The Bullet Club returns on New Japan Strong as the Road to the Lion’s Break: Contenders series continues.

Quick Results
Misterioso pinned Barrett Brown in 7:55 (***)
TJP pinned Adrian Quest in 8:41 (***)
El Phantasmo, KENTA & Hikuleo pinned Blake Christian, ACH & Fred Rosser in 10:29 (***¼)

We’re back in the same building with Kevin Kelly and Alex Koslov on the call…

Barrett Brown vs. Misterioso
This was Brown’s return after having been away from the show for three months, supposedly re-evaluating his form.

We open with a lock-up as Brown’s taken into the ropes, before an armdrag had Misterioso on the back foot briefly. A side headlock from the masked man is held onto as Brown eventually pushed him away… but a shoulder tackle has Barrett down again before he hit a nice pop-up ‘rana. Misterioso spills outside, and eventually catches an Orihara moonsault as he proceeded to lawn dart Brown into the ring post. Brown needs time to recover, but beats the count, only to get dropped again by Misterioso as he was set up for a springboard senton for a near-fall. Clotheslines keep Brown in the corner as Misteroso followed with running double knees for another two-count.

Brown tries to fight back with forearms, but runs into a big boot before an enziguiri out of the corner got him back in it. A hiptoss threw Misterioso into the corner for a two-count, before a leaping ‘rana got switched into a sunset flip as Brown kept pushing on. There’s a diving kick for a two-count too, before Brown’s senton bomb landed in Misterioso’s knees. Misterioso picks up from there, getting a two-count before he set up for a powerbomb… throwing Brown aside for a superkick before a back cracker’s blocked. Brown hits back with a reverse ‘rana and a wheelbarrow facebuster for a near-fall, before Brown got caught on the top rope, with Misterioso bringing him down hard with an inverted superplex for the pin. A decent enough opener, with both men getting plenty of offence in what was an even match. ***

We’ve got an interview with Fred Rosser backstage ahead of the main event. In among it he tells us he “steals from the greats” and “makes it his own” as he tries to find the next level… then gets impressed at how his DuoLingo’s gone!

Adrian Quest vs. TJP
In the introductions, Kevin Kelly noted that TJP would be looking for championships this year. That’ll be hard, given the lack of belts on this show!

From the opening lock-up, TJP and Quest head to the mat but reach a stalemate as they reset. A wristlock from TJP has Quest on the back foot, but he escapes with a wristlock of his own before he tripped TJP… then went for a wheelbarrow armdrag. Quest gets blocked in the corner, then caught as he had to come back with a ‘rana and a corkscrew forearm out of the corner for a two-count. Quest maneuvers up top, but gets pulled down into a Tree of Woe as TJP stretches him, following up with a chinlock on the mat. A drop toe hold and a low dropkick keeps TJP ahead, as does a hammerlock, which forces Quest to backflip his way free. He avoids a tiltawhirl backbreaker but gets taken down into a Muta lock, changing it into a double armbar stretch before letting go to snap back on the arm and leg.

TJP follows with a backbreaker, then a senton atomico for a two-count, before a Gory special stretched out Quest. He slides him down for a pin, but keeps hold of the wrists before a missed kick allowed Quest to sneak in with a spinning kick, taking TJP outside for an Asai moonsault on the floor. Back inside, a springboard ‘rana has TJP in the corner as Quest pushed on… a running shooting star press lands for a near-fall, before TJP fought back in for a spinning DDT. It’s blocked, so he comes back in with an attempted spinning tombstone before a roll-up from Quest almost nicked it.

Quest heads up for a moonsault, but TJP pops up and crotched him on the ropes before a superplex got blocked. With TJP down, Quest tries to fly again, this time going for a Phoenix Splash, but TJP rolls away and hits his Mamba splash for the pin. Another decent little TV match as TJP gets his first singles win here since July. ***

Time for that LEC advert again. Dirt was removed!

Bullet Club (KENTA, El Phantasmo & Hikuleo) vs. Fred Rosser, ACH & Blake Christian
Hey! They found KENTA’s new(er) music – after what felt like an eternity of generic Bullet_Club.mp3 entrances…

ACH and Hikuleo start… but ELP just tags in as he offered a handshake to ACH, who was still sore over what happened at the Super J-Cup. We open with an arm wringer and a wristlock from ACH, but ELP flips free to reverse it before a crucifix pin drew a two-count. ELP telegraphs a back body drop as ACH cartwheels away and hits a trio of dropkicks… eventually getting dumped with a big boot from Hikuleo as the Bullet Club trio pulled ahead. KENTA and Rosser go at it on the floor, while Christian and ELP paired off. That left Hikuleo with ACH, with the big man wearing down the Super J-Cup finalist on the apron. Back inside, ELP slingshots ACH into the bottom rope, before KENTA tagged in and blasted ACH with a kick to the back.

KENTA needles Rosser on the apron, which tells me those two are having a match soon, before he worked over ACH’s fingers. Hikuleo’s in next with an overhand chop to ACH in the corner, before he threw ACH straight into the corner. That gets him a two-count as ELP came in to start with the back rakes, raking just the once before KENTA took inspiration. Hikuleo does the same, then lifted up ACH for a stalling suplex… but ACH wriggles out and tries to crawl out for a tag, eventually bring in Rosser, who clears the apron before landing a headbutt. Rosser avoids a charge in the corner as he then slid outside and dragged Hikuleo towards the ring post, looking to wrap the leg around the post.

A chop block’s next from Rosser as he keeps Hikuleo down, following with a STF, but Hikuleo elbows the hold apart. Hikuleo replies with a forearm to knock Rosser into the corner, before a chokeslam attempt was countered as Rosser slipped free and tagged in Blake Christian. Blake takes to the skies with a quebrada, just about clipping Hikuleo before Rosser returned to help Blake hit a spinning DDT for a near-fall. Christian heads up top, but ELP pushes him down into the clutches of a Hikuleo chokeslam… then ELP tagged himself in. He waits on the apron as Rosser was still focused on Hikuleo, clotheslining the big lad to the outside before KENTA lifted him to the outside as things got a little wacky. ELP’s the legal one, remember, but stays out of sight as ACH cleared the ring before heading up top and clearing ¾s of the ring with a big splash on Christian.

From there, ELP goes for the CR2, but Blake back body drops free and almost gets the pin. ELP backs away, using the ref as a shield as he loads up his boot, then KO’d Blake with a superkick for the win. The loaded boot comes into play once again as ELP begins his time on Strong with a W. ***¼

There’s a nice touch afterwards as a dazed Christian is icing his chin post-match… while the post-match comments have ELP and the rest of Bullet Club laughing off Lio Rush’s upcoming NJPW Strong debut. We’re then told that next week is the start of Lion’s Break: Contenders – featuring Ren Narita vs. Bateman in the main event.

We’re two-for-two in decent Strongs in 2021, after the show somewhat limped to an end in 2020. I like how they’re able to string together storylines between New Japan in Japan and the US strand here – which is helping this show feel rather more relevant than last year – but I have a feeling that whatever happens with the IWGP US title will dictate whether this show remains “just wrestling” or not.