So, I watched and talked about the Liger/Sano 1/31/90 match a few days ago and briefly mentioned this at the end as being the better match. Watching this again, I still stand by that. I also called it my #1 New Japan juniors match ever, and I still stand by that, too.
The thing I like about Eddie's two "big" matches in the '96 BOSJ tourney (vs. Benoit here and vs. Liger in the final) is that they both use the opening 6 or so minutes to establish roles and strengths, as opposed to working the mat with the perfunctory junior heavyweight matwork that crushes my soul. In the Liger match they established parity. Here they establish Benoit as the better on the mat and the one that's content to grind things out and win with holds while Eddie's a step quicker and has the advantage when it comes to flying and "bringing the Lucha"... or something. Couple examples of that in the early stages with Benoit coming out on top of some initial hold-trading by tying Eddie up in a high-angled Boston crab, or Eddie countering Benoit's matwork by hitting a headscissors and a couple of Hilos -- one in the ring and one on the ramp, which was pretty fuggin' nifty.
From there it builds to Benoit trying to crank Eddie's head off his shoulders with a TIGHT headlock/sleeper, almost like that Fujinami/Fujiwara exchange during the 5/86 gauntlet where Fujinami uses the sleeper as a foundation for his offence. It's already been established that Benoit's the better grappler, so he goes about keeping Eddie from working to his strengths by wearing him down on the mat. The next ten minutes or so are all about Benoit being relentless with the sleeper, draining Eddie's energy to the point where a couple big bombs should put him away, while Eddie tries to shake him off and create enough distance so he can get his head back in the game and mount something in the way of a decent run of offence. The way the crowd get more and more pissed at Benoit while rallying behind Eddie is really cool.
Should also point out that Eddie's selling through all of this is fantastic. He's subtle about it, but when he's working though his hope spots he makes sure you know the sleeper's took a big toll. He'll climb up to the top rope, but he'll do it much slower than he usually would, almost slipping off the ropes as he goes, and you know he hasn't regained his bearings. He'll try and hit a plancha after being trapped in the sleeper for a spell and he'll do it almost lethargically, so Benoit will catch him and whip him into the guardrail which in turn sets up Benoit to hit a tope of his own. He'll avoid a Dragon Suplex by fighting to the ropes, but he still hasn't got it all together yet and winds up letting go and essentially walking backwards right into the same move. Even something as simple as loosening his mask just to get the blood flowing a little better... it's all really awesome.
Final few minutes are all about whether Eddie can overcome the effects of the sleeper and pull out a win while Benoit makes to build on it and put him away with a big bomb. The "stretch" is kept real tight and focused, so there's no bullshit or overkill and they work four or five big nearfalls to far greater effect than ten or eleven. The tombstone off the second rope tease is a great callback spot that the crowd buy into huge, because they know Benoit put Eddie away with it in last year's tourney. This time Eddie *does* weather the storm, though, and manages to both escape the tombstone and go on to hit the top rope brainbuster for the win.
Really excellent match. *Might* be in my top 3 for both guy's careers, but I'd have to think some more about it and/or re-watch some stuff. A juniors match half this good this year would put a smile on my face.