New Japan Pro Wrestling
Best of the Super Juniors 29 Night 1
May 15, 2022
Nagoya Congress Center Event Hall
Nagoya, Aichi, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

For the first time since 2019, the Best of the Super Juniors tournament is back in its usual slot on the calendar (mid-May to early June), which is another good sign that things are slowly but surely returning to normal, at least on the New Japan side of things. Really the last missing piece is cheering crowds, and once cheering is allowed, New Japan will truly be back. Alas, for the time being, we still have clap crowds, though fortunately, we have a much more exciting field for Best of the Super Juniors (compared to the last two years) to spice things up. Now that traveling to Japan has become much easier, we have a multitude of different promotions represented in this year’s tournament (to varying degrees), including AEW, CMLL, GCW, GLEAT, Impact, and ROH. I’m super excited to see how everything unfolds, and how some of these new faces do on their first tour with New Japan.

Before diving into the block matches, there were a number of multi-person tag team bouts on the undercard. I won’t give them individual reviews, but the results were as follows:

– Flying Tiger (Robbie Eagles & Tiger Mask), Hiroyoshi Tenzan, & Master Wato def. Wheeler Yuta, Kosei Fujita, Ryohei Oiwa, & Yuto Nakashima
– LIJ (BUSHI & Shingo Takagi) def. Bullet Club (El Phantasmo & Dick Togo)
– El Lindaman, Jado, & Titan def. Suzuki-gun (DOUKI, El Desperado, & Taka Michinoku)

These were all pretty much your standard undercard tags. I would say the eight-man tag and the six-man tag both had some good action at points, though they’re far from bouts you need to go out of your way to see. I haven’t seen Yuto Nakashima in awhile (I’m not totally caught up with New Japan as of late, if I’m being honest), but after seeing him here, he’s got heavyweight written all over him. The six-man tag was interesting in that the babyface side was a total Fire Pro Random Button kind of team. All three matches did a fine job setting up the stuff that’s coming up on the first B Block night.

Best of the Super Juniors 29 A Block
Ace Austin (2) def. Clark Connors (0)

The first official match of this year’s Best of the Super Juniors saw a battle between Impact and New Japan Strong, as Ace Austin took on Clark Connors. I’m sure I’m not the first person to make this statement, but Connors is REALLY looking a lot like Adam Page these days. That’s not meant as a knock by any means. He actually pulls it off very well, and I like how he’s carved out his own unique look as a whole, with the gear that goes with his “Wild Rhino” persona. He’s even got his own pose! Pretty cool stuff there.

As for the match itself, I thought it was a very good tournament opener. Connors showed off his power advantage in the early moments (I’d definitely classify him as a power junior), though Austin was able to use his speed to gain the upper hand. The pace picked up in the second half, with Austin hit an awesome Fosbury Flop to the floor, while Connors connected both a pounce and a falling backwards elbow drop off the top rope (the English commentary compared it to a similar elbow drop that Shingo does, though this version from Connors looked more like a Coffin Drop). Connors got a nearfall off a spear, but shortly thereafter, Austin went back on offense, and finally managed to put away Connors after hitting The Fold. A pretty good bout to kick off the A Block. There was solid action throughout, and at just under ten minutes, it didn’t overstay its welcome. ***1/2

Best of the Super Juniors 29 A Block
Alex Zayne (2) def. Yoshinobu Kanemaru (0)

While this is Alex Zayne’s debut in New Japan proper, he’s certainly no stranger to the lion mark, as he’s wrestled on New Japan events in the United States since 2020. He did spend several months in WWE (mainly on 205 Live, though he did have one match on NXT) before he eventually got cut, and Chris Charlton had a nice little reference to it on English commentary, as he said Zayne had a “learning excursion” in WWE. Zayne took on Yoshinobu Kanemaru here, and even though this bout was a slight step down from the Ace Austin/Clark Connors bout that came beforehand, it was still a relatively solid match from start to finish. After Zayne got in some early offense, Kanemaru started working over Zayne’s leg, and he would continue to go after it throughout the match, even locking in a Figure Four at one point. Zayne would fight back with some high-flying offense, with Kanemaru resorting to his usual heelish tricks in an attempt to cut him off. Ultimately, Zayne would connect with the Baja Blast, followed by the Cinnamon Twist (basically the Spiral Tap) for the win. A minute or two could’ve been shaved off of this one, but again, it was still a fine match as a whole. ***1/4

Best of the Super Juniors 29 A Block
Francesco Akira (2) def. SHO (0)

For the third straight tournament bout on this show, we’ve got a wrestler making their debut in New Japan proper. This time, it’s Francesco Akira, who’s making his in-ring debut as part of The United Empire. Of course, Akira is no stranger to junior heavyweight competition in Japan, as he’s a former All Japan World Junior Heavyweight Champion. His first match was against SHO from Bullet Club’s House Of Torture, and straight away, SHO didn’t waste any time, as he went right after Akira. However, Akira was able to quickly turn the tide, and the first few minutes saw Akira just pile on the offense. I especially liked how Kevin Kelly and Chris Charlton pointed out on commentary that this was all part of Akira’s strategy, the idea being that if he stayed on the attack, SHO wouldn’t have the chance to cheat.

Unfortunately for Akira, SHO eventually found an opening (pulling a young lion in the way on a dive attempt), and the cheating began. SHO dragged Akira far away from the ring, threw him into a wall, and used a chair after teasing that he was going to use the Best Of The Super Juniors Trophy as a weapon. We finally got back to some actual wrestling once they got back to the ring, and the action was solid, for the most part. Akira nailed a big Asai Moonsault to the floor, and even borrowed from his stable leader a bit when he connected with a Cheeky Nandos kick. SHO would get in some offense of his own, though it got down to the closing moments, the typical House Of Torture nonsense came up again. The referee got taken out, and SHO tried to use a weapon that he had in a bag (presumably a wrench), but TJP (who was at ringside with his stablemate Akira) took the weapon away. This allowed Akira to recover, and he hit a flurry of offense. The Fireplex, Ultimo Giro, and finally, Fireball (running knees to the back of the head) got the job done. This was actually my first time seeing Akira, and while I thought he looked good here, he was only going to be able to show off so much against a member of The House Of Torture. I do look forward to seeing him in other matches in the tournament, against more serious opponents. The only real surprise is that there was no Dick Togo in SHO’s corner, but it was nice to see TJP out there to counteract SHO’s cheating ways. ***1/4

Best of the Super Juniors 29 A Block
Hiromu Takahashi (2) def. Ryusuke Taguchi (0)

Hiromu Takahashi has faced Ryusuke Taguchi three times in previous Best of the Super Juniors, and in all those previous encounters, it was Hiromu who got the win. That trend continued here, as Hiromu officially kicked off his attempt to win the tournament for the third year in a row, and for the fourth time in five years. Unfortunately, this was easily the worst tournament bout on the entire show. Apparently Taguchi had promised “no more butt stuff” this time around, and how did the match kick off? Taguchi immediately went for a hip attack, which Hiromu easily avoided. Taguchi then threw a fit, and tried to lie down for Hiromu. This proved to be a trick, as Taguchi nearly caught Hiromu in the ankle lock. From there, we got even more shenanigans from Taguchi. He tried tricking Hiromu by hiding under the ring, the two of them were running laps around the ring….it was all very silly. There was some more serious wrestling in the latter stages, though we still wouldn’t be done with the silliness, as Taguchi….pulled down his tights to reveal his red underpants (I wish I was making this up). Eventually, Hiromu caught Taguchi in a pin to score the victory. The only reason why I don’t give this a DUD is because there was some actual wrestling in the middle. All of the Taguchi stuff in this match was supremely unfunny outside of the opening spot where he missed the hip attack. I hope he’s not like this the whole tournament, because if the rest of his matches are like this, they’re going to suck. **1/4

Best of the Super Juniors 29 A Block
Taiji Ishimori (2) def. YOH (0)

The main event of Night 1 saw YOH, who went to the finals of last year’s tournament, going up against Taiji Ishimori, who’s coming off winning the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship at Wrestling Dontaku a few weeks ago. This was the longest bout of the night, but it was only sixteen minutes, so it was nice to see that nothing went overly long. Early in the bout, the two tumbled to the floor, with YOH getting the worst of it, as he appeared to land on his arm. That proved to be the opening Ishimori was looking for, as he started working over the arm and shoulder. YOH would eventually mount a comeback, and it became a more even affair at that point. In addition to some of his bigger offense, YOH would try to work over the leg of Ishimori, while Ishimori in turn would continue to go after the arm and shoulder. In the closing moments, the two took turns dodging each other’s main finishers (Ishimori avoided Direct Drive, YOH avoided the Bloody Cross) before Ishimori came back with La Mistica, which led to the Border City Stretch. This proved to be enough, as YOH was finally forced to tap out. A pretty good main event, but nothing more than that, really. They told a nice story with Ishimori working over the arm (which eventually did lead to the finish) while YOH also tried to go for a body part. The action in the second half was very solid, though again, this was by no means an outstanding match. Ishimori followed up his victory with a promo to close out the show. ***1/2

Final Thoughts

While Night 1 of the 2022 edition of Best of the Super Juniors didn’t light the world on fire, there was still some solid wrestling throughout the card. I would say Ace Austin vs. Clark Connors and the main event of Ishimori vs. YOH were the two best matches, though nothing on this show was must-see. One thing that made the card pretty easy to get through was the fact that none of the matches went super long. If you add up the match times for all five of the tournament bouts, you’re only talking about an hour of ring time. In that regard, it’s a super easy show to watch. It was also cool to see a lot of the newer faces (at least those who were appearing in New Japan proper for the first time) getting wins to establish themselves. A fine night for the A Block, though hopefully there are better nights to come.