Every year, New Japan Pro Wrestling‘s junior heavyweight division is in the spotlight for the month-long Best of the Super Juniors tournament. This year’s 26th iteration of BOSJ is its largest, featuring a record number of twenty competitors and holding the tournament final in Ryogoku Sumo Hall, a bigger and more prestigious venue than in the past.
It will also be broadcast more than any other Best of the Super Juniors tournament, with every show listed on the schedule here broadcast live on NJPW World with commentary in both Japanese and English. This is a departure from past years when some tournament shows were televised and others were live events that, in the streaming age, were uploaded to NJPW World later.
For new or old, casual or hardcore NJPW fans and fans of wrestling in general thinking about checking out this tournament, this article breaks down who is in it and what they’ll be doing from May 13 to June 5, 2019.
How Does Best Of The Super Juniors Work?
Though BOSJ 26 is on a larger scale than usual this year, the tournament works like it has in the past. Competitors – NJPW wrestlers and guests from partner promotions ROH and CMLL – are divided into two blocks, A and B. Everyone in each block wrestles each other, round-robin style, earning two points for every win, one for every draw, and zero for losses. The wrestlers who win their blocks by accumulating the most points go on to face each other in the final.
The tournament winner joins a prestigious list of BOSJ victors that includes Jushin Thunder Liger, Eddie Guerrero (as Black Tiger), and Finn Balor (as Prince Devitt), gets a big shiny trophy, and, most importantly, wins a match for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, which will take place this year at Dominion on June 9. (If the champ wins the tournament, he gets to choose his own challenger.)
Something that sets Best of the Super Juniors apart from heavyweight tournaments like the New Japan Cup and the G1 Climax is that the way venues are set up changes slightly. The usual metal barricades between the ring and the audience are removed to give high flyers more room to show off their skills. BOSJ isn’t all flips and dives but it does feature a lot of flips and dives and the lack of barricades allows wrestlers to use their environment to do them in more creative ways.
The last thing to note about the format of all of this is that the four BOSJ shows on May 22-24 at Korakuen Hall and May 26 in Chiba have cards of just ten tournament matches, five from each block, rather than the usual mix of tag matches including wrestlers about to face each other in block matches and block matches.
Who Are The Super Juniors This Year?
A weird thing about this year’s Best of the Super Juniors lineup is that most of it was inadvertently revealed early in a LINE ad, so you might have known about it way before the video above aired. However, the blocks remained a secret until after Wrestling Dontaku and there were some last-minute changes, so let’s go over how these wrestlers (and their rivalries) were divided up.
A Block includes the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, internationally beloved CMLL luchador Dragon Lee. Those who beat him in BOSJ could challenge him if he retains his title at Dominion, giving him a bigger target on his back than anyone else in the tournament.
Taiji Ishimori, a former Pro Wrestling NOAH star and previous Junior Heavyweight Champion, will quickly have an opportunity to get back in the title picture. The Bullet Club member will face Lee, from whom he failed to regain his championship on the first night of Wrestling Dontaku, on the first night of tournament action and a win could set up another rematch. Whether he beats the champ or not, Ishimori still established himself in NJPW during last year’s tournament and made it to the finals, where he lost to Hiromu Takahashi in a banger of a match, so the Bone Soldier is not one to sleep on here.
But the guy who should probably be slept on the least in BOSJ 26 is also in A Block: “The Dragon” Shingo Takagi. Since Takagi, formerly a Dragon Gate star, debuted as the new member of Los Ingobernables de Japon last fall, he has yet to be pinned or submitted in NJPW. He was the star of the match in which he and Bushi won the tag titles at Wrestle Kingdom 13 and has since developed an intense rivalry with fellow power-junior Sho, against whom he will have one of the most anticipated matches of the tournament on the first night of competition. (They are not messing around with the first night of tournament competition!)
Last year’s Best of the Super Juniors did a lot to establish the individual personas of both members of Roppongi 3K, but especially Sho as the powerhouse (at least, before Takagi arrived) of the junior heavyweight division. Now one half of the Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions has another chance to shine on his own and possibly to dramatically break his rival’s winning streak.
A possible breakout star of this year is ROH’s technical wizard, Jonathan Gresham, who will be making his BOSJ debut. The American wrestler impressed Jushin Thunder Liger so much his first night in NJPW earlier this year that the Beast God immediately called for a dream match between Gresham and ZSJ. (I don’t know if someone sent Liger the relevant links after this, but hopefully, someone did!) (Also, maybe just do Gresham-Sabre in NJPW too!)
This block also includes returning guest stars in Titán from CMLL and Marty Scurll from Ring of Honor. Titán hasn’t wrestled in BOSJ since 2013 but has performed in Japan as part of Fantastica Mania tours and kept up his quality work in Mexico.
Scurll, a former IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, has been on a “Mr. Ring of Honor” kick but a lot of people still expect him to ditch for AEW whenever his contract is up. In addition to, I assume, his usual umbrella and little round sunglasses, Scurll is bringing one of his giants from Villain Enterprises, Brody King, as a tag partner. Don’t be surprised to see the big man bust out a few flips of his own as well as use his size against Scurll’s future opponents.
The most veteran, least likely to win a lot or make it to the finals wrestlers of A Block are Tiger Mask, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, and Taka Michinoku. Tiger Mask’s title-winning days are probably behind him, but his old school babyface spirit remains, especially against guys like whiskey-enthusiast/drunk uncle Kanemaru, who, as a recent tag team champion, might have a better chance.
Legendary junior/light heavyweight wrestler Taka Michinoku has been making more dramatic moves as promoter (starting his own Just Tap Out wrestling company after being ousted from Kaientai Dojo, which later changed its name, following the tabloid revelation of an affair, and running Taka Taichi shows) than in the ring lately, but is back in BOSJ after an absence in 2018. In kayfabe, he does not want to work this tournament and has vowed to ruin it for everyone, which should contribute to Taka being a lot of fun to watch in real life. His match with Suzukigun stablemate Kanemaru should include maximum shenanigans.
B Block includes two last-minute replacements: Douki for El Desperado and Ren Narita for Flip Gordon. Gordon was apparently the only ROH/American wrestler to have issues getting a visa for this tour, which might have something to do with him being out injured until early April. His absence created opportunities for Narita, one of the most promising Young Lions and someone who had mentioned in promos he really wanted to be in this tournament, to show his skills in matches against several opponents he hasn’t faced one-on-one before. Expect more good matches than points for Narita!
El Desperado’s replacement in BOSJ 26 is due to even more unfortunate circumstances – a broken jaw suffered during his deathmatch with Jun Kasai at TakaTaichi Mania III earlier this week. Not only did Desperado look extremely cool in that match judging from fan photos (it won’t air anywhere until next week, so only the live audience has seen it so far), but he had been named by Dragon Lee as his most desired next challenger. Hopefully, Despy gets his recently-gained momentum back when he returns.
Meanwhile, Douki should be a strong performer in the tournament. The Japanese wrestler has been mostly active on the Mexican independent scene, working with promotions like IWRG and Toryumon Mexico, but worked recently in Japan for companies like Michinoku Pro, K-Dojo, and on that same TakaTaichi show. Taichi’s already put him over as more than a “pinch hitter” and someone who would work with Suzukigun in NJPW “sooner or later” and his in-ring style seems like a perfect fit for Best of the Super Juniors.
B Block also features plenty of staples of the junior heavyweight division, including former champion Bushi, who’s notably feuding with Yoh right now, and former champion and tournament winner Will Ospreay.
It looks like Roppongi 3K’s Yoh will be a goofier, flashier presence than his partner in BOSJ this year and continue to use the Dragon Suplex, the move with which his teamed retained their tag titles, as his finisher.
R3K manager and former many-time tag champion Rocky Romero is back in Best of the Super Juniors this year with a new theme song music video (above) for the occasion. This means we’ll have an R3K vs. R3K match even if Sho and Yoh don’t both make it to the finals, a coach vs. coach battle between Romero and Taguchi, and a one-on-one match to settle what might be one-sided beef with Bushi.
BOSJ is when everyone knows the other player-coach in B Block, Ryusuke Taguchi, is at the height of his powers – though he also had more prominent angles earlier this year with inclusion in the New Japan Cup and a title feud with Ishimori. Expect Taguchi to provide mostly comic relief and butt-wrestling action, but remember he could play spoiler and/or pull out an exciting, more serious match at any time.
Two more recent additions to NJPW and ROH, Robbie Eagles and Bandido, could also be standouts of B Block. The Bullet Club member previously worked Super Junior Tag League alongside Ishimori and will be the first Australian wrestler to enter BOSJ. Eagles has so far had only one NJPW singles match against a Young Lion, so there are a lot of new pairings for him here. Fans of his indie work with Ospreay will no doubt be anticipating seeing him work with Ospreay again.
Ring of Honor’s Bandido, maybe still better known for his work in Mexican and North American indies and in Dragon Gate, looked impressive during that triple threat for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship at MSG. Some people like this guy a lot and some people think he can be too much of a “video game wrestler,” but whatever your opinion of Bandido, there’s no doubt he’ll be working hard in this high-profile tournament.
El Phantasmo is another recent NJPW addition who shouldn’t be overlooked in BOSJ 26. The Canadian RevPro cruiserweight made his debut for the company at Wrestling Dontaku, where he showed up in a light-up jacket reminiscent of the Real Rock N Rolla, showed off an arsenal of cool moves, and teabagged his former friend Ospreay with an ice pack. At the very least, ELP and Ospreay are sure to bring the drama to their singles encounter.
In short, there are a lot of talented and hungry wrestlers in NJPW’s Best of the Super Juniors 26 from a variety of backgrounds and with a variety of wrestling styles. Whoever the winner is this year, the tournament is bound to include some super matches.