Sunday, May 20, 2018

NJPW Best of the Super Juniors XXV Nights One and Two Review

NJPW Best of the Super Juniors XXV Night One
May 18th, 2018 | Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan

The Best of the Super Juniors Tournament has returned. The typically lackluster juniors division usually steps up come tournament time. I wasn’t big on the 2015 edition, but 2016 and 2017 were both very good. The A Block, the group in action today, doesn’t sound nearly as interesting as the B Block, but I’m intrigued at how this goes.

Like I do with the G1 Climax, I’ll only be reviewing the tournament matches. The undercard tags are usually fine, but I just don’t have time for them. Unlike last year, we’re not opening with both blocks in action, which is unfortunate.

Can the BOTSJ be as good as 205 Live has been this year? Let’s find out.

A Block: Tiger Mask IV [0] vs. IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Champion Yoshinobu Kanemaru [0]
Not exactly getting the tournament off to a hot start. This is a very uninteresting matchup on paper. We got the usual Kanemaru antics. He did all the generic heel stuff, including going after Tiger Mask’s mask. That’s always weird to type. The referee looked like he was done with Kanemaru’s shit about two minutes in. To be fair, so was I. Tiger Mask made the babyface comeback, though the underdog fighting from behind isn’t exactly a great role for him. Kanemaru had one heel antic spot I enjoyed, as he threw a young boy at Tiger Mask to stop him from beating a countout. Tiger Mask still got back in and took a superplex. However, he cradled him on the landing and stole the win at 10:17. A lackluster start, but about what I expected from these two. [**]

A Block: ACH [0] vs. Flip Gordon [0]
ACH was great in this tournament last year. Meanwhile, I’m still sitting here waiting to see what’s so special about Flip Gordon. Personality wise, he seems very problematic. Shout out to ACH for wearing the AAW Title to the ring. Flip was out to impress the crowd by doing a whole bunch of kip-ups in a row, for no real reason. It’s an athletic thing to do, but so many people do a version of it now that it’s completely lost its luster. It’s like, “Cool. You’re an athlete. Good for you.” His annoying persona irked ACH, who began to take it to him. To Flip’s credit, the Korakuen crowd popped for every high flying exploit he did. I saw some compare this debut to Will Ospreay’s in 2016, but Will gave one of his best performances ever that night. This was not that. ACH sold his banged up shoulder throughout and did everything he could to allow Flip to strut his stuff. They fought into the crowd for reason other than so Flip could dive off something out there. They eventually made it back to the ring, where ACH continued to sell the shoulder. His tape came off after Flip missed a Spiral Tap. ACH masterfully hit a deadlift German, while clearly only using his good arm. So smart. He hit the Big Bang Attack to win in 15:26. I saw a lot of praise for that match, but I’m not really getting it. It had good moments, but felt like it tried to be too many things at once. A showcase for Flip, a brawl, an aerial display, etc. ACH shined here, making Flip look as good as possible, selling well, and showcasing some psychology near the end. At least for now, Flip is basically just Will Ospreay on his worst nights, which isn’t good.[**¾]

A Block: BUSHI [0] vs. YOH [0]
CAPS ATTACK! I love BUSHI and really like YOH, so this was probably my most anticipated match of night one. Roppongi 3K’s theme is pretty terrible, by the way. BUSHI attacked YOH during his entrance, because he’s a heel like that. YOH brought fire to his offense, but BUSHI wisely kept him grounded. The fans weren’t nearly as interested in this style as they were for the previous match, but they still rallied behind YOH. It did feel like YOH wasn’t too comfortable in the early stages, probably being so used to working tags lately. He regrouped in the second half to close out the match strongly. They began trading strikes and kicks, before BUSHI hit a Canadian Destroyer from out of nowhere. Where did that come from? The finish came off a bit weird, as BUSHI went for a lung blower, only for YOH to awkwardly counter into a pin and win in 15:18. This was a good match once it picked up. It started slow and had a wonky finish, but the middle worked very well. [***]

By the way, for the second time in three matches, a babyface won with a rollup type pin and got jumped after the match. Oh, Gedo.

A Block: Taiji Ishimori [0] vs. IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion Will Ospreay [0]
The big match of the evening. Ospreay is the champion and got attacked by Ishimori earlier this month. I’ll say it right now and people will probably disagree, but I believe Ishimori is a far better wrestler than Ospreay. Thankfully, Ospreay charged with an attack at the bell. It makes sense given the attack at Wrestling Dontaku and I was worried they’d go with a traditional slow start. They brawled outside, and in an awesome spot, Ospreay avoided being thrown into chairs by leaping over and onto the stage, before diving off. It’s things like that I appreciate. Don’t just use your athleticism to show off, use it in a way that helps the match and makes sense. Ishimori targeted Will’s bad neck, leading to his over the top yell selling. Both men had offense that looked great. The final few moments saw Taiji hit a reverse rana, only to run right into Spanish Fly. Hearing the Japanese commentator straight up say, “It’s amazing,” was great. Taiji countered the Oscutter into Bloody Cross to win in 13:47. This was closer to the kind of Ospreay match I’m looking for. His selling is still troublesome. For example, if your neck bothers you so much, why keep doing moves that see you land on your neck? It just doesn’t make sense. Other than that, this hit a lot of good points. Both guys had strong moments and the match was kept short and to the point. Too many of Will’s prior matches were long for the sake of it and reached an over the top level of absurdity because of it. This was much more tight. [***¾]

Overall: 6/10. An average start to the Best of the Super Juniors. These are the kind of nights I expect from A Block. Some good, some average, and some lackluster, with nothing feeling must see. Ishimori and ACH were the standout performers on night one. I’d like to see them be at the top of the block in the end, though I suspect it comes down to that Flip/Will match.

NJPW Best of the Super Juniors XXV Night Two
May 19th, 2018 | Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan | Attendance: 1,721

A Block didn’t impress too much on night one, but the B Block looks so much better on paper. All four matches on this show sound strong.

B Block: CMLL World Lightweight Champion Dragon Lee [0] vs SHO [0]
Dragon Lee opened the tournament with a big win over Hiromu Takahashi last year. SHO is one half of Roppongi 3K, who was looking to start with a win like his partner on night one. Both men came out of the blocks strong, trading strikes instantly. SHO is fast, but Lee is unreal in that department, so he used it to his advantage. SHO had to resort to a power advantage on more than one occasion. They also seemed to focus on the arm of the other man. It led to a few submission attempts that I didn’t expect to see. Though they both had damaged arms, they fired up to exchange strikes that would’ve felt at home in a NEVER Title match. One series of them happened until they were both nearly counted out. From there, they started trading big blows, from high impact moves to great arm based submissions. SHO’s strength advantage came into play when he blocked Dragon’s apron rana with a powerbomb. His Project Ciampa also looked particularly brutal. The finish came when Dragon countered an armbar into Desnucadora, his suplex/powerbomb hybrid, in 17:31 Awesome match that marks the first great one of the tournament. It was hard hitting, explosive, and showed two guys trying to prove themselves. It was such a smartly worked match and I’m so glad they got a lot of time to work with. Lee continues to be great, while this felt like a coming out party for SHO. [****]

B Block: IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Tag Team Champion El Desperado [0] vs. Ryusuke Taguchi [0]
For most of the year, Taguchi is a comedy guy. But, he usually brings something more for the BOTSJ. Desperado, EASILY the best Suzuki-Gun junior, beat Taguchi in a good one in the tournament last year (***¼). Desperado jumped him before the bell because that’s what Suzuki-Gun does. The focus of the match became Taguchi’s crotch and ass. Yes, you read that right. It was strange, yet made sense since Desperado is a dick like that and Taguchi uses his ass for offense. At one point, Desperado wedged a chair between Taguchi’s legs and smashed another chair into it. Creative. To fight back, Taguchi used some offense we don’t often see from him, like a tope to the outside. Desperado kept up with the cheap tactics, while moving his target to the leg a bit to set up the Stretch Muffler. As Taguchi got near victory, Desperado used a low blow and rollup to steal the win in 13:19. Like last year’s match, this was good. They balanced the comedy with the smart, as the groin work made sense, even if it is kind of goofy. [***¼]

B Block: Chris Sabin [0] vs. KUSHIDA [0]
Winner gets Alex Shelley’s undying love. Both guys won the Jr. Tag Titles with him at one point. It’s Sabin’s first NJPW singles match. So far in the tournament, we’ve had matches based around high flying, vengeance, strong style, and even some comedy. This was our technical outing and it helped ensure a diverse tournament. Their early exchanges felt like two guys who got notes on the other from their past partner. They had a feeling out process where they looked for the first real opening left by their opponent. Even when either man got that opening, they seemed to have a counter for the other. It was a mistake that cost KUSHIDA big. He went high risk and took too long, allowing Sabin to German suplex him off the top. Cradle Shock and Hail Sabin connected to give the Motor City Machin Gun the upset over the Time Splitter in 13:47. I really appreciated how this was different from the rest of the show. Great chain and counter wrestling from two guys who came in well prepared. The crowd wasn’t as invested as I hoped, probably due to Sabin not being around often in recent years. [***½]

B Block: Hiromu Takahashi [0] vs. NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Champion Marty Scurll [0]
Hiromu bested Scurll in the tournament last year in a very good match (***¾). They also met at War of the Worlds (***¾) and Epic Encounter (***½), with Hiromu holding a 2-1 advantage overall. These two understood that the crowd was actually excited for this main event. They milked the reactions before even touching. Marty took the upper hand early, focusing his attacks on the arm and neck to set up the CHICKEN WING. But, Hiromu is a wild man who tends to ignore pain at times. He still hit his insane spots, like the Sunset Flip Bomb to the floor, after Marty had it scouted a few times. Scurll went into the bigger offense, like a tombstone on the apron. It was the kind of overboard stuff that hurt his recent Ospreay match. His cockiness cost him a bit, as he talked smack and opened the door for Hiromu to get going. Hiromu survived the CHICKEN WING, a finger snap, and a superkick before firing up. Scurll countered the Time Bomb, but Hiromu turned that into a triangle choke and Scurll faded out for the ref stoppage finish in 20:48. A very good main event. They worked a slow build where the moves and offense got bigger as time went on. It was NJPW 101 and it worked, especially in the setting of a lot of the break neck paced juniors matches. [***¾]

Hiromu got on the microphone to say that the BOTSJ will be better than the G1 Climax this year.

Overall: 8.5/10. Much better than night one. There was no bad or fluff this time around. Desperado/Taguchi was the worst match and still managed to be a good, creative outing. Sabin/KUSHIDA was a different kind of technical battle, while the main event delivered what I expect from those guys. Of course, SHO and Dragon Lee was an excellent start that stole the show and the tournament so far.

ACH2 (1-0)Chris Sabin2 (1-0)
Taiji Ishomori2 (1-0)Dragon Lee2 (1-0)
Tiger Mask IV2 (1-0)El Desperado2 (1-0)
YOH2 (1-0)Hiromu Takahashi2 (1-0)
BUSHI0 (0-1)KUSHIDA0 (0-1)
Flip Gordon0 (0-1)Marty Scurll0 (0-1)
Will Ospreay0 (0-1)Ryusuke Taguchi0 (0-1)
Yoshinobu Kanemaru0 (0-1)SHO0 (0-1)