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The Future is Now
Best of the Super Juniors 24 Finals (New Japan Pro Wrestling)
June 3rd, 2017, Shibuya, Tokyo
Best of the Super Juniors is a round robin tournament featuring 16 of the world’s finest junior heavyweight wrestlers (WWE calls them “cruiserweights”) battling for the prestigious BOSJ trophy and a shot at the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. It’s a massive event, taking place over the course of over two weeks and dozens of matches, all culminating in the main event of this past Saturday’s stacked Best of the Super Juniors Finals. This year’s tournament competitors included NJPW mainstays like reigning Junior Heavyweight Champion Hiromu Takahashi, Ricochet, and Jushin Thunder Liger (who has participated in the tournament 25 times); CMLL’s brilliant young star Dragon Lee; and Ring of Honor’s Marty Scurll. When the round robin was finished, the two finalists were last year’s winner—British “Aerial Assassin” Will Ospreay—and the previous year’s—reigning ROH World TV Champion and beloved Marty McFly cosplayer KUSHIDA.
The match between Ospreay and KUSHIDA had mountains of potential from before the opening bell, coming loaded with a great in-ring and out-of-ring story to tell. In promos, Ospreay had announced his desire to win back-to-back Super Juniors, something that has only been achieved once before (by Tiger Mask IV twelve years ago), which would cement him as a legend at the ripe young age of 24. KUSHIDA, on the other hand, has been having just an awful year, dropping the Junior Heavyweight Championship to Takahashi in January and being humiliated in his rematch. Picking up the ROH TV title from Marty Scurll last month marked the beginning of his comeback, and winning the Super Juniors would grant him the opportunity to win back his title from Takahashi and restore his place in NJPW. But as an in-ring story, Ospreay/KUSHIDA is about a clash of two warriors with very different styles each trying to prove to the other that they can best him at his own game.
Ospreay is well known as a brilliant acrobat, an aerial artist. KUSHIDA is a master mat wrestler with an MMA background. But here’s the thing they both want the other to know from the very beginning: each man can do both. Ospreay locks up with KUSHIDA for some slow grappling at the outset, and then before long KUSHIDA is matching Ospreay’s high-velocity counter sequences. KUSHIDA proves he’s a dangerous aerialist by hitting Ospreay with a top rope senton to the outside, wounding Ospreay’s left leg. Then he demonstrates his superior experience and strategy by locking Ospreay’s weak leg in a Figure Four, nearly causing an early tapout. Not to be outdone, Ospreay puts KUSHIDA in an Octopus hold. They’re each trying to teach the other not to underestimate them, to assume nothing.
There’s an emotional arc to the match, as well, particularly for the cocky young Ospreay, who comes out of the gate talking shit (I am still startled by hearing English-speaking wrestlers say “fuck” in New Japan) but gains respect for his opponent over the course of the match, at one point rolling KUSHIDA back into the ring to avoid a count-out so that they can finish the match right. Then, as KUSHIDA challenges Ospreay further and begins to chip away at the younger man’s confidence, an increasingly desperate Ospreay throws sportsmanship to the wind and begins to bring increasingly brutal offense, nailing KUSHIDA’s head onto the ring apron with a Reverse Hurricanrana and abandoning him outside the ring in the hopes of getting that count-out win after all.
For KUSHIDA, this is a redemption arc. After his crushing defeats at the hands of Takahashi, KUSHIDA has unveiled a new finishing move: a small package driver he calls “Back to the Future” in tribute to the film around which he’s built his persona. Since it’s a new finisher, it’s never been broken and probably won’t be for some time, so if KUSHIDA can hit BTTF just once, that should be enough to win him the match. And if he hits it, and somehow Ospreay kicks out of it, then that’s it for KUSHIDA—he’ll never beat Takahashi, he might as well hang up his orange vest and go home. KUSHIDA’s first attempt gets countered by a Cutter, and it looks like that might be it. Ospreay lays into him with with a series of very loud kicks to the head. But KUSHIDA rallies one last time, manages to get an exhausted Ospreay up on the top ropes with him, and lands a Super Back to the Future, followed by one last driver to seal the deal. He pins Ospreay and wins the chance to reclaim his title. He’s back, for real, and Takahashi had better look out next week at Dominion.
Extra High Spots: Apart from the main event, most of the card for Best of the Super Juniors 24 was setup for next week’s Dominion event, which will feature the long-awaited rematch between IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada and challenger Kenny Omega, who put on a famous “six-star match” at Wrestle Kingdom 11 in January. BOSJ teased this match with a tag team bout between Okada and his ally Gedo and Omega and new Bullet Club teammate Marty Scurll. Scurll is an absolute freaking delight, and together with Omega managed to be genuinely funny and manic without ever sacrificing the stakes of the match. Okada, of course, is a true babyface champion and made his opponents look like a million bucks without ever seeming like a punching bag, building anticipation for their blockbuster bout next week.
– Dylan Roth
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