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Looking at New Japan's Top of the Super Junior Tournament


By JOHN MOLINARO -- SLAM! Wrestling

This year, New Japan Pro Wrestling is celebrating the tenth anniversary of the Top of the Super Junior Heavyweight tournament. Starting on May 19th and wrappng up on June 6th, the tournament hosts an international field of junior heavyweight wrestlers from the U.S., Mexico and Europe vying for supremacy.

The international aspect of this tournament is what has made it so great. Wrestlers from around the globe converge on Japan each year for this tournament, bringing together a host of different styles and wrestling traditions. The athletic based Puroresu style of Japanese wrestling is amalgamated with the fast paced movement of Mexico's Lucha Libre, the stiff tradition of British and Canadian wrestling, and the big bumping style of American wrestling, creating a wrestling melting pot.

Only the best junior heavyweight from around the world have been invited to this tournament. Canadians have left their mark on this annual tournament. Chris Benoit became the first non-Japanese wrestler to win the tournament in 1993, competing under a mask as the Pegasus Kid and defeating Jushin "Thunder" Liger in the finals. This tournament is where Benoit's talents were first allowed to shine on an international scale and where he first established himself as a superstar. Others such as Owen Hart and Chris Jericho have also competed in the tournament.

Eddie Guerrero, winner of the '96 tournament, under the mask as Black Tiger.


American wrestlers such as Eddie Guerrero, (who won the tournament in 1996 competing under a mask as Black Tiger), Dean Malenko, Jerry Lynn, Brian Pillman and 2 Cold Scorpio have competed in this tournament. Current WWF star X-Pac competed in the 1993 tournament when he was known as Lightning Kid, establishing himself as a future superstar.

Mexican superstars such as Negro Casas, Dr Wagner Jr, Villano IV and El Felino have left their indelible mark on this tournament. Europe has also been well represented at this tournament over the years. Germany has sent over such stars as WCW's Alex Wright and Franz Schumann while England has sent Dave "Fit" Finley, Robbie Brookside and Doc Dean.

And of course, the who's who of Japanese junior heavyweights have all competed. Jushin "Thunder" Liger, Hiro Hase, Shinjiro Otani, Koji Kanemoto, Taka Michinoku, ECW's Yoshihiro Tajiri and El Samurai.

The tournament divides the wrestlers into two groups. Wrestlers in those groups compete in round robin matches compiling two points for a win, one for a draw and none for a loss. The winners of both groups then meet in the finals of the tournament, to be held on June 6th at Tokyo's Budokan Hall, the Mecca of Japanese wrestling.

Let's look at this year's field and examine how they'll likely do --

BLOCK A:

SHOCKER
Promotion: EMLL (Mexico)
Signature Move: tope con hilo
Tournament experience: none
Prognosis for this year: Competing in his first tournament, Shocker isn't expected to go very far. He has an incredible arsenal of aerial moves and is one of the young lions in Mexico. This is his first time wrestling on an international stage so don't expect booker Jushin Liger to let him get any significant wins. He will gain invaluable seasoning and experience that will help him climb the ladder back in Mexico.

Koji Kanemoto
Promotion: New Japan Pro Wrestling
Signature Move: stiff kicks
Tournament experience: last place '92, fourth place in '95, seventh place in '96, finalist in '97, winner in '98
Prognosis for this year: Last year's champion and the current IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion, Kanemoto is one of the top workers in Japan. He is an incredibly stiff worker as is an accomplished mat technician. I'd expect Liger will have him do some high profile jobs to help elevate some other wrestlers.

Jushin "Thunder" Liger
Promotion: New Japan Pro Wrestling
Signature Move: palm blow
Tournament Experience: 6th place in '88 (wrestled under his real name Keiichi Yamada before donning a mask), finalist in '91, winner in '92, 3rd place in '93, winner in '94, finalist in '96, second place in '97, second place in '98
Prognosis for this year:Always a threat as he consistently puts on the best matches at this tournament. He'll do well but I can't see him putting himself in the finals. He'll place second in his group and help establish someone else as a major star.

Tatsuhito Takaiwa
Promotion: New Japan Pro Wrestling
Signature Move - Triple powerbomb into a Death Valley Driver
Tournament Experience: third place in '96, third place in 97, fifth place in '98
Prognosis for this year: One of the guys I expect Liger will give a major push to in this tournament. Takaiwa has been the most improved wrestler in Japan over the past two years and this tournament will be his coming out. He'll be put over the more established stars and be elevated.

Gran Hamada
Promotion: Michinoku Pro Wrestling
Signature Move: huricanrana
Tournament Experience - sixth place in '95
Prognosis for this year: The "Godfather" of the junior heavyweights, he's held virtually every major junior heavyweight title in the world. One of the older wrestlers who paved the way for younger wrestlers in the junior heavyweight division. A sentimental favorite but I can't see Liger giving the tournament to a guy in his forties.

Nariaki Mochizuki rounds out Block A.

BLOCK B:

Dr Wagner Jr
Promotion: EMLL, Mexico
Signature Move: the Wagner Driver (variation of the Michinoku Driver II where he drops his opponent directly on his head!)
Tournament Experience: 5th place in '97, finalist in '98
Prognosis for this year: Last year's finalist had a tremendous year in Japan and is a heavy favorite to win this year. He'll be there at the end but it isn't is year just yet. Likely a second place finish or another birth in the finals. Next year will be his year.

Shinjiro Otani
Promotion: New Japan Pro Wrestling
Signature Move: Northern Lights Suplex
Tournament Experience: tenth place in '93, eighth place in '94, finalist in '95, third place in '96, second place in '97, third place in '98
Prognosis for this year: Losing in the finals to Chris Benoit in 1995, Otani is the perennial bridesmaid of this tournament. A superb worker who combines speed, agility and aerial moves, this is his year.

El Samurai
Promotion: New Japan Pro Wrestling
Signature Move: frogsplash
Tournament Experience - finalist in '92, finalist in '93, fourth place in '94, eighth place in '95, second place in '96, winner in '97, second place in '98
Prognosis for this year: An underrated worker who has been to three finals, Samurai combines aerial moves with a solid mat game. An established figure in this tournament, he'll likely be used to put over and help elevate someone else.

Kendo Ka Shin
Promotion: New Japan Pro Wrestling
Signature Move: double arm bar submission
Tournament Experience: fifth place in '98
Prognosis for this year: Ka Shin has climbed up the ladder in New Japan over the past year and this tournament will be no different. He'll be elevated up this year by scoring some big wins and being put over by the other established stars.

Minoru Tanaka (Battlarts) and Masao Orihara round out Block B.

My Predictions -- Block A prediction: Tatsuhito Takaiwa
Block B prediction: Shinjiro Otani
Tournament winner: Otani
Chris Benoit under the mask as Pegasus Kid endures a camel clutch from Jushin "Thunder" Liger.

NEW JAPAN TOP OF THE SUPER JUNIOR TOURANMENT FINALS HISTORY
1988 - Shiro Koshinaka defeated Hiroshi Hase
1989 -90 No tournament
1991 - Norio Honaga defeated Jushin "Thunder" Liger
1992 - Jushin "Thunder" Liger defeated El Samurai
1993 - Pegasus Kid (Chris Benoit) defeated El Samurai
1994 - Jushin "Thunder" Liger defeated Super Delfin
1995 - Wild Pegasus (Chris Benoit) defeated Shinjiro Otani
1996 - Black Tiger (Eddie Guerrero) defeated Jushin "Thunder" Liger
1997 - El Samurai defeated Koji Kanemoto
1998 - Koji Kanemoto defeated Dr Wagner Jr

  • Editorial on the tournament