Earlier today, New Japan Pro-Wrestling unveiled the bracket for this year’s New Japan Cup. The 48-man field is the largest ever in the history of the tournament.

16 individuals are receiving first-round byes. NJPW says those individuals were chosen at random.

The expanded field allows plenty of room for first-time entrants in the New Japan Cup. Those making their debuts in the tournament include the current and fourth incarnation of Tiger Mask, new IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion Master Wato, CIMA, Dick Togo, DOUKI, El Phantasmo, and TAKA Michinoku. Three Young Lions will also make their New Japan Cup debuts: Kosei Fujita, Ryohei Oiwa, and Yuto Nakashima.

Several notable names will return to Japan to participate in the 2022 New Japan Cup. That group includes last year’s winner: former IWGP World Heavyweight Champion Will Ospreay. Chase Owens, Tama Tonga, and Tanga Loa are also returning to Japan for the tournament.

The 2022 New Japan Cup begins on March 2 with a card featuring eight tournament matches. The final matches will be held on March 26 and 27 in Osaka Jo Hall.

The main event of the March 2 card will see IWGP World Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada face IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion El Desperado in a first-round match. NJPW is allowing singles champions to participate in this year’s New Japan Cup.

“It’s gotten to be a tradition to have these champion versus champion matches at Anniversary, and I wanted that again this year,” Okada said at a news conference Monday (*h/t to njpw1972.com for transcription and translation). “This year with the New Japan Cup having champions and juniors in there… It’s been a while since I’ve gotten to face a junior champion, and out of all the wrestlers around right now, El Desperado has impressed me. I’d like to experience that, and experience the will of a junior champion. At the same time, I’m excited to teach Desperado just what it means to compete as a heavyweight wrestler, and hopefully, he’ll pick up a thing or to and continue to develop.

“I think Desperado really is an impressive wrestler, so perhaps if he gets to wrestle me, he’ll be able to improve even more,” Okada continued. “As for the tournament itself, I plan to show just how dominant a champion I am and to win the whole thing.”

Okada is a two-time New Japan Cup winner (2013 and 2019). Last year, he was defeated in the first round by Shingo Takagi.

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