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History of the Super J-Cup
By JOHN F. MOLINARO -- SLAM! Wrestling

After a five year sabbatical, one of the most important and ground-breaking tournaments is returning to the forefront of the Japanese wrestling world on Saturday as Michinoku Pro Wrestling (aka North Eastern Wrestling in Japan) hosts Super-J Cup 3rd Stage.

 Providing the ultimate showcase for the best junior heavyweight wrestlers in the world, the Super-J Cup has a legacy of providing the very best wrestling action in the world. Dave Meltzer, editor of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, called the 1994 Super-J Cup "the most incredible single night of wrestling ever." Serious praise indeed.

 It's easy to see why when you look at its history. The list of past participants read like a who's who of the wrestling world today: Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, and Chris Jericho. Japanese sensations like Jushin "Thunder" Liger, Hayabusa, Shinjiro Otani, Ultimo Dragon and Mexico's Rey Misterio Jr, Psicosis and Negro Casas made the J-Cup truly an international affair.

 "Anytime you're in the company of such great talent, it's always a pleasure," Dean Malenko told SLAM! Wrestling recently. "It's one of those tournaments where... you went in and you know you had to give it 110% because you're going against the best in the business in that weight division."

 "(The J-Cup) was always a pleasure to work," continued Malenko. "Hopefully, somehow down the line before I step away from the business I'll get to work another one."

 Chris Benoit won the inaugural tournament in 1994 and was a semi-finalist in 1995. In that semi-final match, he put over a young, underachieving wrestler from the WAR promotion named Gedo. The win over Benoit, pound for pound the best wrestler in the world at the time, instantly made Gedo's career, elevating him to the upper echelon of Japan's elite junior heavyweights.

 For Benoit, the spirit of co-operation to help make someone else into a star is what the J-Cup is all about.

 "Working (the J-Cup tournament) is a total team effort from top to bottom," stated Benoit. "You felt like you were contributing, you were part of the team."

 Eddie Guerrero worked the '94 tournament under a mask as the Black Tiger character. His memories of that tournament are of the Japanese wrestlers in the field. "Shinjiro Otani, what a phenomenal worker," recalled Guerrero. "I cannot talk highly enough of Jushin Liger. Liger is a phenomenal worker... a professional attitude. (He's) the best professional I've ever seen. He taught me how to be a professional."

Super-J Cup '95 alumni: (Back row, left) Chris Jericho, Gedo, Psicosis, Chris Benoit, El Samurai, Hanzo Nakajima, Masayoshi Motegi, Shinjiro Otani, Shoichi Funaki, Dos Caras, Gran Naniwa. (Front row, left) Damian, Ultimo Dragon, Jushin "Thunder" Liger, Rey Misterio Jr and Masaaki Mochizuki.

 In the adversarial atmosphere of North American wrestling, a joint show put on with the participation of several competing organizations is a dream. Yet, in 1994, several Japanese promotions made that dream into a reality, coming together to put on an inter-promotional, international single elimination tournament of the best junior heavyweight wrestlers in the world.

 New Japan Pro Wrestling hosted the tournament before a sold-out crowd at the venerable Sumo Hall in Tokyo, Japan. Home to some of the most memorable matches in Puroresu history, on April 16, 1994 the Sumo Hall housed 14 of the best junior heavyweight wrestlers from New Japan Pro Wrestling, Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling, Michinoku Pro Wrestling, WAR, and Mexico's Empresa Mexicana de Lucha Libre (EMLL) and Asistencia Asesoria y Administracion (AAA) promotions.

 Wrestlers like Benoit, Guerrero, Malenko, Taka Michinoku, Jushin Liger, Negro Casas and The Great Sasuke set a new standard of in-ring excellence and match quality. The J-Cup saw wrestlers cross promotional lines and foreign wrestling cultures to put on an incredible exhibition of wrestling athleticism. The ballet-like grace of Lucha LIbre, the lightning quick speed of Japanese Puroresu and the hard bumping style of American pro wrestling came together, producing an evening of wrestling that has not been duplicated since.

 Major stars were created at the first J-Cup. The Great Sasuke seized the forum the J-Cup offered him to showcase his incomparable skills to fans and the Japanese wrestling media. A year earlier, Sasuke had formed Michinoku Pro Wrestling, a small, fledging promotion based out of the mountainous regions of Northern Japan. With a small roster, Michinoku Pro dazzled enthusiastic, but small crowds in school gymnasiums with the Lucha-hybrid style of wrestling it promoted.

 The 1994 J-Cup provided Sasuke with a national audience and the opportunity to draw some attention to his promotion. The bookers for the J-Cup had planned to put Sasuke in the finals against Benoit. He saw the opportunity that lay before him and he seized it.

 On that night, Sasuke put on a clinic, having three successive matches in the four-to-five star range! After defeating New Japan's El Samurai in the quarter-finals, Sasuke went on to defat Liger in a classic semi-final match. Spent and exhausted, few thought Sasuke had anything left to give. They were wrong.

 Sasuke met Chris Benoit in the finals and put on a five-star match that Japanese wrestling fans still talk about today. And even though he lost, his performance on that evening has taken on a legend of its own.

 Sasuke's amazing performance in three matches against three of the best junior heavyweights in the world cemented his legend. It became the standard by which all other performances for junior heavyweights would be judged by in the future. Sasuke's incredible efforts were not lost on the American wrestling media, as Dave Meltzer called Sasuke's performance "the single greatest performance of any wrestler ever."

 One year later, another field of the best junior heavyweight wrestlers in the world converged on Tokyo for Super-J Cup '95. Tokyo's Sumo Hall was once again the sight as the Gen'ichiro Tenryu's WAR promotion hosted the event.
  • PREVIOUS WINNERS: Chris Benoit (1994) & Jushin "Thunder" Liger (1995)
  • PREVIOUS HOSTS: New Japan Pro Wrestling ('94) & WAR (1995)
  • COMPETED IN SUPER-J AND NEW JAPAN'S TOP OF THE SUPER JUNIOR TOURNAMENT: Jushin "Thunder" Liger, Chris Benoit, Negro Casas, Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Shinjiro Ohtani, Super Delfin, Taka Michinoku, Chris Jericho
  • SUPER-J CUP AND NEW JAPAN'S TOP OF THE SUPER JUNIOR TOURNAMENT WINNERS: Chris Benoit (J-Cup '94, Top of Super J's '95) and Jushin "Thunder" Liger (J-Cup '95, Top of Super J's '92, '94)
  • NOTABLE COMPETITORS: Great Sasuke, El Samurai, Negro Casas, Hayabusa, Black Tiger (Eddie Guerrero), Shinjiro Ohtani, Chris Jericho, Dos Caras, Ultimo Dragon, Shoichi Funaki, Gran Naniwa, Gedo, Damien, Super Delfin, Taka Michinoku, Dean Malenko

  •  Benoit, Liger, El Samurai, Gedo and Shinjiro Otani were invited back as a new crop of workers joined them vying for the most prestigious tournament championship in Japan. Mexican legend Dos Caras, FMW's Damien, Michinoku Pro's Gran Naniwa, and WAR's Ultimo Dragon and "Lion Heart" Chris Jericho were among the first time invitees.

     After a complacent first round, the quarter-finals heated up with a series of heated matches. Benoit squared off against Jericho in a match that Jericho considers as one of his personal favourites. Even in defeat, the brilliant showing by Jericho elevated him to the next level as New Japan, ECW and WCW became interested in procuring his services.

     Ultimo Dragon and New Japan's Shinjiro Otani put on a masterful exhibition of lightning quick moves and brilliant exchanges before Dragon advanced to the next round. Jushin Liger helped elevate Michinoku Pro star Gran Naniwa into a bigger star in their fast paced match.

     In the semi-finals, WAR's Gedo took on Chris Benoit while Ultimo Dragon took on Liger. Most fans were anticipating a New Japan final between Benoit and Liger. Liger and Dragon put on the best match of the tournament, reaching new levels of ring mastery and speed.

     While the '94 J-Cup elevated Sasuke, this year's tournament elevated Gedo. Fans didn't think much of his chances against Benoit. Many though the underachieving WAR star was just fodder for unparalled Benoit.

     And yet, in a brilliant booking move, Gedo was given the win, not only shaking up the tournament with a big surprise but also creating an instant top star. And so the finals between Gedo and Liger were set.

     But before that, the sold out crowd were treated to a special attraction. A special attraction match was signed for the J-Cup as AAA stars Rey Misterio Jr. and Psicosis squared off in a non-tournament, singles match.

     Both wrestlers had competed in Japan previously on AAA tours. But, for all intents and purposes, the J-Cup was their Japanese debut, granting them a solo spotlight on one of the biggest cards on the Japanese wrestling calendar. They didn't disappoint.
     April 1st - Miyagi, Sendai City Gym: Jushin "Thunder Liger" (New Japan) vs. Tiger Mask (Michinoku Pro)
      Men's Teioh (Big Japan Pro Wrestling) vs. Katsumi Usuda (BattlArts)
      Shin'ya Makabe (New Japan) vs. Gran Hamada (Michinoku Pro)
      Ricky Fuji (FMW) vs. Sasuke the Great (Michinoku Pro)
      The Great Sasuke (Michinoku Pro) vs. Kaz Hayashi (WCW)
      Naoki Sano (Takada Dojo) vs. Judo Suwa (Toryumon)
      Onryo (Wrestle Yume Factory) vs. Curry Man (Independent)
      CIMA (Toryumon) vs. Ricky Marvin (EMLL)
     April 9th - Tokyo, Ryogoku Sumo Hall

     Volumes have been written about the incomparable feud between Misterio and Psicosis. Their matches in 1995 in ECW were, perhaps, the greatest in the history of that promotion. For three years, they thrilled audiences in their native Mexico in major wrestling capitals like Mexico City, Queretaro and Tijuana. Years later in WCW, they captivated an audience totally unfamiliar with the Lucha Libre style, tearing it up on Nitro and on pay-per-view. Over the years, serious debates have been conducted about which match in their lengthy feud stands above the rest.

     A strong case can be made for their match at the '95 J-Cup. For close to 10 minutes, Psicosis and Misterio thrilled and stunned the Tokyo audience with what stands as the greatest exhibition of Lucha Libre wrestling in the land of the rising sun. The magnitude of their performance was not lost on those in attendance as the appreciative Tokyo fans gave them a standing ovation.

     The table was then set for the finals of the J-Cup. Fans were speculating as to whether Gedo could do the impossible and beat Liger to win the crown. Fans waited with baited breath as the two locked up and proceeded to put on a another great match. In the end, Liger went over the up and coming star to capture the championship. But Gedo's career had already been made with a win over Benoit and an appearance in the finals. Overall, it was a night that earned a place in the consciousness of Japanese wrestling fans.

     That was five years ago. There has not been a J-Cup since. As more and more wrestling promotions have opened up in Japan, perhaps the spirit of co-operation, the predominant theme that made the J-Cup possible in the first place, seemed no longer possible.

     That was until this year. Word broke last month that The Great Sasuke was negotiating with several promotions to hold another J-Cup tournament. This year's tournament will see 16 wrestlers from New Japan, Michinoku Pro, FMW, WCW, Toryumon, FMW and several independent promotions battle for the right to be declared J-Cup 3rd Stage champion and to win the original WWF Light Heavyweight Title belt (the title was created for Gran Hamada in 1981 when the WWF had a working relationship with New Japan).

     This year, young stars like Judo Suwa, CIMA and Mexico's Ricky Marvin are looking to make a name for themselves and follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before them. Will they be successful? Or will the old guard of Jushin Liger, The Great Sasuke and Gran Hamada use this tournament as their respective swan songs? What, if any, new stars will be created? What new legends will emerge?

     Stay tuned.

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