Match 1 – Hiroshi Tanahashi v Ryusuke Taguchi
“It’s Ace vs Arse!” – Chris Charlton
Yes, it’s the Ace of NJPW taking on the master of the hip attack in this second round match. Taguchi tried to get the fist bumps from Tanahashi but he wasn’t having any of it, so we started with back and forth wristlocks and headlocks, then a series of dropdowns from Tanahashi to wear out Taguchi, who saw what was happening and hooked in an ankle lock, Tanahashi immediately pushed him off. Taguchi then got the upper hand, landing dropkick and a hip attack and going for Tanahashi’s neck and knee. Tanahashi came back after reversing an Irish whip and pulling Taguchi through the ropes, using an ankle lock then ramming Taguchi’s knee into the ring-post. This switch showed us we were getting a more aggressive and heel-like Tanahashi for this match, he was possibly frustrated by Taguchi’s offence or just focused on winning the tournament at any cost.
Tanahashi continued to work the knee with kicks, elbows and a leg lock which included twisting his fist into the knee. Taguchi managed to grab the ropes for the break but Tanahashi was back on him with more stomps to the knee, Tanahashi tried to mount a comeback with chops to Tanahashi and punches to his knee but Tana took him back down with a snapmare and hit his own hip attacks. Taguchi comes back with a hip attack, Tanahashi reversed the next attempt into an atomic drop but Taguchi came back with another to put Tanahashi down. He then hit more hip attacks and B-triggers before getting more serious with dropkicks and a dive to the outside taking Tanahashi down, then using an ankle lock under the ropes which was broken up by the referee. When Taguchi tried to step back in the ring, Tanahashi went back for his knee with dragon screws and kicks through the ropes. After an attempted cloverleaf by Tanahashi we got a series of reversals including multiple Twist and Shouts and three Amigos suplexes. Taguchi managed to hit Bumaye for a 2-count. Taguchi then hit a tiger suplex for another 2 before locking in the ankle lock for a long time, refusing to allow Tanahashi to get to the ropes but Tanahashi reversed it into small package, Taguchi kicked out but then pulled into an inside cradle for another 2. Tanahashi hit him with a big left hand and was answered with a dropkick, then Tanahashi came back with two slingblades for 2 before finally putting Taguchi away with a dragon suplex for the pin.
I liked this match, it was good seeing Tanahashi’s darker side in his quest to get back to the main event. Taguchi somehow managed to look like he was a serious competitor who could take Tanahashi out, even amongst all of the hip attacks! We also got a nice show of sportsmanship at the end with Taguchi and Tanahashi finally bumping fists, no hard feelings, right?
Winner by pinfall – Hiroshi Tanahashi
Match 2 – Zack Sabre Jr v Kota Ibushi
As expected, this was a highlight of the tournament, the favourite to win taking on last year’s winner, undefeated in New Japan Cup matches.
At the start,neither man were able to get upper hand. Eventually, ZSJ was able to start tarfetting Ibushi’s legs to keep him grounded, he started with kicks to the hamstring before progressing to a legbar, continuing into another leg submission after Ibushi reached the ropes. He then hit some quick kicks to the leg and locked in a heel hook, trasitioning into a leg and neck hold, twisting Ibushi’s neck. Ibushi escaped to the ropes and cme back with a snaprana and a hard mid-kick. He then went into a combination of strikes and kicks, then attempted a standing moonsault that ZSJ reverses into a knee-bar, Ibushi once again got to the ropes. ZSJ back on the knee with stomps but Ibushi caught the second one and hit him with a backflip kick to the head, but ZSJ was back, locking in and Indian leglock, twisting his neck and then slapping him in the mouth. Ibushi showed his anger at that and came back with hard forearms and kicks. ZSJ got in with a dropkick but missed the PK, allowing Ibushi to hit a powerslam and second rope moonsault, it wasn’t enough as ZSJ kicked out of the pin. ZSJ is back with kicks to the hamstring, then he attempted a low dropkick but Ibushi dodged and hit him ith a double foot stomp. We then got a series of reversals ending with ZSJ hitting a German suplex, kicks to Ibushi and a guillotine. He went for the Zack Driver but Ibushi reversed it, hitting a big clothesline. Ibushi then went for the Last Ride but this led to another series of quick reversals before Ibushi took ZSJ down with palmstrikes. ZSJ reversed a Kamigoye attempt into a triangle, Ibushi powered out, hitting ZSJ with a powerbomb for 2. Ibushi then took his kneepad down, ready to go in for the kill but ZSJ blocked the Kamigoye with a kick to the exposed knee, we then got another series of reversals until Ibushi hit a straitjacket suplex for 2. Ibushi went for the Kamigoye again but ZSJ locked in a knee-bar, then turned it into Orienteering with Napalm Death to force Ibushi to tap out! ZSJ wins!
Brilliant performance from both men and a shocking outcome. I fully expected Ibushi to make it to the final and probably the title match at MSG, I definitely wouldn’t expect him to tap out in the second round! ZSJ continues to impress, he can believably beat anyone on the NJPW roster with his submission-based style, so while it’s sad to see Ibushi go out of the tournament, we can expect more quality matches from ZSJ in the next week.
Winner by submission – Zack Sabre Jr