The 2019 New Japan Cup will be the fifteenth tournament from New Japan Pro Wrestling and the stakes couldn’t be higher in 2019. Hiroshi Tanahashi enters this year’s New Japan Cup tournament once again after winning the first-ever tournament in 2005. Previous winners also include Kota Ibushi (2015), Katsuyori Shibata (2017) and Tetsuya Naito (2016). The tournament is usually an annual opportunity for a rising star to receive a different title shot like IWGP Intercontinental championship but this year the winner of the tournament is guaranteed an IWGP Heavyweight Championship match at the G1 Supercard event, held in conjunction with Ring Of Honor Wrestling (ROH) at Madison Square Garden on April 6. The field is set to sixteen matches in the first round, the tournament traditionally only holds eight matches in the opening round so this is going to be a tournament that almost anybody could win as the largest in history. Strong contenders are Kota Ibushi, Hirooki Goto and Tomohiro Ishii.
Tomohiro Ishii vs Yuji Nagata
“The Stone Pitbull” and “Blue Justice” have ignited a rivalry the past couple months that has formed from recent tag team bouts and past singles matches. Both have some of the most devastating Suplexes in the game with Nagata using signature Exploders and Ishii with the Brainbuster. This is a match where age doesn’t play a factor, these two can bring the fight and bring it tooth-and-nail as much as athletes half their age. Ishii has a bit more in the tank and Ishii is a serious contender to Lariat his way through the entire tournament.
Prediction: Tomohiro Ishii wins.
Tomoaki Honma vs Taichi
This match could really go either way, Tomoaki Honma is desperately trying to reclaim his past glory and popularity while Taichi is in need of a big victory to be considered for his very first G1 Climax tournament this Summer. Honma was spiked from a second rope DDT by Jado two years ago and Honma’s career was almost over, now it’s up to Honma and Honma alone to recoup the time lost and Kokeshi everyone in sight. The Lethal kicks of Taichi come so unexpected and that’s the difference maker, the well-rounded nature of the Suzuki–Gun member should put him into the second round.
Prediction: Taichi wins.
Manabu Nakanishi vs YOSHI-HASHI
Nakanishi comes into this tournament as the oldest competitor, the fifty-two-year-old still uses brute strength and the Torture Rack that never loses its effectiveness. YOSHI-HASHI is the least standout member of CHAOS, it’s always been the attitude of YOSHI-HASHI that disappoints fans and not his ability. There’s a certain killer instinct it takes to win the key matches in NJPW, a certain intensity that’s lacking. If Kharma or The Butterfly Lock don’t come early and often to Nakanishi then there is something wrong with the comeback of YOSHI-HASHI.
Prediction: YOSHI-HASHI wins.
Chase Owens vs Juice Robinson
Chase Owens makes his debut in the New Japan Cup tournament after spending several years in the Bullet Club but tag team matches are mostly his forte. The Package Piledriver is a match ender at any time but if Juice Robinson knows anything it’s how to counter wrestle. The two-time IWGP United States champion has used a rollup to win many matches like against Kenny Omega for example and Juice has a seemingly bottomless gas tank. Owens will impress more than expected but it will be Robinson that marches on with a belt already around his waist.
Prediction: Juice Robinson wins.
Kazuchika Okada vs Michael Elgin
It’s somewhat surprising that Okada was able to make it rain after only one Rainmaker in previous encounters against the big Canadian, then again it’s not so surprising when you consider that Okada was the IWGP heavyweight champion at the time during their G1 Climax tournament matches. Okada is not on that same role that he once was but Okada has no shortage of confidence going into the New Japan Cup after previously defeating almost everyone in this tournament field. Elgin always puts on great boss performances, Okada will have to unleash his best to defeat “Big Mike.”
Prediction: Kazuchika Okada wins.
Mikey Nichols vs Hikuleo
Mikey Nichols will make his return to NJPW, but the former The Mighty tag team member in WWE NXT with Shane Thorne spent most of his previous Japan experience as the Pro Wrestling NOAH tag team champion. The strong style and fighting spirit of NJPW should be a terrific fit for Nichols or it could take some time for him to settle into the brand new competition. The thirty-three-year-old will face occasional Bullet Club tag team partner in the Tongan-born, Hikuleo. The twenty-eight-year-old prodigy injured his leg in the past so if he is durable enough and ferocious enough as his Tongan brothers than he should have a bright future, just not right now. Nichols is going to really get to show what he can do as a singles star debuting in NJPW if Nichols wins then he gets Okada in the second round!
Prediction: Mikey Nichols wins.
Will Ospreay vs Bad Luck Fale
This is one of the biggest tests in the career of the NEVER Openweight champion, not athletically but as far as weight-difference goes. Bad Luck Fale weighs in at 344 pounds but Ospreay is only 174 pounds. Will Ospreay was able to lift up and hit a huge Stormbreaker on Jeff Cobb at a recent event but hitting it on Fale is another thing altogether. Fale could shut down Ospreay and catch him out of the air but it simply won’t be that easy. Ospreay has developed into one of the best on the whole roster and Fale isn’t going to stop this tournament journey even if it’s by Countout against the former New Japan Cup finalist.
Prediction: Will Ospreay wins.
Toa Henare vs Lance Archer
Lance Archer has been through quite a few different era’s of NJPW already since his debut as the Suzuki-Gun heavy hitter, that is some big experience that Henare is going to have to go up against to learn through trial by fire. The Young Lion roster is expanding more and more onto the main cards, Henare has teamed with Togi Makabe and he has shown potential as a powerhouse single star. Henare has a ways to go but he does have more to offer continuing in this tournament, Archer doesn’t tend to stray too far away from his Killer Elite Squad tag team with Davey Boy Smith Jr.
Prediction: Toa Henare wins.
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Shota Umino
“The Ace” has won this tournament twice and as the inaugural winner, he has cast a big shadow over the New Japan Cup and his opponent in the opening round. The pacing of this match should benefit Tanahashi as he will look to slow down the fast speed of Umino. This Young Lion has been called a “Future Ace” by many NJPW viewers, he has an air of confidence to go along with his growing abilities. Umino would be smart to make this go as far to the Time-Limit as possible to gas the mainstay of the company and then Umino might have a shot. Tanahashi has many ways to get the win and the Cloverleaf is sometimes more effective than the High Fly Flow, we should see that here.
Prediction: Hiroshi Tanahashi wins.
Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs Ryusuke Taguchi
Hiroyoshi Tenzan no longer competes in the Summer G1 Climax tournament, his willingness to step aside for the new generation is very commendable and he is still as hard-hitting as they come. Tenzan is a unique addition to this tournament, much like Nakanishi, because it’s so unlikely that he wins this tournament but Tenzan won’t go down quickly to Taguchi. “The Funky Weapon” replaces David Finlay, who is forced to exit the tournament due to a shoulder injury. Ryusuke Taguchi was once asked by NJPW management to forgo the Junior Heavyweight division for the Heavyweight division, the way Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi have done among others, but Taguchi turned it down years ago and he only wrestles heavyweights in tag team action these days as the leader of Taguchi Japan. This is Taguchi’s shot to show critics that he has always been more than hip attacks and his IWGP Junior Heavyweight championship match with Taiji Ishimori can attest to that.
Prediction: Ryusuke Taguchi wins.
Kota Ibushi vs Tetsuya Naito
This is it right here, the biggest bout of the tournament possibly and it takes place in the first round between two main event talents. Ibushi and Naito have met twice before in the G1 Climax tournament, both epic matches that featured jaw-dropping moves like an avalanche Piledriver. Many would consider it a big loss if Naito were to lose this match, this compiled with the fact that Naito has been upset by Taichi and Zack Sabre Jr in the past year. Naito actually would benefit from defending the IWGP Intercontinental championship for now and challenging Jay White at a later date, although a title for title match sounds incredibly intriguing for all the top gold in NJPW. Ibushi has all of the tools to not only take Naito to the limit once again but to counter his way into the Kamigoye at just the right time if the timing is right.
Prediction: Kota Ibushi wins.
EVIL vs Zack Sabre Jr
EVIL defeated Zack Sabre Jr clean with the STO (Everything Is EVIL) at New Beginning In Sapporo.This has been building since the fall, when Chris Jericho ruined a planned grudge match between the two. Sabre won the New Japan Cup in 2018, outlasting Hiroshi Tanahashi in the finals and tapping out top stars in the process. This is Sabre’s match to win, the brawling will keep “The Technical Wizard” off his game but the holds will surely wear down EVIL to his breaking point. Sabre would get Kota Ibushi in the second round, a rematch that would be worthy of the IWGP heavyweight championship spotlight itself.
Prediction: Zack Sabre Jr wins.
Togi Makabe vs Colt Cabana
Togi Makabe is another veteran in the tournament that has been through more wars than half the men in the field could imagine. Makabe is at his best when he is swinging for the fences like when he was the NEVER Openweight champion, not many can brawl with “The Unchained Gorilla” and come out on top in a one-on-one setting. Colt Cabana has traveled around the world to make it where he is today as a former NWA Heavyweight champion, Cabana better be light on the comedy or be eaten alive. What makes Cabana so great in the ring is his arsenal that has everything from the top rope Chicago Skyline to to the submission game of Billy Goat’s Curse. Cabana is this year’s Chuck Taylor in the tournament like in 2018, an underdog that makes his debut against one of the best in a losing hard-fought effort.
Prediction: Togi Makabe wins.
Davey Boy Smith Jr vs Toru Yano
Davey Boy Smith Jr has a couple of advantages right out of the gate, he doesn’t take any crap for any amount of time and he has barely any hair for Yano to pull. Toru Yano has been here before but he has never gone far in the tournament, Davey Boy would love to shut down Yano early. The game plan of Yano is always set up before the bell even rings and Smith could be lured into that trap of Yano hanging on the ropes and uneager to lock up. The Suzuki-Gun member is a bully in the ring, Yano is a genius outside of it. Davey Boy should know the tricks before they are coming and advance towards some big matches against the likes of Kota Ibushi or Hiroshi Tanahashi.
Prediction: Davey Boy Smith Jr wins.
Minoru Suzuki vs Satoshi Kojima
Satoshi Kojima enters as forty-eight years old against fifty-year-old Minoru Suzuki, the experience and timing in the ring from these men are absolutely timeless and they almost get better with every match. Suzuki is going to look for the submissions on Kojima, especially with Kojima’s injuries in the back of fans minds. Suzuki makes a habit of taking too long sometimes to set big moves up like the Gotch Piledriver and Kojima can capitalize with a ring-rattling Lariat. Suzuki would be the most exciting challenge to Jay White but it’s a long-shot considering many young stars are being given the spotlight to introduce fans to new top stars from Roppongi 3K (Sho and Yoh) to Juice Robinson. Suzuki could outlast Kojima on the ground game alone and that’s going to be the story of the match.
Prediction: Minoru Suzuki wins.
Hirooki Goto vs SANADA
If there is any match with the potential to be a show-stealer, it’s this one. There are a couple of key matches in the first round and Hirooki Goto is one wrestler that should advance, maybe all the way to the Finals. Goto became a member of CHAOS but that was only after he failed to unseat Kazuchika Okada of the IWGP heavyweight championship, now is the time for Goto to step up now that Okada is on a current rare slump. The former NEVER Openweight champion faces the enigma that just lost the IWGP tag team championships with EVIL, to The Guerillas Of Destiny. Will that loss motivate SANADA or just push him further into tag team matches in the future with Los Ingobernobles De Japon? SANADA is a very hard wrestler to read because he has a supremely athletic showcase move-set but he doesn’t show much emotion when doing so. Goto has true drive and strike that should set up SANADA for the GTR perfectly.
Prediction: Hirooki Goto wins.