Hi, and welcome to the New Japan Cup semi-finals review. I'd like to say that the reason this is a week late is intentional or due to reviews gridlock but frankly, it's mostly because I literally just watched the show an hour ago. Anyway, with the greatest champion in New Japan of the past 15 years taking on Kazuchika Okada and EVIL propping up his less exciting tag partner, let's find out how this went…
Suzuki-Gun (Minoru Suzuki, El Desperado, Taichi & Zack Sabre Jr) def. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kota Ibushi, Yuji Nagata & Gabriel Kidd // Pinfall (Desperado hit Pinche Loco on Kidd)
CHAO (SHO, Hirooki Goto & Tomohiro Ishii) def. Los Ingobernables de Jápon (Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi & BUSHI) // Pinfall (SHO hit Shock Arrow on BUSHI)
Also, this happened:
Imagine wasting the big first appearance of Master WATO on an empty arena.
New Japan Cup Semi-Final: EVIL vs SANADA
Going into this match, EVIL and SANADA are both one win apiece against each other in G1 Climax matches. EVIL is up there with Hirooki Goto in terms of severely underrated big bois, SANADA is up there with Taichi in terms of wrestlers I just don't get why people want to watch someone performing solid sequences with no emotion or energy. This match kind of went exactly how you'd think, SANADA started off gently and then EVIL went hard and punished him. for it.
This kind of bullying match would have felt more impactful at around 13-15 minutes but at 20, it just felt a little like they were dragging each of these four matches out to account for being only a quartet of them. Either way, it had some decent bits, it had some stuff that could have easily been cut for time. I am very happy for EVIL, he sometimes gets forgotten in the conversation about LIJ and also, after last year, I do not want to chance another SANADA vs Okada final. EVIL won with the EVIL Russian leg sweep. Decent stuff but easily skippable for time.
New Japan Cup Semi-Final: Kazuchika Okada vs Hiromu Takahashi
Not skippable for time however, is this bloody belter. At the moment, Okada hasn't been the consistent belter-production-machine he once was, putting on some great matches but also some that have felt like they've been forced into the Okada big match formula when they'd be better going for a more sprint-based approach. While this one went the distance, it managed to find a mid-point between Okada's epic structures and the fast-paced insanity of peak-Hiromu producing the best Okada match in years and I'd argue, the best New Japan of the year so far.
In a similar way to the Hiromu-Ishii match of the quarter-finals, it used the junior vs heavyweight structure well with Hiromu, having scouted Okada in a number of tag matches, having considered everything Okada might throw at him and trying to find a counter to all of it. This brought with it a fun piece of interweaving history as Okada continued his tournament run of utilising the Cobra Clutch finisher, a move that he added to his arsenal as a counter to IWGP double Champion, and Hiromu's stablemate, Tetsuya Naito's Destino satellite reverse DDT.
Okada, showing frequent dance partner Hiroshi Tanahashi's ability to well play the de-facto heel, constantly tried to use his superior size to keep Hiromu grounded but Hiromu kept finding every possible opening to fight back, laying into Okada with some brutal striking. This was a real calling card for Takahashi, making me hang on and believe every near fall and Okada, for his part, played his side well, adding to the drama by selling the story of underestimating and being surprised by the fight in the Jr Heavyweight Champion.
Ultimately Okada would get the win off making Hirou pass out in the clutch after 27 minutes. This was that rare thing, a match that actually needed to go over 25 minutes. It made sure that neither men looked weaker in defeat or in difficulty putting away their opponent, it constantly ratcheted up the tension and it put both men out of their comfort zones in satisfying ways. If this Okada can bring the fight to EVIL, we might have a final on our hands.
Winner: Kazuchika Okada
This was very much a one-match show but what a damn match. Even if he hasn't had the best dance partners with an injured YOSHI-HASHI and the least-exciting singles match member of LIJ in SANADA, EVIL is still very good fun. I hope we'll get the goods from Okada and EVIL but either way, I'm sure whatever happens will go over half an hour and I'll complain a lot about that.
All images courtesy of NJPW1972.com