MAY 13, 2019

Watch: NJPW World


Opening tournament matches in New Japan tend to deliver a certain level of quality and are usually pretty hot. After all, it’s the first match of the tournament, you have to hype the fans up! This ain’t it, chief. Two of the most experienced wrestlers on the whole tournament had a pretty standard match to kick off Best of the Super Juniors. You know that Tiger Mask and Taka are going to lose a bunch in the very top heavy Block A, so this is one of the few matches that both of them could realistically win.

Taka showed during the match that he’s been training with Zack Sabre Jr. since he controlled a good portion of the match targeting Tiger Mask’s limbs and using pretty effective and painful-looking submission holds. Taka even went for a high flying move, which he doesn’t try a lot these days. Little gestures like that one put over the fact that this is, in fact, a highly competitive tournament, and the wrestlers have to dig deep in their arsenals to take the advantage. Tiger Mask’s performance didn’t stand out a bit, and you would assume that he would be fired up, since he was pinned by Taka in one of the previous shows. He barely showed any fire, and the closing sequence of him connecting the Tiger Driver for the nearfall and the Tiger Suplex for the victory felt empty. Not a bad match, but definitely not the best way to start this year’s BOTSJ. **¾


In classic fashion, Kanemaru attacks his opponent before the bell. It’s pretty amazing to think that Kanemaru has been a regular in Best of the Super Juniors only since 2017, but it feels like him and his antics have been a staple of the tournament forever. Likewise, Titán has only competed in this tour once, in 2013, but since he’s around in dates like Fantasticamania and is brought up for the occasional tour it feels like he’s been a part of more editions.

Kanemaru kept control of most of the match, slowing down the luchador to his pace and showing his veteran instincts to ground him. The commentary pushed the narrative that Titán had to be jet-lagged from all the travel, which was a nice touch that explains why he couldn’t amount for a comeback. Eventually, he did, trying good lucha offense that was cut off when he tried a moonsault and Kanemaru moved up his feet. After that, the former NOAH veteran connected a Deep Impact but didn’t go for the count immediately, which resulted in a nearfall. Sick of Titán, Kanemaru goes for his signature whiskey spill, but misses, and this allows the luchador to apply his finishing submission, Titanics, that he transitions beautifully into a pinfall for the three count.

This was a better match that the tournament opener, with both Titán and Kanemaru playing their roles to perfection, but it also lacked hot action. Much of the talk about the A block has been centered around the fact that it was going to be technical block, and so far that seems right. ***¼


The first really interesting match came third from the top, as Scurll walks to the ring with his Villain Enterprises mate Brody King. King makes his debut on japanese soil in this tour, an odd choice, since he’s a big guy and this is a junior-heavy tour. The alarms went off when he stayed in the corner of Scurll, but he didn’t intervene at all during the match, which was good, because most of the fans watching this shows want the purest experience of a tournament they can get.

Gresham was one of the highlights of the Honor Rising shows, so seeing him in this tournament will give him a nice opportunity to showcase his abilities to the world. The guy has been wrestling for 15 years but hasn’t had a spotlight quite a big as this, so it’s pretty fair to assume that he will take advantage of this opportunity. He faces the villain in his first match, which is a great idea, since this match served as a re-introduction for Gresham. At the beginning of the match, Gresham and Scurll exchange holds, but Gresham seemed to be always one step ahead of the brit. This establishes Gresham as a great technical wrestler, since he’s able not only to keep up with already established technical wizard Scurll, but also get the better of him. He even used one of the villain’s classic fake-outs. The commentary team made a good point about Gresham low stature, which in this division is more a plus than a negative, since most of the juniors are not used to working with a significantly smaller wrestler, which was another great touch to the narrative of the match.

Most of this match was a mid tempo back and forth with lots of creative pinfall attempts and reversals, showing a good level of chemistry between this two wrestlers. At the end, Scurll used a new move named The Black Plague, which he may have debuted here, and got the victory with it. This match was better than the previous one, which at the same time was better that the first, so the momentum is escalating slowly but surely. ***½  


One of the pleasures of being a life-long sports fan is the opportunity to witness in first person the creation and rise of a star. I vividly remember the moment a 17-year-old Leo Messi scored his first goal with Barcelona, but the event that has stayed with me was the night he became a star, partially because I was there in the stadium. It was a meaningless summer match, but all the headlines the day after were about how a star was born. It didn’t matter that the team lost, what mattered was that everyone saw a performance worthy of an all-time great.

I also remember when I started watching New Japan on the heels of the Tanahashi/Okada feud in 2013, and there were this two kids, Sho Tanaka and Yohei Komatsu, that showed a lot of fire and promise even though they were operating under a standard young lion moveset. Both went on excursion to CMLL and eventually made a triumphant return as SHO & YOH of Roppongi 3K, and ever since fans have been discussing the star potential of both guys, specially SHO, that had a great performance in last year’s Best of the Super Junior. However, this match tonight will be the first thing that will come to mind in a few years when we discuss the moment SHO’S stardom was born.

It started with a clear sign. SHO came out with a new look, reminiscent of his early days, new attire and new entrance music, which was video game themed. In the ring, waiting for him, the final boss himself, the monster that no one has been able to beat down, The Dragon Shingo Takagi. In a recent interview, SHO talked about how he wanted to go to the finals of Best of the Super Juniors to face Shingo, a guy that has been a thorn in his side ever since he came to the company in November of last year. They have always been at each other’s throats, almost since minute 1 of Shingo coming into the company, and a final would have been a dream scenario. However, New Japan might have other plans, maybe they want this feud to be the new Dragon Lee vs Hiromu Takahashi rivalry, maybe they want a long-term story in which SHO is unable to beat Shingo until the right moment. Anyway, they decided to put the most anticipated match of the tournament very early on, and at this stage, it feels like they made the right decision.

The lockup at the beginning was as aggressive as it gets, with SHO wanting to prove that he’s on par with Shingo it terms of strength, a bold statement to make that would become one of the themes of the match. When it’s established that they are evenly matched, they move on to a strike exchange and SHO counters one of Shingo’s strikes into the first armbar, another theme of the match that the former young lion will use to both try to tap The Dragon out and weakened his right arm AKA the Pumping Bomber arm. The first 5 minutes is all SHO, but right as the announcer calls for the 5-minute mark, Shingo strikes SHO with his first huge Lariat. Takagi takes control of the pace and starts working SHO’s shoulders and neck, and finally takes the initiative in the strike contest.

The former Sho Tanaka targets Shingo’s arm when he can, but the member of Los Ingobernables de Japón keeps dominating SHO, as he performs power move after power move, including a devastating Deadlift Suplex from the corner into the ring. A few moments later, SHO finally takes advantage again, and applies a Pumping Bomber of his own, followed by a dramatic series of 3 Deadlift German Suplex and a nearfall that have as much suspense as any Hitchcock film. SHO is proving that his strength is not that far from Shingo’s, and executes a Last Ride Backbreaker that has the audience members losing their minds.

Shingo mounts a very suffered comeback, but even after using two Pumping Bombers and the Nosigami he can’t put SHO out. He tries Last of the Dragon, but the work that SHO has put on the arm of Shingo pays off, as he can’t lock him up in the hold. The former young lion now has Shingo in a very delicate submission predicament with the armbar, which Shingo can’t escape from even when he tries to power his way out of it. After a few dramatic seconds, Takagi reaches the bottom rope, and SHO goes for very KUSHIDA-esque kicks to the damaged arm. Shingo responds with a huge left-arm Lariat, and after the final strike battle, he connects another Pumping Bomber for a two count, and finally is able to hit Last of the Dragon for the victory.

Shingo may have won the match, but this will be forever remembered as the coming out party of SHO, who was elevated through defeat like only a future top guy could. New Japan lost is junior ace earlier in the year, but thankfully a future ace was just born. ****½


Talk about a hard act to follow.

Dragon Lee and Ishimori had to close the first night of action in the A block with their rematch of one of Wrestling Dontaku’s main events, probably the most surprising drawing match in recent New Japan memory. It wouldn’t be the first time that this company follows an incredible match with one of the same level, or even better. Unfortunately, this wasn’t one of those nights, and Ishimori and Lee had “just” a really good match.

Some of the best things in the match were not the moves themselves, but little things that they did. For example, Ishimori faked-out throwing Lee to the unprotected crowd, which was a great character moment. They also had some subtle exchanges, like when Ishimori used the Mística over Lee, which is significant since Místico and Dragon Lee are brothers. Another stand-out moment was when Lee tried to win via count-out, which is something that babyface’s don’t usually do in New Japan, which implies that he cares more about winning the tournament than winning a virtual honor competition. I’m always impressed by Dragon Lee’s full-speed Tope Suicida, it always looks like an actual torpedo hitting his opponent, and the Death Valley Driver into the corner also looked nasty.

The biggest issue with the match was that, when it looked that it was picking up steam for the closing sequence, Ishimori connected the Bloody Cross and won. It felt like it ended a bit prematurely, I could see them going at least five more minutes. Ishimori, that was never pinned as the champion, got his win back on Dragon Lee in a “classic New Japan tournament upset that we are so used to by now that it’s not really an upset anymore”. This match mirrored the recent Okada vs SANADA feud: the first match was great, the second one needed to enter into the next gear. ****

Final Thoughts

Night one of Best of the Super Juniors 2019 is a solid way to start the tournament. The A block was firmly established as the technical block. It also featured an all-time performance by a future star in one of the best matches of the year so far in New Japan. The rest of block action went from ok to pretty great, If you’re pressed on time, watch Shingo vs SHO and Dragon Lee vs Ishimori, maybe Gresham vs Scurll.

VOW Best of the Super Juniors 2019 Pick’Em Contest

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