New Japan Cup Report: First round matches, new Bullet Club member

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The New Japan Cup kicked off on Friday with a show from Korakuen Hall featuring four opening round matches in the 32-man field.

The New Japan Cup will run through March 24th with the winner challenging Jay White for the IWGP heavyweight title on Saturday, April 6th, at the G1 Supercard at Madison Square Garden.

During the show, a promo ran announcing that El Phantasmo is coming to New Japan as a member of the Bullet Club.

In the first match, Yoshi-Hashi defeated Manabu Nakanishi in 12:26. The match was set up to give Nakanishi the advantage and push the idea that he could pull off the win over the much-younger Yoshi-Hashi. Nakanishi worked hard as this was one of rare singles matches that he goes all out for. He hit a superplex and attempted his best version of a pescado in 2019, though landed feet first on the apron before dropping to the floor. After Yoshi-Hashi grabbed the referee to escape the Argentine backbreaker, he applied the Butterfly Lock and Nakanishi submitted.

I was impressed with Nakanishi’s output and he worked hard.

Next up, featured Taichi defeating Tomoaki Honma in 17:55 with a Dragon sleeper style of submission. This was Honma’s most significant singles match he’s had since returning from a serious neck injury in 2017. The idea was Taichi was able to withstand everything Honma threw at him with a variety of kokeshi head butts, including one from the second turnbuckle. Taichi kicked out of a Honma Driver and then they traded near falls until the submission finish. It was similar to the first match, where it felt like the loser got over more than the younger star that they were pushing with Honma taking most of the match.

In the first upset of the tournament, Chase Owens defeated Juice Robinson in 24:38. I felt the match went too long and you could have cut out a lot in the middle. They relied heavily on the use of the guardrail with both being run into it, including a snap suplex delivery by Owens. Robinson continually avoided the package piledriver, including on the exposed floor with a back body drop counter. Owens drove Robinson face-first into the guardrail at one point. In the ring, Owens blocked Pulp Friction and landed a knee strike and the Jewel Heist for a two-count before the match-ending package piledriver.

The announcers sold this as a big upset and getting the package piledriver over as a dangerous finisher by Owens.

In the main event of the card, Tomohiro Ishii defeated Yuji Nagata in 21:35 after hitting a brainbuster. This match was originally scheduled for New Japan’s U.S. tour earlier this year and both were affected by the visa problems. This match was off the charts, to no one’s surprise with a hard-hitting affair and phenomenal selling by Ishii. Nagata delivered his blistering kicks that Ishii shook off and kept standing. Nagata attacked the right arm, which Ishii was wearing an elbow pad on. Nagata used Ishii’s brainbuster for a two-count during one sequence. Nagata drilled him with a forearm shot and Ishii dropped. After a moment when Ishii lost his balance after an offensive flurry, he hit the Sliding D and brainbuster to win.

An excellent main event and I would put it on par with the Jay White vs. Will Ospreay match from Wednesday.

All four tournament matches received lots of time and if that’s an indication of the match-quality, this is going to be a tough month for these guys, although only a few will have to do multiple big matches on the tour.

The New Japan Cup continues Saturday in Aichi with the following first round matches:
*Mikey Nicholls vs. Hikuleo
*Kazuchika Okada vs. Michael Elgin
*Will Ospreay vs. Bad Luck Fale
*Toa Henare vs. Lance Archer