Best of the Super Juniors: The Superior Tournament (Currently)
Let’s be clear: the highlight of 2022 New Japan was Best of the Super Juniors 29. In a year in which pandemic conditions lingered, continuing to mitigate key events throughout the year, Best of the Super Juniors 29 was effervescent: a fresh roster, camaraderie between participants, and natural balance between levity and consequence.
And, for the first time in ages, it outperformed the G1 Climax. Compared to the G1 Climax’s arduous 28-man, four block format, Best of the Super Juniors 29 felt gossamer, a pillowy breeze. Unlike the arctic disconnect of the G1, where some wrestlers would go upwards of two weeks between matches, Best of the Super Juniors 29 held comfortable momentum, each show well-paced and directly carrying the consequences of the previous night.
This year offers two fairly significant changes.
In the A Block preview, we’ll examine the format of the final.
This year’s Best of the Super Juniors will be two-blocks with a four-man mini-tournament final, instead of the one-match final they’ve run since 2015. The top seeds of each block with face the 2nd seeds from the opposite block. G1 history shows this can lead to mind-melding and recondite final night scenario clusters.
It adds a substantial amount of volatility, and that is exciting. Because two wrestlers advance, it opens up the final night scenarios exponentially. This is important not merely because it diffuses consequences throughout the card (rather than just the final few matches), but it opens up a champion to win a block.
When the G1 Climax adjusted to a four-man mini-tournament final in 2022, it was disorienting. The G1 Climax was erratic in format-shifting until settling on the one-match final in 2010. But the Super Juniors is just simply reverting to an established procedure; the four perform tournament final was the standard from 2005 to 2014. Considering that they also had two people advance from a block in the pandemic tournaments (2020 and 2021, which were both single block), this is far less repellant.
The scheduling is a key difference between why the G1 Climax was tortuous last year, and why this year will be endearing. We’ll cover that aspect in the B Block preview
Best of the Super Juniors 30 Participants
Best of the Super Juniors 29 Participants Not Returning
- Ace Austin
- El Phantasmo
- El Lindaman
- Wheeler Yuta
- Alex Zayne
Debuting or Returning Participants
- Mike Bailey
- Kevin Knight
- KUSHIDA (last participated in 2018)
- Lio Rush
Best of the Super Juniors 30 A Block Participants
- Speedball Mike Bailey (Impact Wrestling)
- DOUKI (Just 5 Guys)
- Taiji Ishimori (BULLET CLUB)
- Lio Rush (CHAOS)
- SHO (House of Torture)
- Ryusuke Taguchi
- Hiromu Takahashi (Champion) (Los Ingobernables de Japon)
- Titan (Los Ingobernables de Japon, CMLL)
- TJP (United Empire)
Best of the Super Juniors 30 B Block Participants
- Francesco Akira (United Empire)
- BUSHI (Los Ingobernables de Japon)
- Clark Connors (BULLET CLUB)
- El Desperado (Strong Style)
- Robbie Eagles (TMDK)
- Yoshinobu Kanemaru (Just 5 Guys)
- Kevin Knight
- Dan Moloney (United Empire, Revolution Pro Wrestling)
- Master Wato
- YOH (CHAOS)
There are five elements to each participant’s preview this year:
- Current Situation
- Past Performance (unless debuting)
- Booking Strength and Final Match Situation: Every night in a league tournament has a set number of matches. If you take the match number for each participant and average them, it gives you their Average Card Placement. This is a good indicator of where that wrestler stands in the division hierarchy. For instance, this year’s Best of the Super Juniors has ten matches every night (through Night 8). Suppose a wrestler was booked in match 10 every night, their Avg. Card Placement would be 10, the highest possible. Where a wrestler falls between 1 and 10 determines their booking strength, which usually correlates to tournament success. By looking at this number and a wrestler’s match-up on the final block night (Nights 9 or 10), one gets a richer base for the usual speculation and conjecture we all convince ourselves will happen. An example of that: regardless of their booking strength, if someone is wrestling say, Robbie Eagles on their final block night, it suggests that they might have some relevancy at the end. Anyway, here’s the Card Placement chart for Best of the Super Juniors 30:
- Chances of Winning
- What-to-Look-For Matches
Best of the Super Juniors 30 A Block
- Debut entry
Current Situation: After an ebullient four years in DDT, and a five-year ban from the United States due to heavy-handed work visa nonsense, Speedball Mike Bailey has emerged as the WrestleMania Weekend Guy of the past two years. Bailey’s a versatile performer, but his trademark is undoubtedly his merciless kicks. Bailey has wrestled for matches for New Japan in America; this will be his first time wrestling for the company in Japan.
Booking Strength and Final Match Situation: As an Impact representative, it’s hard to decipher what Bailey’s booking strength indicates. He is 7th overall, pretty incredible for a debuting performer. Ace Austin was in the same situation last year, as X Division champion, and was only 9th (Bailey, as it turns out, was the one to defeat Austin for the title). Bailey’s booking bookended: his one main event against Hiromu is on Night 1, and his A block final night match is against Lio Rush. Those match-ups suggest that he will be relevant the whole way through.
Chances to win: 25%
What to Look For:
- Night 1 (May 12): Mike Bailey vs. Hiromu Takahashi – The main event of Night 1 and a Korakuen main event, the crowd should be raucous for this one. Expect a kitchen sink match here, with two guys that can do anything. The stakes are high: if Bailey beats Hiromu on Night 1, his chances rise dramatically to spoil Rush and advance to the semi-finals.
- Night 4 (May 16): Mike Bailey vs. KUSHIDA – Considering how well Bailey has done with his karate, and KUSHIDA’s actual MMA background, this one could be brimming with striking fireworks. It also has stakes; KUSHIDA’s stature and Bailey’s booking strength give both a dark horse chance to emerge. But really, it’s about how much of a pummeling these two will unleash on each other.
- 5th entry, 5th straight year
Current Situation: A lovable underdog, if extremely high strung, luchador DOUKI has had a good year: formed a new faction (Just 4 Guys), saw his faction add a new member who went on to win the world title (Just 5 Guys), delivered a brilliant performance challenging Catch 2/2 for the junior tag title on February 4th, and recently had a wonderful showing against Tetsuya Naito on April 27th.
Past Performance: DOUKI debuted at the 2019 Best of the Super Juniors, a replacement for El Desperado (whose jaw had been Jun Kasai’d). Previously, DOUKI had spent an entire decade in Mexico, having traveled there as a teenager to learn luchador methods. His escalation has been consistent: one win in 2019, two in 2020, and three in 2021 and 2022. His match quality far exceeds his point total.
Booking Strength and Final Match Situation: The bookers have not been kind to DOUKI. He has been at or near the bottom since arriving: 9th out of 10th in 2020, 12th out of 12 in 2021, and 19th out of 20 in 2022. He is 18th this year. He has a semi-main against Hiromu on Night 2; beyond that, he will not rise above 5th on any card. His final night match is against SHO. Any hopes of a Just 5 Guys bump will not manifest this year.
Chances to win: 5%
What to Look For:
- Night 2 (May 13): DOUKI vs. Hiromu Takahashi – Hiromu has won all three of their singles contests, but the win-loss record tells a miniscule part of the story. Their singles match at Korakuen Hall on August 27, 2021 was magnificent, the pinnacle of DOUKI’s boundless supply of cool moves and underdog energy amplified by Hiromu’s charisma.
- Night 8 (May 21): DOUKI vs. Titan – A perfect Best of the Super Juniors opening match. Both were stand-outs in this year’s Fantasticamania, and their 2022 Best of the Super Juniors match was a sensational nine-minute sprint. The only true luchadores in the tournament, this should be the most kinetic match of the tournament.
- 7th entry, 6th straight year
- Semi-finals: 2010
- Finals: 2018
Current Situation: A powerhouse and a speed demon, Taiji Ishimori has been NJPW’s most consistent junior since the pandemic. This year, he carried the junior heavyweight title into the Tokyo Dome, and lost it without being pinned in the four-way match with Hiromu Takahashi, Master Wato, and El Desperado. Ishimori has only had one singles match since, a seemingly arbitrary win over Master Wato in a rare off-title junior singles match.
Past Performance: Incredibly strong and protected. Ishimori has participated in six Best of the Super Juniors, and every single year he went into the block final night with the chance to win the block. Many recall Shingo Takagi’s perfect 9-0 league record from 2019. Lost in the penumbra of that historic achievement: Ishimori was 8-1. If he beat Shingo in the A Block final match, he would have won the block himself.
Booking Strength and Final Match Situation: Ishimori is 5th this year, and has been top 5 in booking strength four out of five years since he joined New Japan in 2018 (he was 6th in 2019). He’s the classic example of the slow build tournament: he starts with Taguchi, but ends with Hiromu on night 8 and then TJP on the A block final night (a viable block final main event).
And there’s one more thing. Hiromu Takahashi had something very interesting to say after his April 27 title defense:
That “champ” was Taiji Ishimori. Ishimori has been a relentless hurdle that Hiromu has stumbled upon before. Hiromu holds a 4-3 edge in the series, winning their Best of the Super Juniors 25 Final match and Wrestle Kingdom 15 title match. But Ishimori has defeated Hiromu for the junior title as well, and defended the title successfully against Hiromu last June.
If Hiromu is publicly lamenting that he did not pin Ishimori at Wrestle Kingdom, we suspect he’ll get his chance soon enough. For that to happen, it might finally be Ishimori’s year in Best of the Super Juniors.
Chances to win: 80%
What to Look For:
- Night 4 (May 16): Taiji Ishimori vs. Lio Rush – Ishimori and Rush headline Night 4 in Akita. This could be a tacit elimination match. Beyond that, the speed on display in this match will be ghastly. Unquestionably, one of the easiest on-paper match of the tournament contenders.
- Night 5 (May 17): Taiji Ishimori vs. KUSHIDA – The last time Ishimori and KUSHIDA squared off on January 4, 2019, Ishimori dethroned KUSHIDA in a mere 11 minutes and KUSHIDA would self-exiled to Orlando by April. This should be a spectacular display between two wrestlers that do everything exceptionally.
- 10th entry, first in 5 years
- Wins: 2015, 2017
- Finals: 2014
Current Situation: The Ace Emeritus of the division, KUSHIDA departed in 2019 after an extraordinary 2015-2018 run. KUSHIDA returned from the Stamford Institute of Racial Caricature last year, and it has not been a pleasant rejoinder. He spent ages mired in a lifeless feud with Taiji Ishimori, which culminated in KUSHIDA contracting hand, foot, and mouth disease. Things have picked up since teaming with Kevin Knight; the two recently dethroned Catch 2/2 as junior tag champions.
Past Performance: KUSHIDA’s past results reflect his ascent to ace status. From KUSHIDA’s first Best of the Super Juniors was back in 2010, he generally finished in the middle of his block until his breakthrough to the finals in 2014. He lost to Ricochet that year, but would come back to win the next two out of three tournaments, in 2015 and 2017.
Booking Strength and Final Match Situation: Being 9th out of 20, with no main events, is not indicative of respect for a former ace, but considering his past year it is very respectful. He faces Ryusuke Taguchi on the final night, which should negate any chance he has of even making it out of his block. But on the off chance he beats Hiromu in league play, it would be fun to rematch the Dominion 2017 junior title match at Dominion 2023.
Chances to win: 25%
What to Look For:
- Night 2 (May 13): KUSHIDA vs. TJP – This might be the most baffling scheduling of the entire tournament. It is the opening match of Night 2. These two had some of the most breathtakingly fluid and mesmerizing chain wrestling sequences in recent company history on April 27th. Expect a smoldering testament to their virtuosity.
- Night 6 (May 18): KUSHIDA vs. Hiromu Takahashi – The series of matches between these two in 2017 were transcendent and established Hiromu. They have not faced each other since the 2018 Best of the Super Juniors. This legendary match-up now finds a post-WWE KUSHIDA and post-neck injury Hiromu. Expect rekindled magic.
- Debut entry
Current Situation: A legitimate–if divisive–prodigy on the indies, Lio Rush’s subsequent run in WWE was so calamitous that he has been retiring ever since. But he fits New Japan exquisitely. Since arriving for Super Junior Tag League last fall, Rush has resurrected YOH’s career and challenged Hiromu Takahashi for the junior title in a superlative performance. Known for his unimaginable speed, it’s the way a protean grappler like Rush uses that speed that makes him a singular talent.
Booking Strength and Final Match Situation: As a recent title challenger and nascent pillar of the division, Rush is booked accordingly. He is 5th in booking strength with two titanic main events: Hiromu and Ishimori. Expect him to take revenge on Hiromu. His final block match is against Mike Bailey. With a semi-finals format, that certainly seems like the type of match to determine a second place finisher, a winner-take-all to see who advances.
Chances to win: 65%
What to look for:
- Night 6 (May 18): Lio Rush vs. Titan – A battle between two guys who thrive elsewhere, and also seem preternaturally oriented towards New Japan. They have only shared a ring once, during Super Junior Tag League last year. Titan is one of the few that can hope to keep up with Lio Rush at full speed. Hopefully, this is a literal sprint between two scramblers with formidable arsenals..
- Night 8 (May 21): Lio Rush vs. TJP – At Wrestle Kingdom 17, Super Junior Tag League winners Lio Rush and YOH unsuccessfully challenged Catch 2/2 for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team championship. Rush walked away with a gruesome facial injury. That adds a hefty amount of spice to this one. Not that it needs spice; these are two of the smoothest wrestlers on the roster.
- 6th entry, 6th straight year
Past Performance: SHO’s results in Best of the Super Juniors have been unimpressive. He finished in the middle of the pack almost every year until a top three block performance in 2022. He had win-and-you’re-in chances outside of the block final main event in 2020 and 2021, and lost both. Even before House of Torture, SHO was House of Torture.
Booking Strength and Final Match Situation: SHO booking strength has plummeted. He was elevated during the pandemic, placed 3rd in 2020, 4th in 2021, and 6th in 2022. This year, he is a well-earned 14th in booking strength with zero main events. He faces DOUKI on the final A block night in what should be a totally inconsequential match.
Chances to win: 10%
What to Look For:
- Night 2 (May 13): SHO vs. Mike Bailey – One thing SHO has not lost is his ability to kick well. This match-up against Mike Bailey might incite SHO to, momentarily, forget about the drivel and just light someone up again.
- Night 6 (May 18): SHO vs. Taiji Ishimori – While Ishimori is a bodybuilder and uses strong moves, SHO is a legitimate power junior type. They match up well in that way. Ishimori also is a major obstacle for SHO. Ishimori has won four out of their five matchups, including all four Best of the Super Juniors matches.
- 10th entry, 18th straight year
- Wins: 2012
- Finals: 2011, 2016
- Semi-finals: 2007, 2008, 2010, 2014
Current Situation: Ryusuke Taguchi, possessing an iron perineum and completely devoid of virtue, decency, or sense of public shame, has not wrestled a singles match since May 31, 2022. He was a highlight of Fantasticamania this year, but otherwise his comedic bits have not landed in ages. Twenty years since his Best of the Super Juniors debut, he has negative momentum.
Past Performance: Taguchi was a major player in the Best of the Super Juniors for a very long stretch. Since 2003 he has only missed the 2006 Best of the Super Juniors, while on excursion in Mexico. His first semi-finals appearance was in 2007, and his success continued through a finals appearance in 2016. He has been near the bottom of his block most years since 2018, however, finishing dead last in the 2022 A Block.
Booking Strength and Final Match Situation: Taguchi’s dead last in booking strength. Taguchi’s highest match placement is 5th out of 10 on night 8. Even his match against Hiromu, the champion, is an opener. His stature has dropped, and it’s accurate; Taguchi’s performance was disgracefully jejune and stale last year.
Chances to win: 0%
What to Look For:
- Night 3 (May 14): Ryusuke Taguchi vs. SHO – This could, very likely, be one of the stupidest matches of 2023. The idiocy of this Wrench v. Coccyx match will be so overwhelming that it might actually swing around and become a worthwhile match on its own terms.
- Night 5 (May 17): Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Hiromu Takahashi – At Best of the Super Juniors 27, Ryusuke Taguchi pulled out a phenomenal performance against Hiromu Takahashi. We have been chasing that performance since. They met in both 2021 and 2022, each match increasingly atrocious. And yet, we yearn for one more example of how tremendous Taguchi can (or could?) be when he deliberately tries to be great.
- 8th entry, 4th straight year
- Wins: 2018, 2020, 2021, 2022
Current Situation: Incredibly, this is only the second time Hiromu Takahashi will enter the Best of the Super Juniors as champion. Hiromu is on a remarkable run. Since winning the title in January, he has had phenomenal title defenses against YOH, Lio Rush, and Robbie Eagles, and just challenged SANADA for the world heavyweight championship. He has explicitly stated that his goal is to break Heat’s junior title defense record of 11 defenses. He sits at four only four months into his reign, and the way the company has used this possibility in promotion suggests Hiromu might indeed reach twelve. He should cultivate a number of defense chances from this tournament.
Past Performance: Hiromu is now indisputably the greatest Best of the Super Juniors competitor of all time. Since his first post-excursion Best of the Super Juniors in 2017, he has won four out of six Super Juniors. His four wins is a record, and his three consecutives wins from 2020-2022 is equally stunning; the only other person to even win three times is Koji Kanemoto, and it took Kanemoto eleven years.
Booking Strength and Final Match Situation: Hiromu has been either #1 or #2 in booking strength every year since his return from excursion in 2017. He was #1 in 2017, 2018, 2020, and 2021, but has given way to El Desperado the past two years. Regardless, Hiromu has the most main events (3) and tied for most semi-main events (also 3). Besides his opening match on Night 5 against Ryusuke Taguchi, Hiromu’s earliest match is 8th on the card.
Champions do not win these tournaments. Since 2015, champions are 3-4 on their block final nights. In fact, in the Best of the Super Juniors the champion often doesn’t even control their destiny on the final night. In 2019, Dragon Lee was already eliminated. In 2018, 2020, and 2021, the champion was outside the block final main event and needed help to win.
The semi-finals adjustment complicates things significantly. If this was a single-match final format, you’d expect Titan to spoil Hiromu on the final night. But will they book the semi-finals without Hiromu there to draw?
But as for winning the entire tournament… if the goal right now is to set up as many possible challengers in their sprint to twelve defenses, Hiromu can’t win.
Chances to win: 0%
What to Look For:
- Night 3 (May 14): Hiromu Takahashi vs. Lio Rush – A rematch from their resplendent March 21 title match, traditional New Japan booking wisdom would suggest that Rush gets his win back here. The otherworldly feel each has, and their fathomless charisma, assure that any match they have will deliver to match-of-the-year levels.
- Night 7 (May 19): Hiromu Takahashi vs. TJP – A recurring theme of these What to Look For segments are first time match-ups, and the startling strength of those match-ups, such as this one. This is the first ever Hiromu vs. TJP match, a riveting notion. The eclectic versatility of each makes this impossible to predict, besides the hypnotic expertise.
- 4th entry, 2nd straight year
Current Situation: Since last year’s Best of the Super Juniors, Titan entered the company’s most popular faction. Of course, his entry into Los Ingobernables de Japon was one of the most excruciatingly awkward segments in recent memory, but he’s availed himself well. He was the standout of Fantasticamania, and has been a buoyant addition to the roster since his return in 2022, although appearances are still sporadic.
Past Performance: Titan’s history in the Best of the Super Juniors stretches, incredibly, all the way back to 2013. As a general CMLL representative, Titan has not fared well, generally finishing near the bottom and with a losing record each time. His match quality was noticeable last year, though.
Booking Strength and Final Match Situation: Titan’s placement of 13th out of 20 is oddly low, with no main or semi-main events. His A block final night bout with stablemate Hiromu Takahashi commands attention, though. Champions almost always lose on a block final night. If Titan holds this trend, does he move on or just play spoiler? He’d be a fascinating challenger. Because of that, it feels like a coin-flip.
Chances to win: 50%
What to Look For:
- Night 4 (May 16): Titan vs. Ryusuke Taguchi – It’s hard to find matches to give any fiber of a fuck about when it comes to Taguchi at the moment, so this is a testament to how electrifying Titan can be. One can only hope that a bout against an elite luchador forces Taguchi to take a match semi-seriously, but he’ll probably come out dressed like Antonio Banderas as Pancho Villa as Himself.
- Night 2 (May 13): Titan vs. Taiji Ishimori – They wrestled on Night 5 of the 2019 Best of the Super Juniors, which feels like epochs ago. The style match-up is alluring. Titan hits hard and flies; Ishimori is all power and limb work. This is an excellent test for Titan, especially against a guy that trained in Mexico and came back a Sailor Boy.
- 3rd entry, 2nd straight year
Current Situation: On May 3, in the backstage comments, TJP referred to himself as a living legend. It was very TJP and what you’d expect from a Lakers fan, but in the last year, he had an excellent Best of the Super Junior and one of the greatest junior tag title reigns with Francesco Akira. A walking hodgepodge of wrestling styles, methods, and philosophies, TJP insouciantly excels at all of them.
Past Performance: The peripatetic TJP has two prior Super Juniors, and spread out to an astounding degree. His first was in 2011, where he finished near the bottom of the A block with a 3-5 record. He returned in 2022, again finishing in the bottom half of the B block with a 4-5 record.
Booking Strength and Final Match Situation: TJP falls in the dead center of booking strength, in a four-way tie for 9th out of 20. He has one main event, on Night 7 against Hiromu Takahashi. His final night match-up is an absorbing one, indeed: a first-ever match-up against Taiji Ishimori. It could very well main event the A Block final night, and could be winner-take-all..
TJP has also been quite esoteric in his backstage comments. He has repeatedly noted that he “feels” something coming, but that he doesn’t know what it is. It doesn’t feel like arbitrary subterfuge. He certainly has the credibility, the avoirdupois, to win it all challenge at Dominion.
Chances to win: 50%
What to Look For:
- Night 1 (May 12): TJP vs. Titan – It is self-evident from many of the more stylized things TJP does that he trained in Mexico. Expect this one to be an exhibition of technical prowess as TJP looks to avenge last year’s Night 7 Best of the Super Juniors defeat.
- Night 9 (May 23): TJP vs. Taiji Ishimori – For two guys that have been around forever, often dancing around the same companies, they have never met before. This should be a joy to watch, as these methodical tacticians employ layers of profound techniques, looking for the openings to unleash their magnificent athleticism.
The final tally on these totally capricious Chances of Winning percentages, in order:
- Taiji Ishimori: 80%
- Lio Rush: 65%
- Titan: 50%
- TJP: 50%
- KUSHIDA: 25%
- Bailey: 25%
- SHO: 10%
- DOUKI: 5%
- Hiromu Takahashi: 0%
- Ryusuke Taguchi: 0%
Because two people will emerge from the block, it’s futile to predict anything, especially since Hiromu Takahashi could win the block and still not make it to the finals. We think this represents the most likely options to represent A Block in the final, and who has the most credible chance to face Hiromu at Dominion.
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