May is usually reserved for the Juniors of New Japan to take over the wrestling world.
Unfortunately, Covid-19 is still impacting the world and the 27th edition of BOSJ, set to start on 12th May, has been cancelled. In lieu of a preview for a tournament that isn’t taking place, it seemed like an apt time to take a look back at the best of last year’s tournament instead.
For the first time in history, the 26th BOSJ saw a total of 20 entrants compete in the brackets. From veterans such as Rocky Romero, Tiger Mask and Ryusuke Taguchi to debutants Robbie Eagles, El Phantasmo and Bandido, it was the most stacked field of all time.
Whilst I have picked my personal top 5, this list is by no means extensive. Best of the Super Juniors 26 was impressive from the first night to the final in Ryōgoku Sumo Hall and is definitely worth a re-watch to help scratch that New Japan itch we all suffer from.
Shingo Takagi vs SHO – Night 1 (13/05/19)
These two men had met a number of times in tag team action going into this. SHO had made it abundantly clear that he wanted to be the first person to defeat the unbeaten Shingo. As an individual competitor he forwent the Roppongi 3K look; entering with (awesome) new music, his hair back to black and new ring gear. A clear indication that this would be a different SHO to what we had grown accustomed to. Shingo and SHO put on an arduous hard-hitting match akin to what you would expect from the beefiest of Heavyweights. Their bodies were breaking but the fighting spirit would remain strong. This was almost a culmination of the short rivalry the pair had but more so it felt like the beginning of a feud that will carry on for years to come, should SHO make the jump from Junior to Heavyweight.
Shingo Takagi vs Dragon Lee – Night 8 (23/05/19)
Lee was the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion. Shingo had never been pinned or submitted since joining NJPW in October 2018. The stubborn pride of Shingo was on full show as he refused to be taken down by another Dragon. A victory would make his path to winning the tournament seem inevitable and he’d also hold a win over the current Champion, putting him at the front of the line to challenge for the title in the future. The speed, the intensity, the unbridled ferocity that these men attack each other with is non-stop. There is little wasted time in this clash of beasts.
El Phantasmo vs Rocky Romero – Night 9 (24/05/19)
This is my personal favourite of the tournament and it was slighted when it came to match of the year contenders at the end of 2019. ELP went into this match unbeaten and as the block leader against Rocky who only had a single victory. Despite being with NJPW for 22 years, this was Rocky’s first-ever singles-match main event in the iconic Korakuen Hall. A venue that has so famously cheered for him were louder than ever. Turn your sound up loud for this one as the crowd and English commentary team make this already special match simply unforgettable. Rocky, even as the established veteran, was the scrappy underdog against the cocky bravado of ELP who had everything going his way. This match is a textbook guide to story-telling within the squared circle.
Will Ospreay vs Ryusuke Taguchi – Night 14 (03/06/19)
All the triumphs and losses of the tour led to this match for Ospreay and Taguchi: the winner would go to the final. Big match Taguchi showed up for this one and pushed Ospreay to the limit, forcing Ospreay to prove himself as one of the best wrestlers in the world. For all the laughs Taguchi gives every night, it can be easy to forget how talented he is in the ring. The ability to have comedy moments work in such a serious environment yet still keep the intensity at boiling point is remarkable. Even dislocating his finger at one point during the match, this is Ospreay at his best.
Shingo Takagi vs Will Ospreay – The Final (05/06/19)
Almost a year later Shingo would declare this his favourite NJPW match ever. The Undefeated Dragon vs The Assassin. Shingo and Ospreay push each other beyond greatness. On a night that had the NJPW debut of Jon Moxley, it was this match that was the main event and it eclipsed everything that came before it. This was a war. A fast-paced, heart-thumping, hard-hitting battle between two of the best wrestlers in the world today. Ospreay entered this match with a sword in hand, poignantly ready to be the first man to slay the dragon. This was the best match of 2019, it was perhaps the best Juniors match ever and it is one of the greatest matches of all time. If you are a fan of professional wrestling, you owe it to yourself to watch this.
You can find me on Twitter @CiaranRH. Thanks for reading.