The 25th Best of the Super Junior tournament got underway at Korakuen Hall on Friday, as Will Ospreay faced off again the new (and massively improved) Bone Soldier, Taiji Ishimori!

Block A opened the tournament, but first we’ve got the undercard featuring the B block folks and a smattering of others. Don’t worry, not all of the tournament is airing live, so we’re not going to be bored to death of the same combinations by the time the finals roll around in two weeks time. The tournament is sponsored by Fire Pro World – the video game… and they’ve gone the extra mile, bringing up VIEW JAPAN turnbuckle pads. Howling! Sadly, Olive Japan isn’t going to appear here…

Chris Sabin & Ren Narita vs. KUSHIDA & Shota Umino
God, it’s been forever since I’ve seen Chris Sabin… I hear he’s not missed a beat, so I’m expecting big things of him in this tournament.

Sabin and KUSHIDA start us off on the mat, but we’re quickly at a stalemate as the Young Lions plead to be tagged in. Only Narita gets it, and he’s successful in taking KUSHIDA into the corner before scoring with a headlock takedown. KUSHIDA returns the favour as he rolled his way into a cross armbreaker attempt, before bringing in Umino to keep things even, experience-wise. All the overhand chops from Umino led to a cravat, which Narita can’t free himself from, even though he got in a slam.

Narita’s able to tag back out to KUSHIDA, who fared better… but Narita’s able to get in a dropkick before making the tag out. Sabin’s missile dropkick wipes out KUSHIDA, but things turned around quickly when he wiped out Narita with a handspring elbow, only for Sabin to throw a series of elbows as the momentum remained finely poised. Umino again begs to come in, and KUSHIDA relented… fortunately, Umino managed well against the more experienced Sabin, taking down the former TNA champion with a missile dropkick ahead of a Boston crab.

Yeah… that’s broken up when Narita came in and kicked away at his fellow Young Lion, before some more even grappling eventually earned Umino an enziguiri. Sabin wipes out KUSHIDA with a PK off the apron, then goes back in to finish off Umino with the Cradle Shock. A nice, sprightly tag to get us going – Umino as always looked good in his role, and from the flashes we saw out of Sabin, I think he’s going to surprise all those folks whose radar he’s disappeared from as of late. ***¼

SHO & YOSHI-HASHI vs. Dragon Lee & Tomoyuki Oka
Uhh, why is YOSHI-HASHI (not in the tournament) leading out SHO with his own music?

Dragon Lee’s in the tournament, albeit with a heavily-taped up right leg after he looked to tweak his knee on a CMLL show a few weeks ago. I’m not so sold on how healthy he is, but let’s see how good that tape is, eh?

The two tournament entrants start us off, quickly hitting a stalemate before opting to exchange wristlocks, then takedown attempts, and of course, the duel dropkick misses. Tomoyuki Oka feels he can do better, so both men tag out, as Oka charges into YOSHI-HASHI, bulling him down with a shoulder tackle before getting pulled outside as YOSHI-HASHI threw him into the ringpost.

Back inside, Oka tries his luck with chops, but gets taken into the corner as SHO decides to throw some of his own, following up with a knee to the midsection. Oka’s left fairly isolated as SHO and YOSHI-HASHI took their shots at him, with a nice dropkick from SHO leading to a Boston crab attempt… with YOSHI-HASHI keeping guard as Dragon Lee tried to come in. Eventually Oka gets to the ropes, and scores with an overhead belly-to-belly as he finally brings in Dragon Lee, who nails SHO with a shotgun dropkick.

Another shotgun followed in the corner for a near-fall, as the pair return fire with forearms back-and-forth, ending with a bicycle knee from Lee, then a rebound German suplex. SHO somehow manages a lariat as he tagged in YOSHI-HASHI, while Oka’s in too, charging YOSHI into the corner for an avalanche and a spinebuster. That’s only enough for a near-fall though, as a modified STF/camel clutch looked to force a submission, but YOSHI-HASHI gets to the ropes anyway.

A superkick out of nowhere finally dropped Oka for a near-fall, while SHO’s back in to dump Lee on his head with a Dragon Suplex, ahead of a Shock Arrow attempt… but instead it’s countered as an eventual ‘rana took SHO out… as Dragon Lee ran into a Western Lariat. The crowd booed that as they were getting set-up for a dive, and I don’t blame them! In the end, YOSHI-HASHI saw off the threat of Oka with a Bunker Buster, before a Butterfly hold forced the tap. Decent, but this was the epitome of an undercard tag. **¾

Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki & El Desperado) vs. Ryusuke Taguchi & Toa Henare
A week ago, Minoru was over in the UK and Ireland… he’s certainly been racking up those air miles as of late! Still, he’s over his jet lag as he casually knocked over Yota Tsuji on his way out. For the benefit of Korakuen, who evidently didn’t feel like it today… Kaze Ni Nare!

Of COURSE there was a jump start. I’d be sad if there wasn’t anymore… Desperado and Taguchi stayed in the ring as we prayed for Henare. A spinebuster from Despy gets a near-fall as he went for the Numero Dos (stretch muffler) very early on, but Taguchi gets to the ropes and eventually worked into a hip attack before knocking Suzuki off the apron. Dum-dum.

More hip attacks for Desperado follow before Taguchi slid outside and into a kick from Suzuki, who then proceeded to throw Henare into chairs. Taguchi wasn’t safe too as Despy did the same, before smacking him in the arse with a chair while Suzuki was back to killing the Young Lions. Somehow, Taguchi beat the count-out… and gets thrown right back outside.

Inside again, Taguchi tries to chop Suzuki, but it’s laughed off, as a single elbow dropped him en route to a Figure Four attempt. Taguchi makes it to the ropes, and then fakes out a hip attack to Desperado, hitting him at the second attempt. Smart… for once! Henare’s brought back in, scoring with a flying shoulder tackle for a near-fall, but things turn around when Suzuki’s back in. Or do they? A Samoan drop gets Henare a near-fall, as Suzuki’s double-teamed for a spell, with Desperado making the save to keep the match alive. Taguchi sends Despy outside after that, and flies into him…

Except that left Henare in there with Suzuki, who quickly catches him with a rear naked choke and a Gotch piledriver for the win. Pretty decent and by the numbers – can all of the Suzuki-gun undercard matches be like this? **½

Bullet Club (Marty Scurll & Chase Owens) vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (EVIL & Hiromu Takahashi)
Owens and Scurll are part of the “united” Bullet Club after the events at Dontaku, and it’s another year, another big book for Hiromu as he’s got his tournament opponents scouted! Today, he’s got “umbrella man”, who heeled on the crowd by stomping on Daryl. Fale beat you to it, mate…

Scurll and Hiromu get us going, with some basics on the mat – headlock takedowns, handstand escapes… the works. The exchanges are fluid and decent, as Scurll tried to work into an early chicken wing, while Hiromu teases an early Time Bomb, only for Marty to grab the fingers. Hiromu returns fire with a beard pull, and they flap into a stalemate.

A double-team suplex puts Marty down for a near-fall after EVIL lent a hand, but after a mini Benny Hill chase, Hiromu teases a sunset bomb, only for a superkick from Owens to cut him off as the Bullet Club pair took over. EVIL tried to make a save, but gets dragged into the crowd by Chase, while Hiromu and Scurll went the other way, with Marty again antagonising the fan with Daryl.

Hiromu’s head gets rammed into Daryl… and the turnbuckle, before Owens got the tag and continued to wear down Hiromu with a backbreaker. EVIL gets the tag in, squashing Chase with a back senton for a near-fall, before the Banshee Muzzle attempt is countered with a roll-up as the Crown Jewel of the Bullet Club nails a short-lariat for a near-fall.

Chase teases a package piledriver, but EVIL blocks it and earns himself an enziugiri. Another attempt is cut-off with a low dropkick from Hiromu, who takes Marty out with a ‘rana as we’re again denied a dive. Superkicks lay out Chase for a near-fall, and he’s quickly tapping after EVIL locks in the Banshee Muzzle. That was a rather short outing I felt – we’ve done the prelims in barely an hour, which is a thing, I guess. Not much to this beyond the Bullet Club shtick, and utterly forgettable for it. **¾

Best of the Super Junior 25, Block A: Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. Tiger Mask
This year’s tournament gets going with a two-time tournament winner, back in the days when the finals were restricted to Korakuen Hall because the company was in a down phase.

A big boot from Kanemaru gets us going as the match instantly spills to the outside, where Tiger Mask gets thrown into chairs… and I feel this might not be a long outing. They make it back inside, where Kanemaru puts the boots to Tiger Mask, who replies with a Figure Four that they rolled around in as Kanemaru makes it to the ropes.

Tiger keeps up with the leg holds, before he slaps the taste out of Kanemaru’s mouth. They’re back outside, as Tiger goes for a dive, but Kanemaru’s back in to break it with a low dropkick, as he tries to rip off Tiger’s mask… and almost succeeds! On the outside, Tiger’s met with a DDT, then narrowly beats the count in as Kanemaru’s all over him. An eye rake through the mask followed, but Tiger kicks away at Kanemaru… laying him out with a head kick before a Tiger Driver earned a near-fall out of almost nowhere.

Tiger looks to set up for an avalanche Tiger Driver, but instead we get a butterfly superplex for a near-fall before a cross armbreaker forces Kanemaru into the ropes. After that, a Tiger suplex is teased, but we’re way too close to the ropes, and with the referee unsighted Kanemaru mule kicks Tiger and rolls him up for a near-fall, before we went outside again as Young Lions were slammed onto Tiger as Kanemaru looked for a count-out. It was a long night for Tsuji!

Another Young Lion gets thrown at Tiger Mask to keep him on the floor, but he barely beat the count despite the rookie abuse, before Kanemaru took him up for a superplex… but on the landing, Tiger cradles Kanemaru, and there’s the win! Massively against the run of play, but a nice finish after Kanemaru had been trying to take shortcut. For the match that was the least desired in the tournament, this wasn’t too bad. ***

Best of the Super Junior 25, Block A: Flip Gordon vs. ACH
Flip’s nickname is “All In”. I thought he wasn’t booked? He’s also stolen Taichi’s rip-apart trousers spot…

ACH started by taking Flip into the corner, for an eventual clean break ahead of a spell on the mat as these two kept it fast-paced without leaving their feet. A series of quick kip-ups from Gordon wowed the crowd, as did his back-and-forth kip ups, before he turned around into a big chop from the AAW champ.

ACH keeps control with a backbreaker into a snap German suplex for a near-fall, as he looked to keep Gordon on the mat… but Flip rolls to the outside, where he gets chopped again, before Flip ducks and sees ACH chop the ring post. A delayed springboard dropkick puts Flip right back in it as he started to take measured shots at ACH, including a Pele kick and a springboard Slingblade for a near-fall.

A springboard kick in the corner knocks ACH to the floor as Flip, erm, flips with a double-jump flip senton to the floor, starting on one side of the ring, jumping to the top rope, then to the other side of the corner before going to the floor. That took more time to write than to execute! ACH’s baseball slide takes Flip off his feet though, but ACH’s taped-up shoulder injury delayed a plancha to the outside, which missed, as Flip hit back.

Korakuen were massively on the side of Flip Gordon, backing him as he was chopped into the crowd by ACH… then into the seating decks as we got a tour of Korakuen Hall, with Flip climbing up to an entry point and scoring with a huge body press off it! NICE!

ACH, partially because he came down the wrong stairway, took his time getting back to the ring, where he was met with a springboard, changing-direction frog splash as Flip lived up to his name. Finally, ACH fights back with a chop, but a reverse Finlay roll plants him ahead of a standing shooting star press, as Flip looked to go airborne again, only to get kicked off the top rope as ACH almost took the win.

A series of chops keeps ACH in it, but a springboard cannonball cuts him off as Flip got a near-fall… then again with a Falcon arrow. Flip crashes and burns with a Phoenix splash though, allowing ACH to mount a comeback with a German suplex, some knees and ACH’s Big Bang Attack (cradle DDT) for an out-of-nowhere win. Flip certainly grabbed his opportunity with both hands here, and this was one of those matches where perhaps the wrong guy won. I believe this is what the kids call a “low key banger”… ****¼

Best of the Super Junior 25, Block A: BUSHI vs. YOH
Ever the one to have custom masks, BUSHI had a special one made for the tournament… hopefully it’s more lucky than his junior tag title mask!

BUSHI jumped YOH during the intros, but YOH manages to shrug it off, taking BUSHI outside for a nice tope con giro! Back inside, YOH gets a running senton in for a near-fall, then took BUSHI outside… only to get suckered into a t-shirt choke, which was used to restrain YOH for a leaping Cherry Mint DDT on the apron.

Back inside, BUSHI keeps up on YOH with a low dropkick, then some palm strikes as the Ingobernable was all over the Roppongi 3K member. A missile dropkicks knocks YOH as he was draped over the top rope, but it gets a weird one-count, as BUSHI swiftly followed back in with a STF.

YOH manages to get back into it with a backbreaker/neckbreaker combo, before a slingshot dropkick, similar to Naito, caught BUSHI as he was draped across the middle rope. BUSHI responds by turfing YOH outside ahead of a high-speed tope suicida, before countering a counter to a swinging Fisherman’s buster, as YOH eventually wiped him out with a knee.

BUSHI returns fire with a top rope ‘rana as YOH had been crotched on the top rope, but it’s not enough, so BUSHI heads up for a MX, which is met with a superkick on the way down. They fought back to their feet with forearms, before a pop-up forearm left YOH rocked ahead of an enziguiri. He returned the favour, following with a superkick before BUSHI surprises him with a Destroyer for a near-fall… and we have a wonky finish as BUSHI looked for a lungblower, which YOH counters with a Euro clutch. Except the referee took his time to get down for the count, before registering the pinfall as BUSHI was left incensed. This was fine, but barely whelming. ***

Best of the Super Junior 25, Block A: Taiji Ishimori vs. Will Ospreay
Ishimori’s first match in New Japan in over 18 months saw him don the hood of the Bone Soldier – a name that we’ll try not to sully him with outside of it being a tag line.

Our main event is a first-time meeting, and one that many looked forward to… especially by Ospreay as he charged into Ishimori at the bell, taking him outside. Ishimori tried to throw Ospreay into chairs, but Will leaps onto the stage and cannonballs off it like the goddamned madman he is! Back inside, the pair traded shots, with Ishimori kicking Ospreay into the corner, before some misdirection using the ropes led to a slingshot seated senton for the new Boner.

Ishimori quickly goes for Ospreay’s neck with a kick, sending him rolling outside for cover… but he just follows him there to keep up on the body part. Ospreay’s shoved into the ropes as Ishimori’s baseball slide German added more pressure – a move that is never not impressive, regardless of who’s delivering it. A cravat keeps up the theme too, before Ospreay ducks a handspring elbow and delivers a handspring enziguiri to get himself back in the game.

Another enziguiri follows, but Ospreay stutters before hitting the over the top 619 and a springboard forearm, as his neck continued to bother him en route to a standing shooting star press as he gathered a near-fall. Will throws some kicks at Ishimori to keep him down, but Taiji shrugs them off and catches one, before a frenetic series saw him catch Ospreay in a modified crossface.

Ospreay tries for a Cheeky Nandos, but instead Ishimori backflips out of it for an eventual tombstone gutbuster, as he goes back to that crossface in a bid to score the upset. Somehow Ospreay stands up and wheelbarrow suplexes his way free, as the pair wound up exchanging strikes from their knees. Elbows follow as the intensity built, but Ospreay sneaks in a hook kick and a lifting reverse DDT for a near-fall over Ishimori.

With Ishimori draped over the top rope, Ospreay crashes into him with a shooting star press for another two-count, following up with the Robinson special diving corkscrew kick, before the Storm Breaker was wriggled out of as Ishimori spiked him good and proper with a reverse ‘rana! Ospreay’s back with a Spanish Fly and some more kicks, before an OsCutter was blocked and met with a Bloody Cross – a lifting double-knee facebuster – for the huge upset! This felt very much like the first match of a series – a good match rather than a blockbuster statement of intent. It certainly solidified Ishimori on his first night in as a man who can beat Ospreay… but now he’s got to win the tournament before he gets a crack at Will’s title. ****¼

Standings

Block A:
ACH, Taiji Ishimori, Tiger Mask, YOH (1-0)
BUSHI, Flip Gordon, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Will Ospreay, (0-1)

So, a good, not great start to this year’s Best of the Super Junior tournament, with two great matches and two okay bouts in the opening round. From the off, they’ve set up Ishimori as the guy who’s become the tournament favourite on day one – and now it’s up to Ospreay to somehow spoil him to avoid a rematch at Dominion. A good starting point – here’s to the rest of the tournament building from here!