As mentioned in my entry for Match of the Week a few weeks ago, New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Best of the Super Juniors tournament is an annual tournament pitting the best junior heavyweight talents in the world against each other in a round robin tournament, culminating in a final between the winners of the two blocks. This year’s BOSJ was arguably the best one to have ever taken place, with a total of seventeen matches clocking in at 4* or more on the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Not only were the usual suspects (such as Will Ospreay, Hiromu Takahashi and Dragon Lee) excellent throughout, but the tournament was also home to a number of star-making performances throughout, by names such as El Desperado, Sho and Yoh. Overall, there was not one competitor that looked out of place in this tournament.
An incredible day of action on the final day of the block matches, which had six out of eight matches getting at least 4*, culminated in Takahashi and Taiji Ishimori winning their blocks to reach the final after seeing off KUSHIDA and Yoh respectively. It all led to the final the next day, pitting one of the most popular home grown stars in NJPW against a newly signed worldwide star, a man who was the face of the junior heavyweights in Pro Wrestling NOAH for over a decade. Ishimori was now in NJPW, however, and was looking to make himself an even bigger star than he already was. He had already made a huge statement by beating Ospreay, the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, in his first match, but he wanted to go all the way to win the entire thing and earn the junior heavyweight title shot against Ospreay at NJPW’s Dominion event a few days later. For Hiromu, it was his opportunity to finally validate himself as one of the biggest stars in the company, and to get the chance to win back the title he had lost to KUSHIDA at last year’s Dominion.
This was a first-time ever match, and you’d struggle to find a bigger stage for it to happen. The capacity crowd at Korakuen Hall was extremely hyped for this, and was firmly behind Hiromu, whose popularity was more evident than ever. The pace of the match was frenetic from the get-go, with both men hitting each other with moves inside and outside the ring (including Ishimori avoiding Hiromu’s signature Sunset Bomb by backflipping from the apron to the floor). The two men then began exchanging blows, taking proceedings all the way up the stairs of the arena – just as Hiromu had done with El Desperado earlier in the tournament. Mirroring that match, Hiromu took a long run up, and hit a huge John Woo dropkick, sending Ishimori flying several metres.
Hiromu looked to follow this up with a powerbomb to his opponent down the steps, but Ishimori incredibly countered with a hurricanrana to send Hiromu tumbling down the cold cement steps. It looked like proceedings would be over before they even really began, but Hiromu just about managed to get back into the ring at the count of 19. Ishimori had control, however, and began systematically picking apart his opponent, even choking him with a chair. This was compounded by Ishimori hitting a sliding German suplex, slamming his opponent down hard on his head and neck. He had won his block using the Yes Lock, and looked to be building towards that by weakening Hiromu’s neck.
Hiromu finally managed to get himself back in the match by sending Ishimori tumbling to the outside with a forearm, following up with a huge Sunset Bomb to the floor. It was now Ishimori’s turn to make it back into the ring just in time to avoid the countout. The pace picked up once again, with Hiromu hitting a dropkick to his opponent in the middle of the ring for the two count. After choking Ishimori with his long legs on the ropes, he then transitioned into a wheelbarrow facebuster to the floor. Not letting up, Hiromu then hit Ishimori with a missile dropkick from the apron, followed by a diving leg drop from the top rope for another two count. Ishimori tried to get back into it soon after with a handspring, but Hiromu quickly shut him off with a huge clubbing blow to his opponent’s back.
Hiromu tried to build further with a Dynamite Plunger, but Ishimori countered with a headscissors roll-up attempt, which he seamlessly transitioned into the Yes Lock. The work to the head and neck of his opponent from earlier on in the match looked to have paid off, but Hiromu just about managed to get to the ropes. The two men looked spent when exchanging blows in the middle of the ring, but both found steam to bounce off the ropes, with Ishimori dodging a clothesline to hit another headscissors to transition back into the Yes Lock. It once again looked like it would be over, with Red Shoes literally a millisecond away from stopping the match, but Hiromu refused to give up, and the crowd willed him on just enough for him to make it to the ropes. The fans let out a huge collective sigh of relief, with the face of one fan caught on camera summing up the feeling of the whole crowd (and my own).
Ishimori looked to maintain control with knees to the corner, which Hiromu dodged out of to go for a German suplex. Ishimori landed on his feet, however, and went for the knees in the corner again. Hiromu had other ideas though, flipping Ishimori into the turnbuckle with a belly to belly throw, which he followed up with a huge lariat and a Dynamite Plunger for the two count. Hiromu then took things to the top rope, hitting a headscissors powerbomb on his opponent from the top rope for another two count. Not letting up, he connected with his signature running Death Valley driver onto the turnbuckle – Hiromu had victory in his sights, and the fans could feel it too. He needed to finish things off, and there was only one way he could do this: Time Bomb. Ishimori managed to swing out of Hiromu’s finisher however, and after both men hit each other with kicks to the face, Ishimori hit a huge headscissors DDT to the back of his opponent’s head. Hiromu amazingly got up immediately after, however, and spiked his opponent with the exact same move!
If you thought the two men were tired in their exchange of blows earlier on in the match, they were completely knackered now, and could barely get to their feet whilst hitting each other. Although they eventually did manage to get up, not letting up with their back and forth, Hiromu crumbled back to his knees after one last strike by Ishimori. A jumping knee by Ishimori, followed by a huge lariat, looked to have ended things, but Hiromu promptly kicked out at one! Ishimori was not going to let up, sending his opponent flying into the turnbuckle with a flying dropkick, followed by a full speed double knee strike to his face. Sensing it was over, he then went for his Bloody Cross finisher, and firmly connected. One…. two…. Hiromu kicked out!!
Ishimori quickly followed with another Bloody Cross attempt, but Hiromu countered into a headscissors, only for Ishimori to hit a pop-up powerbomb. Incredibly, however, Hiromu managed to lock in his D triangle choke during the pin attempt, which he had won many matches with throughout the tournament. Ishimori tried to fight out of the devastating hold, but Hiromu kept holding on. Ishimori finally managed to summon up enough strength to powerbomb his opponent into the turnbuckle. He followed up hitting a ura-nage on Hiromu, and went to the top rope to hit his signature 450 splash, but Hiromu got his knees up just in time to block the move.
Both men were in excruciating pain at this point, but Hiromu still had enough in him to hit a headscissors to transition into the D. Although Ishimori managed to pick his opponent up, Hiromu promptly let go, and hit Ishimori with a butterfly piledriver to transition immediately back into the D. Ishimori looked like he was fading, but just about managed to get to the ropes. The fans could sense that Hiromu had this in the bag, and he responded in kind. Looking to finish things off, he went for the Time Bomb yet again, but Ishimori wriggled out of it to go for the Bloody Cross, which Hiromu himself wriggled out of to hit another running Death Valley driver into the turnbuckle on his opponent. Hiromu promptly played to the crowd one final time, and finally managed to hit the Time Bomb to pick up the win, and become the 2018 Best of the Super Juniors winner.
Wow, just wow. A bloody outstanding match. Even though expectations were high, this match blew any of those expectations right out of the water. This match is right up there with my favourite matches of the year, and will definitely be in contention for match of the year once 2018 comes to a close. Both men were incredible in this match, and both men deserve to be spotlighted by NJPW going forward. It is these two guys, along with Ospreay, Marty Scurll and the Roppongi 3K boys that will catapult the junior heavyweight division into the headlining act that it should, and will be. If you are a fan of professional wrestling, you owe it to yourself to watch this match. Fantastic.