NJPW Best Of The Super Jr./World Tag League 2020 Opening Night Review

It's time for Super Juniors, it's time for World Tag League, time for the combination Best of the Super Juniors-World Tag League

After Power Struggle paved the road to Wrestle Kingdom with extra drama, New Japan Pro Wrestling returns with its eighth and ninth tournaments of the year – at the same time! 2020’s Best of the Super Juniors and World Tag League tournaments both begin on November 15 in Aichi, with a ten-match card that features some of the best of what the heavyweight tag team and junior heavyweight divisions have to offer, mixed with some stuff that’s less than great.

A housekeeping note before we get started: World Tag League and Best of the Super Juniors will continue (and have already started continuing) with four more shows this week, alternating between all-WTL and all-BOSJ like the G1 did with A and B Block. For scheduling reasons, NJPW reviews on Fanfyte will return when the groups reunite for the finals on December 11. With that out of the way, let’s look at how the tournaments began.

Negativity Speed Round!

While I enjoyed most of this show and thought improved as it went along, the first thirty-seven minutes or so was a collection of the worst stuff NJPW has going on right now (involving the people on this tour.) The night’s first three matches had some redeeming qualities but were largely back to back to back suckiness.

World Tag League kicks off with Toru Yano and Tomohiro Ishii defeating Bad Luck Fale and Chase Owens, and the best thing about this match is the chaotic Yano-style finish. The worst thing about this match is the same worst thing about Owens’ matches on NJPW Strong and earlier this month on the Road to Power Struggle tour, which is that Chase Owens is in them while New Japan turns a blind eye to the allegations of sexual misconduct against him. Owens responded to the allegations in a post that has since been deleted, I’m guessing because it was unconvincing at worst and tone-deaf at best, and NJPW has said nothing despite being contacted about it by media and fans.

If you’ve been keeping up with the real-life side of wrestling, especially since this summer, it’s probably preaching to the choir for me to say that there’s no reason to think that NJPW not doing anything about these allegations means that they’re not true. The same goes for Owens’ wrestling peers not acknowledging them, and for whatever reasons wrestling fans have formed parasocial relationships with him. The wildest and most insulting thing about Owens’ case is that you can’t even point to his perceived star status or drawing power to explain why the company would try to get away with acting as if nothing’s going on. He’s a jobber who they flew out to Japan to be part of a jobber tag team in NJPW’s least popular tournament. The whole situation is just pathetic and an indication of how much wrestling as an industry thinks women are sub-garbage whenever they aren’t convenient for PR.

A way less dark lowlight of the show is the first offering from BOSJ 27, Master Wato vs. Yuya Uemura, the replacement for the injured Yoshinobu Kanemaru. Uemura is such a promising trainee that he wouldn’t have seemed out of place in BOSJ as a regular entrant, but Master Wato’s performance here is pretty concerning! He immediately struggles in a Boston Crab, gets put in a bear hug, and somehow comes out of a four-minute match that he wins looking like the weaker wrestler. Maybe this can be attributed to the relative inexperience of both parties since Wato’s looked better in matches with Douki and Kanemaru. Whatever the reason, this was definitely a pothole in the Way to the Grandmaster.

Even squashier is the match between the reunited HenarAce and the new Empire team of Great-O-Khan and X. X is revealed to be Jeff Cobb, who with an assist from his tag partner, murks Henare in under three minutes. On the one hand, it’s nice that New Japan is using Cobb right after his strong G1, and he’s always good in a monster role. On the other hand, anyone signing up to join this black hole of a faction where Ospreay and Priestley make out in front of them kind of looks like a dweeb. And since Cobb’s recruitment ends the theme of it being a BritWres faction pretty quickly, The Empire is, for the time being, just people who decided to follow Ospreay around.

The actual weirdest thing about this match, though, was the reframing of The Great-O-Khan. This dude has a goofy, territory-days gimmick that previously seemed aware of its own goofiness, or at least allowed to be seen as goofy. The character is presented in a more serious way here, and that only makes it look dumber. Maybe the Japanese audience sees O-Khan differently, but from my perspective, I don’t get how insisting he’s a legitimate, black trunks threat, actually, could improve O-Khan. He’s still doing the Mongolian Chops! It doesn’t “fix” anything that could be seen as a problem with the gimmick and really just highlights its inherent silliness, but in a way that no longer in on the joke.

Best of the Super Jr. match: Robbie Eagles def. Douki

The show picks up with its second singles match, Douki vs. the returning Robbie Eagles. Eagles’ dive on the ramp makes things feel like BOSJ season. Eagles and Douki work well together and their interesting movesets complement each other. Both guys come out of this looking good, but it’s especially a showcase for Eagles, not just because he wins, but because we haven’t seen him in New Japan in forever and it doesn’t look like he lost a step during that time.

While Eagles’ wrestling is still undeniably solid, his creative future seems shakier. His whole angle last year was that he was too nice for Bullet Club and the angel on his shoulder, Will Ospreay, won him over to Chaos. The Eagles character can now either join The Empire and keep his Ospreay’s Friend thing going, or he can stay in Chaos as a babyface. I think given that he was basically a babyface in all but faction affiliation while still in Bullet Club, remaining in Chaos would make more sense for him, but The Empire is probably going to keeping growing and doesn’t have any juniors yet, so maybe that’s where he’ll end up.

World Tag League match: Zack Sabre Jr. and Taichi def. Yoshi-Hashi and Hirooki Goto

The first really good tag match of the night is Yoshi-Hashi and Goto getting another shot at Dangerous Tekkers, and losing again to the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Champions. These teams had a quality, main event title match on the Road to Power Struggle, and their shorter rematch doesn’t disappoint. Goto and Yoshi-Hashi’s combination moves still look really good, the one-on-one sequences all deliver, and I appreciate the recurring bit of the Chaos guys kind of snapping and choking Taichi back. The match’s finish is perfect for Zack and Taichi, a mix of fighting dirty and fighting skillfully that makes them irritating heel champions and credible threats to everyone.

Best of the Super Jr. match: Sho def. Bushi

Sho vs. Bushi keeps the night’s positive momentum going. It’s not a standout amazing match, but it’s enjoyable and both wrestlers perform well. It’s the type of good where I can only come up with three sentences for its section of the article!

World Tag League match: Yujiro Takahashi and Evil def. Shingo Takagi and Sanada

Yujiro is the most obvious fall guy in this match, but this match doesn’t take the obvious route. It takes the route designed to hurt your feelings!

After Sanada beat Evil on the way to the G1 final, Evil gets his win back over the guy who he’s won this tournament with multiple times before. Evil’s betrayal was almost half a year ago, but pitting him and Sanada against each other in World Tag League is still an effective twist of the knife.

Despite the emotional pain it inflicts, this match is one of the more fun ones on the show. Takagi and Sanada are one of the coolest-looking and most exciting teams in the tournament. The teamwork and combo moves they had started developing on Road show preview tags earlier this year make them look like contenders rather than stablemates paired up to fill space. There’s not anywhere near as much hype around Evil and Yujiro, but I appreciate that, in their first match as a team, the two guys on the roster who regularly do fisherman busters do fisherman busters at the same time and look really happy about it. As they should!

Best of the Super Jr. match: Ryusuke Taguchi def. El Desperado

It’s become a tradition in recent years that BOSJ is the month when Taguchi laces up his serious working boots and reminds everybody that he can break someone’s ankle as easily as he can make you laugh. The BOSJ 27 Taguchi run feels even more like a special occasion because his only previous singles matches in 2020 were losing to Sanada in the first round of the New Japan Cup and beating some Young Lions this winter.

Taguchi vs. Desperado (which, Taguchi points out backstage, puts him in the running for the junior titles) shows off both the serious and more comedic wrestling skills of both performers. We get Taguchi doing some high-flying and Desperado knee-targeting in a variety of ways, along with Despy dodging a Bumaye via splits. For that alone, he deserves to make the final! But Taguchi’s win, through another good-looking counter, still feels very deserved and feels fresh after seeing so few singles matches from him for so long.

World Tag League match: FinJuice def. G.o.D.

After Taguchi returns to singles competition, two former champion tag teams return to a New Japan ring that’s actually in Japan and surrounded by fans. The biggest takeaway from Juice Robinson and David Finlay vs. Tama Tonga and Tonga Loa to my idiot brain is “Tama Tonga cut off more of his hair???” but give me a second and I’ll try to reconfigure that into something like analysis.

FinJuice and the Guerrillas were half of the heavyweight tag title scene before the pandemic, but travel bans have cut them out of anything really relevant in New Japan since February. Juice has obviously been in Japan for the past few months and all these guys have been on NJPW Strong, but everyone in this match smartly wrestles like they’re aware they need to reestablish their teams in the audience’s minds.

Tama showing up looking five years younger is an easy hook to make the viewer pay more attention to G.o.D. and the many-time champions switch their game up beyond that, continuing their pattern of fighting cleaner and with less heel theatrics. For the good guys, Finlay shows up in the shape of his career, and while the Doomsday Device could be a one-off tribute finisher, its use here also makes last year’s WTL winners look like they’re evolving. Overall, both teams bring really good energy to this match and make it feel like one of the best possible versions of FinJuice vs. G.o.D.

Best of the Super Jr. match: Hiromu Takahashi def. Taiji Ishimori

Hiromu Takahashi and Taiji Ishimori have had amazing matches in the past, and their November 15 main event quickly blows everything else on this show out of the water. Hiromu sauntering in with a new coat and his strategy guidebook is a blessed sight after a year when he couldn’t compete, and things only get better after the bell rings. Ishimori vs. Hiromu is fast-paced and full of cool spots that look like they really hurt. From every chop and suplex to more dramatic moments like Ishimori’s piledriver on the apron, these two completely sell that they’re out here to kill each other, and it’s great. This show starts with some examples of how wrestling sucks and ends with twenty painful-looking minutes of how wrestling absolutely rules.

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Emily Pratt

Emily Pratt is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. She used to study, write about, and make theater. Now she writes about pro wrestling for Fanbyte and Deadlock. Her other bylines include With Spandex on UPROXX, Orange Crush, Mind Games Magazine, FanSided WWE, and Diva Dirt.

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