[Please note: to save us all some time, I’ll only review the tournament matches themselves.]
New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) returns again, for its annual junior heavyweight tournament, Best of the Super Juniors 26. The ten competitors in the A Block of the tournament will start us off, including current junior heavyweight champion Dragon Lee and most recent challenger, Taiji Ishimori facing off in the main event. The semi-main will see the two powerhouses of the division go to battle, as SHO of Roppongi 3K faces off against The Dragon of Los Ingobernables de Japon, Shingo Takagi.
+ Taiji Ishimori vs Dragon Lee (BOSJ A Block Match): these two had the unenviable task of going on after SHO/Takagi, but they certainly made the most of it. These two had a great match at Wrestling Dontaku night 1 just a week or so ago, so this was, in many ways, a continuation of that match. Lee is so quick, and Ishimori is so smooth at stringing offence together, but more importantly, the two of them both knew when to do these big moments. Starting slow allowed them to gradually get the crown on their side, and it paid off in spectacular fashion
+ Shingo Takagi vs SHO (BOSJ A Block Match): this was absolutely fantastic, and a very early contender for match of the tournament. It’s a shame that NJPW always puts their champions in the main even, because this more than deserved the spot. Both guys dropped bombs on each other, and SHO’s crazy strength late in the match will be on many highlight reels going forward. Takagi’s size is just so difficult to overcome, especially as he toes the line of th ejunior heavyweight weight limit, but dammit, this match was so good it is all too easy to overlook the little things
+ Jonathan Gresham vs Marty Scurll (w/ Brody King) (BOSJ A Block Match): for two non-Japanese guys, and a relative unknown on NJPW in Gresham, this was a good match. The crowd still loves Scurll, so even though he was playing the bad guy, he got most of the reaction. Gresham is a really good ground wrestler, which worked quite well against Scurll’s technical skills. This was the best match for each man to have early, and I am looking forward to what Gresham can do in this tournament
+ Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs Titan (BOSJ A Block Match): some early nerves from Titan quickly dissipated and this turned into a pretty good match. Kanemaru is an underrated singles performer, and while I will always prefer his tag team partner in the now-injured El Desperado, Kanemaru can get things done on his own as well. Titan was a bit of a surprise entrant, but once those early match jitters gave way into muscle memory, he had a pretty good showing. This was the weakest match of day 1, but still more than good enough
+ TAKA Michinoku vs Tiger Mask (BOSJ A Block Match): it’s a strange thing that TAKA was playing the ‘rookie’ against TIger’s ‘veteran’ for a lot of this match, because as the commentary stated, these two have been fighting each other across promotions for the best part of 25 years. TAKA is still so smooth when he wants to be, and whilst I can agree that Tiger’s best days are behind him, this was a good opener for both men
> I know it’s unlikely, but Scurll having Brody King with him gives me a sliver of hope that PCO will be in the G1 this year. Just imagine, PCO vs Ishii, PCO vs Suzuki, PCO vs Ibushi…
> God save anyone who comes up against Takagi towards the tail end of the tournament. Takagi vs Ishimori is going to be a BANGER.
Should you watch this event: Five tournament matches and five good showings, which meant everyone in the A Block was on their A game. Definitely check out Shingo Takagi/SHO, and maybe the Lee/Ishimori main event, but if you’ve got a spare 90 minutes or so, all five of these are worth watching.