I started thinking about tournaments, in a large part because New Japan just ran their New Japan Cup, a 16-man single elimination tournament. It was a series of very good shows that culminated in Kota Ibushi winning the prize of a giant check and a title match of his choice. As I organize my thoughts on tournaments in general, it will help to take a look at the most recent New Japan Cup.
The show ended with Ibushi, a young high-flyer we decided would look right at home in an anime like Initial D, challenging AJ Styles for the IWGP title. That match will probably be better then anything from the Cup itself, even if Ibushi doesn’t stand much chance of winning. Ibushi has been a highlight this year, going all the way back to the beginning of January where he had what still may be the match of the year against Nakamura.
One of the main things I like about New Japan is it makes sense without being predictable. Ibushi was one of the handful of guys I thought had a good chance to win, but the final four also had his tag partner Tetsuya Naito, perennial winner Hirooki Goto, and all-around bad ass Togi Makabe. I wouldn’t have been surprised if any of them had won. The tournament had a few upsets, including Toru Yano, a comedy character who cheats to win, beating Hiroshi Tanahashi, a constant main-eventer. Ibushi challenging Styles was a bit of a surprise, as I thought he would go after Nakamura again, but it’s a good surprise.
The New Japan Cup continued feuds and started new ones. It had quick matches and long matches, comedy matches and hard-hitting matches. It saw friends try to destroy each other and it advanced stories. And it gave us a winner who deserved it. It felt important to everyone involved.
In short, it did everything a tournament needs to do.