The New Japan Cup Established SANADA as NJPW’s Next Main Eventer

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The 2019 New Japan Cup was SANADA’s most successful run in the tournament to-date, making it all the way to the finals. Although a loss to Kazuchika Okada halted his Heavyweight Title aspirations, SANADA is well on his way to establishing himself as a main eventer.

SANADA has spent much of his career in Japan competing for All Japan Pro Wrestling and Wrestle-1 before making his way to Impact Wrestling in America.

He—as Seiya Sanada—quickly became one of the X-Division’s top stars, holding the X-Division Championship for three months. This appeared to be the beginning of an eventful tenure with Impact Wrestling, who had a working relationship with Wrestle-1 at the time. However, this didn’t come to fruition as he left the company after a year.

He made his New Japan debut a couple of years later in grand form, costing Kazuchika Okada the IWGP Heavyweight Championship and joining new champion Tetsuya Naito’s Los Ingobernables de Japon stable. Under the nickname “Cold Skull”, SANADA’s darker personality was a perfect fit for the group.

SANADA began teaming with Bushi and EVIL—more so the latter—in the years following his debut. As a trio, the LIJ members are the longest reigning NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Champions in New Japan history as well as the record-holders for most reigns as a unit at three.

Solely with EVIL, the two have made a solid case to be considered one of the best tag teams in professional wrestling today.

EVIL and Sanada have won the World Tag League tournament the last two years in a row. Both times, they managed to parlay their tournament wins into IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championship victories. After losing the Tag Titles at Honor Rising, SANADA was named as a New Japan Cup participant for the third time.

Commentators—namely Kevin Kelly—crafted a perfect narrative for SANADA as someone whose potential is widely known and acknowledged, but needs that one breakout moment to finally crack the main event scene.

With a date with Jay White in Madison Square Garden up for grabs, SANADA defeated Hirooki Goto to advance to the second round against Minoru Suzuki. SANADA—who up until that point had never beaten Suzuki in singles action—managed to best the former IWGP Intercontinental Champion with a Moonsault. The LIJ member followed up on his major second round win by submitting Colt Cabana in the quarterfinals before moving on to face Hiroshi Tanahashi in the semifinals.

Despite Tanahashi walking into Niigata as a heavily predicted bet for a finals matchup with Okada, the crowd was in full support of SANADA.

In their third singles match against each other, SANADA bested Tanahashi—notably submitting ‘The Ace’ with Skull End—and advanced to face Okada in the finals.

The tag team specialist put on a wonderful showing against Okada in the finals, but multiple Rainmakers ended SANADA’s bid for MSG and left him with an 0-5 singles record when facing the former IWGP Heavyweight Champion.

The aforementioned Okada and current IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Jay White were swift in their post-excursion journeys to New Japan’s top prize. SANADA bypassed the Young Lion route altogether, and he appears to be on a slower path for someone with such promise.

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Nonetheless, he has been firing on all cylinders whether in trios, tag, or singles action. The IWGP Heavyweight Championship might not be in SANADA’s immediate future at the G1 Supercard, but his victories over Tanahashi and his performance against Okada have gone to show that a big World title win could be coming sooner rather than later.


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