SPOTLIGHTED PODCAST ALERT (YOUR ARTICLE BEGINS A FEW INCHES DOWN)...
NJPW on AXS TV
Best of the Super Juniors XXIII Parts 1 & 2
Sendai Sunplaza Hall
By R.W. Andrews, PWTorch contributor
First, an apology. I’ve been in and out of Nyquil stupors over the past few days, so pardon the lack of detail and wordplay normally baked into these reviews.
The show opens with Ryusuke Taguchi standing in front of a beige pressboard to welcome us to the Super Juniors Tournament. He’s wearing an amazing t-shirt which has a sketched rendition of his face profusely sweating out a green secretion as words spelled out in katakana fingers crest over his likeness. It’s weird. It’s creative. It’s damn near art nouveau. I need it.
This is my first trip back to AXS in a month and my how things have changed. The regular intro music has been replaced, booted out of the rotation by a jazzy number you’d likely hear during a car commercial where the voice-over tries to oversexualize the “smooth contours” and “elegant style” of whatever roadster happened to be the most fetching at the moment. Also included is a new graphic of the NJPW Lion’s Head floating through a starry Windows screen saver as red rays leech out from behind its mane. It’s a surprisingly elegant intro, although I’ll personally miss the old theme.
And might I just add that it feels so nice to be back in the throes of AXS’s presentation of NJPW. Yes, the exterior got a fresh coat of paint, but those familiar acoustics within its walls bounce back perfectly. Just hearing J.R. and Barnett’s voices is so calming after leaving the safety of the shallow end to tread in the deep waters of New Japan’s live events. This is where I cut my teeth on the promotion, so to be back is a pleasant homecoming.
Match#1 – Will Ospreay vs. Volador Jr.
Sunplaza Hall is a smallish venue cramming as many seats on the floor as reasonably possible without the crowd sitting ass to ankles. There are two entranceways flanking the sides of a triangular formation of chairs, both equally banal with crisscross beams serving as the anchors to hang an NJPW logo apron. The walk for each competitor is a short one, which is fine with me considering Will Ospreay’s music doesn’t quite fit the breakneck pace of his style. He comes out in a pair of black tights trimmed up the leg in yellow wrap-around stripes while his kneepads have a flame emblazoned on the caps. Volador Jr. on the other hand, not so much. He’s wearing a rendition of Kane’s original red and black attire, his face concealed in a Two Face inspired mask with Kane’s color scheme on one side and a midnight matted demon snarling past the cheekbone on the other side. I feel bad knocking it because his hard earned bumps paid for that look, but f- me if he isn’t entitled to a full refund.
Ospreay and Volador shake hands and the masked man unsheathes his face to the crowd. JR: “Good lookin’ kid, this Volador Jr.” The camera cuts to a shot of the crowd, and holy s- there is a guy seated second row who looks exactly like Bolo Yeung. In fact, I’m fairly certain that it is him. Hell, he’s got enough Kumite money to hop on a red eye and globetrot to whatever event he damn well pleases.
Volador and Ospreay trade a whirlwind of reversals, showing off “fast, twitch-like action” as JR puts it, before Volador yokes up Ospreay’s neck with his ankles and ushers him outside via headscissors. As Volador heads to the ropes, Ospreay slides back in and cartwheels out of a hurricanranna attempt to dropkick Volador out of the ring. Ospreay steps outside, running the apron to hit a shooting star press onto Volador. After both men work their way to the ring, Volador catches Ospreay with an enzuigiri and hits a high crossbody for two. He clotheslines Ospreay outside, leisurely steps out to the apron, and springboards backwards off the middle rope with a moonsault. He achieved tremendous hang time on it, his body floating through the air before crashing down on Ospreay.
Hattori counts as both men are down, with Volador rolling Ospreay inside at sixteen. Volador slides in after Ospreay and hits a backstabber for two. Ospreay whips Volador into the corner, but races right into a boot to the face. Volador slingshots Ospreay into the corner, with Ospreay landing safely on the turnbuckles to launch himself off with a backflip and snatch Volador’s head on the way down for a DDT. Ospreay heads up top, but before he can achieve liftoff Volador dashes to the corner to smack him on the side of the face with an enzuigiri. Volador climbs up top, with both men standing on the top rope, and leaps up to flip Ospreay off with a top rope Frankensteiner. Volador covers, but Ospreay kicks out at two.
Volador hoists Ospreay onto the top turnbuckle and tries for a big air Spanish Fly. Ospreay flips another half a rotation to land on his feet while Volador backpedals to try and stabilize his footing. Ospreay darts to the ropes, springboards off, and catches Volador with the OsCutter for the win.
As Ospreay looks astonished by his own feats of otherworldly athleticism, JR expounds on the amazingness of the cutter by declaring, “Absolutely phenomenal. If ya hit it you’re in the promise land. If ya miss it, ya go plumb to hell!”
Winner: Will Ospreay in 8:58 to advance to the Best of the Super Juniors Tournament Finals
The camera cuts to an interview in the back of the arena where a barely winded Ospreay keeps it brief and to the point. He says that he is going to realize his dream of becoming the first British wrestler to be crowned Best of the Super Juniors. Like I said, short and to the point.
(Andrews’ Analysis: This is in no way a knock on Ospreay, but after being wined and dined by his match with Shibata, this felt more like a sparring session than a match to get into the finals. Don’t get me wrong, both guys took their fair share of risk, but there just wasn’t much to the match. They just kind of did their thing and left in a tidy sub-ten minutes. I feel like if I never would have watched in the present time and had only seen Ospreay’s match with KUSHIDA a few months back, then this would have had far more impact than it did. But alas, I’ve been spoiled too much.)
Match#2 – KUSHIDA vs. BUSHI
It’s the attack of the Caps Lock button. I’m looking forward to this one, as the more I’ve seen BUSHI the more I’ve really gotten into the guy. He comes to the ring wearing an amazing mask – one part processional dragon/one part cocaine-eyed Boogieman with bugged out, bloodshot oculars. He’s tailor made in a black three-piece complete with driving gloves. It’s very Gentlemen’s Quarterly, so much so that I suspect when he got fitted with Naito that the boss was probably thinking, “God damn he looks good. I knew I should have went with the gloves”.
While BUSHI makes his way to the ring, Barnett gives his thoughts on LIJ: “They have a despicable attitude. Very unscrupulous individuals. BUT…they’re great athletes.” He also adds some really nice supplemental material to the Naito documentary on The World by telling us that BUSHI, Naito, and EVIL all trained together at Animal Hamaguchi’s gym.
And then we get the drums. The crowd claps along to the beat of KUSHIDA’s theme as he peels the apron apart to reveal those incredible championship McFly’s – well warranted considering the title draped around his waist at this point in time. As KUSHIDA climbs the turnbuckles to pose for the crowd, the cameraman catches a great shot of BUSHI perched atop the next top turnbuckle over with his arms folded while impatiently waiting for the fanfare to subside.
Before KUSHIDA can even disrobe, BUSHI hops off the turnbuckles and dropkicks KUSHIDA outside. He stays on him, sprinting to the ropes before springing back with a suicide dive that trucks KUSHIDA over. Then he takes him deep into the crowd – so deep that the lights can’t even pick them up – as Barnett says of BUSHI, “He’s still got his merch on so he can hopefully sell some more t-shirts.” Anyways, all you can see is one silhouette slamming another silhouette face-first into a wall. BUSHI walks back into the light unscathed, so mystery solved on who is on the floor. As KUSHIDA rolls to his side, Red Shoes starts his count. Shocker. BUSHI rolls back into the ring and lays on the mat, playfully waving KUSHIDA to get in before the twenty is reached. KUSHIDA beats the count, rolling in to get draped between the ropes and see-sawed right back to the apron and back to the floor.
As KUSHIDA writhes in pain, the camera picks up a pair of shoes lying near his head. JR picks up on it, stating, “Somebody got knocked right out of their Nikes. Lookie there. They’re laying there all by themselves.” Red Shoes counts well after the damage has been done, but has wasted enough time for KUSHIDA to beat the count at nineteen. BUSHI strips off his shirt and begins to choke KUSHIDA until Red Shoes confiscates it. BUSHI drapes KUSHIDA over the ropes, but KUSHIDA counters an axe-handle attempt with an enzuigiri, followed by a springboard dropkick to the face. He hits an inverted atomic drop into a basement dropkick, finishing the combo with a cartwheel punt to the arm.
They trade chops near the ropes as JR notices the large number of ladies in the audience, musing that they are there for KUSHIDA. BUSHI twists between the ropes to kick KUSHIDA as he charges in. He does a Spinaroonie, which causes JR to launch into a Booker T impression that misses the mark worse than a Storm Trooper sniper shot. BUSHI runs to the ropes as KUSHIDA follows closely to knock him outside with a springboard kick. He dives out after BUSHI, crushing him with a senton.
BUSHI beats Red Shoes’ count at sixteen by lunging over the second rope, breaching the barrier to a KUSHIDA dropkick. KUSHIDA misses a moonsault, which allows BUSHI to attempt the MX, but KUSHIDA blocks it and transitions right into the Hoverboard Lock. BUSHI immediately crawls to the ropes while KUSHIDA works tirelessly to roll him into another lock, but gets pushed to the apron. He elbows BUSHI away and springboards back in, straight into BUSHI’s awaiting knees. BUSHI charges KUSHIDA in the corner with a double knee and moves smoothly into a neckbreaker that connects for two.
He heads to the second rope, waiting for KUSHIDA to rise, but misses an axe-handle. They have a Batsu spurt of forearms before KUSHIDA kicks him repeatedly to win the round. BUSHI smacks him and ducks a retaliatory clothesline. He sends out a kick that is caught by KUSHIDA, but as he drops to the mat he whips his other leg around to lash KUSHIDA across the face. KUSHIDA counters with a Pele Kick and both men fall to the mat.
KUSHIDA is up first, racing towards BUSHI with a PK to the arm and floats over for the Hoverboard lock. BUSHI gets to his knees as KUSHIDA begins to bend his wrist backwards. BUSHI tries to snag the ropes, but KUSHIDA rolls him back while transitioning into an armbar. BUSHI tries to roll KUSHIDA into a pin, but KUSHIDA slams him back down with his legs and puuuulls his arm back. As BUSHI flops around to get back to his knees, he begins biting KUSHIDA’s leg. Red Shoes steps too close when he tries to get a better look – failing once again to avoid getting grabbed by the collar. With one hand shoving Red Shoes’ head away from the action, he turns and begins spraying green mist in KUSHIDA’s face. Multitasking perfection! BUSHI is let free and heads to the top rope to fly off and hit a blinded KUSHIDA with the MX. He covers, but KUSHIDA narrowly escapes the pinfall! KUSHIDA gets to his feet, wandering aimlessly while trying to wipe his eyes. BUSHI heads back to the top turnbuckle and launches off to hit another MX! BUSHI covers again, pushing KUSHIDA’s face away from Red Shoes while getting the three in the process.
After the match, a disgusted JR states the obvious. “Josh, logically, how does the referee think that green mist, or substance, got in the face and eyes of KUSHIDA? I realize that you can’t call what you don’t see, but I think one can see that something has gone awry here.” Barnett can’t offer an explanation as BUSHI grabs the belt and sprays green mist on it before tossing it at KUSHIDA. He grabs a mic and tells KUSHIDA that NJPW isn’t all about him. He says that everyone wants to win and that’s what he wants to do. He promises to take the title from KUSHIDA before lying on the mat to smile at a still blinded KUSHIDA.
Winner: BUSHI in 13:17
We get a backstage interview with BUSHI, who says that he’s “really sad and vexed” that he’s not heading to the finals of the tournament. He says that he had to win in order to stop KUSHIDA from reaching his third tournament finals. The more that KUSHIDA shines in glory, the more that his fire of hatred and vexation burns stronger.
They cut to KUSHIDA, who has one arm draped over a ringside crew member’s shoulder. His face is covered in green mist as he says that the loss is “just a stain in my career”. He mentions that he still can’t see anything, which alerts the crew member to help him to the back so he can receive treatment.
(Andrews’ Analysis: Damn fun match. I’m not saying that just because of KUSHIDA was in it either. BUSHI was awesome to watch in this one. He can keep up with the best of them in the ring, and besides nearly killing Ricochet at Wrestle Kingdom 11, the MX is a bad ass move. I loved, loved, LOVED how he grabbed Red Shoes and turned him away in order to spray KUSHIDA in the face and escape the Hoverboard lock. Any time someone can use Red Shoes’ inevitable downfall to swing the advantage is a highlight for me. I normally hate ref bumps, but with Red Shoes he’s never down long and it just add to his mystique as a guy just trying to do the best he can but always finding himself as the pawn in the game.)
We cut to a present day interview with Taguchi. He says that the final of the tournament was being held in Sendai, which is his home town. That has made him more motivated than ever. He talks about feeling pressure from the company because of where the finals were taking place. He adds that the company didn’t say anything to him directly, but he could feel it. As far as his opponent Gedo is concerned, he says that in the prior year’s tournament Gedo really got him. He says that he planned some tactics for Gedo in the 16’ tournament and it worked out rather swimmingly for him.
Match#3 – Gedo vs. Taguchi
That damn Gedo is in terrific shape going on 27 years as a pro wrestler. It’s insane. Okada is shown at ringside commentary while Gedo makes his way down the aisle. JR and Barnett talk about the Seattle Supersonics for whatever reason and how “everything went to hell when they went to Oklahoma City.” I don’t have the slightest clue what prompted that. Taguchi comes out with a baby blue bandana over his eyes to mock Gedo. Barnett: “Oh, I thought that was Mike Muir from Suicidal Tendencies right now.” JR chuckles, then says, “Well I wish I knew who Mike was, or even Suicidal Tendencies would be nice to know.” I’ll say it again, this is a pleasant homecoming. Taguchi does a little Johnny Football money motion with his hands and gets side-kicked in the gut for it. Gedo snatches the bandana off of Taguchi’s head and whips it at the back of his skull. And we’re off.
Taguchi is writhing on the mat, holding his forehead for some reason, while Red Shoes picks up the bandana and gives it a little Frisbee toss outside. Gedo strips Taguchi of his shirt and chokes him at the ropes with it. Taguchi gets tossed outside, where Gedo follows after him and grabs the time keeper’s hammer. And then he hits Taguchi in the back of the head with it! Right in front of god damn Red Shoes! He just takes a squat on the bottom rope and shakes his head as if to say “I don’t condone this, but what the can I do about it?” Gedo hits Taguchi in the back of the head again with the hammer! What in the hell is going on around here? Red Shoes hops outside and picks up the hammer as Gedo says, “Sorry, sorry, sorry,” to which Red Shoes replies with, “Ok.” What in the absolute f-!?
Gedo is actually not sorry. He slams Taguchi’s head against the time keeper’s table and once again gavels the back of his head. And again Red Shoes just squats on the bottom rope and watches on! Gedo takes Taguchi towards the ring post and slingshots him into it. And it gets better! Red Shoes climbs on the ropes to count out Taguchi – nevermind the divot in the back of the man’s skull – while Gedo is all the way on the other side of the ring on one knee untying the turnbuckle pad. It’s absolute insanity! The ineptitude of Red Shoes meets the cowardice of Gedo. As Red Shoes continues to count out Taguchi while Gedo chucks the turnbuckle pad outside, JR and Barnett start talking about Bootsy Collins. I am loving every second of this.
Taguchi rolls in and gets Irish Whipped into the exposed turnbuckles. With Taguchi clutching his chest on the mat, Gedo screams out “What do you say? Do you quit? Do you quit, huh?” before turning to Red Shoes and screaming, “You shut up, Jay. Shut up!” JR: “Is he talking to you or me?” Gedo whips Taguchi into the exposed buckles a second time as a girl shrieks in the background. More JR: “You got about eighty-eight attendants around the ring and not a damn one of them are going to lift a hand to put the turnbuckle pad back in the corner!”
Gedo hits a twisting neckbreaker on Taguchi for two before putting him in a chinlock until Taguchi can reach the ropes. Taguchi takes another trip to the corner, falling to the mat face-first at Gedo’s feet. Gedo whips him in again, but Taguchi reverses and chucks Gedo into the corner. Gedo reverses Taguchi’s Irish Whip into the corner, sending Taguchi scrambling up the second rope to springboard off with a leaping hip attack that sends Gedo sliding out of the ring.
Taguchi gives chase, running along the apron to fly off and smack Gedo with another hip attack. Taguchi rolls inside early in Red Shoes’ count, with Gedo rolling in right before twenty. Butt stuff at the ropes – thrice over – followed by forever butt stuffs with the added wrinkle of Taguchi sliding under the ropes and hitting a high hip attack to the side of Gedo’s head. After all that running around, Taguchi gets a two. Taguchi hits two of three rolling suplexes, but on the third Gedo slips off and counters with a crossface. Taguchi keeps slapping the mat, but in Red Shoes’ world that is not a tapout, apparently. Taguchi grabs Gedo’s Air Jordan – he really is rocking a nice pair of Jordan’s that JR refers to as “soft walkers” – and twists Gedo’s ankle to slip out transition into an ankle lock. Gedo palm-walks towards the ropes, but Taguchi pulls him back, the momentum helping Gedo flip Taguchi into a victory roll for two.
Taguchi is backdropped to the apron, but retaliates with a slap to the face. He springboards back in with a hip attack that misses, yelling out the name “Gedo!” as he runs into a superkick. Taguchi drops to his knees and eats another superkick. Gedo covers, but Taguchi kicks out at two. Gedo calls for rain, but as he unrolls Taguchi, Taguchi counters with a hip attack. Taguchi calls for rain! The crowd lets out an ambient “Ooooooh” as he outstretches his arms. The camera even pulls back for him! To no surprise, Taguchi loses Gedo’s wrist in the spin-out, met by a smack to the face. Taguchi answers with a jumping enzuigiri that drops Gedo to the mat. As Taguchi lifts Gedo back to his feet, Barnett mentions that Gedo would be “beside himself” if he was able to spoil Taguchi’s homecoming. Gedo goes for a Tiger suplex, but Taguchi flips away and hits a low dropkick to the face.
Taguchi goes back to the ankle lock, sending Gedo scurrying across the mat for the ropes. He finds Red Shoes, who he uses to help himself back to one foot before whipping the ref behind him and into Taguchi to free himself. Taguchi pins Gedo’s arms back for possibly Dodon’s Throne, but Gedo pops his heel up to catch Taguchi in the groin. Gedo hits the Complete Shot and grabs Taguchi’s head to put him away with the Gedo Clutch, but Taguchi snapmares Gedo over his shoulder as Red Shoes flies into the camera shot to count the three.
Winner: Taguchi to meet Will Ospreay in the tournament finals
We go to the interview area where Taguchi calls the feeling of moving on to the finals “unbelievable”. He says that we wants to return home with honors, stating that he’s prepared for Ospreay and is going to go “Taguchi-Spreay on him”. He makes himself laugh, calling his own words “nonsense”.
(Andrews’ Analysis: I like Taguchi when he is forced to wrestle as opposed to relying on comedy and hip attacks. He can move, there’s no doubt about that. And Gedo is just incredible to watch. I obviously loved the cheating, but once he started to wrestle you really got a sense of how sharp his skills really are. This match was fun from start to finish, with high honors going to the madness created the second Gedo struck Taguchi with the hammer. I typically don’t laugh out loud while watching wrestling, but that few minutes of chaos was genuinely hilarious.)
We go back to present day Taguchi, who says that he did the same mockery of Gedo in the prior year’s tournament. He wanted to make Gedo recall the prior year’s match, but aimed to turn around the result. He talks about his penchant for fooling around, mentioning that the new fans – like myself – have only seen that side of him. He wanted to show new fans that he actually knows how to fight, that he’s not just an old man who jokes around. About his future, he says that he’s going to really push his clowning around to new heights and continue to do whatever he wants.
Match#3 – Michael Elgin & Satoshi Kojima vs Kenny Omega & Bad Luck Fale
Kojima gets the honors for the entrances over Elgin, which is a proper show of respect for your elder. Elgin is wearing his usual battel attire, while Kojima comes out wearing a pair of orange, black, and white trunks that have a striking resemblance in color and design to a pair of board shorts that I use quite often in the waves. We get a super quick-cut to Omega sweeping the commentary desk of Kevin Kelly and Steve Corino before too-sweeting them. Corino was kind of meh about it, but Kelly looked stoked to receive the honor.
Now I’ve already mentioned in prior reviews that I’m going to really try to get into Fale moving forward, but since this is a match from the past I have to report what I see. He looks exceptionally plump here, his shoulders showing no definition as his stomach stretches the very integrity of the fabric trying to hold it all together. He’s got the same physique as god damn Baymax for Christ’s sake. I’m really hoping he comes back in better ring shape. Omega, on the other hand, looks terrific sporting a Young Bucks inspired multi-pasteled pair of tights with tasseled flare.
Right off the bat, Elgin tosses Omega outside and heads out after him, leaving Kojima and Fale in the ring. Fale shoves Kojima out of a side-headlock, with Kojima taking the momentum to the ropes and coming back with a shoulder-tackle attempt. Fale doesn’t move an inch, though Kojima was sent shuffling back. Kojima tries again, garnering a wobble out of Fale. He goes for the trifecta, connecting flush to force Fale to one knee. Fale gets up and plows over Kojima with a shoulder-tackle of his own, forcing Kojima to roll to his corner and tag in Elgin, but never actually stopping his roll until he disappears under the horizon of the ring. It was weird.
Even weirder, Fale just follows Kojima’s path, turning his back on Elgin in the process. Elgin takes full advantage by hopping onto the top of the neutral corner and diving off with a shoulder-tackle that puts Fale down. Omega tries to sneak in the flashiest way possible, heading up top of the opposite neutral corner. With those pants it wasn’t happening. Elgin sees him and catches Omega’s crossbody attempt. Elgin pops Omega up and holds him vertically before hitting a brainbuster. As Omega escapes outside, Elgin turns his attention to Fale and pops him with multiple forearms before racing to the ropes to get tripped up by Omega. Fale drops an elbow onto Elgin and covers, but Kojima runs in and stomps the back of his head to break up the pin.
Fale grabs Kojima and pitches him back outside as Omega claws at Elgin’s face. Omega drags Elgin to the floor, grabs one of those mini-ladders he’s so fond of, and hops onto the commentator’s table to ride it down onto Elgin. Meanwhile, Fale has taken Kojima to a section of seats as the crowd begins to scatter. He slams Kojima’s head onto a chair as a ringside crew member moves out of the way to reveal a very nebbish looking older gentleman with the most flowing gray hair you will ever see draped past his collar. As Fale is choking Kojima, the guy is constantly running his fingers through that flowing mane.
The count has finally started as Omega strips off his shirt and starts swiveling his hips at the commentators. Omega rolls Elgin in, and for some reason the ref is on his back. What in the hell is happening here? As the ref makes his way to his feet, Fale gets his attention so Omega can start choking Elgin with his shirt. Before Elgin has even had a chance to asp for air, Barnett says, “I guess that’s one way to get your money’s worth on your merchandise.” To which JR replies, “Those one hundred percent cotton shirts are dangerous, Folks. I’m just telling you.”
Omega gets back on the apron with broom in tow as Fale fires Elgin into his awaiting boot. Omega gets in, broom in hand, and twirls it around before tossing it aside. Omega slams Elgin into the turnbuckle padding and chokes him with his boot. He hoists Elgin onto his shoulders in a Fireman’s carry, lands the forward-flip slam, but Elgin rolls out of the way of the moonsault as Omega lands on his feet. He runs at Elgin, who has positioned himself in the corner, and is greeted by a rope-assisted enzuigiri. Before Elgin can build upon the opening, Fale sticks him in the neck with a clothesline, stalling Elgin long enough to receive a tag from Omega.
Elgin slips out of a powerslam attempt, but is grabbed by Omega and held for Fale to strike with a left hook to the body. He runs to the ropes, but Elgin moves out of the way and Omega is pushed off the apron, sending him flying past the commentators. Elgin smacks Fale with a leaping enzuigiri and crawls to Kojima for the tag.
The crowd roars as Kojima hits machinegun chops on Fale. Omega comes in swinging a trashcan lid, which Kojima ducks, though Fale fails to. Omega, still clutching the lid like he’s grasping hold of a steering wheel, gets placed in front of Fale for a round of machinegun chops. Kojima turns to the crowd for a beat and swings another chop towards Omega that is blocked by the lid. Kojima grabs Omega and whips him into the corner opposite Fale and races towards him to hit a flying forearm to the face. Fale tries to blindside Kojima, but Kojima has been around the block enough times to know what’s coming. He sidesteps Fale, who runs into the corner, and lands a succession of forearms. Kojima heads to the ropes, coming back to Fale’s hand clenched around his throat, but boots him in the stomach before hitting a cutter as the crowd applauds.
He gets the tag to Elgin as Omega races to stop him. Elgin slings his body over the ropes and hits a back elbow, sending Omega staggering to the corner. Elgin smacks him with a lariat to the chest, followed by one to the back of the head. Omega counters with a superkick, which is shrugged off by Elgin, and gets the piss knocked out of him by a spinning lariat. Elgin connects with clotheslines switching between Omega’s chest and back until deciding to run the ropes, getting pummeled by a running knee to the face on the rebound.
Elgin rolls outside as Omega hits the T2 pose before diving up and over the top to crash down on Elgin AND a young boy situated at ringside. Omega looks furious, dead-eyeing the poor fella before forcing the guy’s head back into the guardrail with his boot. He gets up, kicks the guy in the side of the head, and grabs the mini-ladder. He sets it up inside the ring and begins to climb the rungs with the ref hugging his ankle to stop him. Elgin rolls back in as the ref continues to defy Omega’s attempt to buck him off. Once free of the ref’s hug, Omega kicks him in the face. Elgin sends a forearm his way, nearly knocking Omega off the ladder. Elgin goes up after him and scores with an avalanche brainbuster. He covers, but Fale finally reappears to break it up.
Kojima gets back in and clotheslines Fale to the floor. While he heads back out to pick apart Fale, Omega grabs the ladder and slams it onto Elgin’s back. He sets it up so it’s leaning against the second rope and picks up Elgin for the One-Winged Angel. Elgin slips off, forearms Omega, and picks him up for a powerbomb. He lobs Omega onto the ladder, snapping it into a perfect ninety degree angle! Elgin lifts Omega back to his feet and hits a sit-out powerbomb that he holds for the win.
Winners: Satoshi Kojima & Michael Elgin in 11:43
After the match, Omega grabs the mic and tells Elgin that the ladder match is his “goddamn specialty”. He accepts Elgin’s challenge for a ladder match down the road and politely tells him “good night” on the way to the back.
(Andrews’ Analysis: Well, it served its purpose – existing solely to set up a ladder match between Omega and Elgin. I haven’t seen that match, but what are the odds that it’s spectacular? I’d go back and watch it after this episode, but I have a sneaky suspicion that JR and Barnett are going to call it in all of its glory. At least I hope they do.)
Fale didn’t look great in this one. He seemed a step or two slower than everyone else, which is understandable considering his size. I will say this though. His nickname is The Underboss, and he played that roll rather effectively by just kind of assisting Omega the best he could until Kojima neutralized him with whatever in the hell happened outside while the camera crew focused on Omega and Elgin. I’m sure it wasn’t the most intriguing action in the world, but it would have been nice to peek in from time to time.)
We get a present day interview with Will Ospreay seated in front of drywall smudged in what suspiciously looks like blood. When questioned about the tournament, as opposed to the potential key piece of evidence to a homicide, Ospreay says that he knew going in that it was going to be one of the hardest few weeks of his life due to the scheduling of matches. He said that it was a dream of his to even be in the tournament, so for him it was an honor to be a part of it. As far as reaching the final, he said that he was very emotional and was in tears when he got to the back. He mentioned Prince Devitt and KUSHIDA – guys that he looks up to – and how he is blessed to be in the same position they once were in tournaments past. He was shocked to find out that Taguchi was in the finals with him because in his mind Taguchi was always a comedy guy. He does, however, admit to having a lot of respect for Taguchi because he can go with the best of them.
Match#5 – Ryusuke Taguchi vs. Will Ospreay
Ospreay comes out sporting a really nice black and gold hooded, sleeveless robe to match his pants. Both Barnett and JR gush about Ospreay, which how could you not? JR mentions that a three-way match between AJ Styles, Christopher Daniels, and Samoa Joe was the match that pushed Ospreay over the edge to become a pro wrestler. Roppongi are in his corner for moral support. Taguchi is out next with Liger and Tiger Mask IV by his side to provide that same level of morale boosting. When his name is called, he hits the ropes and dives backwards in a nod to Shinsuke Nakamura as the crowd applauds appropriately for their hometown hero. Is hero a bit much? For a guy with basically ass based offense? Hell, I’m sure some kid out there idolizes him.
Red Shoes naturally gets the call for the occasion, witnessing the two competitors shake hands before the bell. Taguchi looks serious as he retreats to his corner to focus. Both men are cautious when the bell starts, eyeing up one another as the crowd chants for Taguchi. They tie-up, with Taguchi backing Ospreay into the ropes. He breaks clean to a round of applause, so you know his ass is serious.
They tie up again, this time Ospreay backing Taguchi into the ropes. He does the Okada pat-down, which garners an icy glare from Taguchi, but also elicits a very loud “Ospreay” chant from the crowd. You fair weather mo********ers. Ospreay gets a hammerlock, but Taguchi reaches down to trip him up and transitions into a side headlock. Ospreay tries to roll him for a pin, getting a one-count before Taguchi kicks out and they get back to their feet. After another roll on the mat, Taguchi winds up in the ropes and Red Shoes forces them apart. The crowd applauds the effort and chants for Taguchi as they reset on Red Shoes’ whim. Look at Red Shoes, making junior heavyweights bow to his power. Let’s see him try that with Suzuki.
Ospreay twirls Taguchi around and takes him down with a wristlock. Taguchi feigns a kip-up and rolls to his feet, reversing positions with Ospreay. Ospreay kips up a half dozen times, takes Taguchi down in a headscissors, which Taguchi escapes in a matter of seconds. Taguchi gets sent to the ropes, charging back and hitting a freaking hurricanranna! Well done, Ryusuke Taguchi! He follows that impressive feat of athleticism with a leaping hip attack. One out of two ain’t bad.
Ospreay rolls outside as Taguchi races to the ropes, throwing his butt out for a cheek attack as Ospreay moves away. Taguchi hangs out for a moment until Ospreay swings a wild right hook at his ass, which Taguchi rolls away from and poses like he’s waiting for Ospreay to come in and leap-frog him. Peering between his legs, Taguchi gives Ospreay double-ok hand gestures which makes Ospreay shake his head and roll back to the floor. The crowd ate it up. Red Shoes decides to push the junior heavyweights around some more by making Taguchi wait for Ospreay to get in. This god damn guy. He’s hammered out of his mind on power.
Ospreay gets back into the ring and gets put in a side headlock. Ospreay sends Taguchi to the ropes, but gets bowled over by a shoulder-tackle. Ospreay leapfrogs over Taguchi’s dash forward, flips over a drop-down, handsprings towards the ropes and into a backflip – rolling over Taguchi’s back mind you – and back into the air to hit a dropkick that sends Taguchi to the floor. Whoa! Ospreay flies from rope to rope, coming back with trapeze act intentions, but catches Taguchi sliding away. Ospreay handsprings against the ropes, flips backwards into his signature pose and transitions into the same leapfrog receiving position as Taguchi to give him the double-oks.
While Ospreay preens over his shoulder, Taguchi give shim a smattering of applause. Red Shoes lets Taguchi reenter the ring, but Ospreay rushes in with a knee to the face. Ospreay lays a chop into Taguchi’s chest, throws him into the corner, and hits an even louder chop. Barnett is in the middle of explaining the various offense on display, adding “remember this is a sport, pro wrestling, for those watching at home.” And you know Vince is at home watching too, probably grumbling into his Brandy snifter, “Why didn’t JR correct his friend? He knows that it’s entertainment.”
Ospreay clamps a cravate onto Taguchi before throwing him to the mat and hitting a dropkick at lobby level. Ospreay follows up by twisting Taguchi in an Octopus Hold, which takes Taguchi some very uncomfortably contorted stretches to reach the ropes and break the hold. Taguchi and Ospreay trade shots in the middle of the ring before Ospreay sends out a kick that Taguchi catches. Ospreay backflips away from him, but lands awkwardly on the landing. Taguchi takes advantage, hitting a basement dropkick to Ospreay’s shin. Ospreay clutches his leg and rolls to the apron as Red Shoes’ hand reaches into camera view to give it a slight stroke with his fingertips. Taguchi says the hell with that and darts forward to hit a low dropkick inches from the mat that strikes Ospreay on the knee. Red Shoes walks off in a huff as Taguchi follows Ospreay to the floor.
Taguchi slams Ospreay’s leg against the floor each time Ospreay tries to crawl away. He rolls Ospreay back in and leg drops his knee. Ospreay tries to get away again, but falls into the corner. Taguchi stays on the attack, first with a spinning toe hold transitioned into a “variant of an Indian Deathlock”, which I could never find the words to describe the way he has Ospreay pretzeled. Just know that it is something you would NEVER think Taguchi would bust out. Then – and this is a stock is rising moment – Taguchi catches Ospreay’s arm flailing around and tries to put him in a hammerlock while he’s still got him in the deathlock! Incredible! Taguchi rolls Ospreay into a pin, garnering a two before the kickout.
Ospreay gets to his feet, fires out a forearm, but gets another basement dropkick. JR: “It’s like a boxer using a great jab.” Ospreay rises in the corner, with Taguchi climbing over him to hit hip attacks. Ospreay gets away, dropping Taguchi’s head as he takes his leave, and comes back with a superkick that hits Taguchi in the ass. It has no effect, evident by the camera zooming in on Taguchi’s “Funky Weapon” tights. Ospreay hits a springboard shining wizard to finally slow Taguchi down.
Taguchi runs at Ospreay in the corner, but Ospreay boots him in the chops. He hops outside, favoring his ankle on the landing, but manages to slam Taguchi’s head into the turnbuckle padding before kicking him in the side of the head. Ospreay springboards off the top rope on one leg and comes down with a forearm to Taguchi. Then Ospreay hits a one-legged standing corkscrew moonsault!
Taguchi tries to pull the rug out from under Ospreay with a right hook, but Ospreay cartwheels over it and hits a low dropkick to Taguchi’s head. Ospreay calls for rain! He spins Taguchi out, countered into a pinfall attempt that Ospreay kicks out of. Taguchi hold onto his leg and rolls him into an ankle lock! This is Ryusuke Taguchi we’re talking about here! Ospreay raises his leg and kicks it down atop his other leg to break free and hits Taguchi with a back elbow. Awesome counter! They trade reversals on backdrops before Taguchi hits a spinning Flacon Arrow! F****ng Taguchi, Man!
As Taguchi gets to his feet, Ospreay crawls to the ropes and rests the back of his head against it. Taguchi backs into Ospreay, “grinding the old taint into Ospreay’s face” as Barnett so eloquently describes. Taguchi takes off for the opposite end of the ring and hits a running hip attack before sliding out and connecting with a hick kick to Ospreay’s head. Then Taguchi hits a springboard hip attack! Again, this is Ryusuke Taguchi! Ospreay rolls outside, and Jesus Christ! Taguchi dives over the top rope and lands on Ospreay! Holy s-!
As Red Shoes’ count gets to sixteen, Taguchi garbs Ospreay to roll him into the ring, but smartly clubs him on the back of the head before diving in before the twenty. At nineteen Ospreay dives in stylishly – rolling his body mid-air to weave right under the bottom rope. Taguchi chides Red Shoes for the pace of his count, but that s- fell on deaf ears. Red Shoes just walked away, having zero time for anyone – especially a junior heavyweight – questioning his rhythm. Even Tiger Mask starts giving him s- about it.
Taguchi scoops up Ospreay, hits two rolling suplexes transitioned into a facebuster. He misses a hip attack in the corner, as does Ospreay who tries to jump him, and hits an Exploder on Ospreay! This is incredible! He poses like Nakamura on the ropes, rotates into the split-legged double-oks, and hits a running hip attack. He covers. 1, 2, Ospreay slips away!
Taguchi grabs Ospreay off the mat and pins his arms back for Dodon’s Throne, but Ospreay leaps up and rolls Taguchi into a pinfall that nets a two. He hits a thrust kick to Taguchi, two very hard slaps to the face with his foot, but runs straight into an enzuigiri. Taguchi pins Ospreay’s arms back again and goes for Dodon’s Throne, but Ospreay reverses off his shoulders with a hurricanranna. Ospreay clips Taguchi with a Flash Kick and lariats him outside. He gingerly heads to the ropes and handsprings up and over the top rope with a twisting half-gainer flip that juuuust hits Taguchi. Ospreay comes face to face with KUSHIDA, who is on commentary for the match, and is met with an approving nod. Ospreay rolls Taguchi back in and heads to the top rope, favoring his ankle as he steadies himself for a 450. Taguchi rolls out of the way, but Ospreay lands on his feet, his ankle yet again sending him shuffling away. Taguchi goes for a low dropkick, but Ospreay leaps into the air and comes down with a double-stomp to Taguchi’s chest! Amazing timing!
Ospreay hits a 720 Shining Wizard to the back of Taguchi’s head, then springboards off the ropes with a hip attack of his own. But Taguchi is the master of the hip attack, holding onto Ospreay leg as he pops up off the mat and puts him into the ankle lock! Ospreay tries to get to the ropes at every angle, but Taguchi keeps pulling him back to the middle of the ring. Ospreay finally gets to his feet and brushes the top ropes, but Taguchi pulls him back and hoists him into the air for Dodon’s Throne! He goes for the pin, with Red Shoes flying front and center of the camera view to count! 1, 2, Red Shoes pulls away to reveal Ospreay successfully kicking out!
Taguchi goes right back to the ankle lock, with Ospreay biting his knuckles before rolling to his back. He boots Taguchi in the face, but Taguchi hangs on and flips Ospreay right back to his stomach before slamming down on the mat with the ankle lock cinched in tight. Ospreay is clawing at Red Shoes, who is on his knees right over the action. Taguchi twists Ospreay’s ankle as he gets to his feet to pull him back. Ospreay hops onto his other foot and flips Taguchi off of him. As Ospreay tries to get up, Taguchi races towards him, dashing straight into a Spanish Fly! Ospreay covers. 1, 2, Taguchi kicks out!
Ospreay tries to go up top, but Taguchi hunts him down with a slap to the face. Taguchi goes up with him, but Ospreay slips out and drops Taguchi’s head for a superkick to the face. Taguchi falls to the mat as Ospreay climbs back to the top rope, his back to Taguchi. He steadies himself, then leaps outward to hit an inverted shooting star! He covers. 1, 2, Taguchi kicks out! Ospreay runs to the ropes, chased Taguchi who is still holding his ribs, and springboards off and catches Taguchi with the cutter. He covers again. 1, 2, 3!!!
Winner: Will Ospreay in 22:05 to win the Best of the Super Juniors XXIII Tournament
After the match, Taguchi’s neck is getting iced down while Red Shoes raises Ospreay’s hand in the air. KUSHIDA applauds the win as Ospreay looks nonplussed towards the cheering crowd, his eyes misty as he intertwines his fingers together in prayer.
We get a backstage interview with Taguchi who is still icing down his neck. He says that he shouldn’t have been joking around. Although he made his entrance serious, he was fooling around during the match. He says that it is his path and it’s all in his plans. He inquisitively asks himself where that path will lead, answering that he will just keep going. He thanks the interviewers before taking his leave.
Back in the ring, Ospreay drapes himself in the Union Jack flag in front of the Super Juniors trophy. He gets the mic as the crowd chants his name. He tells KUSHIDA that they need to have a talk as KUSHIDA obliges by getting into the ring. He tells KUSHIDA that they aren’t finished, but tells the crowd that he has all the respect in the world for the champion. He informs KUSHIDA that OKADA brought him into CHAOS to take his title, then announces, “Ospreay, KUSHIDA, one more time.”
KUSHIDA takes the mic and congratulates him. His words are succinct, stating, “Let’s fight to see who is better.” He reaches out to shake Ospreay’s hand, which Ospreay accepts as the crowd cheers the sportsmanship. KUSHIDA gives Ospreay the mic back, who tells his friends/family/NJPW World subscribers that he can’t thank them enough. Silver confetti rains down, with one dangling over the camera lens as Ospreay raises the flag and the trophy in the air.
(Andrews’ Analysis: Now that’s how you wrestle, Taguchi! He was phenomenal in this match, taking advantage of an injury while hitting moves I never knew was in his toolkit. I can honestly say that this was the best Taguchi performance I have seen thus far and I am not entirely sure that I’ll get another one. And it’s not because he was going against Ospreay either. This was a Taguchi match – with him as the focal point on both offense and defense against a high flyer he tirelessly worked to ground. Taguchi was so good that I am beyond excited to watch him wrestle Takahashi for the title.
Ospreay deserves some serious credit for selling his injury throughout the entire match, even when trying to take flight. Hell, the guy even daintily ran the ropes and took forever to find his footing on the top rope before each takeoff. I am really hopeful that AXS can get KUSHIDA/Ospreay II in front of JR and Barnett because the first one was out of this world.)
Present day Ospreay, still in front of the crime scene, calls winning the tournament a dream come true. He talks about the greats who have won the trophy and says that he won it for Britain. For him, winning the tournament was the best moment of his life. Although he was aware that he was the first British wrestler to not only make it to the finals, but to win the whole thing, he didn’t know until after the tournament that he was the youngest man to ever win it. When asked about his future goals and prospects, Ospreay says that his dream is to wrestle at the Tokyo Dome, but the crowning moment will be to win the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. He looks into the camera and thanks everyone for their support and tells all of us that he loves us. He came off as such a gracious dude. Big thumbs up.
There was more bad than good between the two shows, but the good revolved around three men. Taguchi was incredible against Ospreay. I’m not entirely sure if he can be that great on an every-match basis, but it is a welcome sight that I’d love to see more often than not. The first Ospreay match seemed more like a warm-up than a shot at the finals, but he was nothing short of spectacular once in the finals. I can honestly say that to this point I have not seen Ospreay put in a poor performance. He’s been a consistent dynamo in the ring, even against Volador in the tune-up match. And now, Gedo. He was f****ng terrific! I have become such a huge fan of his and thoroughly regret ever comparing him to a glorified Muppet. But that’s the beauty of learning – though the more I watch, the less I’ll be able to make ill-educated assessments of one’s role in the wrestling world.
Actually, the hell with that. Ignorance is the foundation of this review series, and damn it that very same ignorance shall hold sway until I’ve run out of apologies. And that s- isn’t happening around here anytime soon.
Sorry for the mini-tangent.
NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS REPORT ON NJPW ON AXS: DOCUMENTARY REVIEW: NJPW Origins: Tetsuya Naito