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  May 21, 1999

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Junior Heavyweights take centre stage in Japan

New Japan presents its annual Top of the Super Juniors Torunament

Mat Matters

Informative views and insights on the wrestling world from SLAM! Sports.


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 produced.

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