dropkick… but it’s not long before the pair give and receive thumbs to the eye as neither were able to maintain much offence in the opening stages.

BUSHI quickly pulls back KUSHIDA by choking him with a t-shirt, before throwing him into the ropes so he could DDT him on the apron. The shortcuts continue as a cable’s used on KUSHIDA, who’s then caught in some figure four headscissors as BUSHI then looked to set up for the MX, instead landing a missile dropkick.

KUSHIDA tries a cartwheel dropkick, but BUSHI rolls away and locks in a STF that’s broken via the ropes. On the top rope, KUSHIDA manages to catch BUSHI in a Hoverboard lock, using it to drop his foe to the mat, before dropkicking BUSHI away as he went for an overhead kick in the ropes. From there, KUSHIDA joins BUSHI outside to put him in a chair… then dropkick him out of it, before taking him back inside for a cross armbreaker.

BUSHI tries to counter by rolling up KUSHIDA, but he only gets a near-fall as the pair exchange kicks to leave each other laying, before KUSHIDA went back to that arm… BUSHI ducks a kick and then sprays the referee as he went for KUSHIDA… who then accidentally punched out Steve Lynskey. With no referee, BUSHI kicks KUSHIDA low, but there’s no referee to count the small package. After a visual pin, KUSHIDA puts on the Hoverboard lock, and BUSHI taps with no referee around, before an attempt to roll up into Back to the Future’s countered with a spinning neckbreaker.

With no replacement ref forthcoming, BUSHI and KUSHIDA trade blows, until BUSHI pulls off a Destroyer… but we still have no ref! BUSHI brings Lynskey back in, but his attempt at an MX is countered with a Codebreaker as KUSHIDA comes in with a tiltawhirl into the Hoverboard Lock, rolling BUSHI back into the middle of the ring for the submission. KUSHIDA’s joining Hiromu Takahashi in August’s finals after another decent match, but hurt by the tournament format and the typical BUSHI crutches. ***½

Rampage vs. Tomohiro Ishii
Our main event is what Jim Ross would label a slobberknocker, as Rampage went to war with Tomohiro Ishii.

We started with clonking shoulder blocks that initially barely moved either guy, before Rampage finally put Ishii on the mat with a series of uppercuts. They headed outside where Ishii took some short-clotheslines, sidestepping one of them as Rampage hit the ring post before the pair headed deeper into the crowd for a chop battle.

Tiger Hattori was refereeing here, giving the pair a 20 count outside as they continued to leather each other with forearms before nipping in to beat the count. Ishii kept up on Rampage though, replying to his forearms in kind as the pair continued to unload on each other, with Rampage actually inviting headbutts from the “Stone Pitbull”.

Rampage tries to fight back, but Ishii barely registers as he throws in another headbutt, before a back suplex took Rampage back down as the pace quickened a little bit. Ishii’s finally taken down with a body slam, before a shoulder block off the middle rope gets Rampage a near-fall.

Ishii remains prone on the mat as Rampage continued to lay in those shots, but they ended up firing up Ishii, who got back to his feet and refused to move from a series of running boots. A forearm does knock down Rampage though, but he popped straight back up from a suplex… as did Ishii! Another Ishii suplex finally puts Rampage down… but again, Rampage snuck back in and almost won with a uranage.

They go back to the clonking strikes, with Ishii’s German suplex barely keeping Rampage down, before eventually running into a spinebuster for another near-fall. Rampage looks to seal the win with a piledriver, but Ishii backdrops out of it, before headbutting away a boot as he quickly dropped Rampage with a clothesline then a brainbuster for the win. A really hard-fought slog, but one that was held in front of an oddly observant, rather than wild crowd. Enjoyable, but a match that perhaps felt like an odd call to end with. ***½

Compared to the German qualifiers, which aired the prior day in WCPW’s double-header block, this was an improvement. Whilst there was no stand-out match, the matches were a touch better, and actually built towards a finish. From the live reports at least, it seems that the more notable results came from what didn’t air…

I digress – with the final two qualifiers yet to air (USA and Rest of the World), we’re in the home straight as far as the World Cup is concerned, with the finals taking place over three days in August (a slight tweak from the original plans of a two-day finals). Whether any of those now air live remains to be seen, as it’ll be an odd call to air the finals live and have the rest air after the fact.

We do know the draw for the finals though:
Milton Keynes will see KUSHIDA vs. Kenny Williams, an American finalist vs. Zack Sabre Jr, Hiromu Takahashi vs. Lucky Kid, Joe Coffey vs. Michael Elgin, a Rest of World finalist vs. the other American finalist, Bad Bones vs. Penta el Zero M, Will Ospreay vs. Rey Mysterio and Mike Bailey vs. the other Rest of World finalist. Instantly Ospreay/Mysterio stands out from that, whilst KUSHIDA vs. Kenny could also be a sleeper…

Meanwhile, Manchester gets KUSHIDA/Williams vs. Sabre/???, Hiromu/Lucky vs. Coffey/Elgin, ??? vs. Bones/Penta, Ospreay/Mysterio vs. Bailey/???, before Newcastle gets the semis and the finals. Some potentially tasty matches in that lot – lets see if they deliver!