The penultimate round of block A matches took place in Aomori on Thursday, as the real contenders finally emerged from the pack.

Best of the Super Junior 25, Block A: BUSHI vs. Flip Gordon
We opened with a tie-up as BUSHI took Gordon into the ropes before doing his usual pose on the mat… which annoyed Flip, who did the same, only to backflip away and kick his heels, before confounding BUSHI with his see-saw kip ups.

Flip keeps up with an around the post 619, only to get dropkicked to the floor by BUSHI, who decided to look under the ring for some plunder – finding a chair in the process. Down goes the ref, and here comes the chair shots! Back inside, BUSHI continued the shady stuff by choking Flip with his t-shirt as referee Marty Asami could do little more but count in an angrier tone of voice.

With nothing else to choke Gordon with, BUSHI switches to some grounded headscissors, ending when Gordon rolls into the ropes. From the apron, Gordon springboarded in with a dropkick, but BUSHI rolled to the other side… so there’s only one thing for it. FLIP! Returning to the ring, the reverse Finlay roll’s escaped, so Gordon nails a springboard spear instead, then a superkick before finally hitting the reverse roll and a standing shooting star press. Hey, why not throw in a middle rope moonsault too? It still only got him a near-fall!

A corkscrew moonsault off the top misses as Flip looked to jar his knee on landing – allowing BUSHI to hit a DDT to give him some time. BUSHI makes good use of that, landing an overhead kick in the corner and a missile dropkick, only to get caught with a Falcon arrow as Flip nearly nicked the win… but he couldn’t keep up as BUSHI catches him on the apron. A springboard kick on the apron puts BUSHI back down, but the 450 splash sees Flip land in the knees as BUSHI gets a near-fall from the roll-up.

More back-and-forth strikes follow as they fought back to their feet, but it’s BUSHI’s running enziguiri that caught Gordon ahead of a facebuster, before BUSHI sealed the win with the MX. This started off slowly but picked up once Gordon was on offence – and it’s a win that keeps BUSHI alive technically, while almost surely ending any chances Flip had of winning the block. ***¼

Best of the Super Junior 25, Block A: Taiji Ishimori vs. ACH
A loss here would eliminate ACH, so he was a little tentative going into this… “catching” the Bone Soldier’s “bullet” and tossing it away. Symbolism.

The early stages were all about evasion, with both avoiding the other’s offence until a delayed chop from ACH finally found its mark. More chops take Ishimori into the corner, but some wacky work around the ropes led him to springboard back in with the seated splash, as he begins to work on that taped-up shoulder of ACH.

A rope break saved ACH, but Ishimori keeps up the offence, trapping ACH in the ropes for the baseball slide German suplex. ACH tries to mount another comeback with chops, this time knocking Ishimori off the apron before crashing to the outside with a tope that barely connected. Back inside, a middle rope frog splash was enough for a near-fall, as Ishimori thought he’d escaped a German suplex, only to get caught with a backbreaker/German combo for another two-count. From there, Ishimori goes back to work on ACH’s arm, hanging it in the ropes, before getting caught up top… but he escaped a fireman’s carry, then flipped out of a German suplex before connecting with a handspring enziguiri!

More shots from their knees follow as they fought back up, upgrading to chops in the process, before a leaping knee from Ishimori was returned with a couple of low dropkicks from ACH. Running knees into the corner from ACH led to a tombstone-like gutbuster for a near-fall, before he tried to set up Ishimori for something else off the top… only for the 450 splash to come up short as Ishimori returns with a shotgun dropkick.

Some more running knees into the corner follow as Ishimori gave ACH a taste of his own medicine with the tombstone gutbuster, before the Bloody Cross put him away and out of the tournament. This match kept up a lot of the tournament’s motifs – ACH’s shoulder injury, and the general penchant for better than average matches this year. The win keeps Ishimori in the hunt going into the final round… and I think this’ll be a “let’s let the block play out rather than work out permutations” given how things are falling right now! ***½

Best of the Super Junior 25, Block A: Tiger Mask vs. Will Ospreay
Going in, both men were even on points, but with Tiger Mask’s early charge faltering badly, this could well be straightforward.

We start with the usual stuff – an attempt at an unclean break in the ropes from Ospreay, who then leapt over Tiger Mask as the pair frantically worked into a stalemate. Tiger Mask clings onto the ropes, before taking Ospreay out with a tombstone, and you know what that means! Neck match!

Rather than follow him outside, Tiger Mask was content to wait for the count-out – but Ospreay made it back in, only to be forced into the ropes as Tiger went for a chinlock, before he started to put the boots to the IWGP junior champion. Ospreay tries to mount a comeback, tripping Tiger Mask in the corner for the Shibata-ish dropkick… but Ospreay smashed into the turnbuckle too hard in his run-up, and ends up collapsing to the mat in pain.

He had no such issue during the handspring enziguiri though, as he took Tiger into the ropes for the over-the-top 619, before returning to the ring for the lifting reverse DDT. Tiger Mask kicked that away and goes back to the head with a kick, softening up Ospreay for a butterfly superplex. Ospreay fought out of that and launched another comeback, backflipping off Tiger into an enziguiri before hauling him up for a reverse DDT for a near-fall. Ospreay teases the Storm Breaker, only for Tiger to slip out for a Tiger Driver effort, but that too is avoided as kicks left both men on the mat. Yet more shots follow as both men fought back to their feet, prompting Ospreay to rip off his athletic tape as he waffles Tiger with a hook kick and a Robinson special, before he’s quickly forced to reach for the ropes as a double armbar almost gave Tiger the win.

A Tiger Driver followed for a near-fall, as did the butterfly superplex, but Ospreay’s still got plenty left in him, as he reverses the tombstone and flips up Tiger Mask neatly into the Storm Breaker for the win. The match was pretty eh compared to the rest of the tournament, but that finishing stretch deserves to be raved about – sure it was “just” a tombstone reversal, but with the neck Ospreay has, the cheeky flip over to put Tiger into place for the Storm Breaker was exquisite. That leaves Ospreay and Ishimori at the top of the group going into the final round… ***¼

Best of the Super Junior 25, Block A: Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. YOH
Guess what? Kanemaru jumped YOH before the bell!

YOH shrugged it off and put the boots to Kanemaru in revenge, only for a dropkick to miss as Kanemaru takes it outside so he could throw YOH into the crowd. Since Desperado used a trolley yesterday, this is just low effort, right? Still, Kanemaru uses a chair and chokes YOH with it as the referee finally started the count.

Of course, YOH makes it back inside, and right back into a camel clutch as Kanemaru wears him down, before going back outside for a draping DDT off the apron to the floor, prompting another count-out tease. YOH beats it, and gets spammed with DDTs in the ring, since we’re long past the point where a common or garden DDT wins a match – and of course, YOH kicked out at two. From there, Kanemaru grounded YOH with headscissors as he continued to work the neck, as the eventual rope break led to something of a fightback, as YOH catches a kick and dragged Kanemaru to the mat with a Dragon screw. Shots in the corner followed, but YOH’s forced to use the ropes to springboard back in with a double-stomp as a neckbreaker finally took the Suzuki-gun man down.

YOH slides in from the apron as he tries for a German suplex, only for Kanemaru to fight out and low-bridge him to the outside… where YOH uses the ring post to avoid another Brookes’ing ahead of a big tope con giro! Returning to the ring, YOH looked to be in control, putting the boots to Kanemaru ahead of a superplex that rolled through into a Falcon arrow for a near-fall. He heads back up top, only to crash and burn with a senton, as Kanemaru tried to captialise by going up himself… but YOH catches him, only to get knocked down as he’s finally caught with a middle-rope version of the Deep Impact DDT.

A scoop slam’s reversed into a reverse DDT by YOH, who was looking to keep his momentum up, only for Kanemaru to hit a satellite DDT. YOH tries another comeback, but gets knocked onto the apron with a dropkick as Kanemaru keeps up the DDT spamming with a reverse DDT onto the apron.

Back inside, Kanemaru distracts the referee so he can have a swig of whisky and spray it in YOH’s face, following that up with the Deep Impact, but that flying DDT doesn’t get the job done. Nor does a brainbuster, as YOH superkicked away another Deep Impact before getting crushed with a lariat. One more brainbuster attempt is cradled by YOH for a near-fall, as more referee shenanigans delay an onslaught of superkicks before a prawn hold eventually earned YOH the win! That’s Kanemaru out of the tournament, and it’d be fair to say he’s had a pretty underwhelming series – despite his many, many variations of DDTs… **¾

Block A:
Taiji Ishimori, Will Ospreay (4-2)
BUSHI, Flip Gordon, Tiger Mask, YOH (3-3)
ACH, Yoshinobu Kanemaru (2-4)

Block B:
Dragon Lee, KUSHIDA, Marty Scurll, Hiromu Takahashi (3-2)
El Desperado, Chris Sabin, SHO, Ryusuke Taguchi (2-3)

Well, after all that, we’re down to Ospreay and Ishimori to decide the block winner: Will faces Flip Gordon on Sunday, while Ishimori takes on YOH. Ospreay needs to hope Ishimori loses because his opening night loss means that the Bone Soldier has the head-to-head advantage – while losses for both Ishimori and Ospreay will force a tie-breaker that’s a little too complex for me to work out at 8am! Saturday sees the penultimate round of block B matches, with Gunma playing host to a card that’ll be headlined by KUSHIDA vs. Dragon Lee. Sunday has a live card on NJPW from Korakuen Hall, with block A and block B’s final matches taking place there (match order TBC), before the finals take place live on Monday, also from Korakuen Hall.

Just a reminder – since we’ll be in Ireland this weekend to catch one of the final OTT shows at the Tivoli theatre, our coverage of the final few days of the Best of the Super Juniors tournament will be delayed.