Welcome back, cats and kittens, to the blog that should really consider changing its name to “Cewsh Explains”. And the reason for that is because once again we’re here to offer a primer to get fans both new and old jazzed up and ready for another spectacle from the hottest promotion on the planet Earth, New Japan Pro Wrestling.
If you’ve followed our coverage of New Japan over the past year, you have already been introduced to both the legendary G1 Climax Series, and to New Japan’s premiere event, Wrestle Kingdom. Those are the best known, most beloved, and longest running events on the New Japan calender, and if you saw either one then you may very well already be hooked on the sweet nectar of the lariat tree. But those are simply the two events that receive the most attention worldwide, and they’re spaced out by about 6 months, leading a lot of new fans to wonder just what the hell goes on in the time in between. The answer to that, at least during this time of year, is a fairly new concept called the New Japan Cup. And with the information you’re about to get from this article, you will be all set and ready to dominate in your office New Japan Cup bracket pool.
People do those right? That’s a thing? Well if it wasn’t before, it will be now.
Let’s gets started with a few questions that any new fan might have about the 2015 New Japan Cup.
The New Japan Cup got started back in 2005, when NJPW bookers wanted a way to grant instant credibility to title contenders during the down portion of the business year. In order to do so, they looked at WWE’s King of the Ring formula and decided to try to replicate it wholesale, with the winner of the tournament getting a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship.
The fact that they decided to do this right after the King of the Ring concept died out in WWE means that you can really view this match as a kind of spiritual successor to that one, with the main difference being that the New Japan Cup features a lot more top stars and the people who win it almost always lose in the title match that they earn. In fact the winners of the New Japan Cup are a ridiculously terrible 3-7 in the championship match that follows, though the last two winners did win their matches.
Originally, the main purpose of this tournament was to build credible new contenders for the title that couldn’t get attention during the much more prestigious G1 Climax tournament. They weren’t intended to be champions, but the New Japan Cup went a long way towards establishing them as viable threats down the road. The two best examples of that are Giant Bernard, (who made it to the semi finals 4 consecutive years and won once,) and Hirooki Goto, (who made it to the finals 4 times in a 5 years stretch and won twice.) Neither Goto or Bernard were ever going to really win the title, but the credibility they received from the tournament led to a number of top level title matches down the road.
Basically, you can look at the first 5 years of this tournament as a statement of which upper midcard guys management saw a lot in and wanted to put over, even if they weren’t ready for the big spotlight of the G1 Climax.
The G1 Climax, the premier tournament in all of wrestling, is a 10 day spectacle that brings in top wrestlers from around the world and the very top level stars of New Japan to compete for the right to challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in the main event of Wrestle Kingdom. It’s like if the Royal Rumble wasn’t a battle royal, but was instead a 10 day endurance grind in round robin format. That tournament often includes the active IWGP Heavyweight champion as part of the field, as well.
The New Japan Cup, on the other hand, never includes the active champion, is usually restricted only to talents that already work for New Japan, and is a single elimination tournament rather than round robin style, which is the more familiar format to American wrestling fans. The simple fact is that the New Japan Cup isn’t as prestigious as the G1 Climax, (nothing is,) but it’s considered by the wrestlers to be the first major opportunity to make a name for themselves in the new year.
And that brings us to the other significant difference between the New Japan Cup and the G1 Climax. The G1 Climax winner gets a shot at the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Wrestle Kingdom, but the winner of the New Japan Cup is free to challenge for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, the IWGP Intercontinental Championship OR, and this stipulation was just added this year, the NEVER Openweight Championship. So not only does this leave a lot of room for ambiguity in terms of what kind of match might come out of this event, but it also makes it so that literally anyone on the entire roster can win without forcing them into some bogus heavyweight title match that they don’t have a prayer of winning. Just last year, Shinsuke Nakamura chose to get a rematch for his Intercontinental title against his nemesis Hiroshi Tanahashi rather than challenge for the Heavyweight title, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if the same thing happened again.
You bet your sweet ass they do.
Coming off of the shocking success of Wrestle Kingdom worldwide, the recognizability of a lot of these guys is at an all time high. But even if you do know who The Rainmaker is, and just what a SWAGsuke might be, that doesn’t make it any easier to make heads or tails of just who exactly has a shot at winning this thing. But have no fear, dear reader. I’ll walk you one by one through the entrants this year, and let you know whether they’re fillers or killers, as well as anything you need to know about them going in. We’ll break them down by their first round matchups and i’ll give each guy a score between 1 and 10, with 1 being “he will win this when he skateboards to the ring on the back of an actual dragon” and 10 being “I just got back from spending the weekend in the professor’s time machine and check out this sports almanac.”
Hiroshi Tanahashi literally just lost the IWGP Heavyweight Championship like 5 minutes ago. It’s entirely possible that he’s still so woozy from the match that he doesn’t even know that he’s entered into this tournament. Meanwhile, Toru Yano is, at this moment, most likely drunkenly heckling tigers at the zoo just to get himself into the right mind frame for his wrestling style.
When it comes to odds of winning, neither of these two is especially far up the list. It’s very unlikely that Tanahashi will get a rematch so soon after losing the title, and it’s even less likely that he would win it since everyone and their mother is certain that he and Okada will have a date for the title at Wrestle Kingdom, and there’s no way that Tanahashi is carrying the title all the way from here to January. Yano, for his part, has the same chance of winning this tournament that you do of having a tenway with Kate Upton and all of her hottest friends. It could happen, but I wouldn’t go making hotel reservations just yet.
There are a few real favorites to win this tournament, and these are two of them. Bad Luck Fale is a lackluster talent that has nonetheless gotten over huge by being big and having cool sunglasses. It would be easy to see them slot Fale into the spot that Giant Bernard has enjoyed in the past, though I would assume that he wouldn’t go after the Heavyweight title since his stable mate, AJ Styles, currently holds it.
The real intrigue here surrounds Okada, who, since his devastating loss to Tanahashi at Wrestle Kingdom, has been deeply embroiled in a storyline where he keeps losing and failing again and again and can’t seem to get back on track. Eventually this will turn into a new form of the Rainmaker gimmick and will launch Okada back to the top, but the trouble is that it’s impossible to guess just when that transformation will take place. If it happens here, then Okada is winning this and there is no competition. But if this storyline continues on further, it would not surprise me in the slightest if Fale beats him here in the first round to further add to his anguish and sympathy. So how do I give a number to a guy who is either the definite winner or the definite loser? It aint easy, man. But let’s give it a try based on how likely I think it is that this is where the Rainmaker grows up.
Neither one of these guys is winning. Both are actively in a tag team feud with each other that looks to dominate the next few months, and neither of them are Kota Ibushi, who is the only exception to that rule. Either one of these guys might make a run deep into the tournament, and Karl Anderson has an ouuuuuuuutside shot if they really want to put all of the titles on Bullet Club. But I feel pretty confident about this one.
Kojima isn’t winning this, so we can just go ahead and lay that to bed right now. He is just here to be a beloved, fan favorite legend who is credible enough to give a good win to a real contender. The question is whether or not that contender might be Shibata. For the longest time people have wondered whether Shibata might take that next step forward into becoming a top card talent, like he was always envisioned to be when he originally entered the company. The problem with that now is the same as it has always been, can you count on him? The idea of trusting Shibata with anything important has been scoffed at ever since we walked away from wrestling to go into MMA out of nowhere, leaving NJPW in a lurch, and inspiring huge amounts of badwill with guys like Tanahashi. But he has been back in New Japan for a few years, seems serious about sticking around, and is as popular as he has ever been after winning the tag titles with Goto at Wrestle Kingdom.
Shibata and Goto lost those titles just a few weeks ago, and now nothing stands in the way of a Shibata singles run but himself. I feel safe saying that just about everyone who watches New Japan would be hyped for a Shibata/Styles title match. Whether they pull the trigger or not remains to be seen.
Both beloved by fans, both very important midcard talents, and neither one has a ghost of a chance of winning this thing.
There is an actual chance that Nagata will win this as a last gasp kind of thing, leading to a match against Styles, (Mr. New Japan vs. the Anti New Japan,) or Nakamura, but that’s more fantasy booking than it is actually likely based on recent shows. Goto always does well in these, mostly because the bookers feel bad for how sparingly he gets used the rest of the year. But he aint winning this time around.
What the majority of New Japan Cup winners have had in common is that they were just on the cusp of being credible main eventers and they just needed that nudge over the top in order to get them into major title contention. That is Kota Ibushi, and it feels like everyone writing about Japanese wrestling is on the same page about him being by far the favorite to win this tournament. He has never been hotter coming off of his Intercontinental Championship match with Nakamura at Wrestle Kingdom, both he and fans are dying to see him get another shot at beating Nakamura, and a tournament win like this does wonders for a smaller guy who needs to establish as much credibility as he can as he moves up the card into the land of the giants.
In fact, the stars are SO aligned in Ibushi’s favor, that the only real reason to think he won’t win is that New Japan might want to avoid giving us something that is so ridiculously obvious. Ibushi/Styles, and Ibushi/Makabe would both make for very intriguing match ups, but at the end of the day, there is one match and one match only that fans are begging for, and which could very well have the power to main event Invasion Attack, (NJPW’s 3rd or 4th biggest show of the year, depending on who you ask,) and that match is Nakamura/Ibushi III. Here’s hoping they don’t overthink it and just give us what our bodies need to survive.
The New Japan Cup starts up on March 5th and Concludes on March 15th, and you can only really see it if you have a subscription to New Japan World, (which you should already because it is mind blowingly spectacular.) All the cool kids will be posting spoilers IMMEDIATELY following each show, so you would do well to watch them live if you don’t value sleep and/or your health and personal relationships.
Well that wraps things up nicely for this preview of the 2015 New Japan Cup. Hopefully I answered most of your burning questions, and helped you win those office pools along the way. If you have any other questions about the show, about New Japan, or about Japanese wrestling in general, be sure to ask through the comments here, through our Twitter and Facebook accounts, or simply by shouting really loud in the general vicinity of my house. I will mail you the answer along with your restraining order.
In the meantime, for those of you not actively trying to track me down as we speak, remember to keep reading and be good to one another!