By Chris Vetter, ProWrestling.net Contributor (@chrisvetter73)
New Japan Pro Wrestling “Best of the Super Juniors tournament”
May 18, 2023 in Iwate, Japan at Iwate Prefectural Gymnasium
Streamed on New Japan World
Kevin Kelly provided solo commentary as the show began; he said Mike Bailey would join later. This is a small arena with a crowd at perhaps 1,000 all seated on the floor. There is a second and third deck without fans.
BoSJ is a 20-man tournament, with 10 wrestlers in each Block in a round-robin tournament, spread out over 12 shows in an 18-day span. So, each wrestler will have nine matches within their block. From there, we have a “final four” this year. The A Block winner will face the second-place finisher of the B Block, and the B Block winner will finish the second-place finisher of the A Block. Those winners head to the finals. Each win is worth two points. A draw is worth one each. To the show!
I expect the four men who advance to the playoffs will be 6-3 or better, so anyone with four or five losses is eliminated, whether officially or unofficially.
1. Mike Bailey (10) defeated Douki (4) in an A Block match at 9:46. Bailey hit his Speedball kicks to the ribs early on. Douki hit a back elbow for a nearfall at 2:30, as Kelly said this is a first-time-ever meeting, which makes sense. Bailey hit a running kick and they were both down. Bailey went for his running Shooting Star Press, but Douki caught him and applied the Douki Chokey, and Bailey quickly got to the ropes at 4:30. They traded rollups. Bailey missed the Ultima Weapon, but he nailed a standing moonsault kneedrop to the chest.
Bailey went for the Flamingo Driver, but Bailey escaped and again applied the Douki Chokey. (Again, Douki beat Lio Rush a day ago with this submission hold!), but Bailey was able to push Douki to the floor to escape at 7:30. Bailey nailed the Corner Moonsault to the floor. Bailey missed the moonsault kneedrop on the ring apron and he sold the pain in his knees. Douki immediately hit the Daybreak slingshot DDT for a believable nearfall, and the crowd was rallying for Douki. Bailey fired back with a series of kicks, the Tornado Kick and the Ultima Weapon second-rope moonsault kneedrop for the pin. That was a really good opener. Kelly noted that Douki is officially eliminated.
* Between matches, Kelly talked about Superstar Billy Graham and what he meant to the wrestling business.
2. Bushi (2) defeated Yoshinobu Kanemaru (4) in a B Block match at 1:45. I predict a Bushi win here as he just can’t remain winless, right? Kelly said they have each won twice of four singles matches against each other. Bushi hit a top-rope missile dropkick seconds into the match and did the Busharooni to his feet. Kanemaru hit an enzuigiri and Bushi accidentally bumped the ref. Kanemaru grabbed his whiskey bottle and took a sip. However, Bushi hit a Lungblower as Kanemaru turned around. Bushi took a swig of the whiskey and sprayed it in Kanemaru’s face. Bushi then hit his second-rope Lungblower for the pin. Shortest match of the tournament, which is fine.
* Mike Bailey joined commentary early in the next match.
3. TJP (8) defeated Ryusuke Taguchi (0) in an A Block match at 10:43. Taguchi is now the last winless wrestler; again, I expect him to go to his trickery as the tournament moves into its final stages. Taguchi is 2-0 against TJP, including a win 20 years ago, Kelly said. TJP applied a headscissorslock early on. TJP hit a headscissors takedown out of the corner. Taguchi hit a plancha at 2:30. He came off the ropes, but TJP caught him with a dropkick. TJP tied Taguchi on the mat and snapped the arm backward and got a nearfall. TJP hit his Facewash kicks in the corner at 5:00.
Taguchi hit some buttbumps against the ropes, then a plancha to the floor. In the ring, Taguchi hit a springboard hip attack for a nearfall at 6:30. He hit another running buttbump for a nearfall. TJP fired back with a tornado DDT. Kelly said this is Taguchi’s 20th tournament. TJP hit a Mamba Splash for a nearfall; as Taguchi kicked out, TJP turned it into a modified STF, but Taguchi got to the ropes at 8:30. Taguchi hit another buttbump. TJP applied a cross-armbreaker. Taguchi applied an anklelock, then a Lungblower for a believable nearfall at 10:00, but he went right back to the anklelock. TJP escaped and went back to the modified STF, and Taguchi tapped out. Fun match; I really thought Taguchi was winning a couple times here.
4. Kevin Knight (6) defeated Dan Moloney (4) in a B Block match at 8:15. A battle between two of the four men debuting in this year’s tournament. (Lio Rush and Mike Bailey, the other debuting wrestlers, will square off on the final night of block action.) Knight hit his jumping splash early on for a one-count. Moloney tossed Knight over the top rope to the floor! Knight writhed on the floor in pain; he got back in the ring before being counted out at 2:00, but Moloney was in charge of the offense. He applied a leglock around Knight’s waist.
They traded forearm shots and chops. Knight hit his impressive dropkick at 5:00 and they were both down. Knight hit a sliding clothesline for a nearfall. Moloney hit a Gore for a nearfall at 6:30, then a fisherman’s brainbuster for a believable nearfall. Knight nailed the D’Lo Sky High powerbomb, then his jumping DDT for the pin. Good match.
5. Sho (w/EVIL) (4) defeated Taiji Ishimori (8) in an A Block match at 5:48. A heel-heel matchup; again the House of Torture and the Bullet Club have been loosely aligned factions. The bell rang but Sho got on the mic. They both rolled to the floor and are leaving together? A double count-out? However, Sho ran into the ring! Ishimori followed, but Evil held his hand; Ishimori escaped and got into the ring at the 19-count! (I really thought we were having a countout there.) So, they locked up for the first time at 3:30.
EVIL tripped Sho! Why? Ishimori was confused, too. EVIL gave Ishimori the ‘too sweet’ gesture. Ishimori hit a shoulder breaker over his knee, then he applied the Bone Lock. EVIL threw in the towel, which confused everyone, including the referee. Sho got a rollup for the pin. Ishimori was livid. More of an angle than a match. (I don’t think a single person in the crowd believed for a second that EVIL was dropping Sho mid-match and re-aligning with Ishimori.) The loss means Ishimori falls behind Block leader Bailey.
6. El Desperado (8) defeated Clark Connors (6) in a B Block match at 12:24. They immediately traded stiff forearm shots, and Connors nailed the Pounce just 30 seconds in. Connors hit a release German Suplex. They brawled to the floor, and Connors barked at fans in the front row. Connors whipped Desperado into rows of empty chairs. Back in the ring, Connors went for a spear, but Desperado caught him and hit a Spinebuster at 3:30. They went back to the floor, with Desperado hitting a series of chops. They brawled away from ringside. Desperado whipped Connors into the rows of chairs at 6:00.
Desperado hit a snap suplex on the floor and rolled back into the ring. Connors barely got back in before being counted out. Desperado hit a back suplex for a one-count at 7:30. They went back to the floor; Connors grabbed a chair but Desperado hit him before he could use it. The traded blows with chairs, but Connors hit repeated chairshots across Desperado’s back as they fought on the floor. (It has been made clear in the past that almost anything goes in NJPW on the floor; that chairshot would have been a DQ if it happened in the ring.)
Connors whipped Desperado face-first into a ring post at 10:30. Connors hit a snap suplex onto a pile of folded chairs, and he immediately rolled into the ring. Desperado got in just before being counted out, but Connors immediately hit a powerslam. Connors nailed a spear, and he set up for the “Hold the Chaser” spike DDT. However, Desperado escaped, got a rollup, and scored the pin! Connors was livid and he began attacking the Young Lions who hopped in the ring. A good brawl. I noted a day ago that NJPW has really protected Connors’ two-step finisher, and I believe if he had hit the spike DDT, he wins here. Desperado and Connors kept brawling after the match.
7. Titan (8) defeated Lio Rush (8) in an A Block match at 10:23. They traded lucha reversals and ended in a standoff at 1:00 and got a nice applause. Titan hit a spin kick. They went to the floor and Lio hit an Asai Moonsault, then he dove through the ropes and barreled onto Titan. In the ring, Titan applied a Trailer Hitch leglock at 4:00. Lio applied a leglock. They got up and traded forearm shots. They traded superkicks, and Lio got a nearfall at 6:00. Titan hit a chinbreaker over his knee and a kick to the jaw for a nearfall.
Lio nailed the Rush Hour stunner out of the ropes, then a mid-ring Spanish Fly for a nearfall at 7:30. Lio went for Final Hour frogsplash, but Titan moved, and Titan hit a superkick. Titan went for a top-rope doublestomp but Lio moved, and Rush hit some clotheslines. Lio went to the top rope, but Titan rolled away. Titan hit a clothesline in the corner, then he nailed the top-rope doublestomp to the chest for the clean pin. An upset in my eyes, and it doesn’t get easier for Lio, as he has Kushida on Friday.
8. Yoh (8) defeated Francesco Akira (6) in a B Block match at 1:37. Yoh hit a dropkick before the bell. Akira dove between the ropes and barreled onto Yoh. In the ring, Akira hit a top-rope crossbody block for a nearfall, then a running knee for a nearfall at 1:00. Akira hit a superkick. Yoh got an O’Connor Roll for the pin! That came out of nowhere! Quite a shocker and our third really short match of the night.
9. Hiromu Takahashi (8) defeated Kushida (2) via count-out in an A Block match at 16:05. This should be the main event. Kushida stalled on the floor before they locked up. Some methodical reversals early on with neither man getting an advantage. Hiromu rolled to the floor and sold a left arm injury. Back in the ring, Kushida tied up the left arm and twisted on the wrist. They rolled to the floor and fought, with Hiromu selling the pain in his arm. Kushida remained in control as they returned to the ring. Kushida nailed a flip dive off the top turnbuckle onto Takahashi on the floor at 5:30.
In the ring, Hiromu hit a headscissors takedown, then a Falcon Arrow for a nearfall. They traded forearm shots. They rolled back to the floor at 9:00 and kept trading forearm shots, and they went between the rows of fans, looping the building. They actually went out the door at 11:30 and brawled in the grass outside the building. It is dark, but they do have a spotlight on them. Kushida applied a Hoverboard Lock. Hiromu picked him up, but Kushida across his shoulders, and slammed him into a truck! The referee has just now started to count! (They had been on the floor for more than three minutes.) They raced back to the ring and got back in before the 20-count at 13:30. Bailey pointed out we hadn’t had a draw yet in the tournament, but we came very close.
Kushida hit a chop and put his arms behind his back, allowng Hiromu to hit a chop back. Kushida dove through the ropes and hit a sunset flip powerbomb to the floor at 15:30. “Don’t tell Kushida he’s at the bottom of the standings with just two points,” Kelly said. Hiromu went for a shotgun dropkick off the ring apron, but Kushida caught him and applied a modified cross-armbreaker. The ref was loudly counting; Hiromu climbed back in just before the 20 count, but Kushida slipped and fell and was counted out. “He’s been snake-bit,” Kelly said. Good match and I don’t hate the finish. Kushida is officially eliminated at 1-5.
10. Master Wato (8) defeated Robbie Eagles (8) in a B Block match at 19:36. I fully expect Wato to win this so he gets his chance to speak on the mic after a win, and to keep him in the running. Seconds into the match, Eagles applied the Ron Miller Special leglock, but Wato escaped and rolled to the floor. They brawled on the floor. They got in the ring and traded forearm shots at 4:30, and Eagles tied up the left leg. Wato fired back with his springboard flying forearm at 7:30, then a flip dive to the floor on Eagles.
Wato hit a missile dropkick, then a double-arm Mousetrap slam for a nearfall, and he went to his head submission hold. Eagles hit a springboard dropkick on the knee at 12:00 and he re-applied the Ron Miller Special leglock, and Wato writhed in pain, but he eventually reached the ropes. They got up and traded forearms, then kicks. They hit simultaneous spin kicks to the head. Eagles hit a mid-ring Sliced Bread at 16:30. He set up for a Turbo Backpack, but Wato escaped, and Wato hit a Tombstone piledriver for a believable nearfall.
They fought on the ropes in the corner, where Eagles hit a jump-up huracarana. Eagles went for a top-rope 450 Splash, but Wato got his knees up at 18:30, and they were both down. Wato hit a release German Suplex, but Eagles rotated and landed on his feet. Eagles attempted the Ron Miller Special again, but Wato avoided it. Wato then nailed a high German Suplex with a bridge to score the pin. Good back-and-forth match, and one of Wato’s best singles matches.
* Wato got on the mic and spoke after the match. Kelly called it a “rare treat” to hear from him.
Final Thoughts: I’ll go with Kushida-Hiromu for best match, even without a decisive winner. It felt like a big match, and the fight outside was fresh and different than anything we’d seen in the tournament thus far. I’ll go with Titan-Rush for second place, and the main event for third.
A Block roundup: Bailey remains the leader with a 5-1 record (10 points.) Lio Rush, TJP, Titan, Hiromu Takahashi and Ishimori are right behind at 8 points. My guess right now is that Lio Rush beats Bailey in the final night of Block action, with Bailey and Lio advancing to the final four; they both have scored wins over Hiromu in the tournament and deserve a title match against him.
B Block roundup: With Wato winning the main event, we have a four-way tie, as Wato, Eagles, Desperado and Yoh all at 4-2 (8 points.) Several others are close behind, but my guess is Eagles and Desperado reach the final four.
The non-stop tournament continues Friday before just the second off-day on Saturday.
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