Mike Reviews – New Japan Best of the Super Juniors XI (2004)

Happy Saturday Everyone!

I’ve had this one sitting in my collection for a very long time and have never got around to watching it, so for the want of something to review this weekend I thought this tape would be as good a pick as any. I got this from High Spots Home Video a while back, although tracking it down now might prove to be a bit more difficult.

For those not au fait, Best of the Super Junior is an annual tournament that New Japan holds where they get the Junior Heavyweights together to see which one of them is the best (clue is kind of the in the name there my dudes). The tournament is not to be confused with the Super J Cup, which is a straight single elimination tournament whilst BOSJ has a round robin group stage first, not unlike the G1 Climax.

This tape has 11 matches on it, so not every match in the tournament is covered, with the last match on the tape being the tournament final. The tape is pretty much just a compilation of matches without much connecting tissue. It looks like they just took televised matches from the tournament and stuck them all together in one collection

The main combatants covered on the tape are The Heat, Tiger Mask IV, Jushin Liger and Koji Kanemoto, with guys like American Dragon and Ultimo Dragon popping up at points as well.

The tournament took place in the Spring/Summer of 2004, starting on the 22nd May and ending on the 13th of June.

Match One
Yamato Sports Centre- 22/05/2004
Tiger Mask IV Vs The Heat

Heat is actually Minoru Tanaka under a mask, as they were trying to create a kid friendly character to tie in with a Video Game that had been released around the same time. Tiger Mask IV is in fantastic shape here, as they work it a lot on the mat in the early going. In a nice touch, they establish very early on that Heat is the submission master as he catches Tiger with a seemingly innocuous looking hold and Tiger immediately exclaims and grabs the ropes because he knows he’s toast otherwise. It’s a little thing but gets the message across.

Heat targets the legs of Tiger with strikes and painful looking holds. It’s pretty straight forward stuff, but Heat executes it all really well and Tiger sells it well also, so it’s good believable looking wrestling, even if it’s not the most exciting from an action standpoint. Tiger tries fighting back but can’t jump up to the second rope properly due to the damage that has been done, which allows Heat to come him back off again. Hey, the leg work directly affected his performance, how about that!

Tiger eventually manages to get a big underhook suplex off the top rope, although Heat made him work for it, which gets him two, as does a follow up Tiger Driver. The crowd isn’t really biting here, even though the wrestling has been good. Tiger tries a diving head butt off the top rope, but the delay in climbing due to his leg allows Heat to dodge. Heat gets a kick and then transitions to a knee bar, which Tiger sells big before making the ropes.

Tiger replies with a Tombstone and then heads up with head butt, which only gets him a two, so Tiger tries a cross arm breaker instead, which Heat is in for way too long with his arm fully extended before making the ropes. By 2004 most wrestling fans had seen enough MMA to know that was an instant tap out, so Heat being in it for so long and not tapping was pretty silly. Heat manages to catch a Tiger kick and goes back to the knee bar, only for Tiger to make the ropes once again.

Heat just calmly puts him back in it though, only for Tiger to once again dramatically make the ropes. Tiger’s selling of the leg has kind of evaporated the more the match has gone on, with him getting another Tombstone and then a Tiger Suplex with no ill-effects for the three count.

WINNER: TIGER MASK IV
RATING: **1/2

The wrestling was good there but, after a good start, Tiger kind of forgot that his leg was hurt and both men probably stayed in real-life match ending holds for far too long, which kind of took me out of the match at points. If you’re going to push for realism and believability then you have to commit, you can’t just forget that stuff when it’s time to do more cool moves

Match Two (22/05/2004)
Yamato Sports Centre- 22/05/2004
Koji Kanemoto Vs Jushin Liger

Kanemoto and Liger had met many times opposite one another, including some bangers at the Tokyo Dome over the years, so they were no strangers to one another here. This is another match with good execution on the holds and moves, with move men going for leg locks on the floor and fighting for supremacy. There are a lot of nice little touches, such as Kanemoto managing to get the leg lock applied and then quickly scooting back whilst holding onto Liger’s leg so that he can get him back in the middle of the ring and Liger can’t easily grab the rope.

It’s good to see Liger doing more of a mat based match now and then, as he’s very good at that aspect of wrestling even though most know him for big impact moves and high-flying. Liger ends up sending Kanemoto out to the apron with one of his Shotei palm strikes and then brings him back in with a Brain Buster off the top, although Liger is hurt by it too and can’t make a pin. Liger gets up first and then flings Kanemoto with a wild looking release German Suplex before following up with a sit-out Liger Bomb for two.

Liger maintains control of the bout following that, with Kanemoto taking a beating well but not giving up. Kanemoto eventually manages to catch Liger with a leg lick out of nowhere and immediately targets the appendage with further attacks. Liger sells that really well, collapsing at point from some of Kanemoto’s stiff kicks. Kanemoto tries to end it with the Kurt Angle ankle lock, complete with leg hooks, but Liger is able to save himself by getting to the ropes.

The finishing stretch is executed well, with both men getting chances to pick up the win. Liger gets a nice rana off the top at one stage, along with the running Liger Bomb, but Kanemoto is able to kick out both times. Kanemoto’s timing on the kick outs was excellent there. Both men trade ankle lock attempts, as the crowd is gradually getting more into this and it’s had decent heat for the closing stages. Kanemoto tenaciously keeps going for the ankle lock and Liger finally taps to give Kanemoto the win.

WINNER: KOJI KANEMOTO
RATING: ***3/4

This one built well and it ended up being a really good match by the end. Liger’s moves looked great, Kanemoto’s kick outs were well timed and the crowd got progressively more into it as it went on. A darn fine wrestling contest!

Match Three
Korakuen Hall – 23/05/2004
Jushin Liger Vs Ryusuke Taguchi

Taguchi was less than two years into his career here and he’s still got the Young Lion all black attire, although he’s been allowed to upgrade to having some kick pads. Taguchi actually runs wild to start and ends up catching Liger with a running dropkick out of nowhere for the shocking three count in just 45 seconds!

WINNER: RYUSUKE TAGUCHI
RATING: N/A

Barely a match, but the big upset win for Taguchi really popped the crowd and worked well as a way of putting the cat amongst the pigeons

Match Four
Korakuen Hall – 23/05/2004
The Heat Vs Katsuhiko Nakajima

Nakajima was still very young at this stage in his career at just 16 years old, and he’d only been wrestling since the start of the year. Amazingly he managed to step up to the pressure of starting so young in such a featured role and in 2022 he’s now one of the best wrestlers in the entire world. Heat takes the majority of this match, calmly working Nakajima over. Nakajima sells it well and it has the desired effect of getting the crowd behind the younger wrestler as he bravely tries to hang in there with a dangerous more experienced battler.

Nakajima really does a great job of being a gutsy youngster who is out of his depth but still trying his best to get something going. They tell the story of the match well and the crowd gets into it, popping whenever it looks like Nakajima might get something. Heat gives Nakajima a couple of near falls and the crowd bites on the, thanks in part to how well Heat times his kick outs to make the crowd think the match might be ending. Nakajima’s offence his looked good and Heat has done a great job selling and bumping for him.

Heat eventually decides that he’s had enough of this gosh darn youngster in this Monday to Friday tournament and locks him in THE DREADED YOUNG LION BOSTON CRAB, which Nakajima bravely fights until he can make the ropes. The way they’ve told this story has been really good and both men have played their parts well. Nakajima gets some more near falls and the crowd is losing their minds, especially the female contingent, thinking that he might pull off the upset. We don’t get the fairy-tale ending though, as Heat locks in an arm bar and that’s enough for the submission win after an impressive effort from Nakajima.

WINNER: THE HEAT
RATING: ***1/4

That was a darn good little match there, as they told the story of the younger Nakajima almost catching the more experienced Heat really well and both wrestlers delivered in their roles. Nakajima’s selling was top notch and his offence looked good when it was time to fight back, whilst Heat did an excellent job of shepherding the younger man through the contest and got the balance right between selling for the inexperienced opponent whilst not looking weak at the same time

Match Five
Korakuen Hall – 23/05/2004
Tiger Mask IV Vs Ultimo Dragon

Dragon was coming off a pretty lacklustre WWE run here, although he believed at the time that he’d get another shot there and there was talk of Dragon eventually wrestling in WWE without his mask. That never ended up happening though. This one is quickly paced in the early going, with some nice smooth counters mixed in with some chops and slaps. It’s fun action and the two seem to have some decent chemistry together. I wonder if their paths had crossed prior to this tournament.

Dragon makes the same cardinal sin that Heat did earlier by lying in a cross arm breaker for way too long when he would have either tapped out or had his arm broken in an actual fight. I know wrestling is a work and you give guys license with submission moves sometimes, but an arm bar is a real move from MMA that people know leads to the instant submission, so it just makes the match look extra phony if someone sits in one for that long and doesn’t tap. You don’t really see Sharpshooters or Texas Cloverleaf’s in UFC or PRIDE so it’s easier to suspend your disbelief.

Dragon counters the arm bar into a La Magistral for two, which leads us into the closing stretch, with both men having attempts to win. Dragon manages to catch Tiger with a kick when Tiger attempts a body press to the floor, and then follows up with a quebrada back inside, although it looked a little sloppy. Dragon stops to mug though before going for a Dragon DDT, and that allows Tiger to get a Tiger Suplex for two. Dragon gets the move soon after though and then delivers a second one for the three count.

WINNER: ULTIMO DRAGON
RATING: **3/4

This kind of unravelled a little bit towards the end after a good start, but it wasn’t bad or anything. I think Dragon was still trying to get back up to speed following his time in WWE

Match Six
Korakuen Hall – 23/05/2004
Koji Kanemoto Vs Masahito Kakihara

Kakihara had wrestled in both UWFi and All Japan, although he had never really been given a push to match his talents, mostly due to his size meaning promoters like Giant Baba were reticent to put him in a featured role, even with the likes of Mitsuharu Misawa offering to put him over. This match is really good, as both men are excellent at having hard hitting believable looking matches and that’s exactly what they do here, mixing in strikes with submission holds on the mat.

The crowd really gets into this, and it’s a lot of fun due to both men going for heck for leather right from the off. Both men sell consistently throughout the contest as well, which helps with the drama and makes both men’s offence look all the better. Kakihara’s selling whilst in an ankle lock in particular is exceptional, with his pained facial expressions making the crowd will him on to make the ropes.

Kakihara gets a legitimate submission tease from a side headlock at one stage, with the crowd totally buying that he can with it, which is pretty darn amazing. Kakihara also gets a couple of Space Tornado Ogawa’s as well, which also get good pops as Ogawa was over big at the time, before cinching in the side headlock again for the submission win, meaning we get to hear the classic UWFi theme!

WINNER: MASAHITO KAKIHARA
RATING: ***1/2

Match Seven
Korakuen Hall – 13/06/2004
Ultimo Dragon Vs Koji Kanemoto

We’re into the playoff rounds now, with the winner of this match making it to the Semi-Finals for a match with American Dragon, which will take place in the same night. Watching Kanemoto makes me think quite a bit of Kyle O’Reilly actually, which also makes me think that Kool Kyle would count Kanemoto amongst his influences. Dragon again seems a little off the pace in this one, but he is working hard as well and gets a TOPE SUICIDA at one stage to send Kanemoto through the railings into the front row.

By this stage they’ve done a great job getting Kanemoto’s ankle lock over and the crowd instantly pops when he goes for it, although Dragon is able to slip out and get La Magistral. As with a lot of the time where Dragon loses though, Kanemoto is able to counter the pinning hold into one of his own and that’s enough for the pin at 5 minutes 30.

WINNER: KOJI KANEMOTO
RATING: **

Short, but Kanemoto needed to wrestle three matches in one night if he were to make the final so I can understand why they didn’t extend him too much in this one. It also teaches fans to think that matches can end at any time

Match Eight
Korakuen Hall – 13/06/2004
Masahito Kakihara Vs The Heat

This is another playoff, with the winner getting Tiger Mask IV in the Semi-Final. Both of these guys know how to work shoot style, with the match actually being UWFi Vs BattlArts, so if you’re a fan of either of those two companies then these two guys going at it is pretty cool. Kakihara is clearly carrying a bad wheel, as Heat targets that from the off and Kakihara sells it big. Heat is a bit of a jerk in general here, refusing to break holds when on the ropes and just being really vicious and methodical when it comes to attacking the body part.

Kakihara sells the leg consistently, even when he starts fighting back, and the fight heads outside where Kakihara gets a Space Tornado Ogawa out on the pretty blue mats. Heat only just beats the count back in following that in a good count out tease, which leads to Kakihara getting a two count on the resulting pin. Heat sells that the move really took him out, as he falls over when Kakihara tries to Irish Whip him. The referee tries to give Heat a 10 count following that, but Heat pulls himself back to his feet.

I like how that one move completely turned the direction of the match, as prior to that it had been Heat going after the leg but he’s been on the defensive ever since the move on the floor. The work to the leg does eventually pay dividends though, as Kakihara gets another Space Tornado Ogawa in the ring but comes up selling his leg, which gives Heat a momentary bit of respite that allows him to regain his bearings somewhat. PSYCHOLOGY!

Heat manages to catch Kakihara in a knee bar, which leads to Kakihara doing yet another great sell job as he somehow manages to make it to the ropes despite his leg being in bad shape. Kakihara tries the side headlock of DOOM , but Heat goes to the leg to block it and then gets a pinning hold to pick up the win.

WINNER: THE HEAT
RATING: ****

This was very much my jam, as it had consistent selling and good snug action from start to finish. I’m an admitted big fan of Kakihara though so your own score might not be quite as high

Match Nine
Korakuen Hall – 13/06/2004
American Dragon Vs Koji Kanemoto

We are now at the Semi-Final stage, with Dragon being better known today either as Daniel Bryan or Bryan Danielson depending on which wrestling company you prefer to watch. Dragon drops an f-bomb early before throwing some uppercuts, showing that he’s very much in Heel mode tonight. Dragon takes a lot of the match in the early going, with Kanemoto selling and looking for a foothold. Dragon is excellent at being the vicious Dynamite Kid styled Heel Junior Heavyweight foreigner, whilst Kanemoto does a good job selling his offence and building sympathy.

Kanemoto does finally manage to get some offence of his won with a spinning wheel kick and an ankle lock, but Dragon is able to make the ropes to break the hold. Kanemoto gives Dragon a series of face washes as payback for Dragon’s earlier jerky behaviour, and the crowd is into it. Dragon manages to dodge a dropkick in the corner though and gets one of his own before heading up, only for Kanemoto to cut him off. That leads to Dragon getting his leg caught in the top rope in a brutal looking image that would have torn a normal man’s leg to pieces, but thankfully Dragon is a supple athlete in good shape so he’s able to respond with a big back drop off the top rope.

Dragon tries to end it with a Regal-Plex following that, but Kanemoto counters that into an ankle lock, which leads to both men trading submission attempts. Kanemoto actually busts out a version of Orienteering With Napalm Death of all things and that’s enough for the submission win after a struggle from Danielson.

WINNER: KOJI KANEMOTO
RATING: ***3/4

I can’t imagine a universe where a Bryan Danielson Vs Koji Kanemoto match wouldn’t be great, but I’m sure it exists somewhere. Let’s just be glad we don’t live in that universe and instead live in this one

Match Ten
Korakuen Hall – 13/06/2004
The Heat Vs Tiger Mask IV

Winner of this will get Kanemoto in the Final. Normally if you lose to a guy in the group stage in one of these tournaments then you get your win back if you meet later on, but that’s not always the case. The best example I can think of the former happening would be Tenzan in the 2003 G1, as he lost to Jun Akiyama in the round robin before getting his revenge in the Final. Heat is a jerk again in the early going, biting Tiger’s hand to get out of a hold, so Tiger gets all good and angry and makes him pay with a Tombstone out on the floor.

If this were Mexico then Heat would be halfway to the hospital by now following that, but it’s Japan so instead it’s just a count out tease. Heat just manages to make it back in at 19, with the move playing further on the fact he got knocked silly against Kakihara earlier in the night. They annoy be again by doing another long spot in an arm bar, but I think I’ve complained enough about that on this tape already so I’ll spare you another TED Talk on the importance of the cross arm breaker.

Heat gets a series of big suplexes on Tiger for two counts before settling into yet another arm bar, with Tiger lying around in it for something like 30 seconds with his arm extended, on top of the 30 seconds he already spent in it earlier. Seriously, if this were real it would have been broken ages ago. Tiger manages to counter into a leg lock, but Heat makes the ropes to break, so Tiger kicks him right in the face for two in a good near fall. Some of these kicks have looked brutal. Heat throws a big one to seemingly have it won, but Tiger pulls out a backslide OUTTA NOWHERE for the flash three.

WINNER: TIGER MASK
RATING: ***

I’ve not really felt the matches between these two on this tape to be honest

Match Eleven
Korakuen Hall – 13/06/2004
Koji Kanemoto Vs Tiger Mask IV

Winner of this wins the whole thing, with the crowd seemingly more behind Kanemoto due to him having an extra match under his belt. I do like the Pro Evolution Soccer styled name graphics for guys before the match here. The font is almost identical. Tiger quickly sends Kanemoto to the floor and follows with a pair of dives, as clearly he isn’t getting paid by the hour here. Interestingly Tiger is working this as the subtle Heel by being the aggressor and in such a manner, with Kanemoto being the subtle Face by fighting from underneath in a gutsy manner.

Some of the kicks from Tiger here are brutal, as they are reverberating through the venue. It helps that Kanemoto is selling them so well. The crowd heat for this one has been good, with the crowd being into the action, especially those who are cheering on Kanemoto. Kanemoto manages to lock in the ankle lock after a long period on the defensive, which leads to Tiger selling and inching his way to the ropes in a good submission tease. Kanemoto follows that up with a Moonsault, but Tiger is able to kick out.

Kanemoto misses another Moonsault, but Tiger misses the follow up knee drop and that leads to some more ankle lock antics as Kanemoto locks in a more Ken Shamrock looking variation that forces Tiger to get to the ropes once again. Kanemoto was Tiger Mask III, so he busts out the Tiger Suplex at one stage, which gets him a two when Tiger gets his foot on the ropes to break. Tiger replies with a cross face chicken wing, which the crowd buys as a submission finish and Kanemoto sells it big before getting to the ropes.

Tiger gets an incredible looking release German Suplex at one stage, with Kanemoto taking an amazing bump from it, and that leads to Tiger getting a big kick and a Tiger Suplex to win the tournament. Tiger gets a trophy and a big cheque following that. Kanemoto also gets a nice plaque for finishing second, so he doesn’t end up empty handed at least after his brave effort.

WINNER: TIGER MASK IV
RATING: ***2/3

It didn’t really feel like they had great chemistry together but it was still a well worked match for the most part and the finishing sequence was done well. The crowd seemed to prefer Kanemoto and wanted him to win so the finish might have flattened them out a bit

In Conclusion

Can’t really complain with what essentially amounts to a comp tape when most of the matches were good and a few of them were even better than that. Kakihara is my MVP, but then he would be.

Recommended tape, although it might be hard to track down these days.