The Nemesis series starts as a 16-man Strong Survivor match looked to determine Fred Rosser’s challenger for February’s Battle in the Valley.

Quick Results
El Phantasmo & Jay White pinned Alan Angels & Hikuleo in 8:47 (**¼)
KENTA won the STRONG Survivor Match in 15:45 (***)

Well that came out of nowhere… hours before this episode aired, a blog from Hiroshi Tanahashi (of all people) announced that “the Nemesis taping tonight” would be the final Strong. Of course, crossed wires meant that some thought that THIS was the finale – but instead, there’s three more episodes of Strong listed on the NJPW World schedule, culminating in the finale on January 28 as New Japan opts for “quality over quantity” with the US product. There’s probably a column in this for me on 411, I sense…

Anyway, we’re once again coming from the Vermont Hollywood in Los Angeles, which probably should have been a sign of the end given the lack of touring. Alex Koslov’s reunited with Kevin Kelly on commentary for this stretch. They run through the rules of the Strong Survivor match – it’s a battle royal until we get to the final four, with pinfalls and submissions only there until the last man is left.

Alan Angels & Hikuleo vs. Bullet Club (El Phantasmo & Jay White)
Well, that’s a random-as-heck pairing opposite ELP and Jay White… Angels is sporting a The Design armband on his jacket, as he’s part of the group in Impact that used to be called Violent By Design. They also have a caption on-screen to tell us that this match was taped, since Jay White’s still got the IWGP title here…

Nobody wanted to start against Hikuleo, so instead ELP challenged “Alan” to start. Okay. The arguments continue at the bell, so we got rock, paper, scissors before Angels slapped White, then took him down with a dropkick. ELP rushes in… but sends himself to the outside as Angels returned his focus to White with a crossbody off the top for a one-count. Hikuleo’s in to chop White down, but a distraction from ELP allowed White in with some right hands… before Hikuleo cut him off with a bodyslam. Angels tags in to hit a slam of his own, then some mounted punches in the corner, before White’s half-hatch suplex slung Angels into the corner pad.

ELP attacks Hikuleo on the apron, then tagged in as Alan Angels was kept isolated… for some of the wacky back rakes. White spams “too sweet” ahead of chops to Angels, including one out of the corner as we crossed the five-minute mark. Phantasmo tags in and winds up for a nipple twister, but the UFO’s escaped as Angels hit back with an Asai DDT. Angels tags out to Hikuleo, who boots ELP down, then went after White in the corner, hitting a Snake Eyes and a lariat for a near-fall. An eye rake gets White free, but ELP’s swatted down after he tagged out… Hikuleo stays on White, who chopped out the big man’s knee as he went for a chokeslam on ELP.

A tag brings Angels back, with the former Dark Order man hitting a low-pe to White, then a Mistica into a crossface on Phantasmo back inside the ring. Angels rolls the pair back into the middle of the ring, forcing White to break it up, before Hikuleo’s save saw him get low bridged to the outside. A springboard moonsault’s superkicked away by ELP, who then added the UFO whirlibird neckbreaker… and that’s the sudden win. This felt way too short, especially with the ga-ga at the start… but ticks the “Bullet Club antagonises Hikuleo” box, I guess. **¼

We’ve a promo from Jeff Cobb ahead of his match later in the tour with Bad Dude Tito – they meet next week, with Cobb vowing to throw Tito all over the place. A big guy match, and one I’m almost surely going to love

Strong Survivor Match
In this we have Rocky Romero, Christopher Daniels, KENTA, Mascara Dorada, Bateman, Che Cabrera, JR Kratos, Misterioso, Keita, Adrian Quest, Jakob Austin Young, Wheeler Yuta, Cody Chhun, The DKC, Blake Christian and Guillermo Rosas. Everyone comes out to the Strong music, which is one step away from making this a WWE t-shirt battle royal. As we said earlier, it’s a battle royal until the final four, at which point it becomes a four-corners elimination match. The winner of this gets a title shot at Battle in the Valley next month – finally, they’re actually using this show to build to the PPV. Right as they’re killing it off…

Everyone filed around the outside of the ring until the bell sounded, which made me fear that it was actually a reverse battle royal. Thankfully, it was not, as the “strumble” had JR Kratos taking his time on the outside as everyone tried to chuck everyone else over the top. There’s way too much going on as all sixteen men were in the ring, There’s a lot of names in here that you’d not expect anywhere near shot, such as Guillermo Rosas, who was eliminated first via a Keita superkick, before Misterioso eliminated Cody Chhun as C4 were the first pair gone. Mascara Dorada’s superkick takes care of Keita, before Bateman bit and shoved Rocky Romero off the apron for our next out. Blake Christian climbs the ropes and snapped Che Cabrera’s singlet straps into him for the next elimination, which is a super wacky way to go, while Kratos simply turfed Misterioso out over the top rope.

Wheeler Yuta lifts Dorada onto the apron, then dropkicked him mid-springboard for an elimination. Jakob Austin Young’s gone by way of Wheeler Yuta as we’ve got vast expanses of silence on commentary. Everyone gangs up on Kratos, who monsters away, then squashed everyone in the corners. There’s a scoop slam on Adrian Quest, who’s then chucked out by Kratos… Bateman’s taken out via a Kratos clothesline, while Kratos’ bid to eliminate Daniels backfires as Yuta, KENTA and Christian lifted the big man out instead. All of the referees are escorting JR Kratos out, so they miss the DKC eliminating Christopher Daniels… the veteran slips back in, then lifted DKC out in front of the refs for the elimination that was called. That leaves us with our final four: Christopher Daniels, Wheeler Yuta, Blake Christian and KENTA, so this now turns into a four-way elimination with pins and submissions.

Christian’s handspring enziguiri knocks down Daniels, before Blake had to recompose himself mid-Quebrada. Yuta slams and back sentons onto KENTA, before Daniels got his knees up to avoid a similar fate. A STO dumped Yuta, while Blake Christian’s missile dropkick took down Daniels and KENTA ahead of a series of clotheslines.

Christian misses a charge into the corner, which allowed Daniels to eliminate him with a roll-up… having his feet on the ropes too. Boo that man. Daniels and KENTA combine on Yuta as they took turns on him with shots. Eventually, the Daniels/KENTA unison ends at the hands of Daniels, who tried to take the glory, only for KENTA to waffle Daniels with a backfist… ahead of a double clothesline from a resurgent Yuta. A missile double dropkick from Yuta takes the pair down, as did a tope to KENTA on the outside. Daniels is still in the ring and sits down on Yuta’s sunset flip, grabbing the ropes for a near-fall, before a bridging German suplex from Yuta eliminated the Fallen Angel. KENTA charges in with a Busaiku knee to Yuta, while a wheelbarrow roll-up from Yuta earned a near-fall.

Another Busaiku knee from KENTA’s good for a near-fall, before he hit a Go 2 Sleep… and that’s enough for the win. The battle royal portion of this was a little ropey, particularly with the volume of names in the match who’d have been real long shots of even making the final four, let alone winning… but it all came up relatively good in the end. I’d like to see this format on a Road-to show or something like that, but you can’t pad it out with prelim guys. ***

This was an underwhelming show to kick off the final stretch of Strong – with the Strong Survivor match being really hit and miss.