New Japan Pro Wrestling announced the first-round matchups for the annual New Japan Cup, which includes wrestlers making in-ring returns from injury, the unexpected participation of a performer recently released from WWE NXT, and at least one match people might have predicted as the tournament final.
But First, What Is The New Japan Cup?
NJPW has held the New Japan Cup in the spring once a year since 2005. It’s always been a single elimination tournament, but the winner’s prize has changed over the years. At first, the winner got an IWGP Heavyweight Championship match, like the G1, but starting in 2014 could instead use his win to challenge for the Intercontinental Championship, and starting in 2015 had the choice of the NEVER Openweight Championship as well. These matches have taken place on a variety of big shows, including Wrestling Dontaku, Invasion Attack, and, in 2017-8, Sakura Genesis. This year, the New Japan Cup winner will face the IWGP Heavyweight Champion (currently Jay White) at the ROH/NJPW G1 Supercard event at Madison Square Garden on April 6.
Something else that makes this year’s tournament a little different is that it features a whopping thirty-two competitors, while previous iterations have included between fourteen and sixteen. Their matches will take place over the course of twelve shows between March 8-24, with four tourney bouts on each of the first four shows and two on each of the rest until the final.