365 match reviews, one for each date on the yearly calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.
New Japan Pro Wrestling has produced, over the course of its history, some of the best wrestling on the planet. And the Best of Super Juniors is probably my favorite of their annual tournaments: first because I enjoy that style of wrestling, and second because it gives the junior heavyweights — who usually are second banana in the promotion — a chance to shine.
The IWGP Junior Heavyweight Title is the top prize for the New Japan juniors. At the time of this writing, there have been 41 wrestlers to hold the title for 91 combined reigns. Past champions include Jushin Liger, Finn Balor, Kota Ibushi, Kenny Omega, Owen Hart and more … but it all started with today’s match selection, a bout between The Cobra and Shiro Koshinaka on February 6, 1986, to crown the first IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion.
Koshinaka got started in All Japan, NJPW’s top competitor, and jumped over in 1985. The Cobra is George Takano, who is working here under a mask and billed from Uganda. The match is the culmination of a round-robin league tournament to crown the first IWGP champion. Other participants in the round-robin included the original Black Tiger, Mark Rocco, and Keiichi Yamada (a young, unmasked Liger).
After a month of round-robin league wrestling to get to this point, and a loss to Koshinaka during the block, the Cobra isn’t wasting any time. He takes the fight right to Koshinaka and, mere seconds in, hits a fantastic standing dropkick. I’ve watched, well, more wrestling that I probably would care to think about and this is one of the best dropkicks I’ve seen. It also elicits one of the great “OHHHH!” reactions known to Japanese crowds.
There are a few lulls, mostly to sell holds, but otherwise this match keeps the pedal pressed into the proverbial floor. The finishing stretch would hold up against any modern Japanese juniors match, with both men trading some very close near falls to the delight of the Sumo Hall crowd.
As is often the case, the small moments stand out and really tie together this match. The Cobra is aggressive in going for pins. After weathering the initial storm by Cobra, Koshinaka shows some grit with a running cross body, but note now he jams a forearm into the face of the Cobra on the impact and the landing. Later, Koshinaka lies prone with a twitching leg after taking a tombstone. That and a running legdrop still aren’t enough to put away Koshinaka, and the crowd starts chanting for him as he counters a top-rope splash and hoists the Cobra in a bridging German for the historic victory.
Final Rating: 6.3
This is a good match with a couple of off moments, such as The Cobra coming up short on a cartwheel into a dive to the floor. There’s probably nothing here you haven’t seen before, but it’s a well-worked match and a historic one to boot.
A very good example of the youth vs. experience story, told inside the squared circle.