Imp’s NJPW Adventure
I’m absolutely buzzing, Best of the Super Juniors 26 was an incredible tournament for New Japan’s Junior division. Successfully introduced and established new faces, gave both veterans and rookies the time to shine, made those at the top end look like stars and put on multiple MOTY candidates in the process.
The quality from start to finish was fantastic, with this being the first time the tournament was covered with multiple cameras and both Japanese and English commentary teams for every single show, the production took a massive jump up. Also NJPW gambled more on the tournament itself, hiring out larger venues and booking the final for the famous Ryogoku Kokugikan. Compared to last year’s final in the just as popular but much smaller Korakuen Hall, this was another jump that made the whole tournament feel a lot more significant.
Then there was the wrestling itself, showcasing a great variety of styles from all over the world: be it Lucha, Puroresu, El Phantasmo being a dickhead, Johnathan Gresham being technically incredible or Will Ospreay seemingly having absolutely incredible match after incredible match. I’ll get to him later, but seriously, the Ariel Assassin’s 2019 has been down right phenomenal.
Another shout out has to go to SHO, the Block A half of Roppongi 3k, who early on looked to be the tournament’s MVP with a consistently great run of matches. Both he and YOH made statements as the future of the division, in fact they made them so well I’m weirdly sad to see them back together. I know, it’s weird, I love that tag team but they were so damn good solo that I’m amped for that future.
And finally to Rocky Romero and Rysuke Taguchi, the two New Japan main stays of Block B. Rocky reminded us of just how damn great he is, in his matches against Will Ospreay and El Phantasmo especially. Such a great showing from the Cuban. Then there’s Taguchi, who I predicted to finish last and ended up finishing second. He showed in this tournament he’s not become fulltime comedy New Japan dad quite yet. The old dog’s still got some gas in him, which means something a tad more fluctuant when it comes to Taguchi.
But that brings me to the Best of the Super Juniors Final, which continued all of those trends I just talked about to perfection. Successfully established new faces, gave veterans and rookies the time to shine, made those at the top end look like stars and put on multiple MOTY candidates in the process.
This was one hell of a show, the perfect way to set up this Sunday’s Dominion in Osaka Jo Hall.
Best of the Super Juniors 26
Hiroshi Tanahashi Comeback – Special Singles Match
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs “Switchblade” Jay White
Man NJPW’s cinematography is often sublime.
Jay White’s got a beard! Kind of, shhh he’s a man now.
The heroic return for Hiroshi Tanahashi, well it was meant to be. After in 2018 he showed The Ace still had it in him to be the best of the best, this year was meant to be a cementing of that fact. Perhaps the ideal way to slip away from the main event picture, deciding on his own terms rather than having it decided for him. Turns out Jay White was both the judge and jury in that trial.
The Bullet Club leader attacked Tanahashi as he was posing on the second rope (hi, Bret) during his entrance. Immediately taking control of the match, not letting Tanahashi compose himself or have a second to enter that zone that has won him so many matches in the past. Even when Tanahashi seemed to gather some rhythm, White would slow the pace right the hell down and ground him.
It was if the New Zealander wasting Tana, “This is your comeback, you say? Well let’s see if you can fight from back from behind after having all the momentum taken away like you always did, and say you still can.”
In the end the Ace of the Universe nearly proved his opponent wrong, seemingly rising up and getting the better of the Switchblade. Tana hit two Slingblades in quick succession, with the crowd cheering and willing on their hero as they watched him rise to challenge as they had so many times. But then Tana did something a little out of character, instead of climbing to the top rope to finish things off, The Ace went for the pin. When White kicked out the desperation was written all over his face, it was if he’d prefer not to hit the Hi Fly Flo if he could help it.
That felt like Tana’s first mistake, the one that set things in motion causing all the other cards to fall. He shouted to the crowd signalling to the top rope, jumped up with seemingly all the energy in the world and ready to soar. However, Gedo was there to meet him and Jay White soon after to pull The Ace right back down to Earth. The decision to go for the pin instead of immediately climbing up for the Hi Fly Flo had cost him, Gedo had noticed that and had successfully gotten his man back into the match.
Tana was still amped, with motivation on his side and able to hit suplexes on the Bullet Club man, but he should have been hitting the final blow. You could see it on his face, he knew this. White kicked out of a Straight Jacket Suplex, then went for the Dragon Suplex when once again Gedo struck. Jay White’s manager is no idiot, it’s like he knew exactly what he was seeing and simply just needed to interfere to swing things in their favour.
It wasn’t even hard for Gedo to frustrate Tana, he ran into the ring wearing brass knucks and immediately took a strike to the face. Which distracted the referee and Jay White struck with a low blow. But the mental wear factor of the tricks had worked to perfection, when The Switchblade went for a Blade Runner Tanahashi had had enough and hit a low blow of his own.
White still had his wits about him though, first kicking out of Tana’s quick pin attempt and then able to twist a Clover Leaf into a pin of his own. Tanahashi may have been the architect of his own downfall, but Jay White and Gedo played it bloody smart. Chipping away to the point of Tana eventually snapping and taking his eye of the prize.
Jay White and his beard victorious, the question now becomes: is Tanahashi still able to be the man New Japan call upon time after time? Or with the Heisei Era coming to end, has The Ace of Universe’s as well?
IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship
Juice Robinson (c) vs Jon Moxley
It still feels so weird that this match is an actual thing, I’ve watched it and enjoyed it and everything, yet I still don’t fully believe it.
It was one hell of an immediate impact, hell of a way to make a debut. Moxley entering through the crowd gave the match a different feel right off the bat, with the commentators making sure to mention the violent matches of his past. This wasn’t going to be no ropey-dope mother fucker, as Juice said in the video package, there were going to be no fancy top rope manoeuvres in this one.
A serious, slightly chaotic tone was set. Something Juice himself emphasised when he revealed he’d cut off his famous dreads. He hadn’t come for a showcase wrestling match, this was going to be a brawl. Kevin Kelly letting us know this went all the way back to FCW, to a time where this hot indie star had met this kid with no experience. This wasn’t the same guy Moxley had met all those years ago, however, Juice Robinson had completely reinvented himself over in Japan.
Whatever it was in their past that set them on to this collision, Robinson knew exactly what he had to do, what mind set to enter. Was he truly prepared though? Moxley was out there viciously biting Juice, leading the brawl through crowd and up to the entrance way. Proof of Juice’s mindset was quickly on display as he climbed up to the titantron stage above the entrance way and dove what must have been 10 feet down onto Mox.
May have been a championship match, but this was more of a fight. With the further and further we got into the match, the pattern started to emerge. Juice had gotten into a violent frame of mind of his own, but this was Moxley’s match. Juice stepped up to the plate, but it was the former WWE man’s leading the way, setting the example.
Moxley struck, Juice struck back. Moxley sent Robinson through a table, Juice cannon-balled Jon through a table. Moxley bit Juice’s forehead, Juice utilised his nashers as well. The US Champ looked like a star, but it was Moxley bringing it out of him, pushing the charismatic man further and further. Eventually reaching the point where Juice became the man pushing aggressor, he became the man with the momentum, the one setting the pace towards the end of the match.
It took Juice going to close out the match with Pulp Friction (an Unprettier) to give Moxley that final desperate attempt to snatch back momentum. Which still wasn’t enough, after Juice kicked out of the Underhook DDT (Dirty Deeds no more, my friends) the shock on everyone’s faces told the whole story. Which forced Moxley to literally elevate his offence and hit an Elevated Underhook DDT, driving Robinson right down, vertical on his head.
This time Robinson didn’t kick out and, to the shock of the Ryogoku Kokugikan crowd, Jon Moxley won the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship in his New Japan Pro Wrestling debut. It felt like Moxley had pulled something special out of Juice that he just wouldn’t be able to put away, lest we forget that Mox is rather special himself.
Both men felt like absolute stars, Moxley with the shock win, Robinson with one of the best performances of his career getting the entire crowd right behind him. The champs efforts were not enough though, with this we may be in for a very interesting Summer with an unflinching brawler of a US Heavyweight Champion.
Mox has arrived with a damn strong statement. You step up to him, you best be ready for a fight.
Best of the Super Juniors 26 Final
(A Block Winner) Shingo Takagi vs (B Block Winner) Will Ospreay
Where do I start? Jesus Christ, what a match.
Right, a quick bit of background. Shingo has been undefeated in New Japan since debuting as part of the Los Ingobernables de Japon faction in Autumn of last year. In Block A he ran absolute rampant, having some incredible matches as people realised he was than man to beat and brought it to him as if he was the champion himself. Shingo won all 9 of his matches and felt like a beast in the process, with many people (me included) touting him as the overall winner. Because who was possibly going to beat him?
Enter Will Ospreay, the former electrician for Essex gave this tournament a real… ahem, shock to the system. He wasn’t as dominant as Shingo, but he himself became the man to beat of Block B. Seemingly bringing the best out of everyone he wrestled, having Match of the Tournament after Match of the Tournament. The back to back classics he pulled over the three days at Korakuen Hall were insane, like… how? And then the man goes and has an all-time great against Shingo?! Is he even man anymore? The fella’s bloody superhuman.
Which sets up this Best of the Super Juniors Final, the undefeated dragon versus the Englishman in the best form of his life set out to slay him. I was expecting this match to be great, but my expectations tsunami’d out of the water. Like, I can’t even describe some of the things Ospreay pulled off in this match. 540’s off the top rope onto standing opponents! Who does that?!
Shingo forced the physicality, Ospreay the pace and athleticism. Both men pushed the other into entering their wheelhouse and we saw things from them we’d never seen before. Shingo flew over the top so far that he almost went over the barricade, Ospreay landed a strike so stiff his opponent just collapsed. No one man had full control of this match, both competitors exhausted their moves list and started frantically scrolling for new combinations.
Just look at Shingo for example: a Pop-Up Death Valley Driver didn’t do the trick, a Death Valley Driver off the top rope didn’t either, nor an attempt at hitting the Last of the Dragon as it was reversed into nasty Poison-rana, nor when he actually hit the Last of the Dragon – a move no one had previously kicked out of. After all that, what do you do next?
That became the story of the final act, as after 25-30 minutes both men had seemingly hit everything and started hitting each other with the stiffest shots the could. Shingo hitting stiff arm strikes so hard Ospreay just stumbled to the ropes and back as the crowd gasped in awe. What do you do when you’ve given everything and neither men looks to be backing down? Well if the last match taught us anything, you elevate.
After an incredible sequence of reversals (past 30 minutes no less), Ospreay finally managed to stagger the Dragon and made his strike. He snapped Shingo down with a Super Ozcutter off the top rope, sending his head down hard into the mat. A move he’d never pulled out in New Japan before, but it was a desperation move in trying to do anything that might cripple the Dragon. The Ariel Assassin didn’t got for the pin though, instead lifting the heavy man up for his now patented Stormbreaker for an incredible win.
Even after Ospreay hit all his biggest offence, including a move we’d never seen before, it still felt like Shingo was going to kick out. He may be a dragon, but Ospreay proved he is no God.
An absolutely incredible match, go watch it now. No seriously, if you’ve not watched it, go right now.
In his post match speech Ospreay hinted at the idea of the Juniors possibly main eventing the Tokyo Dome, well if the matches are anywhere near that quality, how could they possibly not?
Dominion is this Sunday, New Japan’s second biggest show of the year live from Osaka Jo Hall that delivers year after year. On top of Ospreay challenging IWGP Jr Heavyweight Champion Dragon Lee, this time we’re being treated to: TAICHI vs Tomohiro Ishii for the NEVER Openweight title, Kota Ibushi vs Tetsuya Naito for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship, IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada vs Chris Jericho main eventing in what promises to be yet another amazing show.
Toodles chaps, assen na yo.
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Imp’s on LOP Radio every Thursday covering the past week of news from the wrestling world!
Imp’s most recent columns:
Imp’s WWE Adventure – Saudi Arabia: Are WWE Really Promoting A Time of Change?
Imp’s AEW Adventure – Double or Nothing & Jon Moxley’s Wrestling Adventure
Imp’s NJPW Adventure – Best of the Super Juniors: Week 1 Matches You Need To Watch
Imp’s NJPW Adventure – The Story of Hiroshi Tanahashi Part 1: Becoming The Ace
Imp’s NJPW Adventure – The Story of Hiroshi Tanahashi Part 2: The Ace of the Universe