For a little while, this year’s Best of the Super Juniors looked to be a little disappointing.
That sounds pretty harsh – we’ve seen some great matches – but relative to last year’s excellent competition, the 2018 BOSJ wasn’t quite excelling to the extent many of us were expecting.
Then came the final two days.
KUSHIDA and Takahashi reignited their rivalry in stellar fashion, Ospreay and Flip Gordon provided bucketloads of athletic goodness, and Ishimori mercilessly steamrolled his way into the final, overcoming an ultra-babyface performance by YOH.
The tournament’s penultimate day made picking this week’s showcase match very difficult indeed. The final made it very easy.
Ishimori and Takahashi clashed in a bout described by Dave Meltzer as the best BOSJ final of all time – no mean feat given the legendary names that have met in past editions. It became the latest New Japan classic to break his five-star rating system, earning half a star over the supposed maximum.
If you haven’t yet watched the match, I strongly suggest you do so. It’s frantic, fast-paced, and occasionally terrifying. If you’ve watched it already, let’s break down why it was so good.
Best of the Super Juniors Final: Taiji Ishimori vs. Hiromu Takahashi
NJPW Best of the Super Juniors XXV – Day 14
Korakuen Hall – Tokyo, Japan
Background: In many ways, Ishimori is in Takahashi’s position when he returned to NJPW in late 2016. He’s the hot new star of a heel stable and wrestles at a frantic pace. However, this was far from a like-for-like final matchup.
The key difference between the pair is in their personalities and the way in which these characters manifest themselves in the ring. Takahashi is that weird mixture of crazed and playful and often seems to be wrestling in a haphazard, self-destructive style. He may be one of the best wrestlers in the world, but he’s also one of the scariest to watch.
Ishimori is far more direct. He’s lazer-focused, and while he also takes incredible risks representative of New Japan’s junior heavyweight division, you get a sense that he’s zeroing in on his opponent. He seems more of a hired gun than an acrobat, looking to get the job done.
As mentioned above, both men progressed to the final after a nail-biting penultimate day. There was no clear winner here, which served to make the match even more dramatic. Many fancied Ishimori, the Bullet Club member having defeated IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Ospreay earlier in the tournament. In a wider sense however, this felt like Takahashi’s time. While Ospreay, KUSHIDA, and Scurll waged war earlier in the year, he was the glue holding multiple feuds together.
The Match: Unlike many matches earlier in the tournament, the final started off rather tentatively. This was something of a surprise, given the nature of both men involved – but made sense by the end of the nearly-35 minute bout.
Things didn’t take long to pick up, as Takahashi attempted his destructive Sunset Flip Powerbomb to the outside, only for Ishimori to backflip out of his predicament and tee off with right hands. In a slightly surprising move, the pair brawled into the crowd, treating Korakuen Hall to some of the most memorable spots of the match.
You’d imagine that the anarchic Takahashi would be more comfortable in such a situation, but it was Ishimori who gained the upper hand, sending his opponent tumbling down a flight of stairs with a truly scary Hurricanrana. The early stages of the bout were full of such moments, where the LIJ member seemed taken aback by the speed and directness of his foe. He was forced to pull out the big guns early, blasting Ishimori with a Sunset Bomb, Wheelbarrow Slam, and leaping Dropkick from the apron to the floor.
Back in the ring, Ishimori caught Takahashi in a Crossface, and we were given another example of LIJ’s status as de facto babyfaes. Despite his psychotic tendencies, the crowd loudly rallied behind Hiromu, willing him to the ropes even with both arms trapped. At one point, the camera even cut to a shot of a girl on the verge of tears.
Then came an amazing sequence, as Ishimori missed a double-knee strike in the corner, stumbling into a German Suplex attempt. He was able to backflip onto his feet, only to charge straight into an overhead Suplex, crashing into the turnbuckle and dropping onto his head. The sheer fluidity of this exchange betrayed a real chemistry between the pair – despite this being (I think) their first ever singles match.
Now it was Takahashi who seemed on the verge of victory, hitting several big moves for a succession of near falls. Top tier NJPW matches often have a moment where wrestling convention is temporarily ignored, elevating everything to a higher level. It’s basically a way of letting us know we’re not watching an ordinary main event.
This bout’s transcendent moment came when Ishimori escaped the Time Bomb and dropped Takahashi with a reverse ‘rana, only for Hiromu to pop straight to his feet and hit one of his own! As both men lay exhausted on the canvas, I couldn’t help but think that this was a key moment, not only in the context of the match, but of Takahashi’s entire career. From this moment on, he wrestled like a man with destiny on his side – smiling as he exchanged brutal strikes, and even kicking out of a huge Lariat at one.
In response, Ishimori took things into an even higher gear, running through his signature moves and regaining a foothold in the match. However, Takahashi cut off his momentum at the perfect time, meeting Taiji’s 450 Splash with a pair of raised knees. From there, he reminded us of his often-overlooked fluidity, transitioning from a Hurricanrana straight into a Triangle Choke.
Despite having used his new submission to finish several bouts earlier in the tournament, he merely used it to weaken his foe here. A dazed Ishimori was drilled with an astonishing Piledriver – one you’ve likely seen in .gif form on Twitter by now. The Blue Ray followed, as did the Time Bomb. This time, there was no kicking out.
It was the perfect finishing sequence for Takahashi – demonstrating both his ability and brutality in equal measure.
Aftermath: The immediate aftermath of the match was simple enough. As Takahahsi celebrated (and inadvertently broke a small section of the trophy), Ospreay hit the ring to solidify their upcoming Dominion match.
The wider consequences, however, are more complex. The reigning champ is probably the favourite, with a follow-up bout against Ishimori guaranteed by his loss to the Bullet Club man on night one. However, booking convention aside, the momentum is entirely with Takahashi. He is perhaps the most popular junior heavyweight around, and a title victory would likely be met with joyous scenes.
In terms of match quality, there’s a very real chance that Ospreay vs. Takahashi could steal the show. Yes, Kazuchika Okada and Kenny Omega are expected to deliver a Match of the Year favourite in the main event – but the two junior heavyweights have less hype to live up to. They’re simply able to go out and blow the roof off, an art both men are well versed in.