First part of the Block Breakdown
Best of the Super Jr. 30 is nearly upon us. An intense schedule this year sees 12 events spread over 16 days, with most nights seeing both blocks in action for massive ten match cards. This year, the top two points scorers from each block will advance to semifinals in Yoyogi before the grand finals on May 28 in Ota, so competition is sure to be at its fiercest until the bitter end. Here’s what to expect from the first half of A Block.
10th entry, first in five years. 2015, 2017 winner. IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion
After returning to NJPW competition last summer, KUSHIDA is back in Best of the Super Jr. for the first time since 2018. A two time winner, and reinvigorated by IWGP Junior Tag success alongside Kevin Knight, KUSHIDA knows exactly what it takes to win, and to battle in big spots everywhere from NJPW to WWE, AEW and IMPACT. Could his return to BOSJ herald a return to the trophy for the former junior heavyweight ace?
KEY MATCH: May 17, Sendai vs Taiji Ishimori
KUSHIDA made his return to new Japan last June to confront Taiji Ishimori, and the Bone Soldier would set an assessment period for the Timesplitter to prove himself worthy of an IWGP Junior Heavyweight title shot. Before KUSHIDA could be granted that opportunity though, fate and illness intervened, and the match never happened. Instead a chain of events would see Ishimori lose the junior gold in a four way match at Wrestle Kingdom, but now in Ishimori’s backyard in Sendai, KUSHIDA finally has a chance to show he can pass any test with flying colours.
20th entry, 18th consecutive. 2012 winner
The most experienced tournament competitor in the lineup, Ryusuke Taguchi is now a veteran of 20 out of 30 Best of the Super Juniors, and a winner of one, back in 2012. Could he secure a second? Taguchi is not likely to be high in many fans’ pick ’ems, but the Coach has been a trap game for a great many top figures throughout his career, and though he may lack the consistent success required to make the top spot, he could well be a spoiler to a favourite, or even make his way into the final four.
Key match: May 18, Iwate vs TJP
Recently deposed IWGP Tag Team Champions Catch 2/2 might have their eyes set on winning individual gold via BOSJ for now, but a backup plan will be to quickly get back upon the tag team horse that they have ridden so well for the last year. A near year long reign with the IWGP Junior Tag Team Championships would come about when TJP defeated Taguchi’s regular partner Master Wato in BOSJ last year, setting he and Francesco Akira for their first challenge, and first title win in June of 2022. Now, Taguchi could set up a resurgence for Team Six or Nine if he can put TJP away in Iwate and establish the team as top contenders once more.
Lio Rush made his NJPW debut in 2020’s Super J-Cup, but always had designs on being the ‘man in Japan’, by being Best of the Super Juniors. Now he finally gets his chance this May. Achingly close to the IWGP Junior heavyweight Championship earlier this March in a nail biting thriller with Hiromu Takahashi, Rush now has a chance for another crack at the whip- and to cut the Time Bomb’s incredible three consecutive year streak short.
Key match: May 14, Nagoya vs Hiromu Takahashi
Hiromu Takahashi has been pushed hard through each of the defences in his fifth reign with IWGP gold, and Lio Rush has pushed the champ as hard, if not harder than anyone. On night three of the tour, Rush could set himsel in very strong stead by getting revenge for March 21, and setting himself up for another title shot even if the grand trophy falls out of reach.
5th entry, 5th consecutive
DOUKI has made gradual gains every year since his Best of the Super Junior debut in 2019. One win in his debut year grew to two and then three, and while he stayed flat with a 3-6 record in 2022, it included a victory over the G-REX Champion from GLEAT in El Lindaman. This year, buoyed by a confident if unsuccessful outing with heavyweight Tetsuya Naito, he looks to not just end with a positive W:L record but to make his way to the final four, and give another major credential to the Just 5 Guys stable.
Key match: May 21, Korakuen vs Titan
Ever since he made his NJPW debut, DOUKI has been vocal about his distaste for CMLL and the major league scene in Mexico, having had to live hand to mouth and fight for his life on the grueling independent circuit in the company for the best part of a decade. It was with that distaste that he wrestled Titan last year in BOSJ and came up short, denying himself the ability to improve on his career best to get to four wins. This year he faces the masked man once more in a late stage of the tournament, and wants to right a perceived wrong.
8th entry, 4th consecutive. 2018, 2020, 2021, 2022 winner, IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion
The reigning IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion is the defending Best of the Super Junior Champion this year. 2022 saw Hiromu make history with his fourth overall trophy and third consecutive tournament win. It was an unprecedented feat and one that Hiromu is only determined to outdo. Takahashi now wants to break the defence record of IWGP junior defences by making it to V12, and to win the IWGP World Heavyweight Championship while he’s on the way; he might have just fallen short of that second goal with his loss to SANADA at Dontaku, but it’s a dream he hasn’t given up on, and maybe yet a fifth BOSJ trophy might put him back on that unbeaten track.
Key match: May 18, Iwate vs KUSHIDA
When Hiromu Takahashi exploded onto the scene back from excursion as the time Bomb in November 2016, he targeted then IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion KUSHIDA, sparking a feud that kickstarted Hiromu’s rapid ascent to superstardom. On May 18 in Iwate, the two are reunited in singles competition for the first time since June 3 2018, and their first singles bout in five years will be something to keep a close eye on.