NJPW Best of the Super Juniors 31 Previews


For the last two years, the Best of the Super Juniors has outperformed the G1 Climax. That might not be supported by numbers or metrics, but more of a general sense of enthusiastic tenor and overall enjoyment. In 2022, after nearly two years of unintended isolations and suffocation stagnancy, BOSJ 29 brought in delightful and robustly talented foreign talent like Ace Austin, Alex Zayne, and Wheeler Yuta, in addition to domestic talent like El Lindaman. The tournament was effervescent. Last year, Super Juniors used the platform to elevate younger, fresher wrestlers like Titan and Master Wato. It was this exuberance that put BOSJ over the G1. And, of course, New Japan going out of their way to fuck up good things.

In 2022, the G1 Climax shifted towards the catastrophically abysmal four block system, with a staggered schedule that left the tournament completely devoid of momentum, intrigue, or joy. It was a stunningly regretful experience, a dirge that never had a prayer against the youthful, buoyant vigor of BOSJ 29.

BOSJ 30 reverted to the four-man playoffs format of pre-2015. We’ve whined about this relentlessly in our BOSJ and G1 coverage, but it’s very simple: it sucks. Round robin tournaments should always end in a single-match final. It’s simple dynamics: things should escalate, and things should matter. If you run a mini-tournament, everything essentially resets. And if everything resets, then the blocks don’t actually matter, and the blocks are the entire point of the goddamn tournaments. We have single-elimination tableau tournaments everywhere, consequential round robin league play is what differentiates these things. The blocks should have direct effect on the final. Every round of a playoff final removes you from that, the immediacy nullified.

But then, the G1 last year went to an eight-man playoff, which gave us some good matches, for sure, and also some awful ones. These playoffs could be more vibrantly replicated with strong block final nights. Which is what we had!

BOSJ 31 unfortunately continues this trend. The field is laregly the same as last year, though it feels like we have a net negative, losing the likes of Mike Bailey and Lio Rush. But then, they imported guys from Dragongate (Dragon Dia), NOAH (HAYATA and Ninja Mack, and GCW (Blake Christian). The crowd responses when those names were announced were tangible.

Block construction is always provocative, and this year raises several inquiries. They once again kept their one-two ace combo, Hiromu Takahashi and El Desperado, away from each other, after they clashed for the title at Wrestle Kingdom. The absolutely loaded B Block with firepower: their ace Hiromu Takahashi, their champion SHO, their multi-time champion Taiji Ishimori, their ace emeritus KUSHIDA, former champion Robbie Eagles, and top rising stars that are on the cusp of breaking through (DOUKI, Francesco Akira, Drilla Moloney).

A Block offers significantly less in tar power or current status, but it’s a unique block. El Desperado stands firmly above everyone else, but he’s joined by two guys that lead their company and/or division elsewhere (GCW Champion Blake Christian and strongest-pushed NOAH junior, HAYATA), last year’s finalist and top CMLL wrestler Titan, TJP as he vies for faction leadership, and two guys on the cusp of becoming major stars in the industry (Kevin Knight and Kosei Fujita). There are a lot of peculiar style conflicts in place here.

The winner of BOSJ 31 should move on and defeat SHO at Dominion. SHO’s held the title long enough. The chalk candidate would be El Desperado, who should not have lost the title to SHO at all, a baffling decision in an expanse of perplexing creative choices in New Japan 2024. SHO is such a unique champion, that you could see any possible situation: he faces someone from the other block, or his block, or someone that defeated him in league play, or someone he defeated. Anything is fair game.

Best of the Super Juniors 30 Participants Not Returning:

  • Mike Bailey
  • Lio Rush
  • Master Wato (Injury)
  • YOH (Injury)

Debuting Participants

  • Kosei Fujita
  • Blake Christian (GCW Representative)
  • Ninja Mack (Pro Wrestling NOAH Representative)
  • HAYATA (Pro Wrestling NOAH Representative)
  • Dragon Dia (Dragongate Representative)

Preview Format

There are five elements to each participant’s preview this year:

  • Current Situation
  • Past Performance 
  • Booking Strength and Final Match Situation
    • Booking strength is meant to show each wrestler’s average card placement over the totality of the tournament. By looking at this number and a wrestler’s match-up on the final block night, one gets a richer base for the speculation and conjecture we all convince ourselves is unimpeachable. While exceptions exist, almost every wrestler that has won a block or advanced to the semi-finals in the last ten years or so have come from the top 7 in booking strength.
    • Booking strength calculated based on number of total matches per night. On a double block night, there are ten total matches, all block matches. On a single block night, there are ten total matches, with five block matches. For the sake of keeping the numbers consistent, we take the real match number each night.
    • We take the real match placement of every wrestler’s match on each show, then average the numbers. For instance, this is the match number slate for the 9 matches of El Desperado, the top wrestler in booking strength: 10-9-10-9-10-10-7-10-?. That yields an Average Card Placement of 9.375.
    • Compare that to the lowest in booking strength, Kosei Fujita: 4-9-6-1-2-6-1-2-?. That results in an Average Card Placement of 3.875.
    • Taking the real match placement is fair, since every wrestler has an equal amount of double and single block nights. The double block nights present a bothersome issue: double-block nights are constructed with artifice: they alternate blocks, either A-B or B-A. There are an equal number of A-B and B-A nights, but the construction forced us to add a within-Block Card Placement Average, which yielded slightly different results than the overall rankings.
  • Chances of Winning
  • What-to-Look-For Matches

Booking Strength Rankings (out of 10)

A Block Final Night Match Line-up

  • Kosei Fujita vs. Blake Christian
  • Clark Connors vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru
  • El Desperado vs. HAYATA
  • Titan vs. TJP
  • Kevin Knight vs. BUSHI

Blake Christian (GCW)

  • Debut Entry

Current Situation: We spend far too much time being mediocre at far too many things (work, instruments, thinking, sports, writing about wrestling) to watch even a respectable amount of wrestling. We follow New Japan far too closely, and we watch DDT for fun. That means that when a Blake Christian come around, we have absolutely nothing to offer. The last time we saw Blake Christian he was Trey Baxter. We were the person that saw that one time. And so, we had to draw upon the VOW mind database. Thanks to Suit Williams and Kevin Hare for answering the call. From what we’ve gather from them, Blake Christian:

    • Is in his first GCW title reign
    • He’s held the belt for nearly a year
    • He’s been a heel champion with Missy Hyatt as his manager
    • He’s the champion but infrequently in the main event
    • His matches are imbued with sports-entertainment nonsense and run-in fiascos, because every company on earth is afraid the Stamford Consortium for the Abolishment of Women’s Knee Ligaments is coming for them, so they are trying to beat them at the pass, or something. Or they think that’s the only path to getting a taste of that level. 
    • He’s not one of those acrobatic dudes anymore
    • He’s been more grounded in GCW, but he might flip and fly more elsewhere
    • He’s also in Ring of Honor, as an enhancement guy, which seems strange, since he’s an actual name, but then again, if he was something in ROH that might actually delineate ROH from its parent bran

And so, there appears to be one pressing question: which Blake Christian will show up to BOSJ 31? We were hoping Christian could inject some actual aerial acrobatics into BOSJ, especially in this junior division of brawlers and limb work technicians, stacked as it is. If he’s one of those BOSJ entrants whose existence in the tournament occupies some kind of non-canon alternate universe, like guests of the past, we suppose he can go out there and be that guy.

Past Performance

    • Debut entry

Booking Strength and Final Match Situation

  • Booking Strength
    • Overall: 8th (6.50 AVG CP)
    • In-Block: 4th (3.125 AVG CP)
    • 1 main event, 1 semi-main event
  • Final Night Opponent: Kosei Fujita

New Japan has not been kind to their guests. All of them, including HAYATA, are either at or near the bottom of the booking strength rankings. Blake Christian is the one exception. He’s way above them, at 8th overall. We’re guessing being GCW champion plays a part, and possibly wanting to avoid a Khantrum if an New Japan booked an ROH guy was booked the way, well, he books them.

Christian faces the lowest booked guy in the tournament, Kosei Fujita, on the final night, which suggests that Christian will be mathematically alive but technically eliminated going into the final night, where he can pick up a win on the final block night. Sort of like Wheeler Yuta two years ago.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to separate the is-ought dilemma of current New Japan tournaments. The way it is: stupid and irredeemably self-defeating, vitiating the intensity and purpose of the blocks for the sake of an extra house with semi-finals. The way it ought to be: the way it had worked beautifully for years, one winner per block. Because two can advance per block, there’s almost no true value in the final night. Blake Christian could advance simply by defeating Fujita, with no effect on any of the higher matches.

Chances of Winning: 5%

My person desire for him to win: 0%

What-to-Look-For Matches

  • Night 5 (May 18th) – Blake Christian vs. Titan
    • When it comes to pace, these two are unequaled in A Block. Unfortunately, the last few years of Super Juniors has been bereft of the kind of transparently exorbitant action you’d expect in a Super Juniors undercard, beyond a seemingly capped number of ordinary topes per match. If these two are unrestricted, it could be one of the most explosive matches of the tournament.
  • Night 6 (May 19th) Blake Christian vs. El Desperado
    • The GCW champion faces off against the junior ace understudy in the main event of Night 6, with the avoirdupois of being a double-block main event, which means it has been considered strong enough to main event against twice as many options, and it will be considerably longer than the other matches on the show (last year, almost entirely double block nights, saw main events average 19:30, with the other matches collectively averaging 8:39). They’ve met once in the ring, a three-way which included Hiromu on NJPW Strong in July 2022. That feels like several lifetimes ago. Now that Desperado has actually wrestled for GCW, twice in 2023, this one might actually have consequences.

BUSHI

  • 12th Entry, 9th Straight Year

Current Situation: Another year has passed in the life of BUSHI, in our lives, in the theoretical life of this professional wrestling corporation.

We should just end it there, because BUSHI has had exactly two singles matches since BOSJ 30. In February, he faced Taka Michinokou in the LIJ vs. Just 5 Guys program, avenging the pinfall loss he took to Taka on January 5th at New Year Dash. That’s right, this motherfucker got pinned by Taka Michinokou, the unsavory bastard that is practically begging for U.S. indie shots at the moment, the Long Now year of 02024.

This is one of those years where they throw some falls BUSHI’s way to give the impression that he has some morsels of capability. Usually, it’s paper tiger fluff: wins over Gedo, Jado, Tiger Mask, etc. Not this year, though: on April 3rd at Korakuen Hall, in the LIJ vs. LIJ matchup of BUSHI/Tsuji vs. Hiromu/Naito, BUSHI got the pin on Hiromu. He and Hiromu then challenged Bullet Club War Dogs for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team titles at Satsuma no Kuni on April 29th. War Dogs defeated LIJ in the semi-main event with the fall, of course, coming on BUSHI.

Past Performance 

  • 2012: 6 points (3-5), 8th (of 9) in A Block
  • 2013: 6 points (3-5) 8th (of 9) in B Block
  • 2014: 8 points (4-3), 5th (of 8) in A Block 
  • 2016: 8 points (4-3), T-3 (of 8) in A Block (3-way tie)
  • 2017: 8 points (4-3), 2nd (of 8) in B Block
  • 2018: 6 points (3-4), T-6th (of 8) in A Block (3-way tie)
  • 2019: 12 points (6-3), T-3rd (of 10) in B Block (3-way tie)
  • 2020: 8 points (4-5), 5th (of 10)
  • 2021: 10 points (5-6), 8th (of 12)
  • 2022: 8 points (4-5), T-5 (of 10) in B Block (5-way tie)
  • 2023: 4 points (2-7), 10th (of 10) in B Block

He had a stretch, he really did. Think of how highly regarded 2019 is, then consider that BUSHI was a legitimate threat in B Block (definitive evidence that 2019 wasn’t actually as extraordinary as people remember, or some were even saying at the time). Leading into the pandemic, he had been on a respectable run for a guy at his level in the New Japan hierarchy. In fact, we wish BUSHI would shift gimmicks to just reminiscing about those day, every backstage comment some variant on, “damn, if it wasn’t for the pandemic…” It’d be that relatability he’s never had, outside the “dude who sells fried chicken and spends literally all of his money on Prada and Bottega Veneta.”

Tournament BUSHI exists to be a nuisance, a block buster, or a point balancer. In years where none of those roles don’t fit, he’s at the bottom. Last year he was completely invisible, and he knew it too. In this A Block, stacking up against the other competitors, and with weak booking, he’ll be grasping for coherence to his BOSJ journey.

Booking Strength and Final Match Situation

  • Booking Strength
    • Overall: 14th (5.00 AVG CP)
    • In-Block: 8th (2.50 AVG CP)
    • 1 main event
  • Final Night Opponent: Kevin Knight

In the years where BUSHI performed well, that 2016-2019 run, he was 7th, 6th, 13th, and 8th. 2018, when he was 13th, was the off year. They have been telling you where he’s slotted. Last year he was 17th out of 20 and finished dead last in his block. This year he is slightly higher, and we expect the trend to hold: he’ll be near the bottom. The striking aspect of his final match isn’t even about him, it’s about Kevin Knight, who we had hoped would have a more robust final night opponent.

Chances of Winning: 0%

My person desire for him to win: 00000000000%

What-to-Look-For Matches

  • Night 2 (May 13th): BUSHI vs. Titan
    • This is the A Block semi-main event, if fourth from the top in real match placement. Titan and BUSHI have been teaming now, without any real accomplishments, besides taking 2nd place in the 2023 Fantasticamania Interfaction Tag Team Tournament, and 3rd place in this year’s tournament. They unsuccessfully challenged Catch 2/2 for the titles in November 2022, and were final-night eliminations in the 2022 and 2023 Super Junior Tag league. They did meet in the 2022 BOSJ, a totally forgettable match in which pre-LIJ Titan prevailed.
  • Night 6 (May 19th): BUSHI vs. Kosei Fujita
    • BUSHI’s position is entrenched, and even if he just sort of manages to exist, he does act as an effective gatekeeper of sorts alongside Kanemaru. BUSHI beat a pre-TMDK Fujita back in March 2022, and some scattered falls over Fujita in tag matches. The result here is inconsequential; it will be the one match where Fujita’s presence should overwhelm his opponent. The key element will be how well Fujita and can project himself past BUSHI, arouse a crowd so early in the night (they will be match two), and how BUSHI facilitates that growth. 




Clark Connors (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion)

  • 3rd Entry, 3rd Straight Year

Current Situation: Clark Connors enters BOSJ 31 with a different perspective than his previous two entries: he’s actually, finally, a continuation of the guy he was the year before. 

In 2022, Clark entered BOSJ 29 after a two-and-a-half year absence from Japan, still affiliated with Noje Dojo. His impressively firm buttocks drew the attention of the relentlessly perverted Ryusuke Taguchi, and they formed an impossibly stupid tag team that was the nadir of the Red Tights Tagooch era. Clark floated around a bit and then joined BULLET CLUB on April 15, 2023, right before BOSJ 30.

Clark came into last Super Juniors with a cool hype video, discarding his past identity, but a shocking low booking strength, 19th of 20. He traded wins and losses all tournament, ending up 4-5, as he did in 2022, which was fine. The beauty of the tournaments is that some guys, particularly with guys like Connors who were working out new personas, just need broadcast time, time to be in front of people and on TV. Clark wasn’t floundering or anything, he was just acquainting himself and testing things out. And by the end of the tournament, he found what he needed: his tag team partner, Dan Moloney

Since then, Moloney and Connors have dominated the junior tag division. Since last year’s Super Juniors, they have held those titles for about 280 days, with five defenses. That’s been Connors’ entire focus in New Japan: he’s had only two singles matches in the company since last year’s tournament: against Kevin Night at the All Star junior thing they did in August, and a great match with Shingo last month in the BULLET CLUB vs. LIJ series.

Past Performance 

  • 2022: 8 points (4-5), 6th (of 10) in A Block
  • 2023: 8 points (4-5), T-5 (of 10) in B Block (3-way tie)

Staunchly middle of the pack. Which is not bad, considering that he was booked like a prelim guy both years. 

Booking Strength and Final Match Situation

  • Booking Strength
    • Overall: 11th (5.875 AVG CP)
    • In-Block: 6th (2.875 AVG CP)
    • 1 semi-main event
  • Final Night Opponent: Yoshinobu Kanemaru

An improvement from the previous two years, where was dead last and next-to-last in booking strength. And, incredibly, he ill have his first semi-main event this year, against TJP on night 3, which essentially functions as the A Block main event.

Unfortunately, he has Kanemaru on the final night, which suggests a few unfortunate possibilities:

#1: Connors will be out of contention, facing an old vet who was never in contention, in a match that might as well be forfeited to save everyone the time.

#2: Connors will be in contention, and Kanemaru, the shifty, detached, amoral bastard that he is, will spoil Connors, setting up an eventual title defense between and War Dogs and Kanemaru/SHO after they get the belt off SHO at Dominion

Not that either is appealing, but #2 should result in a fiery Korakuen main event down the line.

Chances of Winning: 5%

My person desire for him to win: 15%

What-to-Look-For Matches

  • Night 8 (May 22nd): Clark Connors vs. El Desperado
    • Obviously, the El Desperado match would be listed for every participant, considering Despy is in the main or semi-main every night but one… this one, in fact. They are the A Block semi-final, but it’s a B Block double-block night, so they are the 7th match overall. Regardless, this was one of the best matches of BOSJ 30. Connors was cultivating his new persona somewhat cautiously last year when he met El Desperado on Night 6 of BOSJ 30. These two then had a wild brawl. BOSJ 30 had a lot of those matches, but there was a bestial viciousness to the way these two chopped each other. There were an ungodly amount of “throw a guy into an empty tract of chairs” last year. Unfortunately, most of them did not require clearing a crowd of attendees. Most of them were jejune, lacking any vigor. Not so with these two motherfuckers. They absolutely sprinted off the Irish whip and flung themselves recklessly into the seats. It really was a turning point, on-screen at least, of the current Clark Connors. We are fascinated to see what these two pull off this year.
  • Night 7 (May 21st): Clark Connors vs. BUSHI
    • Look, we had to put BUSHI somewhere, it couldn’t just be Despy and Titan for everybody. This one also has recent history. BUSHI and Hiromu challenged the War Dogs for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team titles at Satsuma no Kuni on April 29th, with Connors pinning BUSHI. At this stage in the tournament, the contenders will be separated from the pack. This is Connors chance to establish himself as someone to threaten on the block final night, or Point-Balance BUSHI effectively ends his campaign.

El Desperado

  • 8th Entry, 5th Straight Year
    • Finals: 2020, 2022
    • Semi-Finals: 2023

Current Situation: We find Despy on the tail end of a series of perplexing decisions that went in his favor, then against. After the best of seven series between Strong Style and the Wato/Umino/Nagata trio last year, Desperado formed a likable tag team with Wato, immersed in genki-tsundere dynamics. They main evented nearly every Super Junior Tag league show, but didn’t make it to the final, and broke up in a disconcerting awkward backstage comment where neither one seemed to know what the fuck was going on, or how they were supposed to play it

Then IWGP Junior champion Hiromu challenged his generational rival to a title match at Wrestle Kingdom, a match we lamented as beneath both guys and their rivalry, with little build or purpose. 

Despy then improbably and impractically ended Hiromu’s year-long reign, before losing the belt to SHO a month later. Since then, he’s been the begrudging tsundere in every multi-man tag he’s been shoehorned into, and booked the most legally perverted main event imaginable for his upcoming produce show.

Between his placement in this block, his placement in the main or semi-main of every show, his produce show, and just the general presentation within the company’s promotional materials, it’s very clear that Desperado is the 1b ace understudy of the division, one of the most successful post-2020 thrusts of New Japan’s booking and decision making. As the person fucked out of the title by the current champion, there has never been a time more propitious for Desperado to finally win this tournament.

Past Performance 

  • 2014: 6 points (3-4), 6th (of 8) in B Block 
  • 2017: 6 points (3-4), 8th (of 8) in B Block
  • 2018: 6 points (3-4), T-4th in A Block (5-way tie)
  • 2020: 14 points (7-2), 1st (of 10)
  • 2021: 13 points (6-4-1), 3rd (of 12)
  • 2022: 12 points (6-3), 1st (of 10) in B Block
  • 2023: 14 points (7-2), 1st (of 10) in B Block

It’s hard to find a clearer line of delineation between a wrestler’s growth period and breakthrough than El Desperado, especially since there is such an emphatic contrast between the two phases. Prior to the pandemic, Desperado was consummately mid-card, just below .500 each year, even in years where he beat Kenny Omega (2014) or Hiromu (2018). Consider that. In 2018, Desperado had the match of the block play portion against Hiromu, a shambolic affair leading to an equally riotous title match a month later. And yet, he had a losing record in BOSJ that year. 

Since returning, Desperado’s been ridiculously strong, winning three blocks, making two finals, and generally carrying his grouping the last two years. No one has oriented their block towards their personality more than Desperado had in 2022 and 2023. He established the tenor of his block both year. 

Look no further than Clark Connors and Drilla Moloney in 2023. Both were struggling to find their way in last year’s BOSJ, grasping for distinctiveness. Then, in the closing stretch of the tournament, both had potently visceral, imperious brawls. It’s almost like Despy told them to just come out and hit him as hard as they possibly could, and they’d figure out the rest from there. From that point on, neither guy has looked perplexed about their position in the company, or their tenor in the ring. That’s what Desperado has brought to the BOSJ. The question now: will he finally win one.

Booking Strength and Final Match Situation

  • Booking Strength
    • Overall: 1st (9.375 AVG CP)
    • In-Block: 1st (4.875 AVG CP)
    • 5 main events, 2 semi-main events
  • Final Night Opponent: HAYATA

He was the strongest booked wrestler in BOSJ 30, his tag team with Wato nearly ran the table for main events in SJTL 2023, and he’s main eventing the majority of the shows in BOSJ 31. He is main eventing FIVE shows in BOSJ31; the next closest is Hiromu with three. Add two semi-mains and Despy is, alongside Hiromu, ridiculously ahead of the peloton. His Card Placement average is 9.375, next is Hiromu at 9.00, and then SHO, the champion, is 3rd with an average of 7.75. 

Along with Hiromu, he’s spent the last two years as a New Japan ambassador, wandering the planet, infiltrating multiple promotions in countries around the world. While Hiromu has been a junior ambassador, Despy’s been pretty cool: death matches, random DDT nonsense, AEW run-ins. The guy simply refuses to be categorized.

This is important to note because he’s drawn the assignment of facing NOAH’s junior ace in this tournament, and on the block final night, where the stakes would be stringently intense if, you know, they didn’t change the format and make the blocks totally meaningless. Considering New Japan’s history of hosting these sorts of encounters, the evidence strongly suggests that HAYATA is getting planted by a Pinche Loco. With Despy’s produce show coming up, things become more complicated. Despy’s desired main event is a Pheremones-adjacent team of Dieno, Despy, and X, vs. HOT. Does New Japan want their belt anywhere near that match. For symbolic and very tangible hygienic reasons?

Chances of Winning: 65%

My person desire for him to win: As many fish in the sea, as many stars in the sky, as many hairs on Drilla’s chest… that is the percentage we want this beautiful weirdo to win this tournament, take his belt back, and carry this division to Wrestle Kingdom, where he would hand it off to Wato.

What-to-Look-For Matches

  • Night 5 (May 18th): El Desperado vs. Kevin Knight
    • These two met in a fairly disappointing match in last year’s BOSJ. But Knight has been firing hard since then. They met on opposite sides of a SJTL main event, which included a spot of mind blowing timing as Knight did a springboard splash to break up a pin. They mixed it up well in that match, which makes us think that this match, the semi-main of night 4, and basically the highest profile singles match Knight will have had in New Japan, is going to be much more intricately crafted. Desperado’s method last year in the back half of BOSJ30 was to illuminate his opponent’s best kind of match. Hopefully they follow that path here. It could be the match that garners Knight the attention Garret mentioned above.
  • Night 7 (May 21st): El Desperado vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru
    • Without question, this is the match Desperado is anticipating the most. He is effusive in his praise for Kanemaru, attributing his growth almost entirely to the pococurante veteran. They had a legitimately excellent HOT match at Korakuen Hall for Despy’s IWGP Junior title back in January. Last year, Kanemaru set Desperado’s BOSJ 30 campaign on a very sour launch, in another excellent, cerebral match. This is a critical night; if Desperado can vanquish his mentor, he’ll set himself up to advance. But this is a HOT match, a HOT main event, and it is out there, in Himeji, between Osaka and Okayama. It will be a testament to both, but especially Desperado, if they can get sustained heat on this match, away from HOT’s strongholds. 

HAYATA (Pro Wrestling NOAH)

  • Debut Entry

Current Situation: Mutoh is a fuckface, and we swore off NOAH once again when his reckless, Tom and Daisy Buchanan-esque form of purposely destructive vainglory left another promotion creatively fucked. Mutoh’s great at these sorts of self-immolations, replace the “self” part with the promotion willing to indulge him. 

NOAH nearly tricked us by putting the belt on KENOH, but we sagaciously resisted the temptation. KENOH’s reign was abbreviated, and NOAH can get fucked. Because of this, the last time we routinely watched HAYATA, he was a fundamentally sound, comprehensively boring wrestler pushed in NOAH as hard as New Japan has pushed Desperado, without any of the ace-like qualities or idiosyncrasies. We checked in with VOW comrade Paul Vosch to see if anything has changed in the last 15-18 months:

  • No.

Actually, that’s not totally true. HAYATA is now the National Champion, NOAH’s number two championship, with a history dating all the way back to… October 2019. Of course, that joke doesn’t really work, and there’s no point in being supercilious about it, when this company’s top title dates back to March 2021.

Past Performance 

  • Debut entry

Booking Strength and Final Match Situation

  • Booking Strength
    • Overall: 16th (4.875 AVG CP)
    • In-Block: 9th (2.375 AVG CP)
    • 0 main or semi-main events
  • Final Night Opponent: El Desperado

We’re struggling here, because all the numbers and all the evidence strongly suggest that HAYATA is going to probably end up 5-4, maybe 6-3, but lose out of tiebreakers to Desperado and one other wrestler. If fucking Kiyomiya couldn’t make it out of his block of goobers last year in the G1 Climax, why would HAYATA make it out of his? But then, it seems like Japanese wrestling promoters have dueling fetishes: one to torture Kaito Kiyomiya, and the other is to push HAYATA, and if these things clash with reality, common sense, all things good and decent, that seems to harden their staff even more.

We’re not sure how HAYATA’s openweight championship complicates things. It shouldn’t be any sort of intricacy here: Desperado is the co-ace of the division, and HAYATA looks like a Ghost in the Shell extra. But because he’s in the presumed A Block final match, and because they seem to book Desperado as capriciously as possible, maybe the signs point to HAYATA.

Chances of Winning: 5%

My person desire for him to win: 0%

What-to-Look-For Matches

  • Night 5 (May 18th): HAYATA vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru
    • Essentially, a NOAH dream match of sorts, between guys who have been very fundamentally solid wrestlers, but always surrounded by guys in the junior division who you’d rather see in there, at least in HAYATA’s case, and at points for Kanemaru. HAYATA came into NOAH after Suzuki-gun snuck Kanemaru out of the company when the ark was taking on water badly. They’ve only met once in the ring, and check out this fucking Cagematch listing:
      • KENSO, Kotaro Suzuki, Tsubasa & YO-HEY defeat Atsushi Maruyama, Buffalo, HAYATA & Yoshinobu Kanemaru
      • Wrestle Dream – Event @ EDION Arena Osaka in Osaka, Japan
  • Night 6 (May 19th): HAYATA vs. TJP
    • This will be one of the most consequential matches of the middle of the tournament, with the way A Block is constructed. HAYATA faces Desperado on the A Block final night, and TJP faces Titan. You’d have to expect both of those could be winner-take-all matches, but the final night scenarios, of what could happen on the final night, will largely be cultivated and shaped by this match, and whomever gets the vital tiebreaker here. Beyond that, while many consider Hayata boring, we think he is going to elevate his vigor for this tournament, and we anticipate TJP to be a very congruent opponent for him. This could be a delightfully smoldering encounter.

Kevin Knight

  • 2nd Entry, 2nd Straight Year

Current Situation: Kevin Knight is the fucking truth, and he’s only had 15 matches in 2024. Something is severely inappropriate about that. This guy showed such remarkable growth in 2023, evolving from an ambitiously sloppy wrestler with unfathomable potential in BOSJ 30 to one of the crispest and most galvanizing wrestlers in Super Junior Tag League 2023. At that point, New Japan should have done whatever it took to court Jet. This guy is world champion material, exhibiting legitimate growth, endearing, captivating, a proficient talker, the whole goddamn deal. 

We don’t know what he’s doing at Impact, and we didn’t care enough to ask someone. It’s not worth Garrett Kidney’s time, or our time, or your time reading the result. He should be somewhere giving him more than six matches this far this year, which is all Impact has given him, and he’s lost all of them. He spent late March-Early April in New Japan, chasing after the War Dogs with KUSHIDA, and it was awesome, right up to him telling Drilla to shut the fuck up when Moloney was throwing a tantrum after KUSHIDA accidentally busted Moloney’s eardrum (for the record, we would have bitterly, painfully weeped, the kind of weep you feel deep in your guts, but we would not have thrown throw a tantrum).

Update: We reflected and came to the staunch conclusion that Kevin Knight is indeed worth asking about. We bothered VOW legend and TNA Hagiographer Garrett Kidney about Knight’s run in that promotion. Garrett assured us that Knight’s performances have been exceptional. In fact, Garrett asserts that if Knight had delivered them on a more fashionable stage, he would be “one of the most talked about people around.” That said, Kidney believes that Knight is “caught between two worlds,” to his detriment.

Past Performance 

  • 2023: 6 points (3-6), 8th (of 10) in B Block

Commendable for a rookie, Knight did not have any stand-out performances. The expectations were fairly low; all anyone expected was a glimpse at the future, which he provided, though it seemed like he lost his legs as the tour’s grueling itinerary fomented fatigue.  That’s not the case this year; we expect Knight, who should considerably higher tour-length stamina in Super Junior Tag League, in addition to his exponential growth mentioned above.

Booking Strength and Final Match Situation

  • Booking Strength
    • Overall: 10th (6.25 AVG CP)
    • In-Block: 5th (3 AVG CP)
    • 2 semi-main events
  • Final Night Opponent: BUSHI

Knight’s booking is strong enough to give us hope that he will be featured semi-regularly in New Japan. He’s right in the middle of both his block and the tournament in general, ahead of bigger names and more strongly pushed guys. Unfortunately, his final night opponent is BUSHI, the physical manifestation of sighing resignation. Optimistically, we can imagine that the fucked-up format, where blocks are irrelevant and final block nights are meaningless, would allow Knight to advance with a simple win, since in a two-advance system you only need one slot to have intrigue. The other slot can be perfunctory. 

But, again, he’s facing BUSHI. Better luck next year, young squire.

Chances of Winning: 10%

My person desire for him to win: 75%

What-to-Look-For Matches

  • Night 2 (May 13th) Kevin Knight vs. Blake Christian
    • This is the opening match of night 2, which adds to the anticipation level. Last year, opening matches of double block nights averaged 7:34. This should be a frenetic, lavish sprint.
  • Night 3 (May 15th): Kevin Knight vs. Kosei Fujita
    • One glance at Kevin Knight makes it very clear that he has a superstar look… and definitely as a heavyweight. How long the tall, long, lean Knight can stay at the junior limit could change by the hour. One extra trip through the brunch buffet could end Kevin Knight’s junior heavyweight tenure. Kosei Fujita has the opposite problem. He’s taller than you’d think (or, at least, listed taller than you’d expect), but he looks like a natural junior. It will be interesting to see them match up in a singles bout (they’ve only shared the ring twice, in tags). They both remind us of the future, and this should be a fun tests of wills between the assured, smooth Knight and the intensely brazen Fujita.

Kosei Fujita

  • Debut Entry

Current Situation: Nearly a year and a half since he was drawn into TMDK at the behest of mentor Zack Sabre Jr, and roughly nine months since he escaped the ranks of the Young Lions, Kosei Fujita is increasingly resembling a future star, flourishing into a vigorous, brazen, magnetic in-ring performer. The crowds always let you know who has it, when a group of people spontaneously realize something, something they are compelled to recognize. We are seeing that with Yota Tsuji, and we are seeing that with Kosei Fujita. That’s not to say that their peers won’t get there as well, but their peers did not have such immediacy.

When Fujita emerged from the back to confront SHO at Sakura Genesis, after YOH’s shoulder popped and SHO gleefully reclaimed his Junior Heavyweight title belt, the tumult of the crowd was striking, even through the screen. They clearly want him to be the guy, the accept him as the potential guy, and they acknowledge his capabilities in achieving that status.

He ended up losing to DOUKI in the number-one-contenders match, but he gained a substantive amount of credibility from that encounter. As much as he received when he was the guy, he was the guy to challenge Okada as Okada bolted from the country…slowly, deliberately.  Fujita is being put in these spots, at a preposterously young age (still fucking 21!). It’s been revelatory. 

Past Performance 

  • Debut entry

Booking Strength and Final Match Situation

  • Booking Strength
    • Overall: 20th (3.875 AVG CP)
    • In-Block: 10th (1.625 AVG CP)
    • 1 semi-main event
  • Final Night Opponent: Blake Christian

All the laudations we heaped upon Fujita in the Current Situation section… well, don’t forget it, but don’t let it amplify your expectations for poor young Fujita in this Best of the Super Juniors. We firmly believe that if Desperado is not going to win this tournament and vanquish SHO at Dominion, Fujita is the top secondary choice. But then, he’s dead last in the booking strength. He does have a semi-main event, which only exacerbates how low he is on the card every other night. 

Chances of Winning: 15%

My person desire for him to win: 99%

What-to-Look-For Matches

  • Night 2 (May 13th): Kosei Fujita vs. El Desperado
    • Fujita’s been asking for this one, from back when he was a Young Lion. Fujita called out pretty much everyone, but he has consistently challenged Desperado. Fujita’s fourth single match against a non-YL was against Desperado, back in October 2021. That was their only singles match-up. This will be a massive test: in Korakuen, against the 1b junior ace, in the semi-main event. This is his highest position, and only significant card placement in the tournament. Amongst the many things this company is doing to ensure ennui and disillusionment, they’ve set Fujita up to succeed here. The crowd is going to be raucous. Expect heavy hands and crisp reversal sequences in this one.
  • Night 9 (May 26th): Kosei Fujita vs. HAYATA
    • We have a theme for Fujita. As a potential future ace, we are blessed to see him against two juniors that stand atop their company’s division. Fujita and HAYATA have obviously never shared a ring before, and this one is going on second, but it is in Tokyo (Yoyogi #2) and Hayata’s style fit be a nice fit for Fujita. The ring work should be compelling, and Fujita’s intensity and audacity should inject life into the match. It’s almost as captivating to wonder how HAYATA will respond to Fujita.




Titan

  • 5th Entry, 3rd Straight Year
    • Semi-Finals: 2023

Current Situation: Yet again, we have not been able to watch a wrestler’s home promotion enough to confidently relate their current situation. In this case, we turn to CMLL-watcher and Flagship Podcast co-host Joe Lanza, who informed us that we could have just written about his New Japan work and left it at that. Joe noted that Titan doesn’t have much going on at the moment. He remains a top guy in CMLL, having held their one of their largely useless titles (the Welterweight) for over 1600 days. Sixteen hundred fucking days! In that time, he’s defended it only eight times, one of them against Soberano Jr at last year’s Fantasticamania, main eventing the penultimate show of the tour.

In this year’s Fantasticamania, Titan’s singles match was against young Brillante Jr… in the third match of the night. Despite being a focal point of last year’s FM, having made a run in Super Junior Tag League with BUSHI, a legitimate member of the company’s top faction, and having made the final of last year’s BOSJ, Titan seemed confoundingly disregarded at this year’s Fantasticamania. 

Of course, much is confounding about Titan’s presence in New Japan. Since making it to the BOSJ Final last year, he’s wrestled on the Super Junior Tag League tour, and Famtasticamania. That’s it. And that’s generally all he’s done. Guys like Titan and Soberano Jr have these New Japan deals, which seem no different than sporadic affiliation-driven appearances. Appearances which, while they last, should be treasured, because he is a truly gifted performer and presence, as he proved one year ago in this tournament.

New Japan persists in putting the most important belts on foreigners so it would be downright undiplomatic not to put the IWGP Junior belt on Titan.

Past Performance 

  • 2013: 6 points (3-5) 8th (of 9) in B Block
  • 2019: 6 points (3-6), 7th (of 10) in A Block
  • 2022: 8 points (4-5), T-5 (of 10) in B Block (5-way tie)
  • 2023: 12 points (6-3), 2nd (of 10) in B Block, won semi-final

Titan is one of those CMLL guys who has been around forever, popping up intermittently for a decade, dating back in this tournament to 2013 when he was only 22 years old. He was also part of the famed 2019 BOSJ, though totally outshined by Bandido. When he returned in 2022, he rose from the top of the bottom to the bottom of the middle, but his energetic style was a desperately needed stimulation to a comatose promotion (alongside the other guests, like Ace Austin and Alex Zayne). It was, simply put, the first real sign of hope for normalcy.

Between 2022 and 2023, Titan joined LIJ, in one of the most excruciatingly awkward segments in modern theatrical history at Declaration of Power in October 2022. In his first BOSJ as a true NJPW unit guy, he upset Hiromu on the A Block final night to advance into the mini-tournament, defeated El Desperado is a tremendous semi-final, then lost to Master Wato in a final that was a legitimate match of the year candidate. A couple more years of performances at the level he has exhibited these last two years, and he will vault into the canon of all-time great BOSJ participants.

Booking Strength and Final Match Situation

  • Booking Strength
    • Overall: 7th (6.75 AVG CP)
    • In-Block: 3rd (3.375 AVG CP)
    • 1 main event, 1 semi-main event
  • Final Night Opponent: TJP

Titan was 18th out of 20 in booking strength in 2022. After joining LIJ and providing the illusion that he was a real roster member, he bumped up to 10th. That made him the lowest ranking finalist in at least ten years. This year he’s bumped up to 7th, but it’s his final night match-up that stands out. Once again, he is facing a major player in the division, as he did last year against Hiromu. Presumably, this block will all fall into line by this match, which will probably be the main event, and the winners of the final two matches will advance, as happened in the A block last year. We believe that gives him a chance to win the tournament well above average, simply for the circumstances. Because he’ll probably only show up for the junior tournaments again this year, we’re not sure we want him in that spot.

Chances of Winning: 40%

My person desire for him to win: 65%

What-to-Look-For Matches

  • Night 1 (May 11th): Titan vs. El Desperado
    • This choice feels a bit uninspired, but Night 1’s main event revisits the BOSJ30 semi-final, and is arguably the top match-up in A Block. This will be the third year in a row, with Despy taking the fall in their BOSJ 29 matchup, and Titan returning the favor in the semi-finals of BOSJ 30. Their matches are magnificent displays of technique, a testament to their capabilities. The winner gets a crucial tie-breaker, as well, since both should be in position to advance going into the final block night.
  • Night 11 (May 30th): Titan vs. TJP
    • This one also feels self-evident, for the same reasons as Titan’s match with Desperado. In this match, we also see the exquisite lucha of Titan against a well-rounded tactician with deep lucha roots. In this case, though, it’s less of a rivalry. They have wrestled three times, all in New Japan, and Titan has won all three, including victories in BOSK 29 and BOSJ 30. This will almost certainly be a winner-advances situation. In 2022, they wrestled on Night 7. In 2023, they wrestled in Night 1. This placement, assuredly a block final main or semi-main event, confirms the elevated stature of both men.

TJP

  • 4th Entry, 3rd Straight Year

Current Situation: He’s The Captain, a convoluted sobriquet that has been hopelessly tortured as TJP attempts to present himself as the front-of-the-line de facto leader of the Ospreay-less United Empire, while still attempting to diplomatically concede to the flat hierarchy concept embedded in the faction’s… history? Constitution? Whatever the genesis, it was never true, like most nonsense in constitutions, since every knew and accepted Will Ospreay as the leader of the group. The Round Table verbiage was all bunkum and no one earnestly accepted it.

TJP debuted the incongruously strange, reminiscent masked Aswang character at Wrestle Kingdom, and thankfully has shown restraint since; the only aspect he has sustained is the mist element. At Wrestle Kingdom, his Catch 2/2 team with Francesco Akira, who have been one of the best tag teams in the world since the moment the formed two years ago, regained the IWGP tag team championships. Then TJP started babbling about being an openweight, Akira became disillusioned with him, they lost the tag titles back to War Dogs, and then everyone reconciled in the huge Osaka cage match, Ospreay’s send-off from the promotion. TJP recently got a big win by defeating both DOUKI and Taichi is succession to win the United Empire vs. Just 5 Guys gauntlet match at Korakuen Hall on April 22nd.

Whether or not TJP is acting autonomously with this direction (almost certainly), or whether or not his stablemates have no interest in sincerely playing along with this fantasy (almost certainly not), TJP does find himself as one of the elite in-ring performers of the division, and has steadily seen his points rise. In the odd dynamics of A Block, he stands alongside Desperado and Titan as the class of the division (not counting outside guests). 

Past Performance 

  • 2011: 6 points (3-5), 7th (of 9) in A Block
  • 2022: 8 points (4-5), T-5 (of 10) in B Block (5-way tie)
  • 2023: 10 points (5-4), 5th (of 10) in A Block

Obviously those numbers show a progression, even if there is fairly gossamer connection between 2011 TJP and current TJP. He had a positive number last year, but was not in contention at any point, and he reached 10 points on the final block night with a forfeit win over Taiji Ishimori, who’s spine surrendered to the mat against Hiromu on the previous A Block night. Basically, he’s been a guy that provides consistently good-to-great matches, but has been insignificant thus far in any of his three BOSJ years. His situation is different now, possibly, maybe? His booking here might provide the answer to the nebulous state of TJP’s placement in the hierarchy (the real one, outside where he’s been trying to coagulate his ambition and imagination)

Booking Strength and Final Match Situation

  • Booking Strength
    • Overall: 4th (7.50 AVG CP)
    • In-Block: 2nd (3.625 AVG CP)
    • 1 main event, 2 semi-main events
  • Final Night Opponent: Titan

TJP was tied for 9th in booking strength in 2022, and 11th in booking strength in 2023. His jump all the way to 4th is almost certainly indicative of the company’s belief in him, almost level with their doofus vaudevillian comedy act champion, and above Taiji Ishimori, who has been presented as the third wheel to Desperado and Hiromu at the top of the division, with multiple world title victories.

TJP vs. Titan seems like a classic block final night winner-take-all. Whomever takes the fall here advances. And, considering the abysmal format which renders block final nights a mere rung in the tournament process, it could conceivably be for the block. The winner could win the block, leaving HAYATA and Despy to fight in the main event for 2nd place. Truly captivating pro wrestling. Either way, if New Japan is serious about getting the most of what they can out of TJP, on the brink of hitting his 40’s and with an ungodly amount of miles on him, as fresh as he still seems, now is the time.

Chances of Winning: 50%

My person desire for him to win: 18%

What-to-Look-For Matches

  • Night 1 (May 11th): TJP v. Kevin Knight
    • While they have been in tag team conflict for the last two years, these two have only had one singles match: TJP defeated Knight in June 2021, when Knight was still a Young Lion in the LA Dojo. It was the 31st match of Knight’s career, and the 14th singles match. A lot has changed since then. They traded the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team titles back in spring 2023, with both teams later meeting in a winner-advances situation on the final night of SJTL 2023. They are both effortlessly athletic, and this one should establish both guys as foundational elements of the block. TJP loves to grasp any opportunity to regurgitate sports cliché banalities, and he clearly longs to be seen as a wise, sagacious mentor type; this match should fulfill both.
  • Night 3 (May 15th): TJP vs. Clark Connors
    • Catch 2/2 have been feuding with BULLET CLUB War Dogs for nearly a year now. C22 lost their titles to Connors and Moloney back in July 2023, had a ridiculous casket match in December of that year, which was the lead-in to their regular tag match at Wrestle Kingdom, where TJP resurrected as the Aswang and Catch 2/2 regained the titles. Then War Dogs won the titles back a month later, because New Japan creative is a fucking atrocity in 2024.  It will be interesting to see how Connors power game aligns with TJP’s finesse. They have not met since January 2022; Connors is now a much different persona, looking more Tallahassee than ever, and this match has a year’s worth of fervent animosity undergirding it.

Yoshinobu Kanemaru

  • 7th Entry, 4th Straight Year

Current Situation: For the last two years, Yoshinobu Kanemaru has been one of the most absorbing performers in the Super Juniors. The numbers generally put him near the bottom, 17th in Cagematch ratings in 2022 and 15th in 2023. But the real number is 6:47. That’s the length of the match between Kanemaru and Hiromu Takahashi in 2022’s BOSJ. In that match, Hiromu came out fast and frantically relentless, until Kanemaru turned the tide, worked over Hiromu;s leg, put on a figure four, and then… didn’t break the hold until Hiromu submitted. End of match. It was one of the most stunning results in the company, a legitimately brilliant bit of trope busting.

With the dissolution of Suzuki-gun in late 2022, Kanemaru was absorbed into the offshoot Just 4 Guys, which became Just 5 Guys when they lured SANADA away from LIJ. Shortly thereafter, Just 5 Guys had the World title in their possession. Kanemaru never found success in the group, or even attempted success in the group. He joined HOUSE OF TORTURE in September 2023. He teamed with SHO in Super Junior Tag League, where they traveled the scope of Japan, getting responses in Tokyo, and almost dead silence everywhere else. He challenged El Desperado for the IWGP Junior Championship in January, coming up short in a wild Korakuen main event.

Past Performance 

  • 2017: 8 points (4-3), 4th (of 8) in B Block
  • 2018: 6 points (3-4), T-6th (of 8) in A Block (3-way tie)
  • 2019: 6 points (3-6), 8th (of 10) in A Block
  • 2021: 8 points (4-7), 11th (of 12)
  • 2022: 8 points (4-5), 9th (of 10) in A Block
  • 2023: 6 points (3-6), 9th (of 10) in B Block

By the time Yoshinobu Kanemaru wriggle-manipulated his way into New Japan, a maneuver which certainly has not left any lingering emerald resentment, he was 40 years old and well past his prime, physically, mentally, and in any sense of conviction. Thus, he’s appeared in this tournament, having dozens of matches, none of them memorable until he started showing brevity in 2022, when the company was still engulfed in temporal excess up and down the card.

Thus, he’s never been in last place, but he’s never been a contender. He’s usually amongst the first mathematically eliminated, while his aloof expression and exasperated demeanor  remain intact.

Booking Strength and Final Match Situation

  • Booking Strength
    • Overall: 13th (5.25 AVG CP)
    • In-Block: 7th (2.625 AVG CP)
    • 1 main event
  • Final Night Opponent: Clark Connors

As part of New Japan’s bold strategy of “give the people what they want for a 15-20 second stretch of a 3 hour show,” the kind of adventurous decision-making that results in robust numbers in Korakuen, and abysmal ones in Budokan, he cannot escape the saturation of House of Torture. But in this case, its effect is minimal, number-wise. Kanemaru’s booking strength here is simply a perpetuation of Kanemaru’s general spot in the tournament the last few years: 14th in 2023, 13th in 2022. Pre-pandemic: 11th in 2019, 9th of 16 in 2018, 9th of 16 in 2017. It’s the most suitable representation of Kanemaru’s place in New Japan since he Trojan Horse’d his way into the company.

Of course, you have to couple that with his results: he always finishes below his bottom-of-the-middle booking, generally finishing one place above the bottom. His match against Clark Connors on the final A Block night portends minimal tournament ramifications, more dismaying on Connors side than Kanemaru, and worrisome for the rest of us, since Kanemaru could set up a future junior tag title challenge.

Chances of Winning: 0%

My person desire for him to win: 0%

What-to-Look-For Matches

  • Night 5 (May 19th): Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. Blake Christian
    • Quite simply, the intrigue here is what type of match it will be. If Christian is importing the GCW sports-entertainment fuck-finish nonsense we are told he’s adopted a GCW champion, then this might actually be the most audacious match of the tournament. But then, who would Christian bring over to interfere for him? Most likely, this will be HOT drivel, which might get more response in Nagoya than it would in most non-Tokyo venues. But then, the frustration level would increase for some, since Christian will have to pretend he’s unaware and incapable of counteracting their diablerie, even though his current character does the exact same thing.
  • Night 11 (May 30th): Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. Clark Connors
    • No one treats HOUSE OF TORTURE like a sub-unit anymore, and neither EVIL’s squadron nor David Finlay’s pack treat each other with much reverence, if they even mention each other at all. HOT and BCWD did face off in SJTL last October, and it was dreadful. Since then, zero in-ring interaction, either as opponents or allies. You probably wouldn’t remember, but these two have actually faced each other in the last two BOSJ’s, with Connors winning both matches. They were short and quick, but adequate matches. Kanemaru will slow this down beyond the point of decency; the real interest here is the faction dynamics. It’s a single block night, and a block final match, so there’s zero chance this doesn’t become a gigantic HOT cataclysm.

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