Metalhead’s Riff: Best of Super Juniors 2015

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Writing for a wrestling site can be a little frustrating sometimes, especially when you don’t limit yourself to WWE programming. These past few months all manner of interesting things happened in ROH, NJPW, Dragon Gate, Shimmer, and all sorts of smaller promotions that I won’t list right now, but, believe me, there are a lot out there. Internet provides easy access to all those promotions meaning, sometimes, you want to write about all but, then, there is that one, really annoying factor that come in. Time. I’ve been meaning to give a full presentation and preview of NJPW’s Best of Super Juniors 2015 for weeks now but work, daily live and health always seemed to conspire to prevent me of doing this. Hence, I can’t call it a preview anymore, since the tournament is already under way so let us simply go for a short introduction and (late) presentation of the participants and then  look at what happened until now.

For those who are unfamiliar with this yearly tournament, a little bit of history and facts.

– First held in 1988, the event is a round-robin style tournament where each participant faces all others one time. Typically two points are given for victory, one for draws and zero for defeats (obviously). The top ranked wrestlers then faces each-other in single-elimination matches until the winner is declared. Since 1996 a two block system has been put in place, before there was only one block of participants. This year, two blocks of 8 wrestlers will compete, the first two of each block will advance to the semi’s.

– Jushin Thunder Liger and Koji Kanemoto both hold the record for most wins with 3 each.

– Pegasus Kid/Wild Pegasus (Chris Benoit), Prince Devitt (aka Finn Balor) and Tiger Mask IV are the only other wrestlers who have won more than one time, Tiger Mask IV holds the added distinction of doing so in back-to-back years (2004 and 2005).

– Jushin Liger also holds the record for most participations with 24. He only missed the 1995 and 200o editions.

– Nowadays, all round-robin matches have a 30 minutes time limit (it used to be 20).

– NJPW’s good relations with many other promotions allows them to feature wrestlers from all over the world, given the tournament a fresh look each year.

– The winner receives an opportunity to challenge the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion (that didn’t happen a few time in the past because the winner also happened to be the Champion), since 2010 that match takes place at the Dominon event. Current champion is Kenny Omega.

That all being said, let’s now take a closer look at this year’s participants:

Block A:

Barbaro Cavernario:

This year’s CMLL entrant, Cavernario boasts an impressive resumé despite his young age (21). With already 7(!) years of experience, he has won the Occidente Middleweight Championship twice and is the current Mexican National Welterweight Champion (one of the oldest and most respected titles still promoted anywhere). In 2014 he won both the En Busca de un Idolo and the Torneo Gran Alterativa Tournaments (the later with Mr Niebla), both promoted by CMLL. He was also part of the joint CMLL/NJPW Fantasticamania tour in early 2015. Playing a sort of crazed caveman gimmick, Cavernario brings a rather unique style to the mix which should provide plenty of entertainment. Don’t count him out, despite his appearance, while not one of the odds-on favorites this excellent wrestler gives new meaning to unpredictable.

Beretta:

Beretta already participated in the 2013 tournament, but was deemed a bit green back then. However, Trent has improved dramatically in two years and his RPG Vice tandem with Rocky Romero has earned rave reviews. A very proficient singles wrestler in his own right, this the opportunity for him to prove he doesn’t have to be in a tag team to excel. I don’t expect him to win here, but he should turn a few heads and open a few eyes with his performances.

Chase Owens:

The NWA entrant earned some criticism when his participation was announced. Most would have preferred current NWA Junior Heavyweight Champion, judging Owens to be too limited still to make a splash. On the other hand, this should give Chase some invaluable experience and hopefully help in his on-going quest to improve himself. Not really a contender.

Gedo:

Having already participated a number of times in the past the NJPW booker (or one half of the booking team I should say), is not there to win, he’s there to bring some fun and entertainment and make others look good. A selfless booker? yes, it does still exist. Gedo can still go in the ring so he should easily achieve all of the above.

Jushin Thunder Liger

Probably THE wrestler most synonymous with this tournament (and of course one of the most celebrated wrestlers in history), the 50 year old Liger has earned some criticism due to some of his performances lately (and yes I was amongst them). Of course, he rebounded in typical Liger fashion by entering a string of excellent matches against the likes of Steve Anthony, Chase Owens and jay Lethal (amongst others). I honestly think they day Liger retires he will be promoted to Official God of Wrestling or something. Seriously, Liger has little of no chance of winning this, the spotlight is on others and he doesn’t mind that in the least. Expect him to do all he can to push eventual contenders in the best way possible. That legend rub still works for any winner after all.

Kyle O’Reilly

One half of ReDragon, O’Reilly is of course known to most as an outstanding Tag Team wrestler. Less known is the fact he can really wrestle up a storm in the ring as a singles wrestler to (see his PWG performances). This is the first time he is pushed in singles competition in NJPW and I don’t believe it will be the last. The 28 year old Canadian has never been better and seems to still improve somehow. A very solid outsider, him winning this would be something of an upset, but one that would make sense. What better way to start a singles run that might very well set the wrestling world on fire? I expect him in the semi’s at the very least.
Ryusuke Taguchi

Former winner (in 2012) and former IWGP Light Heavyweight champion, on paper Taguchi seems to be a favorite based on his past accomplishments alone. that being said, I don’t believe it is his time to shine anymore. Half-hearted performance in recent times, combined with a silly gimmick where he attacks his opponents with his ass and a disaster of a match against Kenny Omega at new beginnings has lowered his profile. truth to tell, while he is a proficient wrestler when he wants too, he is far from the best when you look at the list of participants. Add to that the fact that him winning would revive his feud with Kenny Omega which most hated and that did no-one any favors. His standing will allow him to pick up some wins and stay a contender until the very last day, but that’s as far as it goes.

Yohei Komatsu

A surprise entrance, NJPW usually reserves the BOSJ spots to established wrestlers, the Young Lions must be delighted to be there. He has no chance at all of course, but the simple fact he was considered good enough to be included speaks volumes about NJPW’s confidence in him. Expect an upset win from him at some point.

Block B:

Alex Shelley:

Sadly, Alex suffered a serious foot injury during his first match, forcing him to pull out of the tournament and forfeit the rest of his matches. I wish him the best during his recovery and hope he’ll be able to come back at 100% soon.

Bobby Fish:

The other half of ReDragon and pretty much the same story as with Kyle O’Reilly. I don’t know if it is NJPW’s intend to push both as singles wrestlers in the future but I do know that the addition of O’reilly and Fish to ANY singles roster will provide fireworks and match of the year contenders. I put him slightly lower than O’Reilly as for his chances of winning, but I wouldn’t be THAT surprised to see him in the semi’s.

David Finlay:

22 year old son of Dave “Fit” Finlay, he is an unknown to most. I do hear that he is a solid wrestlers and the simple fact that he makes his NJPW debut in a tournament with as high a profile than BOSJ says something. Wait and see, he might be the pleasant surprise here.

KUSHIDA:

Anyone who follows NJPW considers KUSHIDA to be the odds-on favorite here, and with good reason. If anyone deserves a solid push it has to be the 32 year old. Known for delivering countless outstanding performances in any context, observers and fans have been begging NJPW to feature him in a more prominent role. Him winning and going on to challenge Omega at Dominion would make sense, would be deserved and would draw. So what can possibly go wrong for KUSHIDA? Well, you never know of course, NJPW has been strangely reluctant to push him all the way in the past but I have a good feeling about this, 2015 must be his year. My favorite to win.

Mascara Dorada:

A NJPW regular by now, Dorada is usually also member of the “outstanding performances” club so he should have no trouble making his mark in this tournament. I don’t consider him to be a favorite though, having had his chance for the title at Invasion Attack. Still, given his talent, the 26 year old should be able to make the favorites look good while loosing little to no momentum. And if there is a new champion after Dominion, well, he’ll be one of the top contenders which is a good thing.

Rocky Romero:

Romero is a strange case. People heaved a sigh of relief when his “Forever Hooligans” alliance with Alex Koslov was over, given how stale it had become. Some were expecting him to quitly dissapear from NJPW after that but he rebounded in convincing fashion with RPG VICE which seems to have completely rejuvenated him. As often with tag team wrestlers, many seems to have forgotten that Romero is also a great singles wrestlers in his own right. Where does all that leave him as far as this tournament goes? Well, I’m not sure, I don’t see him going very far given RPG Vice has been recently created and is a long way from dissolving yet, but he could create some surprises here and there.

Nick Jackson:

While brother Matt is taking some time off to attend to the birth of his first child (which is to come soon I hear),  Nick has been allowed some fun as a singles wrestler. As the only Bullet Club representative, I expect him to go far but miss the mark by a thread. Still it will be interesting to see Nick function as a singles wrestler (even if he was already in last year’s tournament).

Tiger mask IV:

The 2004 and 2005 winner is pretty much in the same position as Jushin Liger, an highly respected veteran and legend who is there to give the others some big wins. The 44 year old can still go though and should enter some quality performances against the likes of Fish, KUSHIDA and Dorada.

 

As said at the start of this column, circumstances prevented me of delivering this presentation on time, so the tournament is already well on its way. Good thing with that is, I can now also give you the current standings and try to divine how it will unfold.

In Block A, Kyle O’Reilly shares the lead with Ryusuke tagushi (6 points each) closely followed by Cavernaro, Gedo, Liger, Owens and Baretta with 4 points each. Poor Komatsu is last with zero points. This seems to confirm O’reilly’s chances to win his block and get to the semi’s, but, as you can see, it’s so close that literally anything can happen. bear in mind Komatsu’s upset win can still come and could be decisive. Nothing done yet here, some great battles still to come I think. My guess is O’Reilly will keep his first place and qualify for the semi’s with either Tagushi or Cavernaro.

In Block B KUSHIDA has been confirming his favorite status by taking the lead with 8 points. But behind him, Dorada, Tiger Mask IV, Nick Jackson and Romero follow closely with 6 points; Bobby fish trails behind with 4 and David Finlay closes the list with 0 points (Alex Shelley has 2 points but is out for the remainder of the tournament as noted above). Again anything can happen, but I expect KUSHIDA to continue his run. For second place, Dorada seems to have the best papers, but Jackson could also be an interesting choice if O’Reilly is indeed first in Block A (to re-kindle the ReDragon/Young Bucks wars but with a singles twist). Even Bobby Fish still has his chance, a ballet between ReDragon members would certainly draw.
While I haven’t been seeing much of this until now, I hear the first days were good without blowing’s anyone’s minds away, but that the pace has been picking up this week-end giving some great matches. Full report on the whole tournament soon!

 

That’s all from me this week, see you all later and have fun!

 

 

 

 

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