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    Monday, July 6, 2020

    #CafePuro: New Japan Cup 2020 Preliminary Recap


    Well Smark Henry faithful, we've finally made it to the finals of the 2020 New Japan Cup. Fans have clamored for the return of NJPW and boy did they deliver!

    Most fans will expect hard-hittng Strong Style matches that New Japan is known for, but the coronavirus pandemic made our favorite wrestlers take creative liberties in an empty venue.

    As part of NJPW's post-COVID plans, the preliminary rounds were filmed in empty venues including a TV studio and in Korakuen Hall. Before we get to the Cup Final on July 11, I'd like to take this time to showcase some notable matches from the preliminary rounds.

    Round 1 Highlights

    1. Yuji Nagata vs. Minoru Suzuki

    The first round started off with a bang as longtime rivals Yuji Nagata and Minoru Suzuki showed the world that they can still go despite being in their early 50s. If you want a lecture in Strong Style puroresu, this is the match for you. You could feel every elbow to the face and slap to the chest. The match became so intense at one point that Nagata was bleeding from his mouth. Many fans, including myself, thought that this match would be an easy win for Suzuki but Blue Justice had other thoughts. My left bracket prediction was immediately busted with Nagata defeating Suzuki.

    Image from NJPWWorld.com

    Why you should watch this match: New Japan Uncles beating each other up.

    2. Taichi vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi

    Prior to the break, Dangerous Tekkers (Taichi and Zack Sabre Jr.) declared their intentions to face the Golden Aces (Kota Ibushi and Hiroshi Tanahashi) for the heavyweight tag team championships. Taichi's win over Tanahashi enabled the Dangerous Tekkers to get a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships. You get the usual Suzukigun tactics mixed with the usual quality of NJPW. 
    Why you should watch this match: The Holy Emperor scoring the upset win over the Once in a Century Talent.

    3. SHO vs. Shingo Takagi

    These two wrestlers have been annihilating each other since Shingo was in the juniors division. After months of buildup, we finally get a long-awaited singles rematch that can be considered the standout contest of the first round. The two faced off previously in the Best of The Super Juniors, but Shingo moved to the heavyweight division shortly after the tournament ended.

    SHO is trying to prove that juniors can keep up with the heavyweights. Shingo would win the NEVER Openweight title at Wrestle Kingdom earlier this year and declared that he wants to see the best out of everyone regardless of weight division. The two wrestlers beat the heck out of each other. SHO vs Shingo was like if Nagata and Suzuki were younger and more intense.
    Why you should watch this match: Strong Style at its finest.

    Round 2 Highlights

    1. Hiromu Takahashi vs. Toru Yano

    Hiromu was deathly afraid of having to face Yano. As a young lion, Yano defeated Hiromu in a match then proceeded to cut off bits of his hair. This moment in time caused trauma for the Time Bomb and IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion. The matchup itself was insane; if there was a second-round match to watch out for, this was it. We don't see this much hilarity in New Japan—most of the time, we get a comedy match like this in DDT. The two wrestlers took advantage of the empty venue and went all over Korakuen Hall. Words are not enough to describe the match.

    Image from NJPWWorld.com

    Why you should watch this match: Countout via elevator going down

    2. Yuji Nagata vs. Kazuchika Okada

    Kazuchika Okada was originally meant to face Jay White in the first round of the New Japan Cup. Due to travel restrictions, White could not make it to the country and Gedo took his place. After quickly disposing of Gedo, Okada had his sights set on defeating Yuji Nagata. This was the first time the two faced each other in singles competition in years.

    Okada came in as his usual cocky self and not taking the aging veteran Nagata seriously. That confidence disappeared quickly as Nagata showed the Rainmaker that he may be old, but he can still deliver punishment when needed. Blue Justice tried his best, but Okada was simply too strong to go down in the second round. He would make Nagata tap out, but the NJPW Uncle did not go down without a fight.
    Why you should watch this match: One last round of fighting spirit unleashed by Blue Justice.

    3. Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. Taiji Ishimori

    Prior to competing in New Japan, Kanemaru and Ishimori wrestled in Pro-Wrestling NOAH. Kanemaru always had Ishimori's number and the pre-Bone Soldier Ishimori never scored a win over him. That would all change in this matchup. Ishimori finally scored a victory over the whiskey-spitting Kanemaru and advance to face Okada.
    Why you should watch this match: Taiji Ishimori finally scoring a win over the thorn on his side.

    Round 3 Highlights

    1. Kazuchika Okada vs. Taiji Ishimori

    You might think that this matchup was interesting just because of the height difference between Okada and Ishimori. The match between the Rainmaker and the Bone Soldier had an added bonus of being a clash between two of Ultimo Dragon's top students. 

    Okada vs. Ishimori wasn't necessarily a showcase of who's the better student—this match was more about Ishimori trying to topple the much larger Okada in this David vs. Goliath matchup. The match started off slow, but would gather momentum as interference from the Bullet Club tried to stop Okada from advancing. Okada would win in the end with his new submission finisher. What makes Okada's track so unique now is the fact that he had not used the Rainmaker Lariat up to this point. That would all change in Round 4. 
    Why you should watch this match: The size difference between Okada and Ishimori will deceive viewers because they'll think that Okada would score an easy win. Taiji Ishimori still put up a fight against the top dog of New Japan.

    2. EVIL vs. YOSHI-HASHI

    EVIL was on a tear in the tournament and was using any means necessary to win and he did so by destroying YOSHI-HASHI's leg. Sadly, EVIL's actions would put YOSHI-HASHI on the shelf with an injured right knee
    Why you should watch this match: EVIL lives up to his wrestling name.

    3. Hiromu Takahashi vs. Tomohiro Ishii

    The Ticking Time Bomb continued to storm through the competition and showed how desperate he was to face Naito. Ishii is already famous as one of the hardest-hitting competitors in the tournament. Both competitors pulled out all the stops to advance to the next round. Hiromu's desperation was put to good use as he unleashed the Time Bomb 2 finishing move to advance to the semi-final.
    Why you should watch this match: Hard-hitting Ishii meets a Hiromu who's desperate to win and gives his all to defeat the Stone Pitbull. 

    Round 4 Highlights

    1. Kazuchika Okada vs. Hiromu Takahashi

    Okada once again becomes too confident with his opponent. Hiromu's desire to win surprises Okada and he had to bring back the Rainmaker to wear down Hiromu. One of the more surprising moments from this match was the fact that Hiromu even used the Rainmaker on Okada. Every time Okada delivered a high-impact move, Hiromu would respond by increasing the intensity level. The Time Bomb really wanted this win; sadly, Okada was just too good and defeated Hiromu. 

    (Do take note that despite losing the match, Hiromu never tapped out. He simply blacked out and the referee forced the match stoppage.)
    Why you should watch this match: Hiromu does everything he can in his power to advance to the final but the strength of Okada was just too much to contend with.

    2. EVIL vs. SANADA

    I wasn't expecting this match to be so brutal. The LIJ tag team partners have long been friendly with each other despite facing each other in different tournaments throughout the New Japan calendar. EVIL's desire to win at any cost would help him defeat SANADA. From taking out the referee to using a steel chair, EVIL used every possible means to take out the tournament favorite. SANADA tried everything he could to win, but an oddly-timed shiranui might have been the biggest factor behind SANADA's loss. EVIL took advantage of the situation and advanced to the final where he will face Kazuchika Okada.

    New Japan Cup Final Prediction

    I'll be the first to say that my bracket was busted after EVIL eliminated SANADA. Winning the tournament would have been a nice way for SANADA to begin his road to redemption and take on Naito at Dominion. My prediction for the Cup Final was Hiromu vs. SANADA to see if Hiromu could prove to everyone that he can hang with the heavyweights despite being a junior. I always go back to the time Hiromu declared his intention of wanting to be Heavyweight and Junior Heavyweight Champion at the same time. We'll have to wait a little bit longer to see if Hiromu will be able to achieve his dream. As for now, we look to July 11 and the New Japan Cup final between Kazuchika Okada and EVIL.

    Okada declares his intention to defeat EVIL and face Naito again (Image from NJPW YouTube Channel)

    I expect Okada to be his usual confident self. EVIL will be his...evil self. Okada has won the New Japan Cup before, so he already knows how to advance to the next step. However, EVIL is one of the few people in New Japan to have scored a singles victory over Okada—and doing that is quite rare these days. EVIL will be in his most desperate form to win. Remember when I said he would win by any means necessary? I believe EVIL will pull all the stops in the cup final as long as he can get away with it. 

    Okada doesn't need another New Japan Cup win under his belt. He has no reason to be in the heavyweight title picture for a while because he has done everything there is to do except win the lower-tier championships in New Japan. Unlike the desperate Hiromu Takahashi, I think EVIL's desperation to win is going to be difficult to control even for someone like Okada. 

    New Japan Cup Final Winner: EVIL   

    ***
    Steven Maxwell Tan is a data encoder by day and blogger/podcaster for The Geeky Juans, a geek culture blog that covers topics ranging from anime to video games to puroresu and more.
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    Item Reviewed: #CafePuro: New Japan Cup 2020 Preliminary Recap Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Steven Maxwell Tan
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