May 17th, 18:30 from Korakuen Hall, Tokyo
Welcome to the first day of 2017’s Best of the Super Juniors. Today’s show is all-tournament, with both A and B blocks competing in their first round of matches. We’ll see Marty Scurll’s New Japan debut vs. Will Ospreay, while in the main event Dragon Lee and Hiromu Takahashi face off once again.
Much like the G1 Climax, Best of the Super Juniors is a round-robin competition split into two blocks, in this case with eight wrestlers in each. There are two points given for a win, one for a draw, and each match has a 30-minute time limit. The block winners will then meet in the final on June 3rd and the winner of that match (assuming it isn’t current champion Hiromu Takahashi) will receive a shot at the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship.
Four of the block shows plus the final are being shown live on NJPW World, with the tournament matches of the rest uploaded to the site the next day (Japan time). I’ll be covering the live shows individually and grouping the delayed BOSJ matches together in recap reviews.
Here’s how the blocks look:
- Hiromu Takahashi – The Los Ingobernables de Japón member and current Junior champion has been on a tear since returning to New Japan at the end of last year. He’s beaten everyone in his path and is rather attached to his friend, Mr. Belt. Whether Mr. Trophy will be added to the friendship group in a few weeks remains to be seen.
- Dragon Lee – An incredible talent, the 22-year old is more well-regarded outside his native CMLL thanks to the exposure his series of matches with Kamaitachi (aka Hiromu Takahashi) brought. Though he failed in a title shot at The New Beginning in Osaka this February, the increased frequency of his appearances in Japan might yet help him win his debut Best of the Super Juniors.
- Jushin Thunder Liger – At 52-year old(!) he’s still remarkably sprightly, but the legendary Liger has announced that this will be his final tournament. In such a stacked block, it’s hard to see him progressing, but it would be something special if he did.
- Marty Scurll – As of last Friday, The Villain is Bullet Club’s newest recruit. Today’s show is his debut appearance in New Japan and he’ll be hoping to follow in the footsteps of fellow Brits Zack Sabre Jr. and Will Ospreay by making an instant impression in the company.
- Ricochet – Winner of the 2014 tournament, Ricochet has most recently been an unsuccessful challenger for the Junior title, a belt he’s still never held. He continues to be one of the finest high-flyers in the world, however, and was unlucky not to win his block last year because of his head-to-head record.
- Taichi – Suzuki-gun’s resident ladies man is known for cheating in more ways than one. Not one for technical classics, Taichi will utilise whoever or whatever is to hand in order to get the right results.
- TAKA Michinoku – Not the flyer he once was, TAKA has seen the light, and as a member of Suzuki-gun thinks nothing of using the dark arts to steal matches. But who knows, maybe some of today’s “…dive” crew will inspire some vintage performances.
- Will Ospreay – The winner of last year’s tournament has now spent a little over a year in New Japan, and while The Aerial Assassin has so far failed in his attempts win the Junior title, the next few weeks provide him the opportunity to become the first consecutive winner of this tournament since Tiger Mask IV in 2005.
- ACH – Last seen under a mask at Wrestle Kingdom portraying “Tiger the Dark”, it’s good to see that ACH’s previous association with Pro Wrestling NOAH and departure from Ring of Honor haven’t hindered his ambitions in New Japan. I fully expect him to make the most of this tour.
- BUSHI – Los Ingobernables de Japón’s other junior has been overshadowed of late by the arrival of stablemate Hiromu Takahashi. Having spent much of the year trading the NEVER 6-Man belts with Taguchi Japan in a tremendously entertaining feud, it’s not like he’s been denied a spot, but he’ll surely be thankful to once again be in the singles spotlight.
- El Desperado – Suzuki-gun’s masked man is a solid wrestler, but it’s been years since he relied on in-ring ability to win matches, instead using the shortcuts that come so easily to he and his friends. Who knows, perhaps the lack of guaranteed interference will help him rediscover his talent.
- Yoshinobu Kanemaru – The fourth and final Suzuki-gun representative might charitably be described as stoic, but despite his lack of charisma he has some incongruously impressive moves in his arsenal and is a solid in-ring presence. Can’t see him being a block-winner, but given his experience and willingness to bend the rules he’ll likely pick up a few wins.
- KUSHIDA – 2016 was KUSHIDA’s year. He was undoubtedly the ace of the junior division and raised the title’s prestige to a level not seen in years. Then Hiromu Takahashi showed up, took his belt at Wrestle Kingdom in January, embarrassed him in the two-minute rematch, and generally bested him at every turn. Will this be his redemption, the start of his climb back to the top, or is there further to fall?
- Ryusuke Taguchi – Leader of Taguchi Japan, Coach of the Year (to my mind) and born entertainer. He unexpectedly reached last year’s final only to fall short, but a recent title shot against Hiromu proved once again that when he takes things seriously – by his standards – he can be a formidable opponent.
- Tiger Mask IV – Like Liger, he mostly competes in opening tag matches these days, but he’s a solid veteran who can match his opponent when the occasion demands.
- Volador Jr. – This is the CMLL main-eventer’s second BOSJ tournament in a row. Having competed in Fantastica Mania joint-tours since 2012, he’s plenty familiar with the environment, but his recent ascent in his home promotion makes him a serious contender for the trophy this time round.
Here we go…
Jushin Thunder Liger vs. TAKA Michinoku (A Block)
Liger got the better of several early exchanges before sending Taka outside and nailing a baseball slide dropkick and rolling senton from the apron. Shotei and a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker back in the ring, but Taka wriggled out of the Romero Special to the floor, so Liger followed him and whacked him in the back with a chair! Liger used an eye rake before applying a figure-four and held on a long as he could when Taka made the ropes. Out of nowhere, Taka grabbed the Just Facelock and Liger desperately tried to avoid tapping, eventually getting the rope-break to the crowd’s relief. Thesz Press from Liger for two, then the Liger Bomb for a near-fall! Eye rake from Taka and he wrapped Liger in the Heavy Killer #1 pin (triangle choke into a rana) for the three-count!
A decent opener, with Liger dishing out most of the offence and pushing his luck with the referee in order to secure a win, but Taka using typical Suzuki-gun tactics to steal it. ***
Tiger Mask IV vs. Volador Jr. (B Block)
A slick lucha back-and-forth led to a stand off, so Tiger went to a dropkick to floor Volador, keeping him grounded with a short-arm scissors then a double armbar. Volador rolled outside, holding his left arm, returning before the count only to be met with kicks. A ‘rana sent Tiger out of the ring, however, and Volador followed with a lovely tope con hilo. Back in, a middle-rope moonsault hit the knees, before an over-elaborate top-rope arm drag sequence led to a Tiger Driver for two. Tombstone from Tiger, and rather than go for the pin he headed up top, so inevitably the diving headbutt missed the mark. Superkick from Volador, but Tiger slipped out of the super ‘rana to hit a back suplex for two. An enzuigiri caught Tiger on the apron and Volador lifted his opponent to the top to hit a rather dangerous-looking Spanish Fly for the win.
Not the smoothest of matches, with some of the moves looking positively out of control, but I enjoyed it quite a bit nonetheless. ***
Ricochet vs. Taichi (w/ Miho Abe) (A Block)
Taichi’s reticence to enter the ring was met with a suicide dive from Ricochet, but Taichi rolled right back out again, sending Miho into the ring in his place and distracting Ricochet long enough to choke him with the microphone stand. He sent Ricochet into the ringpost and attacked him with the ringbell hammer while the referee was otherwise engaged with Miho on the apron, but Ricochet ducked a clothesline, connected with a 619 and nailed a springboard uppercut to make the comeback. An eye rake blocked the Benadryller, but a neckbreaker and standing shooting star press earned two for Ricochet. A pair of kicks to the head got Taichi a two-count, then he ripped off his stripper trousers before both men exchanged strikes, culminating in a superkick from Taichi for a near-fall. The referee stopped the mic stand being used for a second time, and this allowed Ricochet to hit the Benadryller (with a corkscrew kick) and follow-up with a beautiful Shooting Star Press from the top for the three-count.
Korakuen loves Ricochet, and despite a couple of miscommunications and the limitations of a Taichi match this was fun. **1/2
ACH vs. BUSHI (B Block)
Bushi’s handshake wasn’t genuine, of course, and he immediately went to the t-shirt choke to maintain the advantage. ACH leapfrogged a charge and nailed a succession of kicks, but was sent over the top-rope, and Bushi followed with a slingshot hurricanrana to the floor! A rope-hung DDT onto the apron stunned ACH, who made it back into the ring at 19, where Bushi connected with a low dropkick before locking in an STF. After reaching the ropes, ACH distracted Bushi for a gut punch, then a dropkick sent Bushi to the apron, and ACH followed a Jericho-style dropkick with a springboard crossbody to the floor. He was unable to take advantage in the ring, however, with Bushi spiking a DDT, and this led to an exchange of elbow. Mule kick from Bushi and the spinning neckbreaker got two. A very nice rope-hung lungblower set up the diving Codebreaker, but ACH countered it with a dropkick. Backslide Bushi Roll from Bushi for a near-fall, lariat from ACH for a near-fall! Another lariat, and ACH nailed a modified Michinoku Driver for the win!
Good match here, with Bushi pulling out some stuff I’ve not seen from him before and ACH impressing the crowd in his first NJPW singles match with his athleticism and charisma. ***1/2
KUSHIDA vs. El Desperado (B Block)
Desperado attacked immediately, but Kushida wasn’t having any of it. Desperado did avoid a big dive, though, and low-bridged Kushida to the outside before hitting a tope con hilo through – rather than over – the ropes. He rammed Kushida into ringpost, then whipped him into the turnbuckle where he’d lodged a chair. He jammed a pen (I think) into Kushida’s eye and I can only assume the referee was paid off. At this point, Desperado began working over Kushida’s leg, trapping it in the ropes before striking with a dropkick, but Kushida fought back, nailing a standing dropkick and springboard dropkick before landing some kicks and the handspring elbow. DDT, but Desperado blocked the follow-up with a customary eye rake and hit a spinebuster for two. Into the Stretch Muffler from Desperado, with Kushida scrambling for the rope-break. They found themselves up top, and Kushida pulled Desperado all the way down with a cross armbreaker! Desperado made the ropes, but was screaming in pain. The Hoverboard Lock initially blocked, then the referee was knocked down in the process of it being successfully applied and Desperado’s tap-out was missed. Desperado took advantage by using Kushida’s recently aquired ROH TV title against him, dropping him face-first onto it with Pinche Roco (butterfly facebuster). Two-count only! Guitarra de Angel from Desperado – one, two, three!
Very good match and Kushida now has even more of a mountain to climb. Helps that Kushida is so over with the crowd, but Desperado brought it here and they worked at a great pace throughout. ***3/4
Will Ospreay vs. Marty Scurll (A Block)
Scurll, with his Bullet Club umbrella, is going to make this tournament his bitch (his words, not mine). An impressive opening back-and-forth led to a stand-off and the crowd was very much into this. Ospreay mocked Scurll’s birdwalk and was met with an eye poke, chop and back rake. Scurll’s ‘rana didn’t work, but Ospreay needed a few tries before eventually landing a dropkick and angered his opponent with a handspring fake-out on a dive. Back in, and a big elbow strike floored Scurll, but he somehow spiked his Ospreay with an arm-wringer in reply. Enzuigiri from Ospreay, but he got a boot to the face off a Shooting Star Press attempt, and Scurll nailed an apron superkick to stay in control. He followed by stomping the knees before Ospreay invited chops. Scurll obliged, but Ospreay fought back with slaps, a handspring kick, and a Shibata-like corner dropkick. Despite Scurll’s best efforts the Cheeky Nandos kick connected, then Ospreay mimicked Randy Orton to signal the OsCutter (topical!), but Scurll caught him with a slam into the ropes and followed with a Cheeky Nandos kick of his own. The Chickenwing was blocked, and Ospreay countered a suplex into a stunner sending Scurll to the outside and the Sasuke Special landed! Springboard elbow, but Scurll stopped the rot by grabbing Ospreay’s finger and snapping it loudly! Ospreay escaped The Villain’s clutches once more to nail his corkscrew kick, but the OsCutter was countered straight into Crossface Chickenwing and Ospreay tapped!
Quite the debut from Scurll, and the Tokyo smarks in Korakuen certainly knew who he was. A typically strong effort from two opponents who clearly know each other well, with both getting time to shine. Very good. ****
Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru (B Block)
Taguchi thrice leapfrogged Kanemaru and avoided a dropkick to nail some hip attacks. He ran the ropes to the point of exhaustion, and this was where Kanemaru took advantage, taking him outside for a DDT on the floor and landing a dropkick with Taguchi hung over the apron. Kanemaru literally kicked Taguchi’s ass, then applied a headscissors from which Taguchi made the ropes. A desperation hip attack connected at the second time of asking, leading to Taguchi hitting a series of them. Springboard hip attack! Two-count only. The Nakamura pose was twice interrupted with a dropkick, then Kanemaru hit the tilt-a-whirl DDT and a reverse DDT for two. Deep Impact diving DDT – two-count only! Taguchi ducked an enzuigiri and grabbed the ankle lock, dragging Kanemaru to the centre of the ring, but here was TAKA for the distraction. Low blow from Kanemaru, but Taguchi replied with one of his own and small packaged his opponent for the win!
Post-match, Taguchi insisted that the ice pack be applied to the injured area, which certainly made me laugh. I enjoyed this quite a bit. Silly as it is, Taguchi’s act is firing on all cylinders. ***
Dragon Lee vs. Hiromu Takahashi (A Block)
Hiromu brought his BOSJ scrapbook with him and encouraged the commentary team to take a look. He and Dragon Lee fired off with huge slaps to one another’s chests, going head-to-head before Dragon Lee swiped away a ‘rana to hit one of his own. Hiromu avoided the dive, but in getting up to the apron was caught with a leaping hurricanrana to the floor! Tope con hilo to follow from Dragon Lee. Back in, Hiromu blocked the cradle suplex but was hit with a corner dropkick for two. A belly-to-belly into the turnbuckle turned the tide, and Hiromu nailed a low dropkick before ripping at his opponent’s mask. Dragon Lee survived a surfboard submission to land a couple of kicks, then avoided Hiromu’s sunset flip powerbomb to the floor and hit one of his own! Hiromu leapt back in the ring at 19, but was out of it, and the Desnucadora (cradle suplex into a powerbomb) from Dragon Lee earned a very close near-fall. Both men missed with their attempted tree-of-woe double stomps from the top, then they exchanged a series of German suplexes. Both men down. Elbows and slaps up from the knees, with Dragon Lee nailing a vicious knee lift to floor Hiromu.
Up top, and Dragon Lee blocked Hiromu’s attempted Victory Roll Driver and instead connected with a reverse double stomp! Crazy. Another Desnucadora attempt was blocked, with Hiromu cinching a guillotine choke before Dragon Lee rolled to the ropes. Modified DVD slam from Hiromu for two. DVD into the turnbuckle and again Hiromu ripped at the mask. An ugly-looking crucifix driver earned two for Dragon Lee, then each man got a near-fall from a pinning combination. Superkicks from Hiromu and the diving Destroyer from the middle-rope connected for 2.9! Another DVD into the ‘buckle, but the Time Bomb was blocked, so Hiromu settled for a wheelbarrow German instead. Dragon Lee blocked another Destroyer, hit a turnbuckle DVD of his own and spiked Hiromu with a Phoenix-plex for the win!
Wow. A huge result – Hiromu’s first singles loss since returning to New Japan – with massive implications for the tournament. The match, while not their best, was very good indeed, with lots of clever counters and high-impact moves. Certainly not something you’d want to be involved in at the start of a two-and-a-half week tour. Not everything looked crisp, but they wrestled to the point of exhaustion and the chemistry is undeniable. Great stuff. ****1/4
Post-match promo from Dragon Lee and we’re out.
A Block standings after Round One
- Dragon Lee – 2
- Ricochet – 2
- Marty Scurll – 2
- TAKA Michinoku – 2
- Jushin Thunder Liger – 0
- Will Ospreay – 0
- Taichi – 0
- Hiromu Takahashi – 0
B Block standing after Round One
- ACH – 2
- El Desperado – 2
- Ryusuke Taguchi – 2
- Volador Jr. – 2
- BUSHI – 0
- KUSHIDA – 0
- Tiger Mask IV – 0
- Yoshinobu Kanemaru – 0
Final thoughts: We’re off to a good start. This was a breeze to watch, with everything on the card being at least solid, a few matches coming in at just under four-stars, Ospreay vs. Scurll hitting that mark, and the main event being the match of the night. An easy recommendation.
I’m back tomorrow for A Block’s live show, which features Dragon Lee vs. Scurll, Liger vs. Hiromu and Ricochet vs. Ospreay. See you then.