With the Best of the Super Juniors 26 block action in the books, it’s time to grade each performer. Each participant had a different role than the next so each will be graded off of their respective role. If they had a main event and failed to perform up to that level, the grade will reflect on that situation. Let’s get started!
The man who had everyone’s eyes on him never once let the fans down all throughout the tournament. Night after night of quality matches, Shingo never let up. Whether his match went twenty-five minutes or seven minutes, Shingo performed at an extremely high level. There was so much hype around Shingo coming in that expectations were nearly impossible to be met but he somehow managed to not just meet expectations, he surpassed them.
Starting with the weirdly timed SHO match, turning it up at Korakuen with the match of the tournament against Dragon Lee and ending it with an incredible match against Taiji Ishimori. If you weren’t sold on Shingo before the tournament, you are now. If you were already sold on Shingo before the tournament, you’re even more excited now. You could not have expected anything more than what Shingo gave.
Ishimori got injured early on in the tournament. He managed to battle through it but the middle of his tournament was littered with five minute sprints where he got in and got out. Even still, those sprints wound up being good matches even if they didn’t live up to their initial billing. When he had to turn it up in the closing stages, Ishimori delivered big.
His tournamnt started with a great match against Dragon Lee but he’d get injured in his next match and spend the Korakuen run with three matches all going under ten, two going under five. He was hurting bad. When he was called upon in the main events though, Ishimori went hard. He had a great twenty minute main event with SHO and finished the tournament with another twenty minute main event with Shingo Takagi. Most would dream to be as good as Ishimori was injured.
Coming in as the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion is a lot of pressure. Lee was tasked with representing the division and closing out the shows despite the language barrier so he had to win the crowds over with a lot of hard work. He led the block in average match length and split the amount of main events with Shingo Takagi. For his block, you could argue no one worked harder every night than Lee.
He started with a great match against Taiji Ishimori, almost went to the thirty minute draw with SHO and had he match of the tournament alongside Shingo Takagi. Dragon Lee put the block on his back and gave everything to make sure he represented the title properly. The amount of respect he has for the company is palpable and he held himself the right way.
The last eight months of SHO’s career had revolved around his feud with Shingo Takagi. Many had speculated that their match would be the final of the tournament. In a bizarre move, the match was held on the opening day and didn’t even receive the main event treatment. The match wound up being SHO’s highlight but peaked his tournament early and caused him to become an after thought. The problem with the A Block was that everything revolved around Shingo so once you lost, everyone knew you weren’t making it to the final.
Still, SHO put on some of the block’s best performances. His aforementioned match with Shingo was one of the tournament’s best. He also had a highlight main event in the later stages with Taiji Ishimori. Other matches like the ones with Dragon Lee and Marty Scurll were also ranking high when all was said and done. SHO was one of the hardest workers with some of the least amount of intrigue which that caused him to fall to the wayside somewhat due to a weird early booking of his match with Shingo.
There was a lot of hype around Gresham’s inclusion in this year’s tournament. Known for his technical prowess, many were eager to see him showcase his masterclass grappling abilities against the likes of some of the best wrestlers in the world. He got off to a nice start with Marty Scurll and continued all the way throughout the tournament. Gresham’s style was able to mesh well with all of his opponents, each match showing off his incredible technique. His standout matches were against Shingo Takagi, Titán, Tiger Mask IV and SHO. He left crowds impressed by his proficiency on the mat which hopefully will be enough for New Japan to bring him over for more tours.
Sort of flying under the radar all tournament long was Marty Scurll. He’s been out of the spotlight since The Elite left him for AEW and has even taken a backseat in his newest faction, Villain Enterprises. That said, Scurll still put together a solid tournament, starting with a good match with Jonathan Gresham and picking up on the Korakuen run where he had his standout matches with Shingo Takagi, SHO and Yoshinobu Kanemaru. He ended strong with a match against Dragon Lee to wrap up his tournament. Although he never had the match of the night, the consistency was there from Scurll even in taking a backseat.
Titán’s tournament fell victim to two errors resulting in unplanned finishes. His highlight was a showcase with his partner Dragon Lee where they were able to put it all out there for the world to see. He had several strong matches with Shingo Takagi, Jonathan Gresham and Marty Scurll so if you overlook the glaring happenstances that took place in the matches between both TAKA Michinoku and Tiger Mask IV, it was a fine tournament for Titán. Overall it was an uneven tournament but not all the blame can be put on one man.
By no means was he the flashiest guy out there but you never knew how a Kanemaru match was going to end. Like all the best veterans, Kanemaru has been around long enough to know how to get the most out of doing as little as possible. His role was very similar to that of Toru Yano in that he’d try to work smarter, not harder and sometimes that would score him a fluke win. In his match with SHO he caused a count out by shoving a young lion into his opponent and against Ishimori he used a referee distraction to spray the whiskey and roll him up. He succeeded in the sneaky spoiler role as well as provided great matches with Tiger Mask IV, Shingo Takagi and Dragon Lee.
Tiger Mask IV
You know what you’re getting in every match with Tiger. It’s going ten minutes, his opponent will attack his knee and he’ll be tasked with trying to overcome the pain of old age. The layout is tried and true, he never deviates and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Tiger will rarely wow the audience with a high spot but rather relies on strong fundamental grappling and striking. He had five low key great matches with Yoshinobu Kanemaru, Dragon Lee, Jonathan Gresham, SHO and Shingo Takagi. Once again he showed he’s still a capable wrestler even if he doesn’t pop off the screen.
Although an injury cut his tournament short, TAKA ended it with a bang. His eight minute sprint with Shingo Takagi was one of the tournament’s best matches, proving TAKA still has the juice. His body wound up failing him but we saw the greatness, he put it all out on the line and delivered big time. Like Tiger Mask IV, TAKA is getting up there in age so his matches were all around the ten minute range. He had a couple great matches with Shingo and Taiji Ishimori and other than a referee botch in the match with Titán, everything went smooth. Unfortunately his body just couldn’t keep up with him.