New Japan Cups are always unpredictable as you are left with no idea whether this will be a reward for a deserving and underutilised wrestler like Zack Sabre Jr. in 2018. You don’t know if it’ll be there to establish a championship contender like it’s been for Hirooki Goto three times. Or maybe, just maybe, they’re crowning a new champion as they did with EVIL last year.
This year leaves us with various different contenders such as Will Ospreay, Shingo Takagi, Kazuchika Okada, Jay White amongst many others. A quick look on social media doesn’t get you any closer to an answer as everyone seems to have a different opinion. But luckily for you we’re here to give you some answers… kind of. None of us agree either.
A quick disclaimer before we get into it; these were written before NJPW’s 49th Anniversary Show.
Craig's Picks: @CraigPWMusings
I've done it, I've booked the best possible New Japan Cup final for the 2021 vintage based on the brackets supplied by New Japan! I've gone for the best match of 2019, now with the added layer of Ospreay's empire and both men firmly established in the heavyweight division! Before we dive fully into that, let's examine how and why we get there.
After 2 defeats to Hiroshi Tanahashi, the Great-O-Khan will be re-established via this tournament. He will be the biggest winner outside of Takagi with a huge opening scalp of Naito, a changing of the big-man guard with a destruction of former IWGP IC Champ, Bad Luck Fale and a win over Bullet Club, kind of, leader and my least favourite wrestler, EVIL. His run will come to an end at the hands of eventual winner, Shingo Takagi.
Shingo Takagi will get to this titanic clash with O-Khan via an arguably even more arduous path. He will have to defeat potentially top seed and greatest IWGP Heavyweight Champion of all time, Kazuchika Okada in just the first round! Things won't let up with matches against Shibata-loyalist Goto and the ever sadistic Suzuki. This is arguable the most star studded quarter of the bracket so it makes sense for the eventual victor to emerge from the hottest fire.
Takagi's eventual final rival will emerge from a very different portion of the bracket. Will Ospreay's supposed breakout year hasn't quite manifested. Things will come tantalisingly close this year as he looks to repeat his Best of the Super Juniors 26 final victory over, once again, Shingo Takagi. It won't be a walk in the park as Ospreay will have to best former NJC-winner and perennial rival ZSJ and former stable-mate Tomohiro Ishii.
Ospreay is one of the few men in the tournament that can legitimately be the road block to Jay White. Big things are coming for Jay White in the next 12-18 months, that's for sure, but it won't be here. He will however get a huge match against Tanahashi, whose bye won't serve him well thus setting up a potential NEVER Openweight title match down the line further elevating the prestige of that belt as it looks to fill the whole left by the Intercontinental Championship.
At the end of all that you are left with Will Ospreay versus Shingo Takagi, a match that surely can't fail to deliver. This time the result will be reversed and Takagi will head forward to take on Kota Ibushi for what may very well be the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship by then. Shingo Takagi would make a very good first challenger to start off things off hot with a brand new title belt!
Gareth's Picks: @RHWGareth
I’m very much of the opinion that I have no idea what is going to happen. The one reservation about my bracket, predictions and hopes is that the winner will be the first ever opponent for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship. This, to me, suggests Okada as the winner as Tanahashi already holds a championship. That is my official prediction, but that’s boring and not what I want so I will speak it out of existence.
One hope I have, although deeply doubt, is that Minoru Suzuki wins the cup and the new championship. A man who really should have had an IWGP Heavyweight Championship run. That is what I would choose to happen if I could. However, I have to go with something I think they might do.
On the right side of the bracket we set things up for Jay White to run though. White eases past Toa Henare in a match where White offers his hand afterwards. The two Kiwis exchange a moment which will lead to Jay White’s new stable formed of his Tongan and Kiwi brothers as we build to a split in Bullet Club. White then defeats Tanahashi which will leave room for a NEVER Openweight championship programme between the two. Yoshi-Hashi is next, having beaten two Bullet Club members. The Head Hunter is dispatched with relative easy by Jay White who has had a relatively easy route so far.
Tomohiro Ishii, meanwhile, has had a tough time of it. Difficult wins against the technical Sanada and the hard-hitting Nagata, Ishii faces Will Ospreay. Ishii sells the effects of his previous tough matches but manages to scrape through here to meet Jay White in the semi-finals. Ishii has been the thorn in White’s side for a while now and despite getting his win back over Ishii recently, White wants to end this once and for all. White achieves this and progresses to the final to meet Shingo Takagi.
Whilst Jay White has some easier matches and matches with story implications, Shingo Takagi’s run is what he does best. Pure wrestling from the highest level to establish him as a main event draw. Shingo is given the main events and the time to really solidify himself in this spot.
Shingo begins by facing, and defeating, Kazuchika Okada and dispatches of the ultimate boss in NJPW in the first round. Next is Hirooki Goto, three-time New Japan Cup winner. Shingo then goes through a wrestling God, Minoru Suzuki, who he feuded with last year in a brilliant series of matches.
This builds to Shingo’s semi-final matchup with EVIL. A match with a lot of history without the two men ever having faced off in singles action. Shingo is the one LIJ member EVIL has never beaten, meanwhile Shingo will want to get revenge for his faction after the events of last year’s cup.
Shingo gets past EVIL and moves onto Jay White in the final. This is a dynamic that has all the potential in the world but has never quite delivered to the potential expectations in their previous two meetings. This time we get the potential, in a cup final. Shingo wins the match to establish himself as a top guy in the company and go on to lose to Kota Ibushi for the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship.
Daisy's Picks: @boutmachines
One of the things I’m looking forward to most in this tournament is a strong showing from KENTA. He’s been carrying that briefcase around for so long that it’s a relief to have him doing something else. It’s almost a guarantee that we’ll see KENTA versus Minoru Suzuki in the second round, which could either serve as a banging one-time thing or kick off what I envision will be a stellar programme between the two. Of all the early matchups, this one and Okada versus Shingo are the two I’m anticipating the most.
I struggled to pick my final two while mapping out this bracket. For me, it was a toss-up between Naito and Okada to square off against Jay in the finals. Jay is a given - he’s the top heel in the company and after his win against Ishii at Castle Attack, he’ll be coming into this red hot. In the end, I chose Okada as he’s expressed interest in returning to his former glory and taking the belt again. Who better to challenge for the newly merged title than him? Jay and Naito do have history, however, and both options are viable for the final.
I’m picking Jay to win because, after a lacklustre 2020 for NJPW, few came close to generating the kind of buzz he did coming off of his Wrestle Kingdom loss. 2021 is going to be his year, and he’s the guy I’d like to see take the belt off of Ibushi when it’s time. Perhaps that time will be at Sakura Genesis - but perhaps not, and we might be able to catch another glimpse of the more vulnerable Jay White we saw post-Wrestle Kingdom 15. Personally, that’s the story I’m most interested in NJPW building from this tournament onwards.
Ryan's Picks: @ryangorneault
The New Japan Cup is set to commence on March 5th, 2021, and as usual, the winner of this tournament will receive an opportunity to fight for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship at a future event. Out of all of NJPW’s tournaments, the New Japan Cup always seems to be the most unpredictable (I know I would have NEVER predicted that EVIL would win last year’s tournament) but as COVID-19 restrictions ease up and gaijin roster-members become available again, I could see this tournament being relatively, dare I say, mundane? By no means does that mean the matches will be boring though. Each year’s NJ Cup line-up features multiple match of the year candidates, and I don’t see that being any different this year. This year, New Japan does not need to go out of their way to pull M. Night Shyamalan-style twists, since the potential matchups are too good to need shock value.
None of the first round matchups seem like they will be way too remarkable, besides the Kazuchika Okada versus Shingo Takagi match, and maybe the Gabriel Kidd versus Zack Sabre Jr. matchup. It seems pretty obvious looking through the first round matches who will go over, since most of those bouts pit the most active members of the NJPW roster against the older generation of wrestlers, or the new blood. Typically, the New Japan Cup is used to give an underrated wrestler their shine (which might explain why Hirooki Goto already won three times), so it seems unlikely that any of the Young Lions or the Third Generation will move to Round 2. The only tossup seems to be the aforementioned Okada versus Takagi match. Takagi seems like the clear favourite to win the match, considering that Okada won their previous match, and Takagi needs a well-earned win to get him back into title contention following his NEVER Openweight Title loss to Hiroshi Tanahashi. On the flip side, Okada can often be booked like John Cena at his height. In the end, I give Takagi the win.
The second round is a lot more interesting than the first now that most of the filler is out of the way. Truthfully, the tournament would be a lot more impactful with the field cut in half, but I digress. I predict that Goto and Takagi will face off, with Goto pulling out the win just because he has had more success during New Japan Cup tournaments than any of his contemporaries. Plus, Takagi really only needs that win against Okada to re-establish himself. Meanwhile, the dream match between KENTA and Minoru Suzuki will undoubtedly be a banger. KENTA definitely needs the win more than Suzuki, especially after losing the IWGP United States Heavyweight title match against Jon Moxley. It’s not like Suzuki’s mystique and ass-kicking tendencies will go away if he loses, so he really does not need to go over. Will Ospreay has been on a roll, making it likely that he’ll go over Zack Sabre Jr., and Jay White will once again re-establish himself by winning against Hiroshi Tanahashi. Tanahashi is NEVER Openweight Champion, so there’s no real reason for him to win the tournament. White needs this win a lot more anyways, especially after his devastating loss to Kota Ibushi at Night 2 of Wrestle Kingdom.
Round 3 will feature yet another match against friends-turned-enemies EVIL and Naito. Luckily, each time the two fight each other, their matches get progressively better and better, which is great considering what a clunker their 2020 Dominion match was. I could see EVIL fall back into his former position as a mid-carder, giving way for a Naito victory. On the other side of the bracket, I predict (and hope to God) that Tomohiro Ishii defeats Will Ospreay in a rematch from the G1 Climax match. In my four years of watching NJPW, the only mediocre singles match I’ve seen by Ishii has been against Ospreay. Ishii. Must. Win. Finally, rounding off Round 3 is a match between White and YOSHI-HASHI, who I believe will give uninspired performances to get to his bout against White. How will the White versus YOSHI-HASHI match go? I predict this will be in YOSHI-HASHI’s best matches, or at least, somewhere in his top 5. White will still pull out the win, obviously, but if anybody can pull a great match out of YOSHI-HASHI besides DOUKI and Kota Ibushi, it’ll probably be White.
Tetsuya Naito had defeated KENTA at 2020’s The New Beginning In Osaka, and KENTA avenged that loss at the G1 Climax later that year. It’s fitting that Round 4 of the New Japan Cup will feature the tiebreaker match between the two, but unfortunately for KENTA, Naito will go over. The other semi-final match pits Ishii and White against each other for the fourth time. Yes, they literally just fought on February 27th during NJPW’s first night of Castle Attack, but Gedo doesn’t really mind booking multiple (probably pointless, but excellently wrestled) rematches. Ishii and White are so stylistically different that their matches should not work as well as they do, so the fact that they have brought it every time makes a fourth match between t