Best of the Super Junior 26 kicked off with two fantastic matches in Sendai as we finally got SHO versus Shingo…

We’re coming from Miyagi’s Sendai Sunplaza Hall for the opener of this year’s Best of the Super Junior tournament – one featuring a LOT of debutants in the largest field to date. That also included two that were drafted in days beforehand, as Flip Gordon (visa issues) and El Desperado (broken jaw) had to pull out of the tournament… in their place were Ren Narita, and the debuting DOUKI, who’s in for Suzuki-gun after impressing on the TAKA/Taichimania show where Desperado actually picked up his injury.

Kevin Kelly, Chris Charlton & Caprice Coleman are on commentary.

Suzuki-gun (Taichi & DOUKI) vs. Ren Narita & Yota Tsuji
This was DOUKI’s New Japan debut, ahead of his first singles match in the tournament tomorrow. We’re told it’s pronounced “DOE-KEE”, as opposed to the other way. The one that sounds like a poop joke.

Tsuji begins by absorbing a series of kicks from Taichi, before replying with a shoulder charge. A back body drop from Taichi turns it back around, before he threw Tsuji outside for DOUKI to jab him with a chair… and my feed dies. Time to jump to the low quality stream as DOUKI’s in to chop Tsuji. A single leg crab from Taichi has Tsuji in bigger trouble. More buffering led to Narita tagging in, as he went after Taichi with forearms.

DOUKI’s back in to trade forearms with Narita, before Narita tried for his overhead belly-to-belly suplex. It’s blocked as he scrambles on the mat, only for DOUKI to land a suplex. Narita retaliates with a dropkick, then tagged in Tsuji, who went in with a body splash in the corner and a standing bodyslam. From there, Tsuji looks for a Boston crab as Narita tried to restrain Taichi on the outside… but he can’t hold on and Taichi ends up raking Tsuji’s eyes to break the hold, allowing DOUKI to hit an elevated Dragon suplex – tagged the suplex de luna – for the win. This was fine, but you can tell that the New Japan crowds will take a while to warm up to DOUKI. Narita’s got a mountain to climb in this tournament to even get a win. **½

Post-natch, Narita tried to go after DOUKI, only to get caught by Taichi from behind.

Bullet Club (El Phantasmo, Robbie Eagles & Jado) vs. Rocky Romero, Bandido & Yuya Uemura
ELP getting a separate entrance tells you exactly where New Japan’s positioning him. He’s here with his newly won Rev Pro British Cruiserweight title, while Kevin Kelly confused him with El Desperado. Almost.

Bandido and ELP start us off, sans handshake, as the pair go through shoulder tackles, leapfrogs, roll throughs and pinning attempts early on. Some very fluid stuff as ELP looks at home here, but then we get tags to Romero and Eagles to tease their match tomorrow. They trade chops before a Romero ‘rana led to Yuya Uemura begging for a tag. In comes Uemura briefly, but he does little as Rocky returned to take Eagles into the corner, before more chops lead to Eagle grabbing the ref to mask a Jado Kendo stick shot. That turns the tables, as you’d expect, with ELP coming back in as commentary recapped ELP’s win over David Starr at the weekend.

The Bullet Club double and triple-team Rocky in a Tree of Woe in the corner, before Phantasmo grounded Rocky with a side headlock. Rocky escaped and slaps the taste out of his mouth, then lands an enziguiri as a tag’s made out to Bandido… who swung at Phantasmo before landing a springboard tornillo out of the corner. An inverted suplex had ELP laying, but he’s right back with some kicks and a diving clothesline, before Uemura came in and almost took the win over Eagles with a running dropkick into the corner. Uemura tries his luck with a Boston crab on the Australian, only for buffering to take us to dives from ELP on Bandido. Back in the ring, Eagles and Uemura trade forearms, leading to Eagles surprising Uemura with a Shiranui off the ropes for a near-fall, before the Backpack Driver got the win. Decent enough, but these undercard tags aren’t starting the tour hot. **¾

YOH & Shota Umino vs. Juice Robinson & Ryusuke Taguchi
Taguchi and YOH Is the match we’re building to tomorrow, and they start the match off, going somewhat deliberately as Taguchi tried to bait YOH Into running the ropes forever… but YOH wises up and hits a low dropkick.

Umino tags in to keep Taguchi down with forearms, only to run into a hip attack. Juice comes in to run some of Taguchi’s plays – running attacks at a cornered Umino – before Taguchi went back to the hip attacks on a grounded Young Lion. Juice tries the same thing, whacking Umino with his rear, before a rear chinlock looked to keep Umino down. Shota fought out, but gets taken down with a back elbow and a back senton for a near-fall. More buffering ensues, as we return with YOH preparing for a superkick on Taguchi, which lands flush before a Dragon suplex gets countered into a wheelbarrow roll-up, going back and forth for near-falls, until Taguchi rolled into Oh My Garankle.

YOH rolls out of the ankle lock quickly, but can’t avoid an enziguiri, as Juice and Umino tagged back in to exchange more strikes. Umino catches Juice with a back elbow and a low dropkick for a near-fall, before Umino started to direct traffic for a while. A suplex from him drops Juice for a near-fall, before a cross armbreaker’s broken up by Taguchi…

Juice fights back with stinging chops to answer Umino’s forearms, before a flapjack brought the Young Lion down to the mat. A clothesline does the same, ahead of a cannonball in the corner for a near-fall. While Taguchi has YOH trapped on Oh My Garankle on the apron, Juice catches Umino in a high angle Boston crab… and that forces the submission. Low key again, but solid stuff as we’re getting nary a tease of the tournament matches on these undercards. **¾

The lights go out again after the match as we get a replay of the Time’s Up video – Juice Robinson will find out who the leather jacket wearing challenger is at the Best of Super Junior finals on June 5.

Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito & BUSHI) vs. Will Ospreay & Toa Henare
Kota Ibushi isn’t on the tour, but Tetsuya Naito’s continuing his warm-up to Dominion by shadowing his LIJ partners on the undercards.

Ospreay and BUSHI look to start us off, with the pair switching around in the ropes, only for BUSHI to come out and get taken down with a monkey flip. He’s quickly back to try and get under Ospreay’s skin, as the pair get in each other’s faces. Quite literally, in fact, as Ospreay hit a PK to BUSHI, before bringing in Henare to charge through him with a shoulder tackle. Henare offers assistance on a standing moonsault too, before he gets tripped in the ropes by Naito as LIJ looked to take the upper hand.

Naito comes in to restrain Henare with a modified headscissors on the mat, but there’s an escape as yet more buffering (seriously?!) takes us to Ospreay and BUSHI. There’s some help from Naito, but the LIJ pair eat a handspring backflip kick before a standing shooting star press from Ospreay gets a near-fall on BUSHI. A rewind enziguiri from BUSHI catches Ospreay, who just returns with a standard enziguiri, before a Dragon suplex is blocked and met with a swinging Fisherman’s suplex.

Naito and Henare are back, with the Kiwi responding to having his eyes raked by charging through Naito. Chops follow, as do clotheslines, as Henare tried for a deadlift suplex, which he eventually lands despite Naito’s attempt to force his way free. A Samoan drop gets a near-fall over Naito, but LIJ rebound with a pop-up atomic drop and a rewind sunset flip/low dropkick combo on Henare Ospreay’s in to block a Destino on Henare, but he just gets spiked with a Cherry Mint DDT on the apron while Henare ate a swinging DDT back inside, before a running Destino put Henare away. Enjoyable, despite the buffering, as we got a little more of the tournament tease than so far. ***

Seriously, New Japan World, even on low quality this is buffering horrendously…

Best of the Super Junior 26, Block A: TAKA Michinoku vs. Tiger Mask
They drop the MF-bomb in TAKA’s music, as commentary tells us that TAKA’s the only guy in this field who was in the original tournament in 1994.

We start low and slow, with Tiger Mask working over TAKA’s wrist as the pair scrambled for a hold early on. TAKA begins to aim for Tiger’s knee with a low dropkick, sending the fellow veteran outside as he began to stomp on the injured body part, before he lifted Tiger back into the ring so he could wrap the knees into the ring post.

A ring post-assisted Figure Four has Tiger in more trouble, as does a knee bar back in the ring. TAKA keeps up the pressure with a step-up knee and a running knee strike for a near-fall, before a regular Figure Four in the middle of the ring has Tiger struggling once more, only for him to inch his way into the ropes to force a break. A desperation tombstone piledriver drops TAKA, but Tiger only gets a delayed two-count out of it as he stays on the ground, looking to force a submission with an armbar… but TAKA’s right by the ropes and gets to them almost instantly.

Tiger tries to continue his comeback with some kicks, but he’s using the bad wheel and eventually gets caught in a Bully choke by TAKA, who wrenches back only for Tiger to again shuffle his way into the ropes. TAKA looks to go airborne with a springboard spinning heel kick for a near-fall, before he keeps Tiger in some headscissors on the mat, looking for an armbar while Tiger was trapped… tying up the other limbs as Tiger Mask again gets to the ropes.

TAKA looks for a Michinoku driver, which is escaped, then a German suplex, as Tiger Mask again flips free before nearly winning with a crucifix pin. From there, it’s a head kick and a Tiger Driver for a near-fall, before a Tiger Suplex led to the win. This was a sound representation of the “old” style of the junior division, largely focused on the mat more than anything else. I think we’ll be seeing a lot of “leg” matches for Tiger Mask on this tour… ***

Best of the Super Junior 26, Block A: Yoshinobu Kanemaru vs. Titan
Titan’s brought the sparkles here, and in a shocking lack of sportsmanship, Kanemaru jumps him before the bell. Never change.

Kanemaru lifts Titan up top as he tries to remove the mask in the corner. Titan saves his hood as we head outside, with Titan’s Sasuke special slowing down as he lands on the floor, before he took down Kanemaru with headscissors. Back inside, Kanemaru kicked Titan in the leg, before holding him in the ropes for a running dropkick from the outside, and it’s mostly one-way traffic as Titan’s left on the defensive. Back inside, a running boot catches Kanemaru, before Titan fought back with a through-the-ropes clothesline as be found a second wind, taking Kanemaru outside for a tope con giro for a much-delayed two-count after he rolls Kanemaru back in. An O’Connor roll nearly gets the win for Titan, before he dumped Kanemaru in the corner ahead of a top rope moonsault…

…except Titan lands in Kanemaru’s boots. Kanemaru quickly gets caught in the corner with a backflip kick as Titan went for a running Spanish Fly, but he’s shoved away and takes a Deep Impact DDT for another delayed two-count. A satellite DDT from Kanemaru snuffs out a brief comeback, before he went for the whiskey mist… it misses as TItan comes back in with a Titanic submission… then rolls Kanemaru back into El Inmortal for the pin. Another slow start, but it’s an opening win for Titan who manages to overcome the cheating as Suzuki-gun go 0-2 on the night. ***¼

Best of the Super Junior 26, Block A: Jonathan Gresham vs. Marty Scurll
Scurll’s out with Brody King, who was meant to have debuted on this show before the reshuffles. Not to worry, Villain Enterprises will be appearing on undercards when Marty’s not in tournament action… but first, he’s got to get past a debuting Jonathan Gresham, who’s getting a big break here.

A knuckle lock from Gresham gets us going, as he and Scurll keep things grounded in the early stages… at least until Gresham borrowed some of Marty’s stuff, faking him out before a dropkick and a bit of nose-thumbing. Scurll returns fire with a Gory stretch, spinning Gresham around before dumping him on the top rope, then to the outside ahead of an apron superkick. Back inside, Scurll measures up Gresham for a Romero special, rolling around the ring before pulling Gresham to the mat for a hold that almost led to a double pin. Eventually Gresham made a comeback, scoring with a vertical suplex on Scurll, taking him into the corner with a drop toe hold ahead of a dropkick for a delayed near-fall. Scurll came back with an attempt at the Black Plague only for Gresham to back body drop his way free.

Scurll responds with a drop toe hold into the ropes and a 619, but a superplex effort nearly proved to be Marty’s downfall as Gresham cradled him on the impact for a near-fall. From there, the pair roll around in a sunset flip for near-falls, before Scurll caught him with a superkick to stop the flow. A Quebrada from Gresham sees him segue smoothly into an ankle lock, before he hauled Scurll into a German suplex for a near-fall.

A running, diving forearm follows as Gresham came closer, then again with a trapped-leg backslide before Scurll rolled out of a La Magistral to stomp on Gresham’s fingers. Scurll has a new target from there, with a finger snap quelling Gresham briefly, before a beautiful exchange of pinning attempts led to an O’Connor roll for a near-fall from Gresham… who then got caught in a chicken wing from the kick-out. Gresham rolls back to try and pin Marty in the hold, but after the kick-out Marty goes straight to the finish with the Black Plague – the spin-out butterfly suplex – for the win. An enjoyable, if low-key outing. Much like this whole show, to be honest. ***½

Best of the Super Junior 26, Block A: Shingo Takagi vs. SHO
On any other night of the tour, this’d be the main event. It’s still an occasion for SHO to get new music. There’s a way to say who’s the favoured member of Roppongi 3K…

The pair launch into each other as they finally got their one-on-one match, but from the opening tie-up it’s a struggle as SHO backs Shingo into the corner, before a knuckle lock saw the pair waver over the Test of Strength, with SHO eventually getting the upper hand, albeit briefly, as Shingo backs him into the corner for a chop. SHO runs into a big boot as Shingo keeps up, following in with a shoulder tackle that barely budges SHO, before a second led to a pendulum-like reaction, with both men scoring takedowns as an explosive sequence led to a stand-off. SHO lands a dropkick after that, but we’re back to strikes… as Shingo ended up swinging before being taken down into a Fujiwara armbar.

SHO clings onto that for the full count as Shingo got to the ropes quickly, then headed outside for respite, only to get caught with an apron PK. Shingo manages to turn it around, clotheslining SHO over the top and to the floor, but he takes a more measured approach, following SHO outside before he hurled the junior tag champion into the ring post. Back inside again, Shingo keeps the upper hand, elbowing SHO by the turnbuckles, before he landed a clothesline instead.

Shingo followed that up with a slam and a Dragon Spirit back elbow off the top for a near-fall, as he proceeded to ground SHO with an abdominal stretch. Danielson-like elbows to the head and a leaping kneedrop follow, before more strikes sent SHO into the ropes. A spear attempt to counter a Pumping Bomber is caught as SHO ends up countering the counter with a big suplex. SHO fought back, going after the arm again, only to get caught with a left-handed lariat. Almost out of desperation, SHO looked for a suplex to the floor, but Shingo just counters back with a deadlift superplex back inside. We’re back to strikes as SHO and Shingo trade clonking forearms, then corner-to-corner clotheslines before SHO and Shingo trade German suplexes, almost for fun.

SHO offers himself up for clotheslines, as does Shingo, as the pair continue to leather each other with hard shots… before SHO’s leaping knee looked to edge him ahead. He keeps up with rolling German suplexes, completing a hattrick by snapping Shingo backwards to almost take home the W. From there, SHO looks for a powerbomb, but Shingo wriggles free, only to get caught in a lumbar jack that almost won SHO the match! A Shock Arrow’s blocked as the pair burst into life once more, ending with a big Pumping Bomber from Shingo for a delayed near-fall, before the Noshigami leaves SHO down on the mat… one more Pumping Bomber folds SHO in half, but it still isn’t enough! Shingo looks for Last of the Dragon, but SHO rolls out into a Kimura attempt, which Takagi tries to counter with a pinning attempt… SHO kicks out and switches the hold into a head and arm triangle, only for Shingo to pull his way free. SHO goes straight back to the hold, rolling Shingo into the middle of the ring, before scrambling to the bottom rope to force the break.

More strikes from SHO looked to put him ahead, but a huge lariat from Shingo snuffs that out as the pair trade more chops. A headbutt from Shingo led to one more brutal Pumping Bomber, but it’s still not enough as Shingo took his time making the cover, before the Last of the Dragon finally planted SHO and earned the win. Well, that was everything I expected from this and much, much more. Perhaps not the heightened pace some expected, but these guys went over 25 minutes and knocked the proverbial seven bells out of each other. A loss for SHO, but if you don’t come out of this thinking he’s almost on Shingo’s level, then I don’t know what to say…. ****½

Best of the Super Junior 26, Block A: Taiji Ishimori vs. Dragon Lee
A rematch from all of nine days ago, I wouldn’t be too shocked to see Ishimori getting the non-title win here.

The pair pick up where they left off in Fukuoka, trading shots from the bell, swapping an almost-endless series of forearms and elbows. Ishimori draws the proverbial first blood as he cracked Dragon Lee with a dropkick, sending him outside for a plancha, before taking the champion back in to loosen his mask ahead of a baseball slide dropkick from a Tree of Woe position.

Ishimori looked to go for a Yes Lock, but Dragon Lee got to the ropes, before he caught a springboard Metora from Ishimori, teasing a Desnucadora attempt before instead landing a STO after the Bone Soldier countered out. Headscissors from Dragon Lee send Ishimori outside for a monster of a tope suicida, as we got a count-out tease, only for Dragon Lee to fall a little short in his bid to keep Ishimori out for the 20-count.

Back inside, a rolling thunder shotgun dropkick took Ishimori into the corner for a Shibata-ish dropkick, before Ishimori struck back with a La Mistica into a Yes Lock, rolling Dragon Lee into the middle of the ring, before the champion got his foot into the ropes to force the eventual break. Ishimori tries to follow Dragon Lee outside for a Golden Triangle moonsault, but he’s pulled into a Tree of Woe on the apron for another Shibata-ish dropkick. He tries to follow that up with a suplex to the floor, before the pair brought it back inside to save each other’s skins… but they’re right back at each other with forearms before a rebound German suplex is countered out of by Ishimori. He doesn’t avoid the second one, but manages to come back with a Destroyer, then rolled him through into a DDT.

Ishimori’s back up, but gets spiked nastily into the corner with a death valley driver that he took high on his neck and shoulder. Dragon Lee follows that up with a high Del Rio double stomp for a near-fall, before another Desnucadora attempt gets countered into a crucifix bomb as Ishimori almost took home the W. The pair go at it again, with Ishimori spiking Dragon Lee with a reverse ‘rana… only to get an instant receipt before a tombstone gutbuster led to a near-fall for Ishimori. From there, Ishimori lands a Bloody Cross… and that is an emphatic victory for the Bone Soldier. Perhaps a little muted, but this was a fine main event as Ishimori gets his tournament under way with a win. ****¼

A little obvious, but here’s the standings after one match…

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

So, while the undercard was a little underwhelming, this line-up delivered exactly where we expected: the top two matches were home runs, and perhaps the main reasons you’ll be tuning into this show. We’re back in Sendai tomorrow for block B, and while I worry for DOUKI/Narita, we shouldn’t be short of good wrestling in that line-up.