MAY 19, 2018


After taking some time off from going to shows, I returned to Korakuen Hall for the first two nights of New Japan’s annual junior heavyweight league.

Shota Umino def. Yota Tsuji

Ring Announcer Abe opened the show by announcing that Umino’s scheduled opponent, Ren Narita, would miss today and tomorrow with a concussion.

Umino was very good, as you would expect, but Tsuji really stood out to me. This was just his fourteenth career match; his third at Korakuen. Despite his inexperience, he’s a bit older than most of his dojo peers, and seems like a natural. Tsuji, a former college quarterback in Japan, throws one of the hardest overhand chest slaps in the world. Tsuji’s selling, facial expressions, and aggressive fighting spirit really won the crowd over. He carries himself confidently and measured up to the appropriately-hyped Umino.

Ultimately, Tsuji tapped out to the trusty Boston Crab at 7:26. ***

YOSHI-HASHI, Will Ospreay, & YOH def. ACH, Tiger Mask, & Tomoyuki Oka

Like all of these undercard tags, this match was a preview for tomorrow’s A Block league matches in Numazu. Ospreay and ACH are main-eventing tomorrow, so they were the focus. Ospreay and ACH have both taken to long-term selling: Ospreay: his neck and ACH: his shoulder. It adds a nice little wrinkle to even a seemingly innocuous undercard six-man tag. ACH had some excellent tag performances in New Japan last year but seems to have progressed to a different level this year. He’s using comedy more sparingly and has been impressive early on in the tour.

YOH and Tiger Mask are also paired up tomorrow, but you wouldn’t necessarily know that from watching this match. Oka tapped out to YOSHI-HASHI’s Butterfly Lock at 11:06.  Side note: I really appreciated the hontai team coming out Tiger’s theme! ***

Minoru Suzuki & Yoshinobu Kanemaru def. Flip Gordon & Toa Henare

Flip and Nobu are facing each other tomorrow, but watch this for the interactions between Minoru and Henare. I love that Henare is getting to mix it up with some of the best in the world. He seems like a can’t-miss, high-level prospect, and he’s basically ready whenever he gets the call. Minoru beat Henare with the Gotch-style piledriver at 11:16. **1/2

SANADA & BUSHI def. Taiji Ishimori & Chase Owens

The highlight of this match was Chase trying…and failing (despite Milano’s encouragement) to put SANADA in the Paradise Lock. SANADA beat Chase with the Skull End at 9:45. **1/2

Best of the Super Jr. 25 B Block
Dragon Lee def. SHO

These guys did a great job of building tension for this match in their lead-in tag last night. They worked really hard to make a good first impression to kick off the tour; maybe they were motivated by being the first league match of the night. The match was intense, chaotic and the best of the night. SHO was persistent in his arm-targeting, but also hung with Lee in the spot department.

Dragon Lee also took some crazy bumps including a powerbomb straight onto his head.

Roppongi 3k has been of the best acts in NJPW this year, but this was a real singles breakout for SHO. Incidentally, this is SHO’s first New Japan singles match in over two years. He’s got a very unique power and ground-based offense that really stands out in the division. It’s no secret that SHO is my favorite wrestler in New Japan, but nonetheless, I highly recommend checking this match out. ****1/4

Best of the Super Jr. 25 B Block
El Desperado def. Ryusuke Taguchi

Ryusuke Taguchi is consistently one of the most popular wrestlers in Korakuen Hall. He’s also been known to turn it up for BOSJ matches, and this was no different. There was plenty of requisite ass-based offense and ass-targeting counter-offense., and the crowd loved all of it. Taguchi dusted off his aerial attack and Desperado bumped like a madman.

Moreover, Desperado came across as the most unpredictable entrant in the league which is an accomplishment given Hiromu is also in his block.  Despe got the win in 13:17 with a low-blow and a cradle apparently called El Es Guerrero. ***3/4

Best of the Super Jr. 25 B Block
Chris Sabin def. KUSHIDA

This week’s issue of Weekly Pro-Wrestling highlighted this encounter of Alex Shelley’s partners as the card’s most notable match. They worked well together and had plenty of slick exchanges and matwork. Sabin got the upset win in a very good, albeit not especially memorable match. With his victory over the junior ace and defending champion, Sabin establishes himself as a threat in the league. ***1/2

Best of the Super Jr. 25 B Block
Hiromu Takahashi def. Marty Scurll

As expected, Hiromu bounced all around Korakuen while on the attack and on defense. This had a lot of big spots, and they worked really hard. Did I mention Hiromu is crazy?


This was very good and had tons of action but it was missing the intensity (SHO/Lee) and crowd connection (Taguchi/Despe) of earlier matches. Red Shoes stopped the match after Hiromu trapped Scurll in a triangle at 20:47. ***1/2

Final Thoughts

If you’re short on time watch the opener, SHO vs. Dragon Lee, and Taguchi vs Desperado. If you have time, watch the whole show, because it was great.