Did you hear that?
That was the sound of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s fan base losing their collective minds over the announcement of the brackets for the 2018 Best of the Super Juniors tournament.
From May 18 through June 4, select shows (Why not ALL of them???) will air on New Japan World streaming service, and to say that catching them all would be a good idea is an understatement.
Seriously, check out these blocks!
Tiger Mask IV
If those matches don’t have you positively salivating, then have someone take you to a hospital at once, because you clearly have no pulse. As mentioned in the previous article, the winner of BOSJ earns a junior heavyweight title match at Dominion, which is already looking like one of the most amazingly stacked non-Wrestle Kingdom cards of all time. Stakes in this tournament are quite high, and considerable personal rivalries will undoubtedly play a role. Let’s look at each competitor, and examine his chances of claiming the top spot in the junior heavyweight division.
First, Block A:
Tiger Mask IV
As the only man to win back-to-back BOSJ tournaments (2004 and 2005), Tiger Mask IV is far from a “filler” competitor. With the official retirement of the legendary Jushin “Thunder” Liger from BOSJ competition, Tiger Mask IV is the last remaining “old school” junior heavyweight in active competition. He may not possess the physical abilities that he once did, but angry, impatient, straight up mean “grumpy old man” Tiger Mask is a glory to behold. He may not score many victories, but he will go down fighting, and not make it easy for his opponents. He can definitely play spoiler and prevent young whippersnappers from advancing to the finals. If this is his last BOSJ, then let him go out with a few notches on his belt. His match against Kanemaru will be two ill-tempered men, no longer in the spring of youth, who want to embarrass their opponent. It will be lovely.
Chances of winning block: None
Chances of winning BOSJ: None, now get off my lawn!
If you’ve only seen his work in NJPW with Suzuki-gun, then it may surprise you to learn that Yoshinobu Kanemaru is the most decorated and accomplished junior heavyweight in the history of Pro Wrestling NOAH. We’ve seen occasional flashes of that guy, particularly in recent junior heavyweight tag team title matches, but Kanemaru is going to have to channel his previous self quite a bit more to get through BOSJ on his own.Without his trusty bottle of whiskey and El Desperado by his side, Kanemaru still possesses the cunning and trickery to pull off some major victories. Of the two Suzuki-gun members in BOSJ, however, he’s clearly the less charismatic and interesting, so don’t expect Uncle Nobu to make the finals here. One thing that he will be good for is preventing other guys from getting there either. Kanemaru and BUSHI have had a number of matches already, but this one could be particularly nasty. Whoever spits first wins.
Chances of winning block: Practically non-existent
Chances of winning BOSJ: Not gonna happen, but he has drinks for the after-party
SOO-PAH!!! ACH claiming one of the last three open spots in this year’s BOSJ may not have been completely unexpected, but it was still a nice surprise. He’s a fan favorite almost everywhere that he wrestles, and had some quality, fun matches in last year’s tournament. He’s one of those guys who could believably make it to the finals based on wrestling skill alone, but probably won’t, because if any Westerner is going to win, it’s likely the current champion. Even so, expect for ACH to do well, and have significant popular support. Oh, look, he’s in the same block as his former tag team partner, Taiji Ishimori….
Chances of winning block: Unlikely, but he will be beloved by the end
Chances of winning BOSJ: Don’t see it
Quite a lot of people are down on Flip Gordon even participating in BOSJ, let alone defeating NJPW mainstays. Granted, it would be highly insulting if his very presence in BOSJ were simply to further a Bullet Club angle, but Ring of Honor had to have representation, and he’s part of it. The lack of name recognition, coupled with the fact that his ROH match against Hiromu Takahashi was, well, not good, indicates that Flip won’t progress very far, but he may have a few good matches that wash the taste of stupid out of the mouths of those fans who dislike him for personal reasons. Maybe. In spite of all this, Flip may score some unexpected victories, and keep bigger fish out of the finals. More importantly, maybe he just won’t be awful. Maybe. Look forward to seeing old man Tiger Mask whip him into shape.
Chances of winning block: Extremely unlikely
Chances of winning BOSJ: Nope, not gonna think about it
Lacking his tag team partner’s monster power, YOH is often viewed as the weak link in Roppongi 3K. The Marty Jannetty to SHO’s Shawn Michaels, if you will. This assessment is unfair at best, and YOH will now have his opportunity to prove that he can go it alone, and be just fine. YOH is quite possibly going to surprise a lot of people. He’s faster, more precise, more extroverted, more outwardly charismatic, and generally more comfortable in his own skin than SHO seems to be. For a guy who isn’t a singles wrestler, he’s got all of the tools to advance further in BOSJ, and have some outstanding matches, than people are willing to give him credit for. If the story of SHO and YOH’s gradual turn to the dark side, and embracing of shenanigans and skullduggery continues, YOH has seemed much more comfortable with this over the last few shows than SHO has. That could prove a significant point. He seems like he would enjoy not playing nice. Perhaps a little too much. We’ll really see just how bad he’s willing to be when he faces the injured Will Ospreay.
Chances of winning block: No, but third in the block is likely
Chances of winning BOSJ: Not this year
Ah, the Jet Black Death Mask. When a wrestler like BUSHI is considered the weak link in your faction, you know that you have a good thing going. BUSHI is a case of constant frustration. The guy is clearly very good, he’s part of the most popular stable in the company, and his style game surpasses that of absolutely everyone. Those masks and suits are the stuff of legend. BUSHI has held the junior heavyweight championship before. He could certainly do so again, but there just seems to be something missing. He’s popular, but not AS popular as his stablemate, Hiromu. He’s flashy, but not AS flashy as Ospreay. He’s good at traditional wrestling, but not AS good at it as KUSHIDA. He’s the perpetual bridesmaid, but not considered a big match choker on the scale of Hirooki Goto. BUSHI will likely be a second-tier player in BOSJ this year, which may not be so bad, if the presumed junior heavyweight tag team title reign for him and Hiromu actually happens later. Please let him spit mist on Flip Gordon!
Chances of winning block: Slim to none
Chances of winning BOSJ: Miniscule
As the current junior heavyweight champion, Ospreay is already guaranteed a title match at Dominion, so he has much less pressure (in one sense) to win the tournament. That said, any champion worthy of the name wants to blast through BOSJ undefeated, win the tournament as champion, and name his own opponent for the Dominion title match. Ospreay very well could win his block undefeated, then go on to win the tournament as current champion. That feat has never before been accomplished, and NJPW seems to have faith enough in Ospreay that he can do it. Ospreay is, however, carrying a number of injuries, which will be mercilessly exploited by his opponents. In some ways, he’s his own worst enemy, tending to trade an intelligent strategy for his usual throw-caution-to-the-wind approach. He’s also one of the most polarizing figures among Western fans, with people either loving or hating him. No middle ground exists. One group of people considers him the greatest of all time, and the other just wants one of his opponents to give him a good reason to scream like that before shutting him up for good. That Ospreay could win the tournament is plausible, even probable. The real question is, would it be interesting? Or just Okada Junior?
Chances of winning block: Highly possible
Chances of winning BOSJ: Obvious choice, but possibly TOO obvious
“Bone Soldier” Taiji Ishimori
This changes everything.
For weeks now, most fans viewed Ishimori’s participation in BOSJ as impossible, due to his stated desire to freelance after leaving Pro Wrestling NOAH until getting a spot in WWE. His revelation as the new (and oh-so-very-improved) Bone Soldier in Bullet Club shattered all expectations, and has caused quite a few fans to seriously reconsider their bracket choices. Ishimori is a straight-up beast, who can match power, speed, and agility with any opponent. Despite his twelve-year career as one of Pro Wrestling NOAH’s most popular stars, this year’s BOSJ is not his first rodeo. He made it all the way to the semifinals back in 2010, but failed to overcome Prince Devitt (the pre-Bullet Club version) to reach the last round. His time since then has been put to very good use. He has already challenged Ospreay for the title, so we know that he did not come to play around. One does not introduce a guy with his name recognition and credentials, under the circumstances of his debut, and NOT have him rampage through the tournament, destroying all in his path. He absolutely MUST make the finals, and is a solid pick to win the whole thing. Make it happen!
Chances of winning block: Yes, please!
Chances of winning BOSJ: Excellent
And now, Block B:
I got into New Japan Pro Wrestling because of the Motor City Machine Guns, and their reign as IWGP junior heavyweight tag team champions. When they showed up on tv, in another company, with these belts from Japan, I had to see what my favorite tag team was doing there. The rest, as they say, is history. Thanks, Chris!
The announcement of Chris Sabin entering BOSJ this year was fantastic news for MCMG fans, though some were disappointed at the lack of Alex Shelley as well. The MCMG are one of the most influential junior heavyweight tag teams of our time, and while the Young Bucks may be more famous and materially successful, the Guns blazed the trail for teams like the Bucks, and should be respected as such. Chris Sabin may be known for his tag team wrestling, but his matches in the early days of TNA Impact’s X-Division are outstanding, and he can certainly bring it as a singles competitor. SHO may outpower him, Dragon Lee may outrun him, and Taguchi may out-ass him, but expect to see Sabin pick up some victories, possibly in unlikely places. His match against KUSHIDA is already a topic of discussion, as it involves both of Alex Shelley’s tag team partners (Sabin from MCMG and KUSHIDA from the Time Splitters) fighting each other. If only Shelley were here to referee that match. Hail, Sabin!
Chances of winning block: Highly unlikely
Chances of winning BOSJ: Not happening, but he’ll do really cool things while there
The Ace of the junior heavyweight division just had an outstanding title match against Will Ospreay, and came up short. His newfound aggression (Vicious KUSHIDA is best KUSHIDA.) and all-around skill will make him a formidable threat to everyone that he faces, particularly his ability to lock in that arm bar in mid-air. KUSHIDA has been out of the junior heavyweight title scene for some time, despite his participation in the Fatal Four-way match at Wrestle Kingdom. BOSJ is the ideal point to remind everyone of just how GOOD he really is. KUSHIDA was tasked with carrying a division that barely existed for so long that he is sometimes viewed, rather unfairly, as boring. Even the best actor needs a quality director and castmates to perform his best work, and this year, KUSHIDA will have that in spades. He may not make the finals, but look to see him have excellent matches, and establish some new feuds to carry on over the next year. Aside from his match with Alex Shelley’s OTHER other half, Chris Sabin, KUSHIDA against Dragon Lee looks particularly promising.
Chances of winning block: Highly possible
Chances of winning BOSJ: Unlikely, but not impossible
The muscle of Roppongi 3K was a dark horse pick for quite a few fans to at least make the finals, and justifiably so. SHO has “future star” written all over him, and most people (NJPW and fans alike) seem to view him as the breakout star of the tag team. SHO won’t stay a junior heavyweight for very long, so he may not have many more BOSJ tournaments in his future. For now, though, he’s definitely one to watch. If he can ground Dragon Lee, outpower El Desperado, or out-strategize (Let’s face it, strategize at all.) Hiromu, he may grab several impressive victories. Don’t write him off. His match against KUSHIDA look particularly interesting.
Chances of winning block: Stranger things have happened, like the time that horse became Pope
Chances of winning BOSJ: Not this year
Despy has shown again and again why he’s one of the best junior heavyweights out there, and much of that concerns his ability to stretch and twist the bodies of his opponents in ways that would make a Cirque du Soleil performer cringe. Like both members of Roppongi 3K, though, the Suzuki-gun juniors and current junior heavyweight tag team champions have mostly wrestled in tag teams for some time now. Can Despy handle his business without Kanemaru having his back? Definitely the more charismatic of the Suzuki-gun junior heavyweights, Despy will certainly target the mask of Dragon Lee, the inexperience of SHO, and the daredevil tendencies of Hiromu. Smart money is on the masked man getting several wins through nefarious means, rather than purely through his considerable wrestling skill, but can he out-villain the Villain, Marty Scurll? That match will be fun to watch.
Chances of winning block: Unlikely, but he’ll finish fairly high up there
Chances of winning BOSJ: Not impossible, but improbable
Hiromu Takahashi is the most popular junior heavyweight in NJPW. He may not be the greatest wrestler of all time, but he is definitely one of the most fun to watch. This fact was made crystal clear when Hiromu’s name was chanted at length and with great enthusiasm during the three-way junior heavyweight tag team title matches, even when the champions (at the time, Roppongi 3K) were in the ring. Hiromu is a creature of raw emotion, and his wrestling style reflects this. Often described as a guy who throws himself into the air and decides what he’s going to do on the way down, his reckless and frantic style causes as much damage to him as it does to his opponent (see his last singles match against Kanemaru). His unpredictability makes Hiromu difficult to prepare for, but both Kanemaru and El Desperado have had his number as of late. He was one of the top choices to win the tournament before the revelation of Ishimori as Bone Soldier, and the most popular answer to the question of “Who would you like to see in the finals?” seems to be “Hiromu and Ishimori.” The focus on junior heavyweight tag team titles seems to indicate that he won’t be winning, but he should definitely make the finals. Last year’s BOSJ saw him enter as junior heavyweight champion, lose to too many people, and cease to be the unstoppable force of nature that he was when he returned from excursion and won the title in the first place. It’s time to revisit THAT guy.
Chances of winning block: Yes, please!
Chances of winning BOSJ: The heart says “Yes,” but the head says “No”
Marty has recently held the junior heavyweight title, but one must wonder about his response to the statement that Bullet Club finally has a legitimate contender to said title in Ishimori. BUSHI and Hiromu seem to coexist perfectly well within a faction and compete for the title, but the same does not promise to be true for the two Bullet Club juniors. In any case, Marty has repeatedly fallen to Will Ospreay, after the latter failed to defeat him for the majority of their matches. With the Bullet Club “divorce,” and Marty’s attention divided between so many other issues and people, his focus cannot possibly remain fully on BOSJ. That distraction will lead to his downfall. He isn’t likely to win his block, but he should pick up some solid victories. His match against Taguchi has tremendous comedy potential, and seeing whether or not the Villain can withstand the treachery of El Desperado should be fun as well.
Chances of winning block: Small, but possible
Chances of winning BOSJ: Probably not
The sole true luchador in this year’s tournament (surprisingly), Dragon Lee is the guy that almost everyone wants to see win the junior heavyweight title at some point. His speed, agility, and general fearlessness are already the stuff of legend, and he’s not even in the second half of his 20s yet. His wrestling soulmate rivalry with Hiromu Takahashi is always one of the greatest things on any show, and this will be no exception. Dragon Lee defeated then-champion Hiromu in their first-round match at last year’s BOSJ, so whether or not he can repeat the accomplishment will likely play a role in what happens after the tournament. His matches against KUSHIDA and El Desperado stand out as particularly intriguing.
Chances of winning block: Certainly possible
Chances of winning BOSJ: Probably not this year
The lovable goof with the butt-based offense is not the only side of Taguchi. This is the man who tagged with Prince Devitt, who chose to stay in the junior heavyweight division instead of getting lost in the heavyweight shuffle, and has several painful ways to defeat an opponent that involve other body parts. He’s scored several victories on the Dontaku tour, and shouldn’t be written off as a potential block winner. Not taking him seriously is actually a strong weapon in his arsenal, and could result in victories over almost anyone in his block. At the very least, he’s a spoiler to keep people out of the finals.
Chances of winning block: Not ridiculous
Chances of winning BOSJ: Ridiculous
Add your thoughts and predictions to the comments, and check back with us regularly for updates and reviews of quite possibly the most impressive and interesting Best of the Super Juniors tournament in some time.
All Pictures courtesy of Wikimedia Commons