New Japan Cup Report: Tanahashi vs. Sanada, Okada vs. Ishii

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The final is set for the New Japan Cup following Saturday’s semi-final matches in Nagaoka.

In the first semi-final, Kazuchika Okada defeated Tomohiro Ishii in 21:11 after hitting the Rainmaker.

This was probably the best match of the tournament and one of the best matches in 2019.

Okada came into his with a 2-1 record against Ishii in past G-1 meetings with Ishii winning the last match in 2016.

The match had the drama of any huge IWGP title match, and the audience bought into Ishii winning. The Rainmaker pose came around the ten-minute mark as Ishii attacked Okada mid-pose while the camera was zoomed out, which is always a cool visual. Ishii hit a huge superplex, identified as a brainbuster, from the top for an enormous near fall as Ishii had the audience for the rest of the way.

Okada landed a high angle German suplex, held onto the wrist but Ishii countered the Rainmaker with a judo throw and applied an armbar. The sequence was excellent, ending with Okada getting his foot onto the rope. Ishii used the back of his head to nail Okada in the face and set up for the brainbuster, which was countered with a spinning tombstone into the Rainmaker for the win.

This was my match of the tournament, phenomenal stuff from the two members of CHAOS.

In the main event of the show, Sanada submitted Hiroshi Tanahashi in 24:13 with the biggest win of his career taking place in his hometown.

Each tried to attack the other’s knee, which had been a physical story of Tanahashi’s throughout the tournament. You also had the subtext of Tanahashi honoring Tatsumi Fujinami throughout the tournament taking on the disciple of Keiji Muto allow their signature spots to be woven into the match.

Sanada’s first attempt at the Skull End was met with two Twist & Shouts while Sanada held onto Tanahashi’s head. Sanada applied the submission again and went down to the canvas, released it and hit a moonsault from the top onto Tanahashi’s back. He went for another moonsault and Tanahashi blocked with his injured knee.

Tanahashi applied his own Skull End, which Sanada escaped and then landed on his feet when Tanahashi attempted Fujinami’s Dragon suplex. Tanahashi went for the Japanese rolling leg clutch, another signature of Fujinami’s that Tanahashi used against Zack Sabre Jr., Sanada had it scouted and countered it into the Skull End and forced Tanahashi to submit.

If you understood the significance of the holds and had followed the entire tournament, this was masterful storytelling. It wasn’t at the level of match Okada and Ishii had but the drama was there. It was a star-making effort with Sanada in his hometown and sets up his next “biggest match ever” when he faces Okada in the same city for Sunday’s final.

Pretty surprised that SANADA was the one to make the run to the finals, given that I thought EVIL was getting more attention between the two, not to mention Ibushi thought to be a favorite.

It’s cool and all, but it’s pretty much a given that he won’t headline MSG.