New Japan Pro Wrestling
Best of the Super Juniors 31 Night 2
May 13, 2024
Korakuen Hall
Tokyo, Japan

Watch: NJPW World

After a decent yet tepid opening night, Best of the Super Juniors 31 rolls into Korakuen Hall with another smorgasbord of ten straight tournament matches. Will it fare better than night one? Will a match break the (subjective) four-star barrier? Will Daft Punk ever reunite? All of these questions will be answered!*

*Not all of these questions will be answered.

A Block – Blake Christian (4) def. Kevin Knight (2)

This was a much better showing for Christian than night one, both in terms of move execution and because he was up against a babyface in Knight. He’s still not getting much of a crowd reaction (a symptom of this being his second time in front of a Japanese NJPW crowd ever, so I’ll cut him a little slack in that department) and his heel schtick needs more work, but at least this time the Fosbury Flop into the Final Cut went off without a hitch. After a great showing against TJP, Knight took it easier, though he still hit a springboard plancha that looked like he might launch into the seventh row. With both guys on the apron, Christian kicked the middle rope into Knight’s balls (his jet engines, if you will), hit the Step Up Stomp, then pinned Knight with a springboard 450 splash. A solid opener to get us started. ***

B Block – Ninja Mack (4) def. Francesco Akira (2)

It’s not every day you see Akira dominate someone smaller than him, but Ninja Mack is on the tinier side, so it made for a unique visual. Akira attacked and stayed on Mack right out of the gate, laying his strikes in. The most dazzling highlight of the match was Akira going for an avalanche hurricanarana and Mack landing on his feet a la Will Ospreay (except much smaller and dressed like a ninja). There was also a cool sequence where Akira flipped Mack over his shoulders from a backslide position and immediately hit Speedfire. Akira went for the Fireball, but he ate a superkick, Shiranui, and finally the Ninja Bomb (a Phoenix 630 splash) to give Mack the win. A fun match with a dynamic we don’t normally see in Akira matches. Back the Mack, he’s on a roll! ***1/4

A Block – Clark Connors (2) def. HAYATA (2)

The first part of this was a brawl around the ring, with HAYATA throwing Connors into some chairs and even slamming a hapless Young Lion on top of him. Then we got the actual wrestling portion of the match, with HAYATA again dominating for much of it until Connors hit the Jeep Flip and a spear. Connors reversed a 403 Impact with a headbutt and No Chaser for the win and his first two points. Although this was only in the “decent, yet forgettable” territory, I still enjoyed it more than both guys’ matches on night one. **¾

B Block – Robbie Eagles (2) def. Drilla Moloney (0)

The upside of all-tournament-match shows like these is that they tend to go by quickly, especially the undercard matches which normally range between 5-10 minutes. The downside is that matches that look good on paper, like this one, get shortchanged on time and don’t get the chance to hit that next gear. It is what it is. Regardless, both guys put in a good showing. I hoped we would get a callback to the sick as hell finish of their match from last year’s BOSJ: Moloney stopping an Asai DDT in mid-air and transitioning it into the Drilla Killa. Thankfully, they did not disappoint me and teased it again, except this time, Eagles countered it into a rana nearfall. Moloney also did a cool one-armed powerbomb out of a school boy. In the end, Moloney went for another Drilla Killa, but Eagles sunset flipped over into the Ron Miller Special for the submission win. Afterwards he picked up the IWGP Jr. Tag Team Title, hinting at a future title shot. ***

A Block – Yoshinobu Kanemaru (2) def. TJP (0)

Whenever I see TJP’s black United Empire flag, it makes me think the stable should be called The Black Parade, but Gerard Way might not approve. If you blinked during this match, you probably missed it. After a ref bump 90 seconds in, TJP went for the Ohtani boot wash and got blinded by the Suntory surprise. The Aswang, sensing danger from deep within the bowels of TJP’s chassis, instinctively spat out red mist but his human vessel couldn’t see, so it missed its target. Kanemaru rolled up TJP with the Samson Clutch for the win in a shade over two minutes. The Aswang will not be pleased with this losing streak. N/R

B Block – Taiji Ishimori (4) def. Dragon Dia (0)

Ishimori hit Dia with his skateboard and mockingly yelled “Dragon Dia” like his theme song, which popped me. Much like Dia’s first match, he didn’t get a lot of time to showcase with Ishimori in control. Stephen A. Smith voice BUT! When he eventually did get on offense, he maximized his minutes. He hit an Asai moonsault to the outside. He tripped Ishimori with his thighs (?!) then hit a springboard corkscrew splash. He hit the Vampire Headscissors, which was K-ness’ old move where he does a headscissors takedown off the top rope. There was a casadora driver where Ishimori got spiked right on his head. It was like this little peak inside a doorway (some might even call it a gate) where we got to see Dia strut his stuff, but just a little bit before Ishimori closed it shut. Dia went for the Reptilian, but Ishimori countered with the World Liner (!) for a very close nearfall. A ref bump, a pop-up low blow, and a Bloody Cross sealed the deal for Ishimori. For what this was, it was the most enjoyable match on the show for me so far because Dia’s little run of offense was so eye-catching. I’m sure Dia didn’t enjoy it, especially when Ishimori hit him with the skateboard again after the match. Maybe Ishimori is still sour about the Sailor Boys gimmick from his Toryumon X days. ***1/4

A Block – Titán (4) def. BUSHI (0)

The battle of LIJ stablemates wasn’t much to write home about. The highlight was Titán diving off the staircase overhang in the alley of the stands. It wasn’t as crazy as the dive he did on Desperado at last year’s semifinals, but it’ll do. After that, they basically went through the motions, which is the baseline for a BUSHI match. I will point out there was a rare misstep from Titán when he went for his signature tornado DDT, his foot slipping through the ropes. He got it on the second try though. Titán put BUSHI away with the straight jacket Llave Inmortal, so it looks like that’ll be his new twist on the move going forward. **½

B Block – KUSHIDA (4) def. SHO (2)

SHO got on the mic beforehand and said KUSHIDA was only here because he put YOH on the shelf, so he should let him win by forfeit. He then accused KUSHIDA of being scared to face him, and if there is one thing you do not do to someone dressed like Marty McFly, it’s call them chicken. KUSHIDA attacked SHO, and much like the Hiromu match he was a little feistier than normal. Maybe it was because of SHO’s taunting or maybe this will be how he is the whole tournament, we’ll see. When these two wrestled in the 2018 BOSJ, they had what amounted to a RINGS match. We did not get that here. We still got submission work with both men working over the other’s arm. We also got Yujiro hitting KUSHIDA with a reverse DDT on the outside and SHO hitting KUSHIDA’s elbow with a chair. I don’t think Volk Han ever used those tactics. KUSHIDA kept one-upping SHO in the submission game, first countering a double wrist lock into a cross armbreaker, then countering a spear into another cross armbreaker. He sold it like he couldn’t get the full grip with his injured arm, which was a neat touch. Yujiro hit KUSHIDA with the pimp cane for a nearfall, SHO distracted the ref to bring Yujiro in but he ate a Masahiro Tanaka punch, only for SHO to low blow KUSHIDA. SHO went for the Shock Arrow, but KUSHIDA slipped out and rolled up SHO with a straight jacket jackknife hold for the win. SHO and Yujiro beat on KUSHIDA after the bell until Kevin Knight ran them off. Normally I react to House of Torture bullshit like the Ludovico Technique, but since it wasn’t that long and the crowd responded well to the interference, I’ll be generous. We’ll see how I feel after a few more weeks. KUSHIDA starts off his tournament at 2-0. If they do a “one last run” story with him all the way to the finals, I wouldn’t mind it because he can still go. ***

A Block – El Desperado (2) def. Kosei Fujita (2)

The lone highlight of this match was a toddler yelling Desperado’s name and the crowd applauding. (Okay it wasn’t really the lone highlight, but it was pretty cute.) In all seriousness, this match ruled. What separated it from the 18 previous tournament matches so far was A) it had the hottest crowd reactions, and B) the intensity. You could feel the animosity simmering as the opening catch wrestling salvo devolved into both guys wrenching on the other’s leg in simultaneous knee bars, not letting go even as they rolled out of the ring and almost got counted out with the submissions still on. Desperado locked in Numero Dos on the floor early on and targeted Fujita’s knee like a surgeon. That continued the story from night one where it was Kanemaru attacking Fujita’s knee. Desperado went for another Numero Dos, but this time Fujita took a page out of his TMDK stablemate (and Despy’s former Suzukigun stablemate) Zack Sabre Jr.’s playbook, countering it into Clarky Cat. The Japanese commentary team picked up on it, I picked up on it, and the crowd sure picked it up on it because they made a lot of noise during this spot. That noise got louder as Fujita tried to lock in Orienteering with Napalm Death, only for Despy to reach the ropes. Fujita got a nearfall with a bridging German suplex and then went for Abandon Hope, only for Desperado to knock his block off with a forearm that sounded like a gunshot. Both men weary, Fujita blocked Pinche Loco and tried to go for another submission, but Despy maneuvered into Numero Dos. As the crowd loudly chanted “Fujita! Fujita!” Despy fully locked in the submission and Fujita gave up. This was the first great match of the tournament that people should seek out. If you just parachute in, you will enjoy it, but if you know the ZSJ-Despy-Fujita connections, it will add some nice backstory to it as well. ****¼ 

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

The DOUKI chants overwhelmed the Hiromu chants when the bell rang. He’s a popular guy, that DOUKster. While this wasn’t the wildest match these two have had—the 2021 match where DOUKI nearly broke his arm on a guardrail doing a DOUKI Bomb comes to mind—they still put their paces in to make it an exciting main event. Early on they did the “both guys do a running crossbody at the same time” spot, except it was in the stands. They both nearly got counted out after that. Down the back half it was go go go, with both hitting their semi-big moves like the running DVD in the corner, the Doton no Jutsu, and the Victory Royal to no avail. Hiromu hit the Hiromu-chan Bomber and went for Time Bomb II, only for that move to get countered into a submission for the second match in a row as DOUKI locked in the Italian Stretch #32. Hiromu tried to get out, including a short-range powerbomb, but DOUKI would not let go. Red Shoes finally called for the bell as Hiromu was literally foaming at the mouth. That was a sick visual. This was a shade under the semi-main for me, but it was still the second best match of the tournament so far. Good on ya, DOUKI. With Hiromu 0-2, it looks like he’s about to go on a run for the next several shows. ****

Final Thoughts

The one-two punch of Desperado-Fujita and Hiromu-DOUKI capped off what was a better show than night one. The Korakuen crowd wasn’t always hot, but when they were, they definitely sounded louder than the Chiba fans. If you’re really pinched for time, the top two will do ya, but like I said earlier, you can breeze through this whole show like a light lunch.

Standings

A Block

Blake Christian – 4 points
Titán – 4 points
Clark Connors – 2 points
El Desperado – 2 points
HAYATA – 2 points
Kosei Fujita – 2 points
Yoshinobu Kanemaru – 2 points
BUSHI – 0 points
TJP – 0 points

B Block

KUSHIDA – 4 points
Ninja Mack – 4 points
Taiji Ishimori – 4 points
DOUKI – 2 points
Francesco Akira – 2 points
Robbie Eagles – 2 points
SHO – 2 points
Dragon Dia – 0 points
Drilla Moloney – 0 points
Hiromu Takahashi – 0 points