The NJPW Best of the Super Juniors holds a special place in my heart.
As any rational human being would, I found myself growing tired of WWE programming last year. Truly, the whole company had grown tiresome for quite some time but it was easy enough to find on TV and Smackdown was almost always at least good if not great.
At a certain point, though, it all became too much. The storylines were bad and had no payoff, every angle drew on forever, and the wrestlers who should have been at the top of the card were languishing in the mid-card or worse. Plus, with every PPV getting longer and longer those special Sundays each month felt more exhausting than enjoyable.
WrestleMania was the final straw for me for main roster WWE programming. Was the show 10 hours long? Or did it just feel like it was 10 hours long? Even the parts that were so absurd that you couldn’t help but find some modicum of joy in them, like Braun Strowman selecting a literal child as his tag team partner, felt like a fever dream. I came away from WrestleMania feeling bored and let down.
From that point on, I gave up on regularly watching Smackdown and just kept up on watching NXT. With the WWE’s reliance on doing business with Saudi Arabia after the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the much lesser, but still disappointing, act of welcoming known racist Hulk Hogan back into the fold, I was done completely.
I decided to drop my Network subscription and stopped supporting the company financially. I would go back for a free trial so I could watch Evolution, but they weren’t getting any more money from me.
It’s sad to say that WWE nearly killed my love of professional wrestling. Again. They had done this to me years back when I swore off of the company and wrestling in general after they refused to put Chris Jericho over Triple H at WrestleMania X8.
Saved From Trash
I found some things here and there which kept my interest while WWE ground my spirit into dust. MLW presented, and still presents, a weekly wrestling show which is solid and, like the Smackdown of yore, almost always at least good. Independent Wrestling TV (formerly Powerbomb TV) was a solid source of keeping up with random indies and I got to see my first barbed wire match in years thanks to Joey Janela and David Starr.
But what truly reignited the flame that had almost burned out was New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Best of the Super Juniors.
I had subscribed to NJPW World when it first launched and kept up with it for a year or so. Eventually, though, I just fell too far behind shows during the G1 and let it fall by the wayside. With their lack of an app for smart TVs or other devices, I had to rely on Chromecasting from my phone – and when my Chromecast crapped out, I threw in the towel.
Last summer, though, I found out that NJPW World had an app available on the Amazon Firestick. This was enough to get me to resubscribe. I wouldn’t have to deal with the often buggy Chromecast or need to hook my laptop up to my TV. I could watch NJPW like any other show on TV.
I got in at the exact right time. The Best of the Super Juniors 25 was just around the corner and I was excited to see some old faces with whom I was familiar (Kushida, Chris Sabin, Will Ospreay) and some I hadn’t seen much, if at all (Taiji Ishimori, Hiromu Takahashi, Dragon Lee).
The BOSJ was a complete mindblowing experience for me. I had watched and loved New Japan’s juniors before, but this tournament came at a time when my interest and love for wrestling were both at an all-time low. Being able to track a tournament where every match mattered while getting familiar, or refamiliar, with these wrestlers was perfect.
As the tournament came to a close, I had seen some of my favorite matches of the year. Dragon Lee and El Desperado had an insane match which made me a Despy believer. The way they ripped at each others masks gave me a stress stomach ache.
Taiji Ishimori defeating YOH as Will Ospreay looked on in horrified disbelief, seeing his BOSJ dreams slip away, was the kind of storytelling that hooked me. And the tournament finals with Hiromu and Ishimori? My heart was more full with love for this sport than it ever had been.
With all of that in mind, I’ve been thinking of what this year’s BOSJ will look like. I love the way NJPW runs throughout the year with round-robin tournaments for basically everything. I’m sure, if you’ve checked this site out before, that you know how much I enjoyed following along the entirety of last year’s G1.
What I love about these tournaments and the way NJPW presents them is that I’m able to see the wrestlers I love and some wrestlers I maybe haven’t seen so much compete in a whole bunch of matches. Not only are there the tournament blocks themselves, but the guys not competing in tournament matches will find themselves in tag matches in the lower card. It’s a perfect primer for anyone just jumping into things.
NJPW doesn’t shy away from including non-NJPW wrestlers in the tournament. Last year’s offering brought ACH, Flip Gordon, Chris Sabin, and Dragon Lee to the tournament. Who could show up this year? Below, I’ll break down my top 5 wishes for the Best of the Super Juniors 26.
As a side note, I don’t know the fine details of any contracts for the wrestlers mentioned below. I keep up with wrestling news but try not to dive too deeply into the nitty gritty of stuff, so maybe one or more of these guys has contractual obligations which would preclude them from competing in the tournament. I don’t know! But, these are my hopes and dreams and you can’t take them away from me.
This is easily the longest of long shots, but Orange Cassidy in the BOSJ would be absolutely ridiculous. We tend to get comedy in New Japan tournaments by way of Toru Yano and Ryusuke Taguchi and Orange Cassidy could bring that to another level.
Cassidy has been making waves for much of 2018 with a number of can’t-miss matches including the IWTV-produced GRAMMYs showdown with Stokely Hathaway. In December, Cassidy scored the first singles title of his career by upending Tracy Williams for the IWTV Independent Wrestling Championship.
While Cassidy has been wrestling for a decade and a half, 2018 and 2019 look poised to be his biggest years yet. He’s one of independent wrestling’s most GIFable wrestlers, but he’s not purely a joke machine in comfortable jeans.
When the switch finally does get hit in a match, Cassidy can go. On top of that, he can take a hell of a lot of punishment as seen in the David Starr match above. There’s no limit to the things Cassidy could do in the ring with guys like Shingo Takagi, Taguchi, or Dragon Lee.
I don’t know the likelihood of Cassidy ever working a New Japan show. The company clearly has no issue with steering towards comedy as we’ve seen in the past with YTR, Taguchi, and Colt Cabana but could the unique style of Freshly Squeezed appeal to the Japanese audience?
I’d put my money on a big fat “yes” and wager that Cassidy could have some of the best matches of the tournament, held in just as high regard as some of the pure wrestling bouts we’ll see. That is if he can work up the energy to board a flight and step onto the cerulean blue mat.
In the recent line of luchadores who have taken the United States by storm, Bandido has to sit firmly at the top of that list. His largest exposure to a US audience likely came at All In last year where he blew the minds of the 10,000+ in the arena and everybody watching at home in the main event where he teamed with Rey Mysterio Jr and Rey Fenix to take on The Young Bucks and Kota Ibushi.
Following All In, he made it to the finals of PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles where he was defeated by Jeff Cobb in a match which also featured an almost guaranteed shoo-in for the BOSJ, Shingo Takagi.
Bandido also has an in with the company – he’s part of the recently formed LifeBlood in Ring of Honor with current IWGP United States Champion Juice Robinson and appeared as part of the joint ROH/NJPW Road To G1 Supercard shows. Not only did he participate, but he picked up a win over Rocky Romero on day three.
He may be the most likely out of anybody on this list to actually appear in the Best of the Super Juniors. With Ring of Honor’s working relationship with New Japan and Bandido’s close ties with Juice and David Finlay, he could do the same as Pentagon and Fenix before him and scrawl his name in the books as one of the most sought-after luchadors in the world.
The questions then become, just how far could Bandido make it in the BOSJ and could we see a rematch, of sorts, with Shingo Takagi?
Oh, Shane Strickland.
The first time I saw Shane Strickland in person was at a WrestleCircus show in Austin, Texas. I had no idea what to expect, honestly. I had heard the name and had maybe seen clips of him online but wasn’t super familiar with him aside from his run as Killshot in Lucha Underground.
As the first notes of Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody” started to trickle over the speakers, a childlike joy began to spark within me. That spark quickly spread to a flame as the entirety of the crowd was clapping and singing along to the song as Strickland made his way to the ring.
Strickland is far more than just a fun entrance, though. Once the match begins he’s one of the most dynamic wrestlers you’ll see on the indies. I had the pleasure of seeing Strickland wrestle Brian Cage, Sammy Guevara, and Scorpio Sky amongst others along his path to win and hold onto the WrestleCircus Ringmaster Championship.
Strickland has simply made a name for himself wherever he’s gone. He’s held championships in MLW, DEFY, CZW, Evolve… basically anywhere he’s competed. Strickland brings an uncanny ability to not only look like an absolute star in every match but to bring his opponent to his level at the same time.
For the past several months, Strickland’s future has been something of a mystery. While much of the internet wrestling community assumed he would make his way to WWE/NXT, he’s teased that he’s yet to make a decision and is still floating around as a free agent.
Could New Japan be on the list for Strickland before he settles down in a single company if that is indeed the path he carves for himself? Swerve could make quite a name for himself competing in a tournament pitting the best juniors on the planet against one another.
Strickland is the pick on this list who I think I’d love to see most in the tournament for a number of reasons. First, seeing him compete against the New Japan roster would be amazing. Second, popping up in New Japan could possibly confirm future plans for Strickland outside of his heavily-expected future home, WWE.
It’s not that I have something against wrestlers signing with WWE, as that’s been the goal for most wrestlers their entire lives – but as someone who doesn’t watch their product any longer, I’m selfishly pulling for Swerve to go in another direction.
We all know that Swerve is confidence. Could Swerve also be the Best of the Super Juniors?
Jonathan Gresham isn’t a man.
Jonathan Gresham is an octopus who found the skin of a man and somehow taught itself to walk, talk, and wrestle.
I’m new to Jonathan Gresham, but this much I know.
Gresham is another name I’ve heard bouncing around on Twitter and everywhere else on the internet for a while now, but he just hadn’t popped up in any promotion I actively watched due to his contract with Ring of Honor. For some reason, 2019 ROH doesn’t speak to me the same way 2005 ROH did and I just can’t get into the product.
Lucky for me, Gresham popped up as part of the joint NJPW/ROH Honor Rising shows this year. He found himself on teams picking up victories over Taiji Ishimori & Robbie Eagles and Zack Sabre Jr & Taka Michinoku which is pretty damn impressive for a two-night run.
In his pair of Honor Rising matches, Gresham showcased exactly why he is such a unique talent. Not only is he able to mix pure grappling with a huge personality, but he’s also able to use that personality to evoke all kinds of emotions. Even with the language barrier of a Japanese crowd, Gresham was able to connect with the crowd on both nights.
Despite not being super familiar with his work, Gresham is high on this list because from what little I’ve seen of him I desperately want to see more. Plus, with the working relationship between ROH and New Japan and his recent appearances, he’s probably the most likely name on the list to make the cut.
With a tag team win over IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Ishimori already under his belt, Gresham could already be on a roll toward the highest levels of success in a New Japan ring.
Honestly, this should be the name at the top of everybody’s BOSJ Wish List. Hiromu was taken away from us far too abruptly when he suffered a broken neck after a grotesque botched suplex from Dragon Lee last July.
Hiromu promised everybody that he wouldn’t come back until he was his absolute best, and that didn’t mean 100% – that meant 1000%. The former Junior Heavyweight Champion has been keeping everybody abreast of his recovery via Twitter in between sharing beautiful artwork.
His latest update on February 16 revealed that he was at 943% recovery. Folks have been crunching the numbers and New Japan’s own Chris Charlton realized that, if Hiromu keeps recovering at the same pace, he’s on track to return the first week of March:
IF Hiromu Takahashi is applying some kind of scientific method to his recovery rate, and IF he maintains the same pace of roughly 3percent recovery per day, he’ll reach his 1000 percent goal in the first week of March. 👀, etc.
— chris charlton (@reasonjp) February 18, 2019
This is hugely significant as New Japan’s 47th Anniversary Show is set for March 6 in Tokyo.
At The New Beginning, Kota Ibushi made his return to New Japan and announced his participation in the New Japan Cup. Could the trend continue with Hiromu making his return at the Anniversary Show and throwing his name in the hat for the Best of the Super Juniors?
By wrestling rules, Hiromu shouldn’t have to win the BOSJ to earn a championship match as he never “officially” lost the title. What better way to prove that you’ve reached 1000%, though, than by winning an aggressive tournament and going on to defeat the same man he defeated in the finals of last year’s tournament?
It would bring a tear to my eye, and to the eye of the Daryl lapel pin I wear proudly on my jacket, to see Hiromu make his triumphant return to a New Japan ring. Fingers crossed that he’s healthy enough to return safely and reclaim his spot on top of the Junior division.
The Rebirth of the Junior Division
For some time now, IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Taiji Ishimori has talked about the Junior division being reborn. Since capturing the championship from the departing KUSHIDA, the division has been in a state of flux.
With no clear challengers on the horizon for Ishimori, Bullet Club’s Bone Soldier has taken to targeting the mainstays of New Japan. He’s already successfully defended against Taguchi, but at the Anniversary Show on March 6 he’ll be defending against the legendary Jushin Thunder Liger.
The Best of the Super Juniors is just a couple of short months away from beginning, so while Ishimori may not have any clear opponents in his sights post-Liger, the shake-up of a potentially returning Hiromu and the build toward the BOSJ could define a new era for New Japan’s juniors.
Hiromu grew to become one of the most popular wrestlers on the roster whether we’re talking about heavyweights or juniors. If Hiromu is part of the 26th BOSJ, we could see a resurgence in the importance of the division as the beloved Ticking Timebomb attempts to carry the division on his back once again.
Whoever it is who makes their way into the tournament this year, I’ll be glued to NJPW World for every event. Last year’s tournament was a reawakening of my love of professional wrestling at a time when I needed it most. This year’s will simply be the icing on the cake.
What are you looking forward to most in this year’s Best of the Super Juniors? Let me know in the comments below!