MAY 30, 2019

Watch: NJPW World


YOH is still alive going into this match but he needs a miracle to win the block even if he beats his last two opponents. Aside from that, this match has another interesting narrative layer. This is a battle between YOH, a former young lion prodigy, and Ren Narita, a current young lion prodigy, and the structure of the match reflected that. The beginning felt like a young lion grapple-fest, with very basic locks that were perfectly performed by two wrestlers who have been beaten over the head with this fundamentals for years.

Eventually, YOH starts to work on the leg of Narita, his go-to strategy in the tournament. The former Yohei Komatsu was not having a hard time with his junior until he tried the Calf-crusher for the first time. Then Narita reversed it into a Cloverleaf, and momentum turns in his favor. He has an answer for every of his senior’s finishing moves, and he starts connecting his limited but effective offense, including a throwaway belly to belly and a german suplex with a bridge for a dramatic 2 count. Narita and the crowd are fired up, sensing that this could be his first big win, but when he goes for his finishing belly to belly, YOH reverses it into the Calf-crusher and Narita taps out. In the post-match, YOH offers his hand to Narita in a sign of respected, and the young lion, frustrated because he almost got the win, slaps the hand, which popped the crowd. In another company, this could be a turn angle for either guy, but everyone understood what they were going for because of body language and facial expressions. YOH understood that Narita was frustrated, as well as the crowd, and it was no big deal, just a great little moment.

It’s easy to overlook how good YOH has been in Best of the Super Juniors this year. The main reason is probably that he hasn’t had a clear narrative like a lot of other wrestlers in the field. He’s been just a guy that has had consistently good performances, but the biggest moment of his tournament was probably when he and SHO went to celebrate with Rocky after his big victory in Korakuen. Narita has been great as well, and the fact that a young lion hasn’t felt out of place in one of the best junior tournaments of all time speaks volumes about the young lion system. ***½  


Bandido is eliminated coming in, but Eagles still has a good chance, since he’s tied for first place. He’s not in control of his own destiny, but he needs to win and hope for the best possible scenario. Since he knows that, he tries to surprise Bandido in the early going, but the luchador is ready for him. Both of them struggle to see who’s going to get the initiative, and Eagles comes on top when he performs a tope onto Bandido and lays him down on the ramp for an early dramatic count-out. When the luchador comes back to the ring, the Aussie keeps pressuring and grounding him, until he performs a cutter.

In a very rare instance, Eagles slips on his dropkick to the knee that usually sets up the Ron Miller special, but Bandido sells it anyway, which didn’t look that bad. Eagles compensates by performing a new move, his own take on the 21-plex, a DDT in which he uses the top rope for balance. After that, he counters Bandido’s finisher with a great-looking Frankensteiner. The Aussie is certainly a creative wrestler, but he didn’t have a way out of the final move of the match, Bandido’s Avalanche Fallaway Moonsault from the top rope. An upset lost for Eagles after a good but ultimately skippeable match.

Bandido started the tournament not doing a lot of noise, when a lot of experts were predicting that he could be one of the highlights of the tour. Thankfully, business picked up when he got into the ring with Ospreay and both tore Korakuen down. Since then, he’s been more comfortable in the ring, and has established his moveset in front of Japanese crowds. Eagles has been really good from the beginning, and judging from his narrative in the tournament, he will be one of the top juniors of New Japan going forward. ***¼


BUSHI, like YOH before him, has to win and hope for the best if he wants to be at the top of the block. He faces Rocky Romero, a man that BUSHI has beaten in their two previous Best of the Super Juniors encounters. Romero is already eliminated, so there is not a lot of intrigue in this match. To add something up, Romero comes out with the Black Tiger gear, mask included. BUSHI demands that he takes the mask off, which Romero does, and then spits water in the face of the member of Los Ingobernables de Japón to take the early advantage.

Romero worked the left arm of BUSHI to set him up for the armbreaker that put away El Phantasmo in Korakuen, but this match was nowhere near the level of that one, it felt pretty uneventful. It can be attributed to the fact that Rocky’s arc is already completed, the Phantasmo match was his big moment, like Honma a few years ago in the G1 when he got his first victory against Ishii in the same building. Eventually, Romero applied the armbreaker, but BUSHI escaped by biting Rocky’s leg. After that, Romero went for a failed Sliced Bread, and he bucked his knee on the landing. BUSHI noticed that and went for it, and connected two consecutive MXs for the win, as Romero keeps being BUSHI’s lucky charm. **¾


Ospreay has been the best bell to bell wrestler of the tournament, and he faces another major test with this match. Can he pull a great match out of DOUKI? Also, he absolutely has to win, because if he doesn’t and Phantasmo wins in the main event, he’s out. DOUKI attacks Ospreay before the bell, in classic Suzuki-gun fashion, but Ospreay is a smart boy and was prepared for this. He even attacks Taichi, who is minding his own business on commentary for now. DOUKI takes advantage of this and performs the crazy Hiromu back bump from the top rope, and the commentary takes notice of that and clarify that Hiromu’s is actually a tribute to DOUKI, who is an underground legend in Mexico. After that move, Taichi attacks Ospreay with a chair on the outside, which ends the brawly section of the match.

DOUKI grounds Ospreay for a while, performing moves like a creative sleeper using his feet. He goes for Suplex de la luna but Ospreay counters, which leads to a cool sequence that ends with a big DOUKI Lariat. The final portion of the match kicks in as the big moves start to come by: Ospreay counters a Hurricanrana into a Sit-out Powerbomb; likewise, DOUKI counters the Stormbreaker into a failed attempt at Suplex de la luna. Taichi interferes again, distracting Ospreay for a two count, and after that, the Assassin uses the Hidden Blade followed by the Stormbreaker for the win, as the young lions hold Taichi to prevent another interference.

This was a really good match, probably the best DOUKI performance of the tournament, but it certainly wasn’t Ospreay’s best.The biggest problem with DOUKI is that everyone, except super hardcore fans, didn’t know the guy coming in and therefore, they lack investment, and making you care about their wrestlers is one of the best aspects of New Japan booking. DOUKI was a last minute replacement, and therefore the company didn’t have time to craft an arc for him, or create any anticipation. Phantasmo has only one more match than DOUKI in his New Japan career, but the difference in how he was built up and how the fans react to him is massive. As I said, this is his best performance yet, but that’s not difficult when you face Will Ospreay, one of the best wrestlers in the world when it comes to making his opponents look great. ***½


Taguchi has the two strongest opponents of the tournament in the two last nights of block action, so he’s in control of his own destiny. Likewise for Phantasmo, who has a tiebreaker over Ospreay, but he’s also in a win or go home situation. The match starts with another fantastic character moment for Phantasmo, who is passing the ball with Taguchi until he kicks it out, playing the classic routine of the asshole who throws the ball away just to ruin everybody’s fun. This offended Taguchi a great deal, and hostilities began.

This was a weird match in terms of structure. It began with grappling and a slow rhythm, which is not rare if we’re talking about a New Japan main event, especially in a tournament that has matches flirting with the 30-minute time-limit. The match ended up going 20 minutes, but it never kicked into high gear, and for a high stakes match, it felt pretty dry at times. They did some comedy spots, like Taguchi trying to imitate Phantasmo’s running of the ropes and failing miserably, or Phantasmo doing the Chuck Taylor rope spot. Eventually, Phantasmo did a moonsault from the top rope to the outside in which he hurt his left leg. After that moment, Taguchi took over the match in a big way, and he didn’t let Phantasmo any space, going for the Ankle Lock and his other big moves, like the Dragon Suplex and the Dodon. It was after he hit a Dodon that Phantasmo kicked out, but Taguchi grabbed the injured leg and put him in the most painful version of the Ankle Lock, which made Phantasmo tap out.

What a fall from grace! Phantasmo was undefeated and on top of the world just a few days ago, and now he has lost three times in a row. In a way, it fits his character, the cocky asshole who gets overconfident the moment he believes his own hype. But this doesn’t have to be a sign that the company doesn’t believe in him anymore, since there are parallels with the way Omega was handle in the last G1. Both Omega and Phantasmo were undefeated for many nights, only for them to drop their first loss to a sentimental favorite in a big building. After that, they weren’t able to get a victory, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Phantasmo loses to DOUKI in the final night, since Gedo likes his upsets. But Phantasmo will be fine, and I hope Taguchi brings back the Taguchi we saw in his last Best of the Super Juniors Final, since he faces the same opponent to decide who wins the block and moves on. ***¼


Night 12 of Best of the Super Juniors didn’t have any stand-out matches bell to bell if compared to other nights, but the events that unfolded in Osaka were of major importance when it comes to the final night of block competition. Ospreay and Taguchi will fight for the spot in the final, as every other match is rendered meaningless, just like in the A block. New Japan has been doing this kind of tournament booking lately, and it frustrates some fans, but there’s nothing wrong with two dominant guys who face each other for a spot at the final. In fact, I would argue that it’s more sports-like. If you look at the standings for the major soccer leagues this season, there’s usually a big difference between second and third place teams, sometimes even between first and second. In any case, New Japan always delivers with this last nights of tournaments, so let’s see what’s in store.

VOW Best of the Super Juniors 2019 Pick’Em Contest

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