It’s becoming a recurring theme for this list to go up a bit late, but in my defence, there is a lot of wrestling that I want to review. I have a habit of giving that precedence and I’m not even sure why. Anyway, I need to apologise because this is a New Japan heavy list. I watched every single Super Juniors’ show and while I did catch some other bits and pieces, it was less than I would have liked. Still, it was one hell of a tournament, so I’m pretty sure that every match justified its spot on the list.
Compared to most, I seem to be a bit down on Ospreay’s Super Junior tournament (which considering I gave him five four-star or above matches in the blocks is more a comment on how up everyone else is), but his bout with Rocky Romero was fantastic. Rocky came in looking to prove that he could still hang with the younger, faster athletes and Will gave him everything he needed to prove that was the case. Did he perhaps give him too much? Maybe, but it was a fantastic wrestling match between two men who were going all out to make the other look good. How can you not enjoy that?
For someone whose gimmick is being a caveman who does the worm occasionally, Barbaro Cavernario is one hell of a badass. He had the entirety of Arena Mexico screaming for Mistico as he beat the shit out of him, ripping at his mask and seemingly enjoying torturing the poor chap. It was all used to build a match that combined the best of fiery lucha brawling with the insanity of their high spots. I don’t follow what’s going on doing in Mexico particularly closely, but from what I have seen, Cavernario is a dark horse for wrestler of the year.
With Super Juniors around the corner, it would have been easy for Dragon Lee and Taiji Ishimori to breeze through this match. Instead, they went all out to impress, eagerly grasping a rare main-event slot for the Junior Title. In doing so, they produced a perfect demonstration of what makes that division so exciting. Fast-paced, incredible wrestling that blows the mind. Well played lads.
The crunch of boots on broken glass became the soundtrack to the action as Kodaka and Takahashi engaged in a bloody war. By the end, Takahashi’s back was slick with blood as bumping in the shards of the light tubes that encrusted the ring caused him to leave smears of it where ever he lay down on the mat. If you love a deathmatch, you know what you’re looking for, and these two delivered it.
Rocky Romero wrestled the Super Juniors’ tour as the veteran underdog while ELP was the shiny new toy. Coming into their encounter, Phantasmo was still unbeaten while Rocky had only beaten Narita and it seemed like there was only one outcome ahead of them. Except, there wasn’t. Romero was incredible in this match, fighting with his heart and soul as he found it in him to be the first one to get a win over The Bullet Club’s newest bellend. Perhaps even more impressively (well, not really) he got me to enjoy one of Phantasmo’s matches, so fair play to him for that.
Shingo Takagi is about to pop-up a whole lot on this list, so I’ll talk more about Ishimori in this one. Having taken most of the tournament easy thanks to an injury, Ishimori came into the last day of B Block still in with a chance of making the final. Pulling his aching body together, he gave an incredible performance, convincing the world that he might be the guy to slay the dragon. Of course, like all before him, he fell, but the fact he put on this match while hurting is one hell of an achievement.
I don’t follow Wrestle-1 and – outside of being aware that Strong Hearts invaded the company – I don’t know much about the story going into this match. What I do know is that these two beat the shit out of each other. The brash (relative) youngster T-Hawk went toe to toe with Kondo and stood his ground, looking fucking incredible as he did so. If you love a stiff war, then you owe it to yourself to seek this out.
I told you Shingo would pop-up again. Takagi’s unbeatable run through the Super Juniors was the best thing about the tournament, and Dragon Lee was one of his biggest tests. Lee unleashed everything at his disposal, going so far that it was a miracle that Shingo was able to fire up and hit Last Of The Dragon for the win. But then again, he’s Shingo, judging by what we saw over the last month or so, he can do anything he wants.
Remember when WWE had this match all set-up and then decided not to bother with it? Yea, I wonder if they regret that now as the Rhodes brothers told an enthralling bloody story at AEW’s first show. While Cody once again showed his ability to step up on the big occasion, this was Dustin’s match. Not only did he gush blood all over the ring, but he turned back the years and gave his all to tell a story that clearly meant a lot to him. If AEW can deliver a handful of these each year, then they’re going to be just fine.
New Japan have been building to this match since Shingo’s arrival and it did not disappoint. These two went to war with SHO throwing himself again and again at the Dragon, desperate to pierce his scales and bring him down. Ultimately, though, Takagi was too much. SHO rocked him, he might have even scared him, but he couldn’t kill him. There is not a chance in hell this is their last battle, though, and SHO will get an opportunity to go again.