New Japan Pro Wrestling has released the bracket for this year’s New Japan Cup, the annual single-elimination tournament, which this year will be for a shot at both the IWPG Heavyweight and Intercontinental Championships currently held by Tetsuya Naito. The first round, which will take place over four shows, includes rematches from past title and tournament final bouts, matches connected to current feuds, and some matches with a very obvious winner and loser.
The New Japan Cup will begin on March 4, the night after NJPW’s 48th Anniversary Event, and conclude with a final on March 21. Sixteen wrestlers have usually competed in this tournament, but last year it was expanded to a field of thirty-two, and it will remain that size in 2020. As in 2019, this year’s super-sized Cup includes Young Lions, jobbers, international guest stars, and veterans who don’t make the G1 anymore, along with New Japan’s top guys. (Unlike last year, there are no junior heavyweights in the 2020 tournament.)
That all adds up to the bracket you can see here:
The left side kicks off the tournament on March 4, with an unusual collection of matches. Jeff Cobb returns to NJPW (after a short stint in AEW) to wrestle Togi Makabe one-on-one for the first time, and Toa Henare vs. Tomohiro Ishii is a rematch from a singles match about two years ago, with the younger wrestler looking to avenge that loss. The show also includes two top-tier comedy wrestlers against two low-tier Bullet Club members with Toru Yano vs. Chase Owens and Colt Cabana vs. Bad Luck Fale.
Last year, Kazuchika Okada won the New Japan Cup and went on to challenge for the Heavyweight Championship held by Jay White, and this year White and Okada face off in the second night of the tournament’s first round. On the same show, Yuji Nagata and Minoru Suzuki will renew a longer rivalry, one that has included two Wrestle Kingdom matches and real-life high school amateur wrestling. March 7 also includes Juice Robinson vs. LA Dojo Young Lion Alex Coughlin and David Finlay vs. Tanga Loa, which will be Loa’s second singles match in New Japan; his previous one a loss in the first round of the 2017 New Japan Cup.
In addition to the tournament winner getting to challenge for Naito’s belts at Sakura Genesis on March 31, anyone who defeats a champion in the New Japan Cup will likely get a shot at that champion’s title. For some reason, all the competing champions happen to be on the right side of the bracket this year: RevPro British Heavyweight Champion Will Ospreay, NEVER Openweight Champion and NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team Champion Shingo Takagi, another trios champ in Evil, and both of the recently-crowned IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions, Hiroshi Tanahashi and Kota Ibushi.
The first night of the right side of the bracket is arguably its most stacked, both with champions and anticipated matches. Zack Sabre Jr. and Taichi attacked and challenged Ibushi and Tanahashi right after they won the tag titles last week, and now these duos are facing off in singles matches (ZSJ vs. Ibushi and Tanahashi vs. Taichi.) Also on March 8: Will Ospreay vs. Shingo Takagi in a rematch of last year’s Best of the Super Juniors final, plus Mikey Nicholls vs. Sanada.
The last night of the first round, March 9, features Hirooki Goto vs. Yujiro Takahashi (aside from this winter’s New Beginning in USA tour, the Tokyo Pimp’s first singles match since the 2018 Destruction tour), Kenta vs. LA Dojo Young Lion Karl Fredericks, Hiroyoshi Tenzan vs. Yoshi-Hashi (you really feel the 32-man field in this block), and Satoshi Kojima vs. Evil, after the two cut promos on each other last week when Kojima pinned Evil in a tag match.
One notable absence from this year’s New Japan Cup is Lance Archer, who started his surprise standout singles run during last year’s tournament, which could be a sign he really is AEW-bound.