So, 60 matches. 6 events, 10 match cards, 60 matches.
Yeah, I won’t subject you to that. I was going to do each match and I actually have notes on all of them (I’m a sad, sad human in many ways), but it would be the most boring thing written by myself in the history of boring things I’ve written for this site.
With that in mind, I’m going to give an overview of the second half of the tournament as a lead-in to the Final on Friday. It should be a breezier read and hopefully get people more excited, plus that will allow me to preview the Final a bit more in-depth.
Let’s watch some wrestling, shall we?
I think it would be beneficial to start at the end, so to speak.
The winners of the Block competition were Hiromu Takahashi and El Desperado, who will meet for the 2nd time in a BOSJ Final. We’ll come back to that at the end.
We should start by going over each Block. The final standings for A Block were:
Hiromu Takahashi – 12 Points (Hiromu wins the Block due to defeating Ishimori head to head)
Taiji Ishimori – 12 Points
SHO – 10 Points
Ace Austin – 10 Points
YOH – 8 Points
Clark Connors – 8 Points
Alex Zayne – 8 Points
Francesco Akira – 8 Points
Yoshinobu Kanemaru – 8 Points
Ryusuke Taguchi – 6 Points
TAGUCHI: An awful, awful tournament. Outside a few decent moments and an excellent match against Francesco Akira, Taguchi leaned completely into comedy in this tournament for extemely poor results overall.
KANEMARU: Kanemaru will never get enough credit for how solid a worker he is. His match with SHO here actually paid off a bit from their match last year, which was a shockingly cool match considering how far SHO has fallen. He is a glue guy, someone you can put in there to carry his end of the match with no problem. Overall, a decent tournament for him.
AKIRA: Man, did I get this wrong. I thought Akira was going to get the Ospreay push in this one, like Will did his first year when he won the damn thing. Instead, he had a relatively middling tournament at 4-5. Match quality wise, he more than proved himself, going **** with Hiromu and having a host of other matches near that, including getting Taguchi’s best match. My hope is that this was only the beginning, because I deperately want to see him against El Desperado.
ZAYNE: Look, I’m not the biggest fan of Zayne, but I cannot pretend: his tournament was a smashing success by almost any metric. Yes, he finished 4-5 and out of the money, so to speak, but man – he got himself over and likely earned a job. He took a tour where he could have been an also-ran and made it into something.
CONNORS: I’m not sure that Clark is the guy to bet on from the NJPW Dojo, frankly. He had some good matches on this tour, and it was good experience for him. But on the other hand, I wasn’t blown away by any of his work and his gimmick really doesn’t work for me. He’s okay but I wonder where his ceiling is or whether or not he’s hit it.
YOH: Eh. I mean, what do I say here? He’s just not a main event guy. He proved that last year when they tried it and watching him this year, I just don’t see it. He’s a competent wrestler who worked well in the 3K tag team but doesn’t work as well on his own. Nothing this year changed my mind on him as a single.
AUSTIN: The 2022 version of RVD had a hell of a tournament and I rather enjoyed him. He seems to know what to do between the cartwheels from what I saw of him. Now, I don’t watch Impact so I can’t vouch for him there at all, but for this tournament, where he was a leader most of the way, he really did do an excellent job.
SHO: Whatever. He was better than last year. You can say whatever you want about GEDO’s booking, but SHO is pretty much the one guy you can absolutely point to and say that the booking ruined him. The pre-HoT SHO vs the current version of SHO is one of the biggest night and day transformations of a wrestler I’ve seen and that’s NOT a compliment at all. No great matches in this tournament for him, although a few were decent. I guess I just miss my friend.
ISHIMORI: The current champ, I wasn’t disappointed in Ishimori this year. His final match against Hiromu was a typically excellent encounter (****1/4 by my eyes), although this title reign feels slightly perfunctory to me. I expect he’s dropping it to whoever wins this at Dominion.
TAKAHASHI: He’s Hiromu. He’s one of the best in the world. And he proved it again. Multiple **** or better matches, varying finishers, changing match patterns, professional enough to do a job to Kanemaru. He did it all this year and still has one match to go.
And that leaves B Block. The final standings for B Block were:
El Desperado – 12 Points (Desperado wins the Block due to defeating Phantasmo head to head)
El Phantasmo – 12 Points
Robbie Eagles – 10 Points
Wheeler Yuta – 10 Points
BUSHI – 8 Points
El Lindaman – 8 Points
Master Wato – 8 Points
TJP – 8 Points
Titan – 8 Points
DOUKI – 6 Points
DOUKI: DOUKI had a great tournament and deserved better! And I’m happy about that. He had a career high with a ****1/4 tilt against Desperado, **** against Eagles (I bumped that match 1/4* after a rewatch, it was really good), and just in general was really, really good in this thing. I would like to see them give a bit more to DOUKI over the next year, he’s more than proven himself.
TITAN: This man has one of the most gorgeous moonsaults I’ve ever seen. I didn’t think he had a lot of super memorable matches, although his match against Desperado was decent as was the one against Eagles. That’s a common refrain for this Block, by the way.
TJP: I really wish I could like TJP personally, because he’s such a good worker. And he was good in this tournament, really the rock of this Block where everyone had a watchable match with him. He’s a shit in real life, but he’s a really good wrestler.
WATO: I was surprised by Wato this year as he seems to be showing some signs that he’s progressing. A few good matches and only a few duds, I have to say that he wasn’t totally a fast-forward guy this time out.
LINDAMAN: I didn’t know Lindaman from Adam before this thing started, but I kind of dug the GLEAT champ in this thing. He has a weird offense that feels unique to watch, and that kind of identity is good for a wrestler to stand out with. He had a ton of energy in all of his matches and his back half of the tournament really sold me on him when I needed to warm up on it a bit.
BUSHI: For the life of me, I can’t think of a super standout match that BUSHI had this year. He always performs very capably, but there just wasn’t much there for him in 2022.
YUTA: Ah, Wheeler. An excellent coming-out party for him here in Japan (although he has been seen on New Japan Strong), Wheeler had some incredibly good matches, a ****1/4 clash with Desperado being his highest rated one. But more to the point, as the tournament went on, it felt like Yuta was figuring out how to work in Japan, as he looked so much more comfortable near the end of the event. Overall, this was good experience for Yuta and well worth him taking a few weeks break from AEW to do it.
EAGLES: My pick for the MVP of the tournament. No question. No one, in my view, was putting together the matches that Robbie Eagles was doing out there, and even his allegedly mediocre matches were better than some guys’ best. He hit **** or better multiple times; we’ll talk a bit more about that in a few minutes.
PHANTASMO: ELP was outstanding in this thing, losing it on the final night. What I’ll talk about with ELP is that I’m not sure what they really want from him in New Japan. He’s been there for awhile now and his biggest stuff seems to have been his team with Ishimori as the Junior tag champs. He feels too talented for that to me – I wonder what his future looks like. Regardless, his tournament was very strong even with his character affectations that can sometimes overwhelm the ringwork.
DESPERADO: The Ace of the Junior division. Yeah, I’m saying it. Sorry, Hiromu. Desperado did it all in this one, having multiple ****+ matches and so many of the matches were so different. Compare the wrestling exchanges in the match he had with Wheeler to the overall striking and nastiness of his match with DOUKI. Desperado has been on the roll of a lifetime since he finally picked up the Junior title and is likely the man to beat in the Final. I cannot praise him enough.
There were alot of great matches in the tournament this year, no question, but in every tournament there is always THE MATCH. And unless the Finals ends up topping it (which it very well could), this year’s MOTYC from the BOSJ came on the 9th day:
El Phantasmo vs Robbie Eagles – B Block match
This dates back to both guys coming into the company, with both entering as Bullet Club members. Eagles, of course, turned babyface and left Bullet Club for CHAOS, while ELP wears the black and white to this day. Feeling-out process starts us off and ELP showboats while stepping on the back of Eagles. Eagles returns the favor with a trip and a strut before they go back to trading pinfall attempts on the mat, with Eagles finally getting a ‘rana and following ELP to the floor with an insane somersaulting tope that puts ELP in the lap of the front row.
They fight on the floor and Eagles goes for a Sliced Bread off the post, but gets caught and lawn darted into said post, and ELP follows that up by DDTing him on a chair. Back in and ELP goes to work. Chops and a back rake before he ties Robbie in the Tree of Woe and hits a sliding dropkick. Then a delayed one, which gets two. Brainbuster, complete with a kneeling arrogant cover, gets two for ELP.
Eagles rolls out to try to escape and ELP chases him with a tope that grazes him, then back in for a giant dive over the top rope that also only barely makes contact. Guy is gonna kill himself in there. He sets Eagles up and attempts a ropewalk moonsault onto Eagles from the top to the floor, but Eagles moves! OUCH. ELP basically landed right on his ankles and knees. Eagles compounds this by ramming his knees into the head of ELP against the steps! This is where the match truly goes nuts.
The count is on, but ELP dives into the ring at 19! Eagles is RIGHT on the knee now, stomping on it, wrapping it in a Cloverleaf and smashing it against the mat. Kneebar, but ELP makes the ropes. Irish whip and ELP can’t make it across the ring. Eagles with a springboard dropkick to the knee, but ELP makes the ropes to break the Ron Miller Special. Headkicks by Eagles after ELP avoids the Turbo Backpack, but ELP hits a desperation enzuigiri to put both guys down.
They slug it out from their knees to their feet. Nasty shots, too, with flesh on flesh, and now they go to striking. Eagles off the ropes and ELP clobbers him with a lariat, then Eagles gets up and gets turned inside-out with another lariat. ELP tries for CR2, but Eagles easily escapes as Phantasmo is trying to end this match while he still can. He goes for a rollup and yanks the tights, but Red Shoes catches him and won’t count, as the desperation of ELP is showing through everything he’s doing. He can’t hold a UFO on Eagles due to the knee, but manages to get a Turbo Backpack of his own for two on Robbie.
ELP slowly goes to the top and goes for a 450! Robbie moves and ELP wipes out! Eagles puts ELP on his shoulders, BURNING HAMMER! A callback to last year when ELP did it! Eagles goes up, Thunderkiss 86! 1, 2, ELP kicks out!! Both guys get to their feet, Sudden Death by ELP drops Eagles! He crawls for the cover, 1, 2, NO!!!!
ELP with a CR2 attempt, but the leg goes out and he can’t lift Robbie. Kawada kicks by ELP with the good leg and he goes for it again, but Eagles turns it into a ‘rana! 1, 2, NO! They trade counters and Eagles reverses into a power bomb, then hooks the Ron Miller! ELP won’t tap! He makes the ropes! ELP can’t stand and Robbie goes up again, but ELP crotches him on top!
ELP goes up as well and hits a spinning neckbreaker off the second rope on Robbie! CR2 hits this time, but ELP can’t cover! He finally rolls over and covers, 1, 2, NOOOOOO!!!!! Both guys can barely stand, but ELP hits a slow V-Trigger on Robbie. He wants the One-Winged Angel, but can’t hold Robbie and Eagles hits a Poison Rana! Eagles goes up, 450 across the knee! The Ron Miller goes on again, this time in the center of the ring, and there is no place for ELP to go as he taps to end an INCREDIBLE match. (Robbie Eagles over El Phantasmo, submission, 24:44)
THOUGHTS: ****3/4. And if you went the full monty, I wouldn’t argue that much. They spent the first half of the match really doing character work with ELP’s showboating to build him up for the contrast of him fighting through the knee pain, then did a pivot point in the match with the missed moonsault to the floor to change it into a high octane series of big moves and kickouts designed to build off each other. ELP’s selling was top-notch, as he let the knee injury change the way he did moves and how long he could hold them or even if he could do them at all. Eagles, on the other hand, got to look like a seasoned tactician who survived big shots from ELP and then turned the match to his advantage with relentless limb work. This is an easy MOTYC, although it will likely be long forgotten by the time that happens. Still, kudos to everyone involved here, as they really made this thing sing.
And that just leaves us with this:
BOSJ FINALS PREVIEW
In one corner, we have Hiromu Takahashi, who is going for his 3rd straight tournament win and his 4th overall. In the other corner, we have former Junior champion El Desperado, who has never won the BOSJ.
These men have met six times in the past. One of them, the 2020 BOSJ Final, was the Match of the Year in 2020, where they engaged in an absolute classic that involved Desperado’s mask getting ripped mostly off during the tilt – it was the only match in 2020 I gave the full ***** to.
But more to the point, this has evolved into the ace rivalry of the Junior division. When KUSHIDA left the company to go to NXT, it took him away from Hiromu as a main rival. Will Ospreay moved up to heavyweight. What has evolved from there is a series of absolute wars involving these two men at the center of the Junior division. They took the match from the 2020 BOSJ and turned it into a totally different one doing 30 minute draw in the 2021 version of the tournament, then turned that into a nasty (in a very good way) total sprint to showcase an even more different structure to a match at Wrestle Kingdom.
When we really dig into the Hiromu/Desperado history, we can see a very structured heel/face feud that has evolved now. Desperado is still the de facto Rudo of the two, but has morphed into a babyface in NJPW and as a result it will end up much more like a match between two competitors that respect one another. Desperado finally overcame it and won at WK, but the feeling between the two is that of rivals that are destined to do this over and over again.
There are a lot of subplots to all of this, to wit – Hiromu’s stated desire to headline Wrestle Kingdom with a Junior title bout. I’m not totally sure if he can make that happen or not, but if he does it will likely at this point be against Desperado. Therefore, every one of these matches play an important part in laying the groundwork and history for a feud that they may someday take to that next level. Each one has to remain vital and relevant, and that’s even more true as we go towards the Final this year.
I don’t know if the destiny for Hiromu lies in the Junior division forever. On the one hand, he can continue to have excellent matches with almost everyone there and can introduce new competitors that will be better for having worked with him; his matches with Akira and with Austin this year proved that. If he wants to be the best Junior of all time, better than Liger, I wouldn’t bet against him at this point.
Having watched Hiromu in the last few New Japan Cups, including his run last year where he did it all, working as a top babyface, a comedy match, and an underdog, along with this year’s run which included an amazing strikefest against Minoru Suzuki, I wonder if his destiny lies in staying in the Junior division. He’s a small guy. Yet a move to heavy would open him up to matches against Okada, ZSJ, Tanahashi, etc, on the regular as opposed to him being a special attraction when he works those matches. He would have a ton of fresh matchups that could literally carry him for years.
Compounding this is that we have a worthy successor in the Junior Division now. While I respect the game of Taiji Ishimori very much, he isn’t the answer for the juniors. Neither is El Phantasmo. El Desperado, on the other hand, is the guy. He is the Ace of the division right now and is doing his best work, to the point that it was he who had the big junior/heavy match in the New Japan Cup this year, going ****1/2 against Kazuchika Okada on the very first night. After years of build-up, he is the man and is ready to put this division on his shoulders for the foreseeable future.
That’s just a bit of the sublayers going on here in this match. Hiromu wants to get back his loss from Wrestle Kingdom and get his belt back, a title that he has not held in more than 2 years. He also wants to be the first man to ‘three-peat’ the BOSJ, a feat never having been done. Desperado, on the other hand, also wants his belt back and wants to finally win his first Best of the Super Juniors tournament title, coming so close two years ago. He wants to be the man and complete his resume.
Two men who have a lot to play for. A lot of history. A lot on the line. And, perhaps, a bit more history that will lead to something truly magical down the road.
El Desperado via pinfall after 34 minutes.
See you all for the Final.
As always, thanks for reading this thing I wrote,
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