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    Tuesday, March 8, 2016

    Cafe Puro (3/8/16): The New Japan Cup and The Foreseeable Future

    If you are a New Japan fan, and if it's March, then you know it only means one thing: it is the New Japan Cup season! And for fans who may not be familiar and getting into the whole New Japan craze for the first time, here are some things you should know right now:

    What is the New Japan Cup?

    The New Japan Cup, or NJC for short, is New Japan's yearly 1st quarter tournament, much like the G1 Climax and Best of the Super Juniors Tournament. First initiated in 2005, the big difference is that it works under a single elimination format, meaning once you lose, you're out. No round robin point system, no second chances. When you're out, you're out!

    For the past few years, it's become the stage for major upsets from the unlikeliest of stars, which can mean big things are ahead of them in the coming calendar year. Just ask Toru Yano, who beat Hiroshi Tanahashi last year in one of the biggest upsets in wrestling history. 

    And here's the kicker: champions are not allowed to participate in the tournament since they have the chance of being challenged in the first place.

    To put this into perspective, think of it as the King of the Ring Tournament in WWE, but instead of winning a crown (and any sense of semblance in this day and age. Sorry, Barrett), you'll actually be rewarded with something more meaningful.

    What happens when you win the New Japan Cup?

    For the past number of years, winners of the Cup have gone on to challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at the company's next big event, and for this year, it's Invasion Attack 2016. As far as story devices go, this was the way to determine who gets next dibs on the company's top star and would easily set up future angles.

    However, that all changed two years ago when now-NXT bound Shinsuke Nakamura opted to go after the Intercontinental Championship instead of the Heavyweight counterpart, once again emphasizing the importance of the title within New Japan's professional structure.

    As if that is not enough, with the rise of the NEVER Openweight Championship for the past number of years, the winner of the New Japan Cup can decide to go for the said title since last year. From then on, the winner of the cup can opt to compete for the top three singles titles in the promotion (not counting the junior-exclusive IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship), once again relaying the importance of championship glory within the company.

    Who won the New Japan Cup?

    Past winners are very much the who's who in the world of Japanese wrestling, including Yuji Nagata, Giant Bernard (aka Matt Bloom, who you can see in WWE Breaking Ground on the WWE Network. It's a really good show), Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada, Kota Ibushi, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Hirooki Goto. As a matter of fact, Goto earned the reputation of being "Mr. Tournament" for his successful ventures in tournaments, especially in the NJC where he won it three times. Some were successful in winning the title they challenged, others, not so much.

    What can we expect in this year's installment?

    This year, expect the tournament to build upon filling the spots left by the recent talent mini-raid made by WWE. In other words, expect the company to take this year's tournament more seriously than in past years. And based on the final four this year, it's easy to tell where this can go. Let's look at the breakdown:

    Toru Yano has no chance in hell of winning the entire tournament, and that sucks because he is one of the most over men in the company. He is a source of many laughs and unexpected surprises, but knowing where he stands, don't expect an upset this year.

    Michael Elgin is the definition of a grand beneficiary. Not long ago, he was an afterthought in the ROH-NJPW relationship, mainly focused on Styles and Okada. And now, he's the most over ROH star in Japan, so much so that he is now officially part of the New Japan roster under a 2-year contract. Big Mike has everything to gain from this, and if he does win the whole thing this year, it is because of his organic connection with the crowd and his newfound aggressive style.

    But then again, he is a star that can put his bright moment on hold in the meantime. There are more deserving stars that need the win than him right now, and for the long term planning of the company, he can focus on other things while giving the winning spot to a proper winner.

    Hirooki Goto had his chance to shine, and a win against Okada could have validated his career. But alas, management's focus on putting Okada as a priority moving forward meant that his championship dreams would have to wait for another time.

    Goto is officially reaching the point where his career mirrors Manabu Nakanishi's: the man who will eventually get the title but only because of his loyalty to the company and is considered a "Jeff Hardy Thank You Run." And now that he is involved in a conflicting storyline where Okada continues to persuade Goto to join CHAOS, anything can happen to this guy at this point, but a win? Definitely not in the cards.

    Which brings us to the man with the highest chance of winning the entire thing: El Ingobernable himself, Tetsuya Naito. In a time where New Japan really needs to build new stars, Naito is a man that waited really patiently for his moment to come. The fact that he adjusted his persona and went along with the times, directly nullifying the fans' hatred of him and eliminating the "John Cena stigma," is a sign that he is a star willing to go far to make it in the industry.

    A tournament win for the Uncontrollable Man will mean he will get a rematch against Okada for the Heavyweight Championship, but this time, their match will be the main event and not relegated to the semi-final as the fans dictated. For how much of a franchise star Okada will be thanks to the company's renewed focus on him, Naito will be the avenger that will get his opportunity to avenge his darkest career moment.

    New Japan may be lacking in star power right now, but you have to remember that they were in worse times, as in the brink of financial ruin. So no doubt, they are in a better position financially as they are backed by Bushiroad. But at the same time, they need to focus on building new stars, more than ever. And the departures are both a revelation that it is time to build the future even more, and a reminder that there are stars hungry for the spotlight. So if there was any time to pull the trigger and give Naito the run with the gold, now is a very good time.

    The New Japan Cup is rich in history despite its relative infancy over its more historic counterpart, the G1 Climax. But the NJC has proven that it help establish a new breath of fresh air for both the careers of the wrestlers and the company as well. And with the current situation of New Japan, this is the best time to be reminded of how impactful tournaments can be for the talent and the promotion as a whole.

    Images from NJPW

    Lance Tan Ong has been a banking guy for the past few years but a wrestling guy for most of his life. And after checking out matches of Mitsuharu Misawa and Shinya Hashimoto at an early age, he's also pretty much a puro guy as well. Currently checking out WWE (mostly NXT), NJPW, DDT, and other promotions that catch and demand attention. He currently handles NJPW news and coverage for Smark Henry
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    Item Reviewed: Cafe Puro (3/8/16): The New Japan Cup and The Foreseeable Future Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Lance Tan Ong
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