Apparently, this is the best junior heavyweight wrestling match to ever take place. If the Wrestling Observer is to be believed, this match trumps every single match that involved smaller, high-flying wrestlers. Every match involving guys like Rey Mysterio, Jushin Liger, Ultimo Dragon, Owen Hart, Great Sasuke, Low Ki, TNA’s X-Division, WWE’s cruiserweight division, and all of lucha libre, are all inferior to this match. That’s definitely high praise, but is it accurate? There’s only one way to find out.
Today we revisit the classic singles match between Will Ospreay and Hiromu Takahashi from Wrestle Kingdom 14 in 2020.
As a reminder, I am reviewing Five Star and almost-Five Star wrestling matches as rated by Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. It goes back to the 1980s and I’m going to pick different matches from different eras to see how they look today. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
Eighteen months earlier, then-IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Hiromu suffered a horrific, career-threatening injury and was forced to vacate his title. It took Hiromu a very long time to recover, and when he made his surprise return, it was to confront the then-champion, Will Ospreay. As Hiromu made his way down to the ring, the general mood could be summed up in two sentences: “WOW, Hiromu’s back!” and “How will Hiromu’s neck hold up in his return match?” Hiromu must’ve had telepathy because in his big promo, he addressed that second thought in typical Hiromu fashion: he threw himself into the corner and cut a promo while doing a neck bridge.
And thus the stage was set for one of the biggest dream matches in New Japan. Hiromu would make his big in-ring return after being out for more than a year and would be challenging Will Ospreay, one of the top wrestlers in the world. With the weight of Wrestle Kingdom looming overhead, would Hiromu regain the title he never lost, or would his neck issues be too much of a hindrance in a war against the Aerial Assassin?
This match originally took place on January 4th, 2020 on the first night of NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom 14 event. It was rated *****1/2 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer. In other words, not only was it considered better than perfect, but also THE best cruiserweight/junior heavyweight match of all time. Looking back now, let’s see if that reputation still makes sense.
This is for Ospreay’s IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. The bell rings and Hiromu charges but Ospreay dodges and mocks him. They slow the pace down with some mat wrestling until Ospreay floats over and slaps Hiromu mockingly on the head. They rush each other and have a strong style exchange, which is followed by a long back-and-forth elbow strike battle that Hiromu wins. That’s followed by an amazing cruiserweight sequence that’s straight out of an action movie complete with dodging, ducking, blocking, countering and flipping. Ospreay handsprings but Hiromu catches him and goes for a German suplex but Ospreay counters into one of his own. No, Hiromu escapes and ducks a kick. Stiff chops from both guys. Running hurricanrana by Hiromu and he goes for a running sunset flip powerbomb from the apron to the floor. Ospreay holds on so Hiromu counters into a powerbomb onto the apron instead. Insane start to the match.
Hiromu maintains control with a running dropkick off the apron that sends Ospreay into the barricade. In the ring, they trade chops and suplex attempts until Hiromu gets a Figure-4 neck lock using the ropes. Hiromu climbs the top rope but gets down as Ospreay starts stirring. He goes for a shoulder check to the gut that everyone uses to hit an opponent charging the ropes. But Ospreay stops him with a double foot stomp to the neck and follows with a Randy Orton-style draping DDT. That’s a huge move for Ospreay because of the immense damage it does to Hiromu’s surgically-repaired neck. Ospreay pins but only gets two.
Hiromu escapes to ringside but Ospreay follows and pulls his neck against the barricade. He tries fighting back but Ospreay drops him with a neckbreaker on the ringside mats to further target that weak neck. Hiromu escapes a pin at one so Ospreay punts his spine and rolls into a Koji Clutch that again targets the neck. Hiromu reaches the ropes, forcing a break.
Hiromu tries to fire back with chops but Ospreay kicks him hard in the gut. Ospreay charges but Hiromu lands a sweet-looking wheelbarrow into a flatliner and then begins a comeback. A running dropkick and a Falcon Arrow get Hiromu a two-count. He goes to whip Ospreay off the ropes but Ospreay holds on so Hiromu chops him hard. Another reversal sequence ensues and Ospreay lands a handspring kick out of nowhere. Hiromu escapes to ringside. Ospreay powers up for a big move. Space Flying Tiger Drop/handspring backflip over the rope and out of the ring. Wait, no, Hiromu catches him. German suplex. No, Ospreay lands on his feet. Ospreay charges. Hiromu counters with an overhead Belly-to-belly. Ospreay flies through the ropes and lands safely in the ring. Space Flying Tiger Drop connects. Jesus Christ, what an insane sequence!!
Ospreay tosses Hiromu into the ring and lands an AJ Styles-style Phenomenal forearm for two at the ten-minute mark. Hiromu dodges a corkscrew kick and lands a shotgun dropkick and lands a corner clothesline. He goes for another but Ospreay counters with a stiff kick sequence and a 619. Both guys end up on perpendicular aprons. Ospreay springboards and lands a double foot stomp to Hiromu’s neck. F**king brutal. that’s followed by a diving dropkick to the back of Hiromu’s head. Hiromu looks dead. Ospreay pins. Somehow Hiromu kicks out.
Ospreay sets Hiromu up for his Hidden Blade (running Judas Effect elbow) but Hiromu collapses. Hiromu slowly starts stirring and getting up as the fans gets behind him more and more. Ospreay taunts him with Kawada kicks and then lands a kick to the face through Hiromu’s legs. Ospreay goes for an electric chair but Hiromu escapes and lands a massive chop. Hiromu goes for a diving super sunset flip. Ospreay counters and goes back to the electric chair. No, Hiromu counters into the diving sunset flip. One, two, no, Ospreay kicks out. Fireman’s Carry Emerald Flowsion! Ospreay kicks out again. Another Fireman’s carry. Ospreay escapes and hits a tiger walk enzuigiri and a corkscrew kick to the head. Ospreay goes for the OsCutter (springboard cutter). Hiromu counters into a Death Valley Bomb. No, Ospreay escapes. Hiromu lands a big elbow strike. Ospreay fires back with Made in Japan. That’s Shingo Takagi’s big finisher. Hiromu kicks out. Shooting Star Press. Hiromu kicks out again. This is amazing so far. OsCutter connects! One, two, thr—NO, Hiromu kicks out at 2.99!
Ospreay lands a hook kick to set up the Hidden Blade. He charges for it but Hiromu ducks and lands a gorgeous pop-up powerbomb. Great counter. The crowd erupts in cheers as the ref starts counting for both men to get up. They struggle to their feet and trade stiff forearms. Neither man backs down and both of them dare the other to hit harder. Ospreay lands a high kick and goes for the OsCutter again. But this time Hiromu counters into a German suplex out of midair. Hiromu goes for a lariat. Ospreay flip counters and goes for a powerbomb. Wait, no, Ospreay counters that with a Canadian Destroyer. One, two, no, Ospreay kicks out. Running DVB into the corner. Hiromu goes for the Time Bomb. Ospreay escapes but eats two superkicks. Hiromu tries again. Ospreay escapes again and lands a big hook kick and goes for the Stormbreaker. Hiromu escapes and charges. Ospreay counters with a standing Spanish Fly. Good God, how are they pulling this shit off? Ospreay pins. Hiromu barely kicks out. Hidden Blade connects. Ospreay damn near decapitates Hiromu. Ospreay isn’t done. He goes for the Stormbreaker again. Wait, Hiromu counters into a sunset flip. Another close two-count. Hiromu fires up and lands a running lariat. Time Bomb connects! One, two, thr—Ospreay kicks out somehow. Unbelievable. Everyone’s in shock that Ospreay kicked out. Hiromu lands another big running lariat and then signals the end. Hiromu debuts a new super-finisher! Time Bomb II (Fisherman Emerald Flowsion)!
One, two, three! There’s the match. Hiromu is back!
Winner and NEW IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion after 24:33: Hiromu Takahashi
Good God, what a match. It was insane, wild, blistering, explosive, you name it. At first, I was worried that this match wouldn’t hold up well after I saw it live, but it did. It’s still amazing and definitely one of the best junior heavyweight matches of all time.
It was a nonstop bomb-fest with focused psychology. Hiromu was at a major disadvantage since he had been sidelined for over a year with a serious neck injury. Ospreay knew that injury was an albatross for Hiromu and attacked it frequently and mercilessly. That made Hiromu into such an incredible underdog. He had to fight both the pain from the damage Ospreay dealt him and his body possibly giving up on him. And between his moments of explosive and innovative offense, Ospreay took the time to act all dickish and mock Hiromu to give the crowd more reason to rally behind the challenger. Those subtleties helped make Hiromu’s heroic comeback so much better and more satisfying.
And in terms of athleticism, they really went to another level here. The action in the match was crisp and smooth, the wrestlers’ timing was perfect, and the moves built on top of one another logically and organically. And while Hiromu was amazing in building up tension and resorting to bigger and bigger moves to keep Ospreay down for the count, Ospreay was the better wrestler in the match. Moreover, Ospreay stole the show with one of his best performances ever here, and this is coming from someone that doesn’t particularly like him.
I’ve seen a lot of crazy wrestling doing these reviews, but very few things can match up to Ospreay’s work here. That sequence involving the flips over the ropes and the constant counters was breath-taking. I don’t always agree with Meltzer’s praise, but I understand and agree with what he had said about this match. Ospreay and Hiromu outdid themselves and set the bar even higher for their style and weight class.
And while Ospreay did venture into his typical ‘acrobatic’ style a few times, he balanced that out by selling well for Hiromu and hitting some absolutely brutal strikes and finishers. He was dynamic and adaptable in the face of an unrelenting challenger; and even though he lost, he showed he could do more than the token flippy stuff. This was the perfect way for Ospreay to ‘graduate’ and move up to the heavyweight division.
Final Rating: *****
This match had it all. It was one of the most exciting, nail-biting matches of the past three years. These two wrestlers took the modern junior ‘flippy’ formula and made something exceptional out of it. This might’ve been the best performance out of both men, which is saying a lot considering how many top-level matches they’ve had over the past few years.
If you like high-speed daredevil action peppered with tense near-falls and high-impact bombs and head spikes, this is the match for you. It was paced just right and never got dull. Neither wrestler went into overkill territory, even though I expected that from both of them. All in all, this is a terrific match that I strongly recommend watching.
Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here. Thanks for reading.