Could a Best of the Super Juniors victory take KUSHIDA to the next level? Its a question that seems silly at first but looking at historical data and recent precedent, it may not be totally crazy.

KUSHDA is expected to win the 22nd Best of the Super Juniors this Sunday morning. If he defeats Kyle O’Reilly in the final, he will join an elite group of Best of the Super Junior champions, a who’s who of junior heavyweight wrestlers.

Winners in recent years have included Prince Devitt (currently Finn Balor on NXT), Kota Ibushi (co-headliner of Wrestle Kingdom 9), Ryusuke Taguchi (mutli-time IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion) and the dynamic Ricochet (currently Prince Puma on Lucha Underground).

When compared with the decades previous champions (names like Minoru Tanaka, Milano Collection AT and Wataru Inoue), there’s a clear distinction in making Best of the Super Junior champions “special” in the latter portion of the 2010s.

Is KUSHIDA next to join the first group or the second? The numbers suggest that first group and more than that, the elite level of that first group.

Looking at the past decade of BOSJ tournaments (starting with BOSJ XII in 2005), KUSHIDA is in rare air as far as performance and average points per year. KUSHIDA average yearly points (9.33) ranks him second among all wrestlers with at least three BOSJ appearances since 2005.

The only one above him: the aforementioned Kota Ibushi  at 10.67.

Ibushi parlayed tremendous success to a heavyweight career that began in a big way in late 2014 and into 2015 when he co-headlined New Japan’s Wrestle Kingdom 9 spectacular against Intercontinental Champion Shinsuke Nakamura. Not only was the match spectacular, a sure-fire Match of the Year contender, but it also established Ibushi as a major player for New Japan moving forward. Months later, Ibushi was propelled to the main event against IWGP Heavyweight Champion and Bullet Club leader A.J. Styles. Ibushi was able not only to prove himself as a worthy main eventer that night but also a top-level draw, as he and Styles sold out the historic Sumo Hall.

To put KUSHIDA’s average into perspective that’s higher than junior heavyweight mainstay Taguchi (8.90), current Junior Heavyweight Champion Kenny Omega (8.50), New Japan legend Jushin Thunder Liger (7.45) and TimeSplitters tag partner Alex Shelley (6.67).

KUSHIDA’s 9.33 average also places him above Prince Devitt (8.29) who parlayed success in NJPW’s junior and heavyweight divisions into a top spot in WWE developmental. Like Ibushi, Devitt’s path to the IWGP Heavyweight Championship began after tremendous success in the Best of the Super Juniors tournament. After his second Best of the Super Junior championship in 2012, Devitt jumped to the heavyweight division defeating Hiroshi Tanahashi at June’s Dominion before challenging then-IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada. Though unsuccessful in his attempt at winning the championship later in the year, Devitt proved himself on the main stage. It wasn’t long after that Devitt was on his way to the United States.

(Note: Prince Devitt’s scores is skewed by two 0-point withdrawals, if we remove those Devitt’s 11.6 average puts him atop the averages in the past decade)

It would be far too presumptuous to assume New Japan sees “heavyweight wrestler” in KUSHIDA’s future though success compared with his BOSJ counterparts seems to show potential smoke to the fire.

Kota Ibushi added a few pounds of muscle to his 5’11 frame and at age 32, finally made the leap to the heavyweight division. Devitt followed a similar path adding muscle to his 5’11 frame and turned into a bonafide New Japan star at age 32. KUSHIDA, interestingly enough, turned 32 roughly a month ago. While he’s a bit shorter than both Devitt and Ibushi (5’9), the parallels are certainly there.

Success in the Best of the Super Juniors tournament helped Kota Ibushi and Prince Devitt reach new heights… could KUSHIDA be next in line?