This week in the Best of the Super Juniors: May 15th – May 22nd, 2022

Howdy!

It’s BOSJ time! For the next few weeks, I’ll be taking a hiatus from covering New Japan Strong to….cover New Japan. 

But DIFFERENT New Japan.

Yeah, that’s the ticket. So, instead of doing a post a day which will surely end me at this point (work has been stressful recently), I’m instead going to do a weekly roundup of the shows in capsule form, with a few longform reviews of the top matches. Plus, the shorter paragraphs will surely make it much easier to ignore my usual nonsense and get straight to the star ratings! Win-win!

Let’s watch some wrestling, shall we?

For those who are new to our reindeer games here, the Best of the Super Juniors tournament is a tradition in Japan, and this is the 33rd instance of the event since 1988. It’s a round-robin tournament that returns to the traditional 2 Block format for the first time since COVID shut the world down a bit ago. Also returning this year is foreign talent coming in for the tournament, so if you’re an AEW fan wondering where Wheeler Yuta is, that’s your answer. 

Every wrestler faces the other in their Block, and the winners of the two Blocks face off in the Final. Winner gets a title shot at the Junior Heavyweight Champion at the Dominion event. 

The Blocks are:

A Block
Ryusuke Taguchi
YOH
Clark Connors
Hiromu Takahashi
Yoshinobu Kanemaru
Ace Austin (Impact)
Alex Zayne
Francesco Akira
Taiji Ishimori – CURRENT IWGP JUNIOR HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION
SHO

B Block
Master Wato
Robbie Eagles
Titan (CMLL)
BUSHI
El Desperado
DOUKI
El Lindaman (Gleat)
Wheeler Yuta (AEW)
TJP
El Phantasmo

So here’s what we’re going to do this time out. I’ll give my very brief thoughts about the matches with a star rating, tournament matches only. We’re not rating the opening tags. If the mood strikes me or I think the match is something special, I’ll do it long form. This is Week 1, we’ll do a similar round-up for Week 2, then the Final after that. 

Cool? Cool, let’s do this.

A BLOCK, NIGHT 1 – Sunday, May 15th:

Ace Austin over Clark Connors via pinfall – I don’t know what I think of Austin yet, honestly. I don’t watch Impact and don’t have any experience with him. He strikes me as very RVD-like with the flips and twists, but there’s possibly some meat on the bone here and I want to see more. Connors is likely doing a lot of jobs on this tour, but we’ll have to see how he responds to no longer being a Lion, and this wasn’t his best outing to do that. **.

Alex Zayne over Yoshinobu Kanemaru via pinfall – I won’t lie to start this off, I don’t like Zayne and he’ll have to do a bunch to win me over. Unlike Austin, I HAVE seen a bunch of Alex’s stuff and it doesn’t hit me. Kanemaru, on the other hand, has his picture in the dictionary next to ‘solid worker’ and I very much like him. He tried to reign Zayne in a bit and got a very watchable match out of him as a result. **1/2.

Francesco Akira over SHO via pinfall – Well, Akira made the most of his first impression since being handpicked as the big junior heavy from the United Empire, no apologies to TJP. SHO has basically been nigh unwatchable in a lot of matches since his HoT turn, but Akira got a very watchable tilt out of SHO here. And TJP even served a relatively useful purpose at ringside in stopping the usual b------- ending by stealing the wrench! No complaints on this one. ***.

Hiromu Takahashi over Ryusuke Taguchi via pinfall – I don’t even know where to begin here. This was possibly my least favorite match involving either of these wrestlers in…..ever. Yeah, I think that’s right. Ever. This was a high (or low) art type match where they clearly had an idea to try something different and stretch, but ye Gods, it did not work. Mostly stalling and a few moves revolving around Taguchi’s ass and Hiromu avoiding it before the pin. Gah. I rewatched this one to make sure I wasn’t being too harsh, but I wasn’t. I’ll confidently state that I never expect to give this rating to a Hiromu Takahashi match ever again, but I’m doing it here. *1/2. 

Taiji Ishimori over YOH via submission – YOH tried to kickstart this thing fast, but the truth is that I just don’t see it with him in this position. Ishimori is a good champion and did what he could here, and the match wasn’t BAD at all. YOH just isn’t the guy. **3/4. 

THOUGHTS: A bit of a medicore kickoff here, if I’m being honest. At this point, if SHO has your match of the night, you’re in trouble. That having been said, this seemed to be more about getting the new guys some shine and into’ing them into NJPW for the most part, and that worked. Better days are ahead.

B BLOCK, NIGHT 1 – Tuesday, May 17th:

DOUKI over El Lindaman via pinfall – Upset! At least, that’s what I was told. DOUKI, who really has had a very good year in NJPW, picked up his first win here in a very decent match. Lindaman looked absolutely fine here and the match was good. Still hoping for good things for DOUKI in this year’s tourney. **3/4. 

El Phantasmo over BUSHI via pinfall – Hmmmm, seems like ELP may have his working boots on in this thing. BUSHI can be super hit and miss, but they did a back-and-forth match here that I really liked. Wonder if ELP is going to be getting the big push? Regardless, he and BUSHI did well for themselves out there. ***.

Robbie Eagles over Wheeler Yuta via pinfall – The finish here caught me completely off-guard, but Yuta acquitted himself extremely well in his opening tilt here. I like Eagles a lot and Yuta kept up with him pretty well here. I was kind of surprised that Eagles went over because I thought Yuta would get the early shove in the Block, but it wasn’t like you were going to go wrong with Eagles picking up a win. ***1/2.

TJP over Master Wato via submission – The thread here was TJP being a better wrestler than Wato and him proving it and beating him. Watch the exchanges and wrestling and you can see that TJP schooled him here, albeit not to the degree that Okada did back in the New Japan Cup. Wato is cannon fodder in this tournament. **3/4.

El Desperado over Titan via pinfall – Desperado has to be the favorite in the Block. I actually think that they took the title off him possibly so he could finally win this tournament. Interesting to see him work just as an outright heel here going after Titan’s mask, etc. Anyway, the match was good and Despy won with Pinche Loco. ***1/4.

THOUGHTS: I thought this was a better opening night than A Block. Yuta and Eagles was MOTN with Desperado/Titan right behind. 

A BLOCK, NIGHT 2 – Wednesday, May 18th:

YOH over Clark Connors via pinfall – The melba toast of matches so far this year. **.

Ace Austin over Yoshinobu Kanemaru via pinfall – Okay, maybe Austin’s got something after all. Kanemaru is a good base for a guy like this and I think that Ace is better than Zayne, at least at this point. Good stuff here, although that Ace paper cut thing makes me wince. **3/4.

Alex Zayne over SHO via pinfall – I feel like some day I’ll tell stories about SHO and no one will believe them. “Hey kids, did you know that back in 2020, SHO went ****+ in the New Japan Cup with Shingo Takagi and looked like the future of the Junior division?” And then they’ll call me a stupid old man who doesn’t know anything about wrestling. Like the comments section here. Regardless, this was a middling match where SHO did some half-hearted cheating before getting caught by Zayne’s Taco Driver for the pin. **1/2.

Taiji Ishimori over Ryusuke Taguchi via pinfall – After Taguchi’s nonsense from night 1 in the Block, I had some qualms about this one. And we still got some requisite silliness as Taguchi managed to get his ass out of his tights, but in-between that we actually had some decent wrestling. ***.

Let’s go longer form for the main event in this one.

Francesco Akira vs Hiromu Takahashi – A block match

Oh yeah, baby. Been looking forward to this since the schedule was announced. They charge each other and begin trading immediately. Akira ends up on the outside and Hiromu tries the power bomb off the apron, but Akira was goldbricking and turns it into a ‘rana, then goes back in to come out with a plancha, then tosses Hiromu back in and hits a crossbody for two. Lighting quick to open us up. 

Back in and they settle down for a moment as Akira controls. Dropkick to the back of Takahashi’s head gets two. Akira tells Hiromu to bring the chops, which, you know. The man went toe-to-toe with Minoru Suzuki, carrot top. He can probably handle you. Hiromu sends him to the floor and there’s the dropkick off the apron by Takahashi. 

Back in as Akira blocks the Time Bomb attempt, but gets caught with a pop-up powerbomb for two. He comes back with the Ospreay kick in the corner, Wheelbarrow suplex by Hiromu, Akira fires up off it and swings Hiromu face-first into the mat to put both guys down. Akira takes several chops from Hiromu and gives out a few of his own. They trade off shotgun dropkicks and it’s DVD time into the corner by Hiromu. 

Big head kick by Akira sets up a poison ‘rana and he gets two. Francesco is frustrated now and wants the Fireball to finish, but Hiromu ducks it and hits the Dynamite Plunger for two. Akira makes a comeback with Buzzsaw kicks and tries the Fireball again, but runs right into a lariat from Hiromu. Another lariat by Hirmou gets two. Victory Royal sets up Time Bomb 2, and that’ll do it for Akira. (Hiromu Takahashi over Francesco Akira via pinfall) ****. An excellent match throughout and we have our first four snowflake match of the tournament. Both guys traded advantages and moves, but the pacing with which they did was absolutely magnificent. Both guys felt like it was possible for them to win, and they didn’t betray that to the ending, where Hiromu had to work to put away the spunky Akira. Really fun match from start to finish. 

THOUGHTS: Middling to good until the main event, which was more than worth the price of admission. Akira is going to be something in this division if they handle him well. 

B BLOCK, NIGHT 2 – Thursday, May 19th:

Wheeler Yuta over DOUKI via pinfall – Either Yuta is starting to impress me a bit, or DOUKI is just that much better this year than he’s been in previous ones. Perhaps it’s both. Regardless, they had a really nice match here, with Yuta getting the pin off a seatbelt clutch. ***1/4.

El Lindaman over Titan via pinfall – The story of this one seemed to be them selling their knees, which both guys did pretty well. This was okay, not much more than that, as Lindaman won with a really nice bridging German suplex. **3/4.

BUSHI over Robbie Eagles via pinfall – Why? Why would you put BUSHI over Eagles? A lot of back and forth in this one as it felt like neither guy could get a significant advantage. Regardless, the wrestling itself was good, but Eagles has low-key been really great in his NJPW appearances over the last two years, I wouldn’t mind seeing him in the main event again as soon as they want him to. ***.

El Phantasmo over Master Wato via pinfall – This was fine, but no matter how many times Wato got in the face of ELP, I never thought for a second he would win this. I’m starting to think that the Okada match really hurt Wato in the short run, as he looked like a joke in there against him and it’s really hard to unsee that. ELP, on the other hand, looks like he just might make a nice run this year. **3/4.

El Desperado over TJP via pinfall – I downgraded this slightly on a rewatch, but I thought that this may have been the best match so far. It wasn’t, as the Akira/Takahashi match was better, but that having been said, this was really fun. Despy got to play a babyface here for the entire match as TJP knew he was the heel and exactly what to do. That led to some really interesting sequences near the end with cradles and roll-ups that gave us some GREAT TJP near-falls, but in the end, Despy won it with Pinche Loco. This was a very, very good pro wrestling match. ***3/4.

THOUGHTS: Nothing special here except for the opener and the main, which is worth watching. 

A BLOCK, NIGHT 3 – Saturday, May 21st:

SHO over Clark Connors via pinfall – This was actually kind of interesting in the beginning, in that they teased a countout and it seemed like the crowd got into it a bit. Connors hasn’t really stood out in this tournament and is seemingly just another guy, but he got to sell the arm a bunch and did it pretty well. Hey, I’ve seen much worse SHO matches, although the ending was garbage, as usual. **1/4.

Ryusuke Taguchi over Francesco Akira via pinfall – Taguchi finally works a straight match and it’s his best of the tournament. Akira once again shows that he’s going to be something in NJPW with another good peformance. Good nearfalls and an upset to boot, there isn’t anything bad to say about this one. ***3/4.

YOH over Yoshinobu Kanemaru via pinfall – YOH continues to bore the hell out of me, although Kanemaru did what he could. Good selling, decent enough match, nothing above or below average. **1/2.

Hiromu Takahashi over Ace Austin via pinfall – Man, this was interesting as Hiromu fought from underneath the entire match. He sold and sold and sold for Ace to get him over as Austin took a HUGE amount of this match. And then Hiromu just kind of won, which was a bit weird. Still, Hiromu wanted Austin to look great before winning and Ace certainly did. ***1/2. 

Taiji Ishimori over Alex Zayne via submission – They built this one around the arm of Alex, which was fine, as Ishimori tortured it for most of the match. Zayne sold really well here, although his goofiness can overwhelm sometimes. Regardless, he gets caught and submitted to keep Ishimori undefeated. ***. 

THOUGHTS: Good show here across the board, excepting the usual nonsense with SHO. Akira, Hiromu, Austin all impress, with Akira and Taguchi stealing the show tonight.

B BLOCK, NIGHT 3 – Sunday, May 22nd: 

Robbie Eagles over DOUKI via submission – They had a pretty nice opening with several slick sequences that worked well. DOUKI hit a f------ tope into a DDT on the floor to take over for a bit. Insane. From there, the match got awesome with DOUKI coming off the top and wrecking his knee, and Eagles reversing a roll through into the Ron Miller Special for the tapout. Really terrific match, actually. ***3/4. 

El Lindaman over TJP via pinfall – Most of this was TJP working over various body parts. Lindaman was a bit off-and-on with the selling, especially during his comeback, which TJP cut off pretty quick. Bit of back and forth before Lindaman finally hit the German to get the duke. I don’t know, but I wasn’t really feeling this one, ending felt out of place and didn’t fit into the rest of the match, at least to me. **1/2.

BUSHI over Master Wato via pinfall – This was a wrestling match I watched. They couldn’t have made it more by the numbers if they tried. **1/4.

El Phantasmo over Titan via pinfall – Lots of showboating to start, with Titan even getting mock ELP’s hand gestures. From there, it turns into a really fun match with tons of ropework and one-upsmanship between the two. Tons of nearfalls and big moves before ELP rips off the mask and hits the CR2. You know, at some point, they’re going to have to DQ someone for that since they always tell us that’s a DQ in Japan. ***3/4. 

Back to some longer form work on the next one:

El Desperado vs Wheeler Yuta – B Block match

Yay, more Despy in the main event! I will always get behind this development. Obviously, this will be the biggest match for Yuta so far, as even if Despy isn’t the champ, he’s top 2 or 3 in the division, depending on where you put him and Takahashi.

Grapplefest to start here with wristlock trades and an armdrag, Yuta controls. That is, until Despy stomps on the feet of Yuta. Because he can. As Kevin Kelly points out multiple times, the fans like Desperado now, but that’s because he earned their respect. He’s still a big ‘ol bag of dicks, and I’m happy about that. I always hate it when wrestlers just change their stripes because they turn face or heel. Except for JADO, who is turning into one of my favorite babyfaces to watch despite the fact that he sucks. Like, he’s maybe the worst wrestler in the company, but he’s SO HAPPY to be a babyface, it’s heartwarming. 

Yuta has decided he wants the arm of Desperado in this one and targets it mercilessly. I notice when I listen to Kevin, he talks a LOT about the Blackpool Combat Club and AEW, much moreso than he does about Impact when guys like Ace Austin are out there. Just saying. Desperado nails Yuta in the knee and now the masked man has a target and goes to work. He wraps the knee of Yuta around the post and figure-fours it standing up. 

Back in, and Despy goes back to it, stepping on the knee and twisting it. He taunts Yuta in an Indian Deathlock, then falls backward when Yuta tries to nail him, thus tightening the hold. Words cannot express my love for our evil mariachi luchador in New Japan. I adore him so. Yuta breaks and gets an enzuigiri, but can’t do anything as the knee is gone. 

Yuta dropkicks Despy out, then follows with a tope, hobbling the entire time. Back in and more arm work by Yuta, so Despy kicks him in the leg and hits a dragon-screw in the corner. Stretch Muffler, but Yuta makes the ropes. Yuta gets a brief advantage, but Despy suckers him in and puts him right back into the Muffler. Yuta slides through it and turns it into a Fujiwara armbar! This match rules. This is just good professional wrestling across the board. 

Wheeler flips into Cattle Mutilation now, but Despy makes the ropes, partially because Yuta can’t hold the knee strongly. Ripcord spinebuster leads to Guitarra de Angel by Desperado for two. They slug it out from their knees now, then to their feet. Yuta goes for the arm and snaps it over his shoulder, Desperado counters by picking the leg and hitting a dragon-screw. Yuta with a Pain Thriller! 1, 2, no!  

Time for the BCC elbow strikes by Yuta and he goes for the seatbelt clutch, Desperado escapes that, Pinche Loco hits! Desperado goes for another one and gets rolled up for two, then crucifixed for two. Yuta goes for a backslide, but that’s the mistake that finally beats him, as Desperado rolls over the top and hits a second Pinche Loco, and Yuta isn’t getting up. (El Desperado over Wheeler Yuta via pinfall) ****1/4. I liked this even MORE on a second watch, which is rare for me, as normally I see more flaws than I do good stuff when that happens. This was absolutely tremendous, as they both had specific game plans to work with in this one and neither conflicted with the other, so we got a story with both guys looking good and Yuta just being the guy who made the final mistake. This was the best match of the tournament thus far. 

THOUGHTS: A great opening match, two middling contests, and two excellent finishers make this one of the best nights of the tournament thus far. 

Let’s go to the leaderboard!

STANDINGS AFTER THE FIRST WEEK:

A BLOCK:

Hiromu Takahashi, Taiji Ishimori:                   6 Points
Ace Austin, Alex Zayne, YOH:                           4 Points
Francesco Akira, SHO, Ryusuke Taguchi:      2 Points
Clark Connors, Yoshinobu Kanemaru:            0 Points

B BLOCK: 

El Phantasmo, El Desperado:                             6 Points
BUSHI, Robbie Eagles, El Lindaman:              4 Points
TJP, DOUKI, Wheeler Yuta:                               2 Points
Master Wato, Titan:                                              0 Points

Alright, that’ll wrap up the first week. A reminder that the Tuesday show, which is all tournament matches, will be FREE to watch on NJPWworld, so if you’re on the fence, that’s a show to check out. And starting with the second week, every show will have only tournament matches because we need to get this thing done! 

As always, thanks for reading this thing I wrote, 

Rick Poehling
@MrSoze on Twitter
[email protected] for email