By Chris Vetter, ProWrestling.net Contributor (@chrisvetter73)
New Japan Pro Wrestling “Best of the Super Juniors tournament”
May 28, 2023 in Tokyo, Japan at Ota City General Gymnasium
Streamed on New Japan World
I want to open with a sports analogy. You have watched every game of the NCAA college basketball tournament, and we are down to the Final Four. Everyone is eager to see the Michigan Wolverines and the Duke Blue Devils reach the finals. They are the ‘well-known’ quantities and were seen as the favorites entering the tournament. They are considered the best-of-the-best. You watched them dominate during the tournament and can’t wait to see this matchup. The fans want it. The networks want it, knowing the ratings will be there.
But then the games are played, and somehow the East Tennessee State Buccaneers and the Southern Illinois Salukis win their respective games to reach the finals. Sure, they ‘earned’ it by beating the more well-known teams… but no one is really looking forward to the championship game anymore. It might be a good game, but the star-power is gone.
So, let me translate this to pro wrestling, and specifically, the BoSJ finals. I wanted to see Mike Bailey vs. El Desperado in the finals. So did everyone else. Master Wato vs. Titan in the finals feels like a huge letdown. While I avoid posting/sharing “star ratings” … Master Wato doesn’t receive “four-star ratings” in his matches. He’s an adequate mid-carder, and I just don’t see him in the upper-tier. His matches in this tournament haven’t changed my thoughts on that. (I have not read a Twitter comment from any AEW fan wondering who is going to square off against Master Wato at Forbidden Door II!) OK, enough venting. To the show!
Kevin Kelly and Chris Charlton provided commentary. This appears to be a very good-sized arena. The lights are low so it’s hard to see estimate the crowd size, but this is clearly larger than many of the small gyms used on this tour.
1. Togi Makabe and Boltin Oleg defeated Yuto Nakashima and Oskar Leube at 6:36. Oleg and Oskar immediately traded stiff forearm shots. Yuto battlled the veteran Makabe. Oskar hit a Hogan Legdrop on Makabe at 5:00. Kelly reminded us that Kosei Fujita beat Gedo at the last show, so Young Lions do occasionally pull off a shocker. Makabe hit a top-rope kneedrop on Yuto’s head for the pin.
2. Clark Connors (w/Gedo) defeated Ryohei Oiwa at 5:18. A rare singles match in the undercard. Connors immediately hit a shoulder tackle that sent Oiwa to the floor, and they brawled on the floor. In the ring, Connors dropped Oiwa with a hard forearm and he was in complete control. He applied a full nelson at 2:30. Connors set up for the spear, but Oiwa caught him with a dropkick. Oiwa hit a gutwrench suplex for a nearfall. Connors hit a spear, then the No Chaser spike DDT for the pin. A squash, really.
3. Yoh and Lio Rush defeated “The Mighty Don’t Kneel” Robbie Eagles and Kosei Fujita at 9:10. Lio and Eagles started, then Yoh entered to face Fujita, and Yoh hit a basement dropkick on the knee at 3:00. Eagles and Lio got back in and traded quicker offense. Lio missed a Final Hour frogsplash, and Eagles applied the Ron Miller Special leglock, but Yoh made the save. Fujita got an O’Connor Roll on Lio for a nearfall. Lio nailed the Final Hour frogsplash to pin Fujita. Far better than the first two matches.
4. “United Empire” Great-O-Khan, Dan Moloney, TJP, and Francesco Akira defeated Kushida, Kevin Knight, Yuji Nagata, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, and Satoshi Kojima at 12:50. The senior citizens have escaped the retirement home for this one. I kid. Yuji and O-Khan opened. Knight and TJP entered and sped it up; it appears that TJP and Akira want their junior tag titles back. Moloney beat up Knight. Tenzan and Henare traded stiff forearms at 10:00, and Tenzan applied an Anaconda Vice on the mat.
TJP and Akira hit simultaneous planchas to the floor. Henare hit his football tackle on Tenzan for a nearfall, but Nagata made the save. Henare hit a Death Valley Driver to pin Tenzan. Ok match. No one really got to show off a lot of their offense with so many people in the match. Kushida and Knight continued to jaw with TJP and Akira after the match.
* Quick backstory: The next tag title match was slated to be champs Aussie Open vs. Bishamon vs. House of Torture in a three-way. However, Mark Davis is injured, so AO have forfeited the belts, and at least for now, the vacant tag titles will be decided in a regular tag match.
5. Toru Yano and “Bishamon” Hirooki Goto and Yoshi-Hashi vs. “House of Torture” Evil, Yujiro Takahashi, and Sho (w/Dick Togo) ends in a draw at 8:42. They all brawled at the bell, and it spilled to the floor. Henare and O-Khan are seated in the front row, watching the action. Interesting; maybe they’ll take Aussie Open’s spot in the tag title match? Yano entered the match at 4:30 and immediately removed a ring corner pad. Sho stomped on Yano. Sho got his wrench but Goto blocked it. Togo interfered and choked Goto with his wire. Suddenly, Great-O-Khan and Henare are in the ring; Kelly said EVIL threw them into the ring. All three teams brawled, and the ref called for the bell.
* Great-O-Khan got on the mic and said that the tag title belts belong to the Empire. Yoshi-Hashi accepted the challenge, so it looks like we will have a three-way tag title match after all.
6) Shota Umino, Mike Bailey, and “Strong Style” El Desperado and Ren Narita defeated Ryusuke Taguchi, Hiroshi Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada, and Tomohiro Ishii at 12:47. Kelly told a story about fathers being annoyed with their sons, and that is how Okada has been looking at Umino recently. An accurate summary. Taguchi was trying to play peacemaker, but Shota pushed him aside, as Umino wants Okada. Taguchi looked dejected. Funny. Bailey and Taguchi started. Ishii entered and hit a double clothesline at 2:00. Some comedy with goofball Taguchi and all-business Ishii, who ignored a fist bump offer.
Ishii hit a suplex on Desperado. Desperado hit a back suplex on Tanahashi at 5:00, then a spinebuster on Ishii. Shota tagged in and hit a diving forearm on Taguchi, but Shota once again hit Okada as he was standing on the ring apron (this happened a couple days ago.) Shota put Hiroshi in an STF, but Okada made the save. We finally got Okada and Shota alone in the ring at 7:30, with Okada applying the Money Clip sleeperhold. Shota hit a suplex, then a running back elbow and a slingshot DDT on Okada. Narita made the blind tag, ticking off Shota!
Okada hit a flapjack on Narita. Taguchi tagged in at 9:30 and he hit his flying buttbumps, and he applied an anklelock on Narita. Bailey entered and hit his Speedball kicks to Taguchi’s ribs. Bailey hit a series of kicks on Tanahashi, then a second-rope missile dropkick on Tanahashi. Bailey nailed the Triangle Moonsault to the floor on Hiroshi at 11:00.
Meanwhile in the ring, Desperado hit a spear on Ishii. Ren hit a Northern Lights Suplex on Taguchi for a nearfall. On the floor, Umino threw a table at Okada! “What are you doing!” Kelly shouted. In the ring, Narita hit an enzuigiri, a Northern Lights Suplex, and the Cobra Twist (Octopus submission hold), and Taguchi tapped out. This was tremendous and one of the best NJPW multi-man matches I’ve seen in a long time.
* Shota got on the mic. He already has Jon Moxley as a partner in a six-man tag at Dominion next week. He announced his other partner will be Claudio Castagnoli. Kelly and Charlton were thrilled to hear that Claudio is coming to Japan.
7. “Los Ingobernobles de Japon” Tetsuya Naito, Shingo Takagi, Bushi, Hiromu Takahashi defeated “Just 5 Guys” Sanada, Taichi, Douki, and Yoshinobu Kanemaru at 11:53. Kelly and Charlton talked about Sanada’s match against Yota Tsuji at Dominion. LIJ attacked at the bell. Hiromu and Taichi squared off in the ring. Sanada entered at 6:00. Taichi and Shingo traded clotheslines; this feud just won’t end. “In some other universe, they’d be the best of friends,” Charlton said.
Douki barreled through the ropes onto Naito on the floor at 9:30. In the ring, Douki hit the Daybreak slingshot DDT on Naito for a nearfall. Douki got some rollups for believable nearfalls on Naito. However, Naito hit the Destino/flipping faceplant on Douki for the pin. Okay match, but nowhere near the energy of the prior match.
8. Master Wato (w/Tenzan) defeated Titan (w/LIJ) to win the Best of Super Juniors tournament at 24:36. Kelly noted that Wato is just 26 and would be the third-youngest-ever winner. Quick reversals and a standoff at 2:30. Wato hit a headscissors takedown, sending Titan to the floor Wato hit a plancha to the floor. Kelly said Wato is deceptively big as a junior. In the ring, Wato hit some Yes Kicks. Titan applied a Figure Four leglock at 6:00 but Wato immediately reached the ropes; he sold pain in his left knee. This crowd is hot; Kelly noticed it too because he said almost every seat is full, and the walkup sales were strong. Titan hit a basement dropkick to the chest at 8:30.
Titan set up for a dive to the floor, but Wato cut him off with a spin kick. Wato nailed a flip dive over the ropes onto Titan. In the ring, Wato hit his springboard flying elbow for a nearfall, and he applied the Vendival head submission hold, but TItan reached the ropes at 10:30. Titan hit a springboard moonsault to the floor, getting tremendous height! They were both down on the floor. As Wato finally got up, Titan hit a flip dive to the floor on him, and they were both down at 13:00. In the ring, Titan hit a spin kick to the jaw, then a Pele Kick, and they were both down again. This crowd is totally into the match.
They got up and traded forearm shots. Wato hooked both arms and got a Mousetrap slam for a nearfall, and he went back to Vendival at 17:00, cranking on the head, but Titan eventually reached the ropes. Titan hit a springboard tornado DDT, and they were both down. Titan nailed a springboard doublestomp onto Wato’s lower back for a believable nearfall at 19:30. Titan immediately applied a Trailer Hitch leglock in the center of the ring, and Wato was screaming in pain, teasing a tapout. I can’t stress enough how HOT this crowd was. “It’s absolutely deafening in here, folks,” Kelly said. Titan switched to the Muta Lock (which is how he beat Hiromu!) but Wato reached the ropes at 21:00 just as Titan got it locked in. “Two more seconds and this one would have been over!” Charlton said.
Wato hit his German Suplex with a bridge for a believable nearfall, as Titan was able to roll and get a shoulder up. Titan got a rollup for a believable nearfall. Titan nailed a top-rope doublestomp to the chest for a believable nearfall at 23:30. “You have got to be kidding me!” Kelly said of the kickout. Charlton just said the crowd is 3,600. Titan nailed a superkick; Wato nailed a spin kick. Wato hit a German Suplex, then the double-arm Mousetrap slam for the pin. A superb match.
* A ceremony was held as officials gave Wato his BoSJ trophy. Wato got on the mic and called Hiromu Takahashi into the ring. They stood across the ring from each other. “Finally, I’ve been able to reach this point,” he said. “Let me challenge for the IWGP junior heavyweight champion.” Hiromu took the mic and congratulated Wato on the win. “You have opened new doors,” Hiromu said. “Whatever door you choose to open, I’ll be standing behind it. I’ll be delighted to accept your challenge.” They stood nose-to-nose, actually touching foreheads. Hiromu then turned and left. Wato said the match will happen next week at Dominion, which will apparently be held in Wato’s hometown. The blue streamers flew and covered Wato with confetti to close the show.
Final Thoughts: Congrats to Wato and Titan, who put in a memorable match in front of a HOT crowd. While it wasn’t the finale I wanted, they certainly stepped up and delivered. I assumed going in that Wato was winning here, as Titan (like Mike Bailey) are not NJPW regulars. We’ll see if this great match here, and a solid tournament overall, can vault Wato into the top tier of juniors.
The Okada-Umino stuff has been perfect. Umino is making his push to be seen as an equal in the top-tier and Okada is making it clear he doesn’t believe Shota is at that level. The pieces are in place for Dominion next week, especially with the news that both Jon Moxley and Claudio Castagnoli are headed to Japan to team with Shota Umino.