By Scott Christ
New Japan Pro Wrestling's Best of the Super Juniors tournament begins on Wednesday at the famed Korakuen Hall in Tokyo and wraps up on June 3 at Yoyogi National Gymnasium, also in Tokyo. Most shows will air live on NJPW World, and for those that don't, tournament matches will be uploaded the next day, so we'll all be able to take in every single match from BoSJ.
This year, it's a 16-man round robin tournament, split into two blocks. Best of the Super Juniors began in 1988, when Shiro Koshinaka won the first edition of the tournament, and has been an annual event since 1991, with such winners in the past as Eddie Guerrero (while known as Black Tiger II), Kota Ibushi, and current WWE star Finn Bálor (while known as Prince Devitt).
A BlockNothing against B Block, which is filled with talent, but A Block is definitely the stronger of the two on paper, at least in terms of wrestlers considered to be serious threats to win the tournament. Three former tournament winners are part of this field as well as the reigning IWGP junior heavyweight champion and his greatest rival.
The reigning champ, Hiromu Takahashi, has been dominant since beating KUSHIDA for the belt at the Tokyo Dome on January 4. The six-year pro, who made a name for himself first as Kamaitachi in Mexico while on excursion from NJPW, returned to Japan late last year as a new member of Los Ingobernables de Japón and has taken off. "The Ticking Time Bomb" is one of the most exciting, daring -- and frankly reckless -- wrestlers in the world. Since beating KUSHIDA for the IWGP junior heavyweight title, he's made successful defenses against Dragon Lee, Ryusuke Taguchi, KUSHIDA (a two-minute stunner), and Ricochet. The matches with Lee and Ricochet were instant classics.
Dragon Lee has all the ability in the world to win this block and the tournament. The CMLL star is all action and comes from a great wrestling family, which also includes his brothers, Rush and Místico. Lee is the reigning CMLL world lightweight champion, a title he's held on two occasions. While Takahashi was in Mexico competing as Kamaitachi, it was Lee who took his mask and became his rival. The two always deliver incredible matches when they face one another, which is guaranteed again here.
Ricochet, who won the tournament in 2014, is another man Takahashi will have to face again. The two met on April 29 at Wrestling Toyonokuni, with the Paducah, Kentucky, native giving Takahashi all he could handle before eventually falling short. He's never won the IWGP junior heavyweight championship, something that he desperately wants to accomplish.
Last year's tournament winner, Will Ospreay, is looking to repeat in this crowded field. The 23-year-old Englishman won a four-way tie atop B Block in 2016, then defeated Ryusuke Taguchi in the tournament final, becoming the first British wrestler to ever win Best of the Super Juniors. A year later, he's only upped his profile. There has been only one repeat winner in the tournament's history, which happened in 2004-05 when Tiger Mask (the current and fourth version of Tiger Mask) went back-to-back. As a side note, last year Ospreay and Ricochet created a massive conversation among wrestling fans and those in wrestling with their incredible display, dismissed by some as a "gymnastics routine." They'll meet again this year in the tournament, obviously.
Those are the top four contenders in this block, but what about the rest?
Marty Scurll reigns as Ring of Honor TV champion and will be representing the Bullet Club in the tournament after joining the chaotic faction last Friday night at War of the Worlds in New York City. He's a potential dark horse here.
Suzuki-gun stablemates Taichi and TAKA Michinoku will be part of A Block. Neither is a favorite to win the block, but both could benefit from the standard Suzuki-gun tactics of having stablemates interfere and wreak havoc. Michinoku, 43, was the first-ever WWE light heavyweight champion nearly 20 years ago, winning a tournament for that belt in late 1997. Both Taichi and Michinoku have not competed in the tournament since 2014.
And then there's 52-year-old Jushin Thunder Liger, a living legend and icon if ever there was one. Liger won this tournament in 1992, 1994, and 2001, the only three-time winner in tournament history. He even competed in the first tournament back in 1988, when he was still going by his real name, Keiichi Yamada. He has competed in every BoSJ tournament except for 1995 and 2000. At this stage of his career, he usually has a respectable showing in the tournament, but he hasn't been a serious contender since 2006, when he lost in the semifinal.
B BlockLike A Block, B Block contains three former tournament winners. That said, it's certainly the weaker on paper, as mentioned in terms of potential winners emerging from the Block, but is still loaded with talent and could produce several great matches.
One of those three is KUSHIDA, who won the tournament in 2015 and was seen by some as the emerging new ace of the junior heavyweight division. That hasn't totally panned out -- he's never had a really dominant run as IWGP champion, but he has won the title on four occasions. Three of those reigns ended in 80 days or less. Coming off of an embarrassing rematch loss to Hiromu Takahashi, KUSHIDA should be primed to make a major run here and could be considered the B Block favorite. He'll be looking to put himself back in that mix and get another title shot.
Ryusuke Taguchi is another former winner, taking the tournament crown back in 2012. A two-time IWGP junior heavyweight champion, Taguchi is arguably best known as comedy wrestler, with the constant use of his hindquarters as an offensive weapon, but he's long been a contender in the division and can get serious and dangerous when the situation calls for it. Some see him as one of New Japan's most underrated competitors.
Los Ingobernables de Japón has another entrant on this side of the field in former IWGP junior champ BUSHI, who briefly held the belt in 2016, beating KUSHIDA in September before losing the title back to him in November. BUSHI has sort of struggled to stand out from the pack in NJPW's juniors division, but he's a very talented wrestler and could be a threat here.
Suzuki-gun has another two entrants in B Block in the form of El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru. Like Taichi and TAKA in A Block, they're probably not considered serious contenders to win, but both could be disruptive in the field. Desperado is an under-appreciated talent and a daredevil, while Kanemaru is a solid veteran and a former seven-time GHC junior heavyweight champion in Pro Wrestling Noah as well as a former world junior heavyweight champion in All-Japan Pro Wrestling.
Volador Jr. is the CMLL representative in B Block. One of the world's best juniors, the 36-year-old has won several titles in Mexico and is the current NWA World Historic Welterweight champion. In a wide-open block, he may be one of the favorites, along with KUSHIDA and Taguchi.
Texas' ACH, a current EVOLVE star, is a bit of a wild card in the field. A tremendous talent, he teamed with NOAH's Taiji Ishimori in 2016 to make the finals of the New Japan Super Junior Tag Team Tournament, where they lost to Roppongi Vice. ACH is the lone American in this side of the field, with Ricochet the only American in A Block.
The third former winner of the tournament in B Block is Tiger Mask, who won the tournament in 2004 and 2005, and like Liger, is the resident grumpy old man of his portion of the field. Tiger Mask IV is the longest-running Tiger Mask of all time, having used the name since 1995, and is a six-time IWGP junior heavyweight champion. Like Liger, he generally has a solid showing in the tournament these days but isn't a real threat. The last time he was a real contender was 2008, when he lost in the semifinal to Wataru Inoue, the eventual tournament winner. At 46, Tiger Mask is past his prime but still a solid competitor.
PredictionsThis is a tough one to call. The A Block has, it would seem, four really serious contenders: Takahashi, Ospreay, Ricochet, and perhaps Dragon Lee, with Marty Scurll looming as a dark horse now that he's become Bullet Club's junior representative. B Block has KUSHIDA as the clear favorite, but Taguchi and Volador Jr. are notable. BUSHI could be creeping as an outside candidate, too.
Takahashi has been so outstanding as the IWGP champion this year that it's kind of hard to imagine him not making the final, but it happens. Last year, KUSHIDA was reigning champion, and he went 4-3 in the round robin portion, falling short of making the final.
Last year, we saw a new top junior name made in NJPW, as Will Ospreay became a player on another level. Will we see the same with someone like the dynamic young Dragon Lee or Marty Scurll this year? Will someone like KUSHIDA or Ricochet become a two-time winner? Will Takahashi buck the odds and not only reign as champion but also win Best of the Super Juniors?
Regardless of whoever comes out on top, this figures to be a fantastic tournament filled with great wrestling and some amazing matches.