On July 1st and July 2nd, NJPW will crown the first-ever IWGP United States Heavyweight Champion and the brackets have been revealed today. A mixture of NJPW and American/Canadian talent will decide who wins the 2-Day tournament, history will be made in Long Beach, California. Some competitors were to be expected like Mike Elgin but the addition of Tomohiro Ishii and Zack Sabre Jr certainly will make for some fantastic matches and a very deserving IWGP US champion. With the G1 Special in USA only 3 weeks away, let’s take a look at the brackets…….
Kenny Omega vs Michael Elgin
A massive match to start the tournament as both feuded one year ago for the IWGP Intercontinental title. The previous clashes these two have had were incredible and this may be the best match of the whole tournament. Both are Canadians competing for the IWGP US title, but Elgin has stated this is his goal right now, to become the inaugural champion. Elgin just suffered a loss to Cody Rhodes at Dominion so his stock may not be as high at the moment, but this would be a landmark victory for the big man that fits in so well in NJPW. Elgin could be a main eventer in New Japan in a heartbeat and this could be a match that helps him get there.
Kenny Omega has had two of the biggest and best matches of his life this year against IWGP heavyweight champion Kazuchika Okada, this could be a consolation prize if he fails to defeat Okada. Omega losing to Elgin in the opening round would be similar to Omega losing to Ishii in the first round of the New Japan Cup earlier this year – it would not be good for Omega. This year has been a rollercoaster for Omega and he could really use this IWGP US title, and take it to America and Canada with him on tours.
Prediction: Kenny Omega in 20 minutes.
Jay Lethal vs “Hangman” Adam Page
A match between two ROH competitors, one from Bullet Club and one a former ROH World Champion. Both are deserving of this NJPW title shot but it is unlikely one of them walks away champion. Page has a huge upside, being younger and still yet to have a breakthrough title win. Hangman has impressed more and more lately and it will mean a lot to fans if he goes far or wins this match. The Right Of Passage is one of wrestling’s best finishing moves – if Lethal gets hit with it, it’s lights out.
Lethal calls himself The Greatest First Generation Wrestler but he can add to that moniker if he wins this tournament and championship. There is a lot to like about Lethal but it seems the NJPW audience has yet to really warm up to him – he’ll have a chance to win over a whole new crowd here. The offense of Lethal will have to be on point if he wants to beat his current rival, Page. These two have traded wins in ROH but Page has a major lack of singles experience in NJPW.
Prediction: Jay Lethal in 10 minutes.
Juice Robinson vs Zack Sabre Jr
Possibly the most interesting of the First-Round matches, it is very hard to predict who would win and who would have the edge. Juice has been pushed up the card and performs on a high-level, almost defeating Tetsuya Naito for the IWGP Intercontinental title earlier this year. Juice is a wrestler that could have a great match with anybody and could use a championship at some point in his career to see how he would do as champion, instead of always the pursuer. Juice will need to be ready for lots of mat wrestling against Sabre but the explosive offense of Juice may be all he needs.
Ever since joining Suzuki-Gun, we have seen a different Sabre. Maybe this is the Sabre that is only out for himself, and wants all the gold. Sabre is already PWG, EVOLVE and RevPro British Heavyweight champion so if he goes on to win it all, he becomes Zacky Four Belts. The submissions of Sabre could put anybody away and even though this is the first ever meeting between these two, Sabre will look to win by any means necessary. Sabre winning with or without Suzuki-Gun would show how far Sabre could go in New Japan, and he just arrived.
Prediction: Zack Sabre Jr in 15 Minutes.
Tetsuya Naito vs Tomohiro Ishii
This will be the most epic match of the IWGP US title tournament – both have been top stars in NJPW for many years now. Ishii has pinned Naito a few times for the NEVER Openweight title but this is a different story years later. Ishii is coming off amazing matches with Kenny Omega this year and he needs to stay a singles wrestler instead of tagging with Toru Yano. Ishii always seems to come up short in matches like this but there is no reason why Ishii doesn’t make it to the finals. The physical style of “The Stone Pitbull” will be on display, it could be just a Brainbuster away.
The leader of Los Ingobernables de Japon just lost the IWGP Intercontinental title to Hiroshi Tanahashi at Dominion, so it’s is up to Naito to bounce back and become a champion again. Naito is a heavy favorite to the G1 Tournament this year but he is also a front-runner to this tournament. Naito would relish in finally beating Ishii in front of an American audience for the first time. This will be a must-see match and a must-win for Tetsuya Naito.
Prediction: Tetsuya Naito in 25 Minutes.
So who wins the entire tournament and becomes the first WGP US champion? It would be great if the win went to Mike Elgin or possibly Zack Sabre Jr but that probably will not happen. The win needs to be historic, not that those 2 men or anybody in this tournament are not worthy. The Finals will be Kenny Omega vs Tetsuya Naito in a big prediction.
Omega vs Naito was Omega’s first 5 Star match in his career (from Dave Meltzer, Wrestling Observer) – the match they had last year in the G1 Climax was unbelievable. The ending of the tournament could be like the ending of G1 last year, with Omega raising the Bullet Club flag high. Omega winning this title and beating Naito in a classic match will do a lot to establish Omega, and the IWGP US title, in the United States.
Main Photo: NJPW