NJPW Best of the Super Juniors XXIII: Final

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June 7th, 18:30 from Sendai Sun Plaza, Miyagi

On this, the fourteenth day of the tournament, we arrive at the final. Ryusuke Taguchi will face Will Ospreay, and the winner will claim the title of Best of the Super Juniors and earn themselves a shot at KUSHIDA’s IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. Elsewhere, a card of mostly tag matches should give us a clearer picture of the upcoming Dominion PPV.

The story so far…

Here we go…

Excellent video package to start, recapping the tournament.

Jay White vs. David Finlay

Finlay, fresh off an improved second run in BOSJ (well, he won one match instead of none), seemed to be getting a little cocky as the match went on. Late in the match, a barrage of European uppercuts put Jay White down and Finlay allowed himself a smirk, but White caught him with a small package for the three-count. Typically solid match from these two. ***

Captain New Japan & Yoshi Tatsu vs. Yujiro Takahashi & Chase Owens

Good Lord. I review 14 shows in 18 days and this is my reward? Thanks Gedo. To be fair to Owens, he held up his end of matches in BOSJ, and the victory against Ricochet yesterday was his best effort of the tournament. Tatsu, by the way, was representing Hunter Club – a stable of one. As it happens, this was a Perfectly Acceptable tag match with a decent near-fall from Captain’s diving headbutt before the referee was momentarily incapacitated and Takahashi hit Miami Shine for the win. **1/4

Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi vs. Katsuyori Shibata & Juice Robinson

Shibata was particularly surly today. Juice and Nakanishi worked a hard-hitting sequence, culminating – believe it or not – in Nakanishi hitting a crossbody from the top-rope! Nagata and Shibata were tagged in and beat the hell out of each other much to the crowd’s delight, then Nakanishi came back to finish the job only for Shibata to cinch in the Sleeper and connect with the Penalty Kick for the win. Shibata’s permanently foul demeanour since losing the NEVER title is a pleasure to witness, while Juice steadily improves in all the little ways that make a big difference. ***1/4

Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Kyle O’Reilly & Bobby Fish vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Rocky Romero & Baretta

Romero and O’Reilly started us off in a repeat of the match that yesterday cost O’Reilly his chance of winning BOSJ, then Ishii and Tenzan went at it in a great sequence. Romero and Baretta unwisely tried to intervene (Romero had the cheek to use Mongolian chops) and were quickly dealt with. Fish was tagged in, and had the better of Baretta, but became isolated and received a sliding lariat from Ishii and Busaiku Knee from Baretta for a near-fall. Back to O’Reilly and Romero, before all six men hit signature spots, clearing the ring, and leaving ReDRagon free to connect with Chasing the Dragon on Romero for the three-count. Fun match, and worth mentioning that the crowd response has been great so far. ***1/4

***INTERMISSION***

KUSHIDA, Ricochet & Matt Sydal vs. Jushin Thunder Liger, Tiger Mask & Volador Jr.

We ran through the combinations of Tiger/Kushida, Ricochet/Volador and Sydal/Liger – all very good – before Sydal found himself imperilled for a few minutes. Kushida eventually got the tag and hit a handspring elbow on Liger before delivering a flipping senton from the top-rope to Volador and Tiger on the outside. The match broke down, and Liger and Tiger flew from top-rope to the floor onto their opponents, leaving Ricochet and Volador alone in the ring. A victory roll driver and lungblower both got two for Volador, but the Spanish Fly was avoided and Ricochet landed a beautiful 630 Splash for the win. Thoroughly enjoyable with excellent heat. ***1/2

Post-match, Sydal and Ricochet accepted the challenges of ReDRagon and Roppongi Vice, so we get a triple-threat for the Junior tag titles at Dominion. They stereo-moonsaulted onto their future opponents to stand tall. It’s a shame to showcase the Juniors so well over the last few weeks only to immediately shove them back down the card, especially in three/four-way tags matches. Oh well.

Satoshi Kojima & Michael Elgin vs. Kenny Omega & Bad Luck Fale

Kenny was having a great time on the way to the ring, and Chase Owens appeared to enjoy the antics, certainly more than Fale. Elgin looked in control before Omega tripped him then rode the ladder down onto him from the announce table. Back in, Fale stood on Elgin and casually/lazily beat him down before tagging in Omega, who continued to take it to the prospective Intercontinental title challenger, cheating when necessary. Kojima entered the fray, delivering machine-gun chops to Fale and Omega, and blocked Fale’s Grenade to hit the Koji Cutter. Elgin re-entered the ring with a slingshot shoulder block and turned Omega inside-out with a lariat for two. He did his silly slapping clotheslines, but Omega knocked him to the outside and launched himself with a tope con hilo. Omega set up the ladder in the ring for a dive, but Elgin cut him off and delivered a suplex from it, and only Fale’s intervention prevented the pinball. Omega recovered to threaten a One-Winged Angel onto the ladder, but Elgin blocked it and delivered a powerbomb instead, breaking the ladder in the process. A further sit-out powerbomb put Omega down for the three-count. ***1/2

Post-match, Elgin posed with the Intercontinental belt and Omega made the ladder match at Dominion official.

CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto, YOSHI-HASHI & Gedo) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japón (Tetsuya Naito, EVIL, SANADA & BUSHI)

We’ve had countless variations of this match in the last few months and yet I’m not tired of it. There is a palpable sense of hatred between these two factions and that strength of feeling is what carries these bouts. That and Naito’s frequent awesomeness. The exchange here between the champion and his challenger Okada did a great job of hyping their match at Dominion, with The Dropkick turning Naito inside-out and leaving him bleeding from the mouth. Los Ingobernables displayed an impressive continuity in the closing stages, leaving Gedo alone to take the jumping Codebreaker from Bushi for the win. ***3/4

Post-match, Ishii ran in to give CHAOS the numbers advantage, and despite getting misted, it gave Okada the chance to take out Bushi with a tombstone, but Naito prevented the Rainmaker.

Best of the Super Juniors XXIII Final 

Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Will Ospreay

Ryusuke Taguchi     Ospreay

The “Funky Weapon” Ryusuke Taguchi displayed a more serious side, relatively speaking, during the tournament, winning many of his matches with the Oh My & Garankle ankle hold, but I don’t think anyone predicted he’d get to the final. “The Aerial Assassin” Will Ospreay, meanwhile, lost his opening two matches, then defeated Ricochet in a make-or-break match to kickstart a comeback which culminated in a block-deciding win against Volador Jr. at yesterday’s show.

They started slow, with neither man willing to risk a mistake that might cost them. Taguchi gained the initial psychological advantage, faking-out a dive and posing, and Ospreay was suitably embarrassed, so sent Taguchi to the outside and repeated the fake-out and mimicked his opponent’s pose. He caught Taguchi with a kick on the way in and started to wear down him with an Octopus Hold, but tweaked his knee off a flip and Taguchi was quick to take advantage, applying an ankle lock on the floor, then stomping the injured leg back in the ring. A spinning toehold led to a submission hold that pretzeled Ospreay into a pinning combination for two. The Englishman nailed a handspring enziguri to put both men down, then executed a one-legged springboard forearm and standing corkscrew moonsault for a two-count of his own. He signalled for the Rainham-Maker, but Taguchi rolled-through to a victory roll and tried to grab an ankle lock, settling instead for a spin-out powerbomb.

A sequence of ass-based offence from Taguchi, including a springboard hip attack, culminated in a tope con hilo to Ospreay on the outside. Back in, the Three Amigos connected, then the inverted Exploder was followed by the BomAssYe for a near-fall. Ospreay rolled-through the Dodon and delivered kicks, then clotheslined Taguchi over the top-rope and connected with a corkscrew Sasuke Special. Back in, he headed up top, missed the 450 – tweaking the knee once more – but landed a double stomp and the corkscrew roundhouse kick. The OsCutter was countered to the ankle lock, then pulled back into Dodon facebuster for a near-fall! The ankle lock was cinched in again, but Ospreay rolled-through and hit the C4 to a charging Taguchi for another two-count! Ospreay slipped out of the turnbuckle to hit the Cheeky Nandos kick, then nailed the inverted 450 for two! Oscutter! One, two, three! Ospreay wins! Crazy heat there at the end to cap a tremendously well-built main event. ****1/2

Ospreay is presented with the trophy and wraps himself in the Union flag before calling Kushida into the ring to let him know he’s coming for the belt. They shake hands, then Ospreay thanks everyone for their support.

Confetti rains down on the winner of the Best of the Super Juniors XXIII, Will Ospreay, to close the show.

Final thoughts: The main event was the best Taguchi match I’ve seen, but I think most of us will admit that we are thankful Ospreay got the win. Has a foreigner ever been so quickly accepted by the Japanese crowds? For what it’s worth, that final ranks third behind O’Reilly/KUSHIDA and Ospreay/Ricochet (still can’t decided on an order) for best match of the tournament. And behind them, half a dozen four-star matches that gave many wrestlers who are often hidden in multi-man tags the chance to shine.

A strong tournament overall, although with less emphasis on the Juniors in general in New Japan, there isn’t the opportunity the G1 affords to set up multiple feuds – that is if you ignore the parade of challengers KUSHIDA now has in front of him. Still, the blocks were tight, and the booking allowed those of us who watched to theorise at length about the scenarios that might play out.

This was a breeze of a show to watch and Dominion is starting to take shape nicely. Elgin should prove a worthy replacement for Tanahashi (hopefully the additional rest will be worth it for the G1 Climax) and I honestly don’t know which way Okada/Naito will go.

NJPW Dominion is a week Sunday on June 19th. See you then.