I hope you like tournaments, because New Japan Pro Wrestling, among others, will soon be returning not one, but two tournaments at the same time !
Today, we start things off by previewing the 27th edition of the Best Of Super Juniors tournament, being held for the first time alongside World Tag League, from November 15th to December 11th !
For the first time since 1995, the BOSJ will not be held under the two blocks format. With a field halved compared to last year’s edition, only one block will be used in order to determine the finalists. In this case, the two with the most points by the end of the block matches.
Added to this, due to the time the tournament is being held, the winner will get his match for the IWGP Junior Heavyweight championship at Wrestle Kingdom, in the Tokyo Dome, meaning this tournament gains a bit of a historic feel.
Now then, let’s get straight into looking at each of the participants !
- Ryusuke Taguchi, 17th entry, 2012 winner
We start things off with the tournament’s veteran in Ryusuke Taguchi. The coach came very close of making the finals last year, so there is no doubt he will be looking to do actually make it back, which would be for the first time since 2016. No matter what, we can all count on Taguchi to be more than your average spoiler in this tournament.
Key match-ups : Taiji Ishimori, Hiromu Takahashi, Master Wato, Yuya Uemura.
- Master Wato, 1st entry
After looking at the tournament’s veteran, let’s move on to one of the tournament’s first timers ! Formerly known as Hirai Kawato, the young man on his way to become a Grandmaster is making his big BOSJ debut, with some good expectations. The field combined to his lack of experience may cause Wato to end up on the short hand of the stick. Still, expect Master Wato to get his fair share of spotlight in what should be a learning experience.
Key match-ups : El Desperado, DOUKI, Ryusuke Taguchi, Taiji Ishimori, Hiromu Takahashi.
- SHO, 3rd entry
Moving on to the former IWGP Junior Tag Team champ who broke out as a NEVER Openweight challenger this year, in SHO. Roppongi 3K’s powerhouse is someone I would call a dark horse in this tournament. Having faced and getting closer and closer to beating Shingo Takagi, who ran through BOSJ last year, gives him bigger chances to win the tournament than he ever had before.
Winning or not, finalist or not, expect a STRONG performance from SHO this year.
Key match-ups : Taiji Ishimori, Hiromu Takahashi, El Desperado, BUSHI.
- Robbie Eagles, 2nd entry
Moving on to the second CHAOS member to be featured in this tournament, the Sniper of the skies Robbie Eagles. Someone who I do not exactly know what to expect, besides that he should get a decent run, yet ultimately fall short to stronger contenders.
One thing I will say, however, is that there is a recently formed faction in need of a Junior Heavyweight, whose leader teamed up with Eagles as part of « Birds Of Prey » last year.
Key match-ups : Taiji Ishimori, Hiromu Takahashi, Yuya Uemura, Master Wato.
- Hiromu Takahashi, 5th entry, 2018 winner
Next up is the former IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion, making his tournament return after missing last year’s edition due to a neck injury : Hiromu Takahashi. He and BUSHI failed to claim the tag titles from Suzuki-Gun during the Road to Power Struggle shows, and with both titles to potentially aim at, we can ask ourselves where will Hiromu head next.
A rematch with Ishimori in the Tokyo Dome would be huge for the Junior division, while the possibility of finally winning the tag titles with BUSHI there is also appealing.
No matter what, here is what you need to know : Hiromu Takahashi is an obvious favourite to win.
Key match-ups : Taiji Ishimori, El Desperado, Master Wato, Yuya Uemura.
- BUSHI, 8th entry
Moving on the second L.I.J member in this tournament in BUSHI. Compared to his stablemate, BUSHI isn’t exactly on the favourites’ side, but more on the « who will he get a key win over ? » side of things. There are a handful of young talents who lack BUSHI’s experience in the field, and he may catch them off guard.
Key match-ups : El Desperado, DOUKI, SHO, Master Wato, Yuya Uemura.
- El Desperado, 4th entry, IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion
Let’s now look at one of two champions present in this field, one half of the Junior tag champs El Desperado. Despy may very well find his way in the finals this year. Just like SHO, he is someone I would consider to be a potential finalist. In the meantime, he will have a target on his back, as each of his potential losses could lead to a Tokyo Dome defence of the titles he and the injured Kanemaru are holding.
Key match-ups : Hiromu Takahashi, BUSHI, Master Wato, Ryusuke Taguchi.
- Yuya Uemura, 1st entry
Speaking on an injured Kanemaru, here is his replacement ! The Young Lion Yuya Uemura has been showing a lot of good promises lately, as he and fellow trainees Yota Tsuji and Gabriel Kidd have been competing in a lot of singles matches since G1 Climax. Uemura even participated in the New Japan Cup, losing to the man he now replaces.
There is not much to expect from a Young Lion in such a tournament, besides him showing his talent and learning along the way. Uemuray may pick up one win, but he should most likely end up at the bottom of the ranks.
Key match-ups : Taiji Ishimori, Hiromu Takahashi, Ryusuke Taguchi, BUSHI.
- DOUKI, 2nd entry
Moving on to the most recent addition to Suzuki-Gun who made his BOSJ debut last year is DOUKI. We spoke of potential spoilers earlier, and DOUKI fits that category. There are enough possibilities to score a few wins, but not enough to really make a strong run from a realistic standpoint. Still, I’d expect DOUKI to cause issues to more than just the younger guys in the tournament.
Key match-ups : Master Wato, Yuya Uemura, Robbie Eagles, Ryusuke Taguchi.
- Taiji Ishimori, 4th entry, IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion
Last but not least, the Junior Heavyweight champion who took the belt from Hiromu Takahashi at Summer Struggle : Taiji Ishimori, ready to walk in the Tokyo Dome with the title, and potentially with the BOSJ trophy as well. As champion, Ishimori should end up quite high in this block. If there is one man needing to look strong maybe more than everyone else, it is the man who has yet to defend his belt, looking to walk in the Dome with all the momentum in the world.
Key match-ups : Hiromu Takahashi, SHO, Ryusuke Taguchi, Robbie Eagles.
Val’s finals prediction : Hiromu Takahashi vs SHO
This tournament is quite hard to predict for me, yet I can only go towards what, to me, seems like the « safe » option for this year’s final. On one hand, your most reliable babyface figure in Hiromu. On the other, another babyface who still needs to become more credible as a singles wrestler in SHO. The first one is your most credible Junior Heavyweight at the moment, while the other is a potential future star, looking to bank on his recent breakout.
Here is how this all goes : The main New Japan arc to be told this year has been about two factions : Los Ingobernables de Japon and Bullet Club, highlighted since New Japan returned by the Summer Struggle event, where Tetsuya Naito was trying to reclaim the IWGP Heavyweight and Intercontinental titles from former stablemate EVIL, while Hiromu Takahashi was defending the Junior title against fellow 2018 BOSJ finalist Taiji Ishimori. Looking at how the BOSJ winner will face Ishimori at the Tokyo Dome, this does not look like a time to propel someone who has yet to be built as an eventual winner. This whole situation looks like there is a need for a big Junior Heavyweight title match to fill the Wrestle Kingdom card, whether the match happens on night 1 or night 2.
Which match could possibly be the biggest to happen in the Tokyo Dome, for what would be a history making match ? Can it be anything else than the third act between Takahashi and Ishimori ?
After putting on an incredible performance in Korakuen Hall two years ago, and having one of the better matches at Summer Struggle, only one stage awaits the two top Juniors in New Japan Pro Wrestling.
For SHO, reaching the finals after ending up either first or second in the block already is a huge accomplishment at this stage, for someone who had yet to break the ceiling within the Junior Heavyweight division.