The identity of Shingo Takagi’s opponent in Wednesday’s final was discovered, as the block stages of this year’s Best of the Super Junior wrapped up in Okayama.

We’re coming from the ZIP Arena in Okayama, with Kevin Kelly and Gino Gambino on commentary. I just realised, there’s a LOT of alliterative commentators in this company. KK, GG, CC, RR…

SHO & Jonathan Gresham vs. Tiger Mask & Yuya Uemura
We’ve a change to the card as a shoulder injury for Taiji Ishimori means he’s off the card – instead our six man turns into a regular tag, without Bullet Club.

Uemura and Gresham start us off, with Gresham cartwheeling out of a headlock before he tried to jack out the knee of Uemura. It worked. SHO’s in next, to stomp away on Uemura, before Gresham returned to trick Uemura into a leapfrog that just jarred the knee. Not to worry, Uemura lands a dropkick anyway before tagging out to Tiger Mask, who sails in off the top with a crossbody before catching Gresham with kicks and a knee for a two-count.

A crucifix from Tiger Mask nearly leads to the win as the ring fills, then empties, before Gresham’s stunner and enziguiri combo finds its mark. Tiger Mask cracks back with a Tiger Driver, but can’t make a cover as Uemura wants in. He gets the tag and lays into SHO with forearms, before a back elbow dropped Uemura… who caught a kick before scoring with a shoulder tackle.

Uemura keeps up with a running dropkick and an elbow for a two-count, before he teased a capture suplex on SHO… but the grip’s broken and turned into a high takedown into a single crab. With Gresham holding Tiger Mask in the corner, it’s down to Uemura to fight free before the veteran broke past Gresham and kicked the hold apart.

A wheelbarrow roll-up nearly gets Uemura the upset, as does a backslide, but he ends up running into a clothesline before a back suplex lumbar check drew a near-fall. Uemura’s not done yet! He fights through a Boston crab, but as soon as SHO pulls him away from the ropes Uemura taps out. Some wonderful fight from the Young Lion, but in the end it just wasn’t to be. A hell of an opener. ***

Villain Enterprises (Marty Scurll & Brody King) vs. Juice Robinson & Toa Henare
On Wednesday, Juice faces Jon Moxley for the US title… so this ought to be a decent warm-up.

There’s some trash talking from Marty before the bell, as Juice started out by grabbing a wristlock before Marty got free and realised that shoulder tackles weren’t gonna work. Cue Juice doing the chicken dance as he scored with a shoulder tackle, before tags got us to King and Henare, who trade chops.

Points for you if you thought Brody wasn’t going to budge for the Kiwi.

Extra points if you predicted Brody would send Henare flying with a shoulder tackle or two.
Scurll took over from there, slingshotting Henare into the bottom rope, as he found himself isolated for way too long. An assisted splash gets Scurll a near-fall, before he called for a brainbuster… only for Henare to reverse it. Brody and Juice come in to trade shots, before Juice looked to slip in Pulp Friction… it’s blocked, so he goes for an O’Connor Roll, only for Brody to surprise him with a ‘rana.

Juice gets caught with a cannonball/619 from Brody and Marty for a near-fall, but they slip up as Brody’s left open for Juice’s Left Hand of God and a Pulp Friction as the US champion heads to Ryogoku with some momentum. This was pretty decent, and about as good as you’ll get to build to a match without both men being involved. ***¼

Tomohiro Ishii & Shota Umino vs. Suzuki-gun (Taichi & Yoshinobu Kanemaru)
We’re still building to Ishii vs. Taichi and we start with some buffering!

Umino and Kanemaru get us going, but Shota goes straight for Taichi, which just delays the jump start and double-team. Of course, all four men head into the crowd, with Taichi cracking Ishii in the head with a chair while the referee was otherwise occupied with his own health. Kanemaru and Umino have similar woes, but they return to the ring as Taichi began to choke Ishii with the timekeeper’s microphone.

Things eventually settle down as Umino seemed to be on fumes already, but he’s able to take away Kanemaru with a back body drop. Briefly, at least. Umino finally gets in a dropkick before he teases a tag… with Tomohiro Ishii coming into play! Chops and forearms see him whale away on Taichi, popping a lot of those trousers off in the process. Taichi lands a series of kicks for a near-fall, before ripping off the trousers…

Ishii swats away an enziguiri then gets punted low as Taichi shoved away the ref. A German suplex helps Ishii get back into it… but Umino begs to get tagged back in, and gets obliged as he runs into Kanemaru with a forearm. Umino comes close with a spinebuster before Taichi tries to stomp away a cross armbreaker. Ishii deals with Taichi as Kanemaru made a comeback with a low dropkick on Umino, following up with a scooping reverse DDT for a near-fall, before Deep Impact got the win. Decent stuff, but they were really toeing that line with being too full of shenanigans for my liking here. The (relatively) hot crowd in Okayama is certainly raising this undercard. ***

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Shingo Takagi & Tetsuya Naito) vs. Dragon Lee & Titan
A potential tease for Dominion here, as the winner of block A takes on the current reigning junior champion as part of this undercard tag.

Those two start with a lock-up as Shingo showed some early weakness, missing a back senton before scoring with a shoulder tackle. A flying ‘rana from Dragon Lee sends him outside before he tranquilo’d, which riled up Shingo somewhat. I buffer a little and come back to Naito catching Titan with a low dropkick before he went for the mask… all while Dragon Lee and Shingo were recuperating.

Naito nearly got the mask off before he tagged Shingo back in to drop Titan over the top rope. A double armbar stretch keeps Titan at bay, before Naito came in and again went for that mask. Titan counters with a big boot out of the corner before a missile dropkick left Naito laying… and now a tag to Dragon Lee followed as Desnucadora was teased.

Instead, Naito got free and cornered him for Combinacion Cabron, before tags got us back to Titan and Shingo. Titan Matrix’s away from a Pumping Bomber, then hit a nice springboard frog splash for a near-fall, before he looked to make Shingo tap to the Immortal. Naito breaks that up and hands off Titan for a Pumping Bomber to the back… then to the front, sending him flipping for a near-fall.

All that was left was for Shingo to hit Last of the Dragon… and that’s it. A little slow to get going, and we end with Titan having his mask ripped off by Shingo. Well, he’s learned from the master. ***

Post-match, Naito wears Titan’s mask… then flung it into the crowd before doing the same with Dragon Lee’s mask.

Best of the Super Junior 26, Block B: BUSHI vs. Ren Narita
Banana skin incoming??

Narita tries to work over BUSHI in the early going, but a chop battle took him down before some boot chokes in the corner followed. BUSHI takes Narita down in a camel clutch, but relinquishes so he can stomp on him some more, before some more kicks from BUSHI left him down.

A suplex out of nowhere got Narita a near-fall, before a Boston crab forces BUSHI to crawl to the ropes for a break. Back-and-forth forearms ensue, as do paintbrushing slaps, which sent Narita down ahead of a Boston crab from BUSHI, but Narita got to the ropes before he nearly shocked BUSHI with a backslide. BUSHI’s back with a dropkick and a swinging neckbreaker for a two-count, before MX completed the rather elementary win. Narita was never at the races, and any hopes of an upset were dashed in pretty short order. **¾

Best of the Super Junior 26, Block B: Bandido vs. Rocky Romero
We start with some gamesmanship as Bandido threatened to work over Rocky’s injured leg… before backing off and shaking his hand.

From there they go to a monkey flip as Rocky and Bandido looked to force a pin, but they both instead bridge up before Bandido proceeded to use a shoulder tackle and almost a Stretch Plum to keep Romero down. Rocky tries to surprise Bandido, rolling him through into a cross armbreaker, but they end up in the ropes for a quick break. Off the top rope, Rocky drops a knee to Bandido’s elbow and arm, but he can’t follow up with some Forever lariats, instead getting taken down with a low dropkick. More headscissors take down Rocky, as Bandido looked to be easing into a lead, following through with a diving knee as Rocky was on all fours for a near-fall.

Rocky manages to make a comeback with a leaping knee to avoid a 21 Plex, before a Forever lariat took Bandido down. A running Shiranui’s next for a near-fall, before some back-and-forth strikes led to Rocky getting taken out again with a low shot to the leg. Another clothesline from Bandido’s countered with another roll through into a cross armbar, but he powers out and GTS’s his way free.

Some headscissors from Rocky look to catch Bandido in a guillotine, but it’s countered into a knee breaker before a Spanish fly nearly puts Rocky away. After that, the torture rack GTS connects, sending Rocky staggering into the ropes as the 21 Plex followed for the win. This was pretty much by the numbers to start, but got pretty decent eventually. ***¼

Best of the Super Junior 26, Block B: Robbie Eagles vs. YOH
Commentary is still pushing that Eagles is solid within Bullet Club, and we start with he and YOH working over wristlocks.

YOH looks for an early cross armbreaker, but it ends in the ropes, before he faked out a dive on Eagles, eventually following through with a cannonball off the apron a la liger. The pair brawl around ringside, with YOH eventually rolling Eagles back in before he got caught with some shots to the leg. That springboard low dropkick surprises YOH en route to a near-fall, as the Australian began to work away on that knee.

The pair look to swap suplexes, but it’s YOH who gets his off, before a series of back elbows had Eagles on the defensive. Eagles snaps back in with a roll-up for a near-fall, before he trapped YOH in a Ron Miller special, forcing the junior tag champion into the ropes. YOH catches a kick and counters with a Dragon screw, but Eagles quickly turns it back around as he took YOH into the corner for the running double knees.

A Turbo Backpack follows, snapping YOH down for a near-fall. Some more kicks follow, before YOH blocks one and looked for a Dragon suplex, eventually settling for a ragdolling German suplex that almost put Eagles away. Eagles rolls out of a Dragon suplex but can’t avoid an uppercut, or an enziguiri, before he landed one of his own…

…which has YOH skinning the cat before he surprises Eagles with a perfectly bridged Dragon suplex, and that’s enough for the win. Well, if you had a convoluted plan that involved Eagles winning and a no contest in the main event, this blew it away. Which perhaps means ELP may be facing a banana skin next. As for this, well, for a lame duck match, this was pretty good with YOH perhaps claiming bragging rights in his team. ***½

Best of the Super Junior 26, Block B: DOUKI vs. El Phantasmo
I smell another banana skin here – although Taichi’s given up on joining the commentary team to help, so who knows?

We’ve a jump start amid ELP’s muted theme as DOUKI takes him outside… and waffles him with a chair before the bell. Phantasmo gets a receipt, swatting away a DOUKI tope with a chairshot, and now we get going. There’s another chairshot after the bell, but the ref doesn’t call it as Phantasmo realises that the chair he wanted to sit DOUKI in fell flat.

When he couldn’t find another chair… he just leaps off the apron into DOUKI. Standard.

Some t-shirt choking followed, before they returned to the ring as DOUKI got thrown into the corner. A Tree of Woe’s next as ELP ran and stepped up into DOUKI’s groin. After he swung and missed a clothesline at DOUKI, ELP’s sent outside for a tope suicida, before he played keepaway with DOUKI… and found himself into the path of a top rope back senton a la Hiromu!

Back inside, a running double stomp rocks Phantasmo for a near-fall, before ELP stopped himself going into the corner, and came back with a springboard crossbody. His Quebrada lands him into DOUKI’s neck tie… which is quickly escaped. DOUKI slips out of the whirlibird neckbreaker before coming in with a springboard DDT for a near-fall.

Phantasmo’s back, catching DOUKI with a step-up enziguiri on the top rope, before a flying ‘rana went awry with DOUKI crashing down onto the apron. Oof. After that, Phantasmo rolled him back in and comes close with a splash off the top, before an attempt at CR2 was countered into a Widow’s Peak, bridging forward into a backslide for a near-fall.

DOUKI looks to finish it with Suplex de la Luna, before some roll-ups led to two-counts. CR2’s attempted again, but DOUKI counters with a snap ‘rana for a near-fall, before he rolled into the neck tie again, forcing Phantasmo into the ropes once more. From there, ELP gets free and hits the whirlibird neckbreaker for a near-fall, before Phantasmo found the way through, but pulling down DOUKI’s mask and put him away with the CR2. This was fine, and perhaps a lot better than many would have expected… but a little scary in places. ***¼

Best of the Super Junior 26, Block B: Will Ospreay vs. Ryusuke Taguchi
It’s winner take all – unless we get a no contest, in which case everyone’s heads will explode.

We’re going to be going long here, I reckon, as the pair pause at the bell to absorb the crowd’s chants. Taguchi looks to have some shiny new tights, as in “the letters aren’t falling off his arse”.

We start slow and on the mat, as Ospreay tried to go for Taguchi’s arm, only to get tripped down as Taguchi tried to work the leg. When that doesn’t work, Taguchi tricks Ospreay into running the ropes… then has the roles reversed on him before a sneak hip attack caught Ospreay by surprise.

That sent him outside, with Taguchi faking out a dive as he waited for Ospreay to return, so he could put some boots to him. Ospreay returned fire with a stinging chop that had Taguchi slumping to the mat before we washed, rinsed and repeat. Taguchi flips Ospreay back into a bad landing, which gave him a quick opening for a low dropkick as Ospreay’s left knee buckled. Will comes back with a monkey flip, but the bad knee almost led to a Sabu moment as Taguchi didn’t flip and instead pancaked himself on the landing.

They head outside again, with Ospreay picking his shots, charging Taguchi into the ring apron, before he leaned back into an armbar back inside as Taguchi couldn’t quite roll over into a pin. So instead, Ospreay lets go and locks in a Cloverleaf as Taguchi had to reach for the ropes.

After that, Ospreay chopped Taguchi some more, but he gets some receipts before countering a hip attack into an atomic drop as Will avoided the arse offence. Ospreay throws some of his own before Taguchi caught him with a leaping hip attack, before the Three Amigos suplexes were blocked… leading to a low dropkick from Taguchi.

Ospreay rolls outside and into the path of a springboard crossbody, before another hip attack back inside almost led to the finish. A chop stops more hip attacks, as does a handspring enziguiri, but both men had to haul themselves up off the mat before Ospreay took Taguchi back down… but he can’t get the Shibata-ish dropkick in. Nor the over-the-top 619 as Taguchi countered into an ankle lock in the ropes as Ospreay eventually went to the floor.

Ospreay stops a dive with an uppercut, before heading up top for a corkscrew moonsault to the floor. Back inside, the springboard forearm connects for a near-fall, before the lifting reverse DDT is floated out of as Taguchi responded with a lwo dropkick. A Gourdbuster’s next as we cross the halfway point in the match, just as Taguchi set up for a Bummer-ye… but Ospreay avoids it and has to roll out of a Dodon to pick up a near-fall.

The pace rockets up from there, with Ospreay going for a hook kick only to eat the Bummer-ye instead… and yay, buffering. A shot to the midsection stops Ospreay before Taguchi switched up a Dodon into a Tiger suplex for a near-fall, then rolled him back up into another Dodon attempt, but Ospreay traps himself in the ropes for the break… where he’s quickly met with a low dropkick.

Another increase in pace ends with a hook kick from Ospreay, who looked for Storm Breaker, eventually lifting up Taguchi, who rolls free into Oh My Garankle, only for Ospreay to roll through and drop Taguchi with a Ligerbomb to get free. Nice!

A Robinson special follows from Ospreay, before an OsCutter’s countered back into Oh My Garankle, then into a Dodon as Will bounced off the mat and almost took the loss! Straight from the kickout, Taguchi’s back with Oh My Garankle, but Ospreay rolls through and comes back with a nasty Spanish fly for a two-count. From there, Ospreay heads up for a shooting star press for a near-fall, before another OsCutter’s countered into a backslide for a near-fall.

Ospreay looks to finish it after that scare with a series of kicks before he finally put Taguchi to bed with the Storm Breaker. A heck of a finishing series, as Big Match Taguchi came… but this was one that started slowly then suddenly burst into life. Shingo Takagi may be leaving this tournament unbeaten, but if you’ve not got Ospreay down as a tournament MVP, then you’re likely in the minority. ****¼

After the match, we had the obligatory staredown between the two block winners with Shingo addressed Will in English. He tells Ospreay he’s stronger than him, before switching back to his native tongue… only for Ospreay to reply in a similar dual language promo, saying that the only thing he’s scared of here is failing. We get the “this is the worst year of my personal life” line, which switches into him declaring his love for New Japan, his love for being a junior heavyweight… and for the chance to bridge the gap between being a junior and a heavyweight.

I think Shingo may question that on Wednesday.

Final Block A Standings:
Shingo Takagi (9-0; 18pts)
Taiji Ishimori, Dragon Lee (7-2; 14pts)
Marty Scurll, SHO (5-4; 10pts)
Jonathan Gresham (4-5; 8pts)
Yoshinobu Kanemaru (3-6; 6pts)
Titan (3-6; 6pts)
Tiger Mask (2-7; 4pts)
TAKA Michinoku (0-9; 0pts)*

* TAKA withdrew from the tournament at night ten, and forfeited his final three matches.

Final Block B Standings:
Will Ospreay (7-2; 14pts)
BUSHI, El Phantasmo, Ryusuke Taguchi, YOH (6-3; 12pts)
Robbie Eagles (5-4; 10pts)
Bandido (5-4; 10pts)
Rocky Romero (3-6; 6pts)
DOUKI (1-8; 2pts)
Ren Narita (0-9; 0pts)

So, Wednesday’s final is Will Ospreay vs. Shingo Takagi – a real clash of perhaps the uncrowned aces of the division following KUSHIDA’s departure. Much like block A’s final, a lot of this show was underwhelming – but also by design. At least the undercard matches here were on a higher level, and with the Okayama crowd on their game, this felt like an important card rather than a “one match card”.

We’ve got a day-off before the big finale – with a lot of the undercard still TBC for what is sure to be a packed out Sumo Hall. Join us!