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NJPW Best of the Super Juniors XXIII: Day 1

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May 21st, 18:30 from Korakuen Hall, Tokyo

Welcome to the first day of 2016’s Best of the Super Juniors tournament. Today’s show is headlined by KUSHIDA vs. Kyle O’Reilly – a repeat of last year’s final – and also features Sydal vs. Taguchi, BUSHI vs. Gedo and Finlay vs. Romero, as well as an undercard of tag matches with most of New Japan’s top stars involved.

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 winners of each block will meet in the final on June 7th and the winner of that match earns a shot at the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship.

Half a dozen of these cards will be shown live on NJPW World, with the tournament matches of the rest uploaded to the site a day late. I’ll be covering the live shows individually and grouping the delayed tournament matches together in recap reviews.

As you may have heard, the Young Bucks were forced to withdraw from the tournament through injury and have been replaced by David Finlay (A Block) and Chase Owens (B Block). Here’s how the full blocks look:

A Block

  • BUSHI – Like his Los Ingobernables de Japón stablemates, I expect Bushi to cheat his way to some measure of success here.
  • David Finlay – Son of Fit, David has improved significantly in his year with New Japan. His future looks bright, but as the one young lion in the pack, I can’t see him picking up many points.
  • Gedo – A very good wrestler when he gives himself that opportunity, which admittedly isn’t often these days.
  • KUSHIDA – The reigning Junior champion has been on a tear since claiming the belt in January and appears determined to raise the division’s prestige to the level it gained in the mid-1990s. So far, so good.
  • Kyle O’Reilly – Only a matter of days ago, Kushida dubbed O’Reilly “the best wrestler in the world”. Can last year’s losing finalist go one better this time around?
  • Matt Sydal – One half of the Junior tag champions (with Ricochet), you know what to expect with Sydal. He’ll Shooting Star Press his way to a couple of wins, but I expect him to finish a distant 4th place.
  • Rocky Romero – A veteran of this tournament, Romero is an ever-present in the Junior tag ranks but hasn’t been anywhere near a singles title shot, and I don’t expect that to change.
  • Ryusuke Taguchi – His act is equal parts Eddie Guerrero, Shinsuke Nakamura taunts, and ass-based offence. Yep.

B Block

  • Baretta – The other half of Roppongi Vice, Baretta can go when given the opportunity.
  • Bobby Fish – Fish recently won the ROH TV title by cleanly beating Tomohiro Ishii, so he’s coming into this with some momentum.
  • Chase Owens – A Bullet Club representative so lowly, he’s not really a member at all. Might sneak a win somewhere along the way.
  • Jushin Thunder Liger – You know this guy. Most recently he came up short in a Junior title match against Kushida and seems to be remarkably sprightly for a 51-year old.
  • Ricochet – Rumours of his departure have been greatly exaggerated (well, until BOSJ is over at least). One half of the Junior Tag champions, there’s almost nothing he can’t do in the ring.
  • Tiger Mask IV – Like Liger, he mostly competes in opening tag matches. He’s a solid veteran who probably won’t pick up many points.
  • Volador Jr. – CMLL’s representative. He’s competed in New Japan several times for the Fantastica Mania joint-tours, but this is his first BOSJ tournament.
  • Will Ospreay – At the age of 22 Ospreay has the wrestling world at his feet. He recently signed at two-year contract with the company, so it’s clear they have plans for him.

Shows are split alternately into A and B Block matches and those that are broadcast live will feature undercards of multi-man tag matches with competitors from whichever block doesn’t have tournament matches that day. Phew.

Here we go…

Satoshi Kojima, Bobby Fish & Volador Jr vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Baretta & Will Ospreay

It was Volador Jr. who was allowed to shine here, and in his late exchanges with Baretta he displayed enough to make me really look forward to his match with Ospreay. Kojima and Ishii also had some great moments during their ring time  and now have me hoping they’ll face off at the G1. It’s worth mentioning that there were no ringside barriers, and presumably there won’t be throughout BOSJ, because there’ll be a large number of dives occuring. Volador got the pin, hitting a hurricanrana on Baretta while both men were stood on the top rope. **3/4

Yuji Nagata, Jushin Thunder Liger & Tiger Mask vs. Katsuyori Shibata, Juice Robinson & Jay White

With Nagata having claimed the NEVER title from Shibata a few weeks ago, that was unsurprisingly the main thread here, and the two faced off a couple of times during the match. Further to my compliments of Juice’s improvement in my Lion’s Gate review, he’s also started adding to his moveset; the leg-capture suplex to Nagata on this occasion. Late on, Jay White impressively knocked down Nagata with a diving dropkick and looked to lock in an armbar, but it was broken up by Liger and Tiger, and Nagata soon hit a Backdrop Hold to White for the three-count. **1/4

Hiroshi Tanahashi, Yoshi Tatsu, Captain New Japan & Ricochet vs. Kenny Omega, Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi & Chase Owens

Poor Kenny. With the rest of the Elite indisposed, he’s left in charge of this bunch. Ricochet began the match by earning chants from Korakuen crowd with his always-impressive offence, then Yoshi Tatsu was tagged in and free to display his somewhat less impressive chops (not the knife-edged kind). Fale decided to involve himself, and at that point Bullet Club were firmly on top. Eventually, Tatsu hit a Triple H Knee to free himself and all hell broke loose, including a dive from Ricochet. Omega and Tanahashi faced off ahead of their upcoming ladder match, then somehow Captain New Japan was left alone with Fale, and despite acquitting himself admirably, was soon victim to the Grenade for the three-count. **1/4

Post-match, Bullet Club trapped Tanahashi’s arm in a ladder while Omega smashed it with a chair. He also attacked a fan’s Tanahashi teddy bear. Deplorable behaviour. Tanahashi was stretchered out, much to the concern of the fans and his teammates.

Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI vs. Tetsuya Naito, SANADA & EVIL

The ongoing CHAOS vs. Los Ingobernables feud goes on. There is quite a buzz when Naito enters the arena, has to be said. He once again teased commentator Milano AT by inviting him to take his place in the match, and Milano compromised by opening the ropes for the champ, who finally relented.

Okada mimicked Naito’s reclining pose to begin, then we worked through the combinations, with CHAOS getting the better of the exchanges. Naturally, LIJ used nefarious means to take advantage, and took the fight to the ouside, with Naito running Okada into the announce table and ringpost. Goto was the man alone in the ring, but ultimately he did get the tag, which allowed Okada to run wild, including a spiked DDT on Naito. CHAOS soon had three-on-one against Sanada, but Los Ingobernables’ latest recruit survived the punishment, and, left alone with Yoshi Hashi, was able to lock in the Dragon Sleeper for the tap out. **3/4

Post-match, Naito offered the IWGP belt to Okada like he was offering a dog a string of sausages. What a cad.

***INTERMISSION*** (During which Okada joined the commentary team.)

A Block – Round One

Rocky Romero vs. David Finlay

Romero     938

Finlay worked aggressively here, going after Romero’s taped shoulder, ramming it into the ringpost and following up with some arm yanks and a couple of double axe handle from the middle rope. A third attempt was met with a dropkick from Romero, who then took control, hitting a springboard clothesline, hurricanrana, and Daniel Bryan-like running knee off the apron. Back in, Romero hit a couple of Nakamura knees to a turnbuckled Finlay (complete with taunt), then a springboard dropkick connected for a two-count. Finlay caught his opponent with a back suplex and locked in a Stretch Muffler, which was transitioned to an armbar, before Romero made the ropes. European uppercuts from Finlay, a Finlay Roll, and a jumping uppercut earned a two-count. Romero reversed a german suplex attempt to a victory roll for two, hit a lovely running Shiranui for another two, then a jumping high knee put Finlay away for the three-count. ***

Gedo vs. BUSHI

035     600

Chants of “Gedo-o” from the crowd, before Bushi unveiled his own variation of Naito’s reclining pose. Despite Gedo using the ringbell hammer to hit Bushi, Bushi appeared unhurt  and was able to hit an apron DDT and choke his opponent with a chair on the floor (Red Shoes Unno must be the most lax referee in the business). A neckbreaker in the ring led to Bushi cinching in a chinlock then a headscissors. He was then crotched on the top rope as Gedo fell into the ropes and Gedo took advantage by first locking a WAR Special (shoulderlock) then a crossface from which Bushi just made the ropes. Bushi then countered a series of punches to a DDT, and after a sliding knee strike, launched into a suicide dive. A springboard dropkick to a rope-hung Gedo got a two-count. A low blow mule-kick and the Codebreaker earned another near-fall. Gedo fought back with punches, and with Red Shoes momentarily knocked down, he kicked Bushi in the balls, smacked him in the mouth with a Rainmaker Punch (Raintaker) and rolled him up with the Gedo Clutch for the pin! That is quite the upset. Fun match. ***1/4

Gedo got misted afterwards, but at least he has the points.

Matt Sydal vs. Ryusuke Taguchi

932     013

After an early sequence of armdrags, Sydal found an opening to attack Taguchi’s leg, then focused in on it, first with an inverted Muta Lock – very nice – then a regular Muta Lock that had Taguchi grasping at his knee. Taguchi was able to hit a desperation Dragon Screw, but Sydal caught him with an elbow on the way down and a cut opened up above Taguchi’s eye, spilling blood. Leg drop bulldog for two. Standing moonsault for two. Then, with Taguchi half-kneeling on the apron, Sydal hit a jumping frankensteiner to the floor. Taguchi got the knees up on the Shooting Star Press that followed and at the second time of asking connected with Dodon’s Throne (double chickenwing gutbuster) for a close two-count, then put Sydal away with the Dodon facebuster. Despite coming out to the ring wearing an inflatable bird and playing a recorder, Taguchi’s in-ring approach was notably more serious (frankly, the blood helped) and was rewarded with a win. Good match. ***1/2

KUSHIDA vs. Kyle O’Reilly

651     903

As you might expect, the opening minutes saw both men jockeying for an advantage on the mat. It was Kushida who first found an in and started to lay the groundwork for the inevitable Hoverboard Lock. O’Reilly found respite with a strike sequence and used the opening to begin work on Kushida leg, hitting a couple of shinbreakers and dissecting the knee. Mounted palm strikes transtioned to an ankle lock had Kushida scrambling for the ropes, where an enziguri allowed him to connect with a jumping armbreaker from the middle rope. A springboard chop followed, then for the next several minutes no-one was able to take control, as they traded moves and counters at a phenomenal pace.

The match kicked up a significant notch gear here, as Kushida handspring-kicked O’Reilly to the floor, but the follow-up was avoided and O’Reilly dropped Kushida knee-first onto a chair. He sat the Junior champ down on said chair, kicked him a few times, then attempted a running knee from apron. This, incredibly, was countered mid-air by Kushida into an armbar, flattening the chair in the process. Back in, suplexes were traded, Kushida with the Dragon variety and O’Reilly with the lesser seen Regalplex. In a moment of ingenuity, O’Reilly grabbed the back of his own trunks to block the Hoverboard Lock, but Kushida eventually got his way and O’Reilly had to stretch for the rope break. After a back-and-forth on the top rope, Kushida countered a Back Superplex to a crossbody for a very near-fall, but that was his last hurrah. O’Reilly scored a brainbuster for a near-fall, then unleashed brutal curb stops and locked in a triangle hold. This was transitioned to a Fujiwara armbar from which Kushida tapped out. Fabulous match. ****3/4

O’Reilly used the post-match promo to declare that he will win the tournament.

A Block standings after Round One

  • Gedo – 2
  • Kyle O’Reilly – 2
  • Rocky Romero – 2
  • Ryusuke Taguchi – 2
  • BUSHI – 0
  • David Finlay – 0
  • KUSHIDA – 0
  • Matt Sydal – 0

Final thoughts: A solid show top-to-bottom, with one hell of a main event. These BOSJ openers did an excellent job of making everyone look a threat and demonstrating that anyone could win the tournament. You should, of course, go out of your way to see KUSHIDA vs. O’Reilly, but the show as a whole was a good watch and gets definite thumbs up from me.

The next four rounds are day-delay uploads, so I’ll recap all of the tournament matches on Thursday. See you then.