With the recent news that IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Hiromu Takahashi could be out as long as a year to recover from a broken neck sustained at the G1 Special in San Francisco in his title defense against Dragon Lee, New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) announced today that Hiromu has relinquished the title and that a four man tournament will begin in one month to crown the next IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion.
From NJPW’s website today:
At a press conference on August 20th, a chairman Sugabayashi announced that Hiromu Takahashi relinquished the IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion belt due to injury. He also announced that IWGP Junior Heavyweight championship tournament will be held staring at the next series.
The following is the participants of this tournament who were also former IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion
- KUSHIDA (68th, 71st, 73rd, 75th, 77th)
- BUSHI (74th)
- Will Ospreay (78th, 80th)
- Marty Scurll (79th)
All matches will have 60 minute time limit. The first round will be held at Kobe on September 23rd: KUSHIDA VS. BUSHI, and at Walter Pyramid L.A. U.S.A on September 30th: Ospreay VS. Scurll.
The winner advances to the final at Sumo Hall on October 8th.
The tournament entrants were selected including the last four men to hold the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. As noted, they will have their semi final match ups at the end of September, with the final Championship Match being held on Monday October 8 as part of King of Pro Wrestling at the Ryogoku Kokugikan Sumo Hall.
The TimeSplitter never seems to age. Though he’s only 35 years old, KUSHIDA still moves like a man in his early 20s and continues to be a dominating presence in Japan and around the world. Last year was one of his best years individually, winning the IWGP Junior Heavyweight title twice (bringing his total to five), as well as the Ring of Honor World Television title. He also won his second Best of the Super Juniors in 2017, as well as the inaugural Pro Wrestling World Cup held by WCPW (now Defiant Wrestling). This year he made the semi finals of the BOTSJ (losing to Hiromu Takahashi), proving he can continue to compete at a hight level, and will be looking to claim his 6th IWGP Junior Heavyweight title, which would move him into a second place tie with Tiger Mask IV (although still quite a bit behind Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger‘s 11 titles). KUSHIDA is facing a man he’s fought quite a bit in the past year in tag team action, in Los Ingobernables de Japon masked man BUSHI at Destruction in Kobe on September 23. Their last singles encounter was last June, when KUSHIDA defended the IWGP Junior Heavyweight title against BUSHI on the eight day of the Kizuna Road tour. KUSHIDA is in need of something to get out of the continuous tag team battles he’s been stuck in the past few months, and a victory over BUSHI is just what he needs.
While BUSHI is still one of the last four men to hold the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship, his is furthest away. He won his one and only Junior Heavyweight title in September of 2016 and only held it for 49 days – he actually lost it to KUSHIDA (the man he faces on September 23) at Power Struggle 2016 in his first title defense. Since then, BUSHI has been used primarily in tag team action for his Los Ingobernables de Japon stable, where he’s captured the NEVER Openweight 6-Man Tag Team titles on three occasions alongside EVIL and SANADA. With LIJ in a bit of a struggle of late (they currently hold no titles), BUSHI will be looking to bring back the IWGP Junior Heavyweight title in honor of his fallen comrade who had to relinquish it. He’s facing an arch rival in KUSHIDA though, and at Destruction in Kobe, he’ll have to show he can beat him, after losing the last few singles encounters.
The man whom Hiromu Takahashi defeated at Dominion this June, Will Ospreay will be looking to rectify that loss by winning his third IWGP Junior Heavyweight title in less than a year. He won his first one at last year’s King of Pro Wrestling and claimed his second this year at Wrestle Kingdom 12 in a fatal four way with two of the three men in this tournament – KUSHIDA and Marty Scurll – and Takahashi. Will Ospreay has been an important part of NJPW’s expansion into the UK and USA, so it’s only fitting that his semi final match up against Marty Scurll will be at the next US show, Fighting Spirit Unleashed, on September 30 in Long Beach, California. While Ospreay definitely has the momentum right now, he’s facing a long time adversary going back to their days on the UK circuit, not to mention the man who ended his first IWGP Junior Heavyweight reign in Ospreay’s first title defence, “The Villain” Marty Scurll.
“The Villain” has become more of a side player within the civil war that is consuming Bullet Club these days, having just lost the NEVER Openweight 6-Man titles he held with The Young Bucks to the opposing Bullet Club members Tama Tonga, Tanga Loa and “Bone Soldier” Taiji Ishimori. But don’t let his diminished role in singles action fool you – last year he held the IWGP Junior Heavyweight belt into Wrestle Kingdom 12, after defeating Ospreay last October. He was also the Defiant World Champion for a spell. Now that he’s lost his tag team titles, Scurll can refocus on his singles career in NJPW and getting another shot for the IWGP Junior title is just the opportunity to show that he’s still a “Villain” that’s worth fearing.
Four solid contenders for the mini-tournament, but look for KUSHIDA to face Will Ospreay at King of Pro Wrestling on October 8, 2018, a rematch of their encounter last year at the same event. Last year saw Ospreay cement his legacy in NJPW by winning his first title, but this year the story is wide open. Will Ospreay win his third title in one year or will KUSHIDA tie Tiger Mask with six?