The 23rd Best of the Super Junior tournament kicked off this Saturday with some blowaway action in Korakuen Hall, with some late changes to the tournament, thanks to the withdrawal of both Young Bucks through injury.

Unfortunately, David Finlay was brought in to replace Matt Jackson from block A, whilst Nick Jackson’s replacement in block B was Chase Owens – a veteran of the independent scene, who had wrestled in New Japan previously (although not in the last six months), and is handily a long-forgotten member of the Bullet Club. No matter how you slice it, both of those are downgrades, and are likely to become each block’s whipping boys.

Tomohiro Ishii, Beretta & Will Ospreay vs. Satoshi Kojima, Bobby Fish & Volador Jr.
The first of many mixed tag matches involving guys from block B here, with Fish and Ishii going head to head over the ROH TV title that Fish won from Ishii two weeks ago at ROH’s Global Wars PPV.

Some nice crisp stuff from Ospreay and Volador to start with, before Beretta and Fish came in, with Fish trying for submissions in his opening exchanges. Things didn’t improve much for Fish when Ishii entered the fray, with Ishii repeatedly knocking Kojima off the apron to prevent him from tagging in.

Ishii caught a kick from Fish, who quickly retaliated with a Samoan drop, and finally brought in Kojima to face off with Ishii with rapid-fire chops. A Koji cutter dropped Ishii, as did a DDT, but that was no-sold, before Volador returned, taking out Beretta with a flip dive to the outside. Volador’s mask came off here, and he ended up taking a bunch of moves for a near-fall, before being downed by a belly to back release suplex from Beretta. Volador caught Beretta on the top rope, and hit a super hurricanrana and that was enough to get the three-count. Decent enough opener ***

Katsuyori Shibata, Juice Robinson & Jay White vs. Yuji Nagata, Jushin “Thunder” Liger & Tiger Mask
David White being added to the tournament meant that this advertised eight-man match became a six-man tag, with Manabu Nakanishi dropping out. Nagata and Shibata started off, with an early heel hook sending Nagata into the ropes, before Nagata returned the favour with a Trailer Hitch leglock.

Jushin Liger’s response to a cocky Juice Robinson was to stamp on his feet, before the team of Liger/Tiger came up short to the former NXT-er. Jay White came in to continue working over Liger, as did Shibata, with the youngsters exchanging frequent tags for a while. Robinson missed a cannonball into the corner, which let Tiger Mask come back in with a top rope cross-body, but Robinson was able to connect with a back senton (at the second attempt) for a near-fall.

A Tiger Driver dropped Robinson, but Tiger Mask tagged in Nagata instead of going for the cover, and that proved to be a bad idea as Robinson caught Nagata with an Exploder suplex before bringing in Shibata once more. Jay White came in to save Shibata from an armbar, but was quickly dispatched, and a flurry of offence ended with a German suplex on Nagata.

Jay White dropped Nagata with a missile dropkick for a near-fall, and almost shocked Nagata with a crossface, only for Liger and Tiger to make the save. However, the veteran Nagata caught White with a knee in the corner, then his Backdrop Hold to score the win. White looked really good here, and was probably the wrong guy to take the fall here. **¾

Hiroshi Tanahashi, Ricochet, Yoshitatsu & Captain New Japan vs. Kenny Omega, Bad Luck Fale, Yujiro Takahashi & Chase Owens
The Bullet Club are out with their weapons, and a ladder, because of course, they’re building up to the Omega/Tanahashi ladder match.

Standard stuff early on, as a Ricochet/Owens exchange didn’t last too long, before Yoshitatsu came in with Takahashi, but it wasn’t long before the numbers game came into effect, with Yoshitatsu taking a four-on-one beating from the Bullet Club quartet. Owens scored a near fall on Yoshitatsu with a fireman’s carry into a codebreaker, before Omega game in to maintain offence. Tanahashi got the tag and took out Omega with a dragon screw, then a Texas cloverleaf.

Yoshitatsu drilled Takahashi with a hiptoss into a knee, before Ricochet’s standing shooting star press saw a pinfall attempt broken before it even got started. A handspring body press to the outside saw Ricochet take out most of the Club, as we were left with Omega and Tanahashi inside the ring, with a high knee dropping Tanahashi. Captain New Japan got the tag in to face Fale, and you can guess how well that went… but he actually got a near-fall on a Side Effect, before falling to the Grenade as Bad Luck Fale got the win in what was a very forgettable match. **¼

The beat-down continued after the match, as they successfully, repeatedly Pillmanized Tanahashi’s arm in the ladder as the rest of his teammates were kept at bay by Fale. Tanahashi was stretchered out, as many scratched their heads wondering why WWE-like angles suddenly have to become a part of this product.

Kazuchika Okada, Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI vs. Tetsuya Naito, EVIL & SANADA
We wrap up the first half of the show with the final non-tournament match, and Tetsuya Naito resumed his trolling of Milano Collection AT by taking his place on commentary and ordering him into the ring. Eventually after holding the ropes up for each other, Naito gets into the ring, and we get going.

Decent action when we finally got underway, with SANADA hitting a rewind leapfrog and dropkick on YOSHI-HASHI, before Goto and EVIL resumed their battle, and of course, we got the EVIL chair spot on Goto. Naito came in to drop Goto with a neckbreaker, before combining with EVIL for a near-fall, but Okada managed to get into the match and drop Naito with a flapjack.

Naito responded by spitting at Okada and drilling him with an enziguiri, as YOSHI-HASHI and SANADA returned to the match, with YOSHI-HASHI scoring a two-count from a neckbreaker, then a Blockbuster off the second rope.YOSHI-HASHI caught SANADA in a butterfly lock, which was broken up by EVIL, before SANADA fought out of a powerbomb attempt and rebounded with a missile dropkick. A Cold Skull submission was flipped into a roll-up by HASHI, who came close yet again with a lariat.

YOSHI-HASHI tried for the butterfly lock one more, but ended up caught off the ropes by SANADA, who drilled him with a TKO, before picking him up for the Cold Skull (Dragon sleeper with body scissors) for the submission win. Good match which picked up towards the end. ***½

Best of Super Junior Tournament, Block A: Rocky Romero [0] vs. David Finlay [0]
Or “Devit Finlay”, if you’re the New Japan captioner… he’s filling in for the injured Matt Jackson, and I wouldn’t expect a win here, even though he started by dropkicking Romero during his ring introduction.

That went badly for Finlay, who was brought into the crowd by Romero, particularly the West end of Korakuen Hall, as the two got an up-close-and-personal view of the signage. Romero made it back to the ring at the count of 19, only to be tossed out again, with Finlay working over the taped-up shoulder.

Romero finally got back into the match with a headscissors sending Finlay to the floor, where he met him with a diving knee off the apron. Romero went all Nakamura on Finlay with spirit fingers and knees to the midsection as the German was draped across the top turnbuckle, but Finlay fired back with a back suplex for a near-fall. Finlay caught Romero in a Stretch Muffler, who eventually rolled free, albeit into an armbar that Romero eventually broke via the ropes.

Some charging uppercuts into the corner followed from Finlay, but Romero replied with a pair of lariats, before being dropped by an uppercut and a Finlay Roll. Another uppercut from that scored a two-count for young Finlay, but Romero ended up catching Finlay with a jumping high knee out of the corner to score the win. Two points to Romero, in what was a really impressive showing from Finlay, who I had pegged as nothing more than cannon fodder here. ***¼

Best of Super Junior Tournament, Block A: BUSHI [0] vs. Gedo [0]
BUSHI was massively over in Korakuen today, with a lot of the crowd wearing his masks, but sadly not his Naito-inspired black suit. Gedo sent BUSHI to the outside early on, but BUSHI returned fire with a DDT onto the apron after Gedo got caught in the ropes.

BUSHI kept up the pressure by choking Gedo in the ropes, before nailing a neckbreaker for a near-fall. BUSHI hit a nice enziguiri kick through the ropes on Gedo, but Gedo staggered into the ropes to crotch BUSHI as he went up top. Back from the replay, we see Gedo grounding BUSHI with a double chickenwing, which BUSHI managed to break via the ropes.

BUSHI sent Gedo into the front row with a tope, before catching the referee as they went for a backslide. A low blow got BUSHI a near-fall, but he dived into a slap from Gedo, only to catch a low kick and get shoved into the referee. As the referee recovered, Gedo nailed BUSHI with the Rainmaker and rolled him up for what had to be an upset win. Still, at least BUSHI sprayed him with mist afterwards ***

Best of Super Junior Tournament, Block A: Matt Sydal [0] vs. Ryusuke Taguchi [0]
Taguchi eschewed the Nakamura-like entrance here for a massive Big Bird inflatable strapped to his head and a recorder. This had to be a rib to make Sydal burst out laughing… but a sad fact for the man who won this tournament four years ago, to still be in the comedy role.

Some decent work early on, with Sydal sending Taguchi to the apron, before meeting him with a spinning heel kick as Taguchi came back in. An Indian Deathlock kept Taguchi grounded, but he worked free and caught Sydal in a heel hook that barely lasted. Taguchi followed up with an ankle lock, which Sydal rolled through to send Taguchi into the turnbuckles, and ultimately dropping Taguchi with a leg-assisted reverse DDT for a near fall.

A standing moonsault got a similar result, with a standing back kick stunning Taguchi, only for a hurricanrana to be reversed into a roll-up for a near-fall. Sydal rolled outside, but was able to send Taguchi from the apron to the mat with a leaping ‘rana.

Taguchi, who managed to cut himself somehow, got his knees up to block a Shooting Star Press from Sydal, before kicking out of a wheelbarrow roll-up, before getting a two count from Dodon’s Throne (double chicken wing into a double knee gutbuster). Moments later though, Taguchi snatched the win with a chicken-wing facebuster he calls Dodon, and that has to be the first time I’ve ever seen him win. A good, solid semi-final ***½

Best of Super Junior Tournament, Block A: Kyle O’Reilly [0] vs. KUSHIDA [0]
Onto our main event then, and on paper, the best match of the first night. This match was actually the final of last year’s tournament – funny how that worked out!

KUSHIDA worked over O’Reilly with a knuckle-lock, before going for his Hoverboard lock early on and fighting out of an armbar that was attempted in counter. An inverted atomic drop and a pair of dropkicks kept O’Reilly grounded, with the Canadian trying to roll through armbars from KUSHIDA.

O’Reilly worked a leglock on KUSHIDA, before taking him back down with a kick to the back of the leg, following up with a legbreaker on the mat for a near-fall. KUSHIDA scrambles to the ropes from an ankle lock, but manages to drop O’Reilly with a Hoverboard lock drop from the top rope after catching the Canadian.

A springboard chop into the ring was followed up by a standing moonsault by KUSHIDA, but O’Reilly caught it and tried for an armbar – unsuccessfully – as KUSHIDA ended the exchange with an armbar that O’Reilly needed a rope break to escape from. KUSHIDA’s attempted Pele kick to block a Regalplex was blocked by O’Reilly, but a second Pele kick was successful, sparking off a pair of rebound lariats from both men.

Attacking KUSHIDA from the apron, O’Reilly found himself knocked to the floor with a handspring attack, but KUSHIDA’s missed plancha saw him kicked to the floor also, before O’Reilly hit a kneebreaker into a chair on the outside. O’Reilly tried to follow-up with a diving clothesline off the apron to the seated KUSHIDA, but in a stroke of awesomeness/insanity, he turned that into a cross-armbar, flattening the chair in the process.

Back in the ring, KUSHIDA and O’Reilly lit up each other with kicks, before KUSHIDA blocked a guillotine and switched it into a German suplex for a near-fall. More kicks to the arm followed, before KUSHIDA rolled through a tiltawhirl attempt into a KUSHIDA lock. Another roll-up from that scored a near-fall for O’Reilly, who found himself taking a Flatliner into the turnbuckles. O’Reilly rebounded with a Regalplex for a near-fall, then tried to finish off KUSHIDA off the top rope, but an armbreaker sent O’Reilly down to the mat once more.

Another kick sent KUSHIDA crashing to the top rope (and Milano Collection A.T.’s second “shit!” of the night), before going back for a belly-to-back supersuplex that KUSHIDA switched around in mid-air, landing a cross body for a near-fall. Frustrated, O’Reilly stomped away on KUSHIDA’s head and went for a triangle armbar, with KUSHIDA’s attempt to escape seeing him fall face-first into another armbar, forcing him to tap out. That. Was. Great! ****¼

For an opening night, the tournament action here was unbelievably good, with a couple of upsets thrown in for good measure. Granted, the non-tournament matches were very much throwaway, but that was their intention. Aside from the Omega/Tanahashi angle, I was left feeling satisfied from my Saturday morning wrestling fix. Roll on the rest of the tournament!