It’s winner take it all – can Taiji Ishimori make it to two finals in a row, or will Shingo Takagi continue his unbeaten singles run in New Japan?

The final matches of block A in this year’s Best of the Super Junior comes from Item Ehime. Kevin Kelly and Gino Gambino are back on the English call. In a nice touch, only the banners of Ishimori and Takagi are visible from the hard camera…

Will Ospreay, Rocky Romero, Tomohiro Ishii & Yuya Uemura vs. Ryusuke Taguchi, Bandido, Shota Umino & Yota Tsuji
This is a preview of Monday’s finals, with Ospreay and Taguchi the only real contenders for the block… unless you want to do some mental gymnastics.

Rocky and Bandido get us going, with a quick flurry that Ehime enjoyed as the pair reached a standoff. Tsuji and Ishii come in to leather each other, trading forearms back and forth before Uemura came in for Ishii to trap Tsuji in a half crab.

Umino broke that up as the three Young Lions trade some shots between themselves, but Umino’s dispatched as Ospreay tagged in to light up Tsuji with chops. Poor Yota. Eventually things led to a staredown between Ospreay and Taguchi, as the latter looked to break up a cover, as Tsuji ended up fighting back with a big back body drop on Ospreay.

There’s no tag as Ishii comes in, but he’s dropped with a slam before Tsuji brought in Taguchi for hip attacks on Ospreay for a quick two-count. Ospreay rolls out of Dodon for a near-fall, then came back with an enziguiri before the ring filled and cleared up. Uemura’s dropkick took down Umino before a Boston crab almost led to the submission… but Bandido kicks apart the hold as a Parade of Moves broke out.

Uemura looked for a German suplex on Umino, but it’s blocked as Umino ends up catching him with a big spinebuster for a near-fall, before landing a Fisherman’s suplex for the win. Decent action, but outside of the Young Lion exchanges this felt really unfocused. **¾

After the match, Taguchi went for an Oh My Garankle on Ospreay, while Ishii and Tsuji went at it. Late-tour grumpiness on display here!

Bullet Club (Robbie Eagles & Jado) vs. YOH & Juice Robinson
We’ve a jumpstart here as Eagles took YOH outside before the bell, while Juice found himself getting choked by the timekeeper’s table.

YOH hits back in the ring with a spinning forearm, before a leg sweep and an elbow drop from the Australian had Eagles back on top. The match feels rather muted, and perhaps pedestrian as Jado and Eagles keep YOH in their corner, with Eagles focusing on YOH’s left leg. A leg grapevine took YOH into the ropes as Eagles and Jado prepared to double-team… but YOH escapes with a dropkick before he rolled free and got the tag out.

Corner-to-corner forearms from Juice take down the Bullet Club pair, before he plastered Eagles in the corner with a cannonball. A fallaway slam follows, as does a leaping back senton, before Jado gets involved with the Kendo stick – just as Eagles unsighted the ref.

Jado tags in and teases another Kendo stick shot, but YOH runs in to disarm him before taking Eagles outside for a plancha. That leaves Jado alone for some Dusty punches before the Left Hand of God and the Pulp Friction gets the win. This was a match – way too pedestrian for my liking and the definition of “skippable” here. **

Suzuki-gun (DOUKI & Taichi) vs. Bullet Club (El Phantasmo & Gedo)
A warm-up for a match that probably means little, eh? Phantasmo’s entrance got muted as a kid in the aisle got smart to his hat-chucking antics.

ELP’s keeping his shirt on as he acts all shocked at DOUKI refusing a handshake… so the Bullet Club looked to go to work, only for Taichi to rake Gedo’s eyes while ELP and DOUKI brawled in the aisle. Phantasmo ties up DOUKI in the guard rails while Taichi chokes Gedo with a chair in a rather sedentary brawl.

We return to the ring as ELP used his boot to choke DOUKI through the ropes, before DOUKI got taken into the Bullet Club corner. Eventually DOUKI gets free as tags bring in Gedo and Taichi, with the latter raking the eyes before missing an Axe Bomber. Taichi gets ahead with some kicks, before he ripped off the trousers, then blocked a Gedo clutch. DOUKI makes the save when the Gedo clutch came off for a near-fall… and now it’s time for weapons.

Brass knuckles vs. mic stand… that led to a standoff, before they “disarmed”… except Gedo didn’t let go of his knuckles. Not to worry, Taichi superkicks him then uses a Stretch Plum for the quick submission. Thank God this one’s done – a bad guy vs. bad guy match rarely clicks, and this wasn’t any different. **

Ren Narita & Toa Henare vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI & Tetsuya Naito)
We’ve got Narita vs. BUSHI on Monday in what could possibly be a huge banana skin for BUSHI, who enters this on a run of good form.

Those two start us off, with Narita looking the better of the two before tagging in Henare to keep the momentum going. Headbutts and chops from the Kiwi drop BUSHI for a near-fall, but Naito gets involved with a trip before low dropkicks from BUSHI turn the match around.

BUSHI takes Henare into the corner for chops and some choking, with Naito returning to hiptoss and dropkick Henare. A hair pull just gets Naito a slapped wrist, so BUSHI does the same as he took Henare into the corner then followed in with a missile dropkick. Henare makes a comeback with a suplex, before Narita tagged in to keep the momentum going.

After some buffering, Naito’s in to try and pick his shots, but he ends up running into a dropkick, then a shoulder tackle. Chops follow from Henare, who then looked to tee up Naito for the spear… but BUSHI cuts him off, only for Narita to get him free as that spear tackle came through anyway. Henare only gets a two-count, so he comes in with a superkick, only for Naito to rebound with a swinging DDT and a diving dropkick for a two-count. From there, all that’s left is Destino, as Naito leaves with the win. Decent, and on this form I’m still a little twitchy over whether BUSHI wins on Monday or not. **¾

Best of the Super Junior 26, Block A: Titan vs. Tiger Mask
Tiger Mask starts off on top, taking Titan into the corner… and yay, I buffer.

We’re back as Tiger Mask stomps on Titan near the corner, before some headscissors continued to ground the luchador. A series of kicks keep Titan on all fours, until he caught one and turned it into a Dragons crew, before the tempo increased, with Titan using a springboard crossbody to help take Tiger outside… following with a leap to the floor for a tiltawhirl backbreaker.

Back inside, a springboard dropkick gets Titan a near-fall, before he went back up top, only to moonsault into Tiger Mask’s raised feet. Tiger responds with a Tiger Driver knee, before taking Titan into a cross armbreaker, then rolling through into an armbar, but Titan gets free… misses a chop and gets his head kicked off. Titan backs up into the corner, then hits an armdrag… which led to the three-count. Jesus wept, that’s two iffy finishes we’ve had with the luchadors on this tour. Still, at least the ref counted it like it was real, so I’d rather have that. It did really cut this short though just as it was getting going. **¾

Best of the Super Junior 26, Block A: Jonathan Gresham vs. SHO
Perhaps one of the matches that’ll fly under your radars, this was perhaps our last chance at seeing Gresham grapple here for a while. At least in a singles setting.

SHO worked over Gresham with a waistlock, taking him down for an early cross armbreaker… but it was right by the ropes and we have a quick break. Not to worry, SHO drops the arm over the ropes and dropkicks Gresham to the outside, before a kick to the arm left the Octopus down… but Gresham retaliates by jarring the knee of SHO, giving him an opening.

Gresham twists the leg of SHO in a toe hold, before he went back to kicking the left leg when the junior tag champion tried to push away. Shoving Gresham into the ropes, SHO looked for a leapfrog, which comes up short, as both men continued to focus on the body parts they’d targeted throughout.

A kick to the leg of SHO just sees him retaliate with an armdrag into a cross armbreaker as we crossed the five minute mark. SHO’s limp gives Gresham an opening for a Quebrada and a tope, before he took SHO back in for a shooting star press that nearly ended it. From there, Gresham traps SHO in a Figure Four leg lock out of the corner, but SHO’s able to drag his way to the ropes… only for Gresham to roll him onto the apron, keeping the hold ona s they rolled to the floor. OW.

The referee begins the count-out as Gresham keeps the hold on, seemingly looking to use it for a count-out… he lets go at 16, but SHO beats the count, albeit with a heavily-damaged knee. Instead, the pair decide to trade forearms, with Gresham kipping up after he was knocked down, before he was forced to flip out of a German suplex… he looked for a submission, and got caught with a roll-up for a near-fall, then another deadlift German for a near-fall.

Sensing a win, SHO hits the ropes for a lariat, before he wrecked Gresham with a lumbar check for a near-fall. The Shock Arrow’s next, eventually dropping Gresham, and that’s enough for SHO to get the win. Easily the best thing on this so far, with both men working within and around their injuries while putting on a banger of a match. I’d love to see this again with both at 100%… ***¾

Hey, SHO’s theme gets real good after the opening minute. I hope this doesn’t take forever to get released officially…

Best of the Super Junior 26, Block A: Marty Scurll vs. Dragon Lee
We start out surprisingly cleanly, as Scurll took Dragon Lee to the ropes for a break, before the pair looked for standing surfboard stretches.

They keep it grounded, with Scurll seemingly taking an errant elbow before he looked to work over Dragon Lee’s upper arm. The knees don’t get a pass either, as Scurll stomps them into the mat… a brief bit of buffering occurs before Brody King gets involved, tripping up Dragon Lee as he was going for a dive.

Ah well. Scurll took Lee outside, following in with an apron superkick before throwing the champion into the crowd, which scattered as Dragon Lee then got tossed deeper into the crowd. Of course, it’s not enough for the count-out, as Scurll followed up with a slingshot into the bottom rope after he got back in.

A modified cloverleaf followed as Scurll trapped Dragon Lee by the ropes. More kicks keep Scurll ahead, before a ‘rana took him outside as Dragon Lee flew in with a ‘rana to the floor. Chops follow as they headed back in, with Scurll taking a rolling thunder dropkick and a Shibata-ish dropkick in the corner.

Lee gets some payback by drilling Scurll’s knee into the mat, before an attempt at Desnucador’s slipped out of, with Marty countering with a chicken wing instead. When that’s escaped, a half-nelson suplex is waiting, before he took Dragon Lee up top… and suckered him in for a finger snap. Oh well.

Dragon Lee responds with a headbutt to put Marty into a Tree of Woe, but Brody King stomps the Del Rio-ish double stomp, allowing Scurll to come back with a superplex for a near-fall. Some back and forth ensues, with Dragon Lee landing a snap German suplex, only for Marty to come back with an Essex Destroyer DDT before a low DDT from the champion left both men down.

The Del Rio double stomp’s next after some more buffering, before Desnucadora lands for a near-fall… because Brody King’s pulled out the ref. A tope suicida from Dragon Lee puts him to bed, but Scurll’s right back with a DDT and a chicken wing attempt, only to get rolled back on for a near-fall. A lariat’s next from Scurll, leaving Dragon Lee down… then another, before a Scurll driver (the package side-DDT) gets a near-fall.

We keep going, with a half nelson suplex and a diving knee getting Lee a near-fall, before he comes back in with a running knee and Desnucadora for the win. This was fine, but with no stakes, it all felt rather anticlimactic by the end. I guess that’s the downside of building a tournament to cap off with a single match like this? ***½

Best of the Super Junior 26, Block A: Taiji Ishimori vs. Shingo Takagi
Ishimori needs a win to win the block – anything else, and it’s Shingo keeping his unbeaten run as he heads into Wednesday’s final.

They don’t shoot out of the blocks, instead going to ground as Ishimori tried to out-grapple Takagi. After a stand-off, Ishimori’s taken into the corner, where he tried to outdo Shingo for pace, only to get caught with a DDT as Takagi was going after the neck that was injured earlier in the tour.

A slam and a cravat keeps Ishimori grounded, but he’s able to get free and use some headscissors to take down Takagi ahead of a neck twist. From there, Ishimori sets up, and delivers a baseball slide German suplex, before they headed outside as Shingo got close to the English commentary table. Ishimori reverses an Irish whip reversal to send Shingo into the ring post.

Back in the ring, the springboard whoopee cushion keeps Takagi down, before some short shoulder charges left Takagi in the ropes. A chop/forearm battle breaks out next, but Ishimori edges ahead, only for a short clothesline from Shingo to turn the match back on its head. An attempted powerbomb’s countered with a back body drop as the pair remained even, at least until they headed on the apron, where Shingo caught Ishimori with a nasty death valley driver.

Returning to the ring, a sliding lariat crashes through Ishimori for a near-fall, before an attempt at Noshigami’s blocked and met with a DDT from the Bone Soldier. Except Shingo clings on and comes back with a suplex to get his own back. The pair look for clotheslines, before Ishimori snapped into one hell of a Destroyer, hitting Shingo with such force he rebounded back off the rope for a Pumping Bomber. Bloody hell.

They keep going, with Ishimori’s clothesline hooked and turned into a Noshigami for a near-fall, before a second Pumping Bomber spins Ishimori to the mat for yet another two-count! From there, Ishimori’s forced to slip out of Last of the Dragon, before countering a pop-up into a crucifix bomb. Another crack of Last of the Dragon’s countered into a ‘rana by Ishimori, who was doing everything he could to avoid that move.

Ishimori looks for a gutwrench from there, but the tombstone gutbuster’s avoided as Shingo countered with a wheelbarrow German suplex into the corner. Shingo calls for another Pumping Bomber, but headscissors from Ishimori surprise him down to the mat for a Yes Lock, which Shingo tried to punch apart. He rolls back, but Ishimori goes with him before the pair ended up in the ropes for the break.

Ishomori tries to finish off with a Bloody Cross, throwing some knees to stagger Shingo, who just rose from the dead for a clothesline. He shrugs off Ishimori’s headbutt as he came back with elbows, only to get caught with a leaping knee as the pair trade lariats. A shotgun dropkick and the running double knees take Shingo into the corner as the match entered the final ten minutes.

A tombstone gutbuster drops Shingo for a near-fall, before he came back with a pumphandle, swiftly lifting up Ishimori into a Last of the Dragon in one fell swoop… and that’s all! Shingo Takagi’s run the block, and heads into Wednesday’s final the runaway favourite. This final match perhaps wasn’t flashy, but both men brought their A-game… only to find out the hard way just how irresistable Shingo has been on this run. ****½

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.

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

Eliminated: Bandido, BUSHI, DOUKI, Ren Narita, Rocky Romero, YOH

This was built as a one-match show and, well, it delivered on that front. An eminently skippable undercard, thanks in part to a crowd that was dead throughout the show, spilled into the start of the tournament matches, thanks to a screwy finish between Titan and Tiger Mask… but at least the final three matches here delivered. All that’s left is Monday’s block B finale, which realistically boils down to the Ospreay/Taguchi match, with the winner taking all – but there is a far fetched scenario that could widen the field.