NJPW BEST OF THE SUPER JUNIORS NIGHTS 3 AND 4 RECAP (5/13) : Lansdell’s analysis and recap of Ishimori vs Eagles, Desperado vs Bushi, and all the third round action!

by Chris Lansdell, PWTorch.com contributor


NIGHTS 3 and 4, ROUND 3

Welcome to PWTorch.com’s BOSJ31 Recap! I will be recapping each round as we go along, with a full report once we reach the knockout stages. Night 3 gave us the A block third-round matches and came to us from Region Plaza Joetsu in Niigata, while the B block was in action on night 4 from G Messe Gunma in Takasaki.

I will have the current points total for each wrestler going into the match, and the updated points for the winner in the result as well.

At time of writing, there was no English commentary available for either night.

A Block


Both men were coming in off a loss having won their first match. One thing that has become clear about Kosei Fujita is that unlike the other young guns, he doesn’t seem to be channeling a previous New Japan megastar. He’s still figuring out what “Japanese Young Punk” means, but there are no obvious comparisons like there are with Shota Umino, Ren Narita, and Yuya Uemura.

I tend to forget that Kevin Knight is only 27 and has been wrestling for a mere five years. That said, Fujita is 21. It is not fair to be that good that young. I always think of Knight as more seasoned than he is, maybe because he teams with Kushida? In this match though he seemed to be no more experienced than Fujita, which I think says more about the latter than the former.

There were some nice athletic moments here but nothing that really stood out. Both men performed well, nothing looked bad, but also nothing made me sit up and pay closer attention. Even the finish was pretty standard, Knight escaping a German suplex and hitting a pop-up powerbomb and the spike DDT for the win.

The result, however, was not standard. I had Fujita as one of my favourites, and after the expected loss to Desperado I would have put money on a routine win here to get him back on track. Knight is not ready to be a top guy in the division and I find it hard to see him going deep, but Fujita has a swell of support right now and it would be a mistake not to capitalise.

WINNER: Kevin Knight (4 points) via pinfall in 9:00. (**1/2)


With Christian having worked hard to get the crowd to boo him, with good success, I was curious how they would respond when he faced a bona fide heel.

Kanemaru spent much of the early portion of the match working the knee of Christian. To Christian’s credit, he sold it decently well. Unfortunately, it did not stop him from repeatedly going to the top rope. That is something I used to complain about in early Pac matches, but this is not to the same degree.

After a figure four by Kanemaru and a rope break, the match kicked into high(ish) gear. For all my gripes about him. Blake Christian does have some exciting offence that he can hit cleanly more often than not. It’s hard to be that kind of wrestler and a heel, but he seems to be managing it. He picked up a mostly uneventful win with a slingshot 450 splash.

I certainly did not have a 3-0 start for Christian on my radar, but he has looked good value for it. Kanemaru is one of those people who is here to make up ten in each group, but a win is a win. Christian still has the big hitters in the group to come, including Titan next, so it’s possible they were just front-loading his wins.

WINNER: Blake Christian (6) via pinfall in 9:00. (**3/4)

TITAN (4) vs. HAYATA (2)

This seemed like a styles clash going in, as Hayata has only really shown himself to be a dirty brawler Moxley-style guy so far in the tournament and Titan is more a technical guy. As it turned out, they meshed pretty well.

Hayata knows just how much flash to put in his offence to keep the match interesting. Sure, he does a lot of brawling and heel tactics, but he will throw in the odd leaping kick or submission to keep the crowd on their toes. Whenever Titan tried to mount a comeback, Hayata would switch to that more attractive style to counter it. It didn’t make for a classic match, but it did make me want to keep watching.

Titan was eventually able to apply Llave Immortal for the submission win, taking him to 3-0 and setting up the battle of the undefeateds in round 4. We’ve seen in the past that outsiders rarely if ever get to progress through these tournaments, but Hayata has a better chance than most given his higher profile in NOAH. That said, look how they treated Kaito Kiyomiya…

WINNER: Titan (6) via submission in 11:00. (***)


TJP had support from Callum Newman and Francesco Akira, who came out with him but returned to the back. Given the history between War Dogs and United Empire I was surprised this was not our main event. I was even more surprised when I saw what the actual main event was.

For two men who were in an actual blood feud for a long time, the match started slower and more reserved than I expected. It was still less than a minute before Connors was throwing TJP around on the outside of the ring, but I was looking for an on-sight brawl.

For some reason, Connors decided he needed to take TJP’s United Empire flag and drop an elbow on it, then make snow angels on it. I guess that’s kind of insulting? We got the “body slam poor Shoma Kato on top of my opponent” spot again of course, which is way funnier than it has any right being.

TJP showed here that he is a very smooth operator who can work with just about anyone. He can wrestle a submission style but also looks very at home in the air. At one point he countered a spear from the apron to the inside by hitting an Orton-style draping DDT. He turned Connors’ snap powerslam into the Pinoy Stretch, and at times looked like a Jay White kind of counter wrestler.

You would think, given my 35 years of wrestling fandom, that I would have picked up on the fact that such periods of dominance usually mean you are losing a match. Connors pushed the ref into the ropes to crotch TJP on the top rope and hit a superplex into No Chaser to pick up the win.

It was a solid match, but not great. The lack of physicality, especially early, was hard for me to mentally overcome and I think hurt my overall perception of the match. TJP’s abysmal run continues, but there are six rounds left so anything could still happen. Connors has Fujita next, and you have to think that match will be an important one for both men. TJP has Bushi, and you would have to expect him to win that…right?

Winner: Clark Connors (4) via pinfall in 13:00. (***1/2)


No part of me wanted this match to be a main event. Sure I know they have some history, but Bushi is so plain and Desperado is still growing on me.

To the credit of both masked men, they delivered an eminently watchable match. With both of them using leg submission finishers, they targeted each others’ legs throughout. While that sounds like it should be good psychology, it leads to a situation where both men are (or should be) struggling to stand. That takes away a lot of offence or, if it doesn’t, it necessitates a degree of no-selling.

They managed to avoid that trap by making me suspend my disbelief. The cynical wrestling pundit in me normally notices these things, but when a match hooks me I am more able to overlook the transgressions. In this case, the action between the leg work and the finish was minimal. More to the point, they would show pain in their legs after hitting a move. It made sense to me on some level, at least.

El Desperado got the entirely unsurprising win by countering MX into Numero Dos, which (unlike a lot of things this year) was LESS impressive than it sounds. One thing New Japan has mastered, and which AEW could really benefit from doing, is throwing in upsets during tournaments. It makes even matches like this have a degree of uncertainty so that you’re almost afraid to miss something.

The match outdid my expectations, but not to the point where it felt like a New Japan main event. Even during BOSJ you expect more from the final match, especially in terms of length. People have made all sorts of comments and theories about the decline of NJPW gates, and I agree with most of them. I have not seen many address the sharp decline in match quality though, which for a promotion that hung its hat on that for so long is a real issue.

WINNER: El Desperado (4) via submission in 13:00. (***)

B Block


Both men have been somewhat surprising so far, though it is still very early in the tournament. I thought Akira would be a favourite given how over he has been recently, and I expected Kushida to prop up the bottom of the table. Instead Kushida has looked five years younger and Akira has not really elevated his stock at all yet.

To my knowledge there is no significant history between the two, but they started very aggressively. Kushida especially played a shades of grey role, taking the fight to the outside early and using the ring post to attack the arm. Akira duly played the underdog, which is his most natural role anyway. It led to an immensely enjoyable contest with contrasting styles that worked well together.

Akira reversing a Hoverboard Lock attempt into a German suplex was probably the highlight of the match, especially given how smooth it was. Kushida also sidestepped a slingshot plancha to the floor and turned it into a Fujiwara armbar, but that was less smooth. To be honest though, the last six or seven minutes of the match flew by. For a match this early in the card to go this long, you have to imagine they knew they had something good going.

In one of the nastier moves I have seen that didn’t involve a head drop, Kushida secured the win with a kimmura superplex (yes you read that right) into the Hoverboard Lock. His surprising run continues, and perhaps more to the point he has looked dominant in those wins. Akira has one more win than his partner, but looked no less dejected at the loss here.

WINNER: Kushida (6) via submission in 13:00. (***3/4)


I am supposed to be able to pick who will win these matches. It’s kind of why I’m here, right? Well, at this point either I am grossly overstating my knowledge of NJPW and how it is booked, or the promotion is booking things in a completely different way. I would have expected Douki to win this one in fairly short order. Nope.

With no history or beef between the two men (again), it was weird to me that Moloney went after Douki’s mask a couple of times. And honestly, that’s about all there was in this match that was worth noting. I will give them credit for continuing the story that everyone is terrified of the Drilla Killa. Douki tried to avoid it multiple times, but unlike in Moloney’s previous two matches he was actually able to connect this time and pick up the win.

Tournament-long stories are my favourite thing about New Japan tournaments, and they are among the reasons I hate missing a match. I don’t think the result itself will weigh heavily on the tournament outcome, except maybe to cause some drama in the later stages. But giving Moloney a win with his “lethal finisher” makes every Moloney match for the rest of the tournament that much more interesting. The fear has been proven justified. Now they can either make him try too hard to hit it, or have everyone come prepared to counter it.

Still not a good match, but it was at least not bad.

WINNER: Drilla Moloney (2) via pinfall in 10:00. (**1/4)

NINJA MACK (4) vs. SHO (2)

Anyone who says they expected Ninja Mack to start 2-0 is either lying or is actually Ninja Mack. As his generic theme hit, Sho emerged from the curtain with a shirt around Ninja Mack’s neck and dragged him to the ring. Sho body slammed him, locked in a Boston Crab, and got a 21-second victory.

Or did he? Another Ninja Mack came sprinting from the back, tape around his ankles and wrists, and the referee restarted the match. It’s a somewhat controversial opinion in New Japan circles, but I am fine with a smattering of comedy in long cards. They have managed to strike a good balance and also to keep it out of the upper card, but a little levity in the middle of the evening can be fun.

What was less fun was watching Ninja Mack lay in strikes that made Tanga Loa look like Gunther. He can do the spectacular, what with his experience in Cirque du Soleil, but the fundamentals are somewhat sporadic. For his part, Sho decided to focus on the midsection of Mack, stemming from an assault to the gut with a chair early in the match.

Because Sho is in House of Torture, we had to have a ref bump. While Sho rolled the ref out of the way and retrieved his wrench, Ninja Mack pulled a switcheroo with the impostor from earlier in the match. That was a nice callback. It didn’t lead to anything, but it was fun.

More shenanigans would bring Sho the win, as he grabbed his title belt to use as a weapon. The ref took it away, giving Sho the opening for a low blow and a rollup holding the tights for the pin. A pretty cheap and anti-climactic spot to end a match that was fun but not good

As champ, Sho should be winning most of his matches. He might only lose one or two more, total. Ninja Mack is good for a few gasps from the crowd but he does not seem to have the consistency needed to be at the top of a New Japan card.

WINNER: Sho (4) via pinfall in 10:00. (*1/2)


If “needs a win badly” had a face, it would be Hiromu’s face going into this match. He was without a win in the year, and facing arguably the bottom of the heap in his group. Losing to Douki had happened before, and Kushida is his longtime foe, but a loss to Dragon Dia would be several steps beyond those.

We don’t often get to see Hiromu take on a Young Lion, but this almost felt like such a match. Hiromu shoved far too much hubris despite being on a losing streak all year. Dia tried to put him away with some big moves, including a version of Dodan and a unique Emerald Flowsion variant that started from a stretch muffler position. It’s a sign that this losing streak has been booked so well that I genuinely thought Hiromu would lose in a couple of places. Nowhere was that more evident than with the spike crucifix bomb at a high angle that Dia used to escape Time Bomb 2.

Even in victory, Hiromu had to work far harder than would be expected given the reputations of the two combatants. Dia kicked out of everything, including Time Bomb 1.5, and it took a vicious-looking lariat and Time Bomb to put the kid away. And so the streak is over, but it remains to be seen if a winning streak will replace it.

WINNER: Hiromu Takahashi (2) via pinfall in 13:00. (***)


People may have forgotten that these two were tag partners at one point. Ishimori was part of the events that led to Eagles leaving Bullet Club, so there is history here.

I could really have done without Eagles’ gratuitous and loud screaming. Selling is one thing, trying to awaken the dead is quite another. It did settle down as the match went on, fortunately.

I’ll be honest, folks. I had a hard time with this match. Ishimori can be tremendous on his day, but for some reason the chemistry felt off with Eagles. I think the long time away for Eagles has hurt him both in the ring and with the fans, and it’s hard for me to get into what he does. It could be the lack of variety in his matches too, as he has been relying on a few moves and not really showing the extent of his arsenal.

Ishimori went to 3-0 with this win, putting him top of the block with Kushida. He’s been impressive so far, reminding everyone how good he is and was before his injury. We are still only a third of the way in, but I would expect him to keep up this pace.

WINNER: Taiji Ishimori (6) via pinfall in 15:00. (***¼)

Final thoughts
Two solid, if unspectacular, nights of action for round three. We have Hiromu breaking his losing streak, TJP continuing his, surprising runs continuing for Blake Christian and Kushida, Drilla Moloney being portrayed as a one-move monster, and two veterans in Titan and Ishimori picking up their third wins. Still, the tournament just feels empty. Aside from Hiromu, there are no stars here. Fujita, Douki, and Akira were all very popular in recent weeks, and all have one win. Desperado is in a good position and gets good reactions, but is just short of being a star in my mind.

This is a prevalent issue across the promotion, and the fact that they could not attract bigger names from outside is a real indicator of how far NJPW has dropped in the estimation of workers. The weakened yen has an impact on foreign stars for sure, but that would not stop other Japanese talents. The way New Japan has booked stars from outside is the main factor there.

Ideally the tournament would be used to MAKE a couple new stars, but so far we have not seen that. Of the four undefeated wrestlers, only Blake Christian is a new name. There are plenty of factors that can be blamed for NJPW’s current downturn, but let’s not overlook that the booking is a big one.

A Block Standings (after 3 rounds)
Titan, Blake Christian – 6
Kevin Knight, Clark Connors, El Desperado – 4
Kosei Fujita, Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Hayata – 2
Bushi, TJP – 0

B Block Standings (after 3 rounds)
Kushida, Taiji Ishimori – 6
Ninja Mack, Sho – 4
Francesco Akira, Douki, Drilla Moloney, Hiromu Takahashi, Robbie Eagles – 2
Dragon Dia – 0

I’ll be back in a couple of days to cover the next few rounds. As always, thanks for stopping by. You can find me on Twitter @lansdellicious .

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