A shroud of darkness fell over New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) in its 2020 New Japan Cup Finals. EVIL had emerged from the pack, vanquished the competition and claimed victory.
However, the 33-year-old’s New Japan Cup win came at a high cost. He had to sacrifice his bond with his long term faction Los Ingobernables de Japon (LIJ) in order to get there.
The first major New Japan Pro-Wrestling event after a 110-day hiatus featured a plethora of great matches, as is the standard for the company. Many wrestlers took advantage of the opportunity, which set new storylines in motion.
Having NJPW back makes the wrestling world feel whole again. The inclusion of limited crowds for the final night was also a welcomed addition to the product.
Was your bracket busted early on? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
For the first time ever, this year’s tournament featured a mix of heavyweight, junior heavyweight and Young Lion wrestlers due to the pandemic. The fresh mixture gave fans the opportunity to new and never before seen matchup.
We’ve packed everything you need to know about New Japan Cup 2020 into one mega review, chronicling the most important highlights from the tournament. Without further adieu, this is New Japan Cup 2020: Everything we learned and then some!
Match of the tournament: Night seven, Hirmou Takahashi vs Tomhiro Ishii
Before we dive into this match, it must be noted the Ishii-Takashi clash edged out Shingo-SHO for Match of the Tournament by just a hair.
Tomohiro Ishii and Hiromu Takahashi were involved in some of the most entertaining matches of the tournament before this bout. However, both men’s best bouts came against each other.
Once again, Ishii’s junior heavyweight-like speed was on display, while IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Takashi continued to prove he could hang with the heavyweights.
This was one of those matches where all the boxes were checked. You had hard hitting action, great pacing and not a second was wasted.
Takahashi came out the victor, but it wasn’t an easy effort. Both guys here came out looking like winners.
Ishii continued to look strong and proved why he is one of the best in New Japan while Takhashi showed although he’s a junior he can compete above his weight class.
Reviewing this match would take up its own story, which is why you should take our word for it and check it out for yourself! Prominent wrestling journalist Dave Melter rated it 4.75 out of five stars, the tournament’s highest rated match.
If it weren’t for the pandemic we may not have gotten to see this match. Who knew something so good could come out of something that’s been so bad.
The conclusion of this match left many fans wondering if they would rather see Ishii in the Best of the Super Juniors tournament or Takahashi in the G1 Climax. Either way, these two put on a clinic in what might be the best in-ring match of the “pandemic era.”
Stock down: SANADA
SANADA was a popular favourite to win the New Japan Cup prior to the pandemic. In a normal world, SANADA defeating Bullet Club leader Jay White in the finals would’ve been a popular prediction.
While the “Cold Skull” is a member of Los Ingobernables De Japon, his relationship with his stablemates had been questioned for some time. This was mostly fueled by the fact he is the only member of the faction without a championship belt.
Furthermore, many New Japan diehards believe SANADA has the makings of a heavyweight singles star. The fact that crowds in Japan love to cheer him and coupled with the fact he has no gold around his waist made many speculate he could be on his way out of LIJ.
However, New Japan Cup 2020 was pretty lackluster for the 32-year-old. He achieved victories over Ryusuke Taguchi and SHO before being brutally ousted by his regular tag-team partner and fellow LIJ member, EVIL.
SANADA’s tournament matches were good, but not great. As he advanced through the bracket, it felt like his next match would be the breakout performance New Japan’s fanbase expected, but it never came.
Fans across the pond have always been sour on SANADA, whereas in Japan he is a crowd favourite. Many people seem to miss the fact his gimmick is partially being nonchalant, or as stablemate Tetsuya Naito would put it, “tranquilo.”
It is quite possible people who tuned in to New Japan for the first time for this tournament had heard of SANADA and expected more. However, it’s easy to admit his move set does leave much to be desired.
In a period of time where wrestlers usually over deliver, SANADA sticks out like a sore thumb. He isn’t built on anything flashy or the high octane offence wrestling fans are accustomed to in 2020.
The shocking conclusion to New Japan Cup 2020 might be a sign that new opportunity awaits SANADA. Sure, he had a lackluster tournament, but it could all be part of NJPW booker Gedo’s grand plan.
It’s important to remember that just one year ago he was a rising force in NJPW. One bad tournament won’t be the be all and end all for SANADA, but for someone who came in as a favourite to win, he left having done more harm than good.
One to watch: SHO
Aside from EVIL, who is already a made name in New Japan, there wasn’t a single wrestler who upped their stock more during the tournament than SHO. If wrestler stocks are the type of thing you invest in, now is the time to buy in on him.
Many people will say Taichi is the one to watch following New Japan Cup 2020. However, his path to the IWGP Tag Team Championship, which he captured on July 12 at Dominion with Zack Sabre Jr. was already clear.
SHO one the other hand, proved he is ready for a singles run in the junior heavyweight division. An ACL injury to his tag team partner YOH opened the door for an opportunity, even if it’s out of poor circumstances.
For the past number of years together as Roppongi 3K, SHO and YOH have been a staple of the IWGP junior heavyweight tag team division. However, it was last year at Best of the Super Juniors 26 where SHO flashed serious singles potential.
On night three of New Japan Cup 2020 SHO scored a massive upset victory over NEVER Openweight Champion Shingo Takagi. In fact, he became the first person to pin Shingo since Tetsuya Naito beat him Aug. 4, 2019 during G1 Climax 29.
Shingo Takagi doesn’t get pinned often in singles competition and when he does it’s a big deal. While SHO earned a Never Openweight title shot, his real potential comes as a junior singles star.
Due to the pandemic, New Japan’s junior division is thin on singles stars. Following his strong New Japan Cup showing and a championship match with Shingo at Dominion, SHO should turn his attention to the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship.
This year could very well be the year of SHO, especially if current IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Hiromu Takahashi is thinking about moving up.
Biggest winner: EVIL
It’s easy to forget how distinguished EVIL’s New Japan resume is, which is because he’s often playing third, fourth and even fifth fiddle to his LIJ stablemates. Now is a good time to remind you he’s a former NEVER Openweight Champion, a multi-time IWGP Tag Team Champion and a multi-time World Tag League winner.
Winning the 2020 New Japan Cup tournament is just another feather in EVIL’s cap. It’s an understatement to say EVIL having a meaningful singles run has been a long time coming.
During his New Japan Cup 2020 run EVIL’s well, evil side came out to play. While the rest of Los Ingobernables de Japon are currently positioned as good guys, EVIL has spent the last month putting the “king” in his “King of Darkness” moniker.
While his matches weren’t anything to write home about, they served as vehicles for deeper story telling. Two of EVIL’s pre-finals matches stick out.
The first was his brutal beat down of YOSHI-HASHI. Next, was his cheap and dirty win over his now former tag team partner SANADA.
His finals match against Kazuchika Okada was pretty good too. However, it will forever be overshadowed by the events which followed.
EVIL is New Japan Cup’s biggest winner not just because he won the tournament, but because he is now positioned as the face of NJPW. It would be fitting to say EVIL is now out of the darkness however, this won’t work for someone who is referred to “The King of Darkness.”
Let’s just say following New Japan Cup 2020, everything is… EVIL.
Biggest surprise: That wasn’t very tranquilo of you!
Anyone else feel duped that the signs for EVIL’s defection from LIJ to Bullet Club were there all along? Don’t worry you’re not alone.
Los Ingobernables de Japon have been the most tight knit faction in New Japan since its inception, even with the constant one upmanship. If you were to put money on who would be the first to defect, the popular candidate would be SANADA.
Sure, SANADA joining Bullet Club would be cool, but he’s got the gusto department covered. It’s been said for a long time now LIJ would never have a serious breakup and that’s just how the faction works.
The best way to put it is Los Ingobernables de Japon are one great big dysfunctional family, but at the end of the day they all love each other. However, it seems like now they’re going to be brought together by a common foe.
When Gedo, a member of Bullet Club, came out to distract Okada during the 2020 New Japan Cup Finals, it made sense. Gedo hates Okada, he lost to Okada in this year’s tournament and so, why not get some revenge on your long term enemy.
Surely Gedo wouldn’t be coming out to assist EVIL, right? However, Yujiro Takashi also attacked Okada during the match which was another Bullet Club assist for EVIL.
If you know your NJPW history, Takahashi’s attack on Okada was eerily similar to when he provided the assist for AJ Styles’ IWGP Heavyweight Championship victory in 2015.
The post match shenanigans are where things begin to heat up.
It’s a popular custom in New Japan for the winner of a tournament or high stakes match to call out and issue an official challenge to the champion. In this case, EVIL called out his stable mate and current IWGP Intercontinental and Heavyweight Champion, Tetsuya Naito.
The two exchanged pleasantries and Naito raised his arm for the signature LIJ fistbump. EVIL raised his fist and threw up the “Too Sweet” gesture, a popular hand sign used by Bullet Club.
Naito was shocked at what had happened and before he knew it he was on the receiving end of a beatdown from EVIL. In an even more sick and twisted turn of events, EVIL stomped on the beloved baseball hat of Naito, as if to show he was no longer Ingobernable.
Suddenly the other members of Bullet Club appeared to embrace EVIL. For the first time ever, one of LIJ’s own had betrayed them and defected to another faction.
Bullet Club has been the faction most hurt by the pandemic. Its leader Jay White is stuck stateside along with tag team Guerillas of Destiny and members such as KENTA and El Phantasmo.
For those new to NJPW, Bullet Club has historically been a predominantly gaijin faction, the Japanese word for “foreigner.” However, due to the circumstances this is the first time all active members of Bullet Club are Japanese.
Bullet Club was founded in 2013 by Prince Devitt, better known today as Finn Balor in WWE. The faction has been home to big names such as: Kenny Omega, Cody, The Young Bucks, Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson.
In the current circumstances Bullet Club lacked a marquee player. Imagine being told EVIL would not only win the New Japan Cup, but 24-hours later he would defeat Naito for the IWGP Intercontinental and Heavyweight Championships.
The rocket has officially been strapped to EVIL. He leapfrogged Jay White and KENTA, Bullet Club’s top two wrestlers, and is now in firm control of the stable.
Now as the summer rolls on Bullet Club will look to regain dominance over New Japan Pro-Wrestling. It may not have all its troops, but Bullet Club, with the new IWGP Intercontinental and Heavyweight Champion in its ranks is back on top.
Have the seeds for a potential Bullet Club civil war been planted for when all the factions’s members return?