“The champ, Desperado, said he saw everyone in this SUPER Jr. as equals. But we obviously know that he and Hiromu have separated themselves, in and out of the ring. The question is, who else can compete with them?
Will it be me? Will it be the guy with the wrench? Or will it be BUSHI, Phantasmo, Robbie, or Kanemaru?
Does it not matter if one of us wins this? I guess that gives us extra incentive, huh?”
-Taiji Ishimori, November 27
“Something’s off about the power balance in this junior division.”
-SHO, November 13
“Next up, Desperado… Many fans…Actually, all the fans think it’s coming down to us, just like last year. I think that’s the match the fans most want to see.
The rest of you guys better try to stop us. If you let it happen, it’s not over for us, but rather for all you other juniors.
Get up here!
I’ve got this now, but try to surpass me.”
-Hiromu Takahashi , November 18
“Everyone thinks it’ll be us in the finals, right?
The two of us yapping away at each other won’t change the landscape at all! These fans think they know it all and judge who does or doesn’t have it… I don’t care what they say! Keep talking big!
Wato can come up. YOH can come up. This is fun, pro-wrestling. Aren’t you guys enjoying doing this, too?
So says this goddamn worthless paper champ.
Hiromu, wait up. I’ll see you in the final. And I’m winning it.”
-El Desperado, November 21
The most explicitly expressed motif in the backstage comments of Best of the Super Juniors 28 was other wrestler’s perception that Hiromu Takahashi and El Desperado have achieved some kind of apotheosis within the division. The resultant declarations flirted with deicide, from those that could topple Hiromu and Desperado from these entrenched positions (Ishimori), and those certainly could not (BUSHI, who sucks).
Despite their own assertions and proclamations—which paradoxically decried the notion that they towered above the rest of the division while simultaneously vowing to meet each other in the finals—Hiromu Takahashi did not meet El Desperado in the BOSJ finals. Hiromu faced YOH. And SHO. At some point, he started with one of those guys. Who he finished the match with, no one knows.
But, to be clear: Ishimori was right, even if he didn’t make the final himself.
Of course, that became irrelevant once Hiromu beat YOH in a sprawling, divisive Best of the Super Juniors Finals. 38 fucking minutes, bloody hell. I’m all for Homeric epics in wrestling, but maybe tighten it up a bit when you know a SHO-shaped albatross is an inescapable portion of the match.
Also, the end result of this More-Than-Despy-and-Hiromu division: Despy vs. Hiromu, at the Tokyo Dome, for the Junior Heavyweight Championship. Furthermore, this match will be the first time the Junior Heavyweight Championship is in the semi-main event slot of the January 4 Wrestle Kingdom (the title semi-main evented a Wrestle Kingdom for the first time last year, but that was on January 5. We still clutch the belief that New Japan and its fandom consider January 4 the sacred date).
In the key metrics—ring time, card placement, and match ratings—New Japan’s Junior division has indeed become more about El Desperado and Hiromu than ever before. The numbers reveal a clear separation between the two-headed leviathan and the other members of this skeletal crew. The numbers also suggest that Desperado and Hiromu not only had division-carrying performances in this year’s tournament, they had some of the best performances anyone has ever put forth in a New Japan round robin tournament.
And yet, to be clear, the data also shows that this was not a division that needed carrying. I mean, it needed people to watch it, but it didn’t need carrying. Not in the traditional sense, like we saw in 2019 when Ospreay and Shingo really did have to carry a razed division with an overlooked Dragon Lee, an injured Taiji Ishimori, a Hiromu of an uncertain future, and an El Desperado that flew too close to the Jun Kasai on his wax wings and ended up on the shelf. In this case, the carrying was more understated, even for two gloriously embellished competitors. This was a yeoman’s effort, an effort of accumulation.
Still, this is a robust division, for sure.… depleted as it is. In fact, it’s strength almost certainly arises in response to its depleted status. This division has willed itself into potent excellence. To understand why the separation of Hiromu and Despy from this field is so impressive, we must first examine the field in general.
New Japan’s 2021 Junior Division
A Shin Nihon 205 Live for the Exact Same Generation
The Junior division of New Japan Pro Wrestling is a microcosm of the company. Or, more accurately, an exemplar of the company’s most glaring virtues, peculiarities, deficiencies, and circumstances in the pandemic era:
- Resilience in staging events, at times against incomprehensible odds
- An overwhelming monotony due to an unfortunately limited roster
- Astounding quality of wrestling, amplified with time as wrestlers grow familiar with each other, a lamentable situation resulting in smooth matches
- Escalating apathy from the West, for the exact same reasons the match quality has been enhanced: the forced repetitiveness of the match-ups
- Fairly anodyne booking, with repeated stories (“Oh, you want a shot at my singles title?! Well I WANT A SHOT AT THOSE TAG BELTS FIRST!!”)
- A willingness to elevate guys that were on the cusp before, but unable to find a path around the monolithic ones above them (Desperado, Eagles)
- Disastrous COVID contractions, with harrowing descriptions of symptoms (Desperado again)
- At least one catastrophically timed injury (Hiromu, in the sense that any injury this deep into pandemic conditions is catastrophic)
- Main events that deliver in the big spots, even if the West finds themselves drawn to companies based out of the states we’d rather not speak about in public
Best of the Super Juniors 28 was the pinnacle of this notion, a tidy illustration of 2021: almost entirely devoid of unwatchable matches, yet held under unwatchable circumstances. And, ultimately, not watched.
And not covered! The discourse around Best of the Super Juniors 28 was entirely absent, save for elegiac tweets about the dearth of coverage. This very website only had two articles written about Best of the Super Juniors 28; I wrote both, and in full disclosure they were submitted as one article which was then broken up into two: a Nights 1-4 wrestler-by-wrestler assessment, and a Night 4 review. This piece makes three.
El Desperado’s Historically Long, Yeoman’s Month
Because they essentially serve the same purpose, and follow the same general format, it’s tempting to compare and contrast Best of the Super Juniors with the G1 Climax. As I have written before, the closer the Best of the Super Juniors has become to the G1 Climax, the more legitimacy it projects.
In the G1 Climax, the champion is expected to carry every aspect of the tournament, and at the apex of all those imperatives—at least ones we can easily measure—stands the ringtime element. The simple measure of how much time one spends in the ring, engaged in professional wrestling, doing the do. The champion is expected to put in the most ringtime in the company’s most grandiose tournament, simple as that.
Of course, that could simply be a side effect of who is champion during the modern G1 Climax.
It’s a short list: Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada, AJ Styles, Kenny Omega, Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi and, uh… Togi Makabe. These guys go as long as they want; wherever their match is placed, they treat it as a main event (and for Tanahashi and Okada, it almost always is). You have to go back to 2010 to find a champion outside the top three in ring time. Guess which one of those seven it was.
As ringtime in the G1 escalated—especially after the switch to angle block nights in 2015—it was those guys, particularly Okada and Naito, propelling the time escalation. In the Best of the Super Juniors, a concurrent trend was happening.
As Best of the Super Juniors started to stake claim on their own cards, no longer settling for the semi-main event on their own shows, Will Ospreay and Hiromu Takahashi have been at the vanguard. Both have broken the mythical 3 Hour Barrier, only accomplished by Okada (2017, 2019, 2021) and Naito (2020). That is to say, the very best of this era, and of all time, have established a tradition of ring time opulence that continues to push new boundaries.
And El Desperado outdid them all this year.
Here it is, the newly updated Three-Hour Club:
El Desperado put forth an astounding 3:45:41 over the course of this Best of the Super Juniors, an average of 20:31 per match. Simply put, no one has ever put forth as much ringtime in a league campaign as El Desperado did in Best of the Super Juniors 28.
El Desperado delivered a month-long champion’s defense, and an admirable one when you consider that he was proffered the implausible task of projecting a champions lustre under such dismal conditions. And it’s not merely the time, it’s the placement and delivery.
Desperado main evented six out of the eleven Best of the Super Juniors 28 cards, and semi-main evented another four. Despy came out of the gate with matches of 25:11, 22:41, 20:10, and 30:00. An average of 24:30 to start the tournament, something you’d expect an august, dignified champion to do.
Those four matches also average out to 3.595 on GRAPPL, which seems low but is pretty impressive considering how miserly that app is about everything. Particularly SHO. SHO averaged 3.122 for the tournament, dead last. The relentless torrent of nonsense in their opening night main event—a proverbial Spoiler’s Choker to your genitals until they turn a frightening shade of purple and burst—established this trend, with a 3.14 average.
Desperado’s Night 3 opponent was Master Wato. Not a favourite amongst those salty limes rating these things, and the match was VOD-only. Despite those deterrents, the match is averaging 3.52, over a quarter-star higher than Wato’s overall average of 3.243.
Here’s the differentials above a wrestler’s averages for every Desperado match. As you can see, each number is positive, revealing Desperado’s impact upon the tournament and the beneficial nature of all those minutes. On average it accounts for a third of a star across the board:
Still, the impressiveness of Desperado’s campaign ultimately revolved around that remarkable amount of ring time. A couple of things should be addressed, though, since we’re not exactly comparing identical slates here. The “# of Matches” column stands stridently dismissive towards El Desperado’s accomplishment; he’s first in ring time, but also in number of matches.
This much is self-evident: El Desperado dropped this massive number with two extra matches compared to recent G1 Climaxes and Best of the Super Juniors, which all schedule nine league matches. Perhaps a more fair indicator of this triumphant labour would be average time per match.
As expected, Despy certainly drops when we rank wrestlers by match average.
But not by much:
Still in the top 5 of all time.* And in lofty company. That’s not to say that El Desperado is historically equivalent to 2017 Kazuchika Okada, or any of the people that have managed to piece together such a resounding testament to resilience, recalcitrance, and durability (congrats to Naito on the one year he was durable and casually decided to shatter every time record that stood).
Something more specific can be suggested. El Desperado shouldered this burden with the faintest accolades and recognition. Best of the Super Juniors 28 is a time capsule that will never be unearthed. Despy’s Best of the Super Juniors 28 campaign stands, on paper, as the lengthiest ever. And while that doesn’t mean it carries the same weight as any of Okada’s pre-pandemic campaigns, or Naito’s, or even ones that do not make this list by ring time length but supplement that deficiency through ringwork and the stakes of the G1 (any number of tournaments put together by Ibushi, Ishii, Tanahashi).
Doesn’t matter. It’s still a superlative feat. It deserves recognition. It also deserves a little more digging into.
For that, there’s one facet of El Desperado’s Best of the Super Juniors 28 that I’d like to add to the analytical record: timeframe.
El Desperado logged more league tournament time in this month than anyone ever has in New Japan history. Admittedly, I did not check the last 50 years of data for some outlier, but I think it’s safe to assume that no one pieced together at least nine 20+ minute matches within a one-month period outside of these tournaments. I checked Antonio Inoki, I checked Riki Choshu… consider the diligence dued, or whatever.
The previous record, set a mere month before Despy’s campaign started, was by Kazuchika Okada in G1 Climax 31, just two months ago. Okada broke the 3.5-hour barrier, going 3:32:42 over a month with a mind boggling 23:38 per match average. And Okada did it in only nine matches, whereas Despy had 11. It was a world-class 33 day spectacle of endurance.
Except El Desperado did his in 29 days. That the large match total works in Desperado’s favour when you consider that he had the tighter timeframe. Yes, Okada has a much higher per match average, but Desperado wrestled more aggregate minutes and had to do so by fitting two more grueling main or semi-main event matches into a tighter window.
The month aspect that is interesting here. Both are hard to parse historically because the shift to single block nights for both tournaments, the G1 in 2015 and the Best of the Super Juniors since 2016 (mostly, with double block nights sprinkled in each year). And so we find problems with concentration. These are the timeframes of the every Best of the Super Juniors and G1 Climax, going back to 2010:
Best of the Super Juniors
A few things stand out. First is the ungodly gauntlet of hell they put the Junior heavies through in 2014, followed closely by what the heavyweights endured the year before. The second is the clear correlation between the rise in number of dates per tournament and the rise in match lengths. I’m sure there are wrestlers who would prefer to return to the old ways, knocking these tournaments out in a single week or so, but this is pretty definitive evidence to suggest the current way is better for everyone.
Clearly, Desperado had more days to recover than previous years. Even compared to the previous two years, he had an extra week. But if you look at the match per day column, that only works out to 0.2 more days off per match. Those two extra matches are not engrossingly significant here. Even though the early 2010’s present some exceptionally hermetic clusters of matches in tight spans, except for one specific year I wouldn’t consider the match per day metric gap to be flagrantly substantial.
I mean, what, do you want a breakdown on the minutes of ring time per day average?
That’s stupid. Putting together something so stupid would be a stupid waste of time.
Here it is:
Best of the Super Juniors
That’s one metric where Despy falls short, and where that extra week hurts. His minutes per night as fairly high in the post NJPW World era of dingle block nights, but ostensibly inferior to WHO GIVES A FUCK?
We can work any number of averages and controls to account for the extra number of days, wading throat-deep into these abstruse waters until our stomachs distend and eyelids lithify, all for the aspiration of attaining some profound understanding of how truly valuable El Desperado’s Best of the Super Juniors 28 minutes are, beyond the mere aggregate.
In this case, it’s just the fucking aggregate. He wrestled a whole goddamn lot. That’s all.
Averages give context. They help compare. But in this case, they are too abstract. They lack corporeality. Sure, Ryusuke Taguchi wrestled 2:35 minutes more per day in 2014 than Desperado did in 2021. Taguchi wrestled seven goddamn matches in eight days. That has its own merits, but they aren’t germane here.
We are talking about accumulation. Taguchi did not wrestle nearly four hours in that tournament. He didn’t even wrestle half that; Taguchi wrestled a total of 1:22:55. A concentrated 1:22:55 that was discharged over one ridiculously Augean week, to be sure, but that’s the total.
And certainly, if Osamu Nishimura wrestled 11 matches during the G1 Climax in 2001, he would have ended up wrestling 4:15:01. He didn’t. He wrestled 1:55:53. An outstanding number for a 5 match set. And still nearly two full hours less than Desperado’s 2021 BOSJ.
El Desperado wrestled that 3:45:41. He anchored this BOSJ, presiding over the largest block in G1 or BOSJ history, main eventing over half of the shows, accepting the challenge of being the champion in the league tournament, where every match is a de facto defense, and
I guess I’m saying that’s pretty cool, is all.
Hiromu Takahashi’s Even Longer Month (Extended by One Day)
For all the dissections of El Desperado’s ring time total, and by “all the dissections” I mean this one article… Hiromu Takahashi actually exceeded Despy’s ring time total for BOSJ28. In fact, in Best of the Super Juniors 28 Hiromu became the first person to actually shatter the 4-hour Barrier. He finished Best of the Super Juniors 28 with 4:07:39.
He just needed an extra match to do it.
I would love to linger on the notion that El Desperado’s ringtime total still holds up as the 3rd most all time even granting his rivals their Finals matches… but rather than that, a note on league-only vs. league-and-Final data.
My data does not take into account the actual final of the tournament. Any chart you see in an article of mine on these kind of stats relates strictly to league matches. This is the sort of thing that wreaks havoc on conversations between myself and Chris Samsa, whose data does factor in a tournament final. This leads to some very puzzling moments where our numbers don’t match up, we’re both perplexed, and there’s awkward moments when neither one of us sees the invite to correct the other one politely.
Of course, it’s awkward anyway between us. It’s a real life Appleton-Barktokomous situation here. I mean, wear a suit every day and Chris has… tattoos. Artistic ones. I bet he listens to heavy metaled rock and roll music. I’ll stick to Gluck and Donizetti, thank you very much, lo!
The reason I avoid incorporating the final into my ring time numbers, and especially in the ring time rankings, is because it instigates disparity in the field. For instance, if I am ranking G1 Climax ringtimes in any given year, everyone concludes league play having wrestled nine matches (barring a sleepy faced dude with stringy static mop hair having his knee explode). If I incorporate the tenth match, then the imbalance would force me to move towards ranking by match average, as shown above in the Desperado section.
That doesn’t solve the issue of imbalance, though. A tournament league match and a tournament final are entirely different concepts, approached from entirely different perspectives. Hiromu ended up 21:58 minutes past Desperado’s league total of 3:45:41. Hiromu’s final went a laboriously SHO-centric 38:30. The closest Desperado came to that time in a match was his time limit draw with Hiromu on Night 4. Finals are longer, which only exacerbates the difference between finalists and non-finalists.
That said, it deserves to be noted. Hiromu, this aberrant weirdo; a walking pastiche of incongruous styles, personalities, trends, decades, cultures, etc.; only a few years removed from a nearly calamitous neck injury, only a few months removed from a baleful shoulder injury, only a few _____ away from a rebarbative _____ injury… just logged FOUR FUCKING HOURS of ring time in one tournament.
Averages don’t matter here. Sure, Hiromu had four extra days to accomplish this, and at 33 days that is the longest duration of any Best of the Super Juniors, and right up there with the longest G1 Climaxes. His match per minute stats are significantly lower than the elite level times put up since 2018.
It don’t fucking matter what the averages suggest. They don’t mitigate anything here. I provide them for context, to give a fully picture, but they, these numbers I personally curated, can go fuck themselevs. Hiromu went 4:07:39, within the same general timeframe as everyone else, past and present, that has participated in a G1 Climax or Best of the Super Juniors. Hiromu Takahashi is a marvel. He is a gem. He is a blessing.
And, as with Desperado, the weight of those minutes are significantly magnified by context. Like Despy, Hiromu main evented six of the eleven shows. In fact, there wasn’t a main event without one of the two. Hiromu semi-main evented the other five shows. There was not one inconsequential minute.
In theory, at least. I’m not sure it felt consequential when BUSHI bored us to tears with his boring control holds, or when Taguchi and Hiromu spent the early stages of the match just bickering with each other as Hiromu tried to reenter the ring from the outside, or when House of Torture EVIL-Fucked another fruitfully developed SHO match… well, you know… the solution to pollution is dilution (even though the Taguchi thing was pretty great).
G1 Climax Card Placement patterns show a clear trend for the true elite wrestlers of a division: like peak Naomi Campbell, they don’t roll out of bed for anything less than the top of the card. In 2018, Okada main evented eight out of nine A Block shows, and semi-mained the other one. He also was top 5 in GRAPPL average (1st in a historically putrid, jejune, underperforming block) and a clear #1 in ring time.
The point stands. Hiromu simply dominates in all the meaningful ways (let alone the significant advantages he has in things unquantifiable).
I focus on those categories because they are the ones that I believe give the fullest impression of a wrestler’s impact on a tournament. How long did they actually wrestle for, occupying the substantive aspects of the league? Which position of the card did those minutes take place, essentially asking what level of stakes were invested into the ring time. And how was that ring time received critically by fans and pundits?
High scores in the three means that a large portion of the most prestigious tournaments in this company were controlled by a main event caliber wrestler who delivered laudable performances. Literally the pinnacle of wrestling in this company and in the world at large.
Kazuchika Okada has held a firm grasp on all three categories for a decade, in the top three of each one every year from 2012-2019. He purposely faltered in 2020 in order to test the limits of an audience’s patience, and came back in 2021 to top all three. That’s the first time anyone in the G1 Climax has run the table on all three categories in a single year.
Hiromu did so this year, squeaking by Desperado in Card Placement with that final night main event against Eagles. Hiromu has now done it three times.
One final note: as with Desperado above, Hiromu also made everyone around him better. Hiromu’s minutes, like Despy’s, had an element of productive alchemy. And, just as with the ring time, Hiromu eventually surpassed Desperado.
Charted above was Desperado’s effect on the average match ratings of his contemporaries, measuring how far above that wrestler’s average match rating their El Desperado match was. On average, Desperado added .33 to his opponents match ratings.
Here is the ranking of every wrestler in the Best of the Super Juniors, by order of who had the highest average effect on each person’s match. Predictably, Hiromu is once again #1, and once again there is separation between the top two and everyone else:
Hiromu is a generous sod. He’s spotting his opponents nearly 2/5ths of a point.
Once more, my thesis: the numbers Desperado and Hiromu accumulated are incredible just from quantity, but there is substantive quality there. There a lot of weight to what they did, especially considering how increasingly arduous it seems to wrestle under these circumstances and the stockpiling of exigencies in this company.
GRAPPL, and the Low Ceiling/High Floor-ness of Best of the Super Juniors 28
Hiromu and El Desperado established new standards for league tournament workhorse output, but perhaps the important sentiment to note is that they did this in service of a surreptitiously sublime Best of the Super Juniors.
Without question, circumstances killed this tournament. Anecdotally, evidence suggests many that did follow it often did not bother to watch the shows live, and there was little internal pressure—and an absolute famine of external pressure—to catch up later.
And yet, looking at these GRAPPL numbers, it appears that those that did watch judged this to be a decidedly unique entrant into the Best of the Super Juniors canon. Mainly, this is the most even Best of the Super Juniors on record, with a higher floor than any other year.
It also had a much lower ceiling, but we can mitigate that ignominy a bit. First, let’s examine the basic, grand numbers. For one, Best of the Super Juniors 28 holds up quite well by overall average to other years.
As in, for now, the highest rated Best of the Super Juniors year on record:
Remember, these are early numbers. Ratings almost always go down; very rarely do they go up. Best of the Super Juniors 28’s lead on the rest of the years is nowhere near spacious enough that several weeks of mediocre—or even average—ratings would drop it a couple of slots. The fact that it’s even in the conversation is almost perplexing, considering the truant viewership, picayune buzz, and SHO’s fucking wrench. And his stand-up comic era Jim Carrey faces. And BUSHI, who sucks.
Without question, certain blocks of the past resoundingly outshined this one. 2018’s B Block, for instance, exceeds a 3.5 average. Unfortunately, 2018’s total average is tanked by 2018’s A Block, with an average of 3.126.
To be clear, though, we’re averaging everyone here. Best of the Super Juniors 28 only had one block, but it was a huge one, the largest on record. Any one of those wrestlers could have tanked the year, but they didn’t. Other years might have suffered from having more wrestlers in the field, thus the chance for more subterfuge, but I handwave that completely. You could have rearranged 2018’s blocks and ended up with two solid numbers; you could also rearrange the participants and end up with two abysmal ones.. The end result is not arbitrary. It favors Best of the Super Juniors 28… at least in totality.
And so, the low ceiling. That can’t be avoided… it is quite low. Though it’s lowness seems more conspicuous in comparison to the upward trends. What you notice is that while Hiromu’s top average of 3.693 is indeed low compared to the top spots of previous year, looking at the top three slots from every year with GRAPPL data reveals Best of the Super Juniors 28 is not so egregiously diminutive after all:
Look at that… just one blur of a year ago people considered SHO the third best wrestler in the Best of the Super Juniors.
As far as top ranked GRAPPL guys in a given year. Hiromu and Despy at at the very bottom After reaching an apex in 2018 and 2019, with Hiromu and Will both averaging above a 4.0 for an entire goddamn tournament, the top guys in Best of the Super Juniors 28 hove in the 3.6-3.7 range. In 2019, that would only be good enough for 4th and 5th place. In 2018: 4th and 6th place. So perhaps things have regressed a few years.
And yet, taken together with the high floor, highest on-record mean average, and highest on-record low differential from mean average, Best of the Super Juniors 28 holds firm. Yes, the top 3 of 2021’s Best of the Super Juniors is lower than the rest, but not outrageously so. It’s a slight drop-off. Looking at the last six years of data collectively, what Best of the Super Juniors 28 was lacking was one transcendent performer piecing together a torrent of 4-star efforts. We see that in the G1.
Or, we did see that in the G1. Ishii, Ibushi, sometimes Okada. Hell, Tomohiro Ishii managed to average 4+ last year, in the first pandemic G1. No one, not even slam dunk Hall of Famer Tomohiro Ishii, averaged 4+ this year. Okada topped out at 3.8.
And thus, we return to the biggest variable of them all: the dreadfully sepulchral clap-crowd environments, responsible for the devastating erosion of New Japan’s English-speaking fanbase and the less consequential but easily quantifiable effects it has had on match ratings. We see in the chart above: 2020 arrives like a flaming zeppelin. YOH, the humanity!
We can safely say that these numbers reflect a highly distorted product. And yet, for the sake of consistency we hold firm to the corporeal, as we did with the ring time numbers. While the low ceiling might be a direct result of outside forces, speculation doesn’t amend the fact that the ceiling is indeed lower than previous years.
So, how do we reconcile the highest overall rating with the lowest peaks, since wrestling is often judged by peaks?
This essentially comes down to one aspect: the remarkable, and peculiar, balance of Best of the Super Juniors 28’s super-block. If we look at the data going back to 2016, we see some absolutely lamentable basement dwellers. These poor wretches, the Tiger Mask’s and Wato’s and Taka’s and Junior Taichi’s and Kanemaru’s, find themselves well behind the pack. And way behind the mean.
Here’s the bottom three of every year for which we have GRAPPL data:
It’s been a rough few years if your name is ALL CAPS
It’s also been a rough year for all of us because of people whose names are ALL CAPS. We stylize his name as DICK from this point forward. You’re ALL CAPS now Togo, and it is so nasty that it’s probably something of a travesty having you.
The base averages are pretty dire in these years. The lowest scoring competitor always averages below three stars, but until 2020 we don’t see anyone in the entire bottom three crack that 3.0 threshold. It’s not in the Yano cellar; somehow he trends even lower. But it is caught in the perdition inhabited in the heavyweight ranks by the Bad Luck Fale’s, Yujiro Takahashi’s, EVIL’s and gimmick-constrained Tama Tonga’s. This is grim stuff.
It’s even worse when you evaluate the differentials. If one takes the mean average of each year, and then subtracts it from each competitor, you find how close or separated a participant is from the medium talents of the tournament. This paints a grim picture of every year prior to BOSJ28.
For instance, the bottom dweller of last year’s Best of the Super Juniors was Master Wato. He was last place with a 2.874 GRAPPL average. Pretty bad, but this is about where we find most of the floor denizens. The issue is that Wato was well behind the average of Best of the Super Juniors 27. That -.43 differential might not seem like much, especially in comparison to other years where we find some wrestlers nearly a full point down. It’s bad enough, though. Remember, this isn’t differential from the top. It’s differential from the average.
This year’s dope is SHO, of course. SHO was hamstrung by gimmickry that sometimes worked and sometimes faltered. But anything so explicitly narrative, let alone un-British, goes over like a lead balloon to the sour coterie of GRAPPL. SHO ended up with a 3.122 average and a -.224 differential from the average.
Both are world’s ahead of the typical last place GRAPPL finisher for this tournament. When looking to other years, we find the barrel bottoms imbued with -.4’s, -.6’s, and as high as -.9’s. And that’s just the start of it. Some years there is a gap, but some year’s take several entrants before you get to the -.2’s. Best of the Super Juniors 28 indeed has a very high ceiling, historically.
The reason we end up evenness and such a high floor is quite simple: this year had very few low ratings outliers. Here’s a chart of match ratings, organized by level of rating, and the percentage of overall matches that met achieved that level:
The strengths and weaknesses of this year’s Best of the Super Juniors are laid bare. Or, perhaps, the strengths and weaknesses in people’s perceptions. Or, even more accurately, the effects of pandemic-era crowd conditions on a series of wrestling events.
Either way, we see very low percentages on either end of Best of the Super Juniors’ spectrum: very few matches under a 3.0 average, even fewer above a 4.0 average, and a very high percentage of matches that exceeded 3.25. The matches at the poles settled in the middle, and that’s why this tournament ended up rated higher than the previous ones.
That’s not exactly a resounding endorsement: hey, go catch up on all the slightly above average stuff you missed! But, considering the context in which they wrestled, it took one hell of an effort from all parties to get even faint praise from a Western audience.
That is the pack from which Hiromu and Despy separated themselves.
New Japan’s Wonky Pandemic Era Attendances and the Fool’s Errand of Trying to Decipher Them
I regret this section. I regret conceiving it, and I regret attempting to make it work.
Back in January, I wrote a piece wondering what in the world was going on with New Japan’s Korakuen Hall attendances. On the very first Korakuen of the year, January 17, 2021, they drew 694. Looking back at post-pandemic numbers in 2020, it is obvious that their personal cap was 696. 694 is a weird report… Come on, New Japan. You couldn’t find, I don’t know, Puffy AmiYumi walking around Bunkyo and have them come inside for a few minutes to hit the full 100%?
The problem: attendance dropped to 396 the next night. I received some light criticism that my article did not take into account the State of Emergency in effect at the time, one of many SOE’s and SOE extensions in 2021 Japan. But, logically, why would that affect a day-to-day drop? The SOE did not go into effect the morning of January 18. That January 18 show was indeed the first sign that, for any number of reasons—pedestrian cards, elevated ticket prices, and, indisputably, any number of the State of Emergencies that Tokyo was under in 2021 (and probably again in 2022! Fuck everything! Twice!)—New Japan was going to have acquaint themselves with some consequences this year.
Tracking events this year, the trend seemed to be that New Japan consistently drew between 25% to 35% of their highest attendance on record for any building. So, if their high point in a specific building in Miyagi was 100 people, odds are that if they went there this year around 25 to 35 people would attend.
The latest State of Emergency has been over since the end of September, and it’s simply mind numbing trying to figure out what percentage of the percentage they capped their shows.
That’s not to say that I, not a journalist in any manner, didn’t reach out New Japan for clarification. In fact, here’s an exact transcript of that conversation:
J Michael: How has the State of Emergency affected scheduling of venues for the New Beginning and Castle Attack tours, such as location or amount of times run in specific buildings?
New Japan Pro Wrestling: Thank you for always cheering New Japan Pro-Wrestling up. We regret we were unable to fulfill your request. We appreciate your understanding.
Without sources, it’s nearly impossible to decode any of this. The numbers are down from last year, but the percentages seem decent? Shows run at buildings with some discernible history have fallen in the 40-50% range of their historic high water mark for the building, though Dolphin’s Arena only drew about 27% of their peak in Aichi (and 800 less than they drew last year in a Best of the Super Juniors-World Tag League duel show).
The Korakuen shows are some of the highest numbers at Korakuen all year, including Night 1, anchored by Desperado v. SHO, hitting the magic 696 number. The other two BOSJ Korakuens drew 634 and 572. The 634 draw, for ELP vs. Hiromu, was the second highest Monday Korakuen of the year, out of 16, only trailing the 692 put up by G1 Climax Night 10 (headlined by SANADA v. Okada). It’s worth noting that all three Korakuen Hall Best of the Super Juniors shows last year drew the big 696. It’s also worth noting that the 696 that SHO and Desperado drew is the only 100% Korakuen show New Japan pulled in 2021.
By the way, the first two Road to Wrestle Kingdom shows (December 21 & 22) at Korakuen drew 435 and 433, respectively. Despy and Hiromu drew 563 on Night 3 (December 23).
Anyway, until New Japan starts revealing their secrets to me through random email requests, the strongest conclusion I can draw, with hesitation, is that BOSJ28 drew about as well as anything else in New Japan in 2021.
A Final Thought
You are not going to go back and watch Best of the Super Juniors 28 just because Hiromu Takahashi and El Desperado put up a bunch of cool stats and had a bunch of above average matches. You are not going to catch up or skip-watch through because there was uniform competence and ecumenically good to great work. These are not the things that inspire, galvanize, or exhilarate. This is almost entirely a theoretical exercise, a conceptual attempt to acknowledge the adroit levels of wrestling execution exhibited by 12 men, and the exceptional exertion displayed by two of them.
Great work of unprecedented labor and puissance are not panaceas for the ailments that continue to suffocate New Japan Pro Wrestling’s global footprint. The pandemic still debilitates the companies ability to feign normalcy and foment charm. Japan gives enough fucks to offset some of the global deficiency in fucks (largely exacerbated by the bilious Leave types in England and the repugnant freedom fetishists of multiple counties in the neo-Confederacy). Because of that, there are simply no redemptive qualities available to New Japan to recapture those that have abandoned it in the last 20 months or so.
Until New Japan is allowed to be a pleasure to watch again, people will seek pleasure elsewhere, even desperate enough to seek it in a company run by one of the two men in the world who thought the Urban Meyer experiment wouldn’t end in cataclysm. Choosing to refrain from watching is totally valid. At this point, there’s a deeply repressed fatalism in those of us still following New Japan this closely.
- El Desperado rules. He’s proven himself a worthy champion.
- Hiromu rules. He’s certainly adjusted, yet still one of the best wrestlers alive.
- The Junior division, while involuntarily insular, is not monochromatic; the wrestlers are putting all these reps to good use.
I just thought I’d let you know.
*In full disclosure, there are a few oddities before the timeframe I am using. I treat the G1 Climax as-we-know-it to start in 2010, the furthest back you can go with the current 2 Block/1 Match Final format. Obviously the G1 as we truly know it starts in 2015, the first year of both the 19-date, single-block-per-night schedule and the G1 Climax airing on NJPW World.
Going back to the very beginning of the G1 Climax and working our way back, a few more entrants into the 20 Minute Average Club emerge. Most of them with only 4 or 5 matches, and several of them utterly baffling. As in, Chono gave enough of a fuck to go 20 min per in 2003? Nishimura did it THREE times? In 2002, he did it with THREE time limit draws. What the fuck is going on?
Anyway, under these parameters, Desperado drops to 11th all-time. Of course, the whole point here is to show Desperado’s unprecedented effort over the course of a grueling month. Ric Flair wrestling an hour over a 4-day stretch doesn’t adequately compare.
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