For those of you who thought “god, I love small lad fights but I wish I could just have ten of them instead of five meaningless tag matches”, New Japan have been listening. Yesterday’s Korakuen show was a near-relentless show of great matches, could day eight keep that hot streak going. With the big Mania weekend rematch of Ospreay v Bandido and a confrontation between the undefeated Shingo Takagi and IWGP Jr Heavyweight Champ Dragon Lee at the top of the card, it certainly had the potential. Let’s find out what happened:
BOSJ Tournament Block B Match: Ren Narita v El Phantasmo
This was a good and fun opener with Narita showing his characteristic fire and Phantasmo giving him a lot of openings to make like he might pull off the impossible and hand Phantasmo his first loss in New Japan. Ultimately though that would not happen with Phantasmo hitting the CR2 elevated pedigree for the pin. Not a barn burner but a very enjoyable way to start a show.
Winner: El Phantasmo
BOSJ Tournament Block A Match: Titán v TAKA Michinoku
Sadly this second match would not follow up on that hot opening with TAKA doing his best considering but it being quite clear that he is not battling at close to peak form. That said, for a slower, more methodical match, it did show of Titán’s range, allowing him to look less like a slot-filler and more a very respectable jack-of-all-trades type. The finish was ingenious as after Michinoku spent the match taunting the luchadore, he was pinned with a variant on a Michinoku Driver. With this, Michinoku goes to 0-5. Don’t cheat on your wife, kids. Or this is what happens.
BOSJ Tournament Block B Match: BUSHI v Robbie Eagles
This was every mid-tour BUSHI match: it started hot with BUSHI taking out Eagles with a dive before he’d even taken off his shirt, from there it was good and featured strong, crisp action but was essentially shapeless. BUSHI is New Japan’s Chris Brookes, a man with a good variety to his moveset and a dynamite tag performer but often struggles to pace a compelling solo performance. That said, this was by no means offensive, it just never got beyond 2nd or 3rd gear. BUSHI won with the MX second-rope codebreaker for the pin.
BOSJ Tournament Block A Match: Tiger Mask v Jonathan Gresham
This is more fucking like it. The match had the layout you’d expect: opening on crisp, respectful, technical wrestling, Gresham outgrappled Tiger Mask, which pissed off masked Dad leading to him kicking the piss out of Gresh. Tiger’s working of the ribs, utilising his MMA experience keping him grounding with some brutal kicks, was fantastic and Gresham is such a sympathetic performer that he really managed to sell the peril of the situation. This lead to a flash Cradle for the pinfall, putting Gresham back in late contention. Like other matches both men have worked this tour, this was very good but wasn’t given enough time to really build something more. That said, I would love to see this pairing re-visited down the line, perhaps with Tiger bring his buddy Jushin and Gresh bringing a friend as well. Just think about it, Gedo.
Winner: Jonathan Gresham
BOSJ Tournament Block B Match: YOH v DOUKI
DOUKI attacked before the bell. He worked the old-school rudo textbook. Not even YOH’s considerable underdog charisma could get me to care about a DOUKI match. YOH got a tapout victory. I think. Feel free to skip this one. I’m just glad YOH won this as at least we don’t have to worry about DOUKI getting a tag title shot.
BOSJ Tournament Block A Match: SHO v Marty Scurll w/Brody King
This one was better but still suffered from a similar lack of heat and invention to much of the rest of the undercard. Scurll being helped to the ring by King and playing up his head injuries before revealing it was all a ruse was very cute but sadly, like the Scurll v Tiger Mask match, it started well but quickly ran out of steam. Despite this, SHO looked like a star as always, if the Roppongi boys stock hasn’t risen over this tournament then there is no sense in the world because all three of them have been stellar. SHO won with a package piledriver.
BOSJ Tournament Block B Match: Ryusuke Taguchi v Rocky Romero
This fucking ruled. The ‘coach vs coach’ match lived up to and exceeded all my expectations, finding just the right lend of comedic silliness giving way to a pair of men just going hell-to-leather on each other. Taguch and Romero are both performers people tend to forget how good they can be but also how long they’ve been working at this high a level.
The story was skept simple with neither man working de facto heel but instead both just looking to prove that their wrestling acumen was more expansive than the other which ultimately, Taguchi would exploit a brief opening to get a flash roll-up. This worked perfectly as an ending ass it made it clear both men were on equal footing, it was just Taguchi in the moment managed to take full advantage of a brief opening. I want more of these two either against each other or teaming. Watching these two school Roppongi 3K would be a damn dream of a match. If none of them win, BOOK IT FOR THE FINALS GEDO!
Winner: Ryusuke Taguchi
BOSJ Tournament Block A Match: Taiji Ishimori v Yoshinobu Kanemaru
All hail based sleazebag, Yoshinobs. Packing in the entire suzuki-gun formula into less than four minutes, he attacked before the bell, brawled through the crowd, nearly got a countout victory, took a strong comeback from Ishimori before ref bump, Whisky mist, rollup for the pin. If you’re going to stick so rigidly to formula, I appreciate them not wasting our time, dragging this one out. This adds yet more drama to the top of the table as it puts distance between Takagi and Ishimori. Nicely done.
Winner: Yoshinobu Kanemaru
BOSJ Tournament Block B Match: Bandido v Will Ospreay
This. Fucking. Ruled. If you like flips, this had flips, if you like hard slaps, this had hard slaps, if you like modified muta locks, this had modified muta locks, if you like subtle and expansive in-ring storytelling, this had flips. I know there are some who don’t like extended, overly-choreographed spotfest Ospreay but the thing is, when he finds a great batting partner like Ricochet, Bandido or Hiromu Takahashi, just letting them do mad stuff for twenty minutes is just pure wrestling goodness. If you liked this, go check out Ospreay’s matches from the recent Fight Club Pro Dream Tag Team Invitational as Ospreay is just working on another level at the moment. Despite this, it also made Will Look just as vulnerable as his masked opponent. Ospreay caught Bandido off the top rope and hit the Stormbreaker twisting fireman’s slam for the pin. Pure, spotty, excellence.
Winner: Will Ospreay
BOSJ Tournament Block A Match: Shingo Takagi v Dragon Lee
THIS! FUCKING! RULED! Right now, Shingo and Dragon Lee seemingly can do no wrong, at their worst, they’re still Ok, at their best, they are just the damn best. It was an admirable move of Dragon Lee as the largest luchador to try and play Shingo at the power game but he forgot that Shingo as the largest Junior simply eats the other Juniors.
The layout of this match was so clean and pure, it made a contrast with the almost ugly levels of aggression both men pumped into the match as Shingo has made himself the measuring stick of Block A so that even the champ has to try and measure himself up to the Dragon. Honestly, this was one of the purest expressions of the modern New Japan style as it hit hard, it sprinted when it need to, slowed down when it was becoming too breathless and DRAGON LEE HIT A TOPE SUICIDA LIKE A DAMN BULLET!
As good and even a contest as the contest of Dragon vs the Dragon was, ultimately Takagi would hit a pair of Pumping Bomber lariats and a Last of the Dragn fireman’s carry driver for the pin. Watch this match!
Winner: Shingo Takagi
While the undercard wasn’t as consistent as some other nights, the upper card action more than made up for it with the last four matches being a particularly fantastic run and two NJPW MOTY contenders in our semi-main and main. If they can keep this up, we’ve got a back-edn of the tour to come.
Block A Results:
Shingo Takagi – 10 (5-0-0)
Taiji Ishimori – 8 (4-0-1)
Dragon Lee – 6 (3-0-2)
Jonathan Gresham – 6 (3-0-2)
Marty Scurll – 4 (2-0-3)
SHO – 4 (2-0-3)
Tiger Mask – 4 (2-0-3)
Titán – 4 (2-0-3)
Yoshinobu Kanemaru – 4 (2-0-2)
TAKA Michinoku – (0-0-5)
Block B Results:
El Phantasmo – 10 (5-0-0)
Ryusuke Taguchi – 8 (4-0-1)
Will Ospreay – 8 (4-0-1)
Robbie Eagles – 6 (3-0-2)
YOH – 6 (3-0-2)
Bandido – 4 (2-0-3)
BUSHI – 4 (2-0-3)
Rocky Romero – 2 (1-0-4)
DOUKI – 2 (1-0-4)
Ren Narita – (0-0-5)