NJPW Retro: Super J-Cup 1994 Review

Back in 1994, Dave Meltzer called this show ‘the most incredible single night of wrestling ever’. That was a pretty bold statement, even back then. A lot has happened since this event first took place. Pro wrestling has evolved, what draws people has likewise changed, and most audiences have developed higher expectations from something with the kind of reputation that Meltzer gave it. Let’s see if this show is still as good as pro wrestling’s most noted journalist first claimed it to be when it first happened.

The Super J-Cup was the brainchild of Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger. He came up with the idea of a one-night tournament featuring junior heavyweight wrestlers exclusively. This was important because junior heavyweights still didn’t have the respect and prestige in Japan as heavyweight wrestlers. Even after the early success of such early high-flyers as Liger, Tiger Mask, and Naoki Sano, junior heavyweights weren’t treated as anything more than secondary stars. So Liger wanted to change that perception. He wanted to show that junior heavyweight by themselves could be draws just like the heavyweights.

And he succeeded in that first goal.

This event took place in Sumo Hall on April 16th 1994, in front of a sold-out crowd of 11,500 fans. That achievement alone was huge because it proved that the concept of pure junior heavyweight wrestling could draw money.

But there was still the second challenge: giving the fans their money’s worth. That is something Liger and his fellow competitors hoped to accomplish.

This is a single-elimination tournament featuring fourteen wrestlers from different companies. Two wrestlers received byes into the quarter-final round, so there will only be six first-round matches.

The Participants:

Representing New Japan Pro-Wrestling: Black Tiger II, Dean Malenko, El Samurai, Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger, Shinjiro Otani, and Wild Pegasus

Representing Michinoku Pro Wrestling: Super Delfin, TAKA Michinoku, and The Great Sasuke

Representing Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling: Ricky Fuji and Hayabusa

Representing Wrestling Association R: Gedo

Representing Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre: Negro Casas

Representing Social Progress Wrestling Federation: Masayoshi Motegi

Round 1

Match #1: Dean Malenko (NJPW) vs. Gedo (WAR)

They shake hands and it’s on. Malenko lands some dropkicks that send Gedo out of the ring. Gedo returns and they have a little technical exchange that ends with Malenko working Gedo’s leg. Gedo transitions into a cross armbreaker attempt but Malenko fights it. They have another nice exchange that leads to some great reversals. Malenko counters an armbar into a headscissors leading to a standoff. Gedo goes back to working the leg but Malenko transitions into his own cross armbreaker. Gedo resists and bridges into a pin for two. Gedo tries to out-wrestle Malenko but fails as Malenko counters him into another grounded hold. After another standoff, Gedo takes control with kicks and chops. Malenko fights back with forearms and a running head-butt for a two-count. Malenko tries different head-and-neck-based submission holds until he lands a quick dragon sleeper for two. Gedo escapes by raking Malenko’s eyes but Malenko fights back. He rams Gedo into a corner and lands a delayed vertical suplex for another two-count, then applies a figure-4 neck lock. Gedo escapes and transitions into a type of STF but Malenko reaches the ropes. They brawl and then land double clotheslines on each other. Both men go down.

Malenko goes for a Tombstone but Gedo counters into one of his own. Malenko avoids a diving head-butt and clotheslines Gedo for two. Gedo reverses an Irish whip and sends Malenko into the corner. Gedo charges but Malenko dodges and lands a top-rope diving crossbody for another close two-count. Gedo reverses an Irish whip on Malenko but he answers with a kick. Malenko charges but walks into a powerslam from Gedo that gets him the three-count at 8:04.

Winner and advancing to the next round: Gedo (WAR)

Analysis: **3/4 Great for the amount of time given. Malenko and Gedo packed tons of action into their match without it ever feeling like overkill. Malenko used his mat game to try and beat Gedo but Gedo was just a bit too clever for Malenko. Everything was crisp and smooth. Nothing bad at all, and a great way to start the tournament.

Match #2: Shinjiro Otani (NJPW) vs. Super Delfin (MPW)

Otani takes Delfin down before the bell and starts kicking his leg. He continues with one brutal leg submission hold after another, destroying Delfin’s ability to move around quickly. Delfin tries to escape by raking Otani’s eyes but Otani doesn’t waver. Delfin does manage to reach the ropes but Otani resumes his leg-based assault less than a second later. Otani applies a single leg crab but Delfin reaches the ropes quickly. Delfin Irish whips Otani but Otani takes him down with a shoulder tackle. Otani continues running and somehow Delfin manages to leapfrog and lands a dropkick on Otani. Delfin lands one tilt-a-whirl backbreaker but gets too close to the ropes for a pin. He goes for another but Otani counters into a spinkick, followed by a wheel kick. Delfin escapes the ring and Otani dares him to come back, and even holds the ropes open for him. Delfin returns and Otani immediately attacks the same leg as before. Delfin escapes another leg hold so Otani pushes his knees into Delfin’s face. Otani applies another leg lock but Delfin rolls over to rake Otani’s eyes and reach the ropes. Clever escape.

Delfin stomps on Otani and lands a backdrop suplex for a two-count. Brainbuster by Delfin. Otani kicks out. Delfin goes for another suplex but Otani escapes and dropkicks Delfin out of the ring. Springboard body press by Otani. Otani tosses Delfin back into the ring and lands a springboard dropkick for two. He dropkicks Delfin’s knee and applies a kneebar. Delfin reaches the ropes, so Otani lets go, pulls him away from the ropes, and reapplies the same hold. Delfin crawls to the ropes once again. Otani whips Delfin into a corner and Delfin gets his boot up to stop a charging Otani. Otani tries to punch Delfin off the top turnbuckle but Delfin blocks and lands a Tornado DDT. He follows that with a cradle pin for the win at 8:06.

Winner and advancing to the next round: Super Delfin (MPW)

Analysis: *** This was good but hamstrung by Delfin’s lack of selling. Otani spent most of the match attacking Delfin’s legs but Delfin acted like that never happened. Otani was still relatively new to wrestling, having debuted less than two years earlier. But he looked good here as a Japanese version of Dean Malenko that focused on pure grappling and hard kicks. I think if Delfin sold the leg more and showed he was trying to overcome some sort of pain, then this would probably be one of the better matches on the card.

Match #3: Black Tiger II (NJPW) vs. TAKA Michinoku (MPW)

Black Tiger II (BT2 hereafter) is Eddy Guerrero under a mask. They shake hands and the bell rings. They have a nice technical exchange and BT2 rubs his boot in TAKA’s face. Scoop slam and Senton atomico by BT2. Folding Powerbomb. TAKA kicks out. That gets a big reaction. BT2 maintains control with a running kick and a neckbreaker for another two-count. He applies an abdominal stretch and then lands a clothesline and applies a quick sharpshooter. Both men go down on a shoulder tackle exchange and TAKA gains the upper hand with some quick shots. But his control is short-lived as BT2 drops him with a running clothesline. BT2 whips TAKA, TAKA ducks a clothesline and lands a gorgeous to-rope springboard moonsault over BT2’s head. BT2 leapfrogs but walks into a headscissor takedown that sends him flying out of the ring. TAKA shows off with another springboard flip that pops the crowd. After recovering ringside, BT2 returns and clotheslines TAKA in the corner, he tries a second one but TAKA flips over him again and lands a snap belly-to-belly suplex.

A dropkick sends BT2 out of the ring and TAKA lands another springboard body press. TAKA gets to the ring first and tries to suplex BT2 over the rope. But BT2 lands on his feet and goes for a German suplex, only for TAKA to counter into a German of his own. He pins but only gets two. Standing Frankensteiner by TAKA. BT2 kicks out again. BT2 counters an Irish whip into a pop-up powerbomb for a close two-count of his own. Frog splash by BT2 gets another two-count. BT2 goes for a slam but TAKA counters into an awesome sunset flip variation for another two-count. Thunder Fire Powerbomb. BT2 kicks out. Snap Moonsault. BT2 kicks out again. TAKA goes for a second moonsault. BT2 gets his knees up. Brainbuster by BT2. TAKA kicks out at 2.8. Tornado DDT. BT2 pins TAKA after 6:47.

Winner and advancing to the next round: Black Tiger II (Eddy Guerrero) [NJPW]

Analysis: ***1/4 This is about as close to the ‘modern indy cruiserweight match’ as it gets. They packed an incredible amount of action into less than seven minutes, yet the match had the right sort of pacing. It wasn’t a carefully-structured masterpiece with deep psychology and nuanced attacks carefully layered on top of each other; it didn’t need to be. They just threw bombs at each other to gradually wear each other down until one guy could catch the other off guard long enough to score a big finisher. I wish they went a bit longer. Maybe they’d manage to do even more crazy stuff.

Match #4: El Samurai (NJPW) vs. Masayoshi Motegi (SPWF)

Motegi lands some dropkicks as the bell rings that send Samurai out of the ring. Motegi follows up with a suicide dive through the ropes. He goes for a dive off the top rope but loses his balance and falls back into the ring. Samurai returns to the ring and gets an armlock in. Motegi tries to escape but Samurai wrestles into a leglock, and then into a chinlock. They brawl for a bit and Samurai lands a piledriver for two, followed by a back suplex for another two-count. Samurai applies a Boston Crab but Motegi counters into a pin but Samurai quickly escapes into his own pin. Samurai gets some quick pin attempts off a ground headlock counter and then grounds Motegi with a neck scissor hold. Samurai lands a Tombstone piledriver for two and the two of them brawl again. Samurai counters a clothesline into a sick inverted DDT-suplex thing for another two-count.

Samurai dropkicks Motegi and he staggers, so Samurai whips him again but this time Motegi holds onto the ropes. He dropkicks Samurai against the ropes and charges but Samurai ducks and tosses him out of the ring. Samurai follows with a dive of his own through the ropes. Samurai suplexes Motegi over the rope and into the ring. a diving shotgun dropkick gets him a two-count. Samurai goes for a Frankensteiner but Motegi counters into a powerbomb for two. Motegi applies a rolling Romero Special, and then transitions into the Romero dragon sleeper. They Irish whip each other and Motegi lands an awkward-looking running press that looked like a botched attempt at a tilt-a-whirl. Motegi goes for the triple German suplexes, but on the third one Samurai counters into a victory roll for two. Motegi whips Samurai but Samurai ducks under him. They trade rear waistlocks until Samurai lands a bridging German suplex for two. Thunder Fire Powerbomb by Samurai. That’s enough for the pin and the win after 7:40.

Winner and advancing to the next round: El Samurai (NJPW)

Analysis: **1/2 A bit disappointing. Motegi was a few steps behind Samurai here and it showed. He botched a few key moves and didn’t look that impressive. Samurai basically carried him to a good match. I enjoyed Samurai more here because he landed some pretty cool moves for a cruiserweight, including his finisher and that mid-match suplex thing. I always like it when wrestlers do something to distinguish themselves through their moves, especially here since there was a lot of repetition in these matches as they started. Not because of a lack of creativity, but because most of these wrestlers knew what to do to try and score an early advantage.

Match #5: Ricky Fuji (FMW) vs. Negro Casas (CMLL)

Casas lands a dropkick but Fuji tries taking control with an armlock. Casas counters into a headlock but Fuji counters that into a leg scissor headlock. Casas managed to wrestle his way out and into a chinlock, but Fuji crawls to the ropes before Casas can apply his bow-and-arrow hold. Casas grapples his way into a head scissor hold this time but Fuji manages to escape into a headlock. Casas counters into another scissor hold but Fuji gets to his feet, so Casa kicks him hard. Casas lands a clothesline for two but Fuji catches his leg and starts working it over. Casas counters into a dragon sleeper and lands a standing senton for another two-count. He dropkicks Fuji out of the ring and lands a quick dive from the top rope onto Fuji at ringside.

Fuji gets in first and lands a single knee backbreaker and a scoop slam. Fuji climbs the top rope and lands a diving double ax handle for two, along with a snap suplex for another two-count. Fuji goes for a second one but Casas lands behind him and amateur drops him and goes for a Magistral pin but Fuji escapes quickly. Casas lands a second-rope senton for two but Fuji dodges a second one. Fuji lands some running clotheslines and standing stomach kicks, and follows with a Tigerbomb for the pin and the win at 5:53.

Winner and advancing to the next round: Ricky Fuji (FMW)

Analysis: **1/4 A bit bland compared to everything else showcased thus far. It was a very short match without much of a story. Casas stood out more as a wrestler here and yet he got eliminated. The wrestling was fine, but nothing exceptional. it was basically the polar opposite of Black Tiger II/TAKA in that those two packed tons of action into a short period whereas these two wrestled as if what they did was enough for the time they were given.

Match #6: Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger (NJPW) vs. Hayabusa (FMW)

This is the debut of the Hayabusa character in Japan. As soon as Liger takes his cape off, Hayabusa dropkicks him and then spinkicks him out of the ring. Hayabusa charges and does a suicide dive over the rope and onto Liger with his coat still on. Awesome.

He tosses Liger into the ring and lands a diving dropkick to the back of Liger’s head. Hayabusa applies a double-arm stretch and goes for a pin but Liger’s already got his shoulders up in anticipation. So Hayabusa slams him and lands a jumping leg drop for two. Hayabusa applies a leglock and lands one humping knee at Liger’s shin, but Liger rolls to safety before the second one. Liger whips Hayabusa and kicks his leg from underneath him and applies a Figure-4 leglock. Hayabusa reaches the ropes, so Liger picks him up and drops him with a flurry of palm thrusts. Liger lands a release powerbomb for two and applies a leglock of his own and Hayabusa tries and fails to fight his way out. Liger lands a clothesline for two and gets in another leglock but Hayabusa escapes quickly once again. Hayabusa applies a headlock but Liger counters into a backdrop suplex and lands a rolling kick into the corner. Liger lands a superplex for two and hits some hard strikes as Hayabusa staggers. Liger whips him into a corner but Hayabusa flips out, ducks a clothesline, and lands a big spinkick and a dropkick for a two-count. Hayabusa lands a spinkick and a flipping senton for two, followed by a top-rope spinkick for another two-count.

A moonsault gets Hayabusa another two-count, as does a top-rope headscissor takedown. Hayabusa lands a rib breaker and flies through the air with a shooting star press, but flies too far and misses Liger almost completely. Liger takes advantage with a Ligerbomb. But Hayabusa somehow manages to kick out at 2.75. Liger places Hayabusa on the top turnbuckle but Hayabusa fights out. Hayabusa dives for a dropkick but Liger powerbombs him in midair. Awesome counter. Fisherman Buster by Liger. Liger gets the pin and the win after 10:23.

Winner and advancing to the next round: Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger (NJPW)

Analysis: ***1/4 This is one of the most iconic matches of the entire Super J Cup tournament. Even though he lost, Hayabusa came off as a star. He held his own with Liger and did some crazy daredevil maneuvers. It was fun seeing Hayabusa act as this unchained flying machine facing off against a more controlled, and relatively subdued, Liger. And while Hayabusa did botch a few things (notably that SSP that went too far), he definitely turned some heads and have FMW a much-needed shot in the arm.

Quarter-Final Round

Match #7: Gedo (WAR) vs. Super Delfin (MPW)

Delfin lands an armlock early on but Gedo escapes, so Delfin takes him down again and applies a single leg crab while standing on Gedo’s head. Gedo escapes and returns the favor with the exact same move but Delfin escapes with an enzuigiri. Delfin applies a chinlock and lands some stiff shots but Gedo no-sells and they start brawling. Gedo wins the exchange but Delfin lands a hard shot to either the abdomen or to the groin. It’s hard to see from this angle. Delfin stomps on Gedo using the ropes for leverage, stomps on him some more and knocks him down with a shoulder tackle. They crisscross and Delfin takes Gedo down with a running headscissor takedown. Gedo reverses an Irish whip into a standing kick, but then Delfin does the same to Gedo and lands a standing dropkick. Gedo escapes the ring so Delfin poses, which pops the crowd. Delfin rushes Gedo as he returns and lands corner punches. But Gedo grabs him and lands a Manhattan drop and lands multiple stiff kicks to Delfin’s back. Gedo applies a double-arm stretch but Delfin escapes by rushing into a corner and driving Gedo’s face into it. a snap suplex gets Delfin a two-count, as does a falling neckbreaker.

The two men trade chops for a bit and Delfin lands a running dropkick, followed by a diving plancha off the top rope onto Gedo at ringside. Back in the ring, Delfin whips Gedo into a corner but Gedo kicks him as he charges and lands a lariat for two. He goes for a slam but Delfin counters into a victory roll for a very close two-count. Gedo whips Delfin and lands the powerslam, but Delfin kicks out at 2.8. Gedo slams him and lands a second-rope moonsault for another two-count. He whips Delfin and goes for a clothesline but Delfin counters into a crucifix pin for another close two-count. Bridging backdrop suplex by Delfin. Gedo kicks out at 2.9. Delfin slams him and lands a diving elbow drop for two. Delfin gets whipped into a corner but kicks a charging Gedo. Just like in the earlier match, Delfin blocks some attacks on the top rope and lands the tornado DDT. He goes for the same cradle, but Gedo counters it into a cradle pin of his own, which gets him the three-count at 8:20.

Winner and advancing to the semi-finals: Gedo (WAR)

Analysis: **1/2 I think the wrong guy won here. Delfin actually put on a solid performance while Gedo was nothing more than an opportunist looking for an easy path to victory. The match was 80% Delfin and Gedo scored a surprise counter. While that made him a bit of a wild card going into the later rounds, it never created a point whereby Gedo looked credible enough to win. Delfin advancing would’ve made much more sense. But as a match, it was completely fine.

Match #8: Wild Pegasus (NJPW) vs. Black Tiger II (NJPW)

Wild Pegasus is Chris Benoit, who got a bye into the quarter-final round. Here he’s facing BT2 (Eddy Guerrero), so you know this’ll be good.

They get in each other’s faces as they’re getting announced to the fans. BT2 wrestles his way into an early armlock but Pegasus grapples into a leglock. Both men end up in simultaneous leglocks until BT2 takes control with a stronger leglock. He rubs his boot in Pegasus’s face, then lands his scoop slam/senton atomico combo, and then double foot stomps Pegasus’s stomach. BT2 lands a backdrop suplex for two and applies a figure-4 neck lock until Pegasus reaches the ropes. BT2 trips Pegasus up and goes for a suplex, but Pegasus lands behind him and lands an inverted suplex instead. BT2 counters Pegasus’s Irish whip and goes for a tilt-a-whirl, but Pegasus counters and drops him with a clothesline.

Pegasus tries to suplex BT2 over the rope and out of the ring, but BT2 counters, only for Pegasus to land behind him. BT2 avoids a German suplex and charges but Pegasus lifts him up and BT2 free-falls face-first to the mat. Running knee lift by Pegasus followed by some chops and a slingshot suplex into the ropes. He lands a Bridging German suplex for two and then lands a Snap powerbomb for another two-count. Damn, the impact of BT2 hitting the mat from that powerbomb sounded brutal.

Pegasus lands a snap suplex but BT2 gets his foot on the rope. Pegasus follows with a figure-4 neck lock but BT2 crawls to the ropes again. He whips him once more and goes for the kneelift, but this time BT2 counters into a roll-up for two. Pegasus reverses his Irish whip and goes for a pop-up powerbomb but BT2 counters into a headscissor takedown. Now it’s BT2’s turn for a bridging German suplex for a two-count. Camel clutch by BT2, followed by a fallaway slam. Pegasus avoids a diving dropkick and lands a back suplex for two. Pegasus tries to maintain pins through wrist control but BT2 wrestles out of it. He takes control from Pegasus and lands a sweet springboard headscisssor takedown for two. Super Frankensteiner by BT2. Pegasus barely kicks out. Vertical suplex by BT2. He goes for the Tornado DDT but Pegasus fights out. Pegasus goes for a top-rope move, but BT2 fights out. BT2 dives from the top rope, but Pegasus counters into a last-second powerslam and pins. One, two, three. Pegasus wins after 10:23.

Winner and advancing to the semi-finals: Wild Pegasus/Chris Benoit (NJPW)

Analysis: ***1/2 This was great for a ten-minute match. Both guys had great chemistry here and they put on an intense back-and-forth match. They showed great creativity and unpredictability for such a short contest. But once again, it didn’t feel rushed nor did it come across as excessive. They did the right amount of wrestling, although like other matches on this show there was a slight lack in selling most submission holds.

Match #9: El Samurai (NJPW) vs. The Great Sasuke (MPW)

Sasuke was the second wrestler to get a bye into the quarter-final round. They shake hands and the match begins. Samurai dodges a kick from Sasuke as the crowd is firmly in Sasuke’s corner. They lock up and after some brief exchanges, Sasuke takes Samurai down by the leg. He starts working Samurai’s left leg but Samurai reaches the ropes before Sasuke can apply anymore holds. Samurai gets a hammerlock but Sasuke does an awesome flip takeover reversal and goes back to the leg. Samurai tries to counter into a cross armbreaker but Sasuke fights on and applies more pressure to the leg. Samurai manages to get a quick counter into a pin but Sasuke escapes just as quickly.

Samurai kicks Sasuke’s leg and lands multiple hard strikes to it before applying a type of ankle lock. Sasuke tries to fight out but Samurai takes complete control with a prison lock, trapping both Sasuke’s arms and legs. Samurai lands a knee smasher which forces Sasuke to escape to ringside to recover.

Sasuke returns to the ring but gets scoop slammed for a one-count. Samurai applies a strange head-and-leg lock that traps Sasuke in the middle of the ring, but Sasuke escapes by bending Samurai’s ankle over his knee. But Samurai quickly retakes control with a leglock. That is, until Sasuke applies his own and it becomes a race to see which wrestler reaches the ropes first (it ends up being Samurai). After recovering ringside again, Sasuke gets clubbed by Samurai and eats a back suplex for two. Samurai lands a Russian leg sweep and transitions to some head/arm/neck submission hold that looks extremely painful. Sasuke manages to escape and the two of them trade strikes for a bit until Sasuke drops Samurai with a handspring elbow. Sasuke special! He handsprings and flips over the rope, out of the ring and onto Samurai. Incredible move. The crowd goes absolutely nuts.

Sasuke reaches the ring first and goes to suplex Samurai over the rope, but Samurai lands on his feet and charges, only to walk into a wheel kick. Sasuke pins but gets two. Samurai leaps over Sasuke on an Irish whip and drops him with a clothesline and a dropkick, and then lands a huge suicide senton out of the ring and onto Sasuke. It takes a while for Sasuke to return to the ring; but when he does he and Samurai trade waistlocks until Samurai lands a bridging German suplex for two. Diving head-butt. Sasuke kicks out. Samurai goes for a powerbomb. Sasuke counters into a Frankensteiner. Samurai barely kicks out. Sasuke slams Samurai and goes for a top-rope dive. Samurai gets up and gets Sasuke in the electric chair position. Sasuke reverses into a sunset flip powerbomb and pins. Samurai kicks out again. Samurai ducks a wheel kick and lands a Thunder Fire Powerbomb. Sasuke somehow kicks out. Samurai charges for a running Frankensteiner. He lands it. But Sasuke rolls through into his own pin. One, two, three. Sasuke wins after 11:40.

Winner and advancing to the semi-finals: The Great Sasuke (MPW)

Analysis: ***3/4 The match started off slow, but boy did it get intense in the second half. These two wrestlers had great chemistry and delivered some great sequences. But the crowd was clearly behind Sasuke. Like the earlier Liger/Hayabusa match, this is what the Super J Cup was all about: showcasing junior heavyweight wrestlers and their daredevil capabilities. This match absolutely delivered the goods for an under-twelve-minute match.

Match #10: Ricky Fuji (FMW) vs. Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger (NJPW)

They shake hands and the match begins. An amazing technical exchange starts things off and leads to a stalemate. They do the Greco-Roman knuckle lock strength spot and Liger seems to win, until Fuji flips him into a quick pin for one. Liger escapes and lands a headlock takeover. Fuji escapes, ducks Liger and dropkicks him out of the ring, and then lands a plancha onto Liger at ringside. Fuji follows this with a powerbomb on the ringside mats that doesn’t look too painful because Fuji barely gets any height on it. Back in the ring, Fuji lands a running uppercut for a one-count, followed by a snap suplex. He ascends the top rope and dives, but Liger lands a last-second shotei palm thrust in midair. Liger gets up first and lands a bulldog that sends Fuji out of the ring. At ringside, Liger slams Fuji onto the mats, then climbs to the top turnbuckle. Diving double foot stomp. All of Liger’s body weight lands on Fuji’s chest and stomach. Talk about painful.

Fuji gets back to the ring and Liger koppu kicks him for a one-count as Fuji gets hit foot on the rope. A release powerbomb gets Liger a two-count, as does a release German suplex. Liger lands a dropkick in the corner and lands a superplex, but Fuji floats over to pin Liger first. Liger kicks out almost right away, so Fuji places him on the top turnbuckle, climbs up, and dropkicks him out of the ring. Fuji follows with a baseball slide dropkick and a backdrop suplex in the ring, but Liger kicks out. Fuji goes for another top-rope move but Liger fights out and lands a diving hurricanrana into a pin for the win at 7:50.

Winner and advancing to the semi-final round: Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger (NJPW)

Analysis: **3/4 This was okay, but way beneath the previous two matches. Fuji did some decent technical wrestling early on, but never did he appear to be anywhere near Liger’s level. Fuji did land some interesting moves like the dropkick off the top turnbuckle and the diving foot stomp. Even though I knew who was winning this, Fuji didn’t do enough to make it remotely convincing he could beat Liger, which was disappointing.

Semi-Final Round

Match #11: Gedo (WAR) vs. Wild Pegasus (NJPW)

They lock up and Gedo lands a shoulder tackle to start things off. Gedo holds onto the ropes in anticipation for Pegasus’s monkey flip, so Pegasus kips up instead. They trade slaps and Pegasus clotheslines Gedo down. He lands a neckbreaker and a diving leg drop for a two-count. The crowd cheers for Gedo as Pegasus chops him hard. Gedo holds onto the ropes again to avoid a dropkick and applies a double chickenwing hold but Benoit quickly reaches the ropes. Gedo applies the same hold a second time and this time it takes much longer for Pegasus to reach the ropes. A piledriver gets Gedo a two-count and he applies a headlock, and then rakes Pegasus’s eyes.

Both men get up and trade chops until Gedo whips Benoit and dropkicks him out of the ring. Top-rope moonsault to the floor from Gedo. The crowd chants Gedo’s name (which is shocking) as he whips Pegasus and lands his powerslam for a close two-count. A bridging northern lights suplex gets Gedo a two-count, so he climbs the top rope. He goes for a diving head-butt, but doesn’t land anywhere close to Pegasus, yet Pegasus still moves away, just to be safe. Pegasus tries for a backdrop suplex but Gedo counters into a pin in mid-air. Pegasus kicks out and whips Gedo into a corner, but Gedo ducks his clothesline, then Pegasus ducks his, and they trade waistlocks and control. Pegasus manages to regain control and lands a powerbomb for two. Pegasus lands another powerbomb and a top-rope falling head-butt for the win after 6:18.

Winner and advancing to the finals: Wild Pegasus

Analysis: **1/2 Gedo must’ve bribed Liger with some ultra-rare Godzilla figurines to get this far in the tournament and be able to get that much offense on Pegasus. Point blank, Gedo did nothing to deserve getting this far beyond steal some pins and look weird while doing so. The only good things with this match were that it was short and Benoit chopped the hell out of Gedo’s chest and made him look like a chump.

Match #12: Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger (NJPW) vs. The Great Sasuke (MPW)

They shake hands and it’s on. This crowd really loves Sasuke. He and Liger trade waistlocks to begin until Sasuke takes Liger down by the leg. That leads to a chain grappling exchange that in turn ends in a stalemate and loud applause. Liger takes Sasuke down quickly with the Greco-Roman knuckle lock, but Sasuke counters by pressing himself on top of Liger. Sasuke applies pressure to both Liger’s thighs and then tries different submission holds. Liger tries to escape but Sasuke takes him down while controlling his arm. Liger tries to counter into a leglock and they go back and forth trading control and dominating submission holds. Liger wrestles his way into a surfboard-type hold and then applies the full Romero special. And then, he transitions into a camel-clutch-style Romero special, just to add more pressure to Sasuke’s back and neck, followed by a dragon sleeper for good measure.

A tilt-a-whirl backbreakers gets Liger a two-count, so Liger targets Sasuke’s back with a camel clutch. Liger follows with an elbow to the back and a rolling koppu kick. The referee makes Liger back off and checks to see if Sasuke can continue. The fans rally behind Sasuke as he slowly gets up. Liger drops Sasuke with a stiff forearm and again the ref asks him if he wants to continue, and he does. Liger lands a tombstone piledriver and applies a crossface chickenwing that just wrecks Sasuke’s neck and arm. Liger follows with not one but two standing armbreakers and then rolls into a kimura lock, all on that same arm. He wrenches it as much as possible and then rolls into a cross armbreaker, which goes on for a bit until Liger releases the hold and stomps on Sasuke’s arm. Liger goes for another standing armbreaker, but then switches to a back suplex and goes for a diving dropkick from the top rope. But Sasuke gets up and dropkicks Liger in midair.

Both men fall and Liger escapes from the ring. Sasuke lands on the apron, kicks Liger, and lands a gorgeous quebrada onto Liger. Sasuke goes to the ring to recover, clutching his left arm all the while. As Liger reaches the apron, Sasuke cuts him off and goes for a suplex over the rope. Liger resists, so Sasuke smashes him face-first into the turnbuckle. Liger falls to ringside, and Sasuke charges. Top-rope senton bomb to the floor. Damn, Sasuke is one crazy bastard.

Sasuke gets to the ring first and lands some kneedrops on Liger’s chest. A spinning wheel lick gets him a one-count and a piledriver gets him a two-count. Thunder Fire Powerbomb! Sick landing! Liger barely kicks out. Wow, that was awesome. Liger appears to be convulsing as he sells the TFP. Sasuke drops a leg on his neck and lands a Tombstone in response. Sasuke dives for a senton bomb but Liger dodges, so Sasuke charges but Liger ducks him and then drops him with a shotei palm thrust for two. Ligerbomb! Sasuke kicks out. Super Frankensteiner. Sasuke kicks out again and rolls into his own pin. Liger kicks out. Release German suplex. Sasuke kicks out yet again. Liger whips Sasuke and lands a Fisherman Buster. Yet Sasuke manages to kick out once again. Liger grabs Sasuke and suplexes him over the rope and onto the floor. Sasuke gets up very slowly, and Liger lands a top rope plancha onto Sasuke. This match is awesome.

Sasuke reaches the apron but Liger koppu kicks him. Liger signals the end, but Sasuke prepares for a springboard move. He jumps…and loses his footing. Sasuke faceplants into the mat. But instead of ignoring it, Liger mocks Sasuke and does his signature taunt. But those two seconds give Sasuke the time he needs to recover. Sasuke jumps and lands a picture-perfect Frankensteiner into a pin. One, two, three! That’s it! Sasuke wins after eighteen minutes! The official time is 18:09.

Winner and advancing to the finals: The Great Sasuke (MPW)

Analysis: ****3/4 This was an outstanding wrestling match from start to finish! It had pretty much everything: great technical grappling, an underdog story with Sasuke trying to survive Liger’s different tactics and big moves, intense cruiserweight action, unpredictable twists and turns, and lots of crazy near-falls. And when the referee had to check to see if Sasuke could continue, it gave further credibility to Liger’s offense and Sasuke’s toughness. And bit by bit, Sasuke’s struggle evolved as not only did he survive one Liger big move after another, but he also had to overcome his own exhaustion and limitations as he needed to rely on riskier moves as the match wore on.

But the best part of this match was the finish because it highlights how improvising on something can work better than expected. Sasuke slipped on the top rope, and it was pretty embarrassing. But instead of covering right away and ignoring that it ever happened, Liger ingeniously incorporated it into the match. He mocked Sasuke in front of everyone and got too cocky. But that cockiness gave Sasuke the critical recovery time he needed to catch Liger off guard with a sudden Frankensteiner into a pin. And that was on top of the fact that Liger became so desperate to win that he was willing to get a win via count-out (which is pretty dishonorable in New Japan).

The only thing stopping this match from being a perfect, 5-star match is the lack of consistent selling. Liger targeted Sasuke’s neck, back and arm, and Sasuke’s selling of these different body parts was a bit spotty. Liger was the same, selling a sick neck bump off the Thunder Fire Powerbomb like he was in serious trouble one moment and running at full speed moments later. With so many high-impact moves at the end of the match, I expected both men to slow down a bit and sell the pain and exhaustion to make the match seem a bit more realistic. But what they did wasn’t necessarily bad; just a bit unrealistic for my liking.

Finals: Wild Pegasus (NJPW) vs. The Great Sasuke (MPW)

I already reviewed this match as part of my Five-Star Match Reviews series, so I’ll post the play by play here and just condense the other thoughts here.

They lock up and Pegasus goes for a full nelson. He does some lightning-quick transitions to maintain control but Sasuke reverses into an armlock. Pegasus reverses that into a front neck lock and goes for a snapmare but Sasuke lands on his feet. He goes for a kick, Pegasus grabs his leg, and Sasuke does a standing flip, making the crowd go ‘oohhh’. Sasuke lands a quick takedown and kips up Shawn Michaels-style, leading to a standoff.

Pegasus gets another armlock in then hits some hard strikes in the corner. Sasuke reverses his whip into the corner and does the Tiger Mask kick flip. Pegasus charges but Sasuke leaps over him. Then Pegasus goes for a Boston crab but Sasuke flips him away with his strong legs. Sasuke spinkicks Pegasus so hard he goes out of the ring. Sasuke charges for a dive but Pegasus moves away as the crowd applauds.

Back in the ring, Pegasus applies a figure-4 neck lock, which Sasuke reverses first into a type of surfboard/Romero stretch, and then into a bow-and-arrow hold. Sasuke follows with a seated double-arm submission hold but Pegasus makes it to his feet. Sasuke answers this with an arm drag and we get another standoff.

After another lock up attempt, Sasuke kicks Pegasus in the gut and does a beautiful somersault over a supine Pegasus, only to walk into a clothesline. A bridging German suplex gets Pegasus a two-count Pegasus whips Sasuke, but he ducks a clothesline and lands a spinkick dropping Pegasus. Sasuke lands a second one followed by a slam and a Hogan leg drop for another two-count. When Pegasus kicks out, Sasuke applies a kimura-type submission hold then transitions into a cross armbreaker. But Pegasus counters and gets to his feet. He goes for a powerbomb but Sasuke counters into an arm drag. Sasuke tries to out-speed Pegasus but eats another big clothesline for his efforts.

Pegasus suplexes Sasuke into the ropes then starts hitting him with big forearms. Then Pegasus dives over the rope and onto Sasuke, sending both of them ringside. The fans start chant for Sasuke as Pegasus waits in the ring. As soon as Sasuke returns, Pegasus lands a bridging dragon suplex for a 2.5-count. Diving head-butt by Pegasus. Sasuke kicks out. Folding powerbomb by Pegasus. Sasuke kicks out again. Sharpshooter on Sasuke. He releases the hold after a short while and lands a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker for another two-count.

Pegasus whips Sasuke for a dropkick but Sasuke holds onto the ropes. Sasuke tries the tilt-a-whirl on Pegasus but he lands on his feet. Sasuke does the big standing leap and this time he lands a clothesline on Pegasus instead of the other way around.

Sasuke charges for a clothesline, but Pegasus ducks and lands a bridging German suplex. The referee counts one, two, thr—no, Sasuke kicks out. Pegasus teases the dragon suplex again but Sasuke tries to escape into a victory roll. But Pegasus reverses that on him and pins, but Sasuke kicks out at 2.5. Pegasus whips Sasuke into the corner, but Sasuke counters into a flying crossbody press. A kick sends Pegasus out of the ring. Sasuke Special out of the ring! What a gorgeous dive by Sasuke. That gets a huge reaction from the crowd.

Back in the ring, Sasuke lands a bridging German of his own for a two-count. He follows with a Perfectplex for another two-count. Sasuke goes for a diving shotgun dropkick but Pegasus dodges it. Sasuke tries to escape the ring, but Pegasus chases him and they brawl by the ropes. Pegasus tries to suplex Sasuke back into the ring, but Sasuke reverses it and suplexes Pegasus out of the ring and to the floor. Pegasus returns to the ring at the ref’s count of 14 (of 20) but Sasuke kicks him back out right away. Sasuke jumps onto the top turnbuckle and hits a huge missile dropkick onto Pegasus on the floor below.

Sasuke looks like he’s legit hurt but both he and Pegasus return to the ring as the crowd cheers wildly. He limps around a bit and slams Pegasus, before hitting a Twisted Bliss-style diving splash for a close two-count. Sasuke goes to the top rope again, but Pegasus cuts him off. He teases an avalanche back suplex but Sasuke elbows him away. He signals the end but Pegasus cuts him off a second time. Avalanche gutwrench suplex. Pegasus goes for the pin. The referee counts one, two, three! There’s the match. The tournament is over.

Winner of the 1994 Super J-Cup Tournament: Wild Pegasus/Chris Benoit

Analysis: ****1/4 This was a great match on an already- fantastic show. The action was smooth, there were some great near-falls, and the crowd was completely immersed in the match. This is definitely a match worth re-watching for its historical significance if anything. This match put both Pegasus/Benoit and Sasuke on the map as wrestlers, and proved to the world how captivating junior heavyweight wrestlers can be. But the Liger/Sasuke match right before this outclassed this one in basically every category. Anything this match had, that match had more of it and did it better.

Five Stars of the show:

  1. Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger – He booked an amazing show from top to bottom, and he wrestled incredibly as well. He made Hayabusa look great in his debut, had a decent fight against Ricky Fuji, and stole the show in a barn-burner opposite The Great Sasuke.
  2. The Great Sasuke – He wrestled three matches, including two almost-twenty-minute matches back-to-back against two very different opponents. He fought hard, pulled off some incredible moves, and looked like a breakout star, even though he lost in the finals.
  3. Wild Pegasus/Chris Benoit – He put on a dominant performance and seemed to be the most ‘balanced’ wrestler in this tournament. He was able to demonstrate technical precision, raw power, and in-ring cleverness that few others could achieve.
  4. Black Tiger II/Eddy Guerrero – He only wrestled two matches on this card, but those two matches were great. I’m amazed he managed to pack so much action into less than seven minutes in his match with TAKA.
  5. El Samurai – He carried Motegi to a passable match and looked incredibly strong against Sasuke.

Best match on the card: Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger vs. The Great Sasuke (****3/4)

Worst match on the card: Ricky Fuji vs. Negro Casas (**1/4)

Show Rating (out of 10): 9.5

Even after over twenty-five years, this show still holds up as one of the best wrestling shows of all time. There is not a single ‘bad’ match on this card. Virtually every match only gets the score it gets because of time constraints. And yet, pretty much all the wrestlers involved put on such great performances that they left you wanting more. Each match was different, even with several wrestlers wrestling more than once. And it succeeded in many different respects. Pegasus/Benoit won and gained more international exposure. Sasuke went from Japan’s version of an ‘indy darling’ to a top junior heavyweight prospect. Jushin Liger showed both his in-ring talents and his ability to put together an amazing show. Hayabusa had a great debut and looked great even in defeat.

The only thing that would’ve made this a perfect 10/10 show would be if some of the winners changed places. I was not a fan of Gedo going so far into the tournament as he underperformed for what he accomplished. This was a show designed to showcase different junior heavyweight wrestlers and their skills, and Gedo didn’t do anything particularly special. Secondly, it was a bit disappointing to see the two wrestlers that basically skipped the whole first round make it to the finals. It would’ve made more sense for Sasuke to switch places with Liger and wrestle a first-round match, especially if he was going to lose in the finals. By wrestling much longer, he’d have an even tougher time wrestling against Pegasus in the finals, and if he put on the same performance as he did in actuality, then people would buy into his struggle that much more.

All in all, this is still a must-see tournament. And luckily all of the matches are available on New Japan World for you to watch.