Friday, June 13, 2014

NJPW Best of the Super Juniors 2014 Finals Review

Ricochet celebrates and comes face to face with his future opponent
Photo Credit:
New Japan Pro Wrestling has long prided itself on its popular and highly successful junior heavyweight division. From its illustrious J-Crown days to helping to launch the careers of several high profile American wrestlers to the legendary Super J Cup, the weight class has carved out an everlasting legacy for itself. However in recent years the company has been paying less and less attention to the division that was once its pride and joy. With much of the focus going towards the acclaimed heavyweight scene the juniors have been languishing in a lukewarm state since Wrestle Kingdom 7. At that event 18 months ago, Prince Devitt regained the title from Low Ki. After that Devitt turned heel, set his sights on the Heavyweight Championship and never defended the belt he did have. That was the state of the title for all of 2013. In fact, that year's Best of the Super Juniors  saw Devitt win, and so he never had the traditional "Champion vs BOSJ winner" match.

After Wrestle Kingdom 8, the company breathed a little bit of life into the division with a couple of new additions and a fighting Champion in Kota Ibushi. This year's BOSJ brackets were interesting in that they featured a number of tag teams that could have produced some fantastic "partner vs partner" matches. Also of note was the lack of Ibushi in the tournament, which guaranteed us a new contender to the title. Unfortunately, a couple of injuries early on denied us of what were probably the most anticipated matches this year and led to some iffy reshuffling of the deck. At this point, on day eight the final four were Kushida, Taichi, Ryusuke Taguchi and Ricochet.  Lets have a look at what went down.

1) Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, Bushi, and Kenny Omega vs. Jushin Thunder Liger, Mascara Don, Mascara Dorada, and Tiger Mask IV:
New Japan often opens shows with multi-man tag matches featuring guys who are too old/unimportant to be featured in singles matches. They also usually include Tiger Mask, Jushin Liger, and Manabu Nakanashi. This one had a couple of guys who were eliminated from the tournament and Ten-Koji thrown in for good measure. Nakanashi wrestled under a luchador gimmick and dominated a lot of the early goings on throwing some lariats and drop kicks, but the man is just too stiff and immobile for any of his stuff to be effective visually. You just get the sense that these guys could run rings around him and yet here he is flooring Kojima with only slightly more force than I could deliver. Once Nakanashi got out I expected the match to get better but it didn't. Kenny Omega and Dorada filled up the rest of the running time with a few high spots, a couple of which were botched before Omega got the win with a German suplex.

2) Rocky Romero and Gedo vs. El Desperado and Kota Ibushi:
With an increased amount of time this could have been spectacular. Seeing as they were only given a few minutes, there wasn't a whole lot they could do. To their credit though, they did pack in as much action into this as they could, and there's no scenario on Earth where Ibushi isn't fun to watch. Rocky Romero, to my surprise got the win over Desperado with a modified Tombstone Piledriver. This is notable because A) he now technically owns a win over the Champ and B) Gedo wins his first match in I can't remember how long.

3) Captain New Japan and Yuji Nagata vs. Hirooki Goto and Katsuyori Shibata:
Christ! Captain New Japan is a fish out of water in this match. Let's examine the participants here. Hirooki Goto has been around for years and is known for his especially hard hitting offense. Yuji Nagata, despite his laughable MMA attempts, is 46 years old and can still dish it out and take it as well as anyone. Katsuyori Shibita is the man for whom the term "strong-style" was coined. So you've got arguably the three toughest shit-kickers in the company going at it and one comedy mascot whose probably just hoping to get out of this with his spleen intact. Shibata in an unusual display of mercy went easy on him and only really got serious when he was in the ring with Nagata. Those two had a game of slaps post-match so hopefully it'll lead to a singles bout between the two. That is definitely something I'd pay to see. After getting in a few unexpected nearfalls, Goto put away Captain NJ with the Shouten.

4) Kushida vs. Taichi :
Alex Shelley, despite winning his block, injured his shoulder and had to pull out of the semifinals. This, crushingly meant that we would not get to see Time Splitters, Shelley and Kushida "explode." Taichi was the replacement, and I can't decide if the booking was supposed to make him look credible or look like a piece of shit. You see, Taichi is more or less the Japanese equivalent of Heath Slater and only wins matches when somebody gets injured. So with that in mind, the decision to have 95% of the bout consist of Taichi cheating could have been to convince the fans into thinking he had a chance or to punish him for his extramarital affair scandal. Either way he looked like the biggest goober on the planet after being submitted by Kushida despite controlling nearly the entirety of the match.

5) Ricochet vs. Ryusuke Taguchi:
This was another potentially great match given only a few minutes. You could tell that this was going to be a short one as they skipped the early grappling/feeling out process and went straight for the big moves, after which Ricochet won with a kick to the head.

6) Minoru Suzuki and Takashi Iizuka (Suzuki-gun) vs. Jado and Toru Yano (Chaos)
This was garbage and the worst match of the night by far. Basically it was the latest chapter in the never ending faction war between Chaos and Suzuki-gun. In puroresu, stables don't tend to break up like they do in the States. If someone leaves, the group usually stays together until everyone's gone, an example of this is Great Bash Heel which at one point had nearly a dozen members but today consists only of Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma. Until a group definitively disbands, their feuds just go on and on and on. This brings me back to Chaos vs Suzuki-gun who've been feuding on and off for years.

The latest twist in the story rivalry no one cares about is that long time Chaos member Iizuka turned on his tag team partner, Yano and jumped ship to the other team. I think It's pretty reasonable to describe Iizuka as the Japanese Scott Steiner, in that he was once a guy who was athletic and exciting, turned heel, shaved his head and adopted a half crazy gimmick. He also put on a ton of upper body muscle and is now completely immobile and useless. Even his pants are similar now that I think about it.

Anyway he worked over Yano for the majority of the match and it was wretched. Using a tried and true combination of crappy stomps and chokeholds, he somehow managed to do as little as possible but still keep the crowd interested. I don't know why they made as much noise as they did but the audience should probably be awarded some sort of honorary Championship for it. Suzuki and Iizuka eventually picked up the win and did a post-match beat down on their opponents before being chased off by Kazushi Sakuraba who I assume will now feud with those two. That is like cleaning up a piss stain with more piss.

It was at this point that I wondered if this show should be called "Best of the Insubstantial Throwaway Tag Matches" because they've devoted infinitely more time to the filler as opposed to the pairings that this PPV was being sold on. Oh well, at least from here on the show picked up a little bit.

7) Tama Tonga, Doc Gallows and Karl Anderson vs. Tomoaki Honma, Tetsuya Naito and Hiroshi Tanahashi:
This was 3 guys I love versus 3 guys I hate. On one hand you have the real Best in the World, Hiroshi Tanahashi, with two of the most under-appreciated workers in the business in Honma and Naito. On the other you have Tama Tonga, the even less well known son of Haku, Doc Gallows whose career highlights are recording a funny podcast once and CM Punk mentioning him on Raw, and Karl "Machine Gun" Anderson who is so incredibly dull on his own he always needs to be a part of some gigantic stable to hide his lack of star power. They're all a part of the top heel group in New Japan, The Bullet Club who've been delivering generic shouty promos and underwhelming, interference ridden matches for over a year. They mostly consist of ex-TNA guys and guys who couldn't make it on their own but at least here they were going up against the best possible competition. In the end the face team won a pretty fun match that at least featured "never winning but always hitting" Tomoaki Honma being instrumental in the finish.

8) Shinuske Nakamura, Kazuchika Okada, YOSHI-HASHI and Tomohiro Ishii vs. Bad Luck Fale, Nick Jackson, Matt Jackson and Yujiro Takahashi:
This was another Bullet Club versus everyone match, and like the last one, it was fine but was absolutely unremarkable. DA CLUB was again taking on some serious players with three of their opponents being arguably the most popular performers in the company right now. The thing I remember most about this was how much time everyone spent making YOSHI look good. Seriously, this is a guy who regularly gets trounced by dudes in a couple of minutes and here he was kicking out of finishers and nearly getting the three count against Bad Luck Fale. Anyway after several minutes of getting their asses handed to them, the mega heels finally got the upset(?) win over YOSHI fucking HASHI.

Ricochet vs. Kushida:
This was the exciting, high flying match we'd been waiting all show to see. And while it couldn't make up for everything that came before it, it was really great. What I liked most was that it felt like two athletes really competing over a coveted prize. This is opposed more show boaty, overly choreographed juniors matches where it looks like they're co-operating with each other to pull off phony looking sequences. Which of course they always do but they hid it well here by having all the counters and reversals seem natural and spontaneous. There was even a bit were it looked like they were gonna do that Lets Run Off The Same Rope For No Reason thing but they subverted it nicely by Ricochet kicking Kushida in the gut when he wasn't looking.

Also if you ever wanted a reason why Japanese crowds are the best in wresting this is it. The bout was in its final stretch, and the two wrestlers were slugging it out. Ricochet faltered slightly, and the crowd went fucking nuts. The fact that they were able to pick up and react to a momentary display of fatigue added a whole new dimension to the match. It went from "these guys are doing cool moves" to "these guys are doing cool moves and one of them is about to die". Because really if the crowd doesn't respond to something, it doesn't feel important. If Ricochet stumbled and no one noticed that would be that and it would matter to the story but they did respond and it made the match even more awesome. In the end Ricochet won with a swinging kick to the head in what was easily the match of the night. Afterwards he was congratulated/confronted by the current Champ, Ibushi.

Overall Thoughts: 
A really disappointing and at times tedious show that was thankfully capped off by a great main event. Although the tournament itself was underwhelming, at least Ibushi now has a strong contender to his title.