NJPW Best of the Super Juniors 31 Previews

To say there is a bit of a discrepancy in the number of New Japan accomplishments between A and B Block would be a denigration of the word, of words, and of the capability of verbal communication. B Block touts:

  • 6 BOSJ wins (4 Hiromu Takahashi, 2 KUSHIDA)
  • 16 IWGP World Heavyweight Championship reigns (6 KUSHIDA, 5 Hiromu, 3 Tiaji Ishimori, 1 Robbie Eagles, and 1 SHO)
  • 14 IWGP World Heavyweight Tag Team Championship reigns (5 SHO, 3 Francesco Akira, 3 Ishimori, 2 Drilla Moloney, 1 Robbie Eagles)
  • 4 Super Junior Tag League (3 SHO, 1 Akira)

In the A Block:

  • 0 BOSJ Wins
  • 4 IWGP World Heavyweight Championship reigns (3 El Desperado, 1 BUSHI)
  • 17 IWGP World Heavyweight Tag Team Championship reigns (6 Yoshinobu Kanemaru, 4 Desperado, 3 TJP, 2 Clark Connors, 1 BUSHI, 1 Knight)
  • 3 Super Junior Tag League (1 TJP, 1 Desperado, 1 Kanemaru)

Of course, this isn’t totally fair. B Block has a significant advantage in GHC Junior Heavyweight Championships, so there’s that. But without question, at this place in time the firepower is heavily skewed towards B Block. Even looking at the final nights, B Block seems wide open, an incredibly competitive Block where anyone could advance. Almost certainly, Hiromu Takahashi vs. Taiji Ishimori seems like a winner-advances scenario, but then who else advances? The winner of DOUKI vs. Robbie Eagles? Does Francesco Akira defeat SHO to not only advance but set up a future title challenge, if SHO makes it through Dominion? Do both Hiromu and Ishimori advance, and their match simply determines seeding?

A Block is intriguing because there is so much uncertainty, untested potential, and chances to see corporeal growth, alongside some legit ace material (Despy, Titan, HAYATA). B Block is simply going to deliver extraordinary quality of matches, every night. The block is so stacked that it is impossibly to have any less than 2-3 outstanding pairings every night. B Blocks single block nights (final night excluded):

Night 4 (May 16)

  • Match #1: KUSHIDA vs. Francesco Akira
  • Match #2: DOUKI vs. Drilla Moloney
  • Match #3: Ninja Mack vs. SHO
  • Match #4: Hiromu Takahashi vs. Dragon Dia
  • Match #5: Robbie Eagles vs. Taiji Ishmori.

God DAMN. The opener is Francesco Akira, future ace, vs. KUSHIDA, former ace.

Night 10 (May 28)

  • Match #1: Dragon Dia vs. Ninja Mack
  • Match #2: DOUKI vs. KUSHIDA
  • Match #3: Francesco Akira vs. Robbie Eagles
  • Match #4: Taiji Ishimori vs. SHO
  • Match #5: Hiromu Takahashi vs. Drilla Moloney

Again: look at that opener. With B Block, just sit back and enjoy it. Savor it, because stacked blocks like these come around infrequently.

Best of the Super Juniors 30 Participants Not Returning:

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

Debuting Best of the Super Juniors 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)

B Block Final Night Match Line-up

  • KUSHIDA vs. Dragon Dia
  • DOUKI vs. Robbie Eagles
  • Francesco Akira vs. SHO
  • Hiromu Takahashi vs. Taiji Ishimori
  • Ninja Mack vs. Drilla Maloney


  • 6th Entry, 6th Straight Year

Current Situation: The story of DOUKI is the story of many outside wrestlers who arrived in New Japan Pro Wrestling over the years: he came in as a total job guy who was there to eat falls in all contexts, quickly improved a great deal as a result of working with NJPW’s supremely talented roster, and then languished in the undercards as fans wondered if his push would ever catch up with his quality. After years of utter stagnation (perfectly represented by his 6 points in three straight years below), the push finally came for DOUKI in 2024. He defeated Hiromu Takahashi for the first time ever in a singles match (on his fifth try!) at New Beginning in February, then followed that up with another big win over young upstart Kosei Fujita in Taiwan in April in a #1 contendership match for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title. 

Though he came up short when he challenged SHO last week, it’s still notable given that it was DOUKI’s first shot at the junior singles title ever. It represents a new level for him, as he’s finally the undisputed number one junior in his unit (with Kanemaru of course having departed J5G for House of Torture last fall and TAKA being TAKA) and should continue to be a solid second tier junior in New Japan for years to come at this point. He’s earned that spot, and though he probably has no chance at all to win this tournament (if only because he just had a junior title shot a week ago!), you can see in his stats below that he’ll be treated with respect this year. The days of him finishing with 6 points are likely long over.

Past Performance 

  • 2019: 2 points (1-8), 9th (of 10) in B Block
  • 2020: 4 points (2-7), 9th (of 10)
  • 2021: 6 points (3-8), 12th (of 12)
  • 2022: 6 points (3-6), 10th (of 10) in B Block
  • 2023: 6 points (3-6), 8th (of 10) in A Block

Booking Strength and Final Match Situation

  • Booking Strength
    • Overall: 5th (6.875 AVG CP)
    • In-Block: 4th (3.25 AVG CP)
    • 2 main events
  • Final Night Opponent: Robbie Eagles

As noted above, this is a totally different level than we’re used to seeing with DOUKI. Just for comparison’s sake, his booking strength in prior years was: 9th out of 10 in 2020, 12th out of 12 in 2021, 19th out of 20 in 2022, and 18th out of 20 in 2023. This year he’s 5th. 5th! That’s not just a jump, that’s quantum goddamn leap! Somehow while being 5th overall he’s still only 4th in his block, which I guess speaks to the relatively unbalanced blocks this year, but you can definitely tell that he’s going to be in the mix at least. His final night opponent, a former IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion who isn’t around much but still also gets treated with a ton of respect (and still has to be considered the top TMDK junior, with apologies to Fujita), would also indicate that DOUKI will likely be in the mix in some fashion. Whether it’s a straight up winner-moves-on contest or DOUKI is just looking to spoil Eagles, we’ll have to wait and see.

Chances of Winning: 1%

I won’t quite give him the 0 but very unlikely, again if only because he just had a junior title match.

My personal desire for him to win: 5%

I think he still works best as the underdog so I don’t think a BOSJ win quite fits for him, but he rules so it’s not like I’d complain about it either.

What-to-Look-For Matches:

  • Night 1 (May 11th): DOUKI vs. Taiji Ishimori
    • DOUKI’s 0-3 lifetime against him, so it will be interesting to see if he’ll get a win over another longtime junior stalwart he’s never beaten before. Would be a big statement for him right on opening night.
  • Night 2 (May 13th): DOUKI vs. Hiromu Takahashi
    • It’s a rematch from their New Beginning match, with Hiromu looking for revenge. Plus it’s the main event in Korakuen Hall.
  • Night 8 (May 22nd): DOUKI vs. SHO
    • Another main event for DOUKI and another big rematch, this time against the junior champion he just came up short against. And it’s at Edion in Osaka, another major venue.

Dragon Dia (Dragongate)

  • Debut Entry

Current Situation: For this entry I turn things over to VOW’s renowned Dragongate experts Case Lowe & Mike Spears. First, Case with some information on Dragon Dia’s background:

Dragon Dia is one of the founding members of D’Courage, a popular babyface unit in Dragongate. He debuted in 2018 under a mask in an effort to continue the dragon lineage that Ultimo Dragon and Dragon Kid so proudly represent, but in December 2021, Dia was unmasked after losing the fall in a mascara contra mascara tag match when his partner, Shun Skywalker, turned on him. This was far and away one of the most shocking results in Dragongate history. Dia would link up with Yuki Yoshioka the following month to form D’Courage, and since then, Dia has held Dragongate’s Open the Twin Gate titles three times (twice with the aforementioned Yoshioka, once with Madoka Kikuta) and had one reign as Open the Brave Gate Champion.

Dia is known for being able to perform high-flying moves with stunning precision. What would classify as a “risky maneuver” to most wrestlers looks effortless to Dia.

Outside of an appearance on the 2022 Dragongate x NOAH joint show and some showings on micro indies, Dragon Dia has never left the confines of his home promotion. His appearance in this year’s tournament could not only elevate Dia’s name on a greater scale, but Dragongate as a whole.

Now with some more thoughts on Dia, Mike Spears:

Dragon Dia is proof that Dragongate’s strategy of going anywhere and everywhere in Japan to hold shows pays off. He saw the company in nearby Nagano (in actuality he’s from a smaller rural town near Suzaka. Funny enough, his hometown is too small for even Dragongate to find a way to run a show). His size and location would have been a detriment in nearly every other company in Japan, but in Dragongate he’s seen great success and even was the focus of the promotion in late 2021-mid 2022.

There’s a belief with Dia that his potential, and ability, is infinite. Before COVID, DG had a different broadcasting strategy in 2019 with Lenny Leonard and Larry Dallas fronting the team with Jae Church as translator/Tenay 3rd Chair. There’s a story of a dinner of that era where Hijo del Vikingo was a topic of conversation in terms of his raw ability. Someone brought out Youtube on their phone to look at dives and splashes. Not impressed, DG veterans countered that Dragon Dia could do all that Vikingo (in 2019) was capable of, if not even more.

Dragon Dia’s link to Yuki Yoshioka had him somewhat circumstantially on the sidelines in 2024. Yoshioka suffered vision issues not dissimilar to Tetsuya Naito in December 2023 before a signed Twin Gate title defense against Pro Wrestling NOAH’s Kaito Kiyomiya and Alejandro. Up until last weekend’s Dead or Alive, the working idea was that everything was basically on hold until Yoshioka got back because his challenge of Kiyomiya was the lynchpin of the feud. Due to that, Dia’s 2024 has been quiet from a booking standpoint, however his ability remained unvarnished. He spent the first half of the year mostly teaming with D’Courage members Ryoya Tanaka and Kikuta in strong trios matches and strong technical performance with Kikuta in Rey de Parejas even if D’Courage finished tied for last in their block.

I think this BOSJ opportunity comes at a particularly opportune time for the Infinite Carat Diamond and the heir of the Dragon lineage. Dragongate and excursions haven’t gone the greatest lately and this would be the right time for him to go on one, so Best of the Super Juniors feels like a great workaround for Dia. Yoshioka’s been out now for almost half a year, it’s past time for Dragon Dia to claim 2024 on his own terms and a strong performance in BOSJ would go a long way to make up for his spring.

Past Performance 

  • Debut entry

Booking Strength and Final Match Situation

  • Booking Strength
    • Overall: 19th (4.00 AVG CP)
    • In-Block: 10th (1.875 AVG CP)
    • 1 semi-main event
  • Final Night Opponent: KUSHIDA

As a last-minute injury replacement for Ryusuke Taguchi, it’s tough to read too much into Dragon Dia’s card placement here. If he’s just getting Taguchi’s placements, obviously Taguchi wouldn’t have been considered a favorite in this year’s BOSJ (far from it!), so being last in the block and second-to-last overall is not a huge surprise. Either way, it would not appear that Dia is a contender to advance (which you can also see from his final opponent of KUSHIDA, another injury replacement who isn’t expected to pick up many wins), and that’s okay: for Dia, he’ll be looking to shine in defeat.

Chances of Winning: 0%

No chance, for reasons stated above.

My person desire for him to win: 10%

It would certainly be an interesting upset!

What-to-Look-For Matches

  • Again, thanks to Case Lowe for these!
  • Night 1 (May 11th): Dragon Dia vs. Francesco Akira
  • Night 6 (May 19th) Dragon Dia vs. DOUKI
  • Night 8 (May 22nd): Dragon Dia vs. Robbie Eagles

Drilla Moloney (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion)

  • 2nd Entry, 2nd Straight Year

Current Situation: Drilla Moloney is one of the two current aces in the junior tag team division, as he and Clark Connors have largely held the titles since their formation of the team last summer (with only a brief one-month interruption where they lost the belts to Catch 22 at Wrestle Kingdom 18 before winning them back at New Beginning). Outside of his BOSJ run last year, where as you can see he did not finish with a winning record, he actually has only one other singles match in NJPW since his debut: a win over, of all people, Tetsuya Naito in Korakuen Hall only a couple weeks ago. Of course, that came with a major outside assist from NOAH’s Jake Lee to kick off a Naito vs. Lee feud, but hey, the record books still say Drilla Moloney got that W over Naito, and how many other BOSJ competitors this year can say that? Probably zero.

Past Performance 

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

Booking Strength and Final Match Situation

  • Booking Strength
    • Overall: 17th (4.75 AVG CP)
    • In-Block: 7th (2.375 AVG CP)
    • 1 main event
  • Final Night Opponent: Ninja Mack

The Drilla’s booking strength as well as his final night opponent likely portend another losing record, as he probably won’t be in the running to advance out of the B block.

Chances of Winning: 0%

He’s a junior tag ace, he’ll be losing some falls to set up future junior tag title challenges (maybe even against his last night opponent Ninja Mack and someone else from NOAH?), you should know the deal here. Choosing him to beat Naito in Korakuen Hall even with outside interference might signal bigger future plans for him, whether as a singles junior or even in the heavyweight division (which he’s certainly more than big enough for), but that push is very unlikely to start this year.

My person desire for him to win: 25%

The Drilla rules.

What-to-Look-For Matches

  • Night 1 (May 11th): Drilla Moloney vs. SHO
    • House of Torture vs. War Dogs is always interesting, if only because they almost never interact outside of these tournaments. This is also a first time ever matchup.
  • Night 6 (May 19th): Drilla Moloney vs. Francesco Akira
    • This obviously continues the long-running Catch 22 vs. War Dogs feud, and they’re also 1-1 against each other, but both singles matches actually came before the feud even started. Moloney beat Akira on 3/23 last year in Revolution Pro, while Akira beat Moloney while they were both still United Empire members on 5/16 in last year’s BOSJ (before Moloney of course turned on them at Dominion that year).
  • Night 10: Drilla Moloney vs. Hiromu Takahashi
    • Drilla’s only main event of the tour is another first-time-ever singles match, this time against the junior division’s long-established ace.

Francesco Akira

  • 3rd Entry, 3rd Straight Year

Current Situation: Akira feels a little bit lost in the shuffle in New Japan at the moment, the way many juniors can be when they aren’t actively involved in a feud for either the singles or tag titles. He had an eventful past year since last year’s BOSJ, first in his quest with Catch 22 partner TJP to regain the IWGP Jr. Tag Team Titles from usurpers Drilla Moloney & Clark Connors. That culminated in the bizarre casket match just prior to Wrestle Kingdom 18, and the even more bizarre emergence of the Aswang at WK itself. But when Catch 22 lost the tag belts right back to the War Dogs just a month later, it all ended up feeling a little bit pointless.

Akira continued to have a role in the larger United Empire vs. War Dogs feud after quickly regaining & losing back the junior tag titles, as they moved into another kind of bizarre storyline that saw Akira portrayed as being deathly afraid of the upcoming cage match blowoff between the two stables. This was definitely a strange way to portray one of the wrestlers on the babyface side of the feud, which lead to speculation that perhaps it was leading to a heel turn for Akira. Instead, Akira just kind of got over it and had a few big moments in the cage match, though in a losing effort for the unit.

That was also of course the last night in New Japan for United Empire’s founding leader Will Ospreay, and the rest of the unit has felt a bit adrift in New Japan ever since. It doesn’t help Akira in particular that his partner TJP has been calling himself an “openweight” since then (though he’s also still taking part in BOSJ), which has led to the future of their team feeling murky at best. It would be one thing if that was leading up to a strong singles push for the supremely talented (but admittedly undersized) Akira, but that doesn’t quite feel like it’s on the cusp of happening. Oh well. If nothing else, Akira gave us Drilla Moloney shouting about bubble tea, and no one will ever be able to take that away from him.

Past Performance 

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

Booking Strength and Final Match Situation

  • Booking Strength
    • Overall: 14th (5.00 AVG CP)
    • In-Block: 7th (2.375 AVG CP)
    • 0 main or semi-main events
  • Final Night Opponent: SHO

I’m surprised that Akira’s fourth-from-the-bottom booking strength isn’t actually even lower, just given his total lack in either mains or semi-mains that we mentioned above. It looks like he’ll likely already be out of contention for moving on out of the block, but that last match against the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion SHO is obviously very interesting. Akira could of course play spoiler and perhaps knock SHO out of the running (if he’s still in it by then), setting up a much-deserved future title match.

Chances of Winning: 0%

Just don’t see any indication they’re preparing for an Akira junior title run.

My person desire for him to win: 20%

It would be fresh at least, that is for sure!

What-to-Look-For Matches

  • Night 1 (May 11th): Francesco Akira vs. Dragon Dia
    • First time ever meeting against another fiery but undersized wrestler from another promotion is a hell of a way to start his tournament. It’s the show opener too so you know we’re getting like an 8-minute balls to the wall sprint.
  • Night 2 (May 13th): Francesco Akira vs. Ninja Mack
    • Another first-time-ever interpromotional match with a fellow tiny, tiny man, with the added bonus of it being in front of the super hardcores at Korakuen.
  • Night 6 (May 19th): Francesco Akira vs. Drilla Moloney
    • Catch 22 vs. the War Dogs renewed. As mentioned in the Drilla’s profile, their only two singles matches actually came before Moloney jumped from UE to the War Dogs. It’s a classic speed vs. power matchup too.

Hiromu Takahashi

  • 9th Entry, 5th Straight Year
    • Wins: 2018, 2020, 2021, 2022

Current Situation: Hiromu’s 2024 got off to a bit of a surprising start at the Tokyo Dome. Seemingly everyone was expecting him to do two things this year: 1) break Minoru Tanaka’s record for most IWGP Jr. Title defenses in a single reign (he was sitting at seven defenses, four back of Tanaka’s masked Heat persona and in a three-way tie for third behind Jushin Thunder Liger as well) and 2) face the man everyone assumed would be IWGP World Heavyweight Champion by the end of the night, Tetsuya Naito, in the annual champion vs. champion match at the anniversary show, making up for their match that was called off by COVID exactly four years earlier. Instead, he lost the title at the Tokyo Dome to forever rival El Desperado in a stunning defeat, exactly one year after his latest junior title reign had begun. I’m not sure anyone saw that coming, and it’s kicked off a bit of a bizarre down year for Hiromu.

After losing the title, Hiromu followed it up by dropping his first singles match ever to another longtime rival in DOUKI as part of the LIJ vs. J5G singles match series at New Beginning in February. His next big singles match saw him go up against undefeated ex-WWE superstar Mustafa Ali at Windy City Riot in April, where he was also defeated. Finally, he went up against the War Dogs alongside the rest of LIJ and suffered yet two more defeats: a loss to David Finlay in another singles match series at Korakuen Hall, and yet another failed IWGP Jr. Tag Title challenge against Connors & Moloney at Satsuma no Kuni. Winning the junior tag titles alongside BUSHI has sort of become Hiromu’s white whale in an otherwise distinguished career- this was, believe it or not, their eighth (!) failed title challenge as a team dating back to 2018, and they also lost a tournament final for the vacant belts in September 2020 as well.

Add it all up, and Hiromu Takahashi essentially hasn’t had a big win in New Japan since last November, when he made his seventh IWGP Jr. Title defense against Taiji Ishimori at Power Struggle. This makes you wonder where everything is headed going into this year’s BOSJ. On one hand, Hiromu has seemingly never had LESS momentum entering one of these tournaments in his life. On the other hand, he’s still the most popular junior (with all due respect to El Desperado and his own very large fanbase of course) and has still won more of these tournaments than anyone else in history, so you count him out at your own peril. Does Hiromu continue his strange year outside of the spotlight, or does he return right back to the junior mountaintop?

Past Performance 

  • 2012: 2 points (1-7), 9th (of 9) in B Block (beat Taka Michinoku)
  • 2017: 8 points (4-3), 4th (of 8) in A Block
  • 2018: 10 points (5-2), 1st (of 8) in B Block, won tournament
  • 2020: 14 points (7-2), 2nd (of 10), won tournament
  • 2021: 15 points (7-3-1), 1st (of 12), won tournament
  • 2022: 12 points (6-3), 1st (of 10) in B Block, won tournament
  • 2023: 12 points (6-3), 4th (of 10) in B Block

Booking Strength and Final Match Situation

  • Booking Strength
    • Overall: 2nd (9.00 AVG CP)
    • In-Block: 1st (4.625 AVG CP)
    • 3 main events, 3 semi-main events
  • Final Night Opponent: Taiji Ishimori

No shocks here: Hiromu has the greatest booking strength of anyone in the loaded B block, which puts him in second place overall. He’ll be in one of the last two matches on 6 out of his 9 shows, and his final night opponent of fellow former junior champion Taiji Ishimori is obviously set up to be a match where both will likely be alive to move on to the semifinals.

Chances of Winning: 50%

It’s Hiromu Takahashi and he’s not the junior champion, so clearly he’s making the final at least if not winning the whole tournament. Right? Well, unless his weird year continues and he doesn’t even make the semifinals or something. So I guess 50% sounds about right here.

My person desire for him to win: 10%

I get that it’s not the most exciting or fresh outcome, but I’m never gonna complain about one of my favorite wrestlers ever winning a BOSJ, sorry!

What-to-Look-For Matches

  • Night 2 (May 13th): Hiromu Takahashi vs. SHO
    • It’s a main event at Korakuen Hall and it’s one of the best rivalries of the modern NJPW junior division. It will be their first match since DOUKI finally beat Hiromu back in February as well, perhaps adding a new dimension.
  • Night 4 (May 16th): Hiromu Takahashi vs. Dragon Dia
    • It’s a first time ever match between NJPW’s junior ace and a young standout from Dragongate, which I sure wish had the main event slot of the show over Eagles/Ishimori! But I’m still excited for it.
  • Night 5 (May 18th): Hiromu Takahashi vs. SHO
    • A longtime rivalry gets renewed in a main event, with the added twist that SHO is now of course the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion. Throwing out two Young Lion matches, Hiromu currently has a very slight 4-3 edge over SHO after taking their previous meeting in last year’s BOSJ, so SHO will be looking to even the score.
  • Night 6 (May 19th): Hiromu Takahashi vs. Ninja Mack
    • Yes I’m highlighting more matches for Hiromu than anyone else, he’s the junior ace, sue me. Another first-time-ever singles match against a wrestler from another promotion sees Hiromu take on NOAH’s foreign ninja.
  • Night 10 (May 28th) Hiromu Takahashi vs. Drilla Moloney
    • Another main event and another first-time-ever singles match, as Hiromu faces the War Dogs’ powerhouse. Can he get some revenge on Moloney after yet another failed junior tag title challenge?


  • 11th Entry, 2nd Straight Year
    • Wins: 2015, 2017
    • Finals: 2014

Current Situation: KUSHIDA is another injury replacement in this year’s BOSJ, tagging in due to YOH unfortunately blowing out his shoulder in his IWGP Jr. Title challenge against SHO back at Sakura Genesis. There really isn’t much to say about his year in NJPW so far, as he simply hasn’t been around much at all. He’s practically a TNA guest star at this point- he did appear on the short Sakura Genesis tour (five shows in total), leading up to an unsuccessful IWGP Jr. Tag Title challenge alongside Kevin Knight at that show. But that’s literally been it for him this year. He felt like a non-factor in this division even before he signed with another promotion (witness his 2-7 recording in last year’s tournament after his five years away in WWE), so I wouldn’t expect much out of him in this year’s BOSJ- especially considering he wasn’t even originally supposed to be in it.

Past Performance 

  • 2010: 8 points (4-3), 5th (of 8) in A Block
  • 2011: 10 points (5-3), 4th (of 9) in B Block
  • 2012: 8 points (4-4), 7th (of 9) in A Block
  • 2013: 8 points (4-4) 4th (of 9) in B Block
  • 2014: 10 points (5-2), 1st (of 8) in A Block 
  • 2015: 12 points (6-1), 1st (of 8) in B Block, won tournament 
  • 2016: 8 points (4-3), 6th (of 8) in A Block 
  • 2017: 8 points (4-3), 1st (of 8) in B Block, won tournament
  • 2018: 8 points (4-3), 2nd (of 8) in B Block
  • 2023: 4 points (2-7), 9th (of 10) in A Block

Booking Strength and Final Match Situation

  • Booking Strength
    • Overall: 12th (5.75 AVG CP)
    • In-Block: 6th (2.625 AVG CP)
    • 1 semi-main event
  • Final Night Opponent: Dragon Dia

His booking strength maybe isn’t quite as low as you’d expect, only barely coming in the bottom half of both his block and the overall field, although like with fellow injury replacement Dia it’s tough to know if that was based on YOH’s original booking or not. Either way, he’s still only in one semi-main, no main events, and his final night opponent is his fellow injury replacement, so I don’t suspect he’ll be a candidate to move on from the block.

Chances of Winning: 0%

They’ve just been seemingly done with him since the moment he came back from WWE, and he kinda saw the writing on the wall (and the US dollars in his bank account) when he signed with TNA. Some sins are unforgivable in Gedo’s eyes I guess.

My person desire for him to win: 0%

Eh. I could see the theoretical appeal in a One Last Run for KUSHIDA I guess, but I’m not into it.

What-to-Look-For Matches

  • Night 1 (May 11th): KUSHIDA vs. Hiromu Takahashi
    • KUSHIDA’s highest match on the card comes right away on the opening night, as he faces the man who once beat him in an IWGP Jr. Title match in under two minutes. Again throwing out any meetings where Hiromu was a Young Lion, Hiromu has a 4-1 edge over KUSHIDA historically, with KUSHIDA’s only win coming back at Dominion 2017 in another junior title match. Hiromu won their first meeting in five years after KUSHIDA’s return from WWE in last year’s BOSJ.
  • Night 5 (May 18th): KUSHIDA vs. Robbie Eagles
    • This is an interesting matchup of junior heavyweights with strong technical wrestling skills that’s never happened….in NJPW at least. They actually faced off in a singles match for the first time in their careers in Australia for the Oceania Pro Wrestling promotion almost exactly a month ago, on April 13th, with Eagles getting the win. KUSHIDA will get the chance to pay Eagles back quickly in Japan.
  • Night 5 (May 19th): KUDHIDA vs. Taiji Ishimori
    • What you might call the signature win of Taiji Ishimori’s New Japan career (if not his career in general) came at KUSHIDA’s expense back at Wrestle Kingdom 13, when Ishimori basically sent him packing for Stamford in a one-sided victory for the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title (honestly it was so one-sided it bordered on being a squash, I guess understandably so). A rematch after all these years came in last year’s BOSJ, with Ishimori again getting the win; KUSHIDA’s only win over Ishimori in his career came so long ago that Ishimori hadn’t even jumped from NOAH to NJPW yet, way back in the first round of the 2016 Super J-Cup. Can KUSHIDA finally get some revenge and even their all-time record to 2-2?

Ninja Mack (Pro Wrestling NOAH)

  • Debut Entry

Current Situation: Nobody has taken a more unique route to get to this year’s BOSJ than NOAH’s Long Island-born, Texas-raised ninja. He has a background in gymnastics and even once toured with Cirque du Soleil before entering Booker T’s Reality of Wrestling school back in 2014 (starting a little later than many of your typical wrestling students, as he was already around 25 at the time; he’s 34 today, so a little older than you might think for someone who still feels so fresh on the scene). After taking on the Ninja Mack persona, he eventually made his way to AAA in Mexico in 2021 and then NOAH in Japan in 2022, where he’s become a crowd favorite.

I checked in with our resident NOAH experts Gerard Di Trolio & Paul Volsch of the Emerald FlowShow for more information on what Ninja Mack has been up to in NOAH. They described him as a “featured midcard act who NOAH had been avoiding giving a real sustained push”, though also noted that he ended up with an accidental GHC Jr. Heavyweight Title reign when HAYATA (another BOSJ entrant this year!) suffered an injury mid-match. That apparently accidental title change happened back on October 30th of 2022, with Mack then dropping the belt very quickly to Dante Leon on November 10th.

But Ninja Mack recently held a title for far longer: the reactivated GHC Hardcore Openweight Title. This interesting belt, originally introduced by Jun Akiyama during NOAH’s glory years in the mid-2000s, was on hiatus from 2009 (last champion: Kenta Kobashi!) until all the way in October 2023, when Masato Tanaka beat Ninja Mack in a decision match on an episode of NOAH’s Monday Magic show. Mack however would win a 3-way match featuring Tanaka and Super Crazy on November 27th (another Monday Magic), then go on to hold the belt for over five months. He finally lost it just a few short days ago on May 4th to Shuji Ishikawa.

The bottom line on Ninja Mack seems to be that he’s an energetic (if undersized) performer who maybe isn’t the most protected act in NOAH, even if he’s coming off a recent title reign. As we’ll see when we get into his booking strength below, I wouldn’t exactly expect him to be a favorite to move on to the semis, but he should bring some great excitement and variety to the undercards during this year’s BOSJ.

Past Performance 

  • Debut entry

Booking Strength and Final Match Situation

  • Booking Strength
    • Overall: 18th (4.625 AVG CP)
    • In-Block: 9th (2.125 AVG CP)
    • 0 main or semi-main events
  • Final Night Opponent: Drilla Moloney

Yeah, nothing here screams that Mack is a real contender as an outsider, as he has the second-lowest booking strength in the B block. Could he play spoiler on IWGP Jr. Tag Champion Drilla Moloney on the last night, or will they both be playing for pride at that point?

Chances of Winning: 0%

Hard to see any path for Mack here.

My person desire for him to win: 0%

No offense to Ninja Mack, but if they really want to do the “unlikely outsider wins the tournament” story I’d rather it be Dragon Dia. Realistically it will be neither of them though.

What-to-Look-For Matches

  • Night 4 (May 16th): Ninja Mack vs. SHO
    • Given that he’s never appeared in NJPW before basically all of his matches in this tournament will be first-time-ever meetings, but I’m interested to see how his ninja techniques do against the 2023 Tokyo Sports runner-up for Best Technique winner SHO’s own, ahem, special skills. It’s always funny to see new people dealing with the House for the first time.
  • Night 6 (May 19th): Ninja Mack vs. Hiromu Takahashi
    • Of course you have to highlight his chance to take on NJPW’s junior ace for the first time.
  • Night 10 (May 28th): Ninja Mack vs. Dragon Dia
    • A big DG vs. NOAH battle, and yes, another first time ever match, as two undersized but flashy wrestlers probably do lots of flips for our enjoyment.

Robbie Eagles

  • 6th Entry, 6th Straight Year

Current Situation: Well, this will be rather short: Robbie Eagles’ current situation in NJPW is that he’s been MIA since last November. We haven’t seen Eagles once in New Japan in 2024 so far, with his last appearances coming as part of the Super Junior Tag League alongside TMDK teammate Kosei Fujita. The joke with Eagles for a little while now has been that he just shows up for the two junior tournaments each year, but until now it wasn’t literally true; for example, in 2023 he also worked the Sakura Genesis tour and challenged Hiromu Takahashi for the IWGP Jr. Title at that show. Yeah, that was his only tour besides BOSJ & SJTL in 2023, but it was still something at least! This year we’ve seen absolutely nothing of Eagles in New Japan at all until this tournament, and that’s a shame since he’s obviously very talented.

Past Performance 

  • 2019: 10 points (5-4), 7th (of 10) in B Block
  • 2020: 8 points (4-5), T-6th (of 10) (3-way tie)
  • 2021: 12 points (6-5), T-4th (of 12) (3-way tie)
  • 2022: 10 points (5-4), 3rd (of 10) in B Block
  • 2023: 10 points (5-4), 4th (of 10) in B Block

Booking Strength and Final Match Situation

  • Booking Strength
    • Overall: 9th (6.375 AVG CP)
    • In-Block: 4th (3.25 AVG CP)
    • 1 main event, 2 semi-main events
  • Final Night Opponent: DOUKI

Despite being the missing man, Eagles still gets quite a bit of respect in the booking here, 4th in the block and 9th overall. His final night opponent of the newly elevated DOUKI leaves open plenty of scenarios, and it wouldn’t shock me at all if he was one of the two wrestlers to advance out of the block.

Chances of Winning: 0%

Maybe I should have this higher, but I just don’t see him popping up out of nowhere when he hasn’t been booked all year and winning the tournament. Losing in the semifinals just feels like his ceiling. Though to be fair, I really don’t see anyone but El Desperado or Hiromu Takahashi winning this tournament.

My person desire for him to win: 0%

I like Robbie Eagles quite a bit actually, but he barely feels like a member of the New Japan roster at this point. So I can’t say I’m chomping at the bit for him to be airlifted in from Australia and win BOSJ. Sorry Robbie.

What-to-Look-For Matches

  • Night 4 (May 16th): Robbie Eagles vs. Taiji Ishimori
    • It feels like an eternity ago that Robbie Eagles was A) a BULLET CLUB member & B) tag partners with Taiji Ishimori, but actually it was only six years ago. Time just somehow lost all meaning back in 2020. Anyway, Eagles and Ishimori have only had three singles meetings since Robbie left BC for CHAOS (which he, uh, then also left for TMDK cause this guy really gets around)- Ishimori defeated him in the 2020 & 2021 editions of BOSJ, and Eagles finally got a win over him in a random singles match in Osaka in February 2022. They’ll finally have a fourth singles match over two years later, and it’s the main event of the show as well.
  • Night 6 (May 19th): Robbie Eagles vs. SHO
    • Eagles gets his shot against the reigning junior champion in Nagoya, in the semi-main of the show (making it the B block main of this mixed block event). It’s been a long time since these two have faced off- Eagles beat him in back-to-back BOSJs in 2020 & 2021, with the latter coming only a few months after SHO’s big heel turn. Staying perfect against him could earn Eagles a future junior title shot even if he doesn’t win the tournament.
  • Night 9 (May 26th): Robbie Eagles vs. Hiromu Takahashi
    • Another semi-main/B block main sees Eagles taking on NJPW’s longtime junior ace at the Yoyogi Gym in Tokyo. Robbie has a 1-3 record against Hiromu, with his only win over him coming in an IWGP Jr. Title match at the MetLife Dome in 2021- Hiromu beat him in both of their previous BOSJ meetings (in 2020 & 2021), plus beat him in another junior title match in April 2023.

SHO (IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion)

  • 7th Entry, 7th Straight Year

Current Situation: Everyone’s favorite member of everyone’s favorite stable had an eventful 2023 that saw him win his first singles title in NJPW (the KOPW title, which he won from Taichi in September thanks to Yoshinobu Kanemaru’s big turn) and finish as runner-up for Best Technique in the Tokyo Sports awards, which is just an all time funny thing that’s ever happened. He got 8 votes! He only finished 3 votes behind the winner (AJPW’s Yuma Aoyagi, who can’t swing a wrench HALF as well I bet)! I just love bringing this up, which is why I’ve mentioned it twice in this preview now!

So how do you top a year like that? Well, by winning the IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Title, that’s how. Yes, after coming up short twice (against Hiromu in 2021, pre-HoT, and El Desperado in 2022), the third time was the charm for the Murder Machine, as he defeated Despy by COUNT OUT in February at New Beginning. Some will say that this win only came due to Despy’s former STRONG STYLE unit mate Ren Narita popping up from under the ring to put him in a sleeper, and to them I say: shut up, you. 

What’s funny is that he had “earned” that title shot by stealing the junior belt from Despy (after the champion had previously said SHO was unworthy of a title shot), and in perhaps the first recorded time in professional wrestling history, the babyfaces actually learned a lesson from the heel’s tactics. SHO’s former partner YOH just straight up copied him and immediately stole the belt from SHO too, which was quite funny. Unfortunately for YOH, he suffered a legitimate injury during his title challenge at Sakura Genesis in April that’s also kept him out of BOSJ, resulting in SHO’s first defense going just 1:36 and ending with a referee stoppage (though they had been brawling around the ringside area for a while before that).

DOUKI then added his name to the strangely growing list of “people with all caps romaji names who stole the IWGP Jr. Title belt in 2024”, and though SHO tried to pull some shady contract shenanigans to get out of defending the title against him, the match ultimately happened at Satsuma No Kuni. SHO finally won a match via pinfall in his title reign, albeit with heavy assistance from Ren Narita and his push-up bar that we all probably collectively imagined. Tokyo Sports runner-up for Best Technique, people!

So here we are with SHO entering BOSJ as champion for the first time. It’s tough to take him seriously as a contender to win the tournament, but he’ll undoubtedly be one of the major focuses at least. One also wonders if Narita or other House of Torture members may be lurking to assist him throughout….

Past Performance

  • 2018: 6 points (3-4), T-4th (of 8) in B Block (5-way tie)
  • 2019: 10 points (5-4), 4th (of 10) in A Block
  • 2020: 12 points (6-3), 4th (of 12)
  • 2021: 12 points (6-5), 7th (of 12)
  • 2022: 10 points (5-4), 3rd (of 10) in A Block
  • 2023: 8 points (4-5), 7th (of 10) in B Block

Booking Strength and Final Match Situation

  • Booking Strength
    • Overall: 3rd (7.75 AVG CP)
    • In-Block: 2nd (3.875 AVG CP)
    • 2 main events, 2 semi-main events
  • Final Night Opponent: Francesco Akira

Unsurprisingly the reigning junior champion is 2nd in his block and 3rd overall in booking strength, with tons of featured matches. His last night opponent however doesn’t scream “advances to the semifinals” to me- perhaps SHO is still alive but his opponent isn’t, and Akira gets to play spoiler. We’ll have to wait and see.

Chances of Winning: 0%

He’s the reigning junior champion and he’s the biggest heel in the division. If I could give him a negative percentage here I would.

My person desire for him to win: 30%

It would be ungodly funny, and at the end of the day I’m just here for a good time.

What-to-Look-For Matches

  • Night 2 (May 13th) : SHO vs. KUSHIDA
    • These two used to have a connection as technically inclined juniors before SHO of course devolved into his current wrench-slinging ways, although SHO kind of agreed to a clean fight against him in BOSJ last year (which he eventually reneged on of course). He’s also never beaten KUSHIDA, though if you don’t count Young Lion matches they’ve only wrestled twice (in the 2018 & 2023 BOSJs). SHO has the chance to finally get a win over him at Korakuen Hall this year (the same place they faced off last year, in fact).
  • Night 5 (May 18th): SHO vs. Hiromu Takahashi
    • This always feels like a big rivalry whether you’re talking about SHO’s pre-House days or the current version, and as mentioned in Hiromu’s section their record is a super-close 4-3 (advantage Hiromu). You probably won’t be shocked to learn this is one of SHO’s two main events, as well.
  • Night 10 (May 28th): SHO vs. Taiji Ishimori
    • BULLET CLUB vs. House of Torture is always an interesting matchup, and these two happen to have a long history together. Ishimori has taken the majority of their matches with a 4-2 record, but SHO won their meeting in last year’s BOSJ. This is semi-main on the 5/28 show and, given it’s the second-to-last B block night, could go a long way to deciding who moves on to the semifinals.

Taiji Ishimori

  • 8th Entry, 7th Straight Year
    • Semi-finals: 2010
    • Finals: 2018

Current Situation: It’s tough to say that Taiji Ishimori has been doing much of anything of late. He missed time last year with a scary neck injury suffered during last year’s BOSJ, and it’s probably noteworthy that he was 5-2 entering his match against Hiromu where the injury happened, forcing him to lose that match by referee decision and of course also forfeit his final league match. But since returning from injury about five months later in October 2023 he’s felt more than a little lost in the shuffle in New Japan. It doesn’t help that he’s in the weird BULLET CLUB B-team of non-sub-unit members with KENTA & Chase Owens, of course. That trio just feels like they don’t really matter in the current environment, with both the War Dogs & House of Torture running around causing havoc. They’re just kinda there by comparison.

Ishimori did at least receive a junior title shot against Hiromu Takahashi last November at Power Struggle, but came up short and hasn’t really felt like a threat to get back into the title mix ever since.

On the other hand, Taiji can at least say he has a title win in 2024, as he became the very first KOPW of the year by winning the four-way match at New Year Dash. He quickly lost the title Great-O-Khan just fifteen days later though, and has kind of settled into just being Chase & KENTA’s third in undercard tags ever since. So it’s tough to see him as a legitimate threat to win this tournament, even though he does still seem to be getting some respect in the booking.

Past Performance 

  • 2010: 10 points (5-2), 1st (of 8) in B Block
  • 2018: 10 points (5-2), 1st (of 8) in A Block
  • 2019: 14 points (7-2), 2nd (of 10) in A Block
  • 2020: 14 points (7-2), 3rd (of 10)
  • 2021: 12 points (6-5), T-4th (of 12) (3-way tie)
  • 2022: 12 points (6-3), 2nd (of 10) in A Block
  • 2023: 10 points (5-4), 6th (of 10) in A Block

Booking Strength and Final Match Situation

  • Booking Strength
    • Overall: 5th (6.875 AVG CP)
    • In-Block: 3rd (3.625 AVG CP)
    • 1 main event, 1 semi-main event
  • Final Night Opponent: Hiromu Takahashi

Despite not doing anything in the junior division this year so far, as you can see Taiji is still well-protected by booking strength. He gets to be the final night opponent for the junior ace, which looks quite likely to be a win-and-move-on type of situation. It would be a major upset if he actually prevented Hiromu from making the semi finals, though.

Chances of Winning: 0%

They’ve done nothing with this guy all year, and the junior champion is another heel. Just doesn’t seem remotely possible.

My person desire for him to win: 0%

Taiji is Taiji: totally fine but nothing I ever get excited about.

What-to-Look-For Matches

  • Night 1 (May 11th): Taiji Ishimori vs. DOUKI
    • With DOUKI scoring wins over wrestlers he’s never beaten before and getting junior title shots, it will be interesting to see if Ishimori can maintain his perfect 3-0 record against him. They’ve met in three previous BOSJs- 2020, 2021 & 2023, and this year will do battle on the tournament’s opening night.
  • Night 2 (May 13th): Taiji Ishimori vs. Dragon Dia
    • Taiji Ishimori, for those who don’t know, has his own history with the Dragon System, as he originally debuted as the ace of the ill-fated Toryumon X class (the third grouping of original students following the original Toryumon Japan & Toryumon 2000 Project groups). His infamous “Sailor Boys” dance that Ryusuke Taguchi has mocked repeatedly comes from those days. There will be no Taguchi mock-dancing in this year’s tournament, but there will be a chance for Ishimori to get in the ring with one of the newer Dragon System wrestlers in Dragon Dia at Korakuen Hall.
  • Night 12 (May 31st): Taiji Ishimori vs. Hiromu Takahashi
    • Let’s highlight someone’s final match for a change (a thing I think I weirdly haven’t done in this entire preview so far!). As mentioned, Ishimori suffered a severe injury in his BOSJ match with Hiromu last year, and then lost to Hiromu again in his junior title challenge at Power Struggle in November; overall, he has just a 3-6 record against New Japan’s junior ace, with his last win coming in another junior title match in June 2022. Taking Hiromu out on the final night of the tournament and probably keeping him from moving on to the semifinals would be a hell of way to pay him back, don’t you think?

Listen to Voices of Wrestling’s NJPW podcast: Super J-Cast!

Powered by RedCircle