After fourteen nights of block action, the 26th Best of the Super Junior tournament boiled down to an undefeated dragon and an aerial assassin.

From Tokyo’s Ryogoku Kokugikan – Sumo Hall – we’re joined on commentary with the alliterative trio of Kevin Kelly, Chris Charlton and Gino Gambino.

Bandido, Jonathan Gresham & Ren Narita vs. Dragon Lee, Titan & Shota Umino
We open up with one of many undercard tags featuring folks eliminated from the tournament. Dragon Lee’s in here as a warm-up for his title defence at Dominion against the tournament winner.

Gresham and Umino gets us going, and Umino’s tricked early on by Gresham’s unorthodox offence. Tags take us to Titan and Bandido, who handspring and hand-walk around each other until Titan landed some headscissors. A cutter is Bandido’s response, as Titan found himself isolated and in the wrong corner, with Narita and Bandido working together on his arm.

Titan gets free and brings in Dragon Lee, who takes Bandido into the corner for the Shibata-ish dropkick, before an early attempt at Desnucadora was countered out of into an inverted torture rack GTS. The pace quickens there as a 21 Plex was aborted, but Bandido lands a fallaway moonsault slam, before tagging out to Narita, who put the boots back to Dragon Lee.

Narita helps out Bandido, holding Dragon Lee for a springboard 450, before Gresham’s shooting star press almost caused the mother of all upsets. The ring fills to break up the cover, and settles down with Umino and Dragon Lee double-teaming Narita, who took a suplex and a springboard splash from Titan for a near-fall, before a Parade of Moves broke out.

Titan catches his leg awkwardly on a springboard moonsault to the floor – as he got his leg caught in the barriers… meanwhile, Narita scores with an overhead belly to belly on Dragon Lee for a near-fall. Still, he couldn’t keep the grip, and that ultimately cost him as Dragon Lee comes back with a running knee, and that’s all. Not exactly a dominating performance, as Dragon Lee had a scare before winning this decent, if not a little janky, trios opener. ***¼

Bullet Club (Taiji Ishimori, El Phantasmo & Robbie Eagles) vs. Ryusuke Taguchi & Roppongi 3K (SHO & YOH)
They sorted out the El Phantasmo music, complete with a nice way to make ELP take the flak for it. Taiji Ishimori’s heavily bandaged up here, as we have the Bullet Club Junior Allstar team for this final night.

We’ve a jump start here, with Phantasmo going after Taguchi early on, smartly removing the scrum hat so he has a little less protection. He steals the rugby ball as we have a Canadian and an Aussie playing around before ELP punted the ball deep into the crowd.

Taguchi gets annoyed at that, and eventually lands a hip attack before Roppongi 3K came in to help triple-team Phantasmo. All while commentary hinted at more dissension with ELP and Eagles… Phantasmo stops it all with a thumb up the bum to Taguchi in the corner, but it seems Taguchi has a strong grip, as all three members of the Bullet Club needed to save Phantasmo and his stinky thumb.

That stinky thumb almost put Taguchi down for the count, before Phantasmo went rope-walking, kicking away at SHO and YOH in the process before landing a ‘rana. There’s also a dig at Liger in the process, which I’m hoping is for Royal Quest…

Eagles comes in to counter a hip attack with an atomic drop, but he can’t avoid a leaping hip attack as we end up with a tag out to YOH. Dropkicks ahoy keep the Bullet Club at bay, before SHO returned to play Hardy Boy as he crouched for a step-up elbow from YOH. There’s more double-teaming as a Dominator/neckbreaker combo drops Eagles, who manages to avoid the 3K.

SHO and Eagles trade shots for a spell, before a lariat dropped the Aussie. Eagles avoids Shock Arrow, then countered a kick into a Turbo Backpack for a near-fall, before ELP blind tagged himself in to snatch the win with a CR2. More unhappiness among Bullet Club, as ELP continues to be an arrogant so and so. Especially when he stole Roppongi 3K’s titles and gave one to Ishimori… ***

Then things snap, as Eagles complained that Bullet Club wasn’t a team before he walked off.

Tomohiro Ishii, Toru Yano, YOSHI-HASHI, Tiger Mask & Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki, Taichi, Zack Sabre Jr., Yoshinobu Kanemaru & DOUKI)
I do not want to imagine spinach flavoured curry, thank you very much.

We start with Liger and DOUKI, with the latter eating an early tiltawhirl backbreaker, then a Romero special before Kanemaru came in to break it up. Yano trips DOUKI in the ropes before holding him… but Kanemaru returns the favour as this quickly breaks down. DOUKI flies in with a Hiromu-like back senton off the top to break up the pile… and almost Liger’s shoulder, judging by the replay.

Back in the ring, DOUKI tries to unmask Liger, while Ishii and Taichi just brawl on the floor again. Liger and Suzuki square off with chops in the middle of the ring, before Suzuki worked in a key lock right by the ropes. Liger misses a Shotei as he looked to fight back, before scoring with a clothesline as a tag brought us to Ishii and Taichi.

Yep. ALL the forearms. And the chops. Their flurry is short lived as we go to YOSHI-HASHI and Zack Sabre Jr, as I remember they were teasing something before the tour. Zack stops YOSHI with an armbar, focusing on the perma-injured shoulder, only for YOSHI-HASHI to suplex his way free. Sabre’s back with PKs, before he blocked a Fisherman suplex and went in with an upkick to the arm.

Headscissors took ZSJ into another armbar, forcing YOSHI-HASHI to walk forward… but into the wrong corner as DOUKI comes in. The ring fills, then cleared as YOSHI-HASHI escaped a Gory stretch from DOUKI… only to get caught with it out of the corner as DOUKI then slid forward into a backslide for a near-fall.

Tiger Mask and Kanemaru come in to break up a Suplex de la Luna as we had another Parade of Moves, complete with a low blow from Taichi to Ishii behind the ref’s back, before a Western Lariat from YOSHI-HASHI and Karma ended up putting DOUKI away for the pin. Decent enough, but ultimately a throwaway undercard tag that had a little bit of build for Taichi/Ishii on Sunday. ***

After the match, Suzuki-gun continue to needle away at things, with Suzuki and Liger scrapping, while Taichi leaves the scene, job done.

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, EVIL, SANADA & BUSHI) vs. Kota Ibushi, Togi Makabe, Tomoaki Honma & Toa Henare
After having to make do with undercard tags all tour long, Naito’s got another one… but at least he manages to face Kota Ibushi this time.

Those two start us off, with leapfrogs, drop down and armdrags on the way to a stand-off. There’s buffering (yay) as LIJ flood the ring to isolate Honma, who gets choked with a t-shirt by BUSHI, before SANADA came in to look for a TKO. Honma blocks it and lands a back elbow… then a Kokeshi as Chris Charlton learned about batting averages…

Makabe’s in to take SANADA into the corner for mounted punches, following up with a Northern Lights for a near-fall, but SANADA’s right back with a Paradise Lock attempt… which Makabe shoved out of at the last second. A swivelling lariat from Makabe takes both men down, before tags got us back to Ibushi and Naito.

A powerslam and a standing moonsault gets Ibushi a near-fall, but he’s frustrated the second time around as Naito instead looked for a Combinacion Cabron. That’s blocked, so Naito comes back with a spiking tornado DDT to Ibushi, who of course landed on his head. EVIL’s in next, but his thrust kick is caught… so he rakes the eyes before he got caught with a dropkick.

Henare’s in to take down EVIL with a suplex, before Honma came in to help with duelling Kokeshi. I thought those two were at odds over the love of Makabe? EVIL hits back with a clothesline to nearly put Henare away, while BUSHI’s tope suicida cleared the floor, allowing EVIL and SANADA to take the win with a Magic Killer. Buffering aside, this was pretty solid, but felt weirdly anticlimactic. ***

Villain Enterprises (Marty Scurll & Brody King) vs. Kazuchika Okada & Rocky Romero
Commentary pushes how Villain Enterprises are looking for a new member, as this was a curious way to build up Okada/Jericho on Sunday.

There’s buffering to start as Rocky looked to fire away on Brody King… it goes as well as you expect as the big man took him down, allowing for Marty to come in and work over him. King’s back to block a ‘rana, then take to the skies with a springboard double armdrag to wow the Sumo Hall crowd.

Brody baseball slides to the outside before he decked Rocky and Okada with forearms. Scurll takes over again back in the ring with a Romero special, pulling Rocky down for a near-fall, before a standing frog splash from Brody nearly put Romero away. Okada’s brought in to help turn things around, but Brody King’s back to neutralise the threat, taking Okada into the corner for a pair of kicks.

A German suplex from King nearly beats Okada, but Rocky’s back to make a save with some Forever lariats… only to run into a Black Hole Slam. King refocuses on Okada with a big piledriver, which almost puts Okada away. An Okada dropkick stops Brody in his tracks, ahead of a top rope elbow and the Rainmaker zoom out… which led to the Rainmaker and the win. Solid enough, with Okada showing he’s able to put away a big man… which should put him in good stead for Sunday. ***¼

The lights go out afterwards, and of course, it’s Jericho promo time. He calls himself the Painmaker, which is almost in Dad joke territory, and vows to kick his teeth down his throat on Sunday.

Jay White vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
We’ve a WrestleKingdom rematch, with the suggestion being that the winner of this is next in line for a IWGP title shot.

White jumps Tanahashi before the bell, throwing him outside so he couldn’t bask in the crowd’s reaction, taking the Ace outside and into the guard rails. In the ring, of course White focuses on Tanahashi’s healed elbow, before he lifted Tanahashi all the way down to the floor for a nasty landing.

From there, White charges Tanahashi from the ring apron to the guard rails, hammerlocking the arm to make sure the brunt of the blows went to that elbow. The ringpost is next for that elbow, as White looked to get the cheap countout win, before he stopped the referee from counting so he could go back to the arm, wrapping it around the guard rail. I have a feeling that may prove to be a fatal flaw…

Tanahashi rolls back in to beat the count, as White continued to take his shots at the Ace’s arm. A hammerlock’d Saito suplex drops Tanahashi for a two-count as this was beginning to feel rather squashy. Removing the sleeve on Tanahashi’s arm, White focuses the attacks even more… only for Tanahashi to make a comeback with elbows and uppercuts with his (relatively) “good” arm.

A Dragon Screw follows, before some back elbows knock White back down to the mat. He followed that up with a flip senton for a near-fall as we pass the ten minute mark. White counters a Slingblade and eventually lands a Flatliner before pulling Tanahashi into a deadlift German. The DV-DDT (death valley driver/DDT combo) gets White a near-fall, but he jams his knee on the landing, and looked to slow down the pace with a sleeperhold. Tanahashi gets free, but the bad elbow stops him ahead of a uranage for another near-fall from White.

Tanahashi comes back, blocking a Kiwi Krusher into a pair of Twist and Shout neckbreakers, before he’s quickly caught in a Fujiwara armbar as White dead-weighted him on the hattrick. More arm wrenching increases the pressure on Tanahashi, before the Ace finally got to the ropes as White continues to pile it on.

Tanahashi tries to fire back again with forearms, then with a Dragon screw, but the elbow’s giving out on him before he finally hit the whip. White tries to surprise him with a Blade Runner, but Tanahashi escapes with a pair of Slingblades. Gedo tries to get involved as Tanahashi went up for a High Fly Flow, but he’s knocked down as White capitalised and crotched Tanahashi on the top rope.

Pulling Tanahashi down, White looks for a Blade Runner, before Tanahashi countered back with a strait-jacket German suplex out of nothing for a near-fall. Gedo’s back with brass knuckles as Tanahashi went for a Dragon suplex… and as the referee tends to Gedo, he misses a low blow. Oh boy. Tanahashi returns the favour as he countered out of a Blade Runner, but can’t get the pin.

From the kick-out, Tanahashi’s back with a Dragon screw, before a Cloverleaf’s countered with a small package… and just like that, Jay White steals it. This was good, but it felt more like the story was “Tanahashi came back too soon” rather than “Jay White’s eclipsed him” at this point. Hey, does this mean Tanahashi’s going into another G1 injured? ****

IWGP United States Championship: Jon Moxley vs. Juice Robinson (c)
After weeks of videos, the new knife pervert arrives in New Japan – and it’s a big time debut for Jon Moxley for his first match since leaving WWE. Moxley comes in through the crowd, with music that you could well confuse as being Shieldy…

If you’re so inclined to look at these things, these two have had only one prior singles meeting – a dark match before an early NXT taping in 2012. Moxley won.

Juice Robinson revealed he’s shaved off his dreadlocks for this, and we start with Moxley throwing forearms for fun. Chops too, as the pair go tit-for-tat in the ropes, before a clothesline sends Juice outside for a big tope that sent Juice into Milano Collection AT on commentary row.

The fight continues around the Japanese and English teams, then into the crowd, where Moxley bites away on Juice’s eyebrow. They head into the aisleway, where Moxley teases a piledriver, only to get countered with a back body drop as Juice then headed above the entry way and leapt off with a senton that grazed Mox. On the floor, Juice throws some headbutts before he marches Moxley to the ring, but not before he Snake Eyes him on the entry gate. Oh, we’ve an Irish whip too, with Moxley getting thrown into the guard rails, before Juice looked for a cannonball… only to take the railings back-first as Moxley moved.

Finally back in the ring, the bloodied Juice has his knee taken out with a chop block, as Moxley followed up by wrapping his legs around the ring post. More biting continues to draw blood, as Moxley slowed down the pace with a single leg crab. Juice gets to the ropes and begins to fight back with some right hands as he clubbed away on Moxley in the corner, before a second cannonball… was aborted.

Moxley heads outside, but gets met with a plancha before Juice drops him on a barrier and clotheslines him off of it. Back inside, the Juice Box gutbuster dropped Moxley… but Juice took too long following up off the top rope, as Moxley popped up and shoved him to the floor. Plunder time follows, as Moxley pulls a table out from under the ring, along with a chair, which he uses on Juice’s back… and I don’t think we’re getting a DQ here.

Juice gets draped across the table, allowing Moxley to head onto the apron for a chair assisted Cactus Jack elbow that flipped Juice off of the table. He’s put back on it, but the table leg gives way… so Moxley just suplexes him through it. Great thinking on the fly, rather than fixating on the table.

Ripping off the ring apron to help, Juice barely gets back in before he’s dropped with an X-Plex by Moxley for another near-fall. We’re back into the ring post as Moxley wraps the legs, then goes for a ringpost Figure Four, as we cross the fifteen minute mark. Mox pulls Juice to the floor, then wraps a chair around his knee and threatened to Pillmanize him off the middle rope…

But the ref stops him and allowed Juice to get up, throwing the chair back into Moxley, before he staggered back into the ring. A lariat traps Moxley in the corner, but there’s an instant retort, as the pair went back to tit-for-tat strikes, with Moxley looking to open up Juice again with forearms. Dusty punches from Juice were caught, as he had to shove himself and Moxley to the outside to avoid a double-arm DDT.

A second table is drawn out and draped across the guard rails, but a Left Hand of God from Juice stops Moxley, who slumps across the table and gets plastered with a cannonball. The table didn’t break, so Juice sets it up again, powerbombing Moxley through the damn thing. Juice used another word to describe it…

Back in the ring again, Juice rolls Moxley into an elevated Boston crab, but Moxley gets out and comes back with a Cloverleaf! He drags Juice into the middle of the ring, only for Juice to roll free with an eye rake, before an attempt at Pulp Friction’s blocked. Moxley goes for a double-arm DDT, but a roll-up counters it for a near-fall, before they charge into each other with sweaty, bloody lariats.

The double-arm DDT finally lands, but Juice barely kicks out in time, before a second one spiked Juice… and we have a new champion! What a goddamned war this was, starting out hot and keeping the tempo throughout as Jon Moxley leaves Japan with the US title. None of the plunder felt forced, and considering we only really knew this match for a fortnight or so, this was a wonderfully heated match as Moxley made quite the statement on his first match “free”. Where Moxley-as-champion goes next remains to be seen… ****½

Best of the Super Junior 26, Final: Shingo Takagi vs. Will Ospreay
Is Shingo going to keep his unbeaten run alive, or will Will Ospreay slay the dragon?

Commentary makes a note of how Will Ospreay’s tournament’s been generally longer bell-to-bell, along with a couple of losses. Ospreay brought out a sword, which may be his biggest chance to win, some would say. Unless the ref catches him….

We’ve no time limit for this, and neither man shot out of the gates, instead, we had Ospreay taking Shingo into the ropes for a mockingly-clean break… which just earned a quizzical look from Shingo. A knuckle lock takes Ospreay to his knees, then back over Takagi’s knee as the feeling-out process quickly went to hell as the pace rocketed up, with Ospreay looking for early OsCutters before a missed buzzsaw kick finally has Shingo looking vulnerable.

Shingo looks for offence, but his “mocking” clean break broke out into a chop as the crowd booed his lack of sportsmanship. Ospreay returns the favour before taking Shingo outside with headscissors and a dropkick, but the follow-up dive is faked out as Ospreay handsprings… and then gets a bottle of water thrown at him from Takagi on the floor. More boos.

Back inside, Ospreay stays on Shingo with strikes, taking him outside for a slingshot plancha, before Shingo reversed an Irish whip, forcing Ospreay to leap into the crowd before Shingo caught a springboard attempt and dropped him onto the edge of the apron. Shingo teases a death valley driver on the apron, but Ospreay wriggled free and looked for a dropkick… only to get knocked down as Shingo flew in with a tope con giro that hung him up in the barriers after the impact. Oooft.

Some running knees and a shoulder tackle back inside bounces Ospreay to the mat. A forearm smash keeps him there, before a huge back body drop launched Ospreay again, as this was threatening to become easy work for Takagi. An axe kick out of the corner catches Shingo, who responds quickly with a pop-up death valley driver in the middle of the ring for a near-fall.

A series of chops sees Ospreay pop up after taking a double-handed chop, before he confounded Shingo with a handspring enziguiri following some misdirection. That’s followed up with a kick and an over-the-top 619, before he tripped Takagi into the corner for a Shibata-ish dropkick. A standing shooting star press gets a near-fall before Ospreay takes Shingo outside for a Sasuke special, further putting Shingo in trouble.

Returning again, a springboard forearm drops Takagi for a near-fall, before an attempt at Storm Breaker’s countered out of with a back body drop. A rear spin kick catches Shingo unawares, before he elbowed and punches out Ospreay. After spinning Ospreay to the mat, Shingo lands a sliding lariat for a near-fall, before taking his time to lift him up for a Noshigami… but Ospreay counters out with a Code Red for a near-fall before a step-up enziguiri and a Stundog Millionaire had Shingo down again.

A Yakuza kick traps Shingo in the corner ahead of a Cheeky Nando’s. Ospreay tries to follow that up with an avalanche Storm Breaker, but Shingo headbutts him down to the apron… from where he tried to return with a springboard, only to get caught and brought down with an avalanche death valley driver! Ospreay kicks out at two from that, before he went for a handspring… which is caught. He slips out, but ends up seeing an Oscutter get caught and turned into a Noshigami as the pace raced up again.

Shingo looks for a Pumping Bomber, but Ospreay flips out into a Ligerbomb for a near-fall after dumping Takagi high on his neck. The Robinson special misses as Ospreay’s put himself down on the mat, before he’s slingshotted into a wheelbarrow suplex right into the corner. Ow. We’re back on the apron as Shingo teases Noshigami, only to get stopped with a hook kick as an OsCutter off the buckles dropped Shingo onto the apron!

That led to a count-out tease, which Shingo answered… only for Will to crash into him with a springboard dropkick straight away as we cross the 25 minute mark. An imploding 630 to the back of Takagi followed, ahead of a shooting star press, but it’s not enough! We’re back to the Robinson special, then an OsCutter… but Shingo powered out just in time to keep his streak alive!

Ospreay looks to finish this with a Storm Breaker, but Shingo blocks it and tries to fight back with snapping jabs. A series of kicks from Ospreay stops that, before a headbutt from Shingo took both men to the mat once more, but Shingo powers back with left-right elbows… only for a hook kick to drop him as Ospreay found his reserves. A Storm Breaker’s stopped as Shingo rudely spikes Ospreay with pumphandle driver for a near-fall… and how the hell is this thirty minutes?! A Pumping Bomber’s next, then another, as Ospreay flips inside out… yet still finds reserves to kick out at two. Shingo gets up for Last of the Dragons, but Ospreay wriggles out and slips as Shingo’s spiked with a reverse ‘rana. Yuck.

Lariats from Shingo bounce Ospreay off the ropes, before he’s caught with a one man Spanish Fly for a near-fall! A ripcord hook kick followed, as Ospreay teases the Hidden Blade… and delivers, leaving Shingo in a heap. He waits for Shingo to get up as a double-jump OsCutter out of the corner dropped him, ahead of a Storm Breaker… and that’s the shocking loss for Shingo Takagi. He ran the block, but couldn’t get past Will Ospreay as the Englishman went through with his promise to slay the dragon to win his second Best of the Super Junior. *****

After the match, Ospreay’s victory speech saw him call himself the next generation – referring to an old Tanahashi t-shirt – as he said that he was looking to create a future for the next next generation. He mentioned that there were people missing like Hiromu Takahashi (whom he called out down the line again), before making an announcement… he’s moving to Japan full-time so he can carry New Japan into the future, wrestling juniors and heavyweights.

On paper, this was a three match show – and it would have been so easy to just deliver the hattrick there. Instead, just about everything delivered, from the usually dismissable undercard, keeping things simmering nicely for the headline trio. The tournament final was one for the ages, and if you only have time for one match, well, that’s a no brainer.

Get. This. Watched. Preferably before Sunday, because that Dragon Lee vs. Will Ospreay title match is going to be amazing.