New Japan Pro Wrestling
Best of the Super Juniors 28 – Night 4
November 21, 2021
Dolphin’s Arena (Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium)
Nagoya, Aichi, Japan

Watch: NJPW World (Japanese) / NJPW World (English)

I’m reversing this review. At the risk of this coming across as a disjointed work, I do not want to bury the most important portion of this piece, and that is the treatment of Hiromu-Despy V, in which I look at how this match fits into their narrative thus far. It’s longer than the rest all the other Night 4 match reviews combined, and that is with me holding back on my research and analysis in anticipation of a much more consequential match upcoming.

And so, this review begins with the main event. That will be followed by a wrestler-by-wrestler overview of the first four nights of Best of the Super Juniors 28 and a review of the rest of the matches on Night 4.

Best of the Super Juniors 28
El Desperado (2) vs. Hiromu Takahashi (4)
Time Limit Draw

This match was a vindication, of everything.

A vindication of the Young Lion system, which produced fundamentally sound canvases for wrestlers to paint their personalities upon.

A vindication of excursions, and a confirmation of the critical nature that they play in the development of these young grapplers as they explore and experiment with their wrestling persona, shaping and coagulating it as they absorb distinct, foreign idiosyncrasies.

A vindication of Mexico and lucha libre, which nurtured both of these men and yethas always been presented in the English-speaking wresting world as an exotic Other, an impenetrable and indecipherable carnival acrobats act, with the inherent steel-beamed ceiling resultant from that perspective that has perpetually stifled Mexican wrestlers outside their home country. lalone the other baleful isms that derive from this, or are perhaps its foundation? I’d have to check court filings on WCW for that one).

A vindication of the New Japan booking style, which (while on the extremely tenuous ground at the moment) cultivates this talent through an arduously patient system. It allows these incipient wrestlers to navigate through a fjord of meaningless titles and multi-man tags, accumulating reps and absorbing wisdom and perspicacity from the veterans. This system encourages the instantly transcendent ones like Hiromu to cultivate their talents directly adjacent to the big stars, while the late bloomers like Despy can gradually ferment and percolate.

El Desperado specifically highlighted this aspect in his pre-BOSJ interview with NJPW1972. According to Despy, working with Kanemaru helped him exponentially refine his work, and provided him invaluable guidance in developing a philosophy of wrestling that exploits his strengths:

–November 24, and it’s back to Korakuen hall where you face DOUKI. A year on from your Numero Dos submission win over him, what are your thoughts on DOUKI?

Desperado: Oh, he reminds me of me for sure. But I don’t think he gets it. I remember back when TAKA (Michinoku) and Taichi would always be talking about me, nudges in the ribs and ‘you see?’ kinda thing. It was always ‘no I don’t see!’ every time for me. I used to get so hot. But that’s where he is.

–Around 2016, 2017, your early years in Suzuki-Gun?

Desperado: Yeah, exactly. It wasn’t until I started teaming with ‘Nobu that it was like ‘Ah! NOW I see’, heh. I think actually, if he had that experience of learning with ‘Nobu, he could match or beat where I’m at. He really has all the potential in the world. But when it comes to the BoSJ finals this year? Hate to say it, but he isn’t there yet.

–A big upside, but he hasn’t had his break yet.

Desperado: DOUKI and Wato both, there’ll be plenty of chances to come around for them. But with me, ‘Nobu was a key figure, and a big turning point. There needs to be someone to fill that role for DOUKI.

The result: Despy has carried the division during the pandemic (along with Ishimori).

And I don’t ever want to hear about Despy being a pandemic placeholder. Watch Hiromu-Despy II, from Kizuna Road 2018. That was the one where Hiromu ripped Desperado’s mask off when Despy tried to take advantage of a ref bump by hitting Hiromu with the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championship belt. Hiromu was delighted to thwart Despy’s momentum. Desperado, bare-faced and exposed, hit Hiromu anyway, grabbed his mask from the mat, and then blithely put it back on. People in the stand behind the ring were in shock, mouths agape and looking around in astonishment.

That was the beginning of Main Event Level El Desperado. Right there. The pandemic didn’t encourage anything that wasn;t already going to happen. Just like EVIL’s push, except life affirming in this case instead of a justification for nihilism in EVIL’s case.

In fact, that Kizuna Road match highlights a key element here: that the first four Despy-Hiromu matchups have quirks and trends, and examining the evolution of these quirks and trends makes this draw even more robustly satisfying.

Let’s establish:

Obviously, there are 19 other matches out there, but technically only five between El Desperado and Hiromu Takahashi.  Those are the only ones that count here.

Understanding the intricacies and nuances of Hiromu-Despy V requires an examination of the first four encounters.

Match Structure and Work

Hiromu-Despy I: Started with a wild brawl in the stands of Korakuen, and turned into moves and brawling.

Hiromu-Despy II, a month later: Largely the same framework as Hiromu-Despy I with some deliberate twists. For instance, in Hiromu-Despy I, Takahashi did a long running shotgun dropkick in that stretch of concrete between the top level of seating and the lower level. In Hiromu-Despy II, he tried it again, but this time Desperado hit him with a guitar case. That’s a thing that happened and a perfectly normal sentence in professional wrestling.

We see a different version of both men for their 2020 matches. Since breaking his neck in the match against Dragon Lee, Hiromu has slightly toned down his offense, substituting a more ferocious intensity and greater emphasis on timing for at least a small part of his recklessness.

Since breaking his jaw as a reward for willingly being in the ring with Jun Kasai, Desperado, as noted above, seems to have taken lessons from Kanemaru to heart on how to work smarter. The guy that returned from excursion in 2014 w/ a torrent of moves now spends most of his matches working a leg. Expertly working it with captivating and shrewdly intent sequences and holds.

And that is how the three matches in the post-injury dual-hiatuses era have been.

Hiromu-Despy III, IV, and V: The armature of the matches have been Desperado fervent working on Hiromu’s left leg with gleeful diablerie, and the sinews of the matches have been Hiromu’s frenetic outbursts and instigations of demonic strike exchanges. Despy’s Numero Dos has been the consistent common element of these matches, and the persistent undergirds in each individual match.

It finished Hiromu in III, haunted him in IV, and seemed to be a key motivational factor in his gameplan for V. Hiromu hasn’t attempted his D submission this many times in ages, and the hold has largely been a non-factor in the feud itself. And yet he was relentless with it in this one. Perhaps this is a bit of parallelism. If Desperado is implacable in his commitment to applying Numero Dos, Hiromu would naturally be inspired mirror that sentiment.

That is the progression of match structure.

What’s interesting about this match not just that it logically extends from the previous four matches. That much is self-evident from examining the match structures. What’s especially cool about Hiromu-Despy V is that the finish, the time limit draw, is a rational and very clever play upon a trend I noticed in the first four matches:

The Odd Centrality of Low Blows and Exposed Buckles.

In each of the first four matches, Desperado low blows Hiromu

In each of the first four matches, there is an exposed turnbuckle corner.

Each one plays a critical role in initiating the endgame for both men in their two victories.

In Hiromu-Despy I, Despy’s low blow on Hiromu directly led into the Pinche Loco and a gigantic victory for Desperado in BOSJ25. The turnbuckles of one corner were exposed, and Hiromu did indeed try to do the running Death Valley Driver on Despy into them, but Desperado fought it each time. The best Hiromu could manage was a couple running DVDs into the covered corners. That wasn’t enough.

In Hiromu-Despy II, El Desperado does hit a low blow, but does not use this as a catalyst to culminating the match. Instead, he goes for a beltshot with one of the IWGP Junior Tag Team belts, leading to the famous unmasking scene described above. Hiromu later delivers a climactic overhead suplex to a running Despy, sending poor Desperado into the exposed buckles. Hiromu finished the match right afterward.

In Hiromu-Despy III, Despy hits a low blow, which leads to the wonderful sequence where Desperado goes to attack Hiromu’s leg with a chair, Hiromu taunts him for such callow knavery, Despy takes the invectives to heart and starts to put the chair down, but then instantly shifts gears and obliterates Hiromu’s legs with multiple chairshots. Numero Dos ends thing shortly afterward. On his end, Hiromu hit the running DVD to the exposed corner, but made a crucial error: he went for the pin instead of Time Bomb II, and Despy surprised Takahashi with a roll-up for two.

Hiromu-Despy IV saw both trademarks used viciously. Despy hit a brutal low blow after a ref bump, but was betrayed by his single-minded vehemence in hitting Loco Mono. When he picked Hiromu up for it, Hiromu literally beat him to the punch. That was the set-up to the famous Budokan Demasking. The match reached its volta when Hiromu hit the running DVD to the exposed buckle and followed up with Time Bomb II. Hiromu ran Desperado so hard into the exposed buckle that it left Despy with a nasty slice on his lower back, like someone took a hot scalpel and made a deep incision. I knew it was bad when I noticed it wasn’t bleeding. If you look for it, you can see the scar on Despy’s back. He will always carry that visual memento of the match.

In his match, there was neither a low blow, nor were any of the turnbuckles exposed. Thus, neither man had their key to success. Maybe that explains why we had a draw. Its definitely something to keep an eye on for Hiromu-Despy VI.

Not only was this match bereft of their two hidden components, it was without question their cleanest match, utterly devoid of nonsense but also notable by the absence of the usual dependencies that bolster a match. They didn’t brawl into the crowd, obviously, but they also kept things largely simple. Besides Despy bodyslamming Hiromu on the ramp and hitting his leg with the chair, which admittedly is a big exception, there was nothing egregious and very little action outside the ring. The biggest absence: no ref bumps. None. Another first in the series.

The most reckless part of the match was Desperado pulling out one of his trademark Tope con Hilos. He does them infrequently enough now that one forgets just how spectacular his hilo’s have always been, how he seems to get such otherworldly length on them, often carrying him over the barricade. Of course, he didn’t make it past the barricade this time. In some unfortunate poetic justice, the barricade that Despy jumped towards was further out than normal, and thus Desperado landed right square on his upper thighs. It looked painful.

The reason the barricades were further back? Because that’s how hard Despy threw Hiromu into them earlier. These guys were doing stuff everyone else does in every match, just ten times harder.

A Draw

The draw is such an intelligent booking choice. At this point, the only thing left for these two a time limit draw, but it’s especially clever because of how the tournament as a whole is booked. As shown in the chart above, El Desperado and Hiromu are both tied at the top of the card placement average rankings, booked on equal terms across the wide range of an expanded tournament. well ahead of everyone else in strength of booking. Quite literally, there will be no main event in Best of the Super Juniors 28 without one of them in it.

They are very clearly the cream of the current division, and the two most popular junior heavyweight wrestlers domestically, if merch is a viable indicator. Take a gander at Desperado’s entrance on the first two nights o BOSJ28, both in Korakuen. The amount of his merch out there is insane. Likewise, the amount of merch we could see during there entrances here amplifies the point.

If this is truly the Wrestle Kingdom match for the Junior Heavyweight title, a crucial match in the push to deliver a spectacular, nostalgically sensational Wrestle Kingdom card in from of a cheering fanbase for the first time in 18 months… then both guys need to come in from an egalitarian booking perspective. Whoever won this match would certainly be considered the likely candidate to lose in January.

Now, who knows?

Although, to be clear, that’s just one aspect of curiosity surrounding a match between these two at a Wrestle Kingdom that could potential welcome back cheering fans. There’s a lot of questions surrounding a Hiromu v. Desperado Wrestle Kingdom title match. For instance: where should it be on the card? Or this, the biggest and most pressing question:

Just what in the fuck would these two conceive in that scenario, on that stage, with that audience, with those stakes?

Even though they’ve checked one box off with the time limit draw, there’s still plenty left for these two to unveil.

Yuto Nakashima vs. Ryohei Oiwa
Time Limit Draw

 I acknowledge that this match occurred. ***

Best of the Super Juniors 28
Yoshinobu Kanemaru (4) def. DOUKI (4)

What made this work so well was that they were both acutely aware of each other’s reprehensible amorality, but with a critical difference: DOUKI’s amorality is just a front, an attempt t fit into Suzuki-gun, and we all know that he’s a good boy. Kanemaru’s amorality is probably tempered by being in Suzuki-gun. We all know this. More importantly, DOUKI knows this.

This entire match reflected that premise: DOUKI wants to be a grimy fuckface like his friends, but that’s not his nature, and even if it was… he’s in the ring with Yoshinobu Kanemaru. You lose. Only KENTA has a shot, at least in this company.

The actual wrestling was a fun juxtaposition of Kanemaru’s grounded, methodical style with DOUKI’s fleet-footed lucha and audaciously flashy moves. DOUKI was very opportunistic throughout, with multiple turning points coming when he capitalized on miniscule openings in Kanemaru’s guard.

Kanemaru’s selling was exceptional. DOUKI applied the Italian Stretch #32, which he does in every single match, but Kanemaru made it look better than anyone else I think I’ve ever seen. It looked snug against his throat and he timed his collapse to the side perfectly. Kanemaru hit a gorgeous Touch Out to win after some persistence.

This is the beauty of league play round robin matches: a wonderfully condensed 10-minute match without any stalling, filler, or senselessly tumescent voids. This was ten minutes of continuous work with an emphatic finish that simply happened instead of being the culmination of an increasingly elaborate sequence. ***1/2

Best of the Super Juniors 28
Taiji Ishimori (4) def. Master Wato (2)

In contrast to the woefully infelicitous display Wato presented in the rapid-fire reversal sequences with Eagles, he looked significantly more comfortable in the exhibition of grappling in the opening stages of this match with Ishimori.

This is a great exemplar to show someone who still doubts Wato and scoffs at the very mention of him. Those people are stuck in 2020. Ishimori masterfully exploited Wato’s inherent likability and superlative selling. Wato’s strikes looked crisp, his kicks were sharply angular, and he managed to his a textbook tornillo (and Ishimori actually caught him, unlike many others!).

The match structure was buoyantly simple. Ishimori softened up the arm for a while, Wato had a fiery comeback, there was some exciting back and forth interplay that saw Wato get some really close near falls (Ishimori’s kickouts were Okada-esque and spectacular), and then Ishimori caught Wato in the Bone Lock. No labyrinthine journey to the submission. He locked it on once and maneuvered it to a spot where Wato had to tap. Wonderful. ***1/2

Best of the Super Juniors 28
Ryusuke Taguchi (2) def. YOH (0)

As stated above, YOH was awesome in the sprint against Hiromu, and soporific here. This is absolutely in part because the company has orphaned the poor guy. His direction seems nebulous;  dressing like one of the Backstreet Boys from the “I Want It That Way” video is not a valid foundation for a character. What is he supposed to do with this?

There’s a difference between Taguchi’s sublime professionalism and YOH’s disappointing professionalism, and this match is replete with examples. If Wato is developing by slowing down and maturing, YOH could use a little more immaturity, honestly. YOH’s hard to connect with because he’s simply good at everything, and effortlessly, too. He needs a little bit of assertiveness to give that innate proficiency some bite.

YOH took a lot of this match, and it wasn’t very compelling. There’s a languid aimlessness between spots and sequences with him. It essentially negates all the effortless celerity he displays elsewhere. Taguchi had to bring the crowd back up multiple times. I mean, that’s wrestling, I suppose. One guy controls and then the other guy brings the crowd up. The disparity here was so pronounced, though. All the juice in the match derived from Taguchi. ***1/4

Best of the Super Juniors 28
SHO (6) def. BUSHI (4)

BUSHI is a very formulaic wrestler. Sometimes that pays off, and his matches eventually store away reserves of investment that culminate gloriously. That usually means that BUSHI is only good in longer matches, and its also not guaranteed. Sometimes, like last year’s BOSJ match against Hiromu, the result is a very drab and flaccid 20-minute match.

And since BUSHI only works well when the finish reaches a triumphant apex, SHO’s pretty much the worst possible opponent for him. Or, rather, it’s the worst for us, since SHO’s new formula is to assure that the ending of every match he participates in is a guileless exercise that only reliably evokes misery. This is the story of the Charmless Men. Look at SHO’s sell on this tope. What the fuck is this?

The armwork of the match was engaging. The story that SHO would cut BUSHI off by returning to the arm was well done and the crowd was into it, when BUSHI would finally break through, even if BUSHI’s offense is 90% enzuigiri’s and code breakers.

This is probably a good time to mention that Dolphin’s Arena was awesome all night. An example of a great clap crowd.

And they went dead silent for the wrench balderdash. I doubt it was because they were watching in awestruck fascination. ***1/4

Best of the Super Juniors 28
Robbie Eagles (2) def. El Phantasmo (2)

 These are two thoroughly reliable and astute wrestlers; it was a fait accompli that they would deliver a textbook semi-main event. There’s a contrast of personalities, but similar styles: crisp and fluid work peppered with aerial flavors. Eagles is a bit more grounded with limbwork, ELP favors bigger impact moves and character work. It’s a great pairing.

The last time the two met in a singles match was over two years ago. 27 months back, right after Robbie defected from Bullet Club, essentially ousted by E Phantasmo. In the time since, Robbie has become the division champion and ELP has… kinda faced himself? Maybe it’s the influence of Ishimori, or maybe ELP just naturally becomes that brazen face character that got him so over in England, but Japanese crowds seem to really like the guy.

I like the way Eagles approached this one. Robbie can be a bit anodyne and milquetoast, and sometimes he comes across quite clumsy and stilted when he tries to assert demonstrative bravado to his character, but he found the perfect balance here. He came across a bit vindictive. That’s a side of him I’d like to see more of, especially since, as shown throughout this match, those traits align well with his work.

Part of the reason this division is so much better than it gets credit for: it is filled to the brim with wrestlers who are great sellers but also have excellent offense. Robbie Eagles might be the best balance of both. His selling of his midsection, damaged by the loaded boot, was magnificent. ****

Final Thoughts

I write reviews with the following assumptions:

  1. No one is going to read it.
  2. No one who does reads one could possibly want to comeback for another.
  3. Thus, any reader is a new reader.

Not to go all VKM with that last assumption (though I do tend to keep gigantic Faberge eggs on my fake Brooklyn desk and go apoplectic when someone steals it from the signed baseball display case I keep it under. There’s a reference that won’t make any fucking sense in 3-4 years).

And so, I avoid running gags. I try to write as much as I possibly can with the “royal we.” I write these Final Thoughts segments trying to account as much of the readership’s sensibilities as my own, and write my final assessment from an ecumenical perspective.

But, for once, I’m entirely divorced from the pedagogical aspects of reviewing. This time I’m keeping my evaluation insular, and it’s very simple:

Hiromu-Despy V ruled. I want people to love it. I want them to calculate the nuances and appreciate the effort these two have put into a multi-year string of matches. This is why someone can write 150,000 words in one year about an absolute zero cold company, because of the expectation that this match, this exact match between these exact wrestlers, will happen at some point.

This was an excellent show, but the main event stands ascendant, the latest spark of brilliance from what has become a defining rivalry of this era.

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