Showdown 2022 kicked off on New Japan Strong, with Gabriel Kidd facing Hiroshi Tanahashi in the main event.

Quick Results
Christopher Daniels pinned Rocky Romero in 9:24 (***¼)
Barrett Brown & Misterioso defeated The DKC & Kevin Knight, Jorel Nelson & Royce Isaacs and Bad Dude Tito & Shane Haste in 12:36 (***½)
Hiroshi Tanahashi pinned Gabriel Kidd in 11:30 (***½)

We’re back at the Vermont Hollywood in Los Angeles… Ian Riccaboni and Alex Koslov tell us the main event of the entire tour is Fred Rosser vs. Jay White in a non-title, champion vs. champion outing. That’ll be in three weeks’ time, but today we’ve got Gabriel Kidd returning to Strong against Hiroshi Tanahashi.

As seems to be the norm these days, we’ve a pre-show interruption with Royce Isaacs and Jorel Nelson turning up for a promo ahead of the four-way tag match for a shot at the NJPW Strong Openweight tag titles that’ll be coming up later…

Bateman’s joining commentary for the opener…

Christopher Daniels vs. Rocky Romero
With Daniels having lost to Yuya Uemura last time out, he’s still bad mouthing the LA Dojo… so here’s Rocky Romero to stand up for it.

Daniels clubs away on Rocky to start, as someone tried to get a “Kaz is Better” chant going… a drop down from Rocky just earns him some stomps too, while a back body drop attempt from Rocky was easily kicked away as he struggled to get going. Rocky’s taken into the corner for chops and elbows, before he hooked himself in the ropes and baited Daniels to the outside. A tope followed from Rocky, then a second and a third, before he began to slap Daniels around. There’s an old-school back rake too, and a chest rake, before Rocky took it back inside for a brainbuster.

Daniels kicks out at two from that, but his attempt to begin a comeback sees him stopped with a manjigatame that forced him to shuffle to the ropes for a break. There’s a chop in the ropes from Romero, who then wound up for a poke to the eye, before Daniels just hotshotted him into the ropes. A back elbow from Daniels knocks Rocky down by the ropes, while a slam led to an Arabian press for a two-count as we crossed the five-minute mark. Daniels keeps Rocky grounded with a cravat, but a rewind enziguiri helped Rocky free as he began a comeback with chops and a tijeras. That leaves Daniels in the corner for the obligatory Forever clotheslines, but Daniels popped his way free as Rocky then missed a clothesline off the top.

Rocky recovers, sending Daniels between the ropes for a dropkick off the middle rope… Daniels pushes away a Shiranui, but couldn’t avoid a tornado DDT that nearly won it. Daniels ends up in the corner as Rocky finally busts out those Forever clotheslines, before a STO snuffed it all out. Rocky tries to get back in it though, but a Shiranui’s pushed away as Daniels stole the win with a roll-up… while propping his feet on the ropes. A cheap win, but Daniels gets back in the winning column after a pretty good opener. ***¼

Kevin Knight & The DKC vs. Stray Dog Army (Barrett Brown & Misterioso) vs. TMDK (Bad Dude Tito & Shane Haste) vs. West Coast Wrecking Crew (Jorel Nelson & Royce Isaacs)
This is for a shot at the Strong Openweight tag titles… and the disjointed NJPW Strong universe meant that we had the West Coast Wrecking Crew talking up a rematch with Aussie Open. Except Aussie Open lost the titles to the Motor City Machine Guns a week ago on the last New Japan US PPV…

Nelson and DKC start us off, trading holds as Nelson’s attempted pop-up powerbomb was blocked and turned into a ‘rana by DKC. Kevin Knight’s in now for a double-team hiptoss and the twisting standing frog splash that nearly shut this one down in a hurry. A quick turnaround isolated Knight as Royce Isaacs came in… DKC’s attempted save was for nought as Knight ended up taking a double-team back body drop. A stalling suplex from Isaacs sees him walk Knight around the ring, but Knight slipped out and shoves Isaacs into the corner. Misterioso tagged himself in as he charged down Knight, as the Stray Dog Army took their turn double-teaming the LA Dojo lad. A nice hiptoss from Misterioso sees Brown cannonball into the corner for a two-count, before Knight was held in a full nelson… only for him to escape as Brown accidentally chopped his own man.

Knight’s springboard armdrag/headscissors takedown bought him some time, as did some tiltawhirl headscissors and a body slam… but he misses the frog splash as Shane Haste tagged in from Misterioso. Haste dumps Knight with a back suplex, before Bad Dude Tito’s Blue Thunder bomb nearly ended things. A senton atomico from Haste keeps Knight down, as did a snap suplex and a low dropkick, before Tito’s senton brought in Jorel Nelson to break up the pin. Tito charges Knight into the corner as TMDK continues to control, with Haste’s kicks wearing down Knight to the point that Bateman was cackling on commentary.

Knight finally begins to fight back, taking Haste down with a dropkick… but he couldn’t tag out as the DKC had been pulled off the apron. Presumably by Jorel Nelson. Instead, Knight tagged out to Royce Isaacs, who cornered Haste with clotheslines… then Tito too as he tried in vain to break it up. The aprons are cleared as Isaacs nearly wins with a T-Bone suplex, before Isaacs’ Falcon Arrow and Nelson’s elbow drop drew in Tito to break up the cover. Nelson and Haste keep going, with Haste’s Saito suplex giving him time… but with no Tito on the apron, tags bring in Barrett Brown and the DKC to renew their old rivalry. A spinning heel kick from DKC takes us past the ten minute mark, before the DK Fire chops left Brown laying for a near-fall.

A pendulum DDT from Knight nearly wins it for the DKC as everyone else dove in to break up the pin, leading to a Parade of Moves with Bad Dude Tito press slamming Kevin Knight into a pile outside… before he dove onto it himself. Misterioso keeps the aerial stuff going with a Whisper in the Wind… leaving us with Brown and DKC in the ring. Misterioso quickly returns as DKC chopped them both, only for a back cracker from Misterioso and a Busaiku knee from Brown to shut the door on this one. A rather sudden finish, and a real unexpected winner, as the Stray Dog Army book themselves a title shot! ***½

We’ve a video of Gabriel Kidd, talking about how Hiroshi Tanahashi would get the dojo lads a cheat meal at the end of a long tour… but today they’ll be more likely to break bones than bread. Kidd calls himself, Alex Coughlin and Clark Connors this generation’s “three musketeers,” and fancied himself as the Ace in that pack before he vowed to win the big one at some point.

Gabriel Kidd vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Kidd beat Dan Moloney at Royal Quest 2 in his New Japan comeback… but this test is going to be a little tougher.

Opening with wristlocks, Tanahashi takes down Kidd to start, but headscissors get Kidd free as he grounded Tanahashi with a hammerlock, rolling him into a pin for a quick two-count. A side headlock from Tanahashi sees him drag Kidd to the mat, before Kidd took it to the corner for some chops. Tanahashi hits back with a crossbody out of the corner though, before Kidd took him back to the ropes for some chops on the break. A dropkick off the ropes knocks Tanahashi down as Kidd began to have his own fun, which Tanahashi cut off with a Dragon screw. Nobody air guitars but the Ace…

Kidd’s sent outside from that, with Tanahashi following him… only to get posted after Kidd kicked out the knee. Back inside, Kidd targets the knee, then squashed Tanahashi with a leaping elbow drop, before a Cobra Twist provided the basis for more air guitar mockery. Tanahashi again makes it to the ropes, before he mounted a comeback with a leaping forearm off the ropes. Bodyshots and forearms from Tanahashi see him build up some steam, while a slam and a flip senton out of the corner earned a two-count. Kidd fires back with the bull lariat off the ropes for a near-fall, before he hit the ropes for a springboard moonsault that similarly had Tanahashi in danger. Tanahashi blocks a piledriver, then began trading strikes with Kidd… only for a low dropkick from Kidd shutting things down as Tanahashi looked to be pulling ahead.

Tanahashi’s able to get back up, but eats a sucker punch from Kidd, prompting Gabe to declare that he’s the “new ace.” Of course, that just fires up Tanahashi as he countered another bull lariat into a Slingblade… following with a Twist and Shout… while a second Slingblade dropped Kidd for a near-fall. A trip up top leads to a High Fly Flow… and that’s enough for the win. Perhaps the expected result, but Kidd absolutely didn’t look out of place – and with any luck this is the start of an extended run in New Japan… ***½

A really strong (ahem) episode of Strong to kick off the new “tour,” with the four-way tag match catching me by surprise – while we got exactly what you’d expect out of a Hiroshi Tanahashi singles match in 2022. Hopefully this doesn’t lead to the next few episodes of Strong falling off a cliff like they’ve been want to, but let’s enjoy the good times while they’re around!