NJPW ROOKIE: Andrews reviews of New Japan Cup 2017 from NJPW World streaming service (pt. 1)

By R.W. Williams, PWTorch Contributor

NJPW Dominion matches announced
PHOTO CREDIT: Tokyo Sports


New Japan Cup 2017
NJPW World
By R.W. Andrews

Post-review Note

Okay, full disclosure.  This is going to be long.  Really, really long.  But congratulations, you’ve made it to the very last long-form review I will ever do.  Well, maybe from time to time I might bust one out for very specific matches.  This tournament has taught me a valuable lesson.  There are only so many ways you can describe the same artillery splurge of a forearm to the face and guy getting slammed to the mat.  So enjoy.  It will be… taxing to say the least.

Actual Review

This is my first New Japan tournament and I wanted to really get a feel for it.  So, in order to do that, I’m going to type my ass off and try to cover it all.  I have no idea who has won in prior years, no clue if there have been any classic matches that still resonate with fans to this day, and no idea how in the hell Bad Luck Fale got into this tournament.  Speaking of which, did New Japan’s sorting hat get tweaked on white lines before seeding this f****ng thing?  In the east you’ve got Suzuki, Omega, Shibata, Ishii, and SANADA.  In the west you’ve got Elgin, Tanahashi and EVIL – who are meeting in the first round – with Bad Luck Fale, Nagata, Yano, and the Guerillas of Destiny milling about.  One path is harder than the other to say the least.

Round 1

Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium

Tanga Roa vs. Yuji Nagata

Marty gets the call to christen the tournament.  Roa has doubled-down on his stance that face paint makes the man, choosing a Twisty the Clown inspired paint job that is actually kind of cool.  Ok, so he spends time getting dolled up, but the artistic flare has shifted me over to his side.  Nagata is all business, rocking his normal blue trunks with matching boots.  Man, sometimes you just can’t stray from the classics.

Nagata and Roa exchange waistlocks until the old pro snags an armlock.  Roa shows off a little finesse to his game by reversing with a hammerlock.  He transitions to a side headlock takeover, with Nagata peacocking his limberness to the ladies by popping those hips to get Roa into a headscissors.  Roa manages to break free and hop to his feet, bending that hammerlock back into place.  Nagata drives his elbow back to catch Roa, but finds a head bobbing in and out of range.  He chooses the path of least resistance, reaching out to clutch the ropes.

They reunite in the middle of the ring, with Nagata transitioning an arm-wringer into a side headlock – his arms clamped tightly to Roa’s head in order to work him to his knees.  Roa shoves Nagata into the ropes, his body never wilting under the force of a shoulder tackle brought back to him.  Nagata kicks him in the gut, garnering a “Hey, Man!” out of Roa, before flipping him to the mat with a hip toss.  Roa smacks the mat out of frustration and lunges at Nagata, who counters with a heel trip transitioned quickly into an armbar that forces Roa to crawl to the ropes.  As Roa gets back to his feet, Nagata begins to clap condescendingly – a gesture Roa acknowledges with a sheepish grin and a nod.

They tie up again, with Roa pushing Nagata into the ropes.  Marty calls for a clean break, his words falling on deaf ears as Roa jabs Nagata’s chin before clubbing him in back.  “No clean breaks, Bruh,” barks Roa as he whips Nagata to the other side of the ring.  Nagata hooks his arms into the ropes as Roa droops over for a back body drop.  He takes a hop-step forward, juking on an enzuigiri before hitting a basement dropkick to Roa’s left knee.  He points to his head and smiles, flashing those panty peeler pearly whites towards the females in his peripheral scope.

Nagata bounces off the ropes, racing right into a scoop-slam that sends him rolling outside.  Roa slides out and tosses him into the guardrail, huffing “Tryin’ to embarrass me in front of all these people?” between deep inhales.  He punts Nagata in the chest before smooshing a boot against his throat.  Marty finally decides to get off his ass and intervene, backing Roa away as Nagata pops to his feet and blots Roa’s chin with a forearm.  Roa fires back, dazing Nagata long enough to roll him back into the ring.  He hits a backdrop, followed with a legdrop before covering for two.  Roa tells Nagata to give up.  “I never give up!” Nagata screams, the decree tested by a forearm to the mouth.  Nagata continues to rise, defiantly yelling “Never!” before Roa sends him backpedaling to the corner with another forearm.  Nagata marches back to Roa, who tilts his head at the sight and utters, “What the…” before a NEVER Openweight caliber forearm cracks him in the jaw.  As does the three follow-ups.

On the defensive, Roa drives his head into Nagata’s chin before scooping him up and trotting him around the ring for a running powerslam.  He climbs up top, leaping off with a diving headbutt that Nagata rolls out of the way of.  As Roa gets to his feet – his eyes picking up the sight of Nagata charging – he screams, “ahh s-…ah s-!”, before three stiff kicks bang into his chest.  He backs away from Nagata, the turnbuckle pad tapping him on the shoulder as a reminder that he’s out of room.  Nagata whips Roa’s head sharply to the left with a nasty looking right forearm.  He delivers two more, each landing with increasingly blunt thuds, before sending Roa to the opposite corner and catching him with a boot to the face.  Roa fights out of an exploder suplex, but another swift forearm sends him ricocheting off the ropes and right into Nagata’s awaiting arms to complete said exploder.  Nagata covers, finding only a two count from Marty.

They swap boots to the face, with Roa catching Nagata’s second attempt and spinning him around to hit a bridging German suplex for two.  Roa rushes Nagata with a splash in the corner, the impact causing Nagata to stumble forward and into a spinebuster.  Roa chuckles as he watches Nagata struggle to get up.  He reaches down to gather him off the mat, a decision countered by a seated armbar dead center of the ring.  With the hold locked in tight, Nagata’s eyes begin to roll back, a look that gets a roar from the crowd.  Nagata switches from a seated armbar to the traditional laydown application, with Roa taking the momentum to get to his knees while Nagata tries to maintain control.  Roa tips Nagata to his shoulders, forcing Nagata to release his grip and kick out.

As Roa labors to his feet, Nagata is up and circling around to find a clear pathway to smack his arm with a kick.  He pulls Roa to his feet, whipping him into the corner but running right into a shoulder block.  Roa drives him right back where he came, racing to the opposite corner where Nagata gives chase to boot him in the face.  Nagata hits a brainbuster, covering for two.  Roa rises and screams, a sound dead on the vine as a leaping enzuigiri tags the back of his head.  Nagata wraps his arms around Roa’s waist to hoist him into the air and drive him to the mat with a backdrop suplex, once again flaunting his limberness with a float-over for the pinfall.

Winner: Yuji Nagata, advancing to the second round to meet the winner of Tanahashi/EVIL

(Andrews’ Analysis:  Although Nagata won rather easily, Roa put up a fair enough fight to show that he is above average in singles competition.  His offense doesn’t seem quite yet ready for primetime, but he’s the type of athlete who could probably take it there.  Nagata didn’t have to really flip through the playbook to get past Roa, so hopefully he’ll have a little more in store for us in the second round.)

Tori Yano vs. Tama Tonga

I don’t know how fresh Yano’s shtick is to longtime viewers, but I absolutely love it.  I love the entrance video, I’m a fan of the obsession with untying turnbuckle pads, and I’m smitten with the little things that he does – like snagging an opponent’s hair just to stall them from hitting the ropes and therefore hitting him.  I’m very interested to see my first Yano singles match.  Smooth mat wrestling?  Yeah, probably not.  But using his uncanny knack for survival to find a roll-up victory?  I’ll take it.  Don’t forget, he’s always one cup-check away from victory.

The deep bass of the GoD theme hits once more, bringing out Tonga who moves slowly down the ramp.  He came prepared to make a splash – his face goat-skull painted and his lower body wrapped in camouflage.  And then there’s Yano.  The lights flicker with a purple strobe as he skitters down the ramp with a DVD, a bottle of water, and a chair.  He sets the chair near the stash spot, rolls into the ring, takes a gulp of water, spits it into the air, and leaves his neck wide open for Tonga’s clothesline to put him flat on his back.

As Tonga is busy stomping on Yano’s chest, Red Shoes wakes up and calls for the bell.  Tonga gets the DVD and smacks Yano on the top of the head with it.  Thus far, the case is proving to be a much tougher opponent than Yano, as it proves impenetrable to Tonga’s prying fingers.  Thoroughly one-upped by an inanimate object, Tonga flips it to the crowd as a collection of girls at ringside gasp.  Tonga sends Yano screaming into the ropes.  Yano holds on for dear life, refusing to bounce off of them as Tonga prepares for a backdrop.  Tonga realizes that Yano is a no-show and charges towards him.  Yano ducks under a clothesline, the momentum of the whiff carrying Tonga over the top ropes.  As Yano finally gets a moment to disrobe, Tonga slides back into the ring and dives for his feet.  Yano flees, clutching the ropes for dear life while bellowing out, “Break, break, break!”  He is granted the break and promptly escapes to the floor.

Tonga reaches over the top after him, with Yano rolling under his hand to get back in.  He begins screaming again as Tonga’s boot is driven down on his chest.  Tonga hits an elbow, transitioned into a choke that Red Shoes’ reprimands him for.  Tonga ships Yano into the corner, where the untying of pads can commence.  Tonga races after him and dives out with a splash that stuffs Yano into the pad.  He whips Yano from one pad to the next, the follow-up splash finding nothing but air as Yano jogs back to the original corner to continue untying the pad.  He finally gets it free, holding it in place as he catches Tonga charging out of the corner of his eye.  Tonga takes to the air for another splash, but Yano, and the pad, are hoofing it in the opposite direction.  Tonga pumps the brakes at the corner, spinning around to dropkick Yano as the pad goes flying.

Tonga hits a Stinger Splash in the corner, sending Yano staggering to the center of the ring.  Tonga takes off for the ropes, but Yano reaches out and snags his hair, dragging him down to the mat.  Yano does his signature pose, his thumbs pointed out as he waves his arms about.  He senses the rumble of waffle stompers marching behind him, ducking as Tonga’s body flies over his back.  Tonga tries to blow out Yano’s ACL with a chop block, but Yano manages to spins out of the way. He ducks down again as Tonga flies over his back.

Yano hits the ropes, his plodding steps unable to get out of the way of a Tonga spear.  Tonga goes for a cutter, but Yano shoves him towards Red Shoes.  As Red Shoes braces for impact, Yano tries to uppercut Tonga’s crotch, but Tonga turns into the backswing and takes a swipe that Yano has to ducks under.  Tonga reverses behind him, causing Yano to reach for Red Shoes.  As Red Shoes flinches out of the way, Tonga drives Yano to the mat before his groin falls victim to a mule kick to the dangles.  He headbutts Yano back, sending him shuffling into Red Shoes’ embrace.  Yano uses Red Shoes as a human shield against Tonga’s rush.  He stutter-steps, freezing Tonga for a beat to throw Red Shoes at him.  Tonga evades Red Shoes and runs past Yano as the ref hits the deck.  Yano spins around and drops low to hit a ball-tap roll up Tonga for the win.

Winner: Tori Yano, advancing the second round to face the winner of Elgin/Fale

(Andrews’ Analysis:  This match – besides getting to watch Yano “sprint” from corner to corner – will probably be the worst of the tournament.  It was basically just a collection of missed splashes and low blows.  I honestly expected Tonga to win, thinking that the company was looking into these guys as singles wrestlers down the road.  But alas, Yano once again thwarted the jaws of defeat.  If you’re a Yano fan, you’ll love watching him run from one corner of the ring to the next.  If you’re not, stay far away from this match.)

Michael Elgin vs. Bad Luck Fale

Here we go.  The new and improved Bad Luck Fale, sporting a brand new……ahh f-.  Nothing has changed.  Same spaced-out, far away expression.  Same Gonk Droid gait.  Same bloated figure insulting the integrity of the stitches holding his shirt together.  Well at least we know what he did during the break – dumpster diving at Eddie Lacy’s old Green Bay home for those P90X discs.  Hell, he hasn’t even reconciled his issue with the ring announcer.  Same old, Fale.  Actually, hang on a second.  Upon closer inspection it looks like he’s grown a soul patch and dyed it ginger.  Hmm, maybe this son of bitch is serious.

Red Shoes gets the call, having successfully shaken off his near death experience of getting blown up by Tonga.  After frisking the combatants, he calls for the bell – the sound met by a very loud “Elgin” chant.  Elgin and Fale have a staredown in the middle of the ring before slowly creeping back towards their respective starting blocks, creating enough distance to race back and collide with shoulder tackles.  Fale doesn’t budge, but Elgin buckles just a smidge.  They back up and repeat the process, multiple times over.  Elgin finally manages to connect with enough force to send Fale tumbling outside to the floor.

Elgin goes out after him, running across the apron and leaping into Fale’s arms.  Fale rams his back into the ring post before tossing him into the guardrail and clubbing his back for good measure.  Fale whips Elgin into the guardrail a second time with a little more gusto as Red Shoes finally begins to count.  Fale ambles back inside at two, while Elgin inches in at nineteen.  Fale stands on his back before pulling him to his feet and delivering another club to the back.  Fale once again stands on Elgin as the crowd falls deafly silent.

Fale picks up Elgin…and clubs him in the back.  Elgin fires back with an elbow, which Fale answers with…more clubs to the back.  Fale lifts Elgin onto his shoulders, which Elgin manages to shimmy down Fale’s wide frame for a sunset flip.  Fale’s hands wave wildly in the air before deciding to let gravity take over as he kicks his legs out and tries to sit on Elgin.  Elgin rolls out of the way, recovering to fire a forearm at Fale before hitting an enzuigiri and a front kick.  He hits another front kick before wowing the audience, and me, with a beautiful vertical suplex for two.  Elgin is strong.

With Fale on his back, Elgin scoots outside and climbs to the top turnbuckle.  He spends too much time fidgeting around with his footing, allowing Fale to chase him down and wrap his hand around Elgin’s throat.  Elgin forearms him away, dropping down to the mat just in time to duck out of the way of a charging Fale who barrels over the top rope and onto the floor.  Elgin runs to the opposite end of the ring, bouncing off the ropes as if’s he’s charging up for takeoff, but Fale slides back in and counters with a Samoan Drop.  Both men arise simultaneously, with Fale charging Elgin and missing a splash in the corner.  Elgin hits two running clotheslines – the forever edition – leaving Fale teetering on his feet.  After fighting off a boot to the face, Elgin bounces off the ropes and sickles the s- out of Fale with a lariat that sends that wide body into the air before crashing to the mat.

Elgin points to the turnbuckles and stuffs Fale’s head between his legs for a buckle bomb.  He gets nowhere with his decision, opting for smacking Fale in the face before trying a German Suplex.  Fale gets on his horse, his feet hoofing it to corner with Elgin on his back to drive him into a turnbuckle pad.  He hits a splash in corner, shoves Elgin to the mat, and hits a standing splash for two.  Fale latches his hand to Elgin’s throat, but misses the Grenade.  Elgin moves around Fale’s back and hits a release German Suplex!  Elgin IS strong!  Elgin hits the ropes for a lariat, but Fale shows some impressive hops to dive out and spear him for two.  He picks up Elgin, who is barely keeping himself upright on two very shaky legs, and leashes his hand around his throat.  He manages to power Elgin into the air…and connects with the Grenade!  Are you kidding me?  He covers.  1, 2…are you kidding me…3!  Bad Luck Fale, through the grace of God, has just beaten Michael Elgin!

Winner:  Bad Luck Fale, advancing to the second round to face Tori Yano

(Andrews’ Analysis:  How in the hell did that just happen?  This match was atrocious, and not just because of the outcome.  Besides one spear, Fale did nothing more than stand on Elgin and club him on the back.  Hell, that’s worth repeating because God knows Fale sure did.  ALL he did was stand on Elgin and club him on the back.  Most, if not all of you, have far more experience with New Japan, but is this the biggest upset in New Japan Cup history?  I thought for sure that Elgin was going to run through the West Wing.  My bracket is f***ed!  And may I just say again – and this is not coming from a place of anger – the match was bad.  Yano vs. Tonga bad.

That being said, Bad Luck Fale has just beaten Michael Elgin.  So, my terrible decision to start rooting for Fale must continue.  F-!)

Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. EVIL

Ok, now that the shock has worn off, it’s time to get to the first bigtime match of the tournament.   EVIL’s short trip to the ring begins with a slow emergence from behind the NJPW curtain, sickle in one hand as the other glows with green laser-pointer power to light a silhouette masked in phantasm.  Tanahashi is out next, air guitaring to what is slowly becoming a rather pleasing new theme.  It’s a slow burn, but somehow achieves earworm status.  He slaps hands with anyone wanting to press palms with him – the topper being when he pats a kid on the head who is decked out in championship McFly’s.

When the bell rings, what has become such a classic B-side to Tanahashi’s themes begins to erupt from the crowd – the sound of his name being chanted louder than anything that could permeate from the house speakers.  EVIL jukes a tie-up to start the match, driving a kick aimed at Tanahashi’s stomach that winds up in the Ace’s grasp.  Tanahashi leans closer to connect with a forearm to the face, his body parrying into position to wrap up EVIL’s head with side headlock.  EVIL tries to shove him off, but each time Tanahashi holds on tight, riding EVIL’s momentum all the way to a retreat into the ropes.  EVIL tries to dirty up the break, but misses a wild swing and gets head-locked and taken to the mat.

Slowly working his way back to his feet, EVIL grabs Tanahashi’s hair and goes for a side headlock of his own.  Tanahashi shoves him away, with EVIL racing to the ropes and coming back with a shoulder tackle that plows him to the canvas.  He steps on Tanahashi’s head before heading to the ropes, once again falling victim to a side headlock.  Both men earn some serious points with me, with EVIL raking Tanahashi’s eyes to get loose only to have Tanahashi counter right back with an eye rake.  Red Shoes decides to scold Tanahashi about it, demanding that he release his fingertips from EVIL’s sockets.  Tanahashi obeys, but casts a pissed-off gaze upon the authority.

Tanahashi gets a forearm/European Uppercut combo before heading the ropes, chased down by EVIL who catches him with a knee to the side of the head before clotheslining him outside.  EVIL heads out after him, shooing the camera crew away so he can whip Tanahashi into the guardrail.  Tanahashi reverses, flinging EVIL into the rail instead.  Now it’s Tanahashi’s turn to shoo the camera crew out of the way – the guys barely able to get out of their own way as they back into one another – so he can whip EVIL into the next section of rails.  He charges in, but EVIL is a step quicker and scores with a lariat.

With Tanahashi holding his head on the floor, EVIL visits TWO stash spots – both of which supplying a chair.  He wraps the first chair around Tanahashi’s neck as Red Shoes comes outside to protest.  EVIL grabs the other chair, his sights set on takin a homerun cut, but Red Shoes latches on and they enter a tug-of-war contest.  Red Shoes naturally comes up short, his feet dancing backwards before tripping him to the floor.  EVIL lines up his shot and tees off with a swing that connects so clean that it spins the chair a full rotation around Tanahashi’s neck before going yard.  Touch em’ all.

Red Shoes reappears into the camera shot, his finger pointing towards the ring as he demands that EVIL gets back inside.  And it works!  EVIL rolls in as the cameraman zooms in on the chair.  Red Shoes rolls in after him, giving EVIL an earful before lightly pushing him on the shoulder and shaking his head at him.  With about five minutes elapsed, and multiple rules broken right in front of his face, Red Shoes begins his count.  Tanahashi gets in at nineteen.

It is at this point that a question must be presented.  Is Red Shoes an LIJ operative?  Seriously, how many times have they benefited from his haphazard approach to upholding the law?  Actually, you know what, let’s just put our cards on the table and cut the bulls-.  Is Red Shoes actually pulling the strings on the whole movement?  I don’t have hard evidence to back it up, nor soft evidence, but I say this.  What lies beneath that absent-minded, Verbal Kint-ish demeanor is in actuality New Japan’s Keyser Soze.  Hey, maybe it’s just flights of fancy.  Hell, maybe it’s just my mind still lost in the static of witnessing Fale pin Elgin clean in the middle of the ring.  All I know is that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the wrestling world that Red Shoes is just a referee in an oversized, disheveled striped shirt.

Back from the rabbit hole, we find EVIL hunched over Tanahashi’s back, grinding a forearm across his eyes.  He wishbones Tanahashi’s arms back before pressing a boot to the back of his head.  EVIL switches to a cravat – which is always a pleasure to see – which Tanahashi escapes after jabbing him in the gut.  EVIL whips Tanahashi into the ropes, but runs into a back elbow.  Tanahashi tries to capitalize, hopping onto the second turnbuckle and flying off with a crossbody that EVIL bails out of the way of.  He follows up hits a senton and covers for two.

EVIL goes back to the cravat, twisting Tanahashi’s neck until another jab to the gut backs him off.  He retaliates with an eye rake, which Tanahashi answers with an eye rake right back.  Your stock keeps rising, Gentlemen.  EVIL rakes his eyes again, but his attempt to charge Tanahashi is thwarted by a low dropkick to the knee.  EVIL goes back to the ropes, coming back with his boot aimed at Tanahashi’s stomach.  Tanahashi catches it and delivers a dragon screw leg whip.  He punches EVIL into the corner, but EVIL reverses an Irish Whip attempt to send Tanahashi in.  Tanahashi uses the turnbuckle pad as a bumper, springing back with a flying forearm.

Tanahashi hits an elbow/senton combo, covering for two.  He scoop-slams EVIL and hops onto the second rope, flipping forward with a Harlem Hangover that EVIL evades.  He darts after EVIL for possibly a Slingblade, but EVIL catches him mid-air and counters with a side slam.  With Tanahashi rising in the corner, EVIL closes the gap with a running back-elbow before cradling Tanahashi’s leg and landing a Fisherman’s Buster.  Very pleasant offense from EVIL.

EVIL heads up top, leaping off and actually hitting Tanahashi with a flying clothesline.  He covers, but Tanahashi escapes at 2 ½.  EVIL lifts Tanahashi into a fireman’s carry pickup, but stumbles towards the ropes where Tanahashi lands safely on the apron.  They share a mini-Batsu between the ropes that EVIL wins decisively, though his post-Batsu celebration is cut short by a shoulder to the gut.  Tanahashi tries to reenter the ring, but a sidekick to the head keeps him outside.  Tanahashi snakes EVIL’s leg through the ropes and out with him, popping those ligaments like a snapback with a dragon screw leg whip from the apron.

EVIL scoots outside, rolling on the floor while clutching his knee.  Tanahashi sprints to the corner and climbs to the top turnbuckle, the crowd piping up as he settles himself up high and dives out to hit a High Fly Flow on the floor.  The flight path is captured expertly, with the camera shooting from right under him as he achieves Ospreay levels of hangtime.  Red Shoes chooses this time to count, with Tanahashi rolling EVIL in at sixteen as he runs to the corner and climbs up top.  Pure LIJ excellence is on full display as EVIL shoves Red Shoes into the ropes – the tightrope wobbling wildly to trip up Tanahashi and crotch him on the top turnbuckle.  Two young lions come to the apron as Red Shoes rolls onto his stomach, but both back away as Red Shoes rolls another quarter of a rotation and falls straight to the floor.

EVIL slams Tanahashi off the top rope and rolls outside where he collects one of the chairs.  He brings it in amidst a barrage of boos from the crowd.  With Red Shoes wiped clean out of camera view, EVIL smacks Tanahashi across the back with it.  His head swivels around the ring, finding Red Shoes still missing in action, so he pastes Tanahashi again with the chair.  Tanahashi pops back to his feet, kicking EVIL in the stomach as the chair is thrust in his direction.  He recovers it and strikes EVIL across the back as Red Shoes’ head pops into view from over the apron’s horizon.  He rolls in as Tanahashi forearms EVIL in the corner.  Red Shoes tries to pry Tanahashi off of EVIL, but an understandably furious Tanahashi shoves him to the canvas.  And Red Shoes is down, once again rolling unassisted into a treacherous spill to the outside.

Tanahashi Dragon Screw Neck Whips EVIL onto the chair and follows up with a Slingblade as Red Shoes rolls back in.  For those who don’t know yet, I like to use Dragon Screw “fill in the blank” Whips anytime the opportunity presents itself in a Tanahashi match.  Tanahashi heads up top, taking flight with a High Fly Flow that gets so much air that EVIL has more than enough time to get his knees up.  The landing sends Tanahashi bouncing right off of EVIL while grabbing his stomach.  All three men are down!  In the race to get up, EVIL forearms Tanahashi, traded in kind by The Ace, before a double-chop to the chest stuns Tanahashi long enough for EVIL to try his luck at the ropes.  He whiffs on a lariat, as does Tanahashi in return before spinning right into a lariat that cracks against his sternum.  EVIL covers, but Tanahashi lifts his left shoulder off the mat at the last possible millisecond.  EVIL quickly lifts Tanahashi onto his shoulders and drives him to the mat with Darkness Falls, covering for two!  The camera crew is on point in this match, providing us with a magnificent shot of Red Shoes’ face staring up at the lights, with Tanahashi flat on his back behind him and EVIL flat on his stomach deep in the background.

Tanahashi shoves EVIL into the ropes, but can’t defend against a rebound superkick.  EVIL locks in – please forgive my move-set ignorance for a moment – a mounted rear wristlock crossface chicken wing combo.  I know I’m not even remotely in the right neighborhood with that call, so let that description serve as my Sussudio to the wrestling lexicon.  Pulling back on Tanahashi’s head, EVIL begins to make The Ace fade.  As Red Shoes comes in for closer inspection, EVIL decides to dump Tanahashi out of what looked like a damn effective submission and go for the cover.  Tanahashi once again escapes at two and some change as opposed to being Zip-locked tightly in that incredible submission.  EVIL goes for EVIL (the move), but Tanahashi counters with a full nelson, which EVIL counters out of with a back elbow.  Tanahashi reaches back and smacks him across the face.  EVIL spins 360, whipping around with his arm planked out wide for a lariat, but gets smacked in the face again.  Tanahashi reverses another EVIL attempt with a Slingblade and once again both men are down!

Tanahashi beats EVIL to his feet and tries for a tiger suplex.  EVIL deadweights him, then catches Red Shoes wandering too close to the cage.  He shoves Red Shoes into the turnbuckle before spinning around and spewing green mist in Tanahashi’s face.  Oh my God, it’s the BUSHI special!  EVIL hits EVIL (the move) and covers, his body in prime position to block Red Shoes from getting a good look at Tanahashi’s face as he scores the pinfall victory.

Winner: EVIL, advancing to the second round to face Yuji Nagata

After the match, EVIL stomps a young lion for trying to help out Tanahashi.  He grabs the mic, and has what appears to be a strongly worded diatribe aimed at his opponent.  He finishes with, “This is Evil!  Everything is Evil!” before slamming the mic down and posing with his foot on Tanahashi’s chest.

(Andrews’ Analysis: Did Red Shoes have this coming, once again forgetting what happens every single time he gets within spitting distance of an LIJ member?  Or is there something a little more sinister afoot?

The match was such a showcase for EVIL, with the win against Tanahashi no doubt serving as a huge pat on the back from the higher-ups.  He looked terrific – managing to not only pull from a deeper than normal pool of moves, but also match Tanahashi’s uncanny knack for keeping the crowd invested from start to finish.  Tanahashi is Tanahashi, so you know his effort was at a certain level of excellence no matter the opponent.  I’m a little bummed to see him cast aside so early, but that’s what I get for coming into New Japan so late in the game.  I’m sure there were years upon years of him winning damn near every match and being a constant fixture deep into tournaments.  I assume he will not lose the slightest bit of cred for the loss.  At least with me he won’t.  Again, what a win for EVIL.  He worked his ass off against Tanahashi and I wouldn’t mind if his post-match dressing down of The Ace sparks a longer feud.)

Amagasaki City Memorial Park Gymnasium

I’m not entirely sure if NJPW World is adding Gymnasium instead of Gym, but I love it.  And might I add, the switch in venues is a welcome change for one reason and one reason only.  We’re back to the parade of crossbeams – six in total, three to either side of the entranceway where a large screen is stationed above it.  Not their finest work, but an acceptable configuration nonetheless.

Yujiro Takahashi vs. Juice Robinson

A purple haze bathes the ring as the crossbeams permeate with equal effect.  Takahashi makes his way to the ring, sporting a black fedora and black vest, showing the world that hairless prepubescent chest.  His right hand is wrapped around a cane, his left caressing the waist of a gorgeous woman wearing a black thong with matching bra and bunny ears.  She has no issue with bending over right in front of the camera, causing the cameraman’s finger to stroke the trigger of the zoom button and track the shot closely.  I’m not a parent, so the Dad Protocol on this one baffles me.  Are we pretending not to have an erection as we lie to our children that the woman with barely any clothes on is doing exactly what she dreamt of when she was their age?  Or are we mum on the issue, sharing the uncomfortable silence and bashful half-chubs of the other dads?  Juice comes out to a little less pomp and circumstance than Takahashi, his arm raised to the crowd before pointing to God knows where high up in the stands instead of looking at what’s in the ring.  Maybe he’s a Column B guy.

Takahashi gets the jump on a tie-up, chopping Robinson in the chest before pulling on his dreads in the corner.  Robinson gets fed up with the follicle strain, reversing positions to belt Takahashi with a clothesline that makes the crowd “ooooh” at the sound of the smack.  He hits him repeatedly with said clothesline, each time making Takahashi’s body bounce off the turnbuckle pad.  Robinson sprints to the opposite corner, his 40 time far and away the fastest in the tournament, and races back to the sight of Takahashi getting right the hell out of there.

Takahashi steals a moment to brush up against his lady of the night, which Robinson breaks up by jumping over the top rope.  He’s greeted by a clothesline from Takahashi, who picks him up and gives him a god damn Fisherman’s Buster on the floor!  Jesus Christ, Takahashi!  Marty checks to make sure Robinson is still breathing, ushering Takahashi into the ring before beginning his count from the apron with a hand hovering above Robinson.  Robinson gets in a fifteen to a round of applause that probably sounds distorted through those burst eardrums.

Robinson slaps him for the Fisherman’s Buster, but gets snapmared back to the mat before Takahashi hits a running legdrop.  I gotta say, Takahashi is looking far faster than what I’ve seen in previous outings.  He goes for a neckbreaker, but there is something seriously f-ed up about it.  Robinson goes one way, while Takahashi goes the other, producing something that could have seen Robinson have his spine rip right through his skin.  It looked nasty.  Takahashi decides to opt for a rear chinlock instead of trying that neckbreaker again, with Robinson fighting back to his feet and whipping Takahashi into the ropes.  Robinson goes for a dropkick, but Takahashi hangs on and smacks a downed Robinson with a sliding kick.

Takahashi hits a running boot to Robinson in the corner, and whips him into the opposite corner before Robinson counters with an axe kick.  Robinson hits a right hand/right chop combo before Takahashi boots him in the gut.  He heads to the ropes, but Robinson counters with a backbreaker transitioned into a Russian leg sweep.  Very smooth.  Robinson hits a jumping senton, covering for two.

He hoists Takahashi up for a vertical suplex, but Takahashi drops behind his back and hits a facebuster.  Takahashi hits another sliding kick to Robinson’s face and another Fisherman’s Buster, pinning for two.  Robinson squirms out of a Fireman’s Carry Pickup and goes for Pulp Friction, but Takahashi slides his arms free and counters with a reverse DDT.  Well done, Bub.  Robinson runs into Takahashi’s boot, but ducks a follow-up clothesline before missing an axe kick.  Takahashi gets him back onto his shoulders and hits Miami Shine, again pinning Robinson for two.

Takahashi lifts Robinson up by the hair and goes for the Tokyo Pimp, but Robinson flips off of his shoulders and drives him back-first into the turnbuckle pad.  As Takahashi slumps in the corner, Robinson falls exhaustedly to his knees, their heads pressed together.  Robinson gets to his feet and whips Takahashi into the corner, hitting a running clothesline that dumps Takahashi to his rear.  Robinson goes corner to corner, building up speed to hit a cannonball, but Takahashi rolls out of the way.  Takahashi tries to kick Robinson in the face while he’s on his knees, but Robinson catches it, rises, and jabs him in the face.  Takahashi counters with a boot to the face before bouncing off the ropes and running right into a lariat.  Robinson lifts Takahashi up and throws him down with a f****ng bone-chilling powerbomb!  Son of a bitch!  Takahashi is left in a crumpled heap of limbs!  Robinson stacks up the scraps of Takahashi and covers, but the scraps slip away!  Robinson quickly gathers them up and hits Pulp Friction, ending the match and possibly Takahashi’s career with that powerbomb.

Winner: Juice Robinson, awaiting a death sentence in the second round against the winner of Shibata/Suzuki

(Andrews’ Analysis: So far, the second best match of the tournament.  That’s not saying much though.  That neckbreaker attempt really could have altered the quality of Robinson’s life forever.  Hell, same goes for that powerbomb. Whatever they were trying to prove, son of a bitch we get it!  I was initially looking forward to seeing how far Juice could go in the tournament until I saw the aftermath of the sorting hat’s binge.  The winner of this match is in a sh***y spot regardless of who came out victorious.  You never know I suppose.  Just ask Michael Elgin.)

SANADA vs. Yoshi-Hashi

Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present to you the dark horse of the tournament.  SANADA: a bat wielding, leather jacketed, full of promise, hell of a finisher, bad mother****r.  I’ve even come around on the coif of hair swooping to the sky.  As he walks to the ring, you can see a guy – a grown ass man holding a child in his arms no less – wearing a SANADA skull mask.  His Q-Rating is skyrocketing and I’m reveling in it.  Yoshi-Hashi comes out to a surprising amount of people clapping to his theme song – about three in total.  I’ve only seen one good Yoshi-Hashi match and have been waiting for another, so if anyone can help him it has to be SANADA.  Right?

And of all the refs for this match?  Red Shoes.  As Yoshi-Hashi disrobes, SANADA paces in the corner – his mind no doubt concocting the best use of Red Shoes’ service.  When the bell rings, Yoshi-Hashi immediately gets SANADA in a side headlock.  SANADA shoves him away, only to return the favor with his own headlock.  Yoshi-Hashi shoves SANADA into the ropes, who comes back with a shoulder tackle.  SANADA whips Yoshi-Hashi into the ropes, but the trade-offs continue with Yoshi-Hashi getting a shoulder tackle followed by a back elbow and a hurricanranna that sends SANADA outside to regroup.

Yoshi-Hashi thinks better of the break in action, so he takes off for the ropes.  SANADA slides in after him to hit a dropkick that forces Yoshi-Hashi outside.  Clever.  SANADA flings his body over the top rope, connecting to put Yoshi-Hashi on his back.  Red Shoes stays far away from the wreckage, opting instead to stay inside and wave his hand for them to bring the action his way.  SANADA ignores the request and whips Yoshi-Hashi into the guardrail.  He stays on the attack, hoisting Yoshi-Hashi onto his shoulders to drop him neck-first across it.  This prompts Red Shoes to count, with SANADA rolling in early.

Yoshi-Hashi beats the count, coming in to a back-elbow from SANADA.  SANADA locks in a rear headlock, with Yoshi-Hashi slowly making his way to his feet and elbowing out of the hold.  SANADA counters a forearm with a rake to the eyes.  Delightful!  SANADA shifts out of a tilt-a-whirl attempt, landing perfectly in position for the Dragon Sleeper.  Yoshi-Hashi manages to spin his body around and hoist SANADA up for a vertical Suplex, but SANADA bends his body backwards to land on his feet, with Yoshi-Hashi countering the escape with a neck breaker.  It was all terrific, and all SANADA.  Amazing.

Yoshi-Hashi chops SANADA at the ropes, runs to the other side of the ring and comes back with a flipping neck breaker that sends SANADA backtracking to the corner.  He connects with a running chop before lifting SANADA up in a suplex and hanging him on the top rope.  He hits a dropkick to the back of the head, covering but only getting a two.  SANADA escapes out of a scoop-slam, but gets chopped in the chest and whipped into the corner.  He does the Ric Flair flip over the top rope, landing on his feet before springboarding back in with a missile dropkick!  So impressive.

SANADA gets to his feet and punts Yoshi-Hashi in the chest.  They trade forearms in a Batsu flurry of forearms, which Yoshi-Hashi actually manages to win.  SANADA sneaks in a European Uppercut after the game is called, but Yoshi-Hashi slaps him in the face for the unsportsmanlike conduct.  Yoshi-Hashi hits the ropes as SANADA hunches over – a calculated feign of exhaustion as he pops Yoshi-Hashi onto his shoulders and into the air for a super stunner!  He covers.  1, 2, Yoshi-Hashi kicks out!  The kid’s got heart!  He’s also gotten himself into a dragon sleeper, with SANADA slamming their bodies to the mat and trapping him in the hold.  Yoshi-Hashi tries to fight out, his legs flailing for the ropes as SANADA continues to bend him backwards.  With his foot inches from the ropes, he kicks his leg out and just manages to drape it aboard for the break.

SANADA gets off the mat, strips off his shirt to an audible “oooh” from the crowd, and locks the Dragon Sleeper right back in while lifting Yoshi-Hashi to his feet.  Yoshi-Hashi spins his body free, with SANADA rolling away from whatever offense was coming his way.  He ducks Yoshi-Hashi’s clothesline and rolls him up, going an extra rotation to get him back into the dragon sleeper.  Yoshi-Hashi victory-rolls SANADA, but the pinfall attempt is for naught.  SANADA boots Yoshi-Hashi, but his momentum comes to a screeching halt by a lariat.

Yoshi-Hashi picks SANADA up for a powerbomb, but SANADA punches his way out of it.  He rushes Yoshi-Hashi, twirling onto his shoulders before ending up caught in a tombstone shoulder-breaker!  Yoshi-Hashi lifts SANADA off the mat and sticks him to the canvas with a powerbomb, flipping over his body for a near-fall.  Yoshi-Hashi slams SANADA to the mat and heads up top, swantoning onto a pair of knees awaiting his arrival.  SANADA tries to whip Yoshi-Hashi into the ropes, but Yoshi-Hashi trips him and applies a Butterfly Lock which puts SANADA fighting to scoot his legs to the ropes.  He kicks wildly as Red Shoes inches ever closer.  SANADA manages to reach the ropes, but Yoshi-Hashi forgoes the break and rolls SANADA away with the lock still intact.  With Yoshi-Hashi screaming as he tries to bend SANADA’s arms back, SANADA begins to fade before making a desperate swing at the ropes with his legs, narrowly missing Red Shoes as his foot touches the ropes.  As the crowd applauds SANADA’s effort, Red Shoes is on his knees shaking his head at him.

Yoshi-Hashi smacks SANADA with a sliding kick to the back of the head before slamming him to the mat near the corner.  He heads up top, this time successfully landing the swanton.  Red Shoes dives in for the count, but SANADA kicks out.  Yoshi-Hashi hits an enzuigiri and goes for Karma, but SANADA shifts his body in the windup to put himself in position for the Dragon Sleeper.  He begins dragging Yoshi-Hashi towards the corner, but Yoshi-Hashi armdrags SANADA off of him.  SANADA rolls to the corner, rising to the sight of Yoshi-Hashi barreling towards him.  He smacks him with a back-elbow before turning to the corner and hoping off with a springboard backflip into the Dragon Sleeper – once again dragging Yoshi-Hashi to the center and entombing him in the hold with his legs vised around his body!  Yoshi-Hashi is forced to submit seconds later.

Winner: SANADA, advancing to the second round to face the winner of Omega/Ishii

(Andrews’ Analysis: Ok, so I got a good Yoshi-Hashi match, but let’s be honest about it.  This was all SANADA.  I am continually mesmerized by the mind-blowing offense he can generate from damn near any position.  The man is a f****ng star.)

Katsuyori Shibata vs. Minoru Suzuki

Holy s-, its Shibata AND Suzuki.  It’s the finals in the first round!  I can’t believe this is about to happen.  The crowd claps along to Suzuki’s theme as he emerges with a black towel draped over his head, his arms leisurely dangling in a confident stride as Taichi follows behind him.  He gets on the apron and claps with the crowd, waving them on until he enters right as “Kaze Ni Nare” is sung loudly by all in attendance.  Once in the ring, Red Shoes makes sure to avert his eyes from his presence, trying to look as if something in the rafters has his attention.

And then it hits.  That glorious strum of notes welcoming us to what might very well be the best match this tournament has to offer.  Right as the strings are plucked on Shibata’s theme, the camera stays on Suzuki, who gives Taichi a look as if to say, “Can you believe this guy bothered to show up?”  Shibata enters the ring, toweling off beads of sweat with a two word tagline.  The Wrestler flings the towel behind him and takes center stage, his eyes zeroed in on Suzuki as Taichi stares at him with only inches separating their faces.  Shibata’s eyes never leave Suzuki’s as Taichi finally backs away to bump fists with the boss.

As the bell rings, the crowd roars with an overwhelming loud “Shibata” chant that’s broken up when Suzuki makes his first step towards him.  They paw at each other’s hands, both fidgeting for an advantage on a potential tie-up.  Suzuki steps back, a smug expression shifting to one of annoyance.  They circle around one another, both slowly making contact before Shibata shifts gears and disappears behind Suzuki’s back with a waistlock.  Suzuki is more than happy to give it to him, taking his opponent’s left arm and twisting it into a hammerlock.  Shibata powers Suzuki’s arm off of him and spins him into the ropes.  He pats Suzuki on the chest and slowly retreats, a speed that allows Suzuki to reach out and turn him into the ropes.  He too gives his opponent a pat on the chest, and he too suffers the consequences of a slow backpedal.  Shibata makes contact with a kick to the chin, backing Suzuki out of reach.

They exchange a rapid-fire five count of forearms in the middle of the ring before Suzuki uncorks an open palm combo that puts Shibata on the defensive.  Suzuki clutches the back of Shibata’s head, driving his knee straight into his gut to dump him to the mat.  They exchange sweeps aimed at dislodging the other’s head before Suzuki snapmares Shibata to the canvas and rifles a kick across his back.  Shibata pops right back to his feet, knees Suzuki in the gut, then snapmares him to the mat and sends a kick to Suzuki’s back that makes him scream as his body stiffens.  Shibata tries for, struggles to get, and then locks in a god damn figure four!  You bet your motherf****ng ass Shibata is bringing his A-game against Suzuki.  Suzuki scoots to his left in order to grab ahold of the rope and free himself.

While using the ropes to pull himself back up, Suzuki finds himself under fire by repeated boots to the body.  He gets to his feet, displaying a ghoulish smile while steading for the incoming forearm.  He fires one right back, starting a mini-Batsu that’s broken up by a Shibata uppercut and boot combo that sends him rolling to the other side of the ring.  Shibata unleashes two forearms that leave Suzuki intertwined between the top and middle ropes, his upper torso dangling outside.  Suzuki steps to the apron as Shibata reaches out to grab him.  He snatches Shibata’s long limb, twirling his body upside-down to apply an armbar as Red Shoes slides out to the apron and smacks him on the arm to release the hold.

Suzuki takes Shibata outside, whipping him back-first into the guardrail.  As Suzuki drives his forearm into Shibata’s chin, Red Shoes steps in and grabs him.  He follows the flow of Red Shoes’ push, bringing the ref far from view of Taichi stepping in to stomp on Shibata’s chest.  Suzuki returns, once again whipping Shibata into the guardrail before punting him in the ribs.  And once again Red Shoes takes him away as Taichi stomps and chokes Shibata.  Red Shoes finally catches on, ordering Taichi away as Suzuki grabs a water bottle and smacks it over Shibata’s head.  He kicks open the gate to level two and throws Shibata into a row of chairs.  Instead of counting, Red Shoes takes the long walk to retrieve Suzuki as Shibata writhes on the floor.  Suzuki isn’t done with him, tearing apart a section of the guardrail and ramming it against Shibata’s ribcage.  Finally satisfied with the advantage gained, Suzuki peels Shibata off the floor and drags him back into the ring.

Suzuki transitions a hammerlock into an armbar, with Shibata fighting to keep his right arm from being hyperextended.  Shibata manages to reach the ropes and escape, sitting up in the corner as another wave of forearms come crashing down on him.  He reverses an Irish Whip attempt, chasing Suzuki down with a boot to the face.  Shibata launches a salvo of forearms, so crisp in their delivery, that absolutely pelt Suzuki’s jaw.  Each one connects solidly, two of which make the announcer exhale “Ussh!  Ussh!” with each smack of flesh.  Suzuki pops to his feet and flips Shibata into the turnbuckle pad, firing off a succession of undefended forearms.  Shibata turns Suzuki into the pad, driving a deluge of forearms right back.  Suzuki roars in Shibata’s face before a forearm smacks him hard enough to drop him.  Shibata hits the floating dropkick, leaving Suzuki grimacing in the corner.

Shibata hauls in Suzuki for a snap suplex, floating over for a two count.  Suzuki starts showing signs of life, driving his forearm into Shibata’s face.  He tries for a snapmare, but is countered into an Octopus Hold.  Shibata stretches his leg over the back of Suzuki’s head to push down and add a little more pressure to the hold.  Suzuki fights for the ropes, his steps labored as he reaches out to scrape the rope and force the break.  Suzuki spins around and fires off a forearm before whipping Shibata into the turnbuckle pad and connecting with a boot to the face.  He snapmares Shibata and heads to the ropes…coming back with a PK!  He covers, but Shibata shoves him off at two.  Holy s-!  A figure four by Shibata?  A PK from Suzuki?  Incredible!

Suzuki swats Shibata’s with a forearm and reverses an Irish Whip into an Octopus Hold!  Incredible!!  Adding to the beauty being displayed in the ring, Red Shoes is lying on the mat like he’s posing for a nude photo, his eyes staring up at Shibata while his body shimmies with each step towards the ropes for the break.  Everyone is pulling out all the stops!  Suzuki forearms Shibata in the temple, rocking him ever so slightly.  He hits another, then smacks Shibata REALLY God damn hard in the chest!  Twice!  He headbutts him, which is answered by a forearm from Shibata.  They go nose to nose…

Batsu Game!  Forearm by Suzuki, forearm by Shibata, forearm by Suzuki, forearm by Shibata, Suzuki grabs the back of Shibata’s head a pats him on the shoulder before drilling him with a forearm, Shibata slowly circles around Suzuki before grabbing the back of his head and unleashing a forearm, forearm by Suzuki followed by a scream, forearm by Shibata, forearm by Suzuki, forearm by Shibata, forearm by Suzuki, forearm by Shibata that wobbles Suzuki to his right, Suzuki steadies himself by grabbing Shibata’s hair and forearms him, forearm by Shibata, forearm by Suzuki as the crowd joyously screams “Hey!”, forearm by Shibata, forearm by Suzuki, forearm by Shibata that makes Suzuki visibly grind his teeth, five more even exchanges before Shibata hits a double, forearm by Suzuki, forearm by Shibata that causes Suzuki to stumble back with a twisted smile on his face, forearm by Suzuki – a shot that whips Shibata’s head back so fast that it looked like the screen glitched, forearm by Shibata that has Suzuki stumbling back into the ropes, forearm by Suzuki that releases a gob of spit from Shibata’s mouth, forearm by Shibata, forearm by Suzuki, forearm by Shibata, forearm by Suzuki after kicking his leg out like a pitcher entering his wind-up, forearm by Shibata that stumbles Suzuki once again as the announcer gushes into the mic, they exchange another round before Suzuki feigns a forearm and smacks Shibata in the face, Shibata ducks a second slap and counters with a smack to Suzuki’s cheek, both men boot each other in the face, they separate briefly and charge – colliding with another double-boot that drops both men!  The crowd erupts as the marathon Batsu is called a draw!

The cameraman catches Suzuki on his knees, smiling as he watches Shibata in the background clinging to the top rope in order to get back up.  Suzuki beats Shibata to his feet and scores with a boot to the face, transitioning into a sleeper hold.  Shibata drops to one knee as Suzuki squeezes to cut off his air supply.  Shibata reaches for the ropes, but Suzuki drags him back to the middle of the ring as the crowd breaks into a “Shibata” chant.  Suzuki glares at the crowd as Shibata falls to the mat.  He pulls Shibata back up, spinning his body around for the Gotch-Piledriver.  Shibata blocks it, forcing Suzuki to let go and knee him in the gut.

Suzuki lunges towards Shibata with a forearm, his momentum used by Shibata to trip him to the mat.  Shibata scurries to his feet, picking Suzuki off the mat to hit a release German Suplex.  He sits Suzuki up and hits the ropes for the PK, but Suzuki lays back as the kicks flashes before his eyes.  He rolls to his feet and gets popped in the jaw by a forearm.  Shibata dashes behind Suzuki’s back and goes for a sleeper, but Suzuki reverses and sinks in his own sleeper.  Shibata reverses, hoisting Suzuki onto his shoulders for a Death Valley Driver!  Oh my God, this is war!  Shibata’s eyes grow wild as Suzuki begins to rise.  He takes a hop-step and slaps Suzuki back to the canvas.  Shibata hits the ropes…PK!!!!!  He covers as Red Shoes slides into view.  1, 2, 3!!!

Winner: Katsuyori Shibata, advancing to the second round to face Juice Robinson

(Andrews’ Analysis: Yep, this was the finals.  What a tremendous match!  These are the two guys I wanted to see the most, and the one branch of the bracket that I knew – I just knew – was going to deliver the match of the tournament.  Granted, I am a huge fan of both men, and the tournament is still young, but come on.  These guys delivered a must-see match that was everything I was hoping for and then some.  What…a…war.)

Tomohiro Ishii vs. Kenny Omega

Pay homage.

Kenny Omega is out first, and god damn it’s good to see him.  I can honestly say that the odds of me following him to WWE would have been slim.  He rides a cocky swagger to the ring, soaking in all the adulation that comes with being so damn good.  When he gets into the ring he extends a finger-gun towards the camera and fires, leaning in close to say, “I just might be the crowd favorite today.  We’ll see how it goes.”  And then the sirens sound.  Ishii is let loose on the arena, stomping towards the ring as a Batsu highlight reel plays high above his head.  He cares not for the arms reaching out to touch him, his eyes never losing focus on the ring as he rolls his neck with a twitch and snarl.

Omega steps close, hiking his hand above his eyes and peering over Ishii’s head.  That, Kenny, is not wise.  The camera zooms in on Omega’s sly grin before switching to Ishii’s death glare that can only be summed up with one word – redrum.  When the bell rings, Ishii steadies himself for the tie-up, quickly swatting Omega’s head down and into a side headlock.  Omega shoves him into the ropes and quickly plants his feet to the mat in order to take the charge.  Ishii hits him with a shoulder tackle at top speed, with Omega still standing and flicking away trickles of sweat from his chest.  He decides to take his turn at a shoulder tackle, one leaving him the victim of a flatback spill to the mat.

Omega orders Ishii to try another shoulder block, one that is accepted but ultimately leads to a boot to the face.  Omega shoves him before hitting the ropes, a flight path that crashes and burns as Ishii trucks him over.  Omega speed walks in a circle before slapping Ishii in the face.  A forearm responds in kind.  They engage in a Batsu, consisting mostly of Ishii never flinching while Omega flees the moment his bravado gets tested.  Ishii wins handily, driving home the point with three headbutts that send Omega bailing outside for safety.

As Ishii steps out to the apron, Omega glides towards him – his body riding the apron as he connects with a sliding kick that buckles Ishii’s left knee.  Omega uses Ishii’s position on the apron to get him on his shoulders for the One Winged Angel, but Ishii hops off and whips Omega into the guardrail.  Omega blocks it with his boot, spinning quickly around to superkick Ishii in the stomach.  He drives Ishii’s head into the guardrail before hopping onto it and hitting a moonsault.  Omega gets to one knee and throws up the Wolfpac sign to an older lady – a gesture that receives a wide grin and a wolf’s head thrown right back at him.

Omega tosses Ishii back in the ring – which I’m not sure why because Red Shoes damn sure wasn’t counting – and gets shoulder tackled into the guardrail as he hops onto the apron.  Ishii tries for a vertical suplex on the floor, but Omega escapes and clubs him on the back.  Oh hell, Fale is having an influence.  Omega rams Ishii’s back against the apron before scooping him up and lobbing him onto the corner of it.  Nasty stuff, but that’s what it takes to beat Ishii.  Now Red Shoes in on the count.  Both are back in with plenty of time to spare.

Omega stays on the attack, stomping Ishii before driving an elbow to the back of his head.  Ishii is unimpressed, chopping Omega in retaliation.  Omega rakes his eyes to slow him down, taking the time to shove Red Shoes.  Red Shoes is also unimpressed, noted by his reaction of pinching his ref’s shirt and shaking it at him.  Omega ignores the power play and chops the s- out of Ishii’s chest!  He hit him so hard that Ishii’s upper torso snapped back.  Omega slams him to the mat and hits a diving elbow before covering for two.  Ishii rises and forearms Omega until Omega grabs him by the head and slams it into the turnbuckle pad.  It nets the result you’d expect, with Ishii turning towards Omega and growling at him.

Another nasty chop by Omega.  Ishii headbutts him in the gut, but the comeback is a short one after another sharp hack of the chest puts him back down.  Watching Omega take off for the ropes, Ishii pops back up and counters with a powerslam – his body rotating inches off the mat.  His forearm/chop combo causes Omega to hunch over, allowing him to speed back and forth from the ropes with a shoulder tackle that not only pops Omega into the air, but ragdolls him to the point that his limbs flail at his sides as he spins.  Ishii tries for a backdrop suplex, but Omega flips over his shoulder and is forced to duck out of the way of a lariat.  He hits the ropes, coming back with a basement dropkick that clips Ishii to the mat.  By the time Ishii can begin to rise, the launch code to a leapfrog legdrop has already been sent and he’s sandwiched back to the canvas.

Omega tries to whip Ishii into the ropes, but he’s met by dead weight on the other end.  Two punches to the face loosens his grip, but he fights through the pain to haul Ishii onto his shoulders to hit a rolling slam before springboarding off the second rope for a moonsault.  A lazy cover nets Omega a two.

Omega sends out another loud chop to Ishii’s chest – a broad bullseye that has begun to turn pink from the constant dilation of blood vessels helping it heal.  But he’s dealing with a Jedi master in Batsu, one roaring right back in his face.  Ishii unloads a pent up chop waiting to pop off, causing Omega to hunch over.  He waits for Omega to stand up straight before hammering his chest with another chop.  Omega fires back, finally denting Ishii’s armor, albeit slightly as the game of tag continues with one that dents him back.  Ishii cocks back and chops Omega’s neck before heading for the ropes.  As he stampedes back, Omega leaps up and counters with a Frankensteiner, stuffing Ishii’s head to the mat.

Omega rolls to the apron and heads up top, his eyes widening at the sight of Ishii nimbly chasing up after him.  He clubs Ishii on the back and steps onto the top turnbuckle…as does Ishii.  Omega tries for a top rope powerbomb, undoubtedly facing a murder rap if not for Ishii blocking it and stepping back down to the safety of the second rope.  Omega lowers into a perched position on the top rope and tries to crack into the top of Ishii’s skull with a forearm.  He steps up to the top rope again for the powerbomb, but again Ishii blocks it.  Omega clubs him in the back, but gets caught by the crown of Ishii’s head driven straight up at him.  Ishii climbs up again…and hits a top rope Frankensteiner!!!  Jesus f****ng Christ!  He moves swiftly to lift Omega up for a powerbomb, extending his arm into Last Ride territory, planting him to the mat and folding him up for the pin!  1, 2, Omega is alive!

Ishii rushes towards the ropes, sprinting back with a lariat that Omega ducks.  Ishii spins around and waistlocks Omega, bending back for a German Suplex that Omega flips out of.  Omega rushes Ishii, who is already up and racing forward to connect with a lariat that sends Omega spinning on his back!  Ishii falls atop Omega as Red Shoes slides in for the count.  1, 2, Omega kicks out again!

Omega is sit up, left powerless as he watches Ishii sprint to the ropes.  That big body comes racing back, sliding into eye level with a clothesline.  Omega ducks out of the way and rolls to his feet, but a forearm bangs right into him.  He blocks a suplex attempt and tries to counter with one of his own, but a knee to the gut stops him cold.  Wrestling for leverage on a suplex, Omega gets kneecapped but manages to counter with a DDT that spikes Ishii’s head to the mat with his legs sticking straight up in the air!

Omega pries Ishii off the mat and into a suplex position, reaching down to grab Ishii’s left leg and cross it over his right.  He hoists Ishii up and drops him across his knee!  Ishii rolls outside as Omega lowers to one knee with the crowd’s thunderous T2 claps filling the arena.  Omega flips over the top rope and wipes out Ishii to the floor.  Red Shoes begins his count, with Omega in at eighteen and Ishii in at nineteen.  Omega rolls outside and heads up top, leaping off with a missile dropkick to Ishii’s back.  He covers, but Ishii kicks out at two.

Omega tries for a Tiger Suplex, then a German Suplex, but Ishii tries to fight out with a chop to the side of his shoulder.  Omega absorbs it all to hit a release German Suplex, leaving Ishii in a daze as he stumbles into a superkick that sends him backpedaling to the ropes.  Ishii shoots back with a lariat that Omega ducks under, spinning around to hit Ishii with a flying knee to the face.  Omega goes for the pin, but Ishii kicks out at one!  Omega hits a gut-wrench powerbomb, holding for the pin, and again Ishii kicks out!

Omega, huffing in exhausted gasps of air, points a finger-gun at Ishii for the kill shot.  He hits the ropes, as does Ishii who tries to counter with a lariat, but he ducks out of the way.  He tries for a tiger suplex, but as Ishii swings back to escape, Omega ducks and lifts Ishii up for the One Winged Angel.  Ishii punches his way out and goes for…a One Winged Angel!  Omega punches his way out, booting Ishii in the stomach as he drops down before hitting the ropes.  Ishii catches him, turning it into a German Suplex that leaves both men flat on the mat!

As both men struggle to their feet, they trade forearms before Omega sends a gob of spit at Ishii.  He lands three forearms, answered only by a loud scream.  Omega keeps firing, working Ishii to the mat with clubs to the back.  Omega charges up for a running knee, but his progress is halted by a headshot swab of spit fired from Ishii.  Ishii forearms Omega, headbutts him, and hits a running knee to Omega’s head!  Ishii hits the sliding clothesline and covers, but Omega manages to escape with his body draped over Red Shoes’ knees!  My God this is awesome!

Ishii builds up speed against the ropes, zeroing in on a lariat, but Omega kicks him in the gut.  Ishii rotates around, bringing a lariat with him, but again Omega boots him away.  Omega jumps up and lands a flying knee to Ishii’s jaw!  He removes his kneepad and heads to the ropes, sprinting back for a flying knee that is intercepted by a lariat!  Ishii covers, but Omega slips away!

Ishii grabs Omega off the mat and powers him up for a brainbuster, but Omega rotates away before spinning into an Ishii forearm.  Ishii scores with a succession of forearms before taking off for the ropes, his trail hunted down by Omega who connects with a flying knee!  Omega gets Ishii up for the One Winged Angel, but Ishii punches and rakes Omega’s eyes to get loose.  As Ishii drops, Omega catches him and hits a bridging German Suplex!  1, 2, Ishii kicks out!  This is incredible!  So many exclamation points!

Omega lifts Ishii to his feet and connects him with a forearm.  Ishii tries to counter with a lariat, but Omega teleports behind his back and hits a tiger suplex that sends Ishii tumbling to the ropes.  Omega mows him down with a running knee to the back of the head!  He gets Ishii onto his shoulders and goes for the One Winged Angel, but Ishii spins around and drops down with Omega’s head yoked up for a brainbuster.  He lifts Omega into the air, who knees out and drops to the mat before jumping onto Ishii’s shoulders to hit a reverse Frankensteiner!  1, 2, ISHII KICKS OUT!

Omega again attempts the One Winged Angel, with Ishii hoisted high atop his shoulders.  Ishii flips off his shoulders and hits a f****ng stunner!  “Stunner!  Stunner!” screams the announcer!  Ishii hits a leaping enzuigiri, sending Omega to the ropes.  Omega spins back and tries for a running knee that Ishii catches and drives his head into Omega’s jaw.  Ishii heads to the ropes and IMPLODES Omega’s insides with a lariat!  He covers.  1, 2, Omega kicks out!  He quickly picks up Omega and hoists him into the air, driving his skull to the mat with a brainbuster.  He covers again.  1, 2, 3!!!   Pay homage!!!

Winner: Tomohiro Ishii, advancing to the second round to face SANADA

(Andrews’ Analysis:  Well f- me.  Forget everything I wrote about Shibata-Suzuki being the match of the tournament.  This was an instant classic.  I am spent after watching it – drained from my adrenaline surging with every sequence of action presented for our approval.  Job well done, Sirs.  This is a true gem.  And the match wasn’t held up solely on the shoulders of Omega either.  Ishii put together an outstanding performance, besting even his wars with Makabe and Shibata.  He busted out some s- I’ve never seen him even attempt before.  He looked every bit the guy ready to break away from the tag team title scene and into the top tier of singles stars.  Because that’s what this guy is.  He is a star.  His look is unique, his combination of speed and power is unique, and his knack for the dramatic is up there with the best of them.  Pay homage.)

1 Comment on NJPW ROOKIE: Andrews reviews of New Japan Cup 2017 from NJPW World streaming service (pt. 1)

  1. “Speaking of which, did New Japan’s sorting hat get tweaked on white lines before seeding this f****ng thing?”

    I can sometimes offer perspective on the booking, but this year’s New Japan Cup entrants and bracket arrangements were just bizarre. Understanding that singles champions don’t compete, they still could’ve swapped out half the participants and it would only have been an improvement.

    “I don’t know how fresh Yano’s shtick is to longtime viewers, but I absolutely love it.”

    Honestly, it wears thin quickly, and it’s been the same exact set of gags for years now.

    “Most, if not all of you, have far more experience with New Japan, but is this the biggest upset in New Japan Cup history?”

    It’s not really an upset in context, as NJPW likes to push its foreign heel giants in the New Japan Cup. Fale’s been in the NJC the past four years, and went to the finals against Nakamura in 2014. Prior to that, Giant Bernard (also known as WWF’s Albert) was in five tournaments, went to the finals thrice, with losses against Tanahashi and Goto, but a win in his first NJC appearance against Yuji Nagata. So while I’d certainly say it’s bad booking to have Fale advance and made for bad matches in this year’s tournament, it’s unsurprising given the historical trend.

    “I’m a little bummed to see him cast aside so early, but that’s what I get for coming into New Japan so late in the game. I’m sure there were years upon years of him winning damn near every match and being a constant fixture deep into tournaments.”

    Actually, in the past few years Tanahashi has lost in the first round each time. Before that there was a spell when he did go deep on a few occasions (winning twice), but interspersed with a number of years where he just wasn’t in the tournament at all due to being champion.

    The constant fixture is really Goto, despite his absence this year as NEVER Openweight Champion. Six appearances in the finals, a record three wins, and the only back-to-back winner.

    “Ok, so I got a good Yoshi-Hashi match, but let’s be honest about it. This was all SANADA. I am continually mesmerized by the mind-blowing offense he can generate from damn near any position. The man is a f****ng star.”

    Hashi is mediocre, but he can be pulled up to a strong match by a good opponent. SANADA on the other hand just has great matches with everybody, but there’s a limit to how far he can go in NJPW as a freelancer. Bloke needs to sign a long term contract, as that’s probably the only thing keeping him from becoming a top guy given the relative lack of other potential stars.

Leave a Reply