Ladies and Gentlemen the semi-finals have come and gone. With two great matches between Juice Robinson v. Tanahashi and SANADA v. Zack Sabre Jr, they didn’t disappoint. When the smoke finally cleared we were left with Tanahashi and ZSJ as our finalists for this year’s New Japan Cup. With that said, let’s take a look back at the semis and how we arrived at this finals matchup.
Hiroshi Tanahashi v. Juice Robinson
The story of this match was all based on respect. Coming into the match Tana was nursing several injuries that had been made public. Juice went out of his way to let Tana know that he wouldn’t target those injuries. Juice also had some knocks going into his bout with Tana that weren’t the most public as well. Tana, however, didn’t have the same compassion for Juice.
Tanahashi is the dictionary definition of a babyface. But on this night, this close to the finals, he chose to attack any and every weakness that he knew Juice had. Going after all of the injuries that were ailing Juice was the apparent game plan for Tana. Much like the rest of the tournament, Juice showed a great level of heart and grit. After a heavy match that saw Juice constantly fighting from underneath, it was finally just too much. At the half-hour mark, Tanahashi was able to put Juice away and book his ticket to the finals.
SANADA v. Zack Sabre Jr.
This was a damn fight. Both men brought their A-Game when it came to their striking, submissions, and counters. Each man knew exactly what the other wanted to do and were ready for it. Like most of his tenure in New Japan, ZSJ was a wizard with his submission game. Not only using holds that fans have seen forever, but innovating and creating locks that grab the imagination. The real magic in this match is the fact that these guys have never touched in singles action. In fact, the first time they’ve ever faced off was in a tag match earlier in the tournament.
The bell rings and these guys start slow, trying to feel one another out. Then it seemed like in the blink of an eye both men dove right in. SANADA proved he had a more than strong submission game going damn near move for move with Sabre. We also saw a repeat of the moonsault spot from the Ibusi/ZSJ clash where Sabre caught SANADA with a triangle. The match progressed with both men looking like they would have their hands raised. That was another high point of the match, both are highly regarded by the NJPW office and either could’ve won. After a great back and forth, for the second match in a row Sabre would get the victory by referee stoppage.
The finals are set: Hiroshi Tanahashi v. Zack Sabre Jr.
New Japan Cup Final: Tanahashi v. Sabre Jr.
The story of this match will be the legendary star going out to prove he still has what it takes to get a big victory. But standing in front of him will be the young and arrogant rising star ready to usurp the throne. Tanahashi has won the New Japan Cup twice before (05, 08) but has a recent string of losing early in the tournament. A victory guarantees him a title shot and he has strong rivalries with both Intercontinental Champion, Minoru Suzuki and IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Kazuchika Okada.
This is Zack Sabre Jr.’s first-ever entrance into the New Japan Cup. He has been ruthless since the first bell rang. With just one more victory he would become the second man ever to win in his first attempt, the first being Kota Ibushi. If ZSJ were to win, it leads to a more interesting path in my opinion than Tana. He could go after Okada but feels sure to lose, he doesn’t quite work the style to target the Never Championship, leaving just one option. If Sabre goes after the IC Championship and his stablemate Suzuki, it could lead to a major power shift in NJPW.
It’s safe to say that the finals will be a future-altering match. With Tanahashi and ZSJ having fought twice before, the records are spit at a victory a piece. So not only does the final give the victor the title shot, but bragging rights in the rivalry.
The finals of the New Japan Cup will take place at 2 a.m. EST on Wednesday. Stay tuned to Wrestlaholic and follow my coverage over at WrestlaholicJPN on Twitter.