Saturday, 13 May 2017

NJPW Best of the Super Juniors 2017 Preview


New Japan’s annual Super Junior tournament is just around the corner and this year’s edition (BOSJ 24) looks spicier than ever before! It’s always a pleasure to watch this tournament unfold as the breakneck pace, highflying and technical prowess shines brightly, meaning you’re almost certainly going to see a top quality match no matter which night you tune in on.

So to get you in the mood for 3 and a half weeks of non-stop masterful wrestling, feast your beady eyes up this handy guide, hopefully it will get you as stoked for the tournament as I.

What is BOSJ?


Best of the Super Juniors is an annual Junior Heavyweight tournament that works in a similar fashion to the big-time Heavyweight tournament, the G1 Climax.

Competitors are split into two blocks of 8 wrestlers, A and B, in a round-robin style series of matches, whereby competitors score 2 points for a win, 1 for a time-limit draw (usually 30 minutes, but has been 20 in the past) and 0 for a loss.

After all 8 have collided the winner of each block then advances to the final 1 on 1, with the winner of that match taking home the trophy and also gaining an IWGP Junior Heavyweight title shot at Dominion, which is basically New Japan’s Summerslam.

Past winners of the tourney include Jushin Thunder Liger with a joint-record 3 victories, Tiger Mask IV who so far is the only man to win it consecutively, Prince Devitt (WWE's Finn Balor), Kota Ibushi and last year’s champion on his first attempt, Will Ospreay. Some big names I’m sure you’ll agree, only this year, things have grown even larger.


The Competitors


Block A



·         Dragon Lee – Rising faster than a well baked cake, at 21 years of age he is set to be the next big Lucha star both in Mexico and Japan. Current CMLL World Lightweight Champion. Gained much critical acclaim during his feud with Hiromu Takahashi thanks to their car-crash style incredible matches.

·         Hiromu Takahashi – Current IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion having won the belt from KUSHIDA back at Wrestle Kingdom. Los Ingobernables De Japon member. Murdering everyone in his path this year and whimsically talking to his prized belt. Could win based on his unstoppable recent booking but the champion usually has it rough in such tournaments.

·         Jushin Thunder Liger – Wiley old veteran and the most successful Junior wrestler in history having won this tournament 3 times and had an astronomical 11 Junior title reigns. Now relies a little more on comedy but can still produce the goods when called upon. With this being his last hurrah I expect a lot from him, I’d say second or third in the block overall.

·         Marty Scurll – Huge star on the UK independent scene, PWG Battle of Los Angeles 2016 winner and current ROH television champion. Being aligned with ROH means he should do quite well and I feel he would have benefitted more from being in the second block. How will his new alignment with the Bullet Club effect proceedings? We shall see. 

·         Ricochet – Won BOSJ in 2014 but has never held the belt. Won the Junior tag titles on two occasions with Matt Sydal. Arguably the best high-flyer in the business. The face of Lucha Underground as Prince Puma. Unfortunately may be lost in the sea of competitors with greater stories to be told this year, especially since he had a recent shot at Hiromu.

·         Taichi – Suzuki Gun member. 2 time IWGP Junior Tag Team Champion. Will likely be near the bottom of the pack. Yea, he sucks pretty hard, let’s move on.

·         Taka Michinoku – Best known from Michinoku driver fame and his WWF run. Another Suzuki gun member and held the Junior tag titles alongside Taichi. Getting older now so I wouldn’t expect him to do a great deal, he may even finish last.

·         Will Ospreay – Reigning BOSJ champion, looking to win back to back tournaments. Huge star in the UK and in PWG, especially after his match versus Ricochet last year. CHAOS member. Had a Heavyweight feud with Katsuyori Shibata in February. Hasn’t yet had a crack at Takahashi’s belt so would be a fantastic victor.

One word. Stacked.

Good lord this is quite possibly the greatest block in Super Junior tournament history. Pretty much all of the standout names have been shoved into this group, and at first, I was slightly perplexed at that. Why would you not sprinkle them across the two? Well, this way NJPW have pretty much ensured that there’s a must-see match being broadcast each night this block is in the building, forcing people to tune in on every occasion to avoid missing anything. It’s guarantee views and guaranteed money.

Narrative is more prominent than ever throughout the group too. We have the Junior Heavyweight champion Hiromu Takahashi, who has been on a rampage since returning when the New Japan Timebomb exploded late last year; Jushin Thunder Liger is partaking in his 26th and final ever Super Junior tournament so he could perhaps sign off with a historic win; and of course, we have Ricochet and Ospreay together again, with the pair surely determined to break the wrestling internet for the second year running.

My Predicted Block A Winner - Will Ospreay, it’s a really tough choice given how many amazing names are bundled in here but I would have to go for my CHAOS boy as I expect he will be involved in a long awaited rematch with the Block B winner, more on that later…
  

Block B



        ACH – High flying wrestler who made his name in ROH. Appeared at Wrestle Kingdom as Tiger the Dark. Made it to the final of the Super Junior Tag Tournament with Ishimori in 2016, having impressive matches throughout. His stock is rising in Japan so I would expect him to do okay in his debut tournament appearance.

·         BUSHI – 1 time Junior Heavyweight champion and current NEVER Openweight 6-man champion as part of Los Ingobernables. Had a longstanding feud with KUSHIDA last year which will be rekindled in this block. Look out for shenanigans from his heel stablemates, the dreaded mist and him coming up just short of victory in the group standings when the dust settles.

·         El Desperado – Suzuki Gun member and won the GHC Junior Tag Championships with Taka Michinoku. Hasn’t done a great deal since returning to NJPW other than wear a cool mask. Bottom half finish inbound.

·         KUSHIDA – The Ace of the Junior division with a hugely impressive CV. Has held the Junior belt 4 times, the Junior tag belts 2 times, won last year’s Super J-Cup and BOSJ in 2015. On a downward spiral since losing to Takahashi at Wrestle Kingdom 11 but is surely the favourite to win this trophy for the second time. Capable of amazing high spots and submission wrestling, making him very diverse.

·         Ryusuke Taguchi – Largely a comedy wrestler but always gets serious for BOSJ, won it in 2012 and lost in a great final match against Ospreay last year. 2 time IWGP Junior champion and 5 time IWGP Junior tag champion, 4 of which with our good friend Finn Balor. Will finish high up the pack due to experience and the fact he often mixes with heavyweights.

·         Tiger Mask IV – A fallen star of New Japan. Has a glamorous past; 6 x junior champ, 1 x Junior tag champ and the only man to have won consecutive BOSJ trophies in 2004 and 2005. Really hasn’t had anything to shout about for the past few years and is firmly stuck wallowing in the lower card.

·         Volador Jr. – Massive star in Mexico as part of CMLL, having won various belts and fanfare. Almost won his block last year but lost out to Ospreay on the final day. Lost his mask in 2013 to La Sombra, who is now Andrade Cien Almas in NXT. I imagine him to do a little worse than last year and finish mid-table.

·         Yoshinobu Kamemaru – Holds the record for most reigns with both of NOAH’s GHC Junior straps, he has 7 reigns as the Junior champ and 4 reigns as a Junior tag champ. Beat Roppongi Vice earlier this year to win the IWGP Junior tag titles but lost them back to Roppongi not long after. At 40 years of age and being in Suzuki Gun, I don’t seen him making many wave in this year’s BOSJ.

On the face of things this block is significantly weaker in stature than the first. There enough solid wrestlers and supreme high-flyers in the mix to ensure that good matches and moments are produced throughout the group, but the star power is severely lacking in comparison to the aforementioned group A. I think just swapping in 1 of the fellas from the other group other than the Suzuki Gun guys could have bolstered this set of wrestlers significantly.

KUSHIDA, who has been the standout in the New Japan Junior division for the past couple of years, is the standout name of the 8 as he will be looking to resurge after his early 2017 woes, including losing to Hiromu in under 2 minutes last month. But don’t sleep on some of the others: Taguchi was a finalist last year and won the tournament back in 2012, Tiger Mask maybe getting on but he’s still a 2-time champion in this format and BUSHI, Volador Jr. and Kanemaru (the most successful Junior in NOAH history) will all be desperate to impress on this big stage.

My Predicted Block B Winner: All roads lead to KUSHIDA in this side of the draw. He longs for redemption after his rough 6 months and there is no better way to get back on top of the world than to win such a glamorous tournament. Plus, if my two picks make the final, we would finally get that Ospreay/KUSHIDA rematch that so many have longed for.
·         

Must See Matches



Forgive me for picking some of the most obvious ones here but some of the very top matches are clear as day, and most of which will come from A block given the sheer volume of amazing talents on display there.

Dragon Lee versus Hiromu Takahashi – Block A – May 17th


Have you ever seen these two collide? If the answer was no then you’re doing yourself a disservice. They are wrestling soulmates (much like Mandrews and Pete Dunne) and their daredevil, smash mouth style is something to behold. Hiromu is seemingly up for killing himself in order to win and Dragon Lee isn’t far off that level of insanity either, so keep your eyes out for someone taking a disgusting looking bump. Oh and I almost forgot to mention, this is the main event for the first night of the tournament, so they’re starting at the peak!


Ricochet versus Will Ospreay – Block A – May 18th


So just 24 hours after Lee and Takahashi collide we get another coming of the match that blew minds across the globe last year in BOSJ. Some people were elated and some people hated, but it was spectacle of wrestling and I personally loved it. They will likely bring out all of their signature spots (include the much despised indie pose-down) but still manage to produce something that you have never seen before, so hopefully they get people shouting about their match all over again.

BUSHI versus KUCHIDA – Block B – May 22nd


After engaging in a near year-long feud these two may have been glad to see the back of one another in 2017, but wrestling works in mysterious ways and they’re about to collide again, this time not for one another’s blood, but for points in this prestigious tournament. Hopefully we will see some submission based exchanges between the pair mixed in with their usual agility as it could provide an interesting change of pace form the rest of the matches and really help them stand out from the pack. Plus, I love the Hoverboard Lock, it is mint.

Jushin Thunder Liger versus Marty Scurll – Block A – May 21st


Marty and Jushin getting in the ring together just intrigues me. I feel like their styles could mesh perfectly and given that Liger does a few comedy spots nowadays I think Scurll, with the chicken wing and finger breaking stuff, could really get over with the New Japan crowd thanks to the legendary Junior. I don’t think it’ll be a masterclass in wrestling like the others listed here but it certainly could be a whole heap of entertainment, and that’s what wrestling is all about at the end of the day.

Hiromu Takahashi versus Will Ospreay – Block A – May 31st


I strongly believe this will be the decider for group A, with the winner advancing to the final. As mentioned I think Ospreay will take it down in this CHAOS versus Los Ingobernables Junior super-showdown, it could even end in a draw for the final spot, which would be such a dramatic end. All I know is that the main event on the last day of either block is never one to miss, so grab you best snack and prepare for something beautiful.


Final Thoughts and Where to Watch



Maybe it was a little obvious throughout but I really feel like KUSHIDA will be crowned champion in this year’s Best of the Super Junior’s tournament. As he is currently experiencing a downturn in both result and in luck he seems certain to return to the pinnacle of NJPW’s Junior division, starting with a BOSJ victory and continuing with a colossal Wrestle Kingdom rematch against Hiromu Takahashi at Dominion on June 11th.


So tune in to as many days as you possibly can as the tournament is a fantastic festival of pro wrestling. All of the matches will be available either live or on tape delay on New Japan’s streaming service, New Japan World (http://njpwworld.com/) for just £7.25 per month. It’s a steal!

Writer - Thomas Brady 

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