New Japan’s Best of the Super Juniors Tournament began today. The 2015 edition was mostly full of lackluster matches (outside of the finals), but last year provided consistently good matches and some standouts (KUSHIDA/O’Reilly for example). This year’s tournament sees half the field change.
Returning are KUSHIDA, Ricochet, Will Ospreay, Ryusuke Taguchi, Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask IV, BUSHI and Volador Jr. This year’s additions are Hiromu Takahashi, Dragon Lee, Marty Scurll, ACH, Taichi, TAKA Michinoku, El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru to replace David Finlay, Rocky Romero, Beretta, Kyle O’Reilly, Bobby Fish, Matt Sydal, Chase Owens and Gedo.
Surprisingly, TAKA came out in his old school blue gear, wearing nothing related to Suzuki-Gun. Maybe he thinks wearing old school gear will help him win this tournament like he did the Light Heavyweight Title one 20 years ago. They worked the mat early, before trying to see who the stronger man was. Once that ended, Liger nailed a sweet somersault off the apron. The fact that he’s as good and mobile as he is at his age is remarkable. Interestingly, it was Liger who used a chair. TAKA eventually applied the crossface and Liger fought for his life. The crowd willed him on and he nearly tapped, but reached the ropes. The Liger Bomb got a near fall and TAKA was out. However, he was playing possum and pulled Liger into a cradle to win at 8:33. A better than expected opener. The veterans worked hard and had the crowd way into this back and forth battle. Give me this TAKA over the Suzuki-Gun BS we typically get.
Last year, Volador did quite well in the tournament. He also had a pretty great match at Fantastica Mania. Volador brought the flippy shit early, so our resident Jr. Dad had him cut the shit and took things to the mat. Volador combated that with a tope con hilo that woke the crowd up. Tiger Mask got his knees up on a moonsault and hit a Tiger Driver for two. They fought up top, where a back suplex came off oddly. Tiger went back up, but was cut off and fell to the Spanish Fly at 9:48. Not as fun as the opener. It was technically fine, but it was missing something to get me connected.
Poor Ricochet gets to draw the awful Taichi on night one. The crowd loves Ricochet. Taichi did a lot of stalling, because his matches all apparently must be shitty. He choked Ricochet with the microphone stand and brought all his usual underhanded stuff. Ricochet’s eventual comeback was somewhat fun, but Taichi raked his eyes to stop the Benadryller. There’s a Benadryl joke about Taichi putting people to sleep somewhere, but I don’t have the energy to figure it out. Taichi tried using the mic stand again, but had it taken by the referee. Ricochet scored with the Shooting Star Press for the win at 8:56. Ricochet tried his hardest but Taichi is just so bad. He sucks the life out of any match like his name is Jado. The finishing stretch was fine but that’s about it.
This is one of the few B Block matches I’m looking forward to. ACH was awesome during his run with Taiji Ishimori last year. ACH must not watch NJPW, because he shook hands with BUSHI and got attacked for it. ACH fought back with a series of kicks and fast paced offense that earned him a solid response from the crowd. BUSHI nailed a rana to the outside and looked for the countout win. When that failed, BUSHI tried grounding ACH to no avail. He took a springboard dive on the outside. The closing stretch was great, as they traded strikes and big blows. ACH blocked MX with a dropkick and hit a series of lariats. One of those badly bruised up his elbow according to Twitter. He hit a Michinoku Driver and picked up the win at 10:47. Best thing on the show so far. They had some strong exchanges and cranked it up down the stretch. ACH is over and that’s a good thing.
After intermission, it’s back to the B Block. KUSHIDA should do better this year than the ROH TV Champion (Bobby Fish) did last year. In true Suzuki-Gun fashion, Desperado jumped KUSHIDA before the bell. KUSHIDA fought back, but was thrown into chairs. That led to the expected slow point of a Suzuki-Gun match. Desperado tried using a pen on KUSHIDA’s eye during his heat segment. Everything else during that time didn’t click with me. The comeback began and KUSHIDA locked in the armbar from the top, but Desperado reached the ropes. KUSHIDA applied the Hoverboard Lock but a ref bump meant the tap out was missed. He fought off a shot with the title, only to eat a butterfly buster onto it for two. Desperado kept him down with Guitarra de Angel to steal it at 11:39. Good stuff outside of the boring bits from the heat segment. Desperado had a game plan and KUSHIDA fought valiantly through it. The hot crowd helped and Desperado wasn’t as grating as his fellow Suzuki-Gun members.
I never got to talk about it, but Scurll in the Bullet Club is such a dumb move. The guy was making his own name and doing well without the BC name attached. He’s so much better as his own entity. He’s a MASSIVE upgrade from Adam Cole at least. While I love Marty, I’ve grown very tired of Ospreay. Anyway, we were treated to a “best of” compilation of sorts. These two have a long rivalry (I gave two of their matches last year ****¼ and ****½), so they played into their past. Scurll was ready for the SSP and got his feet up, before scoring with a vicious sounding superkick. Both guys got in their signature spots, with Scurll also being more of a base for Ospreay to do his shit. Ospreay, in typical tool form, stole Randy Orton’s mat pouncing taunt, but gets cut off. Marty did the finger break spot and Ospreay comically oversold it. He still fought Marty off and went for the Oscutter, only to get caught in the Chicken Wing and tap at 12:11. Like I said, this was them going through their typical work, which made sense since it was a safe way to make sure Marty got over. The Japanese crowd did their homework and knew about him, as he got one of the better reactions of anyone on the show. Not a patch on their best work, but still good.
I’m still waiting for Kanemaru to impress me. TAKA was with him and was dressed in black, making me sad. These two met in an awful match during the Super J-Cup last year. Despite that, Kanemaru was confused at the early Taguchi antics. Kanemaru got in control to give us a heat segment with not much of interest going on. Taguchi rallied with ass based offense from almost every possible angle. Taguchi eventually slapped on the ankle lock but Kanemaru reached the ropes. TAKA distracted the referee, leading to the competitors trading low blows. Taguchi ran Kanemaru into TAKA and rolled him up for the three at 11:27. It should come as no surprise that Kanemaru and Taichi had the worst matches on the show. This was exactly what you’d expect. Taguchi and Suzuki-Gun antics galore.
These men have one of the best in-ring rivalries in all of wrestling. I have their last two matches (Fantastica Mania ’16 and New Beginning in Osaka ’17) at ****½ each. Hiromu is my current pick for Wrestler of the Year. This had a big fight feel to it and they opened by just chopping the shit out of one another. Lee snapped off a rana off the apron before proceeding to hit Hiromu with a bunch of high impact offense. Hiromu turned it around and went after Lee’s mask. If you remember, he completely removed it in their last match, which helped him win. In an awesome moment, Lee nailed Hiromu with his own sunset flip bomb off the apron. Just showing how much they know each other. Hiromu knew just when to avoid Lee’s corner double stomp too. They went into trading German suplexes and the bigger offensive blows. Hiromu went for the mask again and it nearly cost him when he was rolled up. He got two on the Destroyer before Lee got in some surprisingly sloppy counters. He avoided another Destroyer and hit his own corner DVD. The Phoenix Plex handed Hiromu his first singles loss in NJPW after 18:56. Like Scurll/Ospreay, we got a lot of their signature stuff but it never felt like a compilation. It felt like the next step or chapter in their rivalry. It was on par with their previous matches until a few sloppy moments down the stretch. I did love how they played off their past matches and how Lee stole some of Hiromu’s signature moves.
Overall: A good start to the tournament, though a few things fell short for me. Taichi/Ricochet, Tiger Mask/Volador and Kanemaru/Taguchi are all easy skips. The rest of show ranges from good to great. ACH/BUSHI is quietly a damn good match, while Scurll/Ospreay was on par with it. Liger/TAKA was better than expected and I enjoyed KUSHIDA/Desperado. Obviously, the main event was the best thing of the show. Add it all up and you’ve got a good first night.
|Dragon Lee||2 (1-0)||ACH||2 (1-0)|
|Marty Scurll||2 (1-0)||El Desperado||2 (1-0)|
|Ricochet||2 (1-0)||Ryusuke Taguchi||2 (1-0)|
|TAKA Michinoku||2 (1-0)||Volador Jr.||2 (1-0)|
|Hiromu Takahashi||0 (0-1)||BUSHI||0 (0-1)|
|Jushin Thunder Liger||0 (0-1)||KUSHIDA||0 (0-1)|
|Taichi||0 (0-1)||Tiger Mask IV||0 (0-1)|
|Will Ospreay||0 (0-1)||Yoshinobu Kanemaru||0 (0-1)|