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5-Star Match Reviews: Will Ospreay vs. Shingo Takagi – NJPW Best of Super Juniors 2019

Get ready for one of the craziest, most electrifying wrestling matches of all time. Readers of the Wrestling Observer voted this as the best match of 2019, which is saying a lot given that there were twenty (!) matches rated 5-stars or higher by the Observer that year. Not only that, but this match was said to be better than every match that year and better than virtually every junior heavyweight match that took place before it. But was it really that good? Let’s take a look to find out.

Today we revisit the singles match between Shingo Takagi and Will Ospreay from the finals of the 2019 Best of Super Juniors tournament.

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.

The story

Anyone following New Japan since 2016 had heard the name ‘Will Ospreay’. Since his professional debut four years earlier, Ospreay was hyped as the next Rey Mysterio, a wrestling prodigy of incredible proportions. Ospreay was a gravity-defying freak; a one-of-a-kind master of acrobatics that could do things that no one else could. He had made a name for himself on the indies before 2016 and then signed with New Japan. Once there, he became a fixture of their junior heavyweight division. And over the next few years, Ospreay proved himself to be worth all the hype and then some. His matches were said to be spectacular, dazzling, death-defying, and so on. He was praised by wrestling fans, journalists, and his peers. In fact, NJPW ace Kazuchika Okada gave him a ton of praise and called him the future of New Japan. And Ospreay couldn’t’ve gotten greater praise than that from Okada.

But in 2019, a new challenger emerged: Shingo Takagi.

Shingo was a recent signing from Dragon Gate, the successor to Último Dragón’s Toryumon promotion, which specialized in smaller junior heavyweight wrestlers. In fact, he was the first graduate of the Toryumon dojo and spent the first fourteen years of his career in Dragon Gate. There, he was hailed as one of its best wrestlers with his perfect blend of speed and high-impact offense. Then in late 2018, he signed with New Japan. From there, Shingo embarked on an undefeated streak that caught everyone’s attention. For eight months, Shingo remained unpinned and unsubmitted. He quickly rose through the ranks and became one of the most exciting and high-profile wrestlers in the company.

Then came the spring and the Best of Super Juniors (BOSJ) tournament. Shingo, despite his accomplishments, was still a junior heavyweight. If he wanted to reach the heavyweight class, he had to reach the top of the weight class beneath that first. That seemed simple enough; Shingo tore through his BOSH opponents like a hot knife through butter and set a tournament record in the process. He advanced to the finals, where he would face Will Ospreay.

For many New Japan fans, this was a special encounter. Ospreay was hailed as the future of cruiserweight wrestling with his unmatched daredevil skills while Shingo was an undefeated badass that proved his worth with an incredible arsenal of tricks and weapons. With all that said, it was either man’s game. Who would win? The aerial assassin who moved around just as quickly and gracefully in the air as he did on canvas or the tough-as-nails badass with a lariat that rivaled Kenta Kobashi’s in terms of brutality?

The match

This match originally took place at the Finals of the 2019 Best of Super Juniors Tournament on June 5th, 2019. It was rated *****3/4 out of five by the Wrestling Observer’s Dave Meltzer and the WON’s fans voted it the 2019 Match of the Year. In simpler terms, it was hailed as quite possibly the best junior heavyweight/cruiserweight match to ever take place. But is it that good? Let’s find out.

They lock-up and Ospreay gets a clean break on the ropes. Soon after they apply the Greco-Roman knuckle lock, which Ospreay escapes and switches into a hammerlock. That’s followed by some great chain-grappling and counter-wrestling that ends with Shingo in a headlock. He sends Ospreay into the ropes and Ospreay goes for a shoulder tackle. Shingo bounces backwards and knocks Ospreay down with a tackle of his own but Ospreay kips up immediately. The fans cheer wildly as both wrestlers go face-to-face in the middle of the ring. They proceed with a lightning-fast cruiserweight sequence that has way too many moves to describe. All you need to know is that they do tons of dodges, blocks, counters and teases in the span of about five seconds.

They lock-up again and Shingo gets a clean break in the corner and then lands a big chop. He goes for a headlock bot Ospreay quickly powers out and lands both a chop and a running hurricanrana. Ospreay charges for a dive but does a flip in the ring instead. Shingo takes some time to recollect himself ringside and then goes back on the attack in the ring. They have another cruiserweight exchange and Ospreay dropkicks Shingo out of the ring. Ospreay follows with a big plancha and then tries to whip him into the barricade. Shingo holds on and then reverses it. But Ospreay jumps onto the barricade instead and goes for some crazy flip move. Shingo catches him, drops him face-first on the side of the apron, and lands a ringside DDT. He goes for a Death Valley bomb on the apron twice but Ospreay escapes both times. Shingo responds by flipping into the ring as Ospreay slides out and then lands a crazy suicide dive. Shingo goes into the barricade.

Back in the ring, Shingo stomps on Ospreay’s torso but his right knee seems worse for wear off that dive. But that proves to be temporary as he lands a perfect running shoulder tackle and then drops Ospreay with a big elbow as Ospreay tries to fight back. Shingo lands a back body drop, catches ?Ospreay’s boot on a corner block attempt, and clotheslines him hard. The same thing happens in the opposite corner but this time Ospreay lands a successful ax kick with his free leg. Ospreay charges but runs into a pop-up Death Valley Bomb for two. Shingo applies a chinlock and elbows Ospreay in the neck but Ospreay starts fighting back. Shingo tries to keep him down but Ospreay just springs back up and lands a misdirection jumping attack to known Shingo down.

Ospreay lands an enzuigiri followed by a top-rope 619. He follows with a counter corner uppercut followed by both a big corner dropkick and a running shooting star press. Shingo escapes to ringside but there’s no safety there as he eats a glorious Sasuke Special from Ospreay. Back in the ring, he lands a diving clothesline but Shingo kicks out at two. Shingo escapes a Stormbreaker and goes to block a kick but eats a big roundhouse for taking too long. Ospreay charges but eats a three-strike combo for his efforts. Ospreay gets back up and starts fighting back but Shingo catches his leg and flips him so hard he falls hard on his head and back. Shingo follows with a sliding lariat but only gets two.

Takagi goes for a Gory Bomb but Ospreay counters with a roll-up for two. Shingo elbows out of another Stormbreaker attempt but Ospreay counters with a step-up enzuigiri. He goes for a suplex. Wait, no, Shingo overpowers him. Hold on, no, Ospreay counters with a Stunner. Amazing counter. Ospreay follows with a corner Yakuza kick and a through-the-legs kick to Shingo’s face. He attempts a top-rope Stormbreaker but Shingo fights back and out-strikes Ospreay, sending him crashing down. Shingo recovers on the top rope as Ospreay likewise recovers and goes for a top-rope hurricanrana. Built Shingo catches him on his shoulders. Ospreay tries to fight out with elbows. Shingo answers by trapping his arm. And then he dives with a Top-rope DVB. One, two, Ospreay kicks out.

Shingo signals the end and lands a big corner lariat. He goes for another but Ospreay lands a counter lariat of his own. Both men hit each other and stagger. Shingo gets Ospreay in the torture rack. Ospreay escapes a slam and lands on his feet. Shingo dodges a splash and a kick but fails to block a follow-up kick combo. Ospreay goes for the springboard Os-Cutter. Shingo counters with a Gory Bomb. Shingo signals the end once more. He charges for a Pumping Bomber lariat. Ospreay flip counters and connects with a Ligerbomb! Holy shit, what a nice counter. Ospreay pins but Shingo kicks out.

Ospreay goes for his Robinson Special corkscrew kick but Shingo dodges and lands a wheelbarrow suplex into the corner. Both men end up on the apron and Shingo goes for another Gory Bomb. Ospreay blocks with a hook kick and lands a jumping Os-Cutter out of nowhere.

Both men recover ringside and return to the ring, Ospreay at the count of sixteen and Shingo at 19.75. but in doing so, Shingo eats a big diving dropkick to the side of the head but still kicks out at two. He follows that with a diving shooting star press onto a standing Shingo and then goes back up top. Another shooting star press also connects. One, two, no, Shingo kicks out. Os-Cutter connects again. One, two, thr – no, Shingo kicks out again.

Ospreay goes for the Stormbreaker but Shingo resists and lands some weak forearms. Ospreay answers with hard kicks until Shingo catches his leg and lands a huge head-butt. That’s followed by a typical New Japan forearm exchange. Shingo gets the upper hand and lands a barrage of monstrous elbows. Ospreay answers with stiff kicks. Shingo escapes another Stormbreaker and lands a vicious Half-Nelson Death Valley Bomb. One, two, no, Ospreay survives.

Shingo gets up first and connects with a Pumping Bomber lariat. He knows that’s not enough and charges. Shingo connects with another Pumping Bomber. Ospreay gets flipped end over end. One, two, thre – NO, Ospreay kicks out yet again. The crowd is going absolutely nuts. Shingo goes for another DVB. Ospreay counters with a poisoned Frankensteiner. Shingo gets spiked on his head. Talk about brutal.

Both men are down to their hands and knees and trade head-butts. Shingo gets up first and lands yet another Pumping Bomber that echoes throughout the arena. He lands two more standing lariats and goes for a third one but Ospreay lands a quick kick out of nowhere before he can. Ospreay charges but Shingo follows and lariats him on the ropes. Shingo charges this time. Ospreay counters with a standing Spanish Fly. One, two, Shingo kicks out at 2.9! Ospreay lands another hook kick and a Hidden Blade elbow smash to the back of Shingo’s neck. Double-jump Os-cutter. Ospreay’s not done. Stormbreaker cornscrew neckbreaker. One, two, three! There’s the match! Ospreay has won!

Winner of the 2019 Best of Super Juniors Tournament after 33:36: Will Ospreay

Review

That was an outstanding exhibition match. It was filled to the brim with high-flying acrobatics and craziness. It was one of the fastest and most intense cruiserweight matches I have ever seen. those thirty-three minutes just flew by and they told a solid story. Alas, I don’t see this as the historic, world-breaking classic that so many others have praised it as.

Let’s start with the obvious positives: the athleticism in this match was off the charts. When it comes to cruiserweight action and high-flying offense, few matches have rivaled this one. It was full of intense counters, daredevil acrobatics, and incredible athleticism. New Japan’s junior heavyweight style is all about stamina and athleticism over everything else, and both of those things were on full display here. Ospreay was like something out of Cirque de Soleil with his constant acrobatics and bottomless well of stamina while Shingo was his antithesis, acting as a monster for him to slay. So if you like the spectacle of wrestling and the pure athleticism and the ‘how-can-he-do-that’ sort of craziness, this match had that and then some.

But there’s a reason I called this an exhibition match above. This was, as the name implies, a sampler platter of what both men could do instead of being the deep and exciting tournament final it was meant to be. While the action was undeniably good, there was little story beneath it. Like other matches in New Japan over the past five years, this match went in the direction of style over substance. And a central part of that problem was Ospreay himself. Simply put, Ospreay is one of those wrestlers that shoves a ton of moves into a match and does his best to get all his shit in, even when it isn’t necessary. Ospreay moved around like Rey Mysterio on speed and never really slowed down. There was a complete lack of realism in anything he did. His offense came across as so blatantly choreographed that it was hard to take him seriously.

I understand that this is the junior heavyweight division and there’s an expectation of crazy athleticism. But there’s a fine line between realism and overkill and I think Ospreay crossed it. While Shingo’s wrestling was fine, Ospreay’s wasn’t. He took an ungodly amount of punishment and barely sold anything at all. He moved with the same speed and fluidity thirty minutes into the match as he did thirty seconds into it. He didn’t come across as credible and harmed Shingo a lot with his constant under-and-no-selling. And while they sort of meshed well, I think there was just too strong of a styles clash here. Shingo was this badass fighter that looked like he could wreck you in a realistic way while Ospreay looked like he needed a trampoline to function.

And to be honest, the booking of this match didn’t make sense. Shingo was built up as this unstoppable monster (or as close to a ‘monster’ as you can get in a junior heavyweight division) for months. He crushed people left and right. At one point in this match, the commentators mentioned he had 96 or 97 straight victories since his NJPW debut eight months earlier. Granted, it wasn’t anything Golberg or Asuka level, but it was still impressive. They built him up as this unstoppable force that backed up his talk with incredible skill and an unshakeable aura of badassery. He was well on his way to becoming someone special, someone that stood out in New Japan (seriously, I love New Japan because so many wrestlers are incredibly skilled, but because so many of them are on the same level it makes it hard for anyone to truly stand out). And in this match, Shingo didn’t just lose to Ospreay; he got crushed by Ospreay. Ospreay kicked out of every single big move Shingo and put him in his place. So instead of becoming someone that stood out, Shingo became more or less like everyone else.

And the worst part of this decision? Ospreay’s time as a junior heavyweight was largely forgotten within two months when he entered the G1. Ospreay became one of those ‘borderline’ wrestlers that straddled the line between junior heavyweight and full heavyweight. After beating Shingo, he beat Dragon Lee to become IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion. But that title became an afterthought because Ospreay was wrestling heavyweights and working his way up to that division. Meanwhile, Shingo found himself down the same path. He, too, entered the G1 going from junior to full heavyweight, and finished the tournament with the same amount of points as Ospreay.

So with all of that, what was the point in ending Shingo’s undefeated streak, especially when the BOSJ’s winner wouldn’t even be seen as a junior that much more once he won? This decision benefitted no one. Ospreay was booked as the best of the junior heavyweight division but spent more time wrestling pure heavyweights. And while Shingo was largely in the same position, he would’ve been better off if he still had the gimmick of being undefeated. Sadly, that never happened, and Ospreay’s got to pad his stats with a big tournament win that really didn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. He did end up having an epic match with Hiromu at Wrestle Kingdom 14, but I think that he could’ve gotten there without trampling Shingo’s undefeated streak along the way.

Final Rating: ****1/2

I’d be both blind and stupid to deny that these two men had an incredible athletic match here. But that’s just it; this was pure athleticism and barely anything in terms of story. It was thirty minutes of cruiserweight wrestling that ventured far into the realm of surrealism and exaggeration. Even though Shingo did his best to keep this match somewhat grounded in reality and believability, he was hamstrung by Ospreay doing what Ospreay does best: go further and further into the realm of wrestling silliness.

Ultimately, this match was strong but nothing too exceptional. Whether you like this match or not depends on your own personal viewpoint on wrestling. If you like to see wrestlers push the boundaries of what’s doable, then you’ll find something (though not too much) to enjoy here. But if you like wrestling to be tinged with even the slightest hint of realism or believability you’re better off looking elsewhere.