Junior Heavyweights take centre stage in Japan
Informative views and insights on the wrestling world from SLAM! Sports.
By JOHN MOLINARO -- SLAM! Wrestling
New Japan presents its annual Top of the Super Juniors Torunament
Pro wrestling, like most sports, is universal. In just about every corner
of the globe, be it Europe, Africa or Australia, promoters are staging
wrestling cards with a host of international talent. Due to the
differences in culture, the quality and emphasis of wrestling presented in
countries around the world differs greatly from what we've come to identify
as pro wrestling in Canada and the U.S.
The difference holds true when compared to pro wrestling in Japan and
perhaps not so more pronounced during the month of May when New Japan Pro
Wrestling, the number one organization in Japan, presents its Top of the
Super Junior Tournament, running from May 19th to June 6th.
Commemorating its tenth anniversary, the Top of the Super Junior Tournament
provides a showcase and platform for the elite junior heavyweight
(cruiserweight in American wrestling lingo) wrestlers from around the
world, allowing them to exhibit their enormous skills before appreciative
crowds across Japan for three weeks.
Over the past nine years, New Japan promoters have established the
tournament's credibility by bringing in the top junior heavyweight workers
from around the world to compete against the very best Japan has to offer.
Every year the tournament boasts an international field, as the premiere
junior heavyweight workers from Mexico, the U.S., Canada and all over
Europe come together and put on what are traditionally the very best
wrestling matches of the year in a country that is wrestling crazy.
Unlike their counterparts in the WWF and WCW, New Japan promoters have long
celebrated the talents of their junior heavyweight workers. This
tournament is a symbol of that celebration. For fans of true, athletic
based pro wrestling, this tournament is the Holy Grail. It is truly one of
the very last bastions of pro wrestling in the world, unspoiled by the
shock and titillating antics commonly used today by American promoters such
as Vince McMahon and Eric Bischoff.
Needless to say you won't find any stripper matches, cartoon-type gimmicks
or hotshot angles in this tournament. What you will find is quality
wrestling presented as hard fought athletic contests, a concept that is
completely foreign to American promotions. You will find honour, and blood
and sweat, and most of all tradition.
Chris Benoit (third from left) celebrates his victory in the finals of the '93 tournament. From left to right: Shinjiro Otani, 2 Cold Scorpio, Benoit, Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero and Fit Finley.
That tradition was built on the sweat and toil of Japanese wrestlers such
as Shiro Koshinaka, El Samurai, Norio Honaga, Shinjiro Otani and current
IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion Koji Kanemoto, pound for pound the best
wrestler in the world today. It is a tradition built on the exemplary
matches of Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero and several other
North American wrestlers.
Above all else, though, it is a tradition built on the hard work and
unparalleled booking of the wrestler who best symbolizes this tournament
and what it stands for; the wrestler who has come to be most identified
with the Top of the Super Juniors Tournament, Jushin "Thunder" Liger.
The most influential junior heavyweight wrestler in Japan in the 90s,
Jushin "Thunder" Liger has earned critical acclaim over the years for his
booking of New Japan's junior heavyweight division. Liger has the uncanny
ability to weave and braid several storylines over several matches
involving his crew of wrestlers, making for some compelling wrestling.
The Top of the Super Juniors is his time to shine. Each year, he wields
his magic and produces some of the most simplistic yet intriguing booking
ideas in wrestling today. Fans who shake their heads at the hot shot story
telling of the WWF and the complete idiocy of WCW's booking, would salivate
at the opportunity to watch three weeks worth of matches that make sense,
have a purpose and follow a logical progression.
Liger's booking of this tournament each year should be in a wrestling
textbook and studied by aspiring bookers. Three of Liger's booking
trademarks come to full fruition each year in this tournament, all of
which, no doubt, would prove to be illuminating for Kevin Nash and WCW's
gaggle of clueless bookers.
One, by staging matches that are so evenly contested, Liger has created a tournament where the fans believe anybody can beat anybody. Liger preaches
that doing the job and putting some one over is honorable and good for
business because it makes the entire roster more competitive. Two, Liger has created a number of new stars and elevated other wrestlers
to the next level by giving them significant wins over established veterans of the tournament. Third, Liger is a selfless booker. He puts into practice the virtues he extols to his crew. Time and time again he has put people over and in
the process has elevated workers to the next level.
Not since the revolutionary Tiger Mask (Satoru Sayama) changed the
landscape of Japanese pro wrestling with his legendary series of matches in
the early 80s with the Dynamite Kid, has a junior heavyweight wrestler had
such an impact and influence on wrestling. Jushin "Thunder" Liger, through
his work in this tournament as a wrestler and a booker, will no doubt go
down in history as the greatest junior heavyweight wrestler Japan ever
The Top of the Super Junior tournament has become New Japan's signature
event and by raising the bar for of what passes as exciting and excellent
wrestling, it has set the standard for years to come. All other promotions
worldwide are simply playing catch up.
A look at this year's tournament