The Way Back Machine: NJPW’s Best of the Super Juniors

Once New Japan Pro Wrestling’s “Wrestling Dontaku” tour winds down, “Best of the Super Juniors” will be upon us. Viewed by some fans as the G1 tournament for New Japan’s junior heavyweights, and by others as an inevitable disappointment, BOSJ has seen a significant shake-up over the last two years. Tournament mainstay and overall legend Jushin “Thunder” Liger has retired from BOSJ competition, Suzuki-gun’s Taichi, and both Nick and Matt Jackson of the Young Bucks have declared themselves heavyweights, and Ricochet is now making it look good on WWE’s NXT shows. While the bracket for this year’s tournament has yet to be formally announced, representation from all major NJPW factions can certainly be expected.

Current IWGP junior heavyweight champion Will Ospreay will have to contend with CHAOS stablemates SHO and YOH of Roppongi 3K, presuming that their former coach, Rocky Romero, does not also participate. Former junior heavyweight champion Marty Scurll will probably represent Bullet Club, and current IWGP junior heavyweight tag team champions El Desperado and Kanemaru likewise for Suzuki-gun. Los Ingobernables de Japon will contribute BUSHI and fan favorite Hiromu Takahashi. KUSHIDA, Tiger Mask IV, and Ryusuke Taguchi will be involved. Flip Gordon is said to have been invited. Luchadors from CMLL, like Dragon Lee and Titan, may be added as well. Seeing ACH and Taiji Ishimori participate again would be SU-PAH! (I regret nothing.) Regardless of the final roster, this year’s BOSJ has the potential to equal the glory days of NJPW’s junior heavyweights, and claim a spot in the tournament’s storied history.

Originally titled “Top of the Super Juniors,” New Japan Pro Wrestling has held a round-robin style tournament for junior heavyweights since 1988, making it an annual event in 1991. The two-block structure, like that of the G1 and other wrestling tournaments, was implemented in 1996, allowing each wrestler to face every wrestler in his bracket, and the two bracket winners squaring off in the tournament finals. If the BOSJ winner is not the current IWGP junior heavyweight champion, he gets a title shot on a future show. Since 2010, this title match has taken place at the “Dominion” event.

The number of competitors in BOSJ has fluctuated over time. The first show in 1988 had twelve participants. The next show, in 1991, had only seven. The majority of BOSJ tournaments have featured between twelve and eighteen wrestlers, with the 2011 show being the first time that eighteen spots were allotted. Since 2014, BOSJ has consisted of two blocks of eight wrestlers each. That well may be the structure of the 2018 tournament.

BOSJ cannot be discussed in any capacity without mentioning Jushin “Thunder” Liger, and his unparalleled status as a BOSJ legend. Liger won the first tournament held under the BOSJ name, back in 1994, and has participated in more BOSJ tournaments than anyone. Twenty-six of the twenty-eight tournaments have involved the Beast God. Liger also holds the distinction of being the first to win a BOSJ tournament with no losses (2001, a feat not repeated until Prince Devitt did it in 2013), and of holding a record three BOSJ tournament victories.

Liger does not stand alone in that record, however. Koji Kanemoto also hold three BOSJ tournament victories, as well as the most appearances in the tournament final match (eight times). Neither man, however, has ever won back-to-back BOSJ tournaments. That honor goes to Tiger Mask IV, who accomplished the task in 2004 and 2005.

While it’s hardly a given that every member of the NJPW roster began his career in the junior heavyweight division, let alone participated in BOSJ, several names from former tournaments stand out. Togi Makabe (under his previous name of Shinya Makabe), Milano Collection AT, Katsuyori Shibata, Hirooki Goto, Yujiro Takahashi, YOSHI-HASHI, and Tetsuya Naito have all participated in past BOSJs. From outside of NJPW, Yoshihiro Tajiri, Katsuhiko Nakajima, YAMATO, and Taiji Ishimori have been involved in BOSJ at one point or another.

The gaijin participation in BOSJ is particularly impressive, and reads like a “Who’s Who” of professional wrestling. Seriously, check out this list of names. Whether you personally like them or not, it’s amazing that all of these people have competed in BOSJ:

2 Cold Scorpio

Chris Benoit (as “Pegasus Kid” and later as “Wild Pegasus”)

Robbie Brookside

Curry Man

“American Dragon” Bryan Danielson

Dr. Wagner Jr.

Dragon Lee

Fit Finlay

Bobby Fish

Chavo Guerrero Jr.

Eddie Guerrero (as “Black Tiger II)

Matt Jackson

Nick Jackson

Chris Jericho

Brian Kendrick

Low Ki

Jerry Lynn (as Mr. J.L.)

Dean Malenko

Kyle O’Reilly

Kenny Omega

PAC

Brian Pillman

Prince Devitt

Jimmy Rave

Davey Richards

Ricochet

Alex Shelley

La Sombra

Ultimo Dragon

Volador Jr.

Alex Wright

Gaijin have had rather decent representation in the winner’s circle of BOSJ, all things considered. Chris Benoit won it twice, first in 1993 as “Pegasus Kid,” and again in 1995, as “Wild Pegasus.” Eddie Guerrero followed that up with a victory in 1996, as “Black Tiger II.” A Westerner wouldn’t win BOSJ again until 2010, when Prince Devitt took the honors, and then did it again in 2013. Ricochet won in 2014, and Will Ospreay in 2016. If Ospreay won BOSJ in 2018, as the current IWGP junior heavyweight champion, undefeated in all of his matches, and earning his second BOSJ victory, he will have accomplished something that no one before him has, and certainly not all in a single tournament. The Aerial Assassin definitely has his work cut out for him, and it’s far from a given that he will succeed.

Whether you’re a long-time NJPW fan, or just recently introduced to the finest wrestling on the planet, BOSJ is the Cruiserweight Classic kicked up to maximum awesomeness, and you don’t want to miss it! Join me right here, after the final brackets for the 2018 BOSJ are announced, for match previews, fantasy tournament booking (HINT: Hiromu wins everything!), and show reviews. It’ll be fun. Except for Will Ospreay’s constant screaming, all of the rest of it will be fun. Promise!

By Jana Jerusalem @BookJunkieJana

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