NJPW Super J-Cup 2020

Port Hueneme, CA – 12.12.2020

Commentary is provided by Kevin Kelly & Alex Koslov.

Super J-Cup 2020 First Round Match
Clark Connors vs. Chris Bey

Bey represents Impact Wrestling and this is his NJPW debut. Connors went with what has worked for him on STRONG; explosive offense and the Boston Crab. Bey took a more methodical approach than perhaps expected, as after he landed a double stomp to the back, he threw kicks at Connors’ mid-section and landed a double stomp. Connors avoided a second double stomp and Pounced Bey across the ring. Bey was able to avoid the spear but did get caught with a half-nelson suplex. Bey backslides Connors into a tiger driver for two. Connors hard chops floor Bey, allowing him to try the Boston Crab again. Bey cradles his way free and spin kicks a charging Connors. The Art of Finesse (springboard Ace Crusher) gets Bey the pin at 9:36. It is very surprising to see the only LA DOJO representative in this tournament go out in the opening round, but Bey’s style is better suited to the general spirit of the Super J-Cup. Him beating Connors, who won the Lion’s Break: Crown tournament, also gives him some nice momentum heading into the next round. Bey was also able to show some personality and being paired against Connors made him stand out due to their contrasting styles being so different. **½

Super J-Cup 2020 First Round Match

TJP made it to the semi-finals in last year’s tournament where he lost to eventual tournament winner El Phantasmo. TJP outpaces ACH to start, catching him with a dropkick on the floor. ACH snaps off a Frankensteiner in the ring and hits his own dropkick as a statement. TJP responds with a nasty backbreaker, leading him to focus his offense on ACH’s neck and shoulders. ACH gets a respite when he sends TJP outside and follows with a pescado. TJP however shuts him down with a springboard DDT back in the ring. ACH rocks him with a rolling forearm and lands a German suplex for two. ACH anticipates the double underhook gutbuster. He slides under and tries a brainbuster and ends up being surprised with a suplex from TJP. ACH counters a superplex from TJP with a super gutbuster, then immediately hits the Midnight Star for the pin at 9:52. This was a lot of fun to watch, as ACH and TJP had each other so well scouted and moved at a very exciting pace while doing so. ACH winning with a 450 splash after having his midsection worked over is a bit perplexing, as it wasn’t played off as him fighting through the pain to get the win, and instead felt like an oversight. In a vacuum I very much enjoyed this. ***

Super J-Cup 2020 First Round Match
Blake Christian vs. Rey Horus

Horus represents Ring of Honor and this is his NJPW debut. Christian breaks the parity of the offense with a tope con hilo onto Horus. Horus armdrags and dropkicks Christian to the floor, following with an even more impressive tope con hilo over the corner ring post. In the ring, Christian reverses a brainbuster into a suplex, then hits a rolling thunder. Christian gets two with a running shooting star press, and when he stands up, it’s revealed Christian now has a bloody nose. Christian’s intensity picks up from there, although Horus side steps a corner attack and from the floor kicks Christian in the face.Christian fights out of a figure four leg lock. Horus catches him on the top turnbuckle with a high-speed prawn hold, and Christian amazingly kicks out of the pin that follows. When Horus goes back top, however, Christian follows and brings him down with an inverted Spanish Fly. Horus also kicks out at two, so Christian hits a frog splash to pick up the pin at 12:00. These two didn’t go all out, but what they did provide was quite great. Christian’s potentially broken nose totally sucks, though it absolutely added to the drama of the bout. On its own many would consider this match a disappointment, but as a first round tournament match where energy conservation is key I was satisfied. **¾

Super J-Cup 2020 First Round Match
Lio Rush vs. El Phantasmo

This is Rush’s NJPW debut. Phantasmo is the defending champion, winning the 2019 Super J-Cup last August, defeating Dragon Lee in the finals. Phantasmo composed some new music for himself but is holding out for more money from NJPW, so his entrance is muted. Rush’s incredible speed embarasses Phantasmo in the opening moments. Phantasmo attacks Rush’s arm in response, and when Rush tries a Frankensteiner outside the ring, Phantasmo drops him with a Styles Clash on the floor! Rush is able to beat the twenty count. Phantasmo whips Rush hard into the corner. He then steps on Rush’s crotch in a tree of woe and rakes his back to humiliate him. Phantasmo’s arrogant top rope walk is stopped when Rush pulls him down and delivers a reverse Frankensteiner. Phantasmo rolls out to the floor and Rush follows with a heat-seeking missile. Rush does the deal with a Falcon Arrow back in the ring for two. Phantasmo spins Rush into a neckbreaker for two. Rush blocks CR II with a small package. He hits a springback stunner before rolling up Phantasmo for two. Phantasmo gets his knees up to block the Rush Hour. He shoves Rush into the referee so he can poke Rush in the eyes and give him a low blow. Phantasmo rolls up Rush for the pin at 15:16. I am torn because Phantasmo cheating his way through the tournament was already cliche and hackneyed last year; a year later and it is no better. However, it at least fit the story of Phantasmo’s desperation to shut down the faster and more skilled opponent, and it helped make the match stand out from the rest of the opening bout. On top of that, the wrestling was really good. Going with my gut here. ***

Fred Rosser & Rocky Romero vs. Team Filthy (JR Kratos & Danny Limelight)

Romero is still salty over Limelight attacking him to join Team Filthy. Kratos and Rosser beat the crap out of each other before Romero is able to come to blows with Limelight. During the Forever clotheslines, Limelight snaps Romero’s neck on the top rope and Kratos takes him down with a big clothesline. Team Filthy beat down Romero until he turns Limelight inside out with a clothesline. Rosser impressively gives Kratos a backbreaker on the ring apron and lands as eated splash for two. Kratos reverses a suplex with one of his own and tags Limelight back in. Rosser catches Limelight with a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker and tags Romero back in. Romero sets up Limelight on the middle rope and gives him a double stomp to the back. Limelight spin kicks Romero after blocking a shiranui. Rosser saves Romero from being pinned after a fisherman’s buster. He takes out Kratos with a rolling forearm, but Limelight sends Rosser out with an enzuigiri. Romero tries a shiranui again. Kratos pulls Romero off of Limelight and into a wheelbarrow suplex. With a smile, Limelight pins Romero at 12:49. For those who cherry pick their NJPW viewing and tend to check out the tournaments, I appreciate that they gave us a bout that featured a rivalry from STRONG in the hopes of enticing people to check out that show. Limelight having a victory to gloat against Romero which he didn’t fully earn is just delightful. It’s worth mentioning once again how Rosser has consistently busted his ass on these shows. ***

Super J-Cup 2020 Semifinal Round Match
ACH vs. Chris Bey

ACH’s worn down back definitely mattered in this match. Even as ACH was on offense, he would wince in pain or hold onto his back during the process. Bey caught ACH with an elbow drop onto his back as ACH was re-entering the ring. Bey targets all of his offense on ACH’s back going forward. ACH cuts him off with a pescado, then double stomps Bey’s back when inside the ring for two. Bey comes back with a roll into a Code Red for two. After a running uppercut in the corner, Bey heads to the top turnbuckle. ACH follows him up and Bey brings him down with a super Frankensteiner, which amazingly does not keep ACH down. ACH blocks the Finesse Elbow with a German suplex. After a lariat, he gives Bey a brainbuster, and then hits the Midnight Star for the pin at 8:27. The beauty here was not just in the great wrestling, but the simple story. Bey attacked ACH’s hurt back, ACH’s tenacity kept him moving forward, and he bested ACH in relatively quick fashion to advance to the finals. We’ll see if he has enough in him to struggle through one more match to win. I’m stunned it took NJPW almost eight months just to informally associate with Bey after this tournament, as he was great in his two tournament matches. **¾

Super J-Cup 2020 Semifinal Round Match
Blake Christian vs. El Phantasmo

Commentary tells us the doctors relented to let Christian wrestle despite their objection, which is pretty absurd if you think about it. Christian has tape on his nose and black left eye. Christian takes the right approach in attacking Phantasmo the moment the bell rings to try to get this over early. As you would expect, Phantasmo had no problem grabbing Christian’s early nose in order to turn things in his favor. Christian impressively hits a tiger feint kick to send Phantasmo outside and follows with a twisting dive. Phantasmo wants a time out but Christian declines with a Fosbury Flop. When Christian goes for a sharpshooter, Phantasmo goes for his nose again. Christian is able to block the CR II and gives Phantasmo a reverse brainbuster for two. When Phantasmo also kicks out of a running shooting star press, Christian goes for broke with Elia. Phantasmo rolls out of its trajectory, blasting Christian with a superkick when Christian gets to his feet, and getting the pin at 7:24. I liked this match, but two matches with the same story of guys fighting through injuries back-to-back sticks out. Then again, Christian’s injury was legit, and ACH’s first round match came before Christian’s, so I can give it a pass. I appreciate Phantasmo exposing the injury with an actual wrestling move to win – much more satisfying than a low blow. ***

Kevin Knight & Ren Narita vs. BULLET CLUB (KENTA & Hikuleo)

Kevin Knight is an LA DOJO student making their NJPW debut. Narita is a Japanese dojo student, sent off on U.S. excursion in September 2019 and joining the LA DOJO under Katsuyori Shibata’s tutelage.. BULLET CLUB beat the crap out of Narita. With Knight’s aid, Narita shows hope when fighting Hikuleo. KENTA however takes out Narita on the floor, leaving Knight to be popped up in the air by Hikuleo and for him to come crashing down to the mat. Knight gets beaten down for a long time before he avoids a legdrop from Hikuleo. A now recovered Narita tags in and knocks KENTA off the apron. Narita goes for a Cobra Twist on Hikuleo. Hikuleo hip tosses free. Narita surprises KENTA in the corner with a running forearm smash. He back elbows KENTA in the corner and delivers a suplex for two. KENTA rocks him with a backfist, and Knight tags in when Narita stumbles back. Knight hits the prettiest dropkick in wrestling since Chuck Taylor on KENTA before lighting him up with uppercuts. A seated shoulder tackle leads to Knight attempting the Boston Crab. KENTA fights it off. Knight absorbs KENTA’s back kicks and trades forearm strikes with him. KENTA puts Knight in his own Boston Crab. Narita comes to save him and gets chokeslammed by Hikuleo. KENTA reapplies the Crab and Knight taps out at 10:02. I love KENTA tapping out Shibata’s students with the DOJO signature move. What a dick. The middle part was pretty boring but it started and ended hot. Both students look awesome, and Knight got plenty of time to shine in his debut. **½

Super J-Cup 2020 Final Round Match
ACH vs. El Phantasmo

Phantasmo attacks ACH during his entrance, and we see now that ACH’s back is taped up. Phantasmo destroys the trophy across ACH’s back. We at least get consistency in letting wrestlers compete with obvious injuries as the officials allow ACH to compete. ACH throws everything he has at Phantasmo but gets caught with a backdrop on the apron when attempting a PK. Phantasmo takes the tape off of ACH’s back, choking him with it as he continues to attack the back. After a corner dropkick, Phantasmo treats himself to a “one more time” chant before standing on ACH’s crotch. Phantasmo almost gets a count out win after giving ACH a suplex on the entrance ramp, but ACH makes it back inside just before the twenty count. Phantasmo gets too cocky walking the top rope, with ACH able to knock him to the floor and connect with the PK successfully. ACH scores a couple nearfalls after a slingshot Ace Crusher and a German suplex. Phantasmo stops a Midnight Star with a super Frankensteiner and a huge top rope splash. ACH kicks out from that, as well as a Styles Clash. ACH escapes a One Winged Angel attempt, throwing a flurry of kicks before pulling off a brainbuster for two. ACH manages a super gutbuster for two. Phantasmo gets his knees up to block the Midnight Star and low blows ACH after kicking him into the referee, and amazingly ACH kicks out from the subsequent pin. He pulls ACH up into the CR II for the pin at 16:11. Phantasmo is the most logical choice from a booking standpoint, but the least interesting or exciting choice of the entire field. That said, he had probably the best performance of the entire tournament at large, bringing a ton of character work to the field that nobody else did while having three good matches to boot. ACH had me convinced he was going to eke out a win on a couple occasions which speaks to how good he was in this match as well. The tournament itself was nothing special, but at least the finals brought all the elements from both guys’ respective tournament matches into a really engaging final bout. ***½

Phantasmo becomes the third person to win back to back Super J-Cup tournaments, but the first to win them in back-to-back years. Phantasmo breaks in half the remains of the trophy and spits on the tournament winners jacket apart after demanding it be put on him. After spitting on the jacket he demands the microphone. Phantasmo says he runs the junior division, and to prove it, he challenges the winner of the Best of the Super Juniors tournament to a match at Wrestle Kingdom 15. Since this was likely taped in advance, nobody says the name of the BOSJ winner, which ended the night before. It was Hiromu Takahashi, by the way.

This tournament got almost universally panned when it happened. I think there are two key reasons for this. The first is that the 2019 tournament was praised very heavily and this paled inc omparison. However, the 2019 tournament had a loaded roster, and was spread out over the course of three days. The COVID-19 pandemic severely limited the options for the talent pool, and I think adjusting to a one night tournament for a no-fans environment was a best case scenario. This, however, brings up the second point, in that the necessity for this tournament even happening. Yes, it set-up Phantasmo vs. Hiromu Takahashi at Wrestle Kingdom. However, because of COVID, New Japan ran all of it’s annual tournaments plus three title tournaments and three U.S. tournaments, including this one, in the span of six months. That is 10 tournaments in six months. Tournament fatigue was hitting New Japan fans hard, and to have yet another tournament that didn’t produce any exceptional matches with a ho-hum winner was a bummer. As a New Japan tournament, it’s easy to call this a disappointment. Coming into it through the lens of the quality of shows STRONG was producing, and many months after the fact, it fit right in to the landscape.

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