GABRIEL KIDD, YOTA TSUJI, YUYA UEMURA, & YUJI NAGATA vs. SUZUKI-GUN (Minoru Suzuki, DOUKI, El Desperado, & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) - 5.75/10
Suzuki-Gun jumped the bell on their opponents. Then they tossed them to the outside where they proceeded to beat them up forever and hit them with weapons, while the referee failed to call for a DQ or even do so much to start counting them out. It’s been fourth months since the last time I’ve seen this, and I’m still f*cking sick and tired of it.
After that we got the usual “fine but not quite good” action of an NJPW undercard tag. They’re really pushing Suzuki vs. Nagata, which I REALLY don’t like because it indicates to me that they’re going to go back to Suzuki vs. Nagata as soon as possible, with Suzuki getting his win back and pretty much erasing this big moment for Nagata by not only having him give Suzuki the win right back but also exposing the fact that this result wasn’t about Nagata beating Suzuki (or even about Nagata at all), but rather that it was just a way to avoid having Suzuki have to lose to Okada in the next round.
Is it clever and skillful on Gedo’s part to find a guy who Suzuki can lose to and everyone will think it’s really cool who Suzuki can then beat right back on the next tour and thus you don’t have to give away Okada vs. Suzuki as well give yourself a consequences-free way to erase Suzuki’s loss? Yes. But I think it’s even more skillful to use Nagata getting this upset win over Suzuki to kick off an actual story for Nagata that people can get invested in. So much of NJPW’s booking feels like it’s based around the idea of protecting people from doing jobs, to the point where a good fifth of the roster feels like the only reason they’re employed is to take pins so that Okada, Tanahashi, Naito, Ibushi, Suzuki, etc. don’t have to. Anyone can hire a bunch of guys to be fall-guys so the big guys don’t have to be booked to lose except in singles matches against each other at the big shows. What takes real skill is to have your big names lose and use those losses to tell meaningful stories, and a promotion like that is a promotion where guys second-tier guys like EVIL, Sanada, Juice, and Zack, or older guys who still have something left in the tank like Nagata, or role-players like Tama Tonga can really thrive as characters who mean something, rather than just snowflake machines or people who we employ because of loyalty and their value as mentors to young talent.
NEW JAPAN CUP 2020 FIRST ROUND MATCH:
Sanada vs. Ryusuke Taguchi - DUD!
They wrestled for a bit. Taguchi asked for a double-fist bump. Sanada consented, but Taguchi used it as a ruse to try to catch him with a kick. Sanada blocked it and caught his leg… and then cautiously put the leg down as if they were doing that spot where each guy has caught one of the other’s legs, except only Sanada had a leg. Why would he do that? And doubly so after Taguchi’s duplicity moments earlier that led to this situation!
They go back to the fist-bump again and now they do the spot where both catch the other’s leg. More “comedy” happens, resulting in Sanada getting tricked, exposing him as an utter moron for believing a man who had tried to double-cross him TWICE IN THE PAST SIXTY SECONDS.
This resulted in Taguchi trying to put Sanada in the Paradise Lock, but despite being a pro for many years, he apparently doesn’t know how to do this move correctly. And I’m certain this isn’t the first time that they’ve done the “Taguchi tries to put Sanada in the Paradise Lock but doesn’t know how” spot, so he’s even more of a f*cking moron.
Sanada gets out of the move and locks Taguchi in the Paradise Lock properly, but instead of just stomping on his defenseless opponent’s head until the referee stops the match or the opponent submits, he dropkicks him in the butt- the most padded part of the human body. Sanada does this in every single match, making him the single dumbest human to ever live (other than maybe Red Shoes).
So yeah. They spent the first two minutes of this match doing a series of spots that made both wrestlers look like total dumbf*cks. If you’re going to call out the dumb sh*t in WWE or AEW, you ought to be calling this crap out, too.
Then they did a few more spots, the biggest of which was Taguchi being locked in the Skull End for a long time and Sanada managing to keep it on even as Taguchi landed forearm clubs and knees to his head. Sanada pulled Taguchi up to do the spinning Skull End… and then Taguchi just managed to get out of the move and roll Sanada up. He then proceeded to run around, not selling anything at all from being in his hold for so long. They traded roll-ups, with Sanada getting the win with his signature roll-up.
NEW JAPAN CUP 2020 FIRST ROUND MATCH:
Shingo Takagi vs Sho - 8.25/10
Shingo countering Sho’s spear by just catching him in a headlock and then starting to knee him in the chest might have been my favorite spot in the entire match. It was either that or the expression on Sho’s face after he hit the first Shock Arrow when he realized that he had a real chance to win this match. The match rocked, with Shingo working over the head while Sho was the extremely resilient underdog. I want to think that Sho picking up the win here, but I’m jaded enough on New Japan that I just can’t shake the feeling that this was only done so that Shingo wouldn’t have to face his stablemate (Sanada) in the next round.
NEW JAPAN CUP 2020 FIRST ROUND MATCH:
Zack Sabre Jr. vs. Kota Ibushi - 8.75/10
They spent the first chunk of the match rolling around in some absolutely glorious grapplef*ck. From there we got a story of Zack working the leg to take away Kota’s main weapons. This was even better than the previous match, and I was so sad when it ended because I was hoping it would go another ten minutes and be a Match of the Year candidate, because it felt like they were on that sort of pace.
NEW JAPAN CUP 2020 FIRST ROUND MATCH:
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Taichi (w/DOUKI) - 7.75/10
Tanahashi turned his back on a member of Suzuki-Gun, so he got powerbombed off the turnbuckle. Unlike every other time when Suzuki-Gun jumped the bell on their opponents and the referee just rings the bell to start the match, this time is apparently different for some unexplained reason, and the referee runs over to check on Tanahashi and the medical people come over to check on him while Taichi waits and occasionally kicks a young-boy.
Over a minute and a half later, the bell finally rang as Tanahashi was getting to his feet. Taichi immediately kicks him in the head and lets him roll out of the ring. Ten seconds after the bell, we’ve already got a Suzuki-Gun member completely manhandling the referee in a way that should lead to an immediate disqualification but never actually does because while one of WWE’s problem (and, at times ROH and TNA’s) major problems over the past five years has been that winning and losing matches don’t have real consequences, New Japan’s biggest problem is that winning and losing a match are pretty much the ONLY thing that has consequences (it’s that if you come out to interact a champion after his match).
After the heels have gotten all of their choking Tanahashi with things out of their system, Taichi rolls him into the ring and goes for the pin but f*cking Red Shoes decides he’s going to do his idiotic thing where he refuses to count a pin because the bad guys have been cheating, which is just SOOOO F*CKING DUMB if you put more than three seconds of thought into it. The bad guys have cheated to gain this unfair advantage on Tanahashi so Red Shoes isn’t going to count because he doesn’t want them to benefit from their cheating… but what alternative does that leave the heels with? If Taichi can’t pin Tanahashi, he’s just going to beat him up more, and the same illegal activity which Red Shoes fears would have weakened Tanahashi to the point where he wouldn’t be able to get his shoulder up out of a pin is weakening him so that he can’t fight back against this attack, so the heels are still benefitting from their cheating, which defeats the purpose of not counting the pin! The only way to make sure that the heels aren’t able to benefit from any cheating you catch them at is to ACTUALLY PUNISH THEM FOR IT THE WAY YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO: DISQUALIFICATION!
We got a bunch more spots where Taichi would choke Tanahashi in some way and then Red Shoes would give him the five count, rinse and repeat ad nauseum… which is a rather appropriate term to use, because I’m already f*cking sick of this.
Speaking of being sick, the reason there are no fans here and young-boys at ringside are wearing masks is that we don’t want to have too many people in one place… and yet f*cking DOUKI apparently has to be out here at ringside, to the point where Red Shoes won’t eject him when he clearly sees him intentionally distract Tanahashi.
They fought on the outside for-f*cking-ever without getting counted out. Most of this consisted of Taichi hitting Tanahashi with things, none of which resulted in a DQ. Taichi eventually brought Tanahashi back into the ring and went to pin him, but Red Shoes won’t count the pin. So Red Shoes has proven that he won’t count the pins after Taichi cheats, but also that he won’t stop Taichi for cheating or disqualify him for it. So what happens now? It seems to me like if this continues, Taichi is just going to beat Tanahashi over and over again with weapons until Tanahashi is dead, right? Or maybe Red Shoes will call the match when Tanahashi has merely been beaten into unconsciousness. Because that’s totally fair.
Instead of going to the outside, Taichi started kicking at Tanahashi’s chest and shoulder in that idiotic slow way that only seems to happen in wrestling matches when the plot calls for the opponent to fire up. One of Taichi’s finishers is the big kick to the head! Why isn’t he just doing that?!
After that point this started to get really great, with Tanahashi slowly fighting back and countering stuff and started to make a comeback but getting cut off again and getting more and more offense in each time before he’s cut off.
And here’s DOUKI to distract him right in front of Red Shoes but Red Shoes still won’t eject DOUKI from ringside. That led to Taichi getting a Gedo Clutch where it really looked to me like Tanahashi didn’t kick out in time, but the match kept going anyway.
The match continued for a few more minutes and was still very good. On the whole, the match was GREAT and I liked it a lot, but those first six minutes dragged it down SOOOOOOO much. It was so frustrating that I took a three-hour break in the middle of it to go watch Raw (which turned out to be a great decision because it was the best one in years). Why can’t we just have Taichi cheat ONCE to cut Tanahashi off and get the advantage? Why do we always have to spend five minutes making the rules look like a joke?
POST-MATCH SEGMENT - Good. The heels beat Tanahashi down. Ibushi comes out to make the save but he, too, gets beaten up, setting up a tag title match, probably for Dominion.
This was a great show from New Japan (only having one pointless undercard match and giving all of the tournament matches times is much better than cutting time from the tournament matches to have three or four pointless undercard matches), but it could have been so much better if there were more logic in some of the matches.