We’re getting towards the business end of the tournament, and Tochigi was the site for the ninth round of the Best of the Super Juniors!

Yes, it’s still the fixed-camera with maybe a mobile camera shows, and unfortunately the Tochigi Sports Park Gymnasium wasn’t exactly full.

Best of the Super Junior 25, Block A: Taiji Ishimori vs. Tiger Mask
Having taken a few losses lately, Ishimori’s in no mood to mess around, and he jumps Tiger Mask as he hit the ring, putting the boots to him as he forcefully disrobed the veteran.

Tiger Mask quickly puts a stop to the Bone Soldier with some back kicks, before throwing him outside for a… of course not a dive, as Ishimori retreats. Instead, he pulls Tiger Mask outside and throws him into the time keeper’s table, before restraining him back inside with a chinlock as he tried to tear away the mask. There’s your usual assortment of cheating in here too, with Ishimori choking at Tiger Mask in the ropes, before some forearms only led to the veteran catching him with a tiltawhirl backbreaker out of nowhere. A butterfly superplex is next, as Tiger Mask is getting his stuff in, but only for a near-fall, before catching a punch and rolling Ishimori to the mat with a cross armbreaker.

Ishimori’s back in with running knees into the corner, followed by a punt kick for a near-fall, as he tried to grab a submission on Tiger Mask via a crossface. It leads to a rope break though, as Tiger Mask began a fightback, slapping his way free of a suplex, only to get caught with a handspring enziguiri as Ishimori looked for a win. Instead, Ishimori’s quickly caught with a Tiger Driver as the momentum stayed uneven, with another butterfly superplex getting a near-fall.

From there, Tiger went for a double armbar, but Ishimori gets to the ropes and fought back with a step-up knee before crushing Tiger Mask with a tombstone-style gutbuster. When that didn’t get the pin, he went to the Bloody Cross, and that was enough for Ishimori to register another W. I think the wheels are coming off the Tiger Mask train now, but let’s be honest, nobody had pegged him for a run this year. ***

Best of the Super Junior 25, Block A: BUSHI vs. ACH
With only one win to his name, BUSHI is on the bubble here, but he’s in no rush to get things going against ACH, and his attempt to get a handshake ends with ACH slapping it away… so I guess we’re not playing around!

ACH is all about the chops early, taking off BUSHI’s shirt, but tellingly he doesn’t throw it away, as BUSHI’s quickly in with the garment to choke the “Midnight Cannonball”, following up with a shirt-assisted neckbreaker. From there, BUSHI starts to work on the taped-up shoulder of ACH, stomping on it, before dumping him onto the apron with a Bliss Buster-like DDT. Back inside, ACH tries to fight back, but BUSHI stomps him down before rolling hiom down into a chinlock that became like a side headlock on the mat, then a Fujiwara-ish armbar as that tape became a real bullseye, as ACH was draped across the top rope and met with a dropkick for a near-fall.

Some back-and-forth allowed ACH to take out BUSHI with a low dropkick and a double stomp, but he couldn’t follow up as a uranage was countered into an armdrag, before he finally hit the backbreaker/German suplex combo for a near-fall. ACH headed up top, but BUSHI rolled far enough away for anything to be done, forcing ACH to drop down and throw him into the turnbuckles, as chops became the order of the day instead.

BUSHI rebounds with an overhead kick in the ropes and a missile dropkick, taking ACH outside as a slingshot ‘rana left him laying on the floor. Returning to the ring, BUSHI’s swinging Fisherman buster is escaped and turned into a death valley driver by ACH for a near-fall, before he’s almost wheelbarrow’d up for the pin.

ACH rebounds with a deadlift German suplex, but he again takes too long to go up top and he ends up crashing and burning from a 450 Splash. A running lungblower from BUSHI’s caught though as ACH looked for another death valley driver, but BUSHI slips out into a back cracker instead, before ACH gets trapped in the ropes for a lungblower, this time getting a near-fall. BUSHI takes a risk next, heading up top for the MX, and that connects on the first try for the win. This was a decent enough match, with the tournament-long storyline of ACH’s shoulder continuing, although this was lacking something for me to push through to the next level – it’ll not be one you’ll remember much of weeks after the tournament ends. ***¼

Best of the Super Junior 25, Block A: YOH vs. Flip Gordon
Going into this show sharing a spot at the top of the group, Flip is suddenly one of the block favourites… and he’s against a man who was on the bubble.

YOH took the early initiative, charging down Flip with a shoulder tackle before the pair avoided each other in the ropes, with flip overs, dropdowns and the like, before Flip called YOH’s bluff and met him with a dropkick. Some early pinning attempts followed as Gordon took YOH into the corner for a handspring elbow, but he went to the well too quickly, too soon, as he missed with a second, allowing YOH to mount a comeback, catching him with a neckbreaker then a standing flip senton for a near-fall.

YOH tries to restrain Gordon from there with a chinlock, then some grounded headscissors, before taking Gordon into the corner for a flying back elbow. A suplex out of the corner’s good for a near-fall for YOH, who’s quickly taken down with a roundhouse from Flip, then a springboard dropkick, as it was time for someone to live up to his name… Okay, it wasn’t a flip, but a step-up body press to the floor is close enough!

Gordon aborts his springboard 450 back into the ring, and instead wrecks YOH with a springboard Slingblade, before an unlikely O’Connor roll gets him a near-fall… but from the kick-out, YOH grabs a Dragons leeper, and begins to throw some Bryan Danielson elbows too as he segued between the two. Gordon stands up out of it and nails YOH with superkick, only for YOH to skin the cat and run into a reverse Finlay roll and a standing shooting star press for a near-fall. Perhaps it’s time to quit that bottom rope cat skinning, eh?

YOH managed a desperation superkick though as both men tried to fight back to their feet, eventually exchanging running forearms in the ropes before Flip snuck onto the apron for a gamengiri. He’s caught on the top rope as YOH instead brings him down with a superplex, but the roll-through into a Falcon arrow’s reversed as Gordon almost sent him packing with a loss.

From there, Gordon heads up top again for a 450 splash, but YOH’s able to kick out at two, so Flip throws in some more superkicks before he’s wheelbarrowed and rolled up by YOH for what’d have to be considered the upset. A bit of a wonky roll-up at the end, but this was a real good match as the individual halves of Roppongi 3K continue to have sneakily-good showings in the tournament. ***½

Best of the Super Junior 25, Block A: Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. Will Ospreay
The way the blocks have stacked up after here means that this really is do-or-die for Kanemaru – with earlier results meaning that he’ll need a win to have a chance of even staying alive.

Kanemaru jumped Ospreay at the bell, because Suzuki-gun, but he’s quickly taken to the outside as Ospreay crashes into him with a plancha. No. Messing. Around. The brawling starts as Ospreay puts Kanemaru in the crowd, but his attempt to run into Kanemaru ends with him having a chair thrown into his face.

Kanemaru uses a chair in a unique way, sandwiching Ospreay’s neck between his knee and a chair, before a cravat and some headscissors kept Will on the mat as Kanemaru seemingly borrowed a fair bit from YOH’s playbook! The headscissors stay on as he drives Ospreay’s head into the mat until they rolled into the ropes… giving Will a brief bit of respite as Kanemaru keeps up on the neck. They’re rolled back outside as Kanemaru dragged Ospreay into a DDT on the floor, and it almost forced a finish as Ospreay narrowly beats the count back in… but that tape on his neck remained a bullseye as Kanemaru ripped it off and pulls him up into a camel clutch… losing his grip as Ospreay got free and rebounded off the ropes with a handspring enziguiri to give himself a breather.

Another enziguiri out of the corner left Kanemaru in place for an over-the-ropes 619, then a springboard forearm as Ospreay’s neck continued to cause trouble. Kanemaru tries to fight back, and nails a satellite DDT, then a scooping reverse DDT for a near-fall, but Ospreay fires right back with an enziguiri and a standing shooting star as he tried to get a flash win. From there, he tries the Storm Breaker, but Kanemaru wriggles free and after a long series of waistlock escapes, we get a ref bump and an O’Connor roll as Ospreay picked up the visual pin.

Of course, with no referee, it counted for nought, and when Will checks on the ref, he’s wide open for a low blow as Kanemaru threw him back to the mat neck-first. We’re into shenanigans as Kanemaru tries to use a chair, but he’s disarmed… and the referee’s back to his feet to disarm him. That allowed Kanemaru a chance to get a swig of whisky… but Ospreay covers his mouth to avoid the spray, making him swallow it before a superkick and a reverse DDT got a near-fall.

Barely-inebriated, Kanemaru’s up at two, and gets taken right back down with a Robinson special before he countered an OsCutter with a dropkick. A sheer drop brainbuster from Kanemaru’s enough for a near-fall, before he drilled Ospreay with the Deep Impact DDT… again getting a near-fall. He tries it again, but Ospreay’s roundhouse kick swats that away, and the fight back is on – smashing into Kanemaru with a shooting star press as he was draped across the ropes, before a corkscrew shooting star press connects as Ospreay clipped the ropes on his way down. That’s still not enough, so Will goes to his new silver bullet: the Storm Breaker, and that’s enough to send Kanemaru packing from the tournament! Another solid tournament match, but one that was again lacking something to poke it through to that next level. ***½

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

Block B:
Dragon Lee (3-1)
El Desperado, KUSHIDA, Chris Sabin, Marty Scurll, SHO, Hiromu Takahashi (2-2)
Ryusuke Taguchi (1-3)

With two matches left in block A, everyone’s neatly pigeon-holed! Gordon, Ishimori, Ospreay and Tiger Mask top the group – most of those guys are folks you expected to be there or there abouts – while the rest are just one win behind. Trusting Chris Charlton’s maths here, Kanemaru is the only one eliminated, but at this point I would not expect anyone with a 2-3 record to have a shot. Today (Wednesday) is block B’s turn in Fukushima, with KUSHIDA vs. El Desperado headlining… those matches will drop on the VOD overnight and will be reviewed by us tomorrow. Thursday will be block A in Aomori, with YOH vs. Yoshinobu Kanemaru being the surprising slow-closer.

Just a quick head’s up – we’ll be in Ireland this weekend to catch one of the final OTT shows at the Tivoli theatre, so our coverage of the final few days of the Best of the Super Juniors tournament will be delayed… all being well, we should have Thursday’s matches reviewed before we head to the airport!