This year’s field of the Best of the Super Juniors has been announced by New Japan Pro Wrestling ! 20 competitors from all over the world, making this 26th edition the biggest ever, will fight from May 13th to June 5th to determine who will succeed to Hiromu Takahashi.
With all the competitors now revealed by New Japan, I suggest we dive into some of the stories which should play in this year’s tournament !
The first thing to point out, of course, is that last year’s winner Hiromu Takahashi will not take part in the tournament this year, giving it a quite unique vibe, as his absence is still felt heavily. However, the Junior division itself hasn’t stopped going forward since Hiromu got sidelined after his match with Dragon Lee last August, as the latter finally became the Junior Heavyweight champion at G1 Supercard. Soon after winning the championship, Lee made a statement : As soon as he returns, Takahashi will be getting a championship match first.
Something to point out is that Dragon Lee is not certain to enter the tournament as the champion, as he will face former champion Taiji Ishimori at Wrestling Dontaku, who lost the championship without being pinned. Therefore, Lee may not be able to make his statement come true, depending on when his rival makes his long awaited return. This upcoming match will likely determine to some extent how the tournament shapes up afterwards, as both Lee and Ishimori will enter as two of the favourites, possibly the two biggest, title around their waist or not.
To quickly touch upon why I believe Lee and Ishimori are the two big favourites entering BOSJ this year, here we have the two most prominent Juniors at the moment with a need to cement themselves just a bit more. There is no better way to do that than by winning the tournament, and both men are needing this win for their own continuity. Lee to confirm he is ready and worthy to hold to the position he has been chasing for a few years now, and Ishimori to follow up on his impressive return to New Japan, from his tremendous 2018 BOSJ performance to his championship win over KUSHIDA at Wrestle Kingdom. The last part playing into this thought is, of course, Hiromu himself. Both Lee and Ishimori have a more or less storied past with Hiromu, waiting for another chapter to be written, which is not the case, at least not as much, with most of the other competitors.
Now that I covered what I think is the main story of this year’s BOSJ tournament, let’s look at something which actually started in the Junior Heavyweight Tag Team division. At King of Pro Wrestling last October, Tetsuya Naito unveiled Los Ingobernables de Japon’s newest Pareja : Dragon Gate’s Shingo Takagi. “The Dragon” quickly formed a team with BUSHI to compete in the Junior Tag League, and it became obvious how much Shingo was dominant over the rest of the Juniors. LI.J’s team rose has a newest obstacle for Roppongi 3K, who won the Tag League for the second time in a row, as they were looking to take back the championships from El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru. Since the first encounter between Shingo & BUSHI and Roppongi 3K, it is SHO who took the role of the “powerhouse” of the team, in order to match Shingo’s overwhelming strength, which made the difference notably at Wrestle Kingdom, where L.I.J became the new IWGP Junior Tag Team champions. As events went by and the intensity rose up, SHO and Shingo grew to become one of the most captivating rivalries in New Japan at the moment, as both men have developed quite a good chemistry together. All of their encounters in tag matches have been must-see, as SHO grew both stronger and smarter out of each fight with Shingo, finding ways to deflect the Pumpkin Bomber lariat while being able to inflict damage. However, Takagi has still yet to be pinned in New Japan as he will enter BOSJ this year for the first time, therefore adding the growing feud with SHO, the possibility a singles match between them becomes highly anticipated for anyone who has watched them the last few months.
The very recent Junior Tag Team championship match between the two teams, which happened on the 26th and saw the defending champions SHO & YOH retain the titles for the first time ever, again showcased how much both Shingo and SHO were not only the stars of the match, but the stars of the whole rivalry.
Obviously these are not the only stories going on, as both Will Ospreay and Marty Scurll make their return in New Japan’s Junior Heavyweight scene, as well as the upcoming debuts of El Phantasmo, Jonathan Gresham or Bandido.