NJPW SUPER J-CUP 2020 HOT TAKE
The best professional wrestlers who have ever lived are known for pushing the envelope and in doing so, raising the bar for both the performance and competitive aspects of combat inside the squared circle.
However, only the hungriest, the most gifted, the most driven athletes can say they have conquered New Japan Pro Wrestling's Super J Cup, the most grueling level of competition conceived, assembling the greatest Junior Heavyweight and Cruiserweight wrestlers in the world under one roof.
The first-ever Super J Cup was held in April 1994, forever changing professional wrestling with far-ranging ripple effects that are still felt to this day as Wild Pegasus (Chris Benoit) stood victorious over a field of competition that including Jushin "Thunder" Liger, Dean Malenko, The Great Sasuke, Super Delphin, Hayabusa, Black Tiger (Eddy Guerrero), Negro Casas, TAKA Michinoku, legend after legend all battling to show true supremacy inside the ring.
The tournament was an instant classic and success, with an infinite number of similar tournaments soon taking place all across the world, from Japan to Germany to the United States and beyond, evolving the art-form that is great professional wrestling inside the ring and raising the heights that these unique fighters utilize as they battle and dazzle in aerial combat.
Every match, every rivalry, every moment of exhilaration and exhaustion, they can all be traced back to that initial Super J Cup. The winner is easily crowned as not just the victor of that tournament but as the best in show, the trailblazer who will carry the majesty of professional wrestling into the future.
2020 has changed the trajectory of the entire world and New Japan Pro Wrestling is no different, but the King of Sport will once again evolve and change, pushing the boundaries further, bringing excellence to professional wrestling once again.
For the first time ever, The Super J-Cup will be held on American soil from Los Angeles' Thunder Studios and will air on www.FITE.tv. FITE viewers will be able to watch the entire tournament, plus a bonus tag team bout featuring KENTA live as it unfolds on Saturday 12/12.
The first round of New Japan Pro Wrestling's Super J-Cup will feature:
CHRIS BEY VS. CLARK CONNORSClark Connors has been one of the true standout competitors of New Japan's LA Dojo, overseen by the legendary Katsuyori Shibata in the finer arts of all combat sports. Connors has been a force of nature in recent months across California and beyond, showcasing an incredible mixture of fighting spirit, hard strikes, incredible submission wrestling and an ability to break opponents down. His first round opponent, Chris Bey, may indeed have the ability to neutralize the rising NJPW star. The Vegas native, representing Impact Wrestling, has shocked the world since arriving at Impact this year. The self-professed "Ultimate Finesser" has already captured the X-Division Championship while racking classic after classic in the ring. Pushing the boundaries of what a competitor should be able to do physically and shattering the laws of gravity, Bey has been a sensation in Impact and now, has the ability to shock the world by taking down one of the oddsmakers' favorites in Clark Connors.
TJP vs. ACHThis bout should feature an incredible clash of titans who are each masters of their own unique in-ring combat style. TJP, who conquered WWE's Cruiserweight Classic, is a grizzled international veteran who possesses a Chess Grandmaster-esque mindscape when it comes to pure professional wrestling inside the ring, taking down opponents and tying them up in holds designed to torture and wear them down. Of all the talents competing, TJP may have the most experience and with that, comes an incredible encyclopedic level of knowledge that may allow him to solve the riddle of how to advance in each round. In order to move forward in the Super J-Cup, however, TJP will have to somehow surpass ACH inside the ring, which may be an impossibility. The Texas' native's career has brought him from MLW to WWE and back again in a never-ending quest to prove to the world that his chosen artform, aerial professional wrestling, has no peer and no boundaries. Will ACH be able to use his hyperspeed aerial assaults to upend TJP's dazzling matwork and submissions? The fighter who enforces his will (and his unique style) first may indeed hold the key to moving to the next round.
BLAKE CHRISTIAN VS. REY HORUSBlake Christian has been shocking the world over the last year with some of the most awe-inspiring aerial maneuvers and victories in Game Changer Wrestling, the Northeast-based promotion he is representing in the Super J-Cup. Christian has captured the imagination of promoters across the world with his athletic feats and victories, but the J-Cup will tell the tale of how Christian deals with the biggest spotlight and the most pressure in his entire career. Facing him from across the ring will be Ring of Honor's chosen representative, Mexican sensation Rey Horus. Horus, inspired to enter the squared circle by Rey Misterio Sr, has burst out of the Tijuana wrestling scene, building an incredible resume in MLW and Lucha Underground before signing with ROH. His lucha-centric in-ring style should mesh well with Christian's stratosphere-defying combat skills, creating a first round encounter that may be too close to properly predict. It may be that the first fighter to crash and burn will be the one who sets the stage for his opponent to score their first tournament victory. Either way, keep your eyes on the skies for this one.
EL PHANTASMO VS. LIO RUSHLast year's Super J-Cup victor, El Phantasmo is setting out to do what only two competitors - Jushin Liger and Naomichi Marufuji have done before - win the most prestigious professional wrestling tournament that has ever existed, twice in a row. If Phantasmo is able to accomplish this, certainly his name will be enshrined alongside the greatest Junior Heavyweight competitors of all time. The brash Bullet Club competitor will have to surpass the controversial Lio Rush if he has any hopes of scoring a repeat victory lap. Rush, no stranger to being brash himself, is seeking to shock the world after exiting WWE this past April. The former Cruiserweight Champion is one of the hardest fighting competitors in the world, pound for pound, and has made his striking and aerial combinations the beat of his own personal music inside the ring. Making his New Japan Pro Wrestling debut in J-Cup competition, Rush is seeking to take his star to an even higher level and a breakout victory over Phantasmo all but guarantees success for Rush in NJPW.
The winners will move on to the semi-finals before they face off in the ultimate, final match to determine the 2020 J-Cup winner, securing their place in history and changing not just their careers, but their very lives forever.
In non-tournament tag team action, The Bullet Club will be well represented by KENTA, the top contender to the IWGP United States Championship and the massive HIKUELO as they face New Japan Young Lions Ren Narita and Karl Fredericks. Fredericks and Narita will need to fight with everything they have learned in recent years to achieve victory but even in defeat, a good showing of fighting spirit could provide them with insight and knowledge to ascend to the next level. KENTA, hellbent on finding his way to Jon Moxley and the United States Championship match he earned with a tournament win on NJPW Strong, will likely take his anger and frustration out on his younger adversaries, but could that anger also leave a door open for a massive upset? Or, will HIKUELO's massive size advantage seal that opening for Narita and Fredericks? FITE fans will find out live at the Super J-Cup.
You can order New Japan Pro Wrestling's J-Cup now, on FITE and behold all the wonders that the next level of professional wrestling excellence has to offer while beholding the stars of today as they evolve into the legends of tomorrow, right before your eyes.
Mike Johnson is the lead reporter for PWInsider.com and has been writing about professional wrestling since 1996. He can be found on Twitter @MikePWInsider and MikeJohnsonWrites.com.