New Japan Pro Wrestling
Best of the Super Juniors 31 Night 1
May 11, 2024
YohaS Arena
Chiba, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

Put on a pot of coffee, grab some snacks, and hunker down in your favorite chair like Archie Bunker because Best of the Super Juniors 31 has arrived.

Yes, while New Japan Pro Wrestling may no longer be the coolest kid in class—the kind that wears a jean jacket and sunglasses while carving the Van Halen logo into his desk—the world of the lion’s mark keeps on turning. It’s time for the company’s annual showcase of its junior heavyweight roster and a few special guests from promotions near and far.

Last year’s tournament saw a string of acclaimed performances from foreign wrestlers Speedball Mike Bailey and Lio Rush, veteran names Ryusuke Taguchi and KUSHIDA struggling to make a dent, and the Japanese debut of Drilla “don’t call him Dan” Moloney, culminating in an electric final between winner Master Wato and runner up Titán. How will this year’s BOSJ go? In the immortal words of the supergroup Asia, only time will tell.

Before we delve into night one, I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug J. Michael and John Carroll’s extensive tournament previews for A Block and B Block. If you want all the information goodness your brain can handle before watching the tournament proper, check those out.

B Block – Francesco Akira (2) def. Dragon Dia (0)

This is Dragon Dia’s New Japan debut, filling in for an injured Taguchi. As the opener, this did not get a lot of time—just a shade over five-and-a-half minutes—which meant Dia did not get a lot of time to show off his stuff. Hopefully he gets to do a lot more in his later matches. He and Akira still made a good pairing for the little time they had, both zipping around the ring with gusto. Dia hit his new finisher End Over that he just debuted at Dragongate’s Dead or Alive show a few days earlier, but Akira kicked out and won it with the Fireball. ***

A Block – HAYATA (2) def. BUSHI (0)

My eyes saw HAYATA vs. BUSHI on the match lineup and instantly glazed over like a fresh Dunkin’ donut. As I came to from my fugue state, I rewound the video and realized I didn’t miss anything. This was a slow, perfunctory match that ended with HAYATA winning with the 403 Impact DDT. HAYATA doesn’t light my socks on fire regardless of promotion, and given he’s the GHC National Champion, he’s likely going to be in the mix for the semifinals. Ah jeez, Edith. **1/4

B Block – Ninja Mack (2) def. Robbie Eagles (0)

Ninja Mack is another guy making his NJPW debut here. He’s fresh off getting his ass kicked by Shuji Ishikawa in a GHC Hardcore Title match at NOAH’s Wrestle Magic show. He fared better here, showing off his acrobatic skills and flippy-dos—you know, typical ninja shit. Eagles is not as aerodynamic as Mack, but he is a much smoother and more refined wrestler all around, making him a good dance partner to introduce Mack to the company. Mack scored the win after a back-and-forth pin exchange, with Milano Collection A.T. on commentary yelling “Ninja! Ninja!” every time Mack had the advantage. **3/4

A Block – Kosei Fujita (2) def. Yoshinobu Kanemaru (0)

Fujita came out with new gear and new entrance music as he continues to establish himself post-Young Lion. Kanemaru jumped him at the bell and had control for a large portion of the match, targeting Fujita’s knee. Fujita made the comeback, but we got ref bump #1 of the tournament. Kanemaru went for the Suntory surprise, but Fujita thwarted it with a springboard dropkick. Kanemaru blocked a rolling German suplex, but then ate a pop-up German. Fujita hit Abandon Hope (a suplex dropped into a cutter) for the win. Fujita didn’t get to do much here, but he kicks off his first BOSJ with a win. ***

B Block – SHO (2) def. Drilla Moloney (0)

This was champion vs. champion and heel vs. heel. Moloney looks like if Tyler Black was a Mediterranean arms dealer. SHO came out with several accoutrement on his person, including an autograph from Moloney that he got at the meet and greet before the show. These are the notes I type when a match like this is going on. Moloney tried to get SHO counted out, then while he argued with the ref for counting too slow, Gedo appeared and low blowed SHO. Then Yujiro snuck in the ring and low blowed Moloney. Yujiro threw Gedo into the ring to distract the ref and SHO hit Moloney with the wrench, a.k.a. the Torture Tool, for the win. Okay then. *1/2

A Block – Blake Christian (2) def. Clark Connors (0)

This was another heel vs. heel match, although the real battle was between Blake Christian and good aesthetics. The best way I can describe his look is “70s porn star Ron Weasley head meets parody Shawn Michaels tights meets Beetlejuice boots.” If Tim Gunn was in the building, he would have barreled down the aisle screaming “Stop it! Bullshit!” as he clanged a chair against the guardrail. Like the Dia and Mack matches, this was something of a showcase for Christian, though he got a little more time than the other guys did. I wish he didn’t work as a heel because it made for an awkward dynamic with Connors. The crowd was also largely indifferent (an irony given Christian’s heel nickname is “All Heat”) and there were a few botches, the most notable being when Christian went for a Fosbury Flop into a reverse DDT, but Connors took the DDT bump too early. Christian tried to use the IWGP Jr. Tag Title, but the ref stopped him, leading to a ref bump and Christian hitting Connors with a loaded fist. I don’t know what it was he hit him with, it looked like rubber brass knuckles or something like that. He followed it up with a reverse rolling Death Valley Driver and the Step Up Stomp for the win. Not a good start for Christian, hopefully his output improves as the tournament progresses (even if his look won’t). **1/2

B Block – Taiji Ishimori (2) def. DOUKI (0)

Like others, I have Taiji Ishimori fatigue. It’s not like he’s a bad wrestler or even an average one; he’s still, at 41 years old and with more than two decades of experience, really good. This match with DOUKI, while not a blowaway affair, was a solid match with some crisp sequences, especially towards the end. Ishimori can still keep up with the younger guys. But after six years of “Bone Soldier” era Taiji Ishimori, I feel like we’ve seen everything there is to see with him in terms of rivals and title runs. But again, there are worse wrestlers to put in his spot. Ishimori worked over DOUKI’s arm and shoulder to set up the Bone Lock. DOUKI fought back and countered La Mistica into a Jorge Rivera Special for a close two-count, then locked in the Italian Stretch #32. He tried to gator roll Ishimori back towards the center of the ring, but Ishimori escaped and hit the Bloody Cross for the win. ***1/4

A Block – Kevin Knight (2) def. TJP (0)

TJP came out in normal gear with red eye contacts, so the Aswang’s evil spirit still lurks behind the window to his soul or whatever lore dorkery he’s going for. This was the best match of the night so far. That’s not a shock given how good TJP is, but Knight more than held his own. He’s always had that natural athletic talent and eye-popping agility, but now he’s got the swagger and polish to back it up (and better gear to boot). There was a cool sequence where Knight went for his leaping rana off the top, but TJP rolled through and caught Knight in a crucifix pin, only for Knight to kick out via kip up. I had never seen that before. Neither guy was able to get the advantage for long, but TJP was eventually able to take control and hit a Mamba Splash while Knight was draped stomach first on the top rope. Knight came back with his jumping Spike DDT on the apron. He then hit his own Mamba Splash and locked in the Hoverboard Lock. This brought us to the finishing stretch, which was also the best of the show so far. Knight hit an F5 and went for another Spike DDT, but TJP countered it into a Northern Lights suplex, which looked cool. He went up for another Mamba Splash, but Knight hit the leaping rana and one last Spike DDT for the win. A really good match and my first recommendation of the tournament. ***3/4

B Block – KUSHIDA (2) def. Hiromu Takahashi (0)

Not counting young lion matches, this was the second shortest match of the KUSHIDA-Hiromu series after the Invasion Attack 2017 match that barely went two minutes. It certainly felt like a condensed, sprint-y version of their matches, though that’s not a bad thing because it was still pretty good. KUSHIDA was quite aggressive, attacking Hiromu’s arm to set up for the Hoverboard Lock. After only getting four points last year, it makes sense for him to show a more aggressive side in order to redeem himself. Of course it would’ve been difficult to do that from beyond the grave because he nearly died taking a Victory Royal from Hiromu, landing right on the top of his head. Luckily he was okay. Hiromu set up for the Time Bomb II, but KUSHIDA grabbed Hiromu’s arm and pulled him down into the Hoverboard Lock. Hiromu tried to fight out, but KUSHIDA twisted the wrist and Hiromu submitted. I don’t know how far KUSHIDA will go given he’s not pushed as a top guy in the division anymore and is a substitute for YOH, but he should be a capable hand regardless. ***1/2

A Block – Titán (2) def. El Desperado (0)

Titán came out with new entrance music that sounded like the start of a progressive rock album opener that goes 17 minutes. It’s going to take some time getting used to because I really liked his “Dios Antiguo” theme. This was a rematch of last year’s semifinals that Titán won. It was also the third match in a row that I would say was really good, but short of being great. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll take a really good match any day of the week, but in the context of a Super Juniors main event, it’s a tad disappointing. It’s the opening night and both guys have a long tournament ahead, so I’m not expecting them to just go balls to the wall, but for my enjoyment I wanted this to reach that next level and it never quite did. Desperado went after Titán’s leg and was able to lock in the Stretch Muffler a few times, but wasn’t able to get the full Numero Dos. Titán still had some juice in his legs and crushed Despy’s ribs with his top rope double stomp, before locking in a cross-armed version of Llave Inmortal for the submission win. Desperado’s revenge will have to wait another day. ***3/4

Final Thoughts

As far as openings go, this wasn’t exactly “Runnin’ with the Devil.” The top three matches are worth a watch, but everything else was skippable unless you’re one of those sicko completists like me. Another negative was the Chiba crowd who, while vocal in parts, did not have the sustained energy that you would want. Last year’s opening night was much better because it had both that hot Korakuen Hall crowd and a capital G Great match in Speedball vs. Hiromu.

Standings

A Block

Titán – 2 points
Kevin Knight – 2 points
Blake Christian – 2 points
Kosei Fujita – 2 points
HAYATA – 2 points
El Desperado – 0 points
TJP – 0 points
Clark Connors – 0 points
Yoshinobu Kanemaru – 0 points
BUSHI – 0 points

B Block

KUSHIDA – 2 points
Taiji Ishimori – 2 points
SHO – 2 points
Ninja Mack – 2 points
Francesco Akira – 2 points
Hiromu Takahashi – 0 points
DOUKI – 0 points
Drilla Moloney – 0 points
Robbie Eagles – 0 points
Dragon Dia – 0 points