Match 1 – Ryusuke Taguchi v Hiroyoshi Tenzan
I enjoyed this opener, it wasn’t quite the serious Taguchi we saw fight for the Junior Heavyweight Championship last month, but he put in a good effort against the veteran Tenzan. The match started with Taguchi trying to get fist bumps from Tenzan. When Tenzan eventually relented, he was met by a kick instead. After this the men traded chops with Tenzan getting the upper hand and hitting Mongolian Chops to Taguchi, and then hitting his own hip attack! This was followed up with two falling headbutts and a Mongolian chops to Taguchi’s…“hip”. Taguchi wasn’t able to get much offense in against Tenzan, who dominated with hard strikes, headbutts and the Anaconda Vice. Taguchi did manage to wear Tenzan down a bit with a long ankle lock but Tenzan managed to push him off. The end came after Taguchi kicked out following a diving headbutt from the top, Tenzan went to lift him for a power move but Taguchi reversed it into a cradle for the pinfall victory.
Winner by pinfall – Ryusuke Taguchi
Match 2 – Hiroshi Tanahashi v Shota Umino
The young lion Shota has his work cut out for him against the Ace of NJPW, Hiroshi Tanahashi. The company must have high expectations for Shota to put him in this match at such an early stage of his career, his performance here must have reinforced that! Shota was straight out of the gate with a big chop, elbows and into a side headlock on Tanahashi. Tanahashi looked taken by surprise but quickly gained control with a side headlock takeover. He dominated with a backdrop, scoop slam and jumping elbow drop sequence but Shota kicked out. Shota continued to show fighting spirit throughout the match, hitting Tanahashi with some stiff strikes and an excellent dropkick. But Tanahashi was able to answer everything thrown at him until Shota managed to lock him into the cloverleaf submission, Tanahashi looked in real trouble here but managed to struggle to the ropes. After this, Shota was back in with a huge number of elbows to Tanahashi and a huge slap finally making Tanahashi collapse from the young lion’s assault. Shota then went for a fisherman suplex but Tanahashi reversed into the Twist and Shout, then an attempted cloverleaf that Shota reversed into a cradle pin for a 2.9 count! Tanahashi then hit an inverted dragon screw and locked in the cloverleaf for the submission victory.
This was brilliant, they had me believing the young lion would win this with the last near fall. Keep your eyes on Shota Umino, he’s going to be a star!
Winner by submission – Hiroshi Tanahashi
Match 3 – EVIL v Zack Sabre Jr
Zack Sabre Jr won last year’s New Japan Cup and is here to defend his title. This was an even match, EVIL’s learned from previous encounters with ZSJ and got the upper hand with power moves against his array of submissions. Best sequence was ZSJ going for the PK but EVIL pulled the ref in front to block it, then used the ref as an unwitting partner to hit the Magic Killer! It wasn’t enough to neutralise ZSJ who kicked out and then started a series of reversals, this ended in a suplex by EVIL, then a spinning clothesline, but ZSJ kicked out. EVIL goes for Everything is Evil but ZSJ reversed it into a victor roll, EVIL tried again but this time ended up in an octopus stretch, ZSJ brought EVIL’s leg in as well leaving him with no choice but to tap out.
Another great match in this rivalry, EVIL’s got the job done once, but was it a fluke? ZSJ goes on to the second round.
Winner by submission – Zack Sabre Jr
Match 4 -Tetsuya Naito v Kota Ibushi
This match was epic, I wouldn’t expect anything less from two of the top stars in the world right now.
It started off with a quick series of reversals ending with Naito hitting the mat looking Tranquilo. Naito then rolled out of the ring to slow the pace and motioned to Ibushi to calm down. Ibushi went after him but Naito slid back into the ring and kicked Ibushi when he tried to come at him. Naito controlled the match from here, hitting Ibushi with swinging double-legged dropkick over the top rope and then hitting him off barriers and the announce tables. Ibushi made a comeback with forearms and kicks to Naito and a standing moonsault but Naito kicked out. Naito starts targetting Ibushi’s neck with a neckbreaker on the apron from the second turnbuckle and another from the top rope in the ring. Ibsuhi jumped out of a German suplex attempt and hit a suplex of his own. This was followed up by aggressive duelling elbows, upped to palmstrikes and then ended by Naito with a big spinebuster. Naito went for a reverse rana from from the top turnbuckle but Ibushi took out his leg and went for a deadlift German suplex into the ring but Naito revered it into a brutal sit-out tombstone piledriver on the apron. Ibushi managed to rally for a comeback, reversing a Destino attempt into a package piledriver, but Naito kicked out. There were more near falls, Naito kicked out of a sit-out powerbomb and Ibushi wouldn’t stay down after Naito finally hit Destino. He went for a second but Ibushi escaped and hit Bomaye for another two-count. Ibushi then ended it with a brutal Ibushi-driller and finally the Kamigoye for the pin.
This. Was. Amazing. I can’t but think it should have been the final of the tournament. I can’t do it justice on paper. Go watch it!
Winner by pinfall – Kota Ibushi