New Japan Pro Wrestling
BEST OF THE SUPER JUNIORS 26
Day 1 – A Block
Sendai Sunplaza Hall
NOTE: As with previous tournaments, I will be focusing my coverage on the tournament matches only.
Kevin Kelly, Caprice Coleman and Chris Charlton on commentary.
TAKA MICHINOKU vs TIGER MASK IV
We get the bell as commentary recaps TAKA’s history of going after the mask of Tiger. They start with some methodical grappling work. The pace picks up as they go to the mat and get a standoff. TAKA takes out the knee and Tiger bails as TAKA follows and keeps the pressure on. The leg gets driven and wrapped around the ringpost by TAKA and we get Shades of the Hitman with the figure four around the post. TAKA back in and keeps on top of Tiger, wrenching on the knee with a nice heel hook, but Tiger gets the ropes. Tiger looks to fire back with kicks but TAKA targets the knee again. Corner knee strike and a sitting knee strike for 2, and TAKA transitions into a nice figure four. Tiger finally gets the ropes to break the hold, but TAKA is able to hold onto it a bit longer by manipulating the ref. TAKA looks for the Driver, Tiger blocks and gets a spinning tombstone piledriver to halt the momentum. Late cover by Tiger gets 2 and Tiger transitions to the cross armbreaker but TAKA gets the ropes.
Kicks to the arm by Tiger. TAKA with a nice counter into his facelock, pulling Tiger away from the ropes. Tiger fights and finally gets the bottom rope to break. TAKA looks for the Driver again, Tiger counters but TAKA takes his head off with 2 kicks for a 2 count. A diving spin kick connects for 2, and he transitions it BRILLIANTLY into a head-trapped Fujiwara, and then ties in a Deathlock in a move that he must have developed with ZSJ and Tiger finally gets the ropes. TAKA looked great there. Driver is blocked again and Tiger gets a crucifix for 2. Head kick by Tiger connects followed by the Tiger Driver, but TAKA kicks out at 2. Nice jumping heel kick by TAKA, an interesting jumping knee from Tiger in reply and Tiger lands the bridging Tiger Suplex for the 3 count and the first WIN of the tournament!
Tiger Mask IV defeats TAKA Michinoku by pinfall via the Tiger Suplex
JAY’S RATING: 3.25 out of 5
This was a super match to open the tournament with. Tiger looks good as an anchor veteran, and though TAKA could also serve that purpose from a heel perspective, this felt right. However, I wouldnt count out TAKA having an impact in the tournament in some way, because he is looking as good as he ever has, and his ground game under the coaching and development of ZSJ was looking outstanding. A very engaging and entertaining start.
YOSHINOBU KANEMARU vs TITAN
Kanemaru attacks viciously before the bell to start things off, sitting Titan on the corner and looking to unmask Titan and shoving the referee away hard. Major aggression from Kanemaru, including choking Titan with his own jacket. Titan fires back, landing a dropkick that sends Kanemaru outside, Titan looks to dive, Kanemaru evades but Titan gets a running rana on the floor. Back inside Titan covers for 2. Kanemaru gets control back and hits a draped dropkick to the head and Titan tumbles to ringside where Kanemaru plants him stiff with a DDT. Titan beats a count out but Kanemaru is waiting and keeps the pressure on, locking in a camel clutch. Cover by Kanemaru for 2. Kanemaru keeps things grounded and slowed down, Titan crawls to the apron and Kanemaru continues the beatdown. Back inside and Kanemaru covers for 2. Running corner boot connects but Titan replies with a thru-the-ropes corner clothesline and follows with a nice spring crossbody, a dropkick that sends Kanemaru outside and Titan wipes him out with a tope con hilo!
The ref starts to count both out, but Titan rolls Kanemaru back in and covers for 2. Bridging rollup for 2 by Titan, hits a firemans slam and climbs but Kanemaru counters the moonsault with boots to stop Titan’s momentum. Kanemaru lines up Deep Impact, Titan counters and hits a nice pele, takes a bit of time which allows Kanemaru to counter whatever he was looking for and he hits a nice Deep Impact and covers, but Titan kicks out at 2. Shots traded, Matrix evade and jumping back kick by Titan but Kanemaru gets a tilt-a-whirl tornado DDT nicely as both are down. Kanemaru grabs the Suntori and looks to mist Titan, Titan evades and hits a superkick and dragon screw, ties up Kanemaru in a crazy submission and then shifts it over into a pinning combination (which he calls Titanics) that gets the 3 count!
Titan defeats Yoshinobu Kanemaru by pinfall via Titanics
JAY’S RATING: 2.75 out of 5
A solid tournament match, with Kanemaru looking as crisp as ever and Titan racking up a win over a major veteran. I can see what makes Titan exciting, but there is definitely still a touch of tentativeness that betrayed him at times here. But, I’m interested to see his continued path this year.
JONATHAN GRESHAM vs MARTY SCURLL
GOD I LOVE THIS PAIRING. We get the bell and they start with a handshake. Tie up, grappling, mat work and counterwrestling begins the match. Outstanding comic counter sequence from Gresham leads to a standoff. Back at it and Gresham shows his escapability. More great mat and counter wrestling as they are putting on both a clinic and a show at the same time. That’s what Gresham is a master at, as is The Villain. Euro in the corner by Marty, they run the ropes, each evading until Gresham gets a rana, fakes out Marty and lands a dropkick in an awfully VILLAINOUS spot. Nice pop. Marty with an inverted Gory Special to stretch Gresham before driving him into the corner, sitting Gresham up top. Gresham blocks the superplex but Marty lands a running Euro that dumps Gresham, and Marty shouts “EAT SHIT” as he nails the apron superkick. BIG chop from Marty.
Gresham gets rolled back in and Marty keeps on him, and gets Gresham up into the rolling Romero Special, and bridges it back into a cover but both guys shoulders are down so everyone is up at 2. Shots traded, Gresham blocks a suplex attempt and hoists Marty into a suplex of his own. Running chops connect in the corner and Marty gets sat in the corner as Gresham hits the running dropkick, covers but only gets 2. They fight for the advantage, Marty misses a lariat but hits a GREAT half and half suplex, enziguri and stacking powerbomb for 2! Marty looks for Black Plague (formerly Graduation), but Gresham backdrops Marty to counter. Marty shouts “BOOYAKAH BITCH” (GOD I LOVE MARTY) and hits a 619, corner running elbow and sits Gresham up top and hits a HUGE top rope superplex, but Gresham gets a cradle for a close 2. They trade quick rollups for 1 counts and start rolling each other around the ring, more 1 counts, Gresham with a 2 count but then eats a piece of a Marty superkick.
Marty unwraps the elbow for the lariat but Gresham with misdirection into a BEAUTIFUL quebrada transitioned into an ankle lock! Gresham turns that into a leg trapped German for 2, lands a hard running forearm for another 2, gets a leg-trapped backslide for 2, but then Marty is able to get a stomp to the hands and finger snap on Gresham! WHAT A VILLAIN! Marty goes right for the Chickenwing Crossface, Gresham escapes and they look for rollups, more counterwrestling, no one gets the advantage until Gresham finally gets a 2, but Marty turns it right into the Chickenwing. Gresham with the Hart/Piper counter for 2 but runs right into a THUDDING lariat from Marty! Black Plague connects, Marty covers and thats the 3.
Marty Scurll defeats Jonathan Gresham by pinfall via Black Plague
JAY’S RATING: 3.8 out of 5
This was a REALLY entertaining match, and I own the fact that it speaks to my taste in wrestling immensely. This was a showcase of the European style from both a technical, story/comedy and striking perspective and made for a hell of a journey, with both Marty and Gresham looking like they were having a blast and totally dropped in with each other. The chemistry there shows what these two might be capable of down the road in ROH… just saying… Great victory for Marty, and a GREAT showing from Gresham who continues to rise his stock performance by performance.
SHINGO TAKAGI vs SHO
This match has been hyped through the past several events, and I have to be honest I’m excited as fuck about the potential of these two against each other. Sho has died his hair black for the tournament. They lock up right away HARD, both trying to show the power advantage, both evenly matched with Sho getting Shingo into the corner. Tense break, they show tensions and Sho makes the test of strength challenge. They go for it, both aggressively looking for the advantage again, the crowd is FIRING UP and Sho is able to get Shingo to his knees. Shingo powers back into the corner and fires off a chop. They trade boots, a tackle moves no one. Same on the second. Shingo shoves Sho down but Sho gets a tackle, Shingo gets one too, they evade each other and get a nice standoff to a nice pop. Shingo extends his hand but drives in a knee, they run the ropes and Sho lands a nice dropkick. Kick to the back by Shingo is absorbed, Shingo catches one to the chest and swings but Sho catches him into a Fujiwara. Shingo gets the ropes but Sho hangs on for the full ref’s 5 count, Shingo bails and Sho gets a nice apron PK. Nice aggressive side to Sho coming through.
Up on the apron Sho looks for a German, Shingo looks to counter and pops into the ring to catch Sho in a lariat. Shingo dumps Sho to the floor with a big clothesline, follows and sends Sho into the ringpost. Back inside Sho counters a backdrop suplex attempt, but Shingo hits a GTS style gutbuster and a DDT to plant Sho. Shingo keeps the pressure on, hits a body slam and climbs to drop the Dragon Spirit elbow for 2, and immediately transitions into a grounded stretch, drives in elbows and then drops a knee and covers for another 2. Sho starts to wake up with each Shingo strike, they trade with Sho showing the underdog fire that Shingo just chops the hell out of, Sho tries for the spear but Shingo DOESNT BUDGE AND CATCHES HIM, driving in knees and looking for a suplex. Sho counters, and is able to power Shingo over into a suplex on his own. Nice sequence. Sho ducks Pumping Bomber and hits a spead for a 2 count. Backstabber by Sho into an armbar attempt, but Shingo is too close to the ropes.
Sho holds the wrist and keeps working the arm, but Shingo hits a straight right hand to the face and short lariat that just floors Sho. Shingo puts Sho on the apron, Sho gets the advantage and looks for the inside out suplex but Shingo escapes, climbs the middle rope and hits a deadlift superplex with EASE on Sho, cover by Shingo but only 2. Chants for both. Shingo looks for Noshigami, Sho counters and hits a nice wrist-held kick flurry, but Shingo is back up fast and gets in Sho’s face. They trade, Sho keeps coming, the crowd is eating it up, Sho gets a running corner clothesline but Shingo ducks the lariat and hits a backdrop driver, Sho right back up (FIGHTING SPIRIT!) and hits a German suplex and both are down! The crowd is on fire. Each throw heavy lariats, Shingo says bring it on and absorbs one, Sho does the same, they keep trading, neither will go down. Sho with a jumping knee, Shingo with the punch and Sho answers back with a lariat to drop Shingo. BIG running lariat by Sho connects! Sho looks for the deadlift German and hits it, then hits a hat-trick with a full deadlift on the third one, bridges but only gets 2! YES! Sho looks for a bomb but Shingo fights, Sho gets Shingo up and lands Project Ciampa! Cover, but Shingo is out at 2!
Sho fires up and calls for Shock Arrow, but Shingo counters out of it. Sho looks for another German but Shingo holds the ropes. Sho comes at Shingo with strikes but Shingo gets a snap German and a huge Pumping Bomber, but is slow to get the cover and only gets 2. Shingo tries to follow up but Sho hits a jumping knee, Shingo answers with Noshigami and hits another HUGE Pumping Bomber. Cover, but Sho is out at 2! Shingo is fired up and looks for Last of the Dragon but Sho counters into a Kimura Lock, looks to transition into the cross armbreaker and is able to get the arm straight. Shingo fights and Sho turns it into a triangle, Shingo tries to power out but Sho gets him back down and wrenches the arm! Shingo scraps and finally gets the ropes. Sho keeps on the arm, Shingo FEEDS OFF IT, catches a kick and just TAKES SHO’S HEAD OFF with a short lariat! Last of the Dragon countered again, they trade BEASTLY shots, the crowd is LOCKED IN, Shingo with a hard headbutt and a ridiculous Pumping Bomber. Cover, and SHO IS STILL ALIVE AT 2! Last of the Dragon connects, and that keeps Sho down for 3.
Shingo Takagi defeats Sho by pinfall via Last of the Dragon
JAY’S RATING: 4.5 out of 5
This was an UTTERLY OUTSTANDING match, and proves that “flippy stuff” isnt all anyone cares about today in the junior division in spite of what some of the critics of the critics seem to say. Because this was an insanely good match, with a brilliantly told story that had been built over time, that had speed while still being grounded in a strength, grapple and submission game. In many ways, this was a heavyweight style match by two talents who will quickly become heavyweight competitors, and it succeeded on every level and still felt totally appropriate for the Super Juniors tournament. This is great 2019+ wrestling to me – it can take a lot of forms, this is just one of them, but its the focus on urgency/will to win, drama/story, connection and execution – and I’m here for it. This is a cant miss match on all fronts. Shingo going over is the right call, especially given his experience level. But this was a STAR-MAKING MATCH for Sho as far as I’m concerned. Holy shit what a performance. There’s a suplex-y sort of Ibushi-meets-KUSHIDA potential here, and I see singles gold in his future soon if he keeps this up. He killed it. Congrats to all.
After the match Shingo grabs Sho’s head and says something… but it doesnt look totally disrespectful either…
TAIJI ISHIMORI vs DRAGON LEE
This one is most interesting given that they are mid-feud in many ways, with Lee ending Taiji’s title reign. Lee gives Taiji the first shot and they start with a slow trade of blows. The pace of the shots picks up, and they keep trading. Taiji gets the advantage, kicking Lee staight in the face with a gorgeous dropkick. Lee bails and Taiji wipes him out with a pescado. Taiji teases sending Lee into the crowd but rolls Lee back in and covers for 1. Taiji slows things down with a cravate and knee strikes. Neck twist by Taiji keeps Lee grounded. Taiji sits Lee on top and unties the mask, drops Lee into the tree of woe and follows with the running basement dropkick. Headlock by Taiji, Lee tries to fight back but Taiji counters into a facelock until Lee gets to the ropes. Taiji uses his speed sequence but Lee catches the spring and is able to plant Taiji with a nice STO to change the momentum. Running rana by Lee dumps Taiji and Lee wipes him out with an INSANELY FAST suicide dive, and both are down at ringside. They start brawling at ringside and Lee tries to get the countout victory but Taiji makes it back.
Lee comes over the top with a rollthrough shotgun dropkick and a great hesitation dropkick to take full control, as Lee plays to the crowd for a moment. Lee now works Taiji’s knee, but Taiji is able to connect with the handspring enziguri. Lee does the Shibata pose to beg Taiji on, and Taiji delivers and hits a Mistica into a LeBell Lock which Taiji pulls into center ring, but Lee finally gets the ropes and rolls outside. Taiji looks to follow with a triangle moonsault off the corner but Lee counters and ties Taiji into the buckle and ropes in a tree of woe and hits a hesitation dropkick on the apron. Lee toys with Taiji on the apron and looks for a suplex on the apron, Taiji counters, they trade and get in each others face and just go back in the ring and start trading again as they just want to beat on each other. They go shot for shot and work to get the crowd into it (that last match was a lot to follow, tbh), and they get the crowd chanting with each blow landed.
Taiji with the upper hand and flips out of the snap German, they trade shots but Lee lands a second snap German, Taiji follows seamlessly into a destroyer but Lee catches him and lifts him until Taiji reverses direction into a DDT and both are down. Nice sequence. Lee hoists Taiji and drives him hard into the corner with a Blu-Ray. Lee gets Taiji in the tree of woe and gets the top rope double stomp and covers but only gets 2. Lee looks for Desnucadora but Taiji turns it into a rough crucifix driver and covers for 2. They both hit thudding lariats, jumping knee and poison rana by Taiji, knee strike and poison rana by Lee, tombstone lungblower by Taiji and he gets a cover for 2. Bloody Cross is called for, and Taiji hits it full on and pins the Junior Heavyweight champ on Night 1 of the tournament!
Taiji Ishimori defeats Dragon Lee by pinfall via Bloody Cross
JAY’S RATING: 3.8 out of 5
This was a really strong main event, and honestly suffered mainly from having to follow Shingo and Sho which just stole the fucking night. As such, it felt like they expected the crowd to be more electric than they were, and had to work to fill moments that could have been filled with the crowd’s energy. However, these were the perfect guys to put in such a position, as they worked their asses off and delivered a hard-hitting affair. Closing the first night with Ishimori pinning the champ on Night 1 definitely makes a statement story-wise, and it feels right since at the end of the day Lee will be walking away from the tournament with the belt one way or the other. Lets build Taiji up as a challenger again – its the vastly more interesting idea.
After the match, Taiji plays to his hometown crowd and gets a ton of love.
This was a great first night of tournament action. DO NOT MISS SHINGO v. SHO. It might end up stealing the whole tournament, to be honest, and if nothing else is a statement piece on Sho’s potential and future. Taiji moving on by toppling the champ makes some big waves moving forward, Scurll and Gresham delivered a fun clinic, and the openers got things moving at a nice tempo. Hopeful for maintained momentum like this – this has the makings of a very fun tournament so far. The Block A standings are now:
Tiger Mask IV (1-0): 2 pts
Titan (1-0): 2 pts
Marty Scurll (1-0): 2 pts
Shingo Takagi (1-0): 2 pts
Taiji Ishimori (1-0): 2 pts
Dragon Lee (0-1): 0 pts
Jonathan Gresham (0-1): 0 pts
TAKA Michinoku (0-1): 0 pts
Yoshinobu Kanemaru (0-1): 0 pts
Sho (0-1): 0 pts