All Star Junior Festival 2023 USA
August 19, 2023
2300 Arena
Philadelphia, PA

Watch: PPV


If you’re like me, you like a good festival. I have a particular soft spot for music festivals, but less these days now that everyone around me is younger and thinner than I and can withstand the blaze of the sun like they’re made of asbestos or something. They can have their Coachellas and Osheagas, for I will always have Lolapalooza 1994, headlined by the Smashing Pumpkins back before the NWA was just a glimmer in At Billy’s eye. (Not Sure If It’s A) Fun Fact: Lolapalooza that year was supposed to be headlined by Nirvana.

Wrestling also apparently has its festivals, as Hiromu Takahashi and Rocky Romero bring the All Star Junior Festival 2023 to Philadelphia for a night of junior heavyweight in-ring action starring a cast of wrestlers from promotions from the USA, Mexico and Japan. It’s a show that was good, filled with good to great matches that made for an enjoyable evening, but which is otherwise completely skippable. You’ll be glad if you caught it live, but won’t regret never seeing it.

Nonetheless I, Warren Hayes, will guide you through the show today and bring you my thoughts and maybe let you be the judge as to whether you’re missing out or not. You can listen to my podcast and reviews at or on your de facto podcast app, or hit me up on BlueSky if you were able to convince the bouncers you’re with the band and got in.

Goldy def. Vinnie Pacifico

Fine little pre-show match where the Monster Factory’s David Goldy (just Goldy tonight) lands an apron bomb and a falcon arrow. Freelancer Vinnie Pacifico hulks up by chugging down an energy drink because of the power of sponsorships and lands an Angle Slam. Flying knee does the job for Goldy who gets the win. Pacifico stood out to me, despite doing the jay-oh-bee, but Goldy seems to have the basics to be a good heel. Enough effort here to call it good. ***

Main Show
Matt Sydal & YOH def. BUSHI & Shun Skywalker

NJPW’s BUSHI and Dragongate’s Shun Skywalker have matching gear (they’re both in black) and BUSHI even offers up the LIJ fist salute to Shun! I wonder if this was cleared with Naito. Skywalker waves it off, though, so maybe the matching gear isn’t enough. This was a fun opener where Matt Sydal, representing AEW, did most of the heavy lifting. He’s landing standing corkscrew moonsaults, shooting off lightning kicks and flying through the air with meteoras, while Shun Skywalker is doing claw holds. Maybe Shun’s the smartest in the room? It is the curtain jerker, after all. YOH (NJPW) and BUSHI are absolutely on multi-man tour match mode with solid if unspectacular work. Skywalker mists BUSHI accidentally and Sydal takes him out on the floor with a dive. Shortly thereafter it comes to an end when YOH interrupts an MX and rolls BUSHI into a bridging pin for the win. After the match, BUSHI offers Skywalker the LIJ fist again, but then mists the man from Dragongate. Fine opener. ***

All Star Junior USA Tournament First Round Match
Kevin Knight def. Clark Connors

This was the first of two matches to determine the participants in the finals of the All Star Junior USA Tournament whose prize seems to be, and I kid you not, cleaning supplies provided by LEC. Can I take a second to mention just how much LEC got out of their sponsorship on this show? Commentary couldn’t keep themselves from mentioning the mascot, Gekiochi-kun, every time it popped up on screen. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I likely would have done the same. Maybe even prompting production to get more shots of it.

This first knockout match had Kevin Knight vs. Clark Connors, two NJPW  guys, put on a solid match, as commentary puts over how there is bad blood due to Connors betraying the LA Dojo when he threw in with Bullet Club and Kevin Knight wants to stand up for his boys. Wrestling storytelling is so simple, folks. Connors gets a good heat segment after landing a snap suplex on the floor, using his strength to his advantage. Knight fires back with a dropkick, a Stinger Splash and a Sky High powerbomb, but Connors yanks him right out of the air off a springboard into the spinning powerslam. Rad. Connors even spears Knight out of the air later in the match. The match would come to an end when Knight would attempt multiple roll up pins on Connors and finally locking him down in a crucifix for the win. I wish those roll ups had been a little tighter because they were a little awkward and ended the match on a flat note. Which is a shame because they were really building to something great. Still, a really, really good match. Connors beats down on Knight after the match, making sure he goes into his final match wounded. ***3/4

All Star Junior USA Tournament First Round Match
“Speedball” Mike Bailey def. Francesco Akira

This was my most anticipated match of this card, with two of my favorite juniors going at it in a match that we got cheated out of at this year’s BOSJ. Stupid block placements. But this match? Boy, did it not disappoint. IMPACT’s Bailey and NJPW’s Akira have a really exciting opening exchange, striking hard and trying to get the advantage. You can even see Akira’s perfect handprint on Bailey’s chest, like a big, red, fleshy mitten. Bailey eventually gets in control and does the speedball kicks. Akira does a wheelbarrow rollup into a double stomp. There’s also a tope con hilo and a high crossbody back in the ring by the Italian. Bailey ferociously tosses Akira to the floor and does a triangle moonsault. Back in the ring, Akira catches Bailey off a handspring into a tremendous German suplex. Big strike exchange, they’re in and out of moves until Akira connects a Speedfire, but Bailey avoids the Fireball attempt. Eventually Bailey takes him out with the tornado kick and the Flamingo Driver for the win. An electric, high speed, high impact wrestling match by two true world class pro wrestlers just putting on a cool match. Awesome stuff. ****

Rich Swann, Ryusuke Taguchi & The DKC def. Jack Cartwheel, Real1 & Starboy Charlie

Real1 (freelancer) gets promo time before the match and I legitimately don’t understand anything he’s talking about. Something about too many people making a blunt sloppy? Is he talking in code? Look, anyone who comes out wearing a Supreme cape is trying too hard. I don’t know why he feels like he has to pander like this, people really don’t like him, period. There was a lot of goofiness in this match to wash off the skeeve, courtesy of NJPW’s Taguchi and his gyrating hips. Lots and lots of Funky Weapon spots and the crowd is into it. GCW’s Jack Cartwheel was on it tonight, landing a Sasuke Special and just being on-point all around. Real1 plants IMPACT’s Rich Swann against a post on the floor with a Razor’s Edge. Assisted cutter by Starboy Charlie (GCW) and Cartwheel, a tremendous DVD by Cartwheel and a tornillo by Charlie should reassure as to who was doing the work on that team. Not that it should surprise anyone. There’s the Coach Taguchi spot, NJPW’s DKC lands the Sky Splitter and a cover which is broken up by Cartwheel flying in from the top. Everyone does their cool moves, except Real1 because he doesn’t have any. He, instead, gets superkicked by Swann, who then lands a 450 splash on Starboy Charlie to get the win. The young guys really stood out, particularly Cartwheel, who is getting more and more polished. Won’t be seeing you at the Dome any time soon, Real1. ***1/4

Lucky Dip Eight Man Tag Team Match
Alex Shelley, Chris Bey & TMDK (Kosei Fujita & Robbie Eagles) def. Ace Austin, Cheeseburger, TJP & Yoshinobu Kanemaru

Time for the Lucky Dip, which becomes oddly difficult to pronounce after saying it 10 times fast. The stipulation here is that each wrestler, once in the ring, draws a stick from a box. The color at the tip of the stick determines their team. The only true shocking split here is the one between IMPACT’s Ace Austin and Chris Bey. ROH’s Cheeseburger shines in the opening moments of the match with Chris Bey, which ends with an escalera hold. He also made one kid’s night giving him a cheeseburger hat as he was coming in. That kid was glowing for the entire night. We get some cool counter-wrestling between TJP and Kosei Fujita (both representing NJPW) until Fujita slaps TJP in the face. What has this excursion already done to our sweet boy? IMPACT World Champion Alex Shelley interferes as Robbie Eagles (NJPW) and Austin go at it, and everything breaks down. Shelley beats down on Austin and tries to get Bey to tag in, but he refuses to. TJP and fellow NJPW mate Yoshinobu Kanemaru do stereo submissions on Fujita. Eagles fights off the NJPW juniors and lands a springboard missile dropkick. Finally, when Bey and Austin are the legal men, they refuse to fight and do stereo dives. There’s a lot of stuff happening in this match that I’m leaving out, but it comes to an end when Fujita lands the high angle German suplex on Cheeseburger for the win. Does this count as an excursion match for Fujita? That was fun, though weird the IMPACT world champion had very little, erm, impact on the match. ***1/2

Soberano Jr. def. Dragon Kid, Fugaz, KC Navarro & Lio Rush 

Pack a bunch of really talented guys with each other in a match and it should surely be great, right? Conventional wisdom and all that? Well, outside the highspeed exchange between KC Navarro (representing Warrior Wrestling) and Lio Rush (representing IMPACT) that may have left me wanting more from these two, the rest did very little for me. This was, in great scramble tradition, disjointed, a little sloppy, and the cool spots coming across a little off. For example, Dragon Kid (Dragongate) does a dragon rana to Soberano Jr. (CMLL) who, off that momentum, lands a hurricanrana on Fugaz (CMLL). It sounds cool when I type it out, but was a little slipshod in execution. Soberano Jr. puts Navarro away to clinch the win. I don’t really want to spend more time on this than necessary. Couple of fun flashes, but it was ultimately the big disappointment of the night. Scrambles gonna scramble, I guess. Should be mentioned Lio Rush refused to fist bump cheeseburger hat kid. What a heel.  **3/4

El Desperado & MAO def. The East West Express (Jordan Oliver & Nick Wayne)

There wasn’t enough time to be left disappointed by the scramble, because this tag match absolutely ruled. Already highly anticipated because of the pairing of DDT’s Mao and NJPW’s El Desperado, it was most certainly the most “circled” match by folks looking forward to this card. Both Jordan Oliver and Nick Wayne come out wearing GCW tees, which somewhat surprised me considering Nick’s more prominent employer, but they were GCW tag champs, so I’m not nitpicking this one any further. Wayne and Despe start things off with a bit of a stalemate-ish grappling exchange. Mao and Oliver pick up the pace and Oliver gets a good control sequence.  We got a good simmer going, here.

Turn this up to a low boil, as the Express land some great double team moves. Mao and El Desperado show off some teamwork as well, doing a stereo dive/springboard moonsault. I’ll let you guess who did what. Mao does distraction punches which even befuddle his partner. El Desperado is so great at these little things. Wayne lands sliced bread to break up the heat segment and gets the hot tag to Oliver who lands the Acid Kick and an Acid Bomb. Mao lands top rope knees right into a fallen Oliver and rolls into a cutter on Wayne in his corner.

Shortly after, Wayne and Mao have a tremendous exchange: Wayne lands a shooting star press. Then, Mao slides out of the pin attempt but gets caught in a waistlock. Mao shimmies out of the waistlock and clocks Wayne in the face, but Wayne connects a suplex with a bridge. Kicks by Mao, an enzuigiri by Wayne and he goes up top. Mao runs up after him with a Frankensteiner, Wayne fights back with a snap German suplex, follows up with a cutter attempt that Mao avoids, who finishes it all off with a Michinoku Driver. Tremendous, tremendous stuff. There’s so much stuff in this match with more great double team work by the Express, but Mao takes out Wayne with a rana driver (I guess that’s what I’d call it) and Desperado takes out Oliver with the Pinche Loco for the win. Just great stuff by everyone here. Lit the place up with a match that demonstrates how great junior wrestling can be. Fast paced, a variety of high impact moves, all strung together in a dynamic package. Should point out how good Jordan Oliver looked here, evidently taking this opportunity very seriously. ****

Philly Cheesesteak Cup Three Way Tag Team Ladder Match
DOUKI & Low Rider def. Blake Christian & Master Wato and Hiromu Takahashi & Rocky Romero 

Fair warning, I’m one of those guys who is burned out by ladder matches. Despite it, I always go into them with some kind of hope. Hope that we can break out from traditional ladder match tropes. But tonight was the night.

Atop the ring is suspended a takeout bag from Pat’s King of Steaks, which the winner must unhook to win all the sandwiches. Everyone goes for ladders, starts throwing people into ladders so we can get 1-on-1s in the ring which is, fine I guess, but it’s also a sign that maybe there’s too many people in this match? The NJPW duo of Hiromu Takahashi and Rocky Romero tease some dissent, yet do some dosey-do corner spots. Then folks start fighting each other off ladders, which, by the way, are clearly painter’s ladders. You know, the ones that have a little shelf at the top and rungs on only one side? These ladders get massacred. Wato tries to put one up that is so twisted and gnarled by the abuse I’m worrying for their safety. But those worries are quelled when I see they have proper tall, sturdy ladders.

Anyway, you know the drill: throw people onto ladders, throw ladders onto people, throw yourself off ladders, throw people off ladders… the one cool spot was Low Rider (freelancer) getting pushed off the ladder by GCW World Champion Blake Christian. Rider steps on the rope rope and springs off into a somersault senton to the floor. Good stuff. In fact, a bunch of guys hit their high flying spots after that spot. Hiromu splashes off the top of a tall ladder on the floor. Then, of course, we build a ladder structure with a horizontal ladder and one standing in the middle of the ring. It’s just people doing stuff, and it’s kind of messy. Christian low blows NJPW’s Master Wato, who also happens to be his partner, from reaching the top of the ladder. I guess he wanted all the cheesesteaks for himself? NJPW’s DOUKI sunset bombs Hiromu off the ladder onto the horizontal one and unhooks the bag for the win.

The cheesesteaks are then served to DOUKI and Low Rider by Pat (the King of Steaks himself) and Tiger Hattori. And there’s a sentence I never thought I’d write. The winning duo share them with the audience. Hiromu and Rocky are left alone in the ring and… eat cheesesteaks? Didn’t they lose? Why do they get the spoils? In fact, they get all the post-match attention and devour their food gluttonously for the cameras while the winners are nowhere to be found. Look, if you wanted Rocky and Hiromu to eat the sandwiches for the delight of the crowd, just have them win? Then again, why do I care? This was the fourth ladder match in the history of NJPW (thank you Chris Samsa, the Chris Samsa on twitter and sport of pro wrestling dot com!) and I hope it stays fourth for a long, long time. **1/2

All Star Junior USA Tournament Final Round Match
“Speedball” Mike Bailey def. Kevin Knight

Time for the big main event for all the bathroom scrubbing sponges you can handle! Kevin Knight wasn’t able to rest up properly – he’s sporting rib tape, so things are already stacked against him. Mike Bailey tries to be chill with him at first, but quickly kicks him in the head. Knight does a leaping crossbody off the apron to the floor. In the ring, Bailey lifts the knees on a splash from Knight, and from that point on, Knight really never recovers. In fact, the story of this match is really about how Bailey outclasses Knight. Maybe the injury had something to do with it, but in true NJPW style storytelling, they’re establishing that Kevin Knight is still too young, still too “out of the gate” to be able to claim a spot at the table with the big players. Knight spends the match teasing hope spots and always coming up a little short.

Bailey plays this up perfectly without going into outright heel territory. He’s calculating, and uncompromising in how he picks Knight apart and the audience picks up on this, throwing their support behind Knight when he does try to rally, only to have Bailey shut them down quickly and with precision. For instance, Bailey lands a running shooting star press but has his Buzzsaw Kick blocked by Knight. He can’t withstand Bailey’s strikes, who then rope hangs him to deliver a double knee drop on his back. Later, Bailey runs the ropes and right into a dropkick by Knight, but Knight is too banged up to follow up. Soon thereafter he has to struggle out of a Flamingo Driver attempt by shifting his body weight back, forcing both men to topple over the top rope in a great spot. Knight gets rocked with Buzzsaw kicks and struggles out of arm breakers. He does a tornillo to the floor. It only gets one revolution but that’s okay, because you can buy into Knight being physically shot. But then, in contrast, Bailey comes back with a slick and crisply executed Asai moonsault, just to showcase the difference in physical levels they’re on. Knight busts out a Code Red and a Sky High, but Bailey is all over him again with an armbreaker. Bailey goes for the tornado kicks but runs right into a dropkick by Knight. It’s his last gasp, as Bailey overhead tosses him right into the buckles, lands the Ultimo Weapon and the Flamingo Driver for the win.

They really could have just gone for the “let’s do cool moves” match, but instead they decided to layer up a story that made the main event feel big, compelling, and full of drama. Knight’s future in pro wrestling is terribly bright so these kinds of formative matches build a bigger picture in which his future can be drawn. As Bailey pointed out in his post-match promo, this is the second time they fight, and Knight is 0-2. When that win comes, it’s going to be that much sweeter. Also, everything Mike Bailey touches is gold. ****1/4

Mike Bailey brings Hiromu Takahashi out during his post-match promo and challenges him for the IWGP Jr Heavyweight title, to which Hiromu answers: “Of couuuurrrrse.” Sweet Christmas.