This year’s New Japan Cup was unique in multiple ways. It was the biggest version of the tournament New Japan Pro Wrestling had ever attempted, with a field of thirty-two wrestlers instead of the usual sixteen. Additionally, the man to fight his way through this most difficult version of the Cup would be granted his IWGP Heavyweight Championship match in the main event of the ROH/NJPW G1 Supercard show at Madison Square Garden, the first event run by either company at the historic venue, against current title-holder Jay White.
The tournament boiled down to Kazuchika Okada and Sanada on March 24 in Niigata. Recently one half of the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions, Sanada was a dark horse pick to win his bracket but managed to defeat Hirooki Goto, Minoru Suzuki, Colt Cabana, and Hiroshi Tanahashi to make it to the final. Okada, the most obvious pick to win his bracket, defeated Michael Elgin, Mikey Nicholls (fka NXT’s Nick Miller), Will Ospreay, and Tomohiro Ishii.
Okada defeated Sanada in a hard-fought match just over thirty-three minutes long by pinning him after a Rainmaker. This was the second New Japan Cup win of his career – Okada previously won the 2013 tournament and went on to defeat Hiroshi Tanahashi to win the IWGP Heavyweight Championship for the second time.
After his victory, Okada got on the mic and made a speech praising NJPW and his opponent, even complimenting Sanada and saying he’d wrestle him again after MSG. Jay White, with manager Gedo by his side, then entered the venue to loud boos from the crowd.
After a brief promo in which Gedo told Okada he’d “go to hell” at MSG, White made a lengthy speech in English that he restarted multiple times to wait for the crowd to stop booing. The IWGP Heavyweight Champion even received a rare heckling at an NJPW show when a man yelled for a translation of White’s promo as it turned into more of a rant.