Fred Rosser closes out 2022 in NJPW Strong with a title defence against JR Kratos.

Quick Results
Lince Dorado & Mascara Dorada pinned Cody Chhun & Guillermo Rosas in 10:35 (***)
Bobby Fish pinned Kevin Blackwood in 12:00 (***)
Fred Rosser defeated JR Kratos in 18:44 via referee stoppage to retain the NJPW Strong Openweight Championship (***¼)

For the last time this year, we’re at the Vermont Hollywood in Los Angeles, with Ian Riccaboni and Alex Koslov on commentary… they’re interrupted by Mascara Dorada and Lince Dorado (called Lince Dorada on one graphic, for some reason). Their promo is en español, with Alex Koslov translating back and forth for us.

C4 (Cody Chhun & Guillermo Rosas) vs. Lince Dorado & Mascara Dorada
This was the Strong debut of C4 as a team – with Chhun having appeared here during the summer in a losing effort against Team Filthy. Peter Avalon’s hopped on commentary too for reasons…

Going in, I expected this to be a showcase for the lucha lads, but it was pretty even early on between Rosas and Mascara Dorada. Cody Chhun and Lince Dorado tag in, with Chhun cutting corners as his team looked to pull ahead. Unfortunately for Cody, Lince was able to hit a ‘rana before he just flopped on top of him for an early one-count. Mascara keeps on top of Chhun with chops, before Guillermo Rosas pulled Mascara off the ropes as the match turned on its head. Chhun and Rosas kept doing the C4 thing so much the crowd turned on them, which was by design. C4 keep Mascara isolated en route to a double-team back suplex for a two-count, before a dropkick-aided suplex got Rosas a similar result. Mascara fought out of a superplex as a top rope facebuster put the technicos back in control, with Lince cleaning house en route to a brainbuster on Chhun for a near-fall…

Lince’s cross armbar’s broken up by Rosas’ back senton, which allowed C4 back in it before Lince’s handspring double cutter cleared the way. Dorada dives onto Rosas on the outside, allowing Lince to hit a lariat and a flying ‘rana to take Chhun into his own man on the floor. Back inside, a Dorada elbow drop and a Lince shooting star press squishes both of C4, and that’s enough for Lince to take the win in an impressive outing… but one that felt like a typical Strong “we’ll likely not see these two again.” ***

Kevin Blackwood vs. Bobby Fish
It’s been a while since Bobby Fish has worked New Japan, and that’s not a set-up for an age joke. I’m sure you can make your own here…

Fish pulled Larry Zbyszko to start, and found himself on the defensive when he first engaged with Blackwood. Chops take Fish around the corners, but Fish found himself able to strike his way into the match, leathering Blackwood with elbows in the corner. Blackwood avoids a leg sweep and followed in with a stomp to the back of Fish on the outside, adding some kicks as well. Back inside, Fish took control once more, landing a senton atomico before he stopped to do a hip wiggle. What is this, Rick Rude in the 80s? Fish keeps control as a sliding lariat nearly wins it, as Blackwood mounted a brief comeback, complete with a wacky whip to send Fish into the corner. An Exploder’s good for barely a two-count for Blackwood, as the match descended into an exchange of kicks, before an arm whip sank Fish.

Fish looked to snap back though, only to get caught with a Fujiwara armbar… which ended with Fish getting to the ropes. An overhead kick to Fish’s arm keeps Blackwood ahead, but he’s caught up top as an avalanche Falcon Arrow proved to be enough for the win. I enjoyed parts of this, but an even match against someone who’s only won once on Strong perhaps isn’t the way you’d look to debut Fish as a big deal? ***

Post-match, Homicide ran in and attacked Fish, prompting a brawl between the two until David Finlay just about chased away Fish with his shillelagh. There’s an uneasy stand-off between Homicide and Finlay afterwards, but the pair shake hands as we headed into the typical pre-main event ads.

NJPW Strong Openweight Championship: JR Kratos vs. Fred Rosser (c)
Kratos was “gifted” this title shot by Jay White…

They shoot out of the gates with shoulder tackles at the bell, and lots of them before Kratos lost his footing after a leapfrog and found himself on the receiving end of a leaping sit-out splash from the champion. A back suplex sees Rosser easily dump Kratos for a two-count, while an armbar kept the big man down… only for Kratos to apply one of his own, which Rosser rolled out of as a running kick added some mustard. Ironically, given the colour of Kratos’ gear! Chops and clotheslines trapped Kratos in the corner, but he shrugged off some running knees and monstered up… only to get knocked right back down with a superkick. Rosser drags Kratos onto the apron for an attempted back suplex, but it’s blocked as Kratos looked to hit a powerbomb off the apron, only for Rosser to hit a sit-down splash to stop it.

A leaping body press of the apron’s caught though as Rosser’s charged into the ring post, then thrown across the floor with an overhead belly-to-belly. Kratos takes his time as he pulls up some padding, then disconnected part of the guard rails and went to throw it at Rosser… but the champion blocks it as the pair continue to scrap, before Kratos grabbed a ringside attendant and threw him into the railing as he went to fix the padding. Finally returning to the ring, Kratos continues to wear down Rosser, trapping the champion in the corner for some body blows. Fighting back, Rosser brings it back onto the apron, but again Kratos regains the upper hand with a leaping knee, then a clothesline back to the ring. That prompts Rosser to go for the knee as Kratos was trying to make it back inside, allowing him to finally hit a neckbreaker onto the edge of the ring.

Rosser one-ups things as he hauled Kratos off the apron into a tombstone piledriver on the exposed part of the floor. Refusing to take the count-out, Rosser stops the referee from counting so Kratos could make it back into the ring… if only so Rosser could box Kratos as he got back to his feet. A sucker punch from Kratos downs Rosser, before an overhead kick caught the champion on the ropes ahead of a superplex as Kratos looked to be back in control. A clothesline takes things outside YET AGAIN, with Kratos this time leaving his feet for a wild pescado into the crowd. I mean, they’re definitely making sure this hits next week’s highlight reel, that’s for sure! Back inside again, Kratos hits another lariat before a Falcon arrow drew a near-fall.

Rosser fights out of an Electric Chair drop, then tripped Kratos into a STF, but Kratos tries to power out. The hold’s turned into a side chinlock, then a chokehold, as the referee waved it off. Not quite the chickenwing that the New Japan site listed the finish as, but a successful defence for Rosser, who came real close to losing the title in this one. ***¼

Peter Avalon abandoned commentary afterwards and hit the ring with a microphone in hand. Yep, he’s putting his name in the hat for a title shot, and after just two matches on Strong, Avalon’s gotten it… which was the cue for him to attack Rosser, once again showing just how bloody long it takes the ringside attendants to break these things up. We’re two-for-two on this show alone, as we end up with the locker room emptying out as I’m wondering if they taped and forgot to air a Royal Rumble!

We’ve got a best-of episode next week – and with suggestions of a link-up with Ring of Honor in the New Year, 2023 could be an intriguing year for New Japan Strong… or could just as easily remain the same show it has been this year, with some bright spots but a lot of unfulfilled potential as we still wait for feud for Fred Rosser to be able to sink his teeth into as champion.