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    Friday, May 13, 2016

    Cafe Puro (5/13/16): The Smark Henry Preview of the Best of the Super Juniors XXIII, A Block

    It’s that time of the year once again, ladies and gentlemen, when Junior Heavyweights take center stage in the biggest annual tournament in the world for wrestlers within the 220-pound weight limit, the Best of the Super Juniors Tournament (also known as the BoSJ)!

    Now on its 23rd year, the tournament focuses more on the aerial and technical expertise from some of the best Juniors in the world, with New Japan Pro Wrestling as its host. And with a tournament as revered as the BoSJ, it has also lured in big stars from other promotions as well as from the independent scene over the years. 

    The yearly tradition also touted an elite circle of legends and major stars who won the tournament over the years, a list that includes Jushin “Thunder” Liger, Koji Kanemoto, Chris Benoit, Kota Ibushi, Ricochet, Eddie Guerrero, Prince Devitt (now Finn Balor), and last year’s winner and current IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Champion, KUSHIDA. Major names who competed in past installments include Owen Hart, Chris (the gift of) Jericho, Ultimo Dragon, Daniel Bryan, Christopher Daniels, Tyson Kidd, TAJIRI, and Chris Candido, among others.

    In other words, this is the Junior Heavyweight equivalent of the G1 Climax Tournament, in both format and reverence.

    The tour will begin this May 21, 2016, and will conclude with the Finals on June 7, 2016. As usual, the winner of the round robin tournament will get an IWGP Jr. Heavyweight Championship opportunity, this year at Dominion 2016 in Osaka Castle Hall. And of course, you can watch the tournament unfold through NJPW World for only 999 yen a month.

    Today, we will look at A Block and its participants. Next week, we will look at B Block’s impressive line up, which is sure to satisfy many fans all around.So without any further ado, here are the participants for A Block!

    Signature Maneuvers: Midnight Express, Hoverboard Lock

    Accomplishments: IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Champion, BoSJ Winner (2015), Super Junior Tag Tournament Winner (with Alex Shelley)

    As the reigning Jr. Champion and definitive face of NJPW’s Jr. Heavyweight Division, the Time Splitter has all the momentum in the world right now. Ever since he defeated Kenny Omega at Wrestle Kingdom 10, he managed to defend his title against all comers, namely BUSHI, the debuting Will Ospreay, and the legendary Jushin “Thunder” Liger. In the process, he managed to take the spot that Prince Devitt once held as the man to beat.p within the Junior ranks.

    Winning last year’s tournament kickstarted his ascent into superstardom, and no doubt the champ wants to join an elite group in the industry by winning the whole thing more than once. As the hybrid high flying submissions expert of the company, another tournament win will further establish his place in history, and perhaps even a shot at the G1 Climax later this year. Or perhaps, even the Heavyweight Championship itself. To do that, he will have to go through foes new and old, but none more intriguing than the man he beat in last year’s finals...

    Signature Maneuvers: ARMageddon, Ax and Smash

    Accomplishments: Super Junior Tag Tournament winner, IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion (with Bobby Fish), ROH Tag Team Champion  (with Bobby Fish), PWG World Champion

    Here’s an interesting statistic for you guys: in the last decade, 8 of the 10 BoSJ winners lost in the previous year’s finals. If we were to put that statistic to heart, then we can assume that there is a higher chance for The Martial Artist to avenge last year’s loss by winning the entire tournament this year, and perhaps even secure a revenge win over KUSHIDA, the man that beat him that year. And like KUSHIDA, Kyle is carrying his own wave of momentum not just in New Japan, but in Ring of Honor as well when he almost won its World Championship last year. Not to mention, much recently in the ROH-NJPW co-produced Global Wars, he had a one-on-one opportunity against IWGP Heavyweight Champion Tetsuya Naito, but unfortunately lost.

    As one of the hottest stars in both companies, a win in the tournament will finally propel his status in both companies as a singles star, an accomplishment befitting a wrestler of his caliber. He may have great success with Bobby Fish collectively as reDRagon, but this may finally be his time to shine, and a tournament win will start his ascent.

    Signature Maneuvers: Gedo Clutch, Complete Shot

    Accomplishments: IWGP Junior Tag Champion (with Jado), various tag titles in Japan alongside Jado, Wrestling Observer Award for Best Booker (2011-2014)

    Today’s fans may know him as Kazuchika Okada’s manager, The Raintaker (yes, that is a thing), while smark fans may love him as a renowned booker in New Japan who helped turn the company around during its dark days. But for the rest of the fans, they know him as one of the most charismatic and crafty competitors in pro wrestling, a world travelled veteran that gained many accolades and championships over the years alongside his World Class Tag Team partner, Jado.

    Gedo will come in the tournament as The Complete Fighter, the man who innovated the reverse STO known as the Complete Shot, as well as his surprising Gedo Clutch pinning combination. The veteran may not have a good chance in winning the tournament this year given his age and status, but one thing is for sure: expect the legend to impress today’s fans. As such, expect him to give the rub to various young stars in the tournament, but don’t be surprised if he sneaks in a win or two in between.

    Signature Maneuver: MX

    Accomplishments: AJPW Junior Tag League (with Super Crazy), CMLL World Welterweight Champion

    Following a serious injury that took him out for more than a year, BUSHI picked up some much needed momentum by joining Los Ingobernables de Japon, arguably the most popular faction in all of New Japan today, and perhaps even the whole country. Since then, he managed to win the CMLL Welterweight Championship a few months ago, and continued to make his presence felt, be it in action or in support of his leader, Tetsuya Naito.

    As the sole representative of the renegade faction this year, expectations are high on the Masked Bushido to impress audiences in this year’s tournament. While the mist spewing Ingobernable will surely wow fans with his athleticism, him making it to the finals is 50-50 at best. Expect him to be a major force post-BoSJ, however.

    Signature Maneuvers: Kurayami Piledriver, Forever Clotheslines

    Accomplishments: IWGP Junior Tag Champion (with Davey Richards, Alex Koslov, Beretta), IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion

    At this point in Azucar’s career, much can be said about his comparisons with former fellow Talkin’ Shop host, Karl Anderson: they both excelled in their respective tag divisions so much, it’s hard to imagine a tag division without them. But what many people tend to forget is that while he is an excellent tag team wrestler in his own right, he has the credentials to create his own singles run when given the chance, a testament to the versatility of the 33 year old, 20-year veteran. And yes, by this point, he has more experience than most wrestlers in the entire world right now, which is crazy even by wrestling standards.

    The likelihood of winning his block this year seems highly unlikely given his role in flourishing the junior tag division, but you can expect nothing but entertainment from his bouts, no matter who the opponent may be.

    Signature Maneuvers: Air Sydal

    Achievements: WWE Tag Team Champion (with Kofi Kingston), Super Junior Tag Tournament winner and IWGP Junior Tag Team Champion (with Ricochet)

    My, how time flies with the former Evan Bourne in WWE, who managed to make an impression once again in Ring of Honor under his previous identity, Matt Sydal. After being out of action due to an injury for a few years, the man known as Reborn immediately made a splash in his old turf, still possessing quite possibly the best looking shooting star press in the entire industry. His relationship with ROH eventually allowed him to work with NJPW for the first time in 2015, and he has not looked back since.

    A star with so much to offer outside of WWE, he is currently one-half of the IWGP Jr. Tag Champions alongside Ricochet (which we will discuss next week). His red hot momentum as well as his undeniable talents will make for an exciting number of matches, including a champion versus champion bout against KUSHIDA, which may have title implications for both men depending on the conclusion of their clash.

    Signature Maneuver: Superkick

    Accomplishments: Various tag titles with Nick Jackson, NEVER Openweight Six-Man Tag Team Champion (as part of The ELITE)

    Despite the resounding success of the Young Bucks in the world of pro wrestling, Mr. Instant Replay has much to prove as far as being a singles star is concerned. Matt was not able to join last year’s tournament as he was expecting his baby to be born at the time, so this will be his first BoSJ appearance in two years as compared to Nick’s 3 consecutive appearances. But if there is any competitor that will attempt to make as much noise this year for A Block, count on Matt to do so, coming off the big reveal of Adam Cole as the newest member of Bullet Club, and the subsequent superkick party that followed at Global Wars.

    Matt’s chances to win his block is slim, but what is more important to look at is how he will be able to react and perform in a singles environment for an entire tour. Who knows, maybe the guy can surprise us as a solo star during this tour.

    Signature Maneuvers: Dodon, Dodon’s Throne, Milano-style Dodon’s Throne, Dodon THE END, Oh My and Garankle Lock

    Accomplishments: IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion, IWGP Junior Tag Champion (with El Samurai and Prince Devitt), BoSJ winner (2012), CMLL World Welterweight Champion

    No other competitor in all of NJPW is as colorful, flamboyant, and adaptive as the Funky Weapon himself, Ryusuke Taguchi. Ever since the end of Apollo 55 alongside Prince Devitt in 2013, Taguchi finally managed to refocus on his singles career, with a Junior Heavyweight Championship reign to show for it. Since then, he has been mostly relegated as a comedy act that focuses on his hip-based offense, but a comedy act that can easily turn up to 11 when necessary. And while comparisons to R-Truth are inevitable, let history tell everyone that his ability to work is as emphatic as his charisma.

    Expect the Funky Weapon to continue his bizarre and flamboyant act this year, but when it comes to this kind of tournament, it would not be surprising if we would once again see the Taguchi of old somewhere along the way.

    A Block boasts quite a collective cast of stars with different styles and personalities. And if you think A Block is something, believe me, B Block is going to light the world on fire. Thus, next week, we will look at B Block, and trust me, you really don’t want to miss that!


    Lance Tan Ong has been a banking guy for the past few years but a wrestling guy for most of his life. And after checking out matches of Mitsuharu Misawa and Shinya Hashimoto at an early age, he's also pretty much a puro guy as well. Currently checking out WWE (mostly NXT), NJPW, DDT, and other promotions that catch and demand attention. He currently handles NJPW news and coverage for Smark Henry.
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    Item Reviewed: Cafe Puro (5/13/16): The Smark Henry Preview of the Best of the Super Juniors XXIII, A Block Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Lance Tan Ong
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