Previously on NJPW: A space pirate prince was born, Miho Abe became a two-time NEVER Openweight Champion, and everything was Ishii.
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And now, the best and worst of the first two shows of Best of the Super Juniors 26 from May 13-14, 2019, in Miyagi.
Preliminary Best: Bite-Sized Video Packages
I wrote a real preview and a dumb listicle “preview” for this tournament for With Spandex, but I will openly admit that I think it was, in fact, NJPW who put out the best preview material for BOSJ 26 with their one-minute video packages for each of the entrants. Making wrestlers feel motivated in a high-stakes tournament is pretty easy because they all have a clear overall goal plus a clear goal for every match. In-character tweaks make wrestlers’ motivations their own and make everything more interesting to follow, and the videos tell us about these in a way that’s easy to process for both casual and more hardcore followers of NJPW. I like the one that’s just about Kanemaru’s drinking problem.
But really, all of these pale next to the reminders that HIROMU TAKAHASHI IS STILL THE [UNCROWNED] KING OF THIS SHIT because he’s not even wrestling and he still took the time to make preview books for both A and B Block. GET WELL SOON, HIROMU, and thank you for the perfect nickname of “Respectable Octopus” for Jonathan Gresham.
Best: Taichi’s Aggressive Friend Is Here!
Though I doubt I’m the only one still pouring one out for El Desperado’s broken jaw, I can’t say anything negative about his replacement in the tournament, Douki, or how the last-minute addition of this guy has been handled. Douki is a guy that a lot of people watching BOSJ haven’t seen before because he’s always been in an indie wrestler and mainly an indie wrestler in Mexico, but everyone gets to know him very quickly. He brings a pipe to the press conference and his catchphrase is just “Balls.” Balls! This man is truly from the streets.
Ren Narita gets a little offense in his battle of the replacements with Douki, the first match of B Block, but this is all about letting people get to know the new guy. He sends Narita tumbling out of the ring by dropping into a full split (you’ve got to love that Despy’s replacement is not only another “Japanese luchador” but another man who can easily do a full split), traps Narita in a mystery submission, and gets the win with his great-looking wheelbarrow dragon suplex, Suplex de La Luna. The interference from Taichi and post-match PIPE ATTACK don’t distract too much from his in-ring ability and this match effectively sells Douki as someone you want to watch for the rest of the tournament.
Suzukigun is historically a very functional faction so Douki being “Taichi’s assassin” rather than part of the army is probably more like Sanada not fist-bumping during the buildup to his match with Naito than Tama Tonga bringing in Ishimori in terms of pointing to an imminent faction schism. Still, with the rise of Taichi to one of the top heels in the company and Suzuki being in his fifties and in a feud in which his career could be on the line, it sure seems like a future Taichi-gun is a possibility! If so, this can be pointed to as a sign of him taking leadership initiative. If not, he just brought his terrible friend over to cause chaos for kicks. Either works.
The Midcard Block Action Variety Show!
Wildcard indie wrestlers in mesh muscle shirts aside, this year’s BOSJ is pretty stacked, and like last year, it’s easy to be positive about it. The matches that don’t blow you away tend to be solid and mostly make sense and, at least on these first two nights, be different enough from those before and after them to keep the shows interesting as a whole.
The ’90s throwback of Tiger Mask vs. Taka Michinoku is slower and less athletic than everything else, but it’s the opener of block action, the easiest place to digest a nostalgia match. And while Tiger Mask might not be able to pull off more than this specific win with his knee injury, Taka can clearly go. Obviously, his character work is still great and his decision to get into the brutal submission wrestling game both makes at this point and should make his matches more entertaining than if they’re all 85% eye-pokes.
The other Suzukigun guy in A Block, Kanemaru, mostly helps his guest star opponent, Titán, make a good impression. And though it would be surprising to see either of these guys rack up a lot of points, they both wrestle like they think they could win BOSJ, which helps make the match engaging.
In B Block, Robbie Eagles and Rocky Romero have one of several matches between wrestlers who work similar styles on these shows, of which there are more than there are clashes of opposites. Eagles maintains control for a while with logical, leg-based offense, setting up for the Ron Miller Special, and when Romero goes on his own offensive streak he gets to be way more serious and credible than he has been since he became a manager. He shows some of his lucha influence and that he’s from that “go have an MMA fight or three,” early-2000s generation of NJPW trainees, and even gets to use his catchphrase for a badass moment for once.
Backstage, Romero’s lines about needing to prove he’s still got it and deserves to be back in this tournament are believably sincere and Eagles very casually calls his arm a “wing.” As performers, both these guys get their BOSJ run off to a promising start with their post-match promos as well as their wrestling, though it seems like their best matches are probably yet to come.
It Could Have Been Worse: Unrelated Finger Guns
Sometimes wrestlers with some of the same habits working together makes for a really good Pointing Spiderman match and sometimes it makes for Bandido vs. El Phantasmo. These are two wrestlers who like to do a lot of taunts and who sometimes take so long to set up moves that it fully kills the suspension of disbelief, and yes, there is a significant Venn diagram overlap between these things. This is especially annoying from ELP in this match because while he might have the best flips and dives on some indie shows, there are multiple wrestlers, most notably all the luchadors, in this tournament, who can do most of his stuff better. The live audience seems to enjoy this match though, so I guess it all works out.
Best: Finger Snap Of Doom
Yet another match between stylistically similar wrestlers sees Marty Scurll defeat Jonathan Gresham in a result that surprised me because I was like “but Gresham is way better” and then I remembered how wrestling works and that Scurll is more popular and a historically more of a contender in this division, so he’ll probably go pretty far while Gresham will get like 4-6 points.
That being said, and while some people are never going to enjoy Marty because of specific things about his gimmick and/or how he wrestles, Scurll starts BOSJ 26 as strongly as he could. At the press conference, he brings everyone up to speed on Villain Enterprises and how, while last year’s tournament took place during the height of Bullet Club drama, this year “there’s no distractions, there’s no clubs. The only one I’m depending on is myself.”
Scurll brings this attitude to his match with Gresham, looking serious and focused as they work to outthink and out-maneuver each other. The finger snap spot sums up the new Marty: The set-up is less theatrical than in the past and rather than a just being a spot Scurll always uses it’s a crowd-pleaser, it’s actually what definitively turns the match in his favor and leads to his victory over Gresham.
The finger snap continues to be shockingly powered-up backstage and even the next day, when Gresham’s taped-up, “dislocated” fingers are a target for Suzukigun. I can’t remember the last time someone sold this move for more than like four seconds in New Japan and now it’s a match and potentially tournament-changer!
The other thing about the new Marty is that his line about only depending on himself isn’t entirely true – Brody King is here now because Scurll has no kayfabe friends to team with in NJPW anymore! The addition of a big guy who does flips to the flippy guy tournament could have gone wrong, but since King is paired up with a junior who does no flips, the Lucha Brody stuff works well as its own thing without being overshadowing or being overshadowed by anyone else’s versions of similar moves. The tone and style of Villain Enterprises fit well in undercard tag matches.
Juice Robinson Has Crabs Now
Besides the presence of a new giant, the most notable heavyweight developments in the preview tags on these shows involve Juice Robinson. Robinson and Shota Umino have a mini-angle going on while Juice is on this tour mainly to get a mysterious video played at him, and he’s developed a new submission finisher in the meantime. At first, Robinson’s high-angle Boston Crab seems like a spite move against a dojo boy, but now he’s tapped Umino out with it twice, so it’s a thing! This move has already remained credible longer than the Juice Box.
Also, after claiming not to be gotten to by the British knife man’s video, Juice admits on May 14 that he has been extremely gotten to by the British knife man’s video. The British knife man did his homework.
Mostly Best: But Let’s Be Realistic About Will Ospreay
Bushi vs. Will Ospreay is one of the relatively few matches on these shows with a past, and this one is rooted directly in a past BOSJ – Bushi’s unexpected defeat of Ospreay last year cost him his spot in the finals. Like last year, they work well together. They also do the most setting up, then paying off of things from their preview tag with Bushi continuing to target Ospreay’s neck and how each man dropkicks the other out of his taunt after their preview tag posedown.
Though this match has some really good moments, it and its packaging also draw attention to some of the most obnoxious things about Ospreay and his packaging right now.While he’s doing his new mix of high flying and trying to show he’s tougher than usual because he’s gained weight and doing Capital A Acting all the time, it’s clear that he’s not the best at any of these things (especially the acting.) However, he’s put over as the potentially the best at all of these things at once and it’s not doing him any favors.
Additionally, his persona isn’t very likable when attached to a guy this powered up. He can’t pull off saying he wants the IWGP Heavyweight and Junior Heavyweight Championships at the same time without sounding like he’s burying the junior division, unlike when Hiromu said the same thing last year. This is partly because he acts like his wins against heavyweights are so much more important and partly because he is not good at sounding sympathetic in promos. I almost don’t want to write about this because I’m confident none of it will improve and I’ll just be gritting my teeth watching Ospreay in the G1 this year, but there you go, it’s been written about.
Best: *Joe Doering Voice* Sho Me Power!
The match with the most relevant rivalry, the match some thought could be the final of the tournament, Sho vs. Shingo Takagi, was the most anticipated match on these two shows. These two have a clear rivalry that’s been developing for months. The up-and-coming Sho was the power-junior until Takagi came along and Takagi’s arrival rose the bar for Sho and has driven him to improve. Meanwhile, Takagi has been on an undefeated streak and is so good and so borderline heavyweight that he should probably just be in the G1, but he’s still not satisfied with what he’s done since coming to New Japan.
Their match plays perfectly as its own thing and as the climax, for now, to this story. Sho has clearly worked hard to grow and change in order to be the one to beat The Dragon, with changes to his in-ring style (the armbar that pays off his talk about BJJ training) and aesthetic changes to make him stand out more as an individual. But though Takagi’s been dominant since he got to NJPW, he takes it up a notch, achieving Takayama levels of big boss vibes here, and Sho just can’t get the job done.
Overall, both men look great, each getting with multiple moments that make him look like a badass athlete and a star. Backstage, Takagi puts Sho over, realizing he underestimated him, while making sure everyone knows what they just saw in the match: as good as Sho is, right now, Takagi’s just the stronger wrestler.
Good But Underwhelming Main Events: Sendai Sailor Boys
The worst thing about Sho vs. Shingo is that it makes that night’s main event, the Taiji Ishimori vs. Dragon Lee rematch, less exciting for the burned-out audience. On paper, a local guy in a rematch against the champion makes sense for the main event, but the feud in the semi-main is just too hot and way fresher. Lee and Ishimori wrestle like they’ve done it before, with more of each other’s moves scouted than in their last match, and pull out some cool spots, but the match is really hurt by its placement on the card as well as being such a recent rematch.
The following night’s main event of not one, but two Miyagi boys probably would have been the semi-main to Bushi vs. Ospreay in most other towns. It’s a fun babyface vs. babyface match though, with Yoh doing a surprising amount of tribute moves, including A SUCCESSFUL PARADISE LOCK QUESTION MARK EXCLAMATION POINT, as well as the return of Workin’ Shoes Taguchi.
I have no idea if this is the beginning of a strong BOSJ run for Taguchi or if he’ll go back to more comedic ways after he’s handed his first loss, but the use of the ultimate big match version of Dodon is surprising and cool and the Coach’s post-match speech is charming, as always. It’s impossible not to enjoy Workin’ Shoes Taguchi, however long he lasts.
That seems like way too many words about a first two nights of BOSJ 26 that were room temperature on average, but there you go! I’ll see you back here soon to talk about the next batch!