We’ve got a potted history of the first two years of New Japan Strong in this week’s special recap episode.
From New Japan Strong Episode 3 – New Japan Cup USA 2020 Final: KENTA pinned David Finlay in 13:30 (***) (match was clipped)
From New Japan Strong Episode 29 – Jon Moxley pinned KENTA in 14:25 to retain the IWGP United States Championship (***½) (match was clipped)
From New Japan Strong Episode 37 – New Japan Cup 2021 USA Final: Tom Lawlor beat Brody King via referee stoppage in 20:05 to win the NJPW Strong Openweight Championship (***¾) (match was clipped)
From New Japan Strong Episode 58 – Karl Fredericks, Hiroshi Tanahashi & Clark Connors pinned Barrett Brown, Bateman & Misterioso in 13:33 (***) (match was clipped)
From New Japan Strong Episode 68 – Philadelphia Street Fight: Lance Archer & Minoru Suzuki pinned Eddie Kingston & Jon Moxley in 14:23 (***¼) (match was clipped)
From New Japan Strong Episode 90 – Jay White pinned Hikuleo in 18:33 (***¾) (match was clipped)
From New Japan Strong Episode 96 – Fred Rosser submitted Tom Lawlor in 24:19 to win the NJPW Strong Openweight Championship (****) (match was clipped)
We’ve got Ian Riccaboni live via green screen to host as we’re taking a week off between tours… he notes that August 7, 2020 was the debut of New Japan Strong as he introduces some clips.
He throws a match from the third episode of Strong – the New Japan Cup 2020 final between David Finlay and KENTA. Here’s my report of that match in full as we join this one in progress.
New Japan Cup USA 2020 Final: KENTA vs. David Finlay
KENTA still has the generic Bullet Club theme, and this HBK-like pose. At least his ring gear didn’t get stuck in the stage…
Neither man is in much of a rush to get going, as they traded wristlocks early on before KENTA took Finlay to the mat. Finlay switches around into a side headlock, then floated KENTA back down. KENTA gets free and applies a headlock of his own, before Finlay pushed him off and came in with a dropkick. KENTA rolls to the outside, but he gets little respite as Finlay rolls him back inside. Again, KENTA drags himself to the outside as he tries to stall for time, but instead he suckers in Finlay. A floatover in the corner has Finlay in a bad position as KENTA kicks him between the ropes ahead of a stomp to the back of the head, before a neckbreaker keeps KENTA on top.
Stretching Finlay comes next from KENTA, who continued to wear down the former tag champion. Finlay offers some fightback in the form of forearms, but a drop toe hold took him back down for some figure four headscissors that ends in the ropes. Elbows keep Finlay on the back foot as he again tries to fight back, finally landing a backdrop suplex to buy him some time. Elbows from Finlay see him try to forge a way back in, as does a European uppercut off the middle rope, but it’s only enough for a two-count. Finlay goes for a uranage backbreaker, and eventually lands it for a near-fall, as KENTA manages to return with a clothesline off the middle rope. That gets him a two-count, before a snap DDT and a draping DDT saw KENTA really focus for the head and neck.
KENTA measures Finlay for a running front kick, then a stalling dropkick into the corner, before a double stomp off the top almost got him the win. Finlay surprises KENTA with a spear for a near-fall, before an over-the-knee brainbuster for Finlay ever so slightly closer… but when he went for a Prima Nocta, KENTA shoves Finlay towards the referee. That means he doesn’t see the follow-up low blow, which only gets KENTA a two-count, as Finlay again fires back with uppercuts as he avoided a Go 2 Sleep… but another Prima Nocta is blocked as KENTA drops Finlay with a sleeper and a PK. From there, it’s the matter of a Go 2 Sleep, and that’s enough for KENTA to take away the New Japan Cup USA trophy. This never really got into a higher gear for me – perhaps the lack of fans or any sort of atmosphere played a part, but this was just a good match that never threatened to be anything more. ***
From there we flip to episode 29 and the New Beginning in USA 2021 tour as KENTA finally cashed in his shot at Jon Moxley’s IWGP US title. Again, this one’s joined in progress…
IWGP United States Championship: KENTA vs. Jon Moxley (c)
After winning last year’s New Japan Cup USA, KENTA’s finally cashing in his title shot – in a match that a lot of people have pegged as a sure-fire title change. Commentary brings up KENTA’s appearance in AEW and his recent tag match with Jon Moxley…
They go head-to-head at the bell and start with an exchange of elbows, before a shoulder tackle from Moxley took KENTA down. Chops come in the corner, before a sliding lariat and a bulldog choke ended in the ropes as Moxley looked to end this early. KENTA bails outside, but Moxley joins him as they fought on the floor, leading to a suplex from KENTA on the floor. KENTA grabs his title shot briefcase, but a shot misses as Moxley teases a piledriver onto it, before a DDT dropped Moxley on the hardware. Rolling Moxley inside barely gets KENTA a two-count, before a kick to the back and a neckbreaker kept KENTA ahead.
A drop toe hold keeps Moxley down as KENTA rains down some knee drops and that mocking backheel. Kicks from KENTA eventually get caught, as Moxley goes back to trading elbows as KENTA just elbowed him into the corner… the hesitation dropkick’s avoided, as was a Go 2 Sleep, with Moxley throwing KENTA outside for a tope. A headbutt on the floor keeps Moxley ahead, as he leaps off the stage into KENTA with a knee strike, before he looked under the ring for some plunder. Out comes a table, continuing to prove that wrestling has the same tidying up methods as teenagers – just shove it all under the bed. Moxley sets it up, but a belt shot from KENTA leads to Moxley getting put on the table ahead of a big elbow drop from the top rope.
KENTA rolls back in, but Moxley narrowly beats the count-out… and eats a diving boot, then a hesitation dropkick in the corner, as KENTA looked to get the win with a double stomp… but Moxley’s up at two! From there, KENTA goes for the Go 2 Sleep again, but Moxley again escapes and retaliated with a German suplex, then a clothesline… before KENTA suckered Moxley into the Game Over. Moxley rolls free and applies the Bulldog choke again, before KENTA escaped and reapplied the Game Over. Eventually Moxley got to the rope, and caught KENTA with another lariat as the challenger looked to push for the win… before a Death Rider’s countered into a Go 2 Sleep… which is escaped as KENTA tries his luck with more strikes.
In the end though, Moxley ducks a lariat and hits a DDT for a two-count. KENTA flips off Moxley… which just proved to be the spark that triggered a Death Rider, and that’s enough for Moxley to get the clean win. This’d have been much better with a crowd (of any size) as they gave us a TV-style brawl – with Moxley eventually shutting up KENTA by the end of it. ***½
Ian Riccaboni talks about the LA Dojo lads next, pitching to clips of Karl Fredericks having graduated (good timing there, lads) on the Lion’s Break Collision shows – the mini-series that aired just before Strong. Clark Connors (who has changed a LOT since his black trunks days) and Alex Coughlin get clipped too, before talk turned to other units on New Japan Strong. Of course, that means Team Filthy, and so we join the finals of last year’s New Japan Cup USA in progress, for the newly-created Strong Openweight title…
New Japan Cup USA 2021 Final for the NJPW Strong Openweight Championship: Tom Lawlor vs. Brody King
King beat Bateman, Chris Dickinson and Lio Rush to make it to the finals, while Lawlor’s path went through the DKC, Ren Narita and Hikuleo.
Lawlor tries to sting King with kicks early on, but neither man’s able to make much headway until Brody took it to the corner for some chops. Body blows keep Lawlor down, as did some elbows, with Brody then overwhelming Lawlor in the corner ahead of a cannonball that misses, with Brody landing head-first in the corner. Instantly, Lawlor capitalises, taking King to the corner to wrap his legs around the post ahead of a standing ringpost-assisted Figure Four. That lets Lawlor work over King’s leg, but Brody rolls outside and ends up chopping the post as Lawlor again baits him in. Lawlor goes to the hand now, standing on it before heading back outside as Lawlor threw a series of chops to King.
King’s thrown into the guard rails, but strikes back when they got back inside… only got Lawlor to trip him up briefly. Lawlor stops the momentum and comes back with some cravat knees, then a clothesline, before King shrugged off a diving clothesline and squished Lawlor on the mat with a back senton almost out of desperation. It’s good for a one-count though, so Brody throws some more chops and lariats, before an Exploder chucks Lawlor into the corner. A cannonball’s successful for Brody at the second try, but Lawlor counters out of a Ganso bomb as he’s instead taken up top for a superplex. King nearly gets the win after that, then tries again for the Ganso bomb, but again Lawlor escapes and kicks the knee out. An ankle lock follows, but King rolls through and manages to catch Lawlor with a piledriver for a near-fall.
King tries to get the match over the line, as he continues to elbow Lawlor from above, but Lawlor returns the shots surprises King with a teardrop uranage… for just a one-count. Lawlor dives back with a low dropkick and a running knee, this time for a two-count, before King’s German suplex and a lariat spun Lawlor… for another near-fall. From there, King goes for a Ganso bomb, but Lawlor slips out and takes King to the mat for a Cattle Mutilation, spinning back into a crossface… before sneaking back in for a rear naked choke. This time, Lawlor manages to lock it in as King drops to the mat… Lawlor lets go to hit a Shibata-like PK, before reapplying the rear naked choke to force the stoppage. This match absolutely would have been buoyed with a crowd – but was pretty damn good as it was, with Lawlor taking Brody’s big shots, only to choke him out at the end. ***¾
Next, Ian Ricaaboni moves to the “with fans” era of Strong, featuring the show debut of Hiroshi Tanahashi. After his entrance, we jump ahead into the match…
Stray Dog Army (Bateman, Misterioso & Barrett Brown) vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Karl Fredericks & Clark Connors
Something tells me that the stray dogs might be getting thrown to the wolves here…
Misterioso and Fredericks get us going with wristlocks and escapes, but it’s Misterioso who edges ahead as Fredericks was taken into the corner. In comes Bateman and Brown, as Fredericks gets isolated, but he’s able to tag out to Connors, who resists Brown’s charges before scoring a takedown of his own.
A snap suplex drops Brown, as Misterioso and Bateman came in and were chased away. That leads to some triple-teaming on Brown, before Misterioso kicks Connors in the ropes… Bateman gets involved too, as the distraction gives Brown an opening to suplex Connors into the buckles as the Stray Dogs took over on Connors.
Misterioso’s basement dropkick in the corner nearly puts Connors away. The Stray Dogs isolate Connors in their corner, leading to a suplex for a two-count, while Bateman grounded Connors in a chinlock. Connors gets free, but Tanahashi and Fredericks are pulled off the apron before he could make a tag out, so Clark’s gotta last a little longer before making the tag out to Tanahashi.
Forearms from Tanahashi take down Bateman, as Brown and Misterioso came in to get slammed. A double elbow drop takes care of them, as Bateman’s spun down with a Dragon screw, before he blocked a Slingblade. Instead, Bateman knees Tanahashi in the back of the head, then brought Brown in to try and push things over the line…
Tanahashi gets free and tagged out to Fredericks, who traded strikes with Brown… only to get caught with a Complete Shot for a near-fall out of nowhere. Some triple-teaming keeps Fredericks on the back foot as he’s splashed in the corner, before the customary Parade of Moves broke out… that leads to a Fredericks spinebuster for a near-fall, before Brown’s spiked with Manifest Destiny for the win. Your typical trios match, with Tanahashi and perhaps the aces of the LA Dojo standing tall at the end. ***
Hang on, we’re only halfway through the run time here. They be showing a LOT of clips…
Philadelphia Street Fight: Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki & Lance Archer) vs. Jon Moxley & Eddie Kingston
Tiger Hattori’s back on commentary for this, and we’ve got plenty of plunder around ringside. Oh boy. Imagine being told a few years ago this match was going to happen, for New Japan, in Philadelphia, by the way. You’d be mocked.
This one ignites almost instantly as Moxley and Suzuki went at each other, while Kingston and Archer spill outside. Archer’s back with a Kendo stick to the back of Moxley, which he then drove into Mox’s throat, before Eddie Kingston broke it up and used the Kendo stick himself. Suzuki’s in as he and Kingston went at it, trading chops before Suzuki clonked Eddie with an elbow. Suzuki grabs a Kendo stick as Kingston pled for mercy… Suzuki ignores him and lands a shot anyway as Moxley returned to bite Minoru and throw him outside, only to get hit with a traffic cone. I’m feeling very Alan Partridge here. They fight backstage, where they’re picked up brawling around a scissor lift and into the loading area, where there’s a random shopping trolley before you see two New Japan staffers running to try and clear some fans away from the area.
Archer lawndarts Moxley into the side of a truck, while Suzuki choked him with a chair as Eddie Kingston reappears with a breeze block. Archer sidesteps Kingston throwing the block at him, before they brawled back to ringside – with the crowd having booed missing the breeze block shot. Suzuki’s got the cone as he proceeds to wallop Kingston with the Kendo stick, while Archer uses a shovel to shove Kingston with. Back in the ring, Kingston blocks a Gotch piledriver, so he’s met with more Kendo stick shots, before an ankle lock and an armbar led to Moxley coming back to ringside… with a Forbidden Door! A dive from Moxley took Archer out into the aisle… and Moxley into the commentary table too. Someone in the crowd smuggled a stop sign into a sign for Moxley, which he finds and pulls out, before the Kendo stick wore out Archer some more.
Moxley throws Suzuki into the rails, then slides the door into the ring. It’s propped up into the corner as Moxley teases a death valley driver, only for Suzuki and Kingston to intervene as everyone gets a Kendo stick shot, before Moxley dropkicked Archer through the door. Archer’s back as he teases a double chokeslam, but instead gets sandwiched with clotheslines from Moxley and Kingston, before Suzuki dragged Moxley outside. Kingston eats a chokeslam instead, then returned with backfists and a DDT for a near-fall. That sparks a brief Parade of Moves as we clear out to Kingston getting charged into the corner ahead of a Blackout… but Suzuki delays it so he can put Kingston through a bin and a traffic cone… doing so for the win. A wild brawl that actually translated fairly well to TV, but man that finishing bump could have gone so much worse with that cone! ***¼
Ian talks about the US-of-Jay Open Challenge…
Hikuleo vs. Jay White
Of course, White rolls outside at the bell as commentary wondered what Hikuleo’s future was regardless of the result.
White continues to frustrate Hikuleo by sitting in the ropes to force a break as the big man loomed. Another trip outside has Hikuleo giving chase, before he caught a baseball slide attempt as White eventually found a way through, jumping on Hikuleo as he got back inside. A shoulder tackle has White down, as did some clubbing blows, before another trip outside led to White getting dumped across the guard rails. Back inside, Hikuleo continued to control the pace, Biel’ing White across the ring as another clubbing blow led to White powdering again. This time, White baits Hikuleo into chopping the ring post, then shoved him into it before an attempted suplex back inside was blocked. Hikuleo misses a running boot into the corner as White pounced with a chop block… and there’s the vulnerability!
White focuses on the knee, repeatedly wrapping Hikuleo’s leg around the ring post… but while Hikuleo was able to push White into the barriers, Jay rips off the ring apron and tried to suffocate him with it, as a draping neckbreaker took things back to the floor. Hikuleo returns to the ring, but White stays on the leg with a Dragon screw and some kicks to the knee, ahead of an attempted half crab… which White turned back into a grounded Dragon screw. Hikuleo gets back into it with some chops, only to have his knee dropkicked out before he launched White into the corner pad. A stalling suplex followed from Hikuleo, then a bodyslam and a standing splash for a two-count, before White elbowed out of a Fireman’s carry, then scored with a DDT after kicking the knee again.
White keeps going with uppercuts in the corner, before a sliding Flatliner planted Hikuleo in the middle of the ring. Pulling up the big man leads to a Saito suplex as everyone thought White was going for a Blade Runner, before a Blade Buster landed for a near-fall. A sleeperhold followed as White pulled up Hikuleo… but the sleeper suplex is elbowed away as White rebounds with a chop block. Another crack at the sleeper suplex is escaped as White instead meets Hikuleo in the ropes with a clothesline, before he targeted the leg with a Dragon screw. Hikuleo’s leg gets wrapped around the ropes as White laid in with mounted punches… only for the big man to counter out with a powerbomb! White rolls outside to avoid a pinning attempt, then got back into the ring to catch Hikuleo with another Dragon screw in the ropes.
A draping DDT brings the big man back in for a near-fall, before a Blade Runner was countered as Hikuleo goozled the former champion. Chops follow, as Hikuleo returned with a short-arm clothesline. More chops have White crumbling into the corner ahead of a powerslam for a near-fall, before White went back to the knee… only to run into another powerslam! The finish comes out of nowhere as Hikuleo pulls up White for a chokeslam, but ends up getting deftly switched into a Blade Runner as I leapt out of my chair for that. An excellent finish that caught everyone unawares as White was in his first real peril. ***¾
They cut that last match off halfway through so Ian could plug NJPW World for the full episodes… then he wrapped up with a recap of the Tom Lawlor/Fred Rosser feud. Of course, we join this in progress, right as Rosser came from the back with blood…
NJPW Strong Openweight Championship: Fred Rosser vs. Tom Lawlor (c)
I’ll hold my hands up, when Rosser debuted on Strong back in September 2020, almost a year after his last match (per Cagematch), and three since leaving WWE, I was far from sold. But, in the weeks and months that followed, Rosser’s had an absolute career renaissance, and has made himself legitimately one of the best parts of this Strong roster. So, putting his time on this roster up in order to get a second shot at Tom Lawlor’s title, is genuinely a big deal.
We’ve got Tiger Hattori to parade the belt before the start of the match… he jumps on commentary too, but his headset didn’t seem to be plugged in as we heard virtually nothing from him, despite being asked to jump in. There’s no feeling out process here as Rosser and Lawlor swing for each other at the bell, leading to a drop toe hold on Rosser, then a guillotine… but Rosser escaped, taking Lawlor to the corner for a chop, before a spinning heel kick of all things took Rosser outside. A double sledge off the top sees Rosser taken down as Lawlor went to mouth off at Fred Rosser’s mum in the crowd.
Rosser’s taken into the guard rails from there, but leapt back up to go for a back suplex onto the apron, dropping Lawlor awkwardly as the champion got his leg caught in the ropes on the way down. A running clothesline spins Lawlor to the floor as Rosser proceeded to pull the champion shoulder-first into the ring post, then used it to assist for a chicken wing on the outside. Lawlor tries to get back in with a powerbomb off the apron, but Rosser just sits down on him to block it. A second sit-down splash, this time off the apron, keeps Lawlor down, before clotheslines back inside kept Lawlor in the corner. A running knee left Lawlor defenceless ahead of some covers for two-counts, before Lawlor fought back, hauling Rosser into the corner, sending him back outside in the process.
Lawlor leaps off the apron into a mounted sleeperhold, which Rosser tried to break up in the railings… only to fall to the floor as Lawlor dragged him up the ramp and towards the back. We’ve no cameras there, but we do hear chairshots as the ref went after them… a bloody-handed Lawlor drags the ref back to ringside as he then looked to get a win via count-out. Except, of course, Rosser’s able to crawl back out, who was bleeding a gusher as he fell off the walkway to boot… Alex Coughlin fought away past Team Filthy who’d made it to ringside in order for Rosser to beat the count. The match is halted as the state commission doctor rolled into the ring to check on Rosser, but after the blood was wiped away, we’re able to resume, with Lawlor rolling down and kicking Rosser in the back… before he wiped Rosser’s blood onto his chest.
Rosser blocks a PK, countering it into a Dragon screw, before an attempted Figure Four was kicked away. Rosser returns with another armbar, but Lawlor manages to shuffle into the ropes for a break, before he returned with clotheslines and cravat knees. A tornado DDT switches into a guillotine on Rosser, which turned into an exchange of punches before Rosser managed to counter it into a running death valley driver. Lawlor sneaks back in with an Exploder… then another as Rosser popped back up, before a jumping high kick and a wrist-clutch Exploder spiked Rosser for a near-fall. Heading up top, Lawlor leaps into a lariat from Rosser, who followed up with a Gut Check… only for a running kick to get caught as Lawlor pulled Rosser down in search of an armbar. Rosser escaped to hit a low dropkick for a two-count, before a back suplex onto the apron was quickly shrugged off by Lawlor, who grabbed a rear naked choke on the outside.
Rosser counters by muscling Lawlor up for a tombstone on the floor, making sure not to go for the padded part, before rolling Lawlor back inside. A short-arm lariat back inside followed from Rosser, who hits an Emerald Flowsion… but Lawlor’s up at two! The pair trading rolling elbows from there, before another rear naked choke from Lawlor was spun into a front facelock… and then a scoop tombstone as Lawlor flipped off the crowd… but Rosser kicks out at two! A straitjacket choke follows, ahead of a back suplex as Rosser was literally and figuratively on the ropes here.
It’s back to the straitjacket as Lawlor hit a Kamigoye-like knee to the back of the head for another two count… before he sucked some of Rosser’s blood and went back to the choke. Rosser backs into the corner, but couldn’t throw his way free as Lawlor rolled with him… Lawlor climbs the ropes in the corner to get a better grip, but Rosser ends up fading as he tried to go up with him… eventually doing so as he fell back to squash Lawlor and break the hold. Lawlor sits up to reapply the hold… only for Rosser to roll out and put in his own choke. Rosser turns it into a chicken wing as Lawlor looked to break free, before it’s dragged to the mat. Rosser drags it away from the ropes, then hit some Danielson elbows to the back of Lawlor, before reapplying the Chicken wing to force the tap out! Tom Lawlor may well still be “the first”, but is no longer “the only” as Fred Rosser eked out the win – and the title – after a hard-fought main event. This was just starting to veer into “feeling long” territory, but Fred Rosser outlasted Lawlor and got his rewards to end the night. ****
If you’ve kept up with New Japan Strong, there’s nothing new here – but it was an otherwise fun recap of the first two years of Strong, even if they perhaps did clip a little too much out of what they’d selected!