The New Japan Cup has come and gone and the promotion delivered a great tournament from start to finish. With a guaranteed title opportunity on the line, and having a stacked field of veterans and rising stars, this year’s event was must-see. The finals saw New Japan legend Hiroshi Tanashi face British star Zack Sabre Jr. With a shot at any title they wanted, both came to do whatever it took to win.
Hiroshi Tanahashi v. Zack Sabre Jr.
I’m gonna start this off by saying that Zack Sabre Jr. IS NOT HUMAN. The way he can seamlessly transition from submission to submission is a work of art. Not to mention that he can contort his body in freakish ways to amplify his submissions. Sabre brought every submission there is in the book with him to the finals, and then some.
Tanahashi walked into the finals as a two time New Japan Cup winner and the Ace of New Japan. After breaking a three-year-long streak of losing in the first round, he’d see his first finals appearance since 2012. Tana had brought a mean streak with him to this year’s tournament, knowing he didn’t have many title opportunities left.
From the opening bell, it was apparent that ZSJ had one gameplan in mind and that was to out wrestle Tanahashi. He instantly began unleashing an onslaught of chain wrestling targeting the limbs of Tana. Throughout the match, though for every offensive maneuver Sabre had, Tana was able to escape to the ropes or muscle his way out.
As the match went on Tana began landing with his strikes which would slow Sabre’s offense. At one point in the match, the frustration built to a point within Sabre that he just began throwing kicks at Tanahashi’s injured right bicep. Tanahashi got on a hell of a streak, nailing a Twist and Shout, Slingblade and finally a High Fly Flow. Tana would then make the mistake of going to the well one too many times and Sabre would roll out of the way of a second High Fly Flow.
The end of the match would come when after an exchange Sabre would tie Tana up with a leglock. He would then begin to work his evil wizard magic and contort Tana’s body in a way it just shouldn’t be bent. While holding the submissions ZSJ would maneuver Tanahashi away from the ropes so he would have no safety net to break the hold. Tanahashi tries to kick Sabre in the head to break the modified leglock but ZSJ traps the leg and locks in the Orienteering With Napalm Death. Mere seconds later and Zack Sabre Jr. is your 2018 New Japan Cup winner!
Sabre will go down as one of only two men, the first being Ibushi, to win the New Japan Cup in their first attempt. With Sabre now holding all the cards, his mouthpiece Taka Michinoku would ask him the million dollar question. Who will Sabre challenge? Sabre answered, “no question: I want Okada!” Okada and Gedo would come out and have a standoff with ZSJ and Taka.
The Technical Wizard and The Rainmaker
With Sabre coming right out and challenging Okada, it’s now time to look at the event calendar. New Japan has a big show stateside this weekend but that’d be far too soon for this matchup. Their next show that carries some weight and would have time for promotion would be Sakura Genesis on April 1st. There is always there big Dominion event in June, but that feels too far away to extend this program. Plus, it feels like Okada and Tanahashi will be on target for Dominion as it will give Okada a chance to defeat Tana AND surpass his title defense record at a big show.
So with big shows either too close or too far away, the Sakura Genesis card is that perfect sweet spot. it’s not only a big show but it gives New Japan a few weeks to build around the ZSJ v. Okada IWGP Title match. This has been a really fun tournament start to finish. Stay tuned to WrestlaholicJPN on twitter and right here at Wrestlaholic for all of your NJPW and Japanese pro Wrestling coverage!