This year’s Best of the Super Junior tournament wrapped up in fine fashion, as Taiji Ishimori and Hiromu Takahashi fought for the prized (and soon-to-be-broken) trophy.
Save for the final, the entirety of the card wasn’t known until hours from the show – and it became clear that in addition to the rest of the tournament field, the sold-out Korakuen Hall would be seeing the big hitters as several names who weren’t on the tour were drafted in. Kevin Kelly’s starting the show solo on the English call…
Chris Sabin & Flip Gordon vs. Shota Umino & Tiger Mask
Sabin had a pretty solid tournament, despite finishing joint bottom of his block… meanwhile Flip came close, but ultimately fell short in block A.
It’s Gordon and Tiger who start us off, with Flip bouncing around with his kip-ups from the off… then his dancing hand stands as he tried to confound Tiger Mask. He even avoided a kick to the legs as Flip’s Greatest Hits came to an end, with Sabin and Umino getting the tag in. They keep it basic, with Umino landing a shoulder tackle, before Sabin took over proceedings as Umino found himself in familiar territory. Gordon tries to teach Sabin how to do a single-leg standing moonsault… but instead it’s a single leg splash as we eventually saw Umino rebound and get the tag out as Tiger Mask fought back from 1-on-2 down. A tiltawhirl backbreaker’s good for a near-fall, but Sabin’s right back with a Fisherman’s buster, only to fall to a Tiger Driver… which couldn’t be followed up on.
Tiger Mask tagged back out to the excitable Umino, who rushed in with a forearm to Gordon before running into a knee and a reverse Finlay roll. Flip keeps going as he landed a springboard moonsault for a near-fall, with Sabin taking Tiger Mask to the outside as a kick to the head and a springboard 450 puts away Umino for the win. Decent enough as an opener, but not much to write home about. Hopefully both these guys will be back on a New Japan tour in the not too distant future. **½
Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, TAKA Michinoku & Takashi Iizuka) vs. Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano & YOSHI-HASHI
Oh my God, they made a t-shirt for TAKA as Zack Sabre Jr’s hype man. Very much want!
Guess what? Jump start! Cue a load of brawling on the floor, with Suzuki choking away Toru Yano being featured at the start, before we sort-of settled down to YOSHI-HASHI dropping Iizuka with a running Blockbuster. Suzuki interjects himself with a hanging armbar in the ropes as YOSHI-HASHI went for a dropkick to Iizuka in the ropes… and in the midst of that, Yano pays the price for helping out as he eats a chair from Iizuka.
Yeah, we’re back in the crowd as YOSHI-HASHI eats some chairs too, before he’s used to lean a table into the timekeeper as Suzuki found a way to stop the count from being started. They’re back in as Suzuki continued to wear down on YOSHI-HASHI with a PK and a rear naked choke, but the Gotch piledriver’s countered out of as the situation stayed the same. Finally, YOSHI-HASHI looked to have turned it around, kicking Iizuka to get free for a tag, as Ishii comes in and… gets his arm bitten by Iizuka. Then his foot. Which seemed to have the same effect as a sleeperhold.
Eventually Ishii returned the favour, before he got himself into an elbow-off with Suzuki on the apron. Ishii won out, as chops and forearms peppered Iizuka in the corner, leading to more tags as TAKA and Yano came in… Yano does his usual shtick and removes the turnbuckles for TAKA to run into. Suzuki and Iizuka come in to work the arms, trying to soften Yano as a running knee almost led to the win.
More shenanigans from Suzuki-gun looked to lead to the Iron Glove, but Yano sent TAKA into the funky oven glove before a low blow and a roll-up sealed the win. Exactly what you’d expect here – your mileage will vary, but this was just there. Not the worst Suzuki-gun tag, but entirely skippable. **¼
The post-match stuff seemed to indicate that Suzuki and Ishii is a direction we’re going in, especially since chair vs. Young Lions is always going to be a squash.
Suzuki-gun (El Desperado, Taichi & Yoshinobu Kanemaru) vs. Hirooki Goto, SHO & YOH
Chris Sabin joined the English commentary as we got our first taste of Taichi in a while. Yay. He’s here because he’s got to warm up for his NEVER title shot on Saturday at Dominion…
For a change, there wasn’t a jump start, as presumably this Suzuki-gun trio were feeling under the weather. Instead, what we do get is a tease of Goto and Taichi opening off, as we instead opened with SHO and Desperado, quickly giving way to some double-teaming from Roppongi 3K as the ring just filled up. Taichi took the chance to rake Goto’s eyes, but instead the CHAOS trio set up for a hiptoss onto Taichi, before they did the sushi pose. SHO tried to break out into a dive on Suzuki-gun, but they pull Tomoyuki Oka into harm’s way as the CHAOS trio instead found themselves heavily on the defensive, as we now got the crowd brawling. YOH and Kanemaru even found their way backstage, while SHO was just lucky enough to have a chair smashed into him.
After beating the count, SHO’s left cornered as Suzuki-gun continued to wear down on him, with Taichi marking an exclamation point with a kick. Out of nowhere, a spear gets SHO free, and in comes Goto to clear the apron so he can take shots at Taichi, landing a clothesline before suplexing Desperado onto Taichi. A spinning heel kick into the corner followed, as does a back suplex for a near-fall, but Taichi’s right back in with some more kicks, almost picking up the win from there.
Suzuki-gun triple-team again, this time going after Goto, leading to Taichi going for a superkick… which gets caught and turned into an ushigoroshi. Tags bring us back to Kanemaru and YOH, but Desperado interferes to drag him onto the apron, before YOH blocked a ring posting, returning to the ring with a cannonball into Kanemaru for a near-fall. The match remained finely poised for a while further, with Taichi using his mic stand on Goto outside the ring while SHO and YOH looked to finish off Kanemaru with the 3K. A spray of whisky looked to stop that, before SHO avoided the Deep Impact and rolled up Kanemaru for the win. Pretty decent stuff, but Roppongi 3K are instantly jumped after the match as Desperado and Kanemaru made a point. **¾
Bullet Club (Marty Scurll & Yujiro Takahashi) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi & Toa Henare
The backstory going into this was Marty claiming he was going to beat Tanahashi – and start collecting the scalps of legends, having baited Jushin Liger for the entire tour.
We start with Tanahashi and Scurll jockeying for position, but Marty’s old-school British style was definitely catching out the Ace as the pair quickly worked through to some theatrics in a stand-off. Henare comes in and just runs into a boot from Yujiro, but he shrugs it off as he tried to take on his opponents at the same time… and just gets taken outside for an apron superkick from Marty.
Scurll gives the bird to a fan cosplaying as Liger, then the real thing as he continued to mock him… including going for the Romero special, before instead cutting out and stomping Henare’s knees into the mat. An abdominal stretch gave Marty plenty of chances to play villain, but the referee finally catches him as Henare gets free and tags in Tanahashi to clear house. He avoids the Just Kidding superkick with a Dragon screw, before an attempt at a Slingblade just led to Tanahashi having to slap away a finger snap.
Henare’s back in with a jumping shoulder tackle before he hoists up Yujiro into a suplex for a near-fall. Yujiro stops him from carrying on as he passed on Henare’s hand for some finger breaking, before Tanahashi fought to prevent a similar fate as his comeback led to Yujiro getting dumped with a spinning neckbreaker. A diving shoulder off the middle rope almost gets Henare the win, before he’s forced to kick out from a Fisherman’s buster as the Pimp Juice DDT seals the victory. This was fine – it didn’t feel long, which is always a bonus, but this felt like a backdrop for something else. **¾
Post-match, Tanahashi tries to save Henare from a beatdown, only to get caught with an umbrella-assisted chicken wing… which drew Jushin Thunder Liger into the ring to make the save. He even stripped off, showing his bare chest for the first time in forever… and that guy works out. There’s a challenge for a match here – either a three-way or a trios match, which we’ll find out when the Dominion card drops later in the week.
ACH, Dragon Lee, KUSHIDA & Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, EVIL, SANADA & Tetsuya Naito)
There’s something about jolly ACH that really warms the heart. Can he do karaoke and dancing entrances for everyone? HEY!
Naito didn’t like it, as he kicked ACH in the shoulder during an attempt to dance to his music. Dragon Lee and BUSHI get us underway, with very few chants for BUSHI… who started his match avoiding an arm wringer before watching Lee cartwheel out of a ‘rana. Some elbows in the corner put Lee ahead, before he copied some of Naito’s own stuff when the LIJ leader ran in to interfere.
BUSHI can’t even capitalise on that as he’s sent to the outside, as he needed EVIL’s interference to hold Dragon Lee back for a tope as everyone spilled to the outside. Some t-shirt choking comes into play as BUSHI took over for his team, giving everyone a go to wear down Dragon Lee a little. A standing Spanish Fly on Naito stemmed the tide, before EVIL ate a springboard hip attack as Taguchi joined the fray. Taguchi outsmarted EVIL as he stopped short of a hip attack, then hits an enziguiri as KUSHIDA comes in to join in with some right hands. EVIL turns it back around with a thrust kick into KUSHIDA’s gut as BUSHI returned, only for the double-team to backfire as KUSHIDA hits a cartwheel dropkick before bringing ACH into play… and we’re all about the chops!
ACH is a damned house on fire, clearing the apron before deadlifting BUSHI into a German suplex for a near-fall, before LIJ triple-teamed him with low dropkicks for a near-fall. The ring fills, then empties, as SANADA ended up getting the last laugh, evading a hip attack from Taguchi before surviving a roll-up as he makes ACH tap to the Skull End. A fun sprint, which is how all of these trios and above matches ought to be! ***½
We continued the Dominion build afterwards as Chris Jericho gatecrashed the show… via a subtitled video promo. He took digs at Naito for not being promoted as the main event at WrestleKingdom, before saying that he’d help make Naito a worldwide superstar… and dropping in some F-bombs as well.
Kota Ibushi & Chase Owens vs. Kazuchika Okada & Will Ospreay
A warm-up match for Okada ahead of his no-time-limit, best-of-three-falls match with Kenny Omega sees him go up against the other half of the Golden Lovers… but we start with Chase Owens against Ospreay, going through some mat work, somehow damaging Ospreay’s gear as one of the flats on his belt was ripped off.
More importantly though, Owens almost took a monkey flip a la Sabu, narrowly avoiding a head drop before countering an OsCutter into a package piledriver attempt as the flag of Ireland went flying. That’s the cue for tags as we got to Okada/Ibushi, which was a little cagier than you’d think as Okada was trying to save himself for Saturday. Okada keeps it basic with shoulder charges before an Ibushi dropkick took down Okada, as Owens came in to keep up the unlikely advantage.
Owens mocked the Rainmaker pose, producing “barely a drizzle”, per Kevin Kelly on commentary, as the IWGP champion was forced to fight back against Ibushi… dragging him down with a flapjack. Ospreay’s in next to take Owens down into the corner for a Shibata-ish dropkick, which Chase avoids, only to take an over-the-top 619 and a springboard forearm for good measure. Ospreay tries to end it quick with the Storm Breaker, but Owens clings on and drills Will in the neck with a forearm. A superkick rocks Ospreay too, as he’s rolled up into a death valley driver attempt, onyl for Ospreay to fight out and hit a flurry of shots ahead of a death valley driver – once Owens had effectively rebounded him off the ropes with a spinebuster-like move.
Will rebounded again with a Cheeky Nando’s, as Okada returned to keep up the pressure with a DDT for a near-fall. The neckbreaker slam followed as a prelude to the Rainmaker elbow and… zoom out! Owens ducks a Rainmaker as Ibushi flies in with a missile dropkick, before Ibushi and Ospreay nail duelling overhead kicks, resulting in the pair of them going nose-to-nose! The pair ignite, as they swapped elbows, then kicks before the flurry ended with Ospreay getting sent packing with a lariat!
Kota followed him to the outside with a Golden Triangle moonsault, as Owens tried to nick a win over Okada with a package piledriver… before falling to a dropkick instead, as a V-Trigger-like knee and the eventual Rainmaker lariat put away the Bullet Club’s crown jewel. Fun stuff, especially those interactions with Ospreay and Ibushi (please, Gedo… can we have that match sometime soon?) ***¼
So far, so very much like a throwaway Korakuen show. But we’re only here for one match… and here. It. Is.
Best of the Super Junior 25, Final: Taiji Ishimori vs. Hiromu Takahashi
We’re here until it ends, as the usual 30 minute time limit was thrown out of the window, as we have to leave with a winner of this shiny trophy, last seen intact…
There’s shade from Kevin Kelly on commentary as he buried NOAH, and we get going rather tentatively as Hiromu and Taiji were reluctant to even lock up. When they do touch, Takahashi quickly takes Ishimori into the ropes with a shotgun dropkick, but an early shout at a sunset bomb’s thwarted as Ishimori backflips to the floor instead! Elbows follow on the outside as they edged into the crowd, then into the seating decks, because they have something wackier planned.
No, not another shotgun dropkick across the concourse, but this… a hurricanrana down the stairwell!
— LARIATOOOO!! (@MrLARIATO) June 4, 2018
The referee starts to make a count-out to try and force them back to the ring… and it works, as Hiromu wanders into a cravat as he was wracked in pain from that earlier ‘rana. A neck twist makes it worse, as they’re taken back outside again as Ishimori used a chair on Hiromu, as Ishimori was firmly in the driver’s seat, setting up for the baseball slide German suplex to keep up the pressure on Hiromu’s neck.
After the kick out, Ishimori keeps up on the neck, eventually forcing Hiromu to break in the ropes, before he tries to catch Hiromu off-guard in the ropes, before it backfired as Takahashi took him onto the apron and finally connected with that sunset bomb to the floor! It took a while to get it back to the ring as Hiromu scored a two-count, as the comeback resumed with Ishimori getting dragged into a Tarantula, then dragged to the floor for a wheelbarrow facebuster off the apron.
Another shotgun dropkick took Ishimori deep into the crowd, then keeps up the high risk stuff with a back senton off the top rope after they’d returned to the ring, with Hiromu slowly chipping away at the new Bone Soldier’s resolve. A lariat to the back swats away Ishimori’s handspring, but the newcomer managed to counter a Dynamite Plunger and trap Hiromu in a crossface instead, as he momentum shifted on a proverbial dime.
Hiromu barely got to the ropes, but he had plenty in him as they’re trading rights and elbows, before Hiromu was caught with some spinning headscissors as Ishimori pulled him right back into that crossface! The crowd were massively behind Takahashi in his bid to stay alive, and when a surge of energy saw Hiromu come agonisingly close to the ropes – and miss – it looked like all hope was gone. Fortunately, he had one last spurt, and this time he made the ropes to keep the match going, even if his shoulder was wracked in pain.
Takahashi manages to sidestep some knees in the corner as he catches Ishimori with a German suplex… but Taiji rolled out of it, before getting dumped on his head with an overhead belly-to-belly into the corner!
— LARIATOOOO!! (@MrLARIATO) June 4, 2018
A lariat comes next as Ishimori’s dumped, ahead of the Dynamite Plunger, but that’s only enough for a near-fall… so he takes Ishimori up top in search of a wheelbarrow driver, almost spiking Ishimori on his head once more for a near-fall. All the head drops, eh? Next up was a lawn darted death valley driver into the corner, but the Time Bomb is escaped as superkicks led to an exchange of reverse ‘ranas that Ishimori kept together well as the pair inched closer and closer to the proverbial finish line.
They cross the 25 minute mark, exchanging elbow shots from their knees, eventually sending Hiromu back down to the mat as Ishimori tried to take advantage with a Bloody Cross. Instead, we get more forearms, before a jumping knee and a NASTY lariat folded Takahashi in half… for a one count?! HOW?!
Ishimori turns it up with a shotgun dropkick and running knees into the corner, before the tombstone lungblower rocked Hiromu for another near-fall. An armdrag takes him out of a Bloody Cross, before he takes a powerbomb… just so he could give Ishimori the D. Hah. Hiromu clings on as the D looked to make Ishimori fade, only for us to cross the half hour mark as Ishimori finally broke it up with a bucklebomb! A charging clothesline into the corner, then a uranage puts Hiromu on the mat as Ishimori looked to underline the win off the top rope… but the 450 splash sees him land squarely in the Time Bomb’s knees!
From there, Hiromu goes back to the ‘rana as he gave Ishimori the D again, before countering the counter with a BRUTAL Praying Mantis Bomb! Or the D Driver, if we’re keeping up with the vaguely smutty names…
— LARIATOOOO!! (@MrLARIATO) June 4, 2018
…Hiromu goes straight back to the D, and truth be told Ishimori was as good as out from the driver. Somehow, Ishimori backed up into the ropes for a break, but the end was nigh as Hiromu picked him right back up as they countered each other’s counters, leading to another lawn darted death valley driver and then a Time Bomb as Hiromu took home the win! Well then, Ishimori beat the champion on night one, but couldn’t get past a former champion as Hiromu Takahashi leaves Korakuen Hall with the shiny trophy – and all of a sudden, in the space of a tournament, we’ve gone from Ospreay having cleared the field… to having a new laundry list of opponents.
Heart. Desire. Energy. Drama. This match had it all, and having been the longest Best of Super Junior final in record, they got perhaps the best final on record. ****¾
All that was left was for Hiromu to take his trophy, celebrate with the rest of Los Ingobernables de Japon… and take the trophy back to the locker room, intact.
— LARIATOOOO!! (@MrLARIATO) June 4, 2018
A fitting tournament, with a fitting winner. We had pegged Hiromu as the MVP of the tournament, given that almost all of his matches had rated highly with us (only the Chris Sabin fell below **** if you care about those). Problem is, Hiromu’s two singles matches against Ospreay have both been losses – in last year’s Best of the Super Junior, and at this year’s New Beginning in Osaka. This time, Hiromu’s got a lot of momentum behind him, and their meeting back in Osaka for Dominion perhaps isn’t going to be so straightforward.