The 2019 New Japan Cup is the biggest one ever with 32 wrestlers competing to earn a shot at Jay White and IWGP Heavyweight Title at ROH-NJPW G1 Supercard at Madison Square Garden.
Welcome to Fightful's Guide to the 2019 New Japan Cup
With 32 competitors and only one winner, there's going to be a lot of filler. Like, a lot of filler. We're talking Young Lion filler. Allow me to separate the contenders from the pretenders by grouping everyone into tidy categories.
Kazuchika Okada, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi, Tetsuya Naito
One of these four men will win. And one (Ibushi or Naito) will be eliminated in the first round. NJPW isn't going into the Garden with some weak main event to appeal to the American crowd. Those days are done. They are bringing one of their top guys to the main event to challenge Jay White and these are the four top guys.
The heavy favorite is Okada. Kenny Omega recently stated that he was scheduled to beat Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom 13 and then defend the title against Okada at G1 Supercard. Instead, he left for AEW and most believe White is Omega's placeholder. We know Gedo books light years in advance, so if Okada was the original plan, he may not deviate from that. Plus, Okada vs. White is a worthy main event with plenty of history.
Ibushi is the wild card. Now that he's signed to NJPW and not freelancing, there is more incentive to get behind him. Ibushi is beloved everywhere he goes and a match with White would feel fresh. Hell, Ibushi just being in this position feels fresh. If it's not Okada, Ibushi is would be my top pick.
Tanahashi and Naito are mainly here out of respect to their names. But we just saw Tanahashi vs. White and Tanahashi running the field to earn "one more moment that isn't his actual final moment" is to cliche. But the fans love Tanahashi and he can never be dismissed. He also has a first round bye. Naito is arguably their most popular Japanese star in America. He's crazy over on every US show and the thought of him closing out the Garden event by finally recapturing the IWGP Heavyweight Title might be too good of a moment to pass up. However, that moment would be bigger in Japan.
The Live Underdogs
Hirooki Goto, Zack Sabre Jr., Will Ospreay, SANADA
Goto is a three-time winner and was part of the closing group at the 47th Anniversary Show. It's not much, but it counts for something. Goto will meet SANADA in the first round, so one will be out early. SANADA has all the makings of a top guy and is right there but the trigger has not been pulled and probably won't be pulled for another year. Everyone loves Ishii
ZSJ and Ospreay have enjoyed great success in NJPW with ZSJ winning the tournament last year and Ospreay holding the NEVER Openweight Title. But Ospreay just wrestled, and lost to White, while ZSJ vs. White doesn't scream "headlining match" for a NJPW show at Madison Square Garden. Unless The Elite is booking again.
Let's Have Fun
Colt Cabana, Minoru Suzuki, Juice Robinson, Toru Yano
None of these four are winning. But they would all be fun for various reasons. All four will be part of G1 Supercard in some capacity and all four will receive good reactions. The hardcore crowd always loves Cabana, the US crowd always loves Yano's antics, Juice is a cult figure across the world and Suzuki is Suzuki.
Cabana and Yano have no shot unless Gedo hates CM Punk that much or those Yano DVDs aren't selling well. Suzuki and Juice don't have a real shot, but them winning wouldn't be "Big Show turns again" baffling.
The Veterans You Should Just Enjoy
Tomohiro Ishii, Yuji Nagata, Manabu Nakanishi, Tomoaki Honma, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Togi Makabe, Ryusuke Taguchi, Satoshi Kojima
With the exception of Ishii and Nagata, these guys are only here because it's a 32-man field. Everyone loves Ishii and Nagata, their first round match is going to be awesome, but Ishii isn't a bridesmaid, he's the flower girl. And Nagata either wins the whole thing or loses in the first round. Just enjoy seeing these guys in what could be their final New Japan Cup.
Toa Henare, Hikuleo, Shota Umino, Chase Owens, Mikey Nicholls
Will Ospreay and Colt Cabana are also New Japan Cup virgins, but they are above these five. They'll get some experience, maybe win a round, and hopefully one of them will stand out. Keep an eye on Henare.
Big Strong Bois
Michael Elgin, Bad Luck Fale, Lance Archer, EVIL, Davey Boy Smith Jr.
Fale is always interesting because NJPW goes to good lengths to protect him. But he's got Ospreay in the first round. And that sucks for him. Elgin has Okada and EVIL faces ZSJ. Just not a good draw for those three. Archer and Davey Boy are here for a good time, not a long time.
I have no interest in these two. Get them all the way out.
Best First Round Matchup
It's Ibushi vs. Naito. Everyone knows it's Ibushi vs. Naito. So let's skip that and look at some other potentially great matches. Ishii vs. Nagata is going to rule. They've been beating the hell out of each other all year and now they get to do it in a singles match. If you like stiff strikes, you'll love Nagata vs. Ishii.
As mentioned above, don't sleep on Okada vs. Elgin. They had a banger in the 2018 G1 Climax and Elgin probably wants to make up for the time he lost due to injury. Okada will have an easy second round opponent, so he can expend extra energy in the first.
ZSJ vs. EVIL is a match I'm keeping an eye on because I love ZSJ. And Goto vs. SANADA also had a great match in G1.
Look at the road Kota Ibushi or Tetsuya Naito have to go through. The winner of that match will face EVIL or Zack Sabre in the second round, likely Tanahashi in the third round, and this Goto, SANADA or Suzuki in the semifinals before likely Okada in the Finals. When Gedo wants to get a guy over, he gets him over strong. And Ibushi's road would put him over strong.
I like Ibushi vs. SANADA as one semi-final bout, Okada vs. Ishii in the other, and Ibushi besting Okada in the Finals.
Fightful will provide full results from each night of the New Japan Cup. The tournament begins on Mar. 8 and all events are scheduled to stream on New Japan World.