NJPW: Best of the Super Juniors Stage 13 Review

Can you believe how far we’ve come? The last day of group stages and it’s still all to to play for, if your surnames are Takahashi, Ishimori, Scurll, Ospreay, Gordon or you don’t have one but your name is KUSHIDA. Anyway, let’s not waste any time and get into it…

BOSJ Block A Tournament Match: Tiger Mask vs ACH

ACH employed some pre-match bants by coming to the ring in a Tiger Mask mask and T-shirt, there’s a nice continuity here what with ACH having played Tiger the Dark during a match with Kota Ibushi’s Tiger Mask W. I’ve been slightly down on Block A overall but you know what? This was a riot. ACH is obviously working with a couple of injuries and Tiger Mask isn’t as quick as he once was but they managed to still work a surprisingly solid encounter filled with lots of lovely things including Mask finally hitting the double underhook fallaway superplex he’s been trying to over the tournament and the two of them trading Tiger Drivers. This was a good opener but it was clearly a slight encounter to allow for not overshadowing the seven matches to come. ACH got the pin off a sudden Jacknife cover. Post-match, there was a heartwarming display of respect between the two. Now, give Tiger Mask and Jushin Liger their tag title shots.

Winner: ACH

BOSJ Block A Tournament Match: BUSHI vs Yoshinobu Kanemaru

BUSHI hit a dropkick off the bell, quite hilariously just as Kanemaru had a mouth of whisky. Expect one of those ‘you’re probably wondering how I got here’ freeze-frame memes to end up online by the end of the day. This match will be good or bad depending on how you feel about both of their standard shit, if you think it’s good shit, this was the most excessively BUSHI-Kanemaru match you can imagine, if you think it’s just shit, this won’t change your mind. The finish was exactly what you’d expect, BUSHI misted Kanemaru and rolled him up for a 2, Kanemaru threw the ref. at BUSHI then low-blowed him and hit Deep Impact DDT for the pin. Sure, whatever. And so it goes.

Winner: Yoshinobu Kanemaru

BOSJ Block B Tournament Match: Ryusuke Taguchi vs Chris Sabin

Another superb display here. The story of this match was veteran vs veteran with Sabin being a step ahead for 90% of the match, having a response and a counter for everything that Taguchi had. While the pair have had tag encounters before, under their Motor City Machine Guns (Sabin with Alex Shelley) and Apollo 55 (Taguchi with Prince ‘Finn Balor’ Devitt), this was their first singles match and much like other first times he had in the tournament, Sabin showed great chemistry with the Funky Weapon, stringing together dueling clothesline sequences and pin reversals like a pair of seasoned foes. If I had to pinpoint what kept this match in the fun but not incredible section it’s that the finish with Taguchi continually escaping pinning combinations and re-applying the Ankle Lock could have been more effective with just a hint more work on the leg earlier in the match but that shouldn’t be considered a black mark against what was an exceedingly entertaining encounter and one that I hope is revisited down the road.

Winner: Ryusuke Taguchi

BOSJ Block B Tournament Match: Dragon Lee vs El Desperado

Dragon Lee came to the ring in a boss Katsuyori ‘The Wrestler’ Shibata T-shirt and when Despy disrespected it, he not only disrespected him but also The Wrestler so off the bell, Dragon Lee kicked him in the head. It’s always a good plan to jump a Suzuki-Gunner before they can jump you. From here on, Lee continued to impress as he can’t help but do until Desperado turned the tides in his favourite way – Death by Chairs. Pulverising Lee’s already injured ligaments with chair shots, Desperado then went for mask ripping but this only opened up Lee to briefly forget his leg was meant to be worked over. I like how Lee was wrestling more like a junior Shibata at times in this match, throwing some brutal elbows and coming the closest anyone else does to matching his hesitation dropkick. Overall, the match-up of the two men with victories in this tournament over Hiromu Takahashi was a very strong one and certainly one the crowd were completely invested in. I think Lee’s job of selling the leg injury was patchy and Desperado didn’t quite nail the ending as he blatantly low-blowed Dragon Lee in front of Hatori before rolling him up for the pin. I know they explained that he couldn’t see what was happening behind him but it felt like a cop-out to me. Even with a flat finish, here is another match that I wouldn’t mind revisiting.

Winner: El Desperado

Post-match: Desperado ripped off the front of the mask of Dragon Lee.

Also Post-match: A wild Tomoaki Honma appeared. Long story short – he confirmed that he’s returning to the ring on June 23rd.

BOSJ Block A Tournament Match: Flip Gordon vs Will Ospreay

I was dreading this match. I expected it to just be everything that people who don’t like the overly-choreographed flippy stuff said Ospreay-Ricochet was but I was pleasantly surprised by this, the first of four matches of tonight that actually matter for leading contention in Block A. Flip had to win and hope Ishimori did, Ospreay had to win and hope Yoh did, the fact that both men were in with a chance of winning actually worked to lend an edge to the encounter, couple in the fact that even I have to admit Flip has worked hard and seems to have picked up a few tips over the tournament. The fact that he kept calling Ospreay ‘William’ was delightful. I will say that fans of storytelling won’t find much in this match but no one can deny that Ospreay is one of the best when it comes to these spotfest-style matches and this delivered excitement in droves, especially interesting was how much crowd support was on the sides of Mr Gordon. As entertaining as it was, it really lost steam going into the home stretch and became just a tired exchange of finisher attempts, also, what actually is the Stormbreaker meant to be? It seems to change every time. Regardless of what it is, it earned Ospreay the pinfall victory and put him temporarily on top of Block A. Let’s see if Ishimori can take this from him.

Winner: Will Ospreay

BOSJ Tournament Match: Yoh vs Taiji Ishimori

They say to save the best till last and Block A sure did as they took probably it’s two most prime candidates to lead the division going forward and let them put on a barnburner of a match that perfectly built. A very clever twist with this match was having the combination of Chase Owens on Guest Commentary, Ishimori’s stablemate and Ospreay on the outside, cheering on his stablemate but also cheering on the man who is the only thing keeping Ishimori from taking his place in the BOSJ finals, it makes every moment of Ospreay doing his best Gedo impression seem more like a self-serving cheer than an actual moment of moral support. Also what helped is as I said, this match was pure fire. What worked well about this match is previously I felt that sometimes Ishimori played up to the crowd, like the old Ishimori but it’s clear that actually, Ihimori is just proving to us and to Ospreay that he is the most complete athlete, he is here to hit harder and fly higher than the rest and prove he is the Super. That is not to say it was a completely one-sided fight at Yoh got one more attempt to show off that he is secretly becoming one of this generation’s best underdogs, all charisma and scrappy spirit but he’s technically skilled enough that the crowd, and I, bought into every pinning attempt and rooted for him to succeed. Ultimately, this tournament was partially about re-establishing Ishimori and as a result, he had to win here, though credit where its due, they put over Yoh hard including giving him a clean kick out of a Bloody Cross vertical suplex gutbuster but Ishimori managed to lock in a Crossface submission for the pin and a punched ticket straight to the finals. Make sure you check this one out, it was damn fine.

Winner: Taiji Ishimori

BOSJ Tournament Match: Sho vs Marty Scurll

Dare I say it, this was a Sho Stealer? Well, I just said it so I can’t take it back now. This was intense, I’ve seen matches where Scurll has focussed on the neck, I’ve seen matches where he’s actively targetted it and then there are ones where he looks like he might damn well kill them, this is one of those matches. I’m not saying Scurll’s reading these reviews because that’s definitely not true but it does seem that here, he slowed things down and focussed on his game plan of pushing him as close to referee stoppage as needs be and if necessary, going to the Crossface Chickenwing but people keep underestimating Sho and Yoh and that’s where they thrive, when you forget how easily they can turn the tide in their favour. This one had a good build but could have done with getting going a little quicker as it didn’t quite hang together as well early on as other matches in the tournament but as soon as it got into gear, it kept going very nicely. Of course, it’s interesting not only that Sho here spoils Scurll’s chances of making the finals but also gets a win over one third of the current NEVER Openweight Tag-Team Champions. With Roppongi3k working a lot of trios matches over the Road to Wrestling Dontaku tour, could we be about to see the lads go from their rivalry with The Young Bucks over the Junior tag titles to challenging the Bucks for their first big boy belts? Let’s hope so. Sho got the pin off the Shock Arrow package piledriver. After the match, SHo looked like he might have sustained some actual damage from those repeated elbows to the neck but hopefully, as he was walking away unaided, he’s just a very good actor.

Winner: Sho

BOSJ Tournament Match: KUSHIDA vs Hiromu Takahashi

We all by now, hopefully, know the story of these two: Takahashi, returned in 2016 from excursion, aligned himself with Los Ingobernables de Japon, took the Jr Heavyweight belt from KUSHIDA at Wrestle Kingdom 11, KUSHIDA won 2017’s Best of the Super Juniors and at Dominion, he won it back. They had a fair few great-to-really-great matches in between. This one was no different. After so many densely packed sprints over the tournament, it was fascinating to see an equally compelling narrative built with an opening that was just an extended collar-and-elbow tie-up, the simplest move in the wrestler’s repertoire but one that really worked to build up the equality between these two: they know so much about each other that they literally have to go back to basics to even begin to confront each other. They pulled well from their arsenal, creating a constantly developing back-and-forth that played effectively on their previous encounters while rarely copying them directly, especially as with his Triangle Choke finisher (which NJPW reliably informs me is called ‘D’), this was far more even in both its pure physical and wrestling content. And here wherein lies the rub, always before Takahashi had the sheer unpredictable force-of-will but KUSHIDA was more grounded with his MMA background, now Takahashi practically matches him in technical ability. If anything, the only problem with this match is the inevitability of Takahashi winning, KUSHIDA made his near-falls matter but all the suggestions since Takahashi lot the title to KUSHIDA last year suggested that this was how the narrative was going to go. Still, it tells you something when even a minor effort from these two is still in the top five matches of this tournament. Takahashi won with D. That makes me so happy to say.

Winner: Hiromu Takahasi

This year’s BOSJ has been a game of two halves but luckily, for this last show of the group rounds, both Block’s brought their A game. Or B game as B was better than A, regardless, this was great. Watch it, nerds.