Unless you’re one of those weird people online that struggles to find joy in anything, most wrestling fans were excited about this year’s Best of the Super Juniors lineup

It was long felt that New Japan’s product would pick up once Japan’s border restrictions eased and they had greater access to American-based talents. This tournament was their first opportunity to put that theory to the test and by adding the likes of Clark Connors, Alex Zayne, Titán, AEW’s Wheeler Yuta, and the Impact Wrestling X-Division Champion Ace Austin, they look primed for a great tournament and a flurry of tweets declaring that they’re ‘back’. 

Unsurprisingly, the greatest source of intrigue for me on an individual level was Austin. 

Impact Wrestling has been maligned of late, a little more than normally, because of low television ratings and poor ticket sales for their TV tapings. These criticisms, as is typical of much online analysis, miss the point that Impact’s live specials and PPVs typically sell out and that while the TV isn’t helping them reach too many new people, being kept in-house does mean they’re relatively stable as a business concern.

Although I would still consider Impact as the third or fourth biggest player in the American market, behind WWE, AEW and NJPW but ahead of other televised promotions like MLW and the NWA and independents such as GCW, the ROH comparisons are not lost on me. 

Whatever people might think or say, the resumption of Impact’s partnership with New Japan last year has been important for both promotions. The New Japan talent typically draw some of the biggest reactions on Impact shows, while having them involved gives New Japan a conduit to run different angles – think the GOD/Good Brothers BULLET CLUB angle – during a period of restrictions and general downturn, and gain access to a wider roster of talent for their US-based product and their big annual tournaments. 

Josh Alexander, Chris Bey and The Good Brothers have all regularly featured on New Japan Strong but the border restrictions meant that no one from Impact could actually head out to Japan to work a tour like this last year.

That changes with Austin’s Best of the Super Juniors appearance. 

Austin made his debut with Impact in 2018 and has been a permanent roster member since 2019. The 25-year-old, who is actually only a couple of months older than me, was quite raw when they picked him up but his potential was clear. 

His entrance with the pop-up cane and playing card seemed decidedly tacky at first but he owns it now and I think that’s a microcosm for his overall development – through being regularly featured on TV and working with experienced guys in Impact and in other respectable promotions like AAW, he’s close to becoming the finished article. 

When he won the X-Division title for the first time in 2019, they tried to push him as the XXX-Division Champion, a young upstart who thought he could bed anyone, from Eddie Edwards’ wife to Trey Miguel’s on-screen mum. While it didn’t overly click with me, the matches he had with Eddie, TJP and Trey were positive learning experiences. 

His second reign was only a transitional one, a tool to get the belt from TJP to Josh Alexander without burning off too many matches between those two. Throughout the pandemic years it has been clear that he has been maturing physically and filling out his frame, as well as rounding out his in-ring style. From being a crafty heel prone to cheating, Impact have now positioned him as just a cocky, arrogant one with an instant kill finisher, The Fold, hittable from anywhere. 

He hit the **** mark for me against Blake Christian in the Super X Cup final last January and then came very close last September when he got the chance to work the Victory Road main event against Christian Cage for the Impact World title.

2022 has seen sign a new three-year deal with Impact, cementing him as a big part of their future, and win the title again, delivering stellar matches at Rebellion and Under Siege in the process. He’s enjoyed strong singles matches with Rocky Romero, Trey Miguel and Aiden Prince but with the majority of X-Division action coming in multi-man matches, this deserved Best of the Super Juniors appearances gives him the chance to shine in nine singles matches against nine very different opponents.

He begins against Clark Connors on May 15, before then facing Yoshinobu Kanemaru and Hiromu Takahashi after three-day intervals. He then faces five matches in six days against YOH, Alex Zayne, Taiji Ishimori, SHO and Ryusuke Taguchi before finishing against Francesco Akira on May 31st,

As well as wanting to see how well he performs and represents Impact, the intrigue for me comes from the fact that, like Wheeler Yuta, he’ll have to drop falls. 

I can see him going over against Kanemaru, Zayne, Taguchi and possibly one of YOH/SHO. Hiromu, Ishimori and Connors seem obvious losses – Connors and Ishimori would be prime for return matches and title defences in Impact. The final night meeting with Akira, meanwhile, could see Austin end NJPW’s new signing’s finals contention. 

All in all, the Best of the Super Juniors will be a great learning experience for Ace Austin. Career-defining may be too strong an expression but the improvements he’s made over the last couple of years are obvious and this is a great chance for him to test himself. 

There’s still the odd spot of his that tends not to work, like the rope-assisted hurricanrana, but he’s fleshed out his moveset and, as alluded to earlier, The Fold is a nice finisher that’s been presented in a very similar way to Jay White’s Blade Runner. From his social media posts it’s clear how genuinely excited Austin is for the next couple of weeks and I am too – I think he’ll get over well with the Japanese audience and some strong performances will help to foster further good relations between Impact and New Japan.

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