Match 1 – Toa Henare v Lance Archer
Henare started this match off with some relentless offence to Archer before being shutdown with a big boot. Archer then takes it to Henare, swinging him from the apron to the barrier on the outside and suplexing him on the floor. From here on, Archer dominated most of the match, Henare managed a couple of rallies and kicked out of both a big uranage suplex and a chokeslam, but Archer finally put him down with the Blackout.
This was a solid opener, Henare is growing as a performer and I would be happy to see him getting a push this year. Archer came out of this continuing to look strong but I’ll be surprised if he goes far in this year’s tournament.
Winner by pinfall – Lance Archer
Match 2 – Hikuleo v Mikey Nicholls
Jado accompanies Hikuleo and is a factor in the match from the start, attacking Nicholls with the kendo stick while the referee was distracted. Hikeleo then started his attack on the outside, ramming Nicholls’ back into the ring-post. The match continues back and forth with, Nicholls eventually gets the upper hand but misses with a moonsault and pays for it with a huge jumping leg-drop from Hikuleo. Nicholls kicks out and Hikuleo goes for the Headliner but it’s reversed. Jado manages to get another kendo stick shot in, but it’s not enough as Nicholls again reverses the Headliner and gets Hikuleo to the mat. Nicholls finishes the match with a Mikey Bomb for the pin.
I wasn’t hugely into this one, Hikuleo is still limited in the ring as he’s not been wrestling for long and is just coming back from injury. He’s likely got a bright future but I’m not convinced he should be in a tournament like the New Japan Cup yet. Nicholls looked great and carried a lot of the match, great to see him advance to the second round.
Winner by pinfall – Mikey Nicholls
Match 3 – Bad Luck Fale v NEVER Openweight Champion Will Ospreay
Jado is pulling double duty tonight accompanying Fale to the ring as well. I’m not sure where he’s going with it (if anywhere), but I’m liking Fale’s “Rogue General” gimmick!
Fale’s strategy is to keep Ospreay down on the mat, and he does it well using submissions and targeting Ospreay’s lower back for much of the match, at one point standing on it with his full weight. Ospreay makes a comeback, flipping out of an attempted Grenade, but then he goes for the Os-Cutter but Fale pulls in the ref who gets taken out instead. This allows Jado to get in the ring, but Ospreay fights both him and Fale off before grabbing the kendo stick and battering Fale with it! Ospreay hits the Robinson Special, calls for the Os-Cutter but gets taken down with a giant spear from Fale instead. Fale hits the Grenade, Ospreay kicks out, Fale then goes for a Crucifix Powerbomb but Ospreay reverses it into a pin for the win.
This was a good match with Fale doing some huge moves. Ospreay’s selling of the attacks to his lower back was great. I think there’s a high chance of him getting to the finals of his debut New Japan Cup. Jado continues to be a pain to everyone, plays his role as the “master heater” brilliantly, enjoy seeing him get his comeuppance now and again!
Winner by pinfall – Will Ospreay
Match 4 – Kazuchika Okada v Michael Elgin
This match was great, both men got in a lot of good offence with some brilliant sequences. Elgin was aggressive from the start, inflicting a huge amount of punishment on Okada with with huge chops, stiff clotheslines to the front and back and the targetting the neck and shoulder which sets up for the crossface later on. This isn’t enough to take out Okada though as he manages to get out of several crossface attempts and stands and takes Elgin’s best shots. He gets his own offence in and even manages to hit Elgin with a buckle-bomb and an Elgin-bomb Okada. Elgin reponds with his own version of the Rainmaker, maintaining wrist control and picking Okada up for the Burning Hammer which Okada reverses leading to a seuquence that ended with a pop-up powerbomb by Elgin which leads into the crossface again. Okada eventually reaches the ropes, but Elgin phits him with a buckle-bomb, he goes for a second but Okada reverses it. The match finishes when Elgin takes off his elbow pad to go for a big elbow but Okada catches him and turns it onto a tombstone followed by the Rainmaker for the pin.
This was Elgin’s best NJPW match in a while, and it felt like it go either way. Some of the credit for that has to go to Okada, who is still in a class of his own and always pulls out a great main event. Brilliant finish to the show, and Okada continues his quest to regain the gold.
Winner by pinfall – Kazuchika Okada