Wrestle Review Wednesday: Best of the Super Juniors 25


Hiromu Takahashi concluded Night 2 of New Japan Pro Wrestling’s Best of the Super Juniors tournament with a bold proclamation: The 25th edition of this annual showcase for junior heavyweight wrestlers would prove more memorable than this summer’s G1 Climax.

An ambitious promise, to be sure. The G1 Climax set a lofty standard from its very inception in 1991, featuring true mat classics like Keiji Mutoh vs. Big Van Vader and the thrilling climax of Mutoh and Masahiro Chono in the inaugural edition.

The tournament helped fuel NJPW’s resurgence in more recent years. Hiroshi Tanahashi’s showdown with longtime rival Shinsuke Nakamura in the 2015 finale was the Match of the Year, and set the stage for a pivotal chapter in another long-running story arc: Tanahashi and Okada’s struggle for billing as NJPW ace.

However, the 2016 edition may be the most important G1 Climax from a perspective of establishing the New Japan brand in the United States. That tournament elevated Kenny Omega into the main event scene, beginning the gradual metamorphosis of The Cleaner into the Best Bout Machine with an epic G1 performance that gave him momentum into his seminal Wrestle Kingdom 11 match with Okada.

Much like Tanahashia and Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 10, Okada and Omega will tangle this weekend at Dominion in what ostensibly marks a punctuation in this chapter of a transformational feud not just for NJPW, but wrestling worldwide. The 26th G1 Climax provided the necessary launching point for Okada-Omega, just as this summer’s 28th edition will dictate the direction at another pivotal moment.

And that brings us back to the Best of the Super Juniors. Hiromu Takahashi declaring this year’s 25th installment would outperform the G1 might fit his character as “The Ticking Bomb,” a slightly unhinged weirdo who talks to inanimate objects and gleefully puts his own body at risk to win matches. After all, the history and importance of the G1 to New Japan’s main-event scene cannot be overstated.

But the Best of the Super Juniors has played its own significant role in igniting NJPW’s global growth since 2015. Before winning the G1, Kenny Omega put on classic bouts in the Best of the Super Juniors. In 2016, Will Ospreay and Ricochet delivered a match that was the talk of the wrestling world.

And this year, Hiromu Takahashi’s performance — setting the ring ablaze in one outstanding match after another — generated impassioned crowd reactions that might be the most supportive for any wrestler in the entire company.

The Ticking Time Bomb garnered the kind of backing that suggests he could, one day soon, be a top-level player in the company. Stealing the spotlight at Dominion in a Jr. Heavyweight title tilt against Will Ospreay would help that cause.

Takahashi heads into Dominion on the heels of a 5-star Best of the Super Juniors finale against Taiji Ishimori. Ishimori’s been in NJPW all of one month, but English commentary team play-by-play broadcaster Kevin Kelly stated it best: After BOSJ, the new Bone Soldier “is a made man.”

Therein lies the magic of tournaments like Best of the Super Juniors, G1 Climax, and All Japan’s recently completed Champion Carnival. They offer a catalyst for beginning rivalries, strengthening the profile of different wrestlers, and laying the foundation for future storylines.

Ishimori’s immediate star turn in BOSJ functioned similar to fellow Pro Wrestling NOAH transplant Zack Sabre Jr. at this past March’s New Japan Cup, whose four-match run against premier talents Tetsuya Naito, Kota Ibushi, SANADA and Hiroshi Tanahashi made him a credible threat to Okada’s record-setting IWGP Heavyweight Championship reign.

The tournament concept is oh-so-simple, yet supremely effective — even for the more drama-focused WWE. Wrestling’s biggest and most successful promotion reignited a horribly dull 205 Live brand with a championship tournament this winter and spring, leading into Wrestlemania 34.

Fittingly, the tournament elevated Cedric Alexander to the top of the brand; fitting because another well-done tournament, 2016’s Cruiserweight Classic, landed Alexander a spot on the roster. His showing in an early-round match against Kota Ibushi won Alexander significant crowd support.

Really, it’s not all that different from Moe Wagner this past March or Tua Tagovailoa in January’s College Football Playoff. Tournaments have a unique ability to organically grow stars.