NJPW’s 2018 New Japan Cup has reached the finals! It will either be The Ace, Hiroshi Tanahashi, or the Submission Master, Zack Sabre Jr, that will win the cup and earn the right to challenge a top champion of their choosing! Will Tanahashi win to challenge Minoru Suzuki? Or will ZSJ make him #JustTapOut?
This review of The New Japan Cup 2018 will be as broadcast by AXS TV.
Therefore, all images are courtesy of AXS TV.
- Hiroshi Tanahashi VS Zack Sabre Jr; ZSJ wins and will challenge Kazuchika Okada for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at Sakura Genesis.
PLAY BY PLAY
AXS TV and NJPW review the finalists’ paths to this moment.
The Once in a Century Talent’s participation in this year’s New Japan Cup was unsure, given his injury at the hands of the Man with the Worst Personality, THE Minoru Suzuki. Suzuki won and now has the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. Hiroshi Tanahashi got through Taichi, Bad Luck Fale and even his teammate in Juice Robinson to get here. Should Tanahashi win, it’s almost certain his target would be Suzuki for sweet revenge. Meanwhile, Suzuki’s own protege, Zack Sabre Jr, proved he is both a Technical Wizard and a brutal brawler in his own right. ZSJ defeated Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi and Sanada all through use of his unlimited arsenal of submissions.
ZSJ already has a victory over Tanahashi from the G-1 Climax last year, but Tanahashi also has a win over him in their own IWGP Intercontinental Championship match. This will be the rubber match between the two, who will win it all and call out the champion of their choice?
Hiroshi Tanahashi VS Zack Sabre Jr w/ Taka Michinoku!
As always, Taka Michinoku speaks before the match. “The finals of the 2018 New Japan Cup. Zack Sabre Jr. VS Hiroshi Tanahashi. Who wins?!” Fans choose Zack. “And who will take the cup?” Fans again choose Zack. Because the winner will be the man who can finish anyone anywhere with any hold, the man who has unlimited submissions, the man who defeated Naito, Ibushi and Sanada. That man is the Submission Master, ZSJ, Zack Sabre Jr! “To anyone who stands in Zack’s way, when he gets a submission”, you #JustTapOut! So Hiroshi Tanahashi, “C’mon over here!”
One of NJPW’s fastest rising stars takes on one of NJPW’s most decorated of all time. Tanahashi wants his IWGP Intercontinental Championship back while ZSJ wants to take the Rainmaker’s IWGP Heavyweight Championship. Who will win the cup to grant their wish?
NJPW on AXS takes a quick break, but comes back with the ring of the bell. This match has no time limit, so it can go as quick or as long as it takes. The fans already rally behind Tanahashi while he circles with ZSJ. ZSJ reaches at Tanahashi who keeps a safe distance. They tie up, ZSJ gets around to a waistlock but Tanahashi resists any other kind of hold. Tanahashi turns things around but ZSJ switches back. Tanahashi gets to the ropes, so ZSJ backs off. Fans rally again as the two circle. Tanahashi ties up with ZSJ but ZSJ spins and goes for the top wristlock. Tanahashi turns that back on him with strength and leverage, but ZSJ spins around to wrench Tanahashi’s arm. ZSJ wrenches more and brings Tanahashi down to the mat. Tanahashi sits up but ZSJ is all over his arm again.
ZSJ has Tanahashi on his hand and knees while torturing the other arm. Tanahashi stands and resists, and gets ZSJ in a drop toehold. Fans applaud while ZSJ reaches back for a chinlock. Tanahashi fights that off, then floats over to a facelock, but ZSJ slips out of that to put Tanahashi in a modified crossface. ZSJ grinds in elbows and fists while also going from chinlock to chinbar. He flips Tanahashi over to a cover, ONE. Tanahashi stands up while ZSJ backs off. They circle again while fans rally. Tanahashi is ready for ZSJ, and gets a leg. ZSJ leans back to slip out, but Tanahashi follows. Tanahashi grabs an arm but ZSJ resists the wristlock by clasping hands. Tanahashi rolls ZSJ and keeps on that arm.
ZSJ keeps his grip while Tanahashi sits on him, then ZSJ hooks around to bring Tanahashi to the mat. ZSJ wants an armbar but now Tanahashi clasps his hands together to resist. Tanahashi rolls towards ropes, but ZSJ traps a leg in a calf killer style hold. Tanahashi rolls over to get the ropebreak, so ZSJ has to let go, and Tanahashi rolls out of the ring. ZSJ waits for Tanahashi to return. Tanahashi makes sure his legs are good, as well as his arms, then he enters the ring. He and ZSJ circle again, then tie up, and Tanahashi shifts smoothly from wristlock to hammerlock to headlock. ZSJ fights back and tries to power out, but Tanahashi keeps a hold of him. Fans applaud as Tanahashi forces ZSJ to the mat.
ZSJ grinds his forearms into Tanahashi’s face but Tanahashi swats those away. They both stand up, but Tanahashi brings ZSJ back down with a headlock takeover. Only for ZSJ to get the headscissors! ZSJ squeezes Tanahashi’s head and neck with his figure-four knot. Tanahashi rolls around but ZSJ grinds in knuckles and elbows into Tanahashi’s back. Tanahashi powers out and goes for a cover, only for ZSJ to wrap him right back up in the headscissors! ZSJ props himself up to wrench Tanahashi’s neck, but Tanahashi works to roll ZSJ. Tanahashi pops out and floats over to a chinlock on ZSJ! Fans applaud this incredible exchange of technical skill.
ZSJ grabs at Tanahashi’s hair, then rolls around. ZSJ pushes against Tanahashi, then fights out. He powers out but Tanahashi runs him over. Tanahashi runs, ZSJ drops, so Tanahashi drops on him to get that headlock back! ZSJ resists again, hooking with his leg. Tanahashi swats the leg away and wrenches back. ZSJ tries again but can’t get Tanahashi’s head to go back. ZSJ tries with his hands now, getting them across Tanahashi’s face and nose. They battle with holds but Tanahashi pries free to keep his. ZSJ works again and gets the legs up, it’s headlock versus headscissors!
Tanahashi holds on to his hold and pops his head out of ZSJ’s. ZSJ rolls and sits up, then stands up. ZSJ looks for an opening but Tanahashi just switches sides of the headlock. Tanahashi switches back, then back again, keeping ZSJ guessing. ZSJ keeps trying, so Tanahashi hooks a leg to hit a headlock Russian leg sweep!
The Ace is in control while we go to break.
NJPW on AXS returns to fans rallying while Tanahashi stands up. Tanahashi drops an elbow, but is caught into ZSJ’s armbar! ZSJ can’t get the extension before Tanahashi scrambles and uses his legs for the ropebreak. ZSJ keeps on Tanahashi anyway, but lets go at the referee’s count of 4. Referee Red Shoes reprimands ZSJ but ZSJ catches his breath before going back for more. He grinds knees into Tanahashi while going after the arm. Tanahashi is still under the ropes, so Red Shoes tells ZSJ to break, but ZSJ keeps going. Tanahashi grabs the ropes, so ZSJ lets go this time. ZSJ watches Tanahashi check his arm. Tanahashi stands up, ZSJ gives him a European Uppercut. ZSJ gives Tanahashi another, so Tanahashi gives one back.
ZSJ picks the leg and brings Tanahashi down. He traps an arm, and pulls Tanahashi with a headlock. Tanahashi gets another ropebreak, and ZSJ is frustrated. ZSJ stomps Tanahashi, then toys with him with those kicks to the arm. ZSJ goes after the arm, and bends it from elbow to wrist. Tanahashi grits his teeth as he resists, and it forces ZSJ to use even his chin to force the bend. Tanahashi gives it one more go, but ZSJ Pele kicks the arm! ZSJ catches his breath while fans rally for Tanahashi. ZSJ stands on Tanahashi while pulling at limbs. Red Shoes backs ZSJ off and checks on Tanahashi. Tanahashi is good to continue, so ZSJ gives him another EuroUpper. Tanahashi retaliates with a body shot, so ZSJ picks a leg again and goes after that arm. ZSJ pulls Tanahashi in to the coil lock, then the other arm!
ZSJ has his foot on Tanahashi’s head as he pulls back on the arm. Tanahashi endures as he reaches with his legs agan, and gets another ropebreak. Fans applaud while ZSJ lets go. ZSJ keeps his cool while fans rally for Tanahashi again. ZSJ thinks on what to do next. He goes back after the arm and wrenches it, then wrenches the wrist. ZSJ goes left and right with the wrist, but Tanahashi fights back with body shots. Tanahashi fires off strikes on ZSJ, then whips ZSJ corner to corner. ZSJ reverses the whip but runs into Tanahashi’s boots. Tanahashi runs into a kick from ZSJ, then ZSJ whips, but Tanahashi comes back with a forearm smash.
Both men are down but the fans are applauding. The fans rally again while Tanahashi makes sure his arm is good. Tanahashi stands up and rocks ZSJ with forearms and body shots. Tanahashi scoop slams ZSJ, then climbs up, and hits a second rope senton!
Cover, TWO! Tanahashi keeps focus while fans chant “Go Ace! Go Ace!” Tanahashi fires off more body shots to ZSJ, then whips him corner to corner. ZSJ sticks out a boot but Tanahashi catches it, only for ZSJ to wrap him up in the Octopus Stretch!
ZSJ even pulls off Tanahashi’s sleeve to expose the athletic tape. He digs in elbows on Tanahashi’s ribs, then pulls back on fingers. Tanahashi endures it all, then uses power to get free and dragon screw ZSJ’s leg! Both men are down again, and fans rally for Tanahashi. Tanahashi stands up, and pulls his sleeve back down to cover his athletic tape wrap. Tanahashi runs but ZSJ is ready, and wrangles Tanahashi back into the hold, only for Tanahashi to reverse it onto him. ZSJ switches it right back, but Tanahashi switches it again. They move around in a circle, chasing the abdominal stretch, and it’s Tanahashi who gets the hold first. Tanahashi turns the hold into a pumphandle for a slam! Tanahashi can’t make the cover with his arms hurting him, but fans rally for him as he stands back up.
ZSJ slips out of the facelock to hop on for a sleeper hold! ZSJ then climbs around the front to get the triangle hold! Tanahashi holds on as ZSJ weighs him down and pulls him in. ZSJ is also careful not to end up in a cover. Tanahashi gets a second wind and he starts pushing ZSJ, but ZSJ hooks a leg to bring Tanahashi in deeper. Tanahashi won’t give in, he keeps pushing ZSJ. ZSJ keeps his shoulders up, but Tanahashi turns him enough to stomp him on the head. ZSJ starts to go limp, and Tanahashi breaks free, to go after the Cloverleaf!
Tanahashi turns ZSJ over, bending him sideways, but ZSJ works on an escape. ZSJ slips between the legs and drags himself to ropes, but Tanahashi drags him away! Fans are thunderous as Tanahashi sits down, but ZSJ slips around to pry his legs out. ZSJ hooks Tanahashi into the takedown, but Tanahashi clasps hands to resist the armbar. ZSJ slaps those hands, then pulls back. Tanahashi holds on, but ZSJ pries a single finger and undoes the grip! Tanahashi tries to roll so ZSJ quickly yanks on the arm, but Tanahashi stands up! He stands up for another dragon screw! ZSJ escapes the ring, clutching his leg. Michinoku coaches him up but the fans are on Tanahashi’s side as they rally. Tanahashi gets to a corner and climbs up, to FLY!
High Fly Flow Crossbody connects! Both men go down while we go to break.
NJPW on AXS returns again, and fans are thunderous while Red Shoes checks on Tanahashi and ZSJ. Both men are able to continue, so a ring count begins. It reaches 7 before Tanahashi stands. Tanahashi brings ZSJ up and puts him in the ring. Tanahashi waits for ZSJ to stand, then he runs, but into ZSJ’s EuroUpper. ZSJ throws Tanahashi to ropes but Tanahashi tumbles to the apron. Tanahashi brings himself back in, but ZSJ is ready, and goes after the legs. ZSJ drags Tanahashi into a kneebar, but Tanahashi drags himself to ropes for another ropebreak. ZSJ lets go and fans rally for Tanahashi again.
Michinoku coaches ZSJ to keep going, ZSJ stands and stomps on Tanahashi’s knee. He also kicks Tanahashi’s arm. ZSJ stands on the knee, pulls at the ankle, then stomps them both. Tanahashi writhes, but then fires himself up. ZSJ gives more toying kicks, but those only anger Tanahashi. Tanahashi blocks another kick, but ZSJ hops up into a guillotine. ZSJ gets body scissors, too, but Tanahashi endures to power ZSJ out into a swinging neckbreaker! Tanahashi holds on to ZSJ and gives him a second swinging neckbreaker, then stands him up for the third!
Tanahashi gets the cradle cover, TWO! Fans rally again while ZSJ flounders. Tanahashi fires up, gets to the apron, then climbs up, but ZSJ catches this second High Fly Flow Crossbody into a kneebar! ZSJ grapevines and twists Tanahashi’s ankle. Tanahashi endures, even as ZSJ sits up to add a heel hook. Tanahashi still gets the ropebreak, and ZSJ is further frustrated. Red Shoes checks on Tanahashi while ZSJ checks his own neck and shoulders. Tanahashi keeps going, but ZSJ stands up first. ZSJ gives a EuroUpper, Tanahashi gives back a forearm. ZSJ gives another EuroUpper, so Tanahashi gives one of his own. That shot sits ZSJ down, but he comes back for a flurry of EuroUppers. Tanahashi ducks the roundhouse but ZSJ sweeps the legs.
ZSJ stands up and takes aim from a corner. Tanahashi sits up, and blocks the Penalty Kick! Tanahashi dragon screws but ZSJ slips out to roll Tanahashi for the European Clutch bridging pin! TWO!! And Zack can’t believe it! Fans rally again while ZSJ catches his breath. ZSJ keeps his eyes on Tanahashi, and gives him more EuroUppers. Tanahashi stays standing to give a EuroUpper of his own. ZSJ falls but drags himself back up while Tanahashi hobbles over. ZSJ gives EuroUppers, Tanahashi gives one back that rocks ZSJ again. Tanahashi drags ZSJ up but his EuroUpper is blocked to a backslide attempt.
Both men fight the other, but ZSJ flips over to flip Tanahashi into the double wristlock back into the EuroClutch! TWO!! Penalty Kick! Cover, TWO, and ZSJ is furious. The fans are loving this match, though. They rally again while ZSJ waits for Tanahashi. Both men stand, and ZSJ goes after the leg. He wants the kneebar but Tanahashi sits down on the rolling takedown. Tanahashi pries ZSJ off the leg and goes for a full nelson. ZSJ uses his own leg to prevent it, then mule kicks Tanahashi away. ZSJ runs but into the slingblade! Cover, TWO, but Tanahashi gets the full nelson and Dragon Suplex!
Tanahashi bridges for the cover, TWO! But Tanahashi keeps going, getting himself to a corner and to the top rope. Fans are thunderous, Tanahashi hits THE High Fly Flow to ZSJ’s back. Then Tanahashi flips ZSJ over, and climbs back up. His leg slows him down but he still goes for High Fly Flow, only for it to flop! Michinoku coaches ZSJ up while the fans rally for Tanahashi one more time. Tanahashi’s leg bothers him again, but he still forces himself up. ZSJ also stands up, and goes after that very leg. Tanahashi slaps ZSJ away from a dragon screw, then rolls ZSJ back, to copy the EuroClutch! TWO, and ZSJ grabs Tanahashi into a sleeper, but then shifts to the calf killer!
Tanahashi writhes and flails, then rolls over only for ZSJ to roll him back. ZSJ moves Tanahashi all around to get back to the calf killer. ZSJ grabs both legs, keeping his leg hooked on, and drags Tanahashi away from the ropes. Tanahashi endures, uses the free leg to scrape ZSJ’s face, but ZSJ grabs that for a stretch muffler! Or as ZSJ calls it, Orienteering with Napalm Death!
Both of Tanahashi’s legs are being tortured now, with fans rallying, but Tanahashi taps! ZSJ wins!!
Winner: ZSJ, by submission
He did it! Zack Sabre Jr. does as Michinoku predicted, and wins the New Japan Cup with a submission. ZSJ denies Tanahashi his third career New Japan Cup victory, and we take a break as the young lions help Tanahashi to the back.
NJPW returns as Zack Sabre Jr. is presented the New Japan Cup trophy.
Michinoku also holds up ZSJ’s Revolution Pro Wrestling Undisputed British Tag Team and British Heavyweight Championships for the Technical Wizard. Michinoku then takes up the mic again to review, “The 2018 New Japan Cup, who is the champion?!” Congratulations, Zack, because you now have the right to challenge a champion for the April 1st event in Ryogoku, Sakura Genesis. Michinoku has a question, then. “What do you want next?!” ZSJ thinks on that a moment. “No question,” he says, “I want Okada.” Fans applaud that idea. Michinoku confirms, “The IWGP Heavyweight Champion, you have been chosen. Okada Kazuchika, c’mon over here!” And Okada appears!
The Rainmaker walks down to the ring, with Gedo in two. Fans chant “Okada! Okada!” as the IWGP Heavyweight Champion enters the ring. Michinoku knows Okada is a strong champion, but “faced with Zack Sabre Jr.’s submission holds… You JUST–” Gedo interrupts Michinoku!
Gedo takes that mic, and admits ZSJ has made a lot of guys tap out. ZSJ has incredible holds. But, they’re not gonna work on the Rainmaker. ZSJ can NOT make Okada tap out, and do you know why? Because Okada– Michinoku interrupts Gedo back!
Michinoku tells Gedo that ZSJ’s holds are on that “whole ‘nother level”, so he WILL take Okada out. As for Okada and ZSJ themselves, Okada simply holds up his title, while ZSJ holds up the middle finger. ZSJ it’s only going to be two weeks until Okada taps out. Okada says it’ll be two weeks until ZSJ goes down. Michinoku gives Okada some advice: when you get caught in one of ZSJ’s holds, “You JUST! TAP! OUT!”
As Okada and Gedo take their leave, Michinoku again reviews with the fans. “Who won the 2018 New Japan Cup tournament?” The man who can finish anyone anywhere with any hold, the man who has unlimited submissions, the man who defeated Naito, Ibushi, Sanada and now Tanahashi. And now he’s the man who will beat Okada, that man is the Submission Master, ZSJ, Zack Sabre Jr! Will Michinoku’s prediction come to fruition again at Sakura Genesis? Or will there be a Rainmaker lariat in his future?
Hiroshi Tanahashi, exhausted as he is, manages to say, “It was in my reach, and then it wasn’t.” The Ace was about to catch up to the champion, but he’s still far away.
As for Zack Sabre Jr, a first-time New Japan Cup winner, ends it the way he started it: Orienteering with Napalm Death. Tanahashi was the old ace, ZSJ is the New Ace of NJPW. And Okada had a good run, but it’s time for a new, English champion. Michinoku points out ZSJ is already a champion in Revolution Pro, so all that’s left is Japan’s IWGP Heavyweight belt. Okada is powerful, no doubt, but now he will “experience a whole new kind of submission hold.” Okada can preapre all he wants, but he saw what happened to Tanahashi. The new era begins, it is the ZSJ Era. And those who stand in his way, #JustTapOut.
But Okada has something to say, too. “So, Zack Sabre Jr.” Congratulations on the win to be the best wrestler of the Spring. But ZSJ isn’t the best, Okada is the best. You aren’t the best until you beat Okada. “This is not a good matchup for you.” Ever since Okada became the Rainmaker, he’s only tapped out once. Only one man made him submit, so Okada looks forward to seeing what ZSJ tries. “Maybe I’ll give up. Or maybe I won’t.” Which means ZSJ either becomes the best, or he doesn’t. We’ll see at Ryogoku.
And incredible episode, and all with just one incredible match. Two of NJPW’s best today and this one match shows everything as to why they are two of the best. There was so much story focusing on how both men played the submission game. However, playing the submission game that ZSJ knows so well may have been Tanahashi’s downfall. Tanahashi had the size and strength advantage and should’ve tried harder to make this about strikes or slams, but he couldn’t get away from ZSJ’s holds. That is likely the point Gedo and Okada make with their promos. Okada can play the striking and power games better than ZSJ and those will be what helps the champion win. But win or lose, ZSJ is making great strides towards the top of NJPW, so he’ll surely be a top champion in the future.
My Score: 8.5/10