NJPW Best of the Super Juniors
This is my attempt to catch up on hyped BOSJ matches that have taken place while I was enjoying a minor wrestling hiatus. I can’t promise to hit all the highs but I’ll take is as much as time allows.
Dragon Lee vs. SHO (15.5.19)
My boy SHO had a cracking match against Shingo on the opening night. This is two days later and the second block match for both.
Dragon Lee has adapted incredibly well to Japanese culture and his match structure is that of a puroresu competitor who has been in Mexico on excursion, rather than a luchadore doing puro spots. SHO has been impressive too and he’s gone from throwaway spotty tags to pushing 30 minutes in the main events. The great thing about BOSJ is that wrestlers get a chance to prove their worth as singles guys.
Holy shit! I fucking love an outta control tope. SHO’s response is ragdolling Dragon Lee around with suplexes. Dragon Lee makes a point of working the arm to give the match reasonable focus and their mat stuff is terrific. Like most NJPW main events it’s really long though, which is a major detriment. SHO is fine but it prevents Dragon Lee from being as explosive. As we drag towards 25 minutes I’m reminded why I didn’t want to watch this tournament in the first place. If I wanted G1, I’d watch G1. Making BOSJ a G1 for small people isn’t ideal, from my point of view. They finally hit the exciting part of the match, in the final two minutes, and I can’t help but think this would have been excellent if they’d trimmed the fat. Dragon Lee’s dive in this was utterly fucking fantastic but the pacing wasn’t good enough and they had no business going 27 minutes.
Final Rating: ***1/2
Rocky Romero vs. Will Ospreay (16.5.19)
This didn’t go on last; the main for this show was DOUKI vs. Taguchi.
They start playful as they’re pals in CHAOS and I appreciate a little levity after that grueling main event last night.
Ospreay is another guy who has designs on being a heavyweight and has to work that G1 style, eventually. So it makes sense that he works it here as he’s on his way up. Ospreay is the poster boy for what New Japan want from this tournament. He can work the longer matches but he also has the high energy, high risk style that you want in BOSJ. The trouble with establishing a slower pace is that neither guy is familiar with it so Will at one point hooks a lengthy chinlock. A chinlock! What’s happening? Ospreay is still bad at vocalizing pain. His whole ‘argh, my hand’ selling in this isn’t good. At some point he’s probably been told to sell to the people in the back rows, which is decent advice but there’s a difference between Bret Hart limping across the entire ring to sell a leg and screaming every time you’re hurt like a baby. Especially when you go from “argh my hand hurts” to Space Flying Tiger Drop in a few seconds.
Romero is the smart one, using the injury to transform Ospreay’s crazy offence into his own offence. The Oscutter/armbar stuff is great. Then they do the Forever Clotheslines bit and oh my god, it’s awesome. The sequence of counters between the second and third lines. Woo! Rocky gets desperate with his counters from Will’s big spots right into pins is just fantastic. Comms gets a bit over the top but I get Kevin Kelly being excited for his pal Romero. I find myself biting on everything and we’re at 25 minutes. Compare that to SHO/Dragon Lee where I was almost bored at that same point. Stormbreaker finishes and this fucking rocked. I had limited expectations but the pacing was a delight and they peaked almost perfectly. I loved the false finishes for Rocky.
Final Rating: ****1/2
El Phantasmo vs. Will Ospreay (22.5.19)
Heel ELP has been a dickbag all tour, living up to the Bullet Club history.
Ospreay starts with the kind of energy, anger and aggression that is rarely seen from him. He’s aware of the story he has to tell, as he was against Romero as the dominant big brother. Here he’s out for revenge against an ELP who turned on Ospreay’s ideals and ethics by joining Bullet Club. ELP manages to be both a dickhead and a high flier here. ELP gets huge reactions for his trademark spots, which he’s not received in the UK despite them being exactly the same. He must be thrilled with how his first tour has gone. The match is a bit movesey after a promising start. Like the anger is removed in favour of doing all the Spotz. I quite liked the concept of an angry Ospreay hell bent for vengeance. Instead it becomes a showcase for how good ELP is at flips and such. He’s able to hang with Ospreay and they do a grand job of showcasing a lot of spots. ELP manages to keep it real by going after fishhooks, low blows and spitting. It gives the match an edge that it needs. It doesn’t retain the sense of hate that we had at the start though. Will does attempt the Spanish Fly off the apron, calling back to the Scurll spot where he nearly killed himself.
Then they start fucking with Red Shoes. Why would ELP take a swing at him? That makes no sense. Low blow sets up CR2 and ELP picks up the huge win. They struggled with narrative here, dipping in and out of hatred. The stuff with the ref at the finish was disappointingly awful too. Especially as they’d gone so far on moves.
Final Rating: ****
Dragon Lee vs. Shingo Takagi (23.5.19)
I’m watching this slightly out of order because I don’t want to watch three Will Ospreay matches in a row.
Shingo is this unbeatable monster. That’s the story of BOSJ 26. He’s big for a junior and overpowers everyone. There’s a healthy level of intensity here and the crowd are very into it. Dragon Lee matching Shingo’s Dragon Gate level of speed and aggression is beautiful to watch. I bet Dragon Gate are kicking themselves for not getting him. Dragon Lee hits another insane dive here. The speed and the distance along with the angle of attack make these dives so impressive. My jaw was left on the floor by this one. There’s a solid chance that the Dominion match is a rematch of this. I hope so, in all honesty, because it’s high energy and relentless. There’s no sluggish pacing issues here. Just balls to the wall and Dominion will likely be shorter and punchier. This match is already punchy as fuck. They start turning up the pace, from 100mph to 2000mph, and kicking out of massive strikes at one. Last of the Dragon finishes for Shingo and he’s unbeatable! Holy shit this was so intense. More of this!
Final Rating: ****3/4
Bandido vs. Will Ospreay (23.5.19)
This was on the undercard of the match above. I didn’t want three Ospreay matches in a row but they’ll have a hard time following that! I saw this match at Mania weekend in front of a dead house and it was ****1/2.
So I’m interested to see how wild they get in Korakuen Hall. Speaking of wild; the crowd is super hot! Ospreay is out here for some highlight reel shit and I fucking love it. Bandido is smart and doesn’t try to out-flip Will, instead focusing on working body parts and telling stories. Plus his strikes are intense and hard.
AAAAAHHHH! Holy shit. I am freaking out at that. That should not be possible. Why is that so goddamn pretty? Imagine being Will Ospreay and doing a bunch of flippydos and then Bandido just fucking does that? The form! They hit a bunch of spots here but there’s no wasted motion in between. The transitions are pretty too. So while it’s ‘spot heavy’ it’s not a spotfest. Ospreay flipping out of Bandido ridiculous German suplex thing just freaks everyone out. Are we sure these guys are both humans? I love Will’s ring awareness of grabbing the ropes instead of doing a silly kick-out where it didn’t need to happen. The counter into the Stormbreaker! Holy shit. I fucking loved this. I can’t believe they did this and then Shingo and Dragon Lee came out right afterwards and had that match! Holy shit.
Final Rating: ****1/2
El Phantasmo vs. Rocky Romero (24.5.19)
This is another long match and it feels like it as they crowd brawl and grind at holds for a while. Where the match works is pitting dickhead ELP against super babyface Romero. ELP makes a point of slowing Rocky down and doing dick things like Forever Groin Stomps. Rocky’s resilience and underdog attacks are a major highlight. Both guys make a point of selling heavily and the lengthy nature of the match doesn’t involve a lot of stalling and such but rather logical selling of big spots and stalling that plays into the storyline. I love how Rocky throws in some sneaky moves, instead of playing it straight-laced, as he’s facing a legitimate arsehole. ELP does a fine job of mixing up his offence, although in long matches I’d rather he wasn’t given lengthy control periods to be quite honest. This is all about Romero and his underdog spirit. A lot of it reminds me of Honma during the time when he couldn’t win at all during G1. This match is good but I’m not keen on the ref bump stuff and they do it twice. Twice!
At least the second time Rocky pulls out the Eddie Guerrero and plays dead on a phantom belt shot. I am a big fan of the near falls afterwards with everyone going insane for Rocky. Romero eventually gets the win with an armbar, with time running low, and Korakuen Hall goes nuts. This was great but I wasn’t as into the storyline as the comms and crowd. That’s on me, I guess. I do love YOH and SHO running in to hug Romero post match. That’s a nice touch.
Final Rating: ****1/4
Dragon Lee vs. Titan (24.5.19)
Red Shoes is reffing with a mask on! He can’t hack it and has to take it off after the first sequence. As expected the lucha boys do a bunch of high speed flips and handstands. It does feel like them playing the hits but they’re all bangers so fuck it, why not? It’s not like this crowd watch a ton of CMLL. Or maybe they do? I’ve seen Japanese fans in Arena Mexico. Fantasticamania is well attended. There are a lot of dives in this match. I am very happy. I’m easily amused. Just do flips and hit hard and I’m there. As long as you’re really good at your style of pro wrestling I’ll be there, to be fair. There are only a few odd spots, like Dragon Lee putting himself in the tree of woe on purpose, and generally the hard work is fun to watch. They do some ridiculous things that I’m not 100% sure I like. Canadian Destroyer is no sold but at least Titan smashes Dragon Lee in the face with a knee before a double down. Like he used his last gasp of energy to hit that. Desducadora finishes for Dragon Lee and Titan pushed him hard here but I didn’t buy him winning. Smooth, slick lucha in this bout and when lucha is done right it’s fucking fantastic lads.
Final Rating: ****
Robbie Eagles vs. Will Ospreay (26.5.19)
This is quite the match up. Eagles beat Ospreay in Australia last year in an incredible match. Eagles worked the hell out of Will’s leg and after he beat Ospreay he got handed the little Japanese flag off Will’s tights. Symbolically inviting him to New Japan. They have rad chemistry. Eagles has the flag from that match and he throws it in Will’s face. He pops the flag into his tights. “I’m keeping it”. Eagles didn’t join CHAOS, like I’m sure Will was hoping for, but instead joined Bullet Club in support of Australasian hero Bad Luck Fale.
Eagles still respects Ospreay though and he gives him a nice clean break on the ropes. They do a load of near misses to show the familiarity. It’s the kind of thing RVD and Jerry Lynn used to do…only cleaner and smoother.
It’s notable that Eagles repeats his leg assaults from the PWA match. They must have been aware they told a good story there and went for a repeat. The difference is that in PWA it was the end of a long story of Eagles feeling disrespected. Ospreay doesn’t relent on doing his usual big spots but the Space Flying Tiger Drop leads to him selling the leg some more.
You know what makes Ospreay so special? He’s at the forefront of this style and there’s a whole generation of guys who want to better him to prove a point. So every match feels special because the other guy is desperate to prove a point. Ospreay is so good that not only is he matching these challenges but he’s making guys look exceptional in the process and elevating talent everywhere he sets foot in the ring. If I was a wrestler I would want to wrestle Will Ospreay. Although my memory is terrible so I’d totally fuck up his plan.
They throw a Dragonrana in here for shits and giggles. Like that’s an easy move to use to kill some time. I’m fond of Ospreay not wanting to use the Hidden Blade because he doesn’t want to concuss Eagles. He didn’t seem to have a problem murdering his friend Kota Ibushi though. I also love Will trying to do the 450 onto his feet to avoid a Super Rana and not being able to because his leg is bad. That’s just sensational stuff. Then we get ELP and a ref bump and why must this bullshit be so prevalent in wrestling. It angers me. ELP interferes and Eagles hits the 450 on the knee. Will has to tap out and Eagles wins with help. This was almost as good as the Australia match. It felt less important though and the I hated the finish. Watch the PWA match if you want to see this match done properly.
Final Rating: ****1/4
Juice Robinson’s post match promo straight into camera after this with the Mox promo playing in the background is also straight fire.
I was feeling a little down on wrestling after Mania week, Champion Carnival and SSS16 coming at me one after another and I found myself surprised at how burned out I was. It kinda came out of nowhere.
AEW got me back on that horse and Best of the Super Juniors has me riding high in the saddle. Just on the high recommendations alone this is the best BOSJ ever. Will is be this good next year when Ospreay has moved up in the weight classes? I’m not sure but New Japan are doing fine work at this weight division. Long may it continue.