The first of two nights in Aichi for New Japan saw a major upset in block A of the Best of the Super Juniors.

We’ve a different set-up, with the wrestlers’ entrances coming from the side – it gives a different look to things, almost like the wacky 3D-but-not-really entrances in Fire Pro Returns for those who played that game.

Best of the Super Junior 25, Block A: Flip Gordon vs. Tiger Mask
With Flip having beaten Taiji Ishimori in his last outing, you get the sense that the American had a chance here against the as-yet unbeaten Tiger Mask.

Originally taking Tiger into the ropes, Flip started out on offence as the pair grappled on the mat – part of me found it funny that the ring announcer/time keeper had the bell hammer ready and waiting in case Flip gave up in the opening headlock. That’s… optimism! After a kip-up from a shoulder tackle, and a flip out from a monkey flip, Gordon’s taken down with an awkward tiltawhirl backbreaker, allowing Tiger Mask to keep him grounded with some headscissors on the mat. A camel clutch followed as Flip’s erm, humbled, as Tiger Mask seemed to be slipping into the sort-of “bully” veteran he’s played.

Gordon escapes and charges into Tiger with a running kick ahead of a one-legged standing moonsault for his first near-fall, but he quickly cuts off Flip with a spinning back kick. A step-up enziguiri and a springboard Slingblade keeps the momentum poised, as Gordon looked to go up top, but he’s caught and eventually brought crashing down with a butterfly superplex.

Only getting a two-count from that, Gordon’s pulled into a double arm bar, forcing him to scramble to the ropes. From the restart, he catches Tiger with a dropkick, then a Falcon arrow, before a superkick left Tiger down and out… and in place for Flip to fly… except his corkscrew moonsault has to be aborted. Gordon landed on his feet and comes right back with the reverse Finlay roll and a standing shooting star press, only for Tiger Mask to break the count by grabbing a key lock as he almost turned a huge negative into a positive.

The cross armbreaker follows, as does the Tiger Driver, but it’s not enough to put Flip away, so Tiger breaks out the tombstone before heading up top… but his swandive headbutt misses as Flip rolled away. Gordon’s back to his feet and catches a running Tiger with a knee, before a missed kick left him prone for a Tiger suplex… which he flips out of before hitting a superkick and finally the springboard 450 for the win. That’s a first loss for Tiger Mask then, and Flip is on the ascendency in this block. A good match, but nothing that stands out. **¾

Best of the Super Junior 25, Block A: YOH vs. ACH
Both guys have stuttered so far in the tournament, but with ACH’s nagging injuries, can YOH at least drag himself back to a .500 record?

After neutralising each other from the opening tie-up, we quickly saw a battle of opposing game plans, as YOH tried to be a little methodical while ACH was looking to blast through YOH with strikes as they reached some early stand-offs. ACH turned up the pace with some swift dropkicks, and a low one for a near-fall, before trapping YOH in the corner by standing on his foot, so he could throw some chops his way.

A backbreaker and a German suplex combination gets ACH another near-fall, before he opted to ground YOH with more stomps. More chops have YOH rocked, but the former junior tag champ makes an effective comeback, sidestepping a charge and slingshotting into a stomp on ACH, before a backbreaker/neckbreaker combo put him in charge for a near-fall. ACH tries to block a suplex, and instead goes for more chops before YOH’s rope-based trickery put ACH in the ropes for an apron superkick.

Flying back in from the apron with a crossbody, ACH just about rolled through and plants YOH with a death valley driver for a near-fall, but it seemed to have an effect on ACH’s shoulder… something which YOH capitalised on with a leaping knee to the body part ahead of a Final Cut for a near-fall. YOH avoids the springboard overhead kick in the corner to put ACH down, but he ends up crashing and burning as ACH gets his knees up to stop the senton bomb.

ACH fires up from there, tearing off his shoulder tape, but YOH catches him with a superplex, rolling him through into a Falcon arrow for a not-quite-deal-making near-fall. Some more chops from ACH eventually get blocked as YOH sprung back in with an enziguiri, only to run into a rolling elbow… which sent him careering outside, as his cat-skinning eventually backfired with him running into a lariat. From there, a step-up knee in the corner and the Big Bang Attack! is enough for ACH to claim victory. Another decent match, with SHO coming across well but ultimately still a step below the more experienced ACH. ***

Best of the Super Junior 25, Block A: Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. Taiji Ishimori
In their ten prior singles outings, Kanemaru has yet to lose… it’s like WALTER/Starr, except it’s been going for 12 years, and before this, it was exclusive to NOAH.

In a change to our advertised schedule, it was Ishimori who jumped the Suzuki-gun man at the bell, before out-pacing him in the ropes and scoring with the springboard seated splash as Ishimori looked to break his Kanemaru-shaped duck. A neck twist helped him along, but a handspring in the ropes is quickly aborted with a baseball slide dropkick as Kanemaru took over.

They end up on the floor, where Ishimori is quickly thrown into the crowd for our first count-out tease… but Ishimori comfortably beats the count. So we’re back outside as Kanemaru just DDT’s him off the apron like it’s an everyday thing. It nearly puts away Ishimori, as he narrowly beats the count this time, returning into another barrage of offence including a back suplex and a camel clutch. An attempted comeback’s squashed when Kanemaru avoids a dropkick, but he can’t get out of the way of a handspring enziguiri as he rolled outside for cover… and ends up in the path of a Golden Triangle moonsault from the new Bone Soldier! Back inside, the baseball slide German suplex is next, as was a running knee, but it’s nowhere near enough to put away Kanemaru.

Kanemaru’s right back in with a satellite DDT as he countered Ishimori’s headscissors, before getting caught on the top rope, only to come down with a flying DDT and a scooping reverse DDT for a near-fall of his own. A tombstone gutbuster from Ishimori swings it back in for a near-fall, but Kanemaru’s right back in with an enziguiri before he’s pulled down into a crossface… which Ishimori rolls back into the middle of the ring before Kanemaru finally got to the ropes.

Ishimori looks to go for the Bloody Cross, but Kanemaru grabs the ref and knocked him to the outside – giving him plenty of time for a swig of whisky as he blinded Ishimori. A brainbuster can only get a near-fall, before the Deep Impact DDT’s countered with a lungblower on the way down. Another Bloody Cross is attempted, but Ishimori’s cradled, and that’s two roll-up losses in a row for him! I’m not crazy about the finish, particularly since I don’t feel like you should be building up Ishimori the way you did and then have him eat losses… but in the theoretical world of him winning this thing, I guess he’ll need potential challengers. Oh, and he still can’t beat Kanemaru, so there’s that. **½

Best of the Super Junior 25, Block A: BUSHI vs. Will Ospreay
With BUSHI being bottom of the group, this perhaps ought to be an easy one for Will Ospreay – who won their only prior singles match in November 2016 on the Rev Pro Global Wars double-header.

BUSHI jumped Ospreay during the introductions with a shotgun dropkick, and we’re instantly in with the shtick as he choked Ospreay with part of his own gear. An attempted fightback from Ospreay culminated in a monkey flip on the mat, before he sent BUSHI outside with a dropkick and… faked out dive! A ‘rana took BUSHI back outside, but he cuts off Ospreay with a gamengiri on the apron ahead of a lifting DDT onto the apron as both men ended up around ringside.

Ah look, BUSHI found a chair under the ring. He uses it, and the ref doesn’t care, as we’re back inside with BUSHI working over Ospreay’s neck, landing a neckbreaker and then some headscissors, before a snapmare and a low dropkick garnered him a near-fall. The STF continued BUSHI’s assault on the neck, before he just drapes Ospreay on the top rope for a missile dropkick right to the head.

A rear chinlock’s eventually fought out of, as Ospreay manages to hold on for a handspring enziguiri to take BUSHI down… but it had an effect on his neck again, as he’s barely up before BUSHI. He does manage to take him into the ropes for the over-the-top 619 and a springboard forearm, getting a near-fall, before the lifting reverse DDT was flipped out as BUSHI catches him with an overhead kick in the ropes. The Bush-a-roonie’s next after a missile dropkick, but Ospreay escapes a swinging Fisherman’s neckbreaker and instead lands another enziguiri, taking BUSHI to the outside for a Sasuke special! That’s eventually followed up with a suplex that dumped BUSHI onto the apron from the floor, before Ospreay took things back inside as he looked for the Storm Breaker…

BUSHI escaped and used the referee as a human shield so he could spray Ospreay – and then pin him with a bridging backslide… but Ospreay kicked out at two, then countered the MX with an enziguiri as there was still fight left in him. Having washed his face as best he could, Ospreay gets back to his feet and starts to trade chops with BUSHI, before blocking a running lungblower and instead dropping BUSHI with a hook kick and a lifting reverse DDT.

The diving corkscrew kick is next after BUSHI kicks out, but the OsCutter is countered with a back cracker in mid-air, as BUSHI returned fire with an enziguiri and a spiking Destroyer for another two-count as you sensed the end was nigh… and it was, as BUSHI hit the ropes and drops Ospreay with the MX for the massive upset! Mist shenanigans aside, this was easily the best of the four matches on tap here, and it keeps block A a little interesting as all of the favourites seem to be stumbling. ***¼

Block A:
Flip Gordon, Tiger Mask (3-1)
ACH, Taiji Ishimori, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Will Ospreay (2-2)
BUSHI, YOH (1-3)

Block B:
Dragon Lee (3-0)
El Desperado, SHO (2-1)
KUSHIDA, Chris Sabin, Marty Scurll, Ryusuke Taguchi, Hiromu Takahashi (1-2)

Not exactly a must-see show, but the results have made the block tighter – with two matches to go, we’re on the cusp of seeing eliminations, and I’ve a sneaky feeling that when block A returns to action in Tochigi on Tuesday, we may well see a surprise exit. Block B is in action today (Sunday, at time of writing) for another VOD-only show, with the crew staying in Aichi as Ryusuke Taguchi and Hiromu Takahashi headline the eighth day’s play.