The Best of the Super Juniors, parallel to the level of quality and historical significance of the NJPW Junior Heavyweight division, has only existed three fewer years than the G1 Climax. It seems obvious that New Japan should have both follow the same format, but this has not always happened. And the problem was not with the Best of the Super Juniors, either. The G1’s formatting wavered for years. The BOSJ had settled into the double-block, four-person final in 2003 and held it until 2015 (besides 2006), sometimes aligning with the G1 Climax formatting, sometimes not. The G1 Climax, in contrast, fluctuated for two decades until 2010, when it finally resolved on a double block round robin with a single match final.
The Best of the Super Juniors followed suit in 2015, the same year that G1 Climax shifted to the now-custom single block nights. The Super Juniors held firm at 16 entrants from 2015-2018 and seemed to really be a mini-G1… on paper, at least. The 2019 Best of the Super Juniors bumped up to 20 participants and mostly single block nights. 2019, in scope and star power, with Shingo Takagi and Will Ospreay leading the pack, had that G1 Climax aura. It had taken some work to get there, because while on paper it may have looked like a Junior G1 Climax in the years previous, in execution it very much was not. The booking, scheduling, and card structure told a different story, and we must discuss the 2017 B Block issue before this article concludes.
The question we’ll explore here, as we gander at five years of Best of the Super Juniors indicators and trends, is this notion of whether the Best of the Super Juniors really has evolved back into a Junior Heavyweight G1 Climax. There is certainly evidence that suggests this, but there are also idiosyncrasies that might keep it from perfectly harmonizing with the big one, no matter the elevated star power.
Note, we are only looking at the years 2015-2019 in this article. There are a few reasons for this. The Best of the Super Juniors, as noted above, has gone through several format shifts, but has also been much more consistent than the G1 Climax overall since its inception. The Best of the Super Juniors has been a two-block round-robin tournament since all the way back in 1996, although that will unfortunately change; 2020’s single-block format is the first for the tournament since 1995, which was also a 10-man single block round robin. The Super Juniors has had long stretches of either a single match final (1997-2002) or four-person mini-tournament (2005-2014), and we currently find ourselves in another single match final. We cover as far back as the current period goes, which is 2015. It is also the longest period where the Best of the Super Juniors overlaps with the G1 Climax formatting (again, until this goddamn year).
So, what’s been happening in the Best of the Super Juniors and how does it emulate the G1 Climax.
A Seat at the Head of the Table
Though the Best of the Super Juniors shifted to the same format as the G1 in 2015, it wasn’t until 2019 that you could truly call it a Junior’s G1 Climax. This has less to do with the bump to 20 participants than you’d expect. The numbers aren’t the issue; the big issues were scheduling and card placement.
Again, it comes down to consistency. While the G1 Climax shifted in number of participants from 2010-2014, the tournament itself ran very smoothly; each night had the same number of matches, so there was still uniformity throughout an entire year. The Best of the Super Juniors, despite having the same number of participants each year between 2015-2018, varied each year in card structure. In 2015, the first and final nights were double-blocked, the rest single-block. In 2016 and 2018, only the final night was double-blocked, the rest single-block. In 2017, this was reversed: the first night was double blocked, and each subsequent night was single block. 2019 thankfully kept things mainly single block… except for the four straight double-block shows in the middle! Bloody hell! So there’s one thing that doesn’t appear to be moving in a G1 Climax direction, 2020 pandemic scramble-fuck Super Juniors notwithstanding.
The variance continued with the general card booking, especially in the main events of each Super Juniors show. Again, this is fresh history so many will be aware of this, but the Best of the Super Juniors did not generally headline their own shows until recently. It’s unfortunate, but has trended fully upward. For the first few years of this period, the juniors main evented less than half of the shows in their purported spotlight event. In 2015, they main evented 3 out of 12 times. This bumped up to 5 out of 13 in 2016 and 6 out of 13 in 2017.
2018 finally saw the juniors headline their entire tournament, and this continued in 2019. It’s still too soon to say if this will hold true in 2020, but based on the cards posted the week before the tournament, the juniors will headline at least 8 out of their 9 shows, including the opening night where they will headline over the World Tag League matches. This certainly confirms the notion that this is truly becoming a Junior G1, even with the erratic planning in single and double-block nights. There is also progress being made in who we find in those main events, which might be the clearest connection between the Super Juniors and its heavyweight counterpart.
A Dignified Upward Trend in Card Placement
Alright, you sons of bitches, time for some indicators!
This brings us to the Card Placement indicator, which measures the strength of a wrestler’s booking in a given tournament. The Card Placement ranking is easy to put together for the G1 Climax. There are 5 matches every night, and they are all in a row, exactly the same each of the 18 block nights. The first G1 match, usually the 5th or 6th match on a G1 card, gets a 1, and the main event gets a 5. You take the simple average of the nine matches and the higher the number the better a wrestler’s rank. EASY. Doing this for the Best of the Super Juniors is not easy, but it is getting easier!
Because the Best of the Super Juniors have both double and single block nights within the same year, and did not generally main event their own shows for a number of years, the matches have to be assigned the number that corresponds to their full card placement, not just amongst Best of the Super Juniors matches. The fourth and final Super Junior match on a 2016 card might actually be the 7th out of 8 matches on the card total. But sometimes it could be the 8th out of 8th. Sometimes the Best of the Super Juniors take up the 2, 3, 6, and 7 slots on an 8 match card. Then, seemingly arbitrarily, the next card they are the 5, 6, 7, and 8 slots on an 8 match card. It’s fucking annoying! Want to see how fucking annoying? Here the 2016 version of the very helpful grid I make to track this stuff, which is really fucking annoying to make. More than 15-20 minutes at a time on it and I start wondering whether I’d rather get a cluster headache attack to feel better:
The crucial aspect to this: in the G1 Climax the block finalists, and especially the overall finalists, are always booked very strongly. The graphics below show the G1 Climax CP Rankings from 2015-2019, and below it the Best of the Super Juniors over the same period. Pay attention to the color-coding. As the chart shows, since 2015 the color codes names are always clustered near the top of the CP Rankings. This where the Best of the Super Juniors appears to be trending:
This is essentially a visual guide to the shoring up of the booking to something more akin to the G1 Climax. As the Best of the Super Juniors CP Ranking chart shows, those color-coded lines representing finalists move up the CP Rankings as the year’s progress. Here, the floor moves from 11th, to 9th, to 5th and 6th. The CP Rank average of finalists between 2015-2019 goes like this:
- 2015: 4.83
- 2016: 4.6
- 2017: 4
- 2018: 3.25
- 2019: 3.75
The bump in 2019 is attributed to being the only year that the #1 in CP, in this case, Dragon Lee, was not in either a block final or overall final. If it was him against Shingo in the block final instead of Ishimori, the average would have been 2.5, literally the lowest possible number possible in this data set. In sum: the ones that will be there in the end, the stars and the most significant, are booked as such. This leads us into the scenarios those wrestlers find themselves in on the final nights of their blocks. This also shows the trend towards more compact booking strategies.
Powered by RedCircle
Here We Go Yo… Scenarios
One way in which the BOSJ has started to mimic the G1 Climax is in the final night scenarios, but the universal establishment of double-block round robins with a single match final has not been velvety for the Best of the Super Juniors. The Best of the Super Juniors final night scenarios have slowly crept towards orthodoxy, as shown by the CP charts above, but it has been a bit of a process. Orthodoxy in this case is when the block final match solely determines the winner of the block, usually with everyone outside that main event losing out and clearing a path for the two wrestlers in the block final, making it a winner-take-all match.
What stands out most glaringly about the G1 is the incredibly orthodox consistency. Since 2010, 41 out of the 44 wrestlers to be in a block final match have gone into that final match with a chance to win. Again, that is not when the night began… it is when the match itself began, after the other matches have concluded. In 19 of those 22 matches, someone simply won the match to win the block. This is the convention of modern G1 booking.
There is a remarkably simple reason why the G1 has been booked so predictably for such a long period: it’s a big deal, so you can’t fuck it up. That means your G1 Climax winner needs to come out of their block looking strong, they need to beat someone in the final that came out of their block equally strong, and then go on to Wrestle Kingdom to face a strong champion. The rocks polish each other. Okada’s legendary title reign, possibly the greatest of all time, reached unimaginable status once he beat Naito at the Dome in 2018? Why? Because Naito was one of the strongest title challengers in modern pro wrestling history, that’s why! That’s how champions transcend their epoch, by beating challengers of that caliber! You build someone strong by having them win their match, win their block, and win the tournament.
And this is why the seemingly humdrum predictability of the booking this last decade was so very crucial and necessary. All the bluster over Ibushi losing the briefcase recently neglects the biggest point of all: the briefcase itself has been a complete fucking travesty from the outset. It’s a ludicrous concept. That is the WWE booking we did not need. Defending the reward attained by winning a tournament inherently vitiates the tournament itself; it reduces the reward from an inviolable right to a tenuous situation. And, of course, you can’t transfer the G1 Climax victory itself, just the title shot. No one comes out better. We are now seeing what happens when you don’t merely mess around with execution, but the form itself. Best to choose the cleanest path and just have vigorous athletes compete for high stakes incentives, lest you lose that reliability.
No problems in this regard with the Best of the Super Juniors! For one, you basically have to challenge the winner on the NJPW bus; the last two years saw turnarounds of less than 5 days between the BOSJ Final and Dominion, where the winner faces the champion. Another is that the BOSJ has had nowhere near the robust certainty of the G1 in block finals; the strength of the finalists was simply not there at first. From 2015-2019, the G1 had 20 out of 20 wrestlers in their block final have a chance to win the block when the match began; for the BOSJ, it was 14 out of 20. 9 out 10 G1 Climax block finals from 2015-2019 saw the winner of the match win the block, but only 7 out of 10 times in the BOSJ.
I recently wrote about G1 final night scenarios during the G1 Climax recently, and I used the concept of ROWS, the Realistic Outright Win Scenario. I went through every final night match from 2010-2020, and the reaction to that article was overwhelmingly positive, mainly in the “what the fuck were you thinking” avenue. I personally took that reaction as awe for the complex thoroughness of the research and/or concern for my well-being. ROWS basically takes into account only four things when determining a person’s chances on the final night of their block: normal wins, losses, ties, and head-to-head tiebreakers. Anything else, while fun, is obfuscating nonsense. Going through all of those potential scenarios was mind-numbing, I thought I found all possible realistic scenarios of a round-robin tournament in the manipulated (ie, fake) reality of pro wrestling. I was wrong. The BOSJ had gifts to offer.
In fact, I had to add a category to the historical trends because of the Best of the Super Juniors.
When it comes to the G1 Climax, if someone on the undercard could eliminate a block finalist by winning their match, that person almost always lost. In fact, this happened 7 out of 8 times between 2015-2019. In the Best of the Super Juniors, that number was 10 out of 18. And out of the eight winners, there was one, in 2017, that actually did eliminate someone in the block final match. The eliminated party was Volador Jr., and it wasn’t just one person that knocked him out. Three that could claim that honor, because 2017’s B Block was wild. We’ll return to that.
To clarify, here is how the modern BOSJ has trended towards the booking reliability of the G1. 2015 and 2016 were very messy, in part because the final nights were double block nights. In 2015, three out of the four wrestlers in their block final match were eliminated before the night even started, two of whom were outright mathematically eliminated. This is in direct contrast to the G1 Climax’s booking. The one person with a chance to win, Shadow Ace Ryusuke Taguchi, lost to Chase Owens. This allowing Kyle O’Reilly to ironically sneer his way into the final. The next year, KUSHIDA lost to the mathematically eliminated BUSHI, which let Taguchi leap ass-first into the final. This scenario type, where someone loses to a mathematically eliminated opponent in a block final and loses the block as a consequence, took five years to occur in the modern G1 system, and has only happened twice in eleven years. The BOSJ did it twice in two years.
This makes it seem that the Best of the Super Juniors is too volatile to truly be considered a Junior G1 Climax, but again… it’s been increasingly moving in that direction. It is evening out. You just have to look more precisely at when the scenarios occurred. Let’s move on to 2017-2019
Vexed, Fuming, and Had It Up To Here… Scenarios Moving Toward Stability
This is where the wrinkles start getting ironed out.
The most common scenario in the G1 Climax, as stated before, is two wrestlers in the block final facing off in a winner-takes-the-block match. In the Best of the Super Juniors, this occurs in four of the six opportunities from 2017-2019, after that muddled 2015-2016 start. The two outliers, the 2017 B Block and 2018 A Block, weren’t even that unorthodox; in both cases, the block final winner won the block outright, they just beat mathematically eliminated wrestlers to do so. And really, we have got to talk about that 2017 B-Block, because god damn. Considering that this era of the Best of the Super Juniors started with two block finals where three of the four participants didn’t stand a chance, this is great progress.
We mentioned that 10 out of 18 wrestlers with a ROWS lost on the undercard, compared to 7 out of 8 in the G1 Climax over this same period. Of those eight undercard winners, 7 of the 8 came from 2015-2017. Just once in the last two years did someone with a ROWS in the undercard win their match: Will Ospreay in 2018, who was the champion at the time. 2018 and 2019 were the real evening out years, which also coincides with the Juniors headlining all of their shows.
Finally, the best example of the Best of the Super Juniors evolving into a very G1 Climax- like event: both block finals in 2019. 2019 was a step in the right direction by having single block final nights. Now, 2017 also had single block final nights, but Gedo took that opportunity to see just how far he could test the limits of decency. That’s coming later. In 2019, we saw Best of the Super Juniors final nights that truly resembled G1Climax block final nights. Oddly, it is due to a lack of possibilities.
Since moving to the 19-date, single night schedule, the G1 has seen a real contraction of opportunities. From 2010-2014, there was always at least one person outside of the block final night main event with a chance to win their block. That would be in ten out of ten blocks. They usually lost, as noted above, but they had a chance. Since 2015, we have seen five blocks in twelve in which the only people with a chance to win the block on the final night were the two people in the block final: both blocks in 2015, both blocks in 2017, and the 2019 A Block. Again, no one outside of the match had a damn chance; they were eliminated before the night even began.
After four years of avoiding this situation in the Best of the Super Juniors, in 2019 both the A Block and B Block had finalists-only nights. In the A Block, it all came down to Shingo Takagi and Taiji Ishimori in the block final. Shingo, on his way to running the table, had 16 points, and Ishimori quietly amassed a remarkable 14 points. The closest to them was Dragon Lee, the champion, at 12 points. It looked like this:
- In Main Event: Shingo Takagi at 16 points
- ▪ To win, Shingo Takagi needed to defeat Taiji Ishimori
- In Main Event: Taiji Ishimori at 14 points
- To win, Taiji Ishimori needed to defeat Shingo Takagi
- RESULT: Shingo Takagi defeated Taiji Ishimori to win the block with a perfect 18 points.
In the B-Block, Will Ospreay and the ever-present Ryusuke Taguchi, who unbelievably spent more time in the 2019 BOSJ slamming his ass into people’s faces at pernicious speeds in the main event than outside of it, both stood at 12 points going into the final. They were not uncatchable by basic numbers; Robbie Eagles, El Phantasmo, YOH, and BUSHI all had 10 points going into the final night. Trailing by two points going into the final night is not a death sentence, even when outside the main event… unless two of those people are facing each other in the final. In that case, any result in the final will eliminate the ones behind them. In this case, even if Ospreay and Big Tagooch drew, they’d both be at 13 points, an impossible number for the other four. Thus, it all came down to that final.
- In Main Event: Will Ospreay at 12 points.
- To win, Will Ospreay needed to defeat Ryusuke Taguchi
- In Main Event: Ryusuke Taguchi at 12 points.
- To win, Ryusuke Taguchi needed to defeat Will Ospreay
- Outside Main Event: El Phantasmo at 10 points.
- Though El Phantasmo trailed the leaders by only 2 points, two of those leaders faced each other on the final night Therefore, any result in the final would eliminate him. He could not realistically win outright
- Outside Main Event: YOH at 10 points.
- Though YOH trailed the leaders by only 2 points, two of those leaders faced each other on the final night Therefore, any result in the final would eliminate him. He could not realistically win outright
- Outside Main Event: Robbie Eagles at 10 points.
- Though Robbie Eagles trailed the leaders by only 2 points, two of those leaders faced each other on the final night Therefore, any result in the final would eliminate him. He could not realistically win outright
- Outside Main Event: BUSHI at 10 points.
- Though BUSHI trailed the leaders by only 2 points, two of those leaders faced each other on the final night Therefore, any result in the final would eliminate him. He could not realistically win outright
- RESULT: Will Ospreay defeated Ryusuke Taguchi to win the block with 14 points.
The point here is, the top guys were the only ones with a realistic shot at the end, to its most extreme point… And because of that, it is the clearest testament that the BOSJ was finally considered, once again, to be a Junior G1. It’s another happy trend the pandemic has fucked up, but it does exist, and hopefully will continue in 2021.
2017’s B Block
This has been referenced all article. It’s finally time to explore this lunacy.
Gedo has very much used the Best of the Super Juniors as his booking sketchpad at times, and the zenith of this was the 2017 B Block. What can you even say about the 2017 B Block? This is the kind of thing you can get away with when the stakes are low enough to experiment, but high enough that you are not really experimenting… you’re just testing people. At least, the losers that look into this argle-bargle.
To refresh, this is firmly in the period where the Best of the Super Juniors was 16 entrants in two 8-person blocks. The number of people alive in the 2017 B Block, going into the final night… EIGHT. All fucking eight of them. The most of any single-match final, going back to 2010 at least, is 5. That includes BOSJ and the G1. And it’s not just the fact that 8 were alive, it’s how they were alive.
Obviously, every person in that block went into the final night with a record of 3-3. And, self-evidently, the person they faced was also, of course, 3-3. In the exact opposite manner. Yes, every match had completely contrasting Realistic Outright Win Scenarios, including the block final. Someone was going to hit a jackpot, and it was KUSHIDA. If KUSHIDA lost, and it pains me to even consider this, BUSHI would have won. It came down to KUSHIDA or BUSHI, because as 2020 has proven with the rise of YOSHI-HASHI, DOUKI, and SANADA, Gedo is easily hypnotized by capital letters.
Frankly, explaining this in detail would be ludicrous, so here is what is looks like:
In Final Block Match with Realistic Outright Win Scenario and outright won to win block
In Final Block Match and was eliminated from a realistic outright win due to an earlier result
Outside Main Event with a Realistic Outright Win Scenario and lost
Outside Main Event with a Realistic Outright Win Scenario, won their match, but did not win block
- In Main Event: KUSHIDA at 6 points
- To win, KUSHIDA needed to defeat Volador Jr and have ACH, El Desperado, and Tiger Mask lose.
- KUSHIDA held the tiebreaker over Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Ryusuke Taguchi, and BUSHI. He had lost to El Desperado, ACH, and Tiger Mask.
- In Main Event: Volador Jr at 6 points
- To win, Volador Jr needed to defeat KUSHIDA and have Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Ryusuke Taguchi, and BUSHI lose.
- Volador Jr held the tiebreaker over El Desperado, ACH, and Tiger Mask. He had lost to Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Ryusuke Taguchi, and BUSHI.
- Outside Main Event: Yoshinobu Kanemaru at 6 points
- To win, Yoshinobu Kanemaru needed to defeat El Desperado and have Ryusuke Taguchi, BUSHI, and KUSHIDA lose.
- Yoshinobu Kanemaru held the tiebreaker over ACH, Tiger Mask and Volador Jr. He had lost to Ryusuke Taguchi, BUSHI, and KUSHIDA.
- Outside Main Event: El Desperado at 6 points
- To win, El Desperado needed to defeat Yoshinobu Kanemaru and have ACH, Tiger Mask, and Voladaor Jr lose.
- El Desperado held the tiebreaker over Ryusuke Taguchi, BUSHI, and KUSHIDA. He had lost to ACH, Tiger Mask, and Voladaor Jr.
- Outside Main Event: Ryusuke Taguchi at 6 points
- To win, Ryusuke Taguchi needed to defeat ACH and have El Desperado, BUSHI, and KUSHIDA lose.
- Ryusuke Taguchi held the tiebreaker over Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Tiger Mask, and Volador Jr. He had lost to El Desperado, BUSHI, and KUSHIDA.
- Outside Main Event: ACH at 6 points
- To win, ACH needed to defeat Ryusuke Taguchi and have Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Tiger Mask, and Volador Jr. lose.
- ACH held the tiebreaker over El Desperado, BUSHI, and KUSHIDA. He had lost to Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Tiger Mask, and Volador Jr.
- Outside Main Event: BUSHI at 6 points
- To win, BUSHI needed to defeat Tiger Mask and have El Desperado, ACH, and KUSHIDA lose.
- BUSHI held the tiebreaker over Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Ryusuke Taguchi, and Volador Jr. He had lost to El Desperado, ACH, and KUSHIDA.
- Outside Main Event: Tiger Mask at 6 points
- To win, Tiger Mask needed to defeat BUSHI and have Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Ryusuke Taguchi, and Volador Jr lose.
- Tiger Mask held the tiebreakers over El Desperado, ACH, and KUSHIDA. He had lost to Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Ryusuke Taguchi, and and Volador Jr.
- RESULT: Yoshinobu Kanemaru defeats El Desperado, Ryusuke Taguchi defeats ACH, and BUSHI defeats Tiger Mask. KUSHIDA defeats Volador Jr to win the block at 8 points, tied with Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Ryusuke Taguchi, and BUSHI, and holding the tiebreakers over each of them.
I’ve dealt with a lot of art history in my life, and at a certain point my answer to a lot of unanswered questions became, “You know, I think the artist just thought that would be funny.” Why did Van Eyck paint himself in the mirror of the Arnolfini Portrait? “You know, I think that Flemish son of a bitch just thought that would be funny.” Why did El Greco put that anachronistic soldier in The Disrobing of Christ? “You know, I think that he just thought that would be funny.” And, when it comes to this, the only answer I have is: “Gedo must have thought it would be funny.”
This year sucks. Give us something funny, Gedo, then get back to the Junior Heavyweight G1 Climax thing next year.