NJPW SUPER-J CUP ~1st STAGE~ Commercial Tapes
The original SUPER-J CUP has long been a standard initiation into the world of puroresu. Boasting arguably the greatest junior heavyweight match of all-time, the difference between the 3 minute chopfests American fans are used to seeing Chris Benoit in and the wonderfully choreographed, challenging, incredibly diverse, perfectly timed sequences he delivers throughout his amazing bout with The Great Sasuke are enough to open people’s eyes to the fact there’s more to wrestling than chinlocks and juvenile soap opera angles for those turned on by oiled up bodybuilders in extra snug tights.
Due to its fame, some would say the J-CUP is incredibly overrated. I mean, match for match, it doesn’t hold a candle to the greatest All Japan Women’s shows, the DREAMSLAMs or Big Egg Wrestling Universe. You can make a case for a handful of matches being excellent, which isn’t that far off the mark from the AJW shows though they have more truly great matches, but the problem is most of the said matches are about half the length of their AJW counterparts. Obviously the one-night tournament format has a great deal to do with that, but whereas AJW’s 5 Star Tournament on 11/20/94 had 1 match under 11 minutes, NJPW’s J-CUP had 10!
The Super J-CUP is greater than the sum of its parts. Though a lot of the matches are merely good on the star ratings scale, that’s largely a reflection of their length rather than their quality. A 6 minute match isn’t going to be a great match, but that doesn’t mean those 6 minutes can’t be incredibly entertaining. Minute for minute, the Super J-CUP is much closer to as good as it gets. Though a few matches don’t quite come off, there’s almost never a dull moment, something that can’t be said for even AJW’s Big Egg Wrestling Universe, which is marred by midgets and amaresu.
SUPER-J CUP ~1st STAGE~ Round 1:
Gedo vs. Dean Malenko 8:04. Dean Malenko is an awesome worker when he has a likeminded and skilled opponent, but matches such as this reveal a ridigness and stubbornness that show him to be considerably overrated overall. Granted Gedo is no great shakes, but Gedo is what he is. He let Malenko carry the match, but Malenko largely refused to craft it in a manner that would exemplify Gedo’s positive qualities. Instead, Malenko made the bout that much more of a style clash than it had to be, wanting to wrestle technically against a cheap heat brawler who prefers to mix it up in between his few signature spots.
Malenko grounded Gedo because he could, typically forcing his opponent to do the slow matwork he likes and is so proficient at even though they are incapable of working their way out. As Gedo has no real counters for the slower, more traditional and technical style matwork, he simply laid there until he decided to take a short cut to escape.
As the match progressed, Malenko grew increasingly frustrated (in story) with Gedo’s shady brawling, and began to fight fire with fire, which did put the ball more in Gedo’s court. The match was actually very exciting when they were running around, with the fast paced standing sequences saving the match. Due to the bout being shorter than usual, it actually had more peaks and valleys than the typical 20-minute Malenko match. Gedo won with a powerslam, that Malenko obviously kicked out of so he could save some face. **1/4
Super Delfin vs. Shinjiro Otani 8:09. Delfin & Otani delivered the type of match the audience paid for. It was fast paced and exciting with both men putting their best foot forward. At the same time, the match was something different, not really stylistically, but this was one of the many new matches on a show that was notable for being the first time juniors from MPW, FMW, & SPWF had appeared in NJPW rings. The execution was a bit off due to the unfamiliarity, but both men were pumped up and delivered some good, fiery action.
Otani was very up and down in 1993, but this was one of the performances that showed he was here to stay. He was such an amazing young babyface, his passion making it so easy to support him. As Otani was still breaking into the junior division, Delfin could have gotten away with not going too far out of his way on his behalf. However, Delfin chose to give a very unselfish performance doing all his key spots giving Otani every opportunity to showcase his skills. The result wasn’t important, I mean, no one really gave Otani any chance here, but the match was a success for New Japan because he made the audience remember him. ***1/2
Black Tiger vs. TAKA Michinoku 6:48. I never realized how short this match was until I looked at the results because it was so exciting time never seemed relevant. It was my first look at TAKA Michinoku, and TAKA gave a truly spectacular performance that put himself on the map. It was essentially the same as the previous match except the established star was from New Japan and the up and comer was from Michinoku.
Tiger’s late 1993-early 1994 series against Jushin Thunder Liger was rather disappointing given the talent involved, as they seemed to stray too far from Tiger’s athletic brand of puroresu modified lucha libre for Tiger’s good. TAKA is more in tune with that style, and largely made the match by showing off his quickness and athleticism at every turn, leaping onto the top rop and pulling backflips and body attacks. TAKA did everything at warp speed, pulling one great athletic counter after another to the point Tiger was actually more of an afterthought. Tiger got the win, but it was TAKA that the fans were so wowed by they were marking out for by the end. ****
El Samurai vs. Masayoshi Motegi 7:12. If it weren’t for the fact that they kept putting Motegi in the J-CUP’s, no one would really mind him. He was an alright indy junior heavyweight; he simply wasn’t on the level with the other wrestlers in this tournament, with the exception of the inept goofball Ricky Fuji, who is a far worse wrestler than Motegi on 99 out of 100 nights. On this particular night though, Motegi was so bad he made Fuji look like, well, a wrestler by serving up the choke job of the decade.
Just how bad was Motegi? Well, it’s really hard to even put it into words. I mean, if, like the majority of the audience, you never saw him before, you wouldn’t guess he was 31 years old, you’d assume he was making his debut here. In Motegi’s defense, he had been wrestling for less than 3 years despite his “advanced” age, but still, there’s simply no excuse for blowing virtually every spot you try.
I really felt bad for El Samurai. Here’s a guy who has been one of the best junior heavyweights in the world for the past few years, a guy who had delivered when he got the opportunity including the 1992 Super Junior Final against Jushin Thunder Liger on 4/30/92, for me a better match than the J-CUP Final. Through no fault of his own, poor Samurai winds up involved in the ultimate stinker, a match that has been viewed by millions more people than saw his junior title victory over Liger on 6/26/92.
Motegi may have fooled us into beliving he was cool for about 30 seconds with a quick tope, but then slipped off the ropes trying a climp-up plancha, and it was all downhill from there. Motegi may be the first to try the Dragon sleeper as a forehead lock, but that was closer than he came to the mark on most of his other moves. The ultimate comedy may have been his fancy headscissors, which were sort of nice if you can look past the fact that he never managed to catch Samurai’s head! Motegi had trouble taking as well as giving, failing to even manage to be in the right spot for a dropkick. Honestly, this was so bad they may as well have remained Murphy’s Law in Motegi’s honor. DUD
Ricky Fuji vs. Negro Casas 5:49. Say what you want about Motegi, but at least he lost quickly and that was all until next J-CUP, Thank God! Negro Casas may have been somewhat of a disappointment in Japan, but he’s one of the greatest and most legendary luchadores of all time, and they have him lose to this clown because FMW wouldn’t participate unless one of their wrestlers won. It was short, but not very sweet with Casas keeping it as simply as possible to avoid falling prey to the sort of disaster Samurai had just endured. It was a smart performance by Casas, not doing anything Fuji should have trouble with. It was never going to be memorable, or even anything to take note of, but it was all rather acceptable with Fuji coming off as passable. *1/2
Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Hayabusa 10:40. Similar to Otani & TAKA, Hayabusa, a promising up and comer with tons of potential, was another perfect first round loser. Hayabusa could be about the most spectacular wrestler on the planet, and obviously that earned him a legion of fans, but the way to judge the potential of an aerial wrestler is to consider how they actually utilize their athleticism. The wrestlers who regular put their athleticism on display for counters and non moves will almost invariably turn out to be the better worker than the flyers who just want to do 450 flips because they’ll figure out how to make the early portion - where wrestlers try not to stress and toll their body too much - interesting and learn to control their body so they can take ordinary bumps that make their opponent look that much better than they otherwise would.
Looking at TAKA, who became great the next year, and Hayabusa, who was fun but never even very good, one can see the major difference is TAKA always (or at least until he got lazy in the US) wrestled in a manner that showcased his athleticism because he understood that was his strength, and thus tried to cater as much of each aspect of the match as possible to that ability. On the other hand, Hayabusa didn’t really think, he just sort of exchanged athletic highspots. Hayabusa never had much in the way of proper training, and he was probably more negatively affected by being in FMW, where the possibility of developing the proper mindset was debatable, at best. One is still tempted to say he could have changed and been great, but, in the end, the big difference was simply that TAKA was using his head to determine the various ways he could utilize his ability to put on an all around good show, and thus eventually developed the offense, whereas Hayabusa was out there showing off and thus never displayed the will to become well rounded.
The challenge for Liger was to build the match around Hayabusa’s lone ability. That said, it wasn’t so much Liger trying to showcase Hayabusa’s aerial artistry as simply trying to show him how to do a match. Liger mostly smacked Hayabusa around since Hayabusa wasn’t near his level, but still, Liger clearly allowed him to make a better than deserved showing.
The match was going really well until the final stage, where Hayabusa failed on a 180 degree turn into a flying Frankensteiner then overshot his shooting star press. Liger went right into a Ligerbomb nearfall to try to pass off the illusion that he avoided the shooting star press and quickly finished him off. Still, Hayabusa was a success because everyone realized he was a work in progress, but also that this progress would be worth monitoring. ***
SUPER-J CUP ~1st STAGE~ Round 2:
Super Delfin vs. Gedo 8:20. Delfin is hardly as good a pure wrestler as Dean Malenko, but he’s always had a good sense of how to entertain. That has sometimes been counter productive to him providing the best wrestling, see his more comedy oriented Osaka Pro stuff, but no one is having a match of the year with Gedo. What you can do is keep the match moving and the audience in the match. They did a good short match that progressed cleanly and swiftly. While hardly earth shattering, it’s difficult to find a better example of how Gedo, a junior heavyweight of marginal ability, has been successful amidst so many of the greatest junior heavyweights of all time. Yes, he lacks offense, but he’s opportunistic, the sort of wrestler who just needs to hang around long enough to pounce upon one mistake. Obviously, we wish Delfin would have won, but he got his New Japan push a few months later in the Super Junior Tournament, and actually his league match with Wild Pegasus on 6/1/94, while considerably better than what Gedo could muster tonight, was kind of disappointing. ***
Black Tiger vs. Wild Pegasus 9:36. If there’s one overrated match in the J-CUP, it’s certainly Eddie Guerrero vs. Chris Benoit. It’s not their fault, as both men put their best foot forward; it’s simply one of those matches everyone wants to see, and given how much time they spent hanging around with each other, there certainly aren’t enough singles matches between the two in Japan. It’s certainly an excellent melding of Pegasus’ brutality and Tiger’s gracefulness, and though extremely condensed, Pegasus does shorten matches extremely well, stepping up the pace and intensity early on rather than spacing things out too much. Benoit’s problem was never the inability to put 12 minutes of action into 8, it’s that in the later 90’s when he began spending too much time in the US and doing little beyond chops, he tended to put 8 minutes of work into a 20 minute match. In any case, on this night they gave us everything we’d expect work and offense wise with both men near the top of their game, but they simply went home too early, with a finish that did little for me. In the end, rather than being a great match, it’s simply a match that showed they were capable of having a match of the year candidate, which they delivered on 6/11/96. ***3/4
El Samurai vs. The Great Sasuke 11:42. It’s hard to complain that Great Sasuke fought Liger so many times, but the one disappointing aspect is he didn’t have nearly as many matches with the other New Japan stars he proved tonight he could deliver the goods against. One could argue that it’s a good thing that he never had another match with Benoit if only because there’s seemingly no chance they could top what they did tonight, but, if perhaps not the ideal matchup because both are more workers who are better at playing off a thinker who can provide the form, Samurai & Sasuke’s two tournament matches (the other being 8/4/96 J-CROWN) would be incredibly memorable if not for the fact they were overshadowed by all-time classics (they had the inenviable task of going on right after Otani vs. Ultimo Dragon on 8/4/96).
Samurai actually came out with a game plan, starting in submission mode in an attempt to ground Sasuke by working over his knee. They actually began in quite a calm manner, but then it just got insane with Sasuke’s explosive handspring elbow and Sasuke special comeback. “Sas-ke” chants ensue, and they set out to bring the house down, running and flying all over the arena.
For the rest of the match, they moved, and more importantly countered, at hyper speed, trading near falls back and forth with the crowd eating it all up. Sure, I wish it was longer, but this was a tremendous short match! They could have done more of an opening and body, but part of the charm is they just said the hell with wasting time and went right from the early weardown to a lengthy finishing segment. Sasuke isn’t going to win a lot of fans with his meandering submission work, but he was the best flyer in Japan at this point, whether people knew it or not. After this match, they began to see that. It was the perfect way to get him over and have a memorable match without overexposing him or burning him out. ****1/4
Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Ricky Fuji 7:50. Sometimes it’s just easier for the booker to give himself the short end of the stick, but Liger thought the tournament out enough to at least give the NJ guys that beat the DUDS a match against Sasuke that would salvage their night work wise. Again, this was basically a match you survive, take the win and hope no one remembers much beyond the result. They kept the pace high and Liger dug deep into his arsenal, not for the best moves, but rather utilizing whichever moves required the least effort from Fuji. Fuji’s offense was about 10 years behind the junior heavyweight standard, but the match was never dull, and actually overachieved considerably. In the end, it was actually a more successful match than Liger vs. Hayabusa because even though Hayabusa has far more to offer, Fuji managed to get through the match mistake free, even succeeding in taking the one difficult bump on Liger’s diving Frankensteiner. ***
SUPER-J CUP ~1st STAGE~ Semifinals:
Wild Pegasus vs. Gedo 6:33. Obviously a semifinal where you are simply moving the star through the bracket while giving the scrub enough to hang his hat on is not the semifinal you were dreaming of, but Pegasus is at least a good matchup for Gedo because he’s happy to mix it up with anyone. In between his usual powerslam and lariat, Gedo actually dug deep into his move set, pulling out anything that could impress including a moonsault attack to the floor. Gedo had a big run to make us believe in him before Pegasus finished him off. It was really short and much too thin, but Gedo did make a good showing. ***
Jushin Thunder Liger vs. The Great Sasuke 18:09. The Great Sasuke may have been the hot young star, but, as much as we like Samurai, this was a different level entirely. He would have passed the biggest test of his career by simply hanging with The King of the Juniors. Sasuke didn’t do a lot early on to make us believe he was able to take it to the next level. Liger really put a beating on him, nearly KO’ing him with heavy strikes and having his way with him on the mat, including injuring his arm.
Just when it appeared Liger was going to methodically dismantle the Michinoku founder, Sasuke countered a missile kick with a dropkick of his own and hit a quebrada. Sasuke’s arm was in no condition for him to make a quick comeback, but he eventually followed with another dive and began to find his rhythm in between selling the arm. The transition to Sasuke’s offense worked because Liger sold each of Sasuke’s moves for all they were worth. The expanded (or should I say regular) length of the match allowed for proper selling, which in turn allowed Sasuke to pace himself and save something for the final.
The final portion was a lengthy exchange of great moves, but since they actually put them over it never felt like a spotfest. The one downfall of the otherwise super match was Sasuke blew his swandive huracanrana that was to be the finisher by slipping off the to rope, so Liger did some quick thinking, playing to the crowd so Sasuke could pop up and catch him off court with a huracanrana for the win.
Though far more famous than their 7/8/94 match, the J-CUP bout isn’t quite as outstanding, despite being better laid out and having the shocking (except for the fact we didn’t think NJ would have both finalists) result. The obvious reason is Sasuke was saving something for the final, but beyond that, Sasuke was that much more comfortable with himself a few months later. He was a notch or two better as a wrestler by July, but it seems as though his great success on this night proved to himself how good he could be on the big stage, and that relaxed him and took the pressure off. ****1/2
SUPER-J CUP ~1st STAGE~ Final: Wild Pegasus vs. The Great Sasuke 18:46. I fear I may have sold Sasuke’s previous matches short, but it’s hard not to when he’s able to come up with a perfect match out of nowhere, blowing the previous matches out of the water and arguably delivering the best junior heavyweight match of all time. As good as Pegasus was and Sasuke proved to be, the J-CUP Final had no right to be this good. I mean, Sasuke was thrust right into the final directly after the biggest win of his career, so if anything there should have been a letdown. He was also wrestling a guy he’d never worked with, which obviously can lead to excellent matches, and sometimes make a match seem better than it is because it's something different, but makes it that much harder to get everything right. That’s just what they did though.
Not only was the match a perfectly choreographed series of quick athletic counters, but they somehow pulled everything off so magnificently that you’d believe they knew each other like the back of their hands. Pegasus and Liger sometimes verged on redoing the old Tiger Mask vs. Dynamite Kid matches, but Sasuke actually proved more capable of playing Tiger to Benoit’s Dynamite because he has the extra athleticism Liger doesn’t possess that allowed him to reach that next level.
Both men pulled out all the stops to deliver the match of their lives. It was a long match wrestled like a short match, which worked perfectly since most of the previous matches were short so the audience actually believed in the early near falls. The length really added to the drama because they were repeatedly able to make you believe the match should have ended, but the prestige of winning the 1st big one night junior tournament was simply too great for either man to give in and stay down.
Sasuke’s athleticism was head and shoulders above everyone else in Japan, and probably rivaled only by a young Rey Misterio Jr. He not only displayed breathtaking flying, he showed different incredible dives in each match, saving his suicidal hip shattering rider kick for the final. Nobody was doing dives this wild in 1994. I mean, there were a few guys who had one signature dive that was arguably as impressive, but not an entire arsenal.
I suppose the odd thing about this match is, although Sasuke is clearly in the top handful of 1990’s juniors and a hall of fame wrestler, his breakout night was the only time he ever came close to doing a perfect singles match. And yet, if one thinks he should have done better in singles, which is hard to argue against given people will claim he delivered the best one night performance in wrestling history (a valid arguement for the quality of his 3 matches, but a foolish one when, at best, you could say he was the better wrestler in 1 of them) one still can’t really fault him because he took junior heavyweight tag wrestling to the highest level it ever reached with the Sekigun vs. Kaientai DX series. I don’t think he was ever a great singles wrestler, as he really only reached greatness against a couple of New Japan juniors, but tag team wrestling is more suitable to almost every lucha stylist, and Sasuke was the one that was finally able to make it work in Japan with innumerable near finishes building to a finish that was both credible and dramatically viable instead of the corny and fabricated couple of flying moves then everyone grabs an arm bit that never worked outside of Mexico. *****