Saturday, June 3, 2017
NJPW Best of the Super Juniors XXIV Finals Review
After thirteen shows, we’ve finally reached the end of the Best of the Super Juniors XXIV. It’s my third tournament and it was much better than 2015 and about on par, if not a bit better than 2016. The finals were great the last two years (2015 got ****½ while 2016 got ****). This year we have an unexciting finals, but one that should deliver in quality. Sounds like a lot of NJPW booking right?
This is my first look at Yagi. Oka and Kitamura, which should be a main event rivalry in a few years, started off and it ruled. I hope they don’t get sent on excursion. I don’t think time in CMLL or ROH will do much for them. Umino and Yagi brought a different pace, moving very fast in their exchanges. Yagi got wrecked by Nakanishi a bit, before Nagata came in to a battle of the dads. Oka got the win for his guys by making Yagi submit to the Young Lion Crab in 7:58. Just what I’ve come to expect from the Young Lions. Lots of energy Nagata and Nakanishi took nights off as the coaches, which is fine. I’m digging the protégé vibe from them and Oka/Kitamura.
I totally forgot that Yano and Ishii had the Tag Titles this year. Kawato gave zero fucks and wanted to fight instantly. Jado tried playing the vet who taught him a lesson, but he’s shit at everything he does, so I couldn’t buy into it. Ishii and Yano worked him over as well, including sending him into the exposed turnbuckle. He managed to tag in his older partners, who fared better, but he wanted right back in. It’s probably good, since Makabe looked like he didn’t want to be there today. Ishii murdered Kawato with a lariat to close it out at 7:24. Ishii was a badass, Yano was mildly entertaining and Kawato stole the show by being a madman. Nobody else came to work, though.
All six men were part of the tournament. Desperado and Liger were great, Tiger Mask and Volador were good, TAKA had his moments and Kanemaru sucked. This was exactly what you’d expect. The Suzuki-Gun guys tried their standard tricks, while the babyface unit did all they could to overcome it. TAKA was not in the mood to take a big bump, as he turned the top rope Spanish Fly into what was basically a hip toss off the top for the loss in 5:46. This was short and sweet. They kept Kanemaru to a minimum and let the entertaining guys do their thing.
Pimp Yujiro brought the Tokyo Latina (@muffin030ass on Instagram) with him. I love when she’s around. David Finlay’s been wearing the War Machine face paint for a while, but ACH adopted it here too. I’m still upset Finlay was left off this tournament. This was here to preview GOD/War Machine at Dominion. ACH was hype and wanted the champs to throw him onto their opponents, but it was unfortunately cut off. ACH ended up taking the heat, before bringing in War Machine to kick ass. Things broke down, which including a dive by ACH and then Hanson hitting a somersault onto GOD. Finlay nearly ended Yujiro, but Fale took him out. It allowed Yujiro to win via Pimp Juice at 10:06. This was more fun than expected. War Machine is great in NJPW, while ACH and Finlay have always delivered. The Bullet Club guys played their roles well too.
Guys in CHAOS have bad hair, especially YOSHI and Ospreay. Except Ishii. Anyway, this was to build towards the Goto/Suzuki rematch at Dominion. In a totally expected opening, Suzuki-Gun jumped CHAOS before the bell and it led to a brawl on the outside. They’ve only been back for about five months and I’m beyond tired of them. And I say this as a guy who likes Minoru and Desperado. HASHI took most of the heat, which meant Taichi was on offense, which is never good. Goto came in hot, but it just led to a battle of strikes with Suzuki. That part was fun. Suzuki-Gun all got involved and Kanemaru accidentally spit booze at Taichi, allowing YOSHI to win with Karma at 12:13. Standard Suzuki-Gun stuff. I’m over it.
Kojima has been working these matches in place of the injured Hiroshi Tanahashi. Naito threw his broken IC Title at Liger on commentary. I’d love that singles matches, to be honest. I like that Taguchi Japan was ready for the LIDJ sneak attacks. We’ve seen variations of this match for the entire year, yet they’re always entertaining. LIDJ is awesome in a way the Bullet Club, Suzuki-Gun and CHAOS can only dream of. The interactions between Dragon Lee and BUSHI made me wish they were in the same block (ditto for Ricochet/BUSHI). I also always get a kick out of Kojima’s rapid-fire chops. He also did a dragon screw and air guitar tribute to Tanahashi. Just when he looked like he might win, he got taken out by a lariat from EVIL. Naito hit Destino and that was all in 12:19. Easily the best thing so far. LIDJ can do no wrong. Great energy, awesome pace and lots of action. Always entertaining.
Post-match, Tetsuya Naito cut a promo and out came Hiroshi Tanahashi. He claimed that Naito tells people to relax, so he did. He’ll be at Dominion for their match.
This clearly previewed Omega/Okada II. The match that I thought was great, but nowhere near GREATEST MATCH OF ALL TIME LEVELS like a lot of people saw. They started the match and had some good exchanges, with teasing of signature moves, but nothing more. Scurll and Gedo slowed things down a bit. Gedo got worked over for obvious reasons. Okada was given the hot tag and hit all his shit. He and Omega continued to avoid the finisher of the other. Both Gedo and Scurll had to be saved from defeat by their partners, but dual superkicks sent Okada packing. The Chicken Wing made Gedo tap at 13:04. Solid tag match. The heat segment was good, Okada’s hot tag worked and they did the right amount of teasing for the Dominion main event. Though it’s not much of a tease since, like the rest of Dominion, it’s a rematch of something we’ve seen already.
Last year, these two met twice (****½ at Invasion Attack and ***¾ at Dominion) and KUSHIDA won both. KUSHIDA won this tournament in 2015, while Ospreay did in 2016. It’s an incredibly uninspired finals choice. Though this was a friendly encounter, you got the feeling Ospreay had a chip on his shoulder. Or maybe that’s just his personality. He called KUSHIDA a bitch while no-selling his strikes, trying to show his toughness. It just led to him eating a rolling kick and dive outside. They played off their past well, with Ospreay having the top rope shoulder breaker scouted (but he still got hit with it) and KUSHIDA getting his knees up on signature Ospreay stuff. There was a particularly wild spot where Ospreay spiked KUSHIDA on the apron with a reverse rana. Ospreay decided against the good guy route of helping KUSHIDA in and was willing to take the countout, but KUSHIDA beat it. KUSHIDA had a fantastic Oscutter counter, jumping with Ospreay and catching him in an armbar. It was nearly as good as the chair armbar spot against KOR last year. They progressed in a badass exchange of strikes and kicks, including KUSHIDA going all Bryan Danielson by stomping on Will’s face. Will flipped him off in the middle, remaining defiant. The Hoverboard Lock didn’t work, so KUSHIDA went to transition to Back to the Future, but Ospreay had a counter ready. Ospreay brought everything, including an imploding 450 and about ten of his corner superkicks, but KUSHIDA refused to stay down. They fought up top, where KUSHIDA hit SUPER Back to the Future. He held on like his name was Okada, and rolled into a second to win in 27:59. That was fantastic. Some spots didn’t look as good as others (Will standing like a moron while KUSHIDA set up his own Oscutter for example) and I preferred their first match. It followed the formula of a lot of NJPW matches that people have gone the full five on this year in that it had a slow build to a wild finish that everyone remembers. Still, it’s a working formula and I was all about how well they played into their history. Having the tourney guys around the ring added to the big fight feel. A must-see match.
At the end of the day, my biggest gripe with NJPW continues to be the booking. They did the come from behind win just like Ospreay had last year. Now, the Jr. Title match at Dominion is ANOTHER Wrestle Kingdom rematch. Could you imagine the outcry if WWE put on a great WrestleMania and SummerSlam was just a retread of that show? It’s like there’s been no growth in six months. There were lots of interesting opportunities to go with out of this tournament, but they went the safe route. Take a chance. They did it with Omega and it paid off. Take more risks. NJPW gets away with a lot of their safe, stale booking because the in-ring product delivers. I’m sure Dominion will be a damn good show, just not an exciting one.
Overall: Pretty much the show I expected. NJPW tends to have events with solid tag matches filling the undercard and then a big finish. The only things that I say need to be seen are the LIDJ tag and the main event. A show like this is all about the main though, and that delivered. I’m not a fan of the booking, but the wrestling was great.