Block A has its third round of matches as the burning question was posed: can Tiger Mask continue his good start to yet another Best of the Super Junior tournament?

After a day off, the tournament’s rolled into Yamagata for a pair of shows at the Yamagata Big Wing. It’s a brightly-lit venue, as we’ve still got Kevin Kelly and Caprice Coleman on the English call.

Suzuki-gun (DOUKI & Taichi) vs. Bandido & Yota Tsuji
DOUKI’s been a little divisive in this tour. While I wasn’t expecting him to pull up any proverbial trees, it seems there’s more than a handful of fans who don’t rate him. At all. Not even ironically.

Tsuji charges into Taichi at the bell as the Young Lion started hot with a leaping forearm and a shoulder tackle, but the match spills outside as the tables turn expectedly. Taichi posts Tsuji as there’s some double-teaming on the floor, before they proceeded to choke him with their boots in the corner. DOUKI comes in with a chinlock on Tsuji, but an eventual back body drop gets him free as a tag’s made to Bandido… who lifts himself into a torture rack for a slippy headscissor takedown. A backbreaker follows for a near-fall, before Bandido wrecks DOUKI with a dropkick in the ropes. Tags get us back to Taichi and Tsuji, with the latter getting worn down with kicks.

Tsuji’s bodyslam gets him a near-fall, before Bandido helps out en route to a powerslam for another two-count for the Young Lion. He then follows that with an attempt at a Boston crab, which DOUKI broke up… only to get taken outside for a tope suicida from Bandido. Meanwhile, back in the ring, Taichi catches Tsuji in the corner ahead of a single leg crab. Tsuji gets to the ropes, eventually, then fired back with a huge spear for a near-fall, but couldn’t avoid Taichi’s Axe Bomber as a Stretch Plum forced the submission. By the numbers, but a solid effort from Tsuji as he continues to rack up those Ls. **¾

Post-match, DOUKI and Bandido went at it again, with DOUKI successfully ripping off Bandido’s mask. For the fun of it.

Bullet Club (Robbie Eagles & Jado) vs. Bullet Club (El Phantasmo & Gedo)
The Bullet Club trio are 100% in Best of the Super Junior this year… but tomorrow that record has to go as Robbie Eagles takes on ELP in block B. Ah well.

That ELP entrance loses a fair bit in a fully-lit room, but perhaps its the darkness that causes him to flip off kids? Commentary posited before the match whether the Bullet Club really would fight itself, but Jado and Gedo threaten each other with a Kendo stick and brass knuckles, so I guess we’re getting this after all. There’s a handshake between Eagles and ELP before they lock-up and… get to the ropes. ELP rolls away from a cheapshot attempt, before they strip off their t-shirts and this is an ironic match, eh? Lucha cartwheels and roll throughs, along with half-hearted (from some) shoving eventually give way as the pair sweep legs and go for pinning attempts en route to… double ducks.

They fake out each other a few times then too sweet… before simultaneous eye rakes led to them tagging out. A whole lot of nothing, but in a good way, as we now get the World Class Tag Team turning on themselves. Yamagata woke up for that! Gedo and Jado eventually shake hands, but it’s Jado who starts the offence with chops before Robbie Eagles came in and had his eyes raked. Phantasmo interferes with an elbow to the head in the corner before he tagged back in and hung up Eagles in the corner ahead of… standing on Robbie’s Eagles. Oof. Gedo’s in with a camel clutch on Eagles, throwing in an eye rake as Jado had the ref inadvertently distracted, before Phantasmo returned for an attempt at the whirlibird neckbreaker.

Eagles escapes and kicks out ELP’s legs ahead of a diving elbow to the back of the head, before Jado came in to clothesline everyone. Jado redirects a kick from ELP to Gedo before Phantasmo “too sweets” him in the eyes. Jado comes back with a hanging DDT off the middle rope that nearly led to the win, before Gedo distracts Jado by hijacking his Kendo stick… Robbie Eagles gives chase, and ELP rolls up Jado for the win. This was an easy watch, but is likely to be a real Marmite match for some. **½

YOH, Rocky Romero & Shota Umino vs. Will Ospreay, Juice Robinson & Ren Narita
We’re back to the matches that’ll be a little more outwardly-competitive here, and, yeah, we get the Time’s Up video as Juice Robinson’s in the aisle. It really doesn’t work in the brightly-lit room.

Rocky and Narita start us off, trading wristlocks and holds, but there’s little advantage as the pair up the ante, throwing forearms at each other before Rocky shoots Narita into the ropes… and gets taken down with a forearm. Narita teases the overhead belly-to-belly, but instead ends up having to deal with YOH, who grounds him with some figure four headscissors until we got the rope break. Shota Umino comes in next to keep up on Narita, who was starting to struggle to get any kind of foothold in. Eventually a dropkick catches YOH in the chest as Narita’s able to tag out to Ospreay, who scores with a handspring enziguiri before he went after Rocky with the over-the-top 619 on the apron.

A springboard forearm brings Ospreay back in for YOH for a near-fall, but a Falcon Arrow by YOH sees him turn it around for a near-fall. YOH and Ospreay swap full nelsons before Will kicks him out of the ring… then back in the head after YOH skinned the cat. It’s not enough though, as YOH bridges up out of a pin and lands a kick of his own as both CHAOS members were left laying. Juice tags himself in after Umino comes in… and Juice is almost made to tap instantly to a cross armbreaker as commentary wondered whether an early shot to Juice had had too much of an effect. Not to worry, Juice throws a chop after getting to the ropes, before he flapjacked Umino something fierce. A big lariat’s next for a near-fall, before Juice rolled Umino over for the elevated Boston crab… as he then left the ring and made a beeline to the back. Juice is clearly rattled by this Death Rider video… ***

Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI & Tetsuya Naito) vs. Ryusuke Taguchi & Toa Henare
We’ve got BUSHI vs. Taguchi tomorrow, and BUSHI’s in no mood for Taguchi spinning around with his arse… but a quick sunset flip’s countered with a low dropkick as Taguchi tags himself out.

Henare’s in to take a rugby ball and charge at BUSHI in the corner, before an attempt to whip BUSHI into Taguchi’s arse went awry as Naito came in and whipped Henare into it instead. There’s a nice shot of Taguchi despairingly reaching for his rugby ball on the outside as he was left laying, while Naito just stomps away on Henare in the ring. Naito pulls Henare to the mat in a modified legscissors, before BUSHI returns and heads up for a missile dropkick. Henare manages to get up and tag in Taguchi, who goes hip attack crazy to BUSHI and Naito in the ropes, following up with Three Amigos on BUSHI for another near-fall. Another hip attack gets countered with an atomic drop as Naito tagged back in, but Taguchi avoids Combinacion Cabron and comes back with a springboard arse.

A tag brings Henare back in, but despite landing a leaping shoulder tackle to Naito, he’s quickly back on the defensive as Naito fights out of a suplex. A missed neckbreaker’s turned into a tornado DDT… which Henare blocks and turns into a suplex, ahead of a spear takedown for a near-fall. From there, BUSHI and Taguchi run in, but a swinging neckbreaker from BUSHI gets rid of Taguchi, allowing LIJ to double-team Henare, leading to an inevitable Destino for Henare. By the numbers, but let’s be honest, none of these undercard tags have done that much to build up individual block matches – there’s just too much on this tour! **¾

Best of the Super Junior 26, Block A: TAKA Michinoku vs. SHO
Taichi’s out with TAKA, because of course he is… and if you think he’s just doing japanese commentary, did you not watch on Thursday??

Both these men are 0-2 coming in, and with SHO’s first two matches being draining… could this be easy pickings for TAKA? SHO’s got his ear taped up after his cauliflowered ear bled on Thursday, while his right elbow was also bandaged after an awkward spill from a tope suicida.

The early going is a little muted, with SHO looking for a wristlock on TAKA, but it was TAKA who got the early offence, working over SHO’s injured arm, going for an armbar by the ropes… and again… before SHO fought back with a suplex. That right arm’s causing major issues for SHO, so he comes in with a spear for a quick two-count instead, before he hauled up TAKA for a German suplex attempt… only for TAKA to slip free and take him down into a Bully choke. Again, by the ropes. TAKA spams the Bully Choke again, as I wonder if he’s playing Fire Pro and only knows two moves, as yet again, SHO makes the ropes. SHO’s back with rolling Germans, only for TAKA to flip out of the third one before he ran into a lariat. From there, TAKA slips out of a Shock Arrow and rolls up SHO for a near-fall, then goes to a La Magistral, then a Bully Choke before SHO dragged himself to that bottom rope.

Elbows from SHO see him mount some offence, but again TAKA trips him back into that choke, turning it into a grounded strait-jacket submission to force SHO to use his feet to get to the ropes. SHO goes for TAKA’s arm as he looked to spam the same hold, before a back cracker took TAKA into a cross armbreaker, only for the veteran to rebound with a superkick for another near-fall. SHO fought back with a series of lariats, folding TAKA in half with a third one for a near-fall, before planting TAKA with a Shock Arrow for the win. Well, SHO had to battle an annoying attack that consisted of those Bully Chokes and seemingly little else as TAKA went for the taped-up arm, but in the end SHO’s variety got him the win… and finally on the board too. But is the constant damage to the arm going to hinder him later down the tournament? ***

Best of the Super Junior 26, Block A: Marty Scurll vs. Tiger Mask
Tiger Mask always seems to start BOSJs well… and we always seem to get caught out by this.

There’s a handshake offer at the bell, which Marty accepts, before taking Tiger Mask into the ropes for a clean break. Wristlock exchanges follow, before headlock takedowns and escapes led to a stand-off. Marty stomps on Tiger’s hand, but the finger snapping’s stopped by the veteran, who negotiated peace there before Marty just came in and snapped the fingers anyway. Scurll keeps up on Tiger’s hand, stomping the elbow into the mat as they headed outside as Marty maintained the target, wrapping Tiger’s hand around the turnbuckle steels. Scurll misses a chop by the post, before Tiger Mask’s retaliatory kick sees him taste the post too, and for some reason the referee begins to count out Tiger Mask – continuing the count despite Brody King distracting him – as we had Tiger narrowly making it back in in time. HMM…

Marty teases a chicken wing, but Tiger Mask rolls him up for a near-fall before going to a knee bar. There’s a rope break there, before Scurll sat down on a sunset flip for a near-fall. A Just Kidding superkick has Tiger Mask down, as does a clothesline, before Marty goes right back to the fingers. That’s overcome as Tiger Mask manages to land a tombstone and a Tiger Driver for a near-fall, before he heads up for an avalanche butterfly suplex… but Marty kicked out just before the three count. Tiger goes to a Kimura, then a trapped-arm armbar on the mat before Marty spun into the ropes for a break. A Tiger suplex is teased, but Marty floats out into a chicken wing, which is rolled out of for a near-fall before Tiger Mask comes back with a backslide for a near-fall… only for Marty to end it in a heartbeat with the Black Plague. Some good stuff here as we didn’t have yet-another knee match for Tiger, but you get the sense that this loss may mean his strong start will be coming to an end sooner than usual. ***¼

Best of the Super Junior 26, Block A: Taiji Ishimori vs. Titan
Commentary played up how Ishimori was banged up in his match with Marty Scurll earlier in the tour – with the slipped tombstone being one of the big spots they referred to.

This is a first time singles match, with Ishimori and Titan only having been on opposite sides of tags during Fantasticamania and Power Struggle tours in the past. They start with Ishimori working over the wrist, only for Titan to get free and take him outside with headscissors… where the Bone Soldier ducks under a baseball slide before he pulled Titan down mid-jump to the floor. Ishimori keeps the brawl on the outside, throwing Titan into the timekeeper’s table before returning to the ring, where he loosened up Titan’s mask in the corner. There’s more mask work as Ishimori tried to slip it off, before instead choking him on the mat, ahead of a grounded abdominal stretch as he kept the pace down.

Chops take Titan into the corner, but he replies with a through-the-ropes clothesline, a springboard crossbody and a dropkick to take Ishimori outside, where he followed through with a tiltawhirl backbreaker on the floor. Kicks to the back follow, before they returned to the ring as Titan dropped Ishimori for a moonsault that landed in Ishimori’s boots. Taiji responds with the baseball slide German for a near-fall, but Titan responds with a cross armbreaker… which Ishimori counters out of with a buckle bomb. Titan’s back with the Titanic, before an attempt to roll him up for the Immortal is rolled through as Ishimori countered back with a lariat ahead of the Bloody Cross for the win. A little underwhelming if you were expecting to see high flying, but given how rattled Ishimori got on Wednesday, this was on the cards… and truth be told this was a really good match when you considered what they had to work around. ***¾

Best of the Super Junior 26, Block A: Jonathan Gresham vs. Dragon Lee
With Dragon Lee having stuttered out of the gates, could this be an opportunity for a huge upset for Gresham here?

They start off rather pacey, looking for a waistlock, with Gresham taking Dragon Lee into the corner for a missed chop. Instead, Gresham has to make do with a float over before he kicks away Lee’s arm and followed up with an armdrag as the Octopus clearly found his preferred body part. From a hammerlock, Dragon Lee gets suplexed as Gresham torqued away on that left arm, following up with a short to the bicep before a double wristlock attempt was kept on, despite Dragon Lee trying to slam his way free. Dragon Lee snaps back to end a fluid series of armdrags with a STO, before taking Gresham into the corner for a Shibata-ish dropkick… giving him plenty of time to wince and grab the elbow afterwards.

It’s way too soon to go for Desnucadora, but Dragon Lee tries anyway… and has his arm worked over by Gresham, who again goes to the wrist. Lee breaks a wrist clutch by kicking Gresham in the quad, sending him down to the mat, but Gresham’s right back with a knee drop to the left arm ahead of a flash crucifix pin for a near-fall. It’s a methodical line of attack, but at least Gresham’s switching up his offence in doing so. Gresham keeps up on the arm by going for an Octopus, but Lee rolls out for a near-fall before he hoists him Gresham for a powerbomb, then a running knee for a quick two-count. Another crucifix-style pin nearly nicks it for Gresham, who was looking sublime as always, before Dragon Lee stopped the flurry with some more diving knees, finishing off with Desnucadora for the win. That was a lot shorter than I expected, but I really enjoyed the story of Jonathan Gresham trying to out-wrestle the champion, only to get stopped by two really big knees. ***¾

Best of the Super Junior 26, Block A: Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. Shingo Takagi
This being the main event certainly sets up for a huge upset – and with Taichi still at ringside, expect shenanigans as Yoshinobu Kanemaru looks to end Takagi’s unbeaten singles record.

Kanemaru goes to the well early, pulling at Shingo’s hair to avoid him heading into the ropes as a battle of big boots and shoulder tackles went Takagi’s way. They head outside, where Kanemaru drops Shingo knee first through the timekeeper’s table, which actually gave way! Those things are usually cast iron… Back in the ring, Kanemaru keeps up on Shingo’s knee, as we again see another big name seemingly showing signs of wear and tear, breaking down early in this tournament. It’s perhaps the only way anyone’ll be able to beat Shingo, you feel…

A leg grapevine from Kanemaru has Shingo in pain, as does a Lasso from El Paso, before he wraps Shingo’s legs around the ring post. Kanemaru distracts the ref with a bottle of whiskey, sliding it into the ring so he could whack Shingo’s legs with a chair, following up with a figure four leglock in the aisle as he tried to force a count-out, but Shingo gets back in the nick of time. Back inside, Shingo manages to dump Kanemaru with a suplex as he began to force his way back into the match – dodgy wheel and all. A mule kick from Kanemaru takes out Shingo’s leg ahead of a satellite DDT as we cross the ten minute mark, with Shingo spiking Kanemaru with a big pop up death valley driver.

A clothesline from Shingo is countered as Kanemaru hits a low dropkick again, going back to a Figure Four as he tries to force a submission. When we get a rope break, Kanemaru whips Shingo into the corner, adding more to the bad wheel ahead of a Deep Impact DDT that’s caught and turned into a Northern Lights suplex with ease. Takagi comes back with elbows and a double-chop to the chest before Kanemaru pulled the ref into his path, giving him time to go back to the knee. Shingo pushes away a Figure Four, sending Kanemaru into the ref… and there’s the cue for Taichi to come in with a chair. The ref’s quickly back up to stop him, but he’s shoved down as Shingo ends up blocking the whiskey mist with the chair! He returns the favour with the whiskey mist, this time landing, before Noshigami lands… then a Pumping Bomber… but Kanemaru kicks out!

With the Young Lions again restraining Taichi, all that’s left is for Shingo to haul up Kanemaru for the Last of the Dragons, and that’s all folks! I The story of Kanemaru repeatedly going for the knee from the off was great, and I guess we’re in for Taichi run ins throughout… but this all made sense in the story of “everyone is trying to be THE ONE to end Takagi’s run”. Excellent. ****

Block A’s a third of the way done, and here’s how we stand…

Block A Standings:
Taiji Ishimori, Shingo Takagi (3-0; 6pts)
Dragon Lee, Tiger Mask, Marty Scurll (2-1; 4pts)
Jonathan Gresham, SHO, Titan (1-2; 2pts)
Yoshinobu Kanemaru, TAKA Michinoku (0-3; 0pts)

Block B Standings:
Robbie Eagles, Will Ospreay, El Phantasmo, Ryusuke Taguchi (2-0; 4pts)
DOUKI, YOH (1-1; 2pts)
Bandido, BUSHI, Ren Narita, Rocky Romero (0-2; 0pts)

Another day, another really good card of wrestling – but we’re still short on killer, universally-loved matches on this tour. I had high hopes for Dragon Lee vs. Jonathan Gresham, and while it wasn’t bad, it felt way too short… but still, at least those matches tend to be repeated in full down the road. The developing injuries to Shingo, Dragon Lee and SHO are telling. It’ll be interesting to see who breaks down first, and who’ll remain the iron man… and indeed, how much that plays into the eventual final.