Only eight men remain in the largest New Japan Cup ever. Who looks poised to challenge Jay White at Madison Square Garden?
Welcome to Fightful's New Japan Cup Update.
The second round saw a fairly big upset while pre-tournament favorite Kazuchika Okada remains on the best path to victory. If you missed anything in the second round, here's a look at which matches you should check out and which ones you should immediately delete from your DVR.
Will Ospreay vs. Lance Archer: Will Ospreay might be the best wrestler in the world right now. It's nearly impossible to have a bad match with him because he bumps his ass off, has moves that will pop the crowd, and tells a story. Lance Archer is a fine wrestler but Ospreay made him look like a million bucks. Of all the second round matches, this is the one to seek out.
Tomohiro Ishii vs. Taichi: I'll never like Taichi but I'll give him credit for hanging with Ishii in this bout. Ishii has a history of delivering in big spots so him stepping up and turning in a banger wasn't unexpected. But Taichi has a history of doing nothing in big matches -- the New Beginning in Sapporo match with Naito was terrible and no one can tell me otherwise -- so to see him step up against Ishii was a welcome sight. It was also a welcome sight to see Taichi lose. Could you imagine a Taichi vs. YOSHI HASHI bout? Gedo would be reaching Vince levels of crazy.
Zack Sabre Jr vs. Kota Ibushi: Maybe my expectations were too high. I, like many, figured this would be a no doubt classic. Instead, it was simply a great match with a surprise outcome. It wasn't bad, far from it. It was my second favorite match of the second round behind Ospreay vs. Archer. I was just expecting more. The result is all anyone will talk about as very few, myself included, thought Zack Sabre was going to tap out Kota Ibushi. My bracket is screwed, which is good practice for the upcoming NCAA Tournament. I love Zack Sabre Time, I just didn't think he would get past Ibushi. The tournament seemed set up to have Ibushi make a big run to the finals. Instead, Zack Sabre cements himself as Mr. New Japan Cup.
SANADA vs. Minoru Suzuki: Every match with Minoru Suzuki is great. He's the best. Please don't kill me, Mr. Suzuki. SANADA stepped up once again but I just can't buy into the Skull End no matter how hard I try. That thing looks looser than Cena's STFU. How come Suzuki didn't just slip his head? Is Ronda Rousey telling the truth? Overall, a good bout, which you would come to expect from these two.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Ryusuke Taguchi: These next two matches fall into the same formula. Both men worked hard, they told the usual story they tell with Tanahashi but Taguchi was never going to win. They tried, but I wasn't buying anything they were selling.
Kazuchika Okada vs. Mikey Nicholls: Everything about Tanahashi vs. Taguchi applies to Okada vs. Nicholls. Except the work wasn't as good. It's tough to have a bad match with Okada and while the match wasn't bad, it also wasn't what we've come to expect from Okada. Maybe there's a reason Nicholls' biggest successes have been as a tag team wrestler.
YOSHI HASHI vs. Chase Owens: Thank you, next.
Colt Cabana vs. Toru Yano: This wasn't as bad as YOSHI vs. Owens because you knew what to expect. They did their comedy and then they went home. But we're on a pass/fail scale and as a wrestling match, this didn't have much to offer. As a comedy sketch, it was better than anything you see live from New York on Saturday Night.
Elite Eight Preview
YOSHI-HASHI vs. Tomohiro Ishii
Will Ospreay vs. Kazuchika Okada
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Zack Sabre Jr.
Colt Cabana vs. SANADA
Two standout matches with Ospreay vs. Okada and Tanahashi vs. Sabre Jr. With Kota Ibushi eliminated, the original plan of Okada winning the tournament and challenging for the IWGP Heavyweight Title looks very likely. Tanahashi would be the other option and maybe, MAYBE, they go with a triple threat match to really screw over Jay White and put their two biggest stars in the main event. But ROH is already doing a World Title Triple Threat and NJPW doing one as well, likely under similar circumstances (a draw to draw up two men with rightful claims to a title shot/the title), would come across weak and forced.
Based on the first two rounds, a Zack Sabre Jr. victory over Tanahashi seems likely, though nothing ever seems likely with Tanahashi. They've told the story of "broken down Ace" for years now and even young lion Shota Umino got in a lot of offense against Tanahashi. This match seems prime for Zack Sabre to twist up Tanahashi like a pretzel, much like he did in the Finals of last year's New Japan Cup, before securing the tap.
Ospreay vs. Okada is going to be awesome. As I said earlier, Ospreay might be the best wrestler in the world right now. But Okada is certainly a guy who can also lay claim to that title. The winner doesn't seem in doubt but I'll buy into Ospreay a lot more than I bought into Nicholls or Taguchi.
We'll see if YOSHI can step up against Ishii the same way Taichi did. Cabana vs. SANADA will probably be sneaky good as SANADA will bring it and Cabana, once he's done with his comedy spots, can work a good bout.
Fightful will have full results from each night of the New Japan Cup following the conclusion of each event.