The New Japan Cup USA qualifiers continue on as this week’s NJPW Strong faltered somewhat.

Quick Results
Jeff Cobb pinned Alex Coughlin in 5:58 (**½)
New Japan Cup USA 2021 Qualifier: Ren Narita submitted Misterioso in 11:12 (**½)
New Japan Cup USA 2021 Qualifier: Brody King pinned Bateman in 13:25 (***)

We open with another promo as Bateman and Brody King talking up their qualifier today. These have been good additions to this show – making Strong feel like more than “a slice of some pre-taped action.” Foreshadowing.

Kevin Kelly and Alex Koslov are on hand for commentary.

Alex Coughlin vs. Jeff Cobb
Oh boy. This was Strong’s first outing on NJPW Strong in months, and his first as a member of the United Empire.

Coughlin’s a little tentative, working over Cobb’s arm to begin with, but a Fireman’s carry takes Coughlin down before they reset. Shoulder blocks from Coughlin have little effect, so he knees Cobb before getting charged down to the mat. Stomps keep Coughlin in the corner, before a back elbow dropped Coughlin for a two-count by the ropes. Cobb keeps the pressure on, but Coughlin tries to fight back with chops, only for Cobb to chop him down. A bear hug squeezes the Young Lion, who elbows free, only for Cobb to sidestep a flying shoulder tackle. A second one hits the mark, with Coughlin following up with uppercuts in the corner before a slam on Cobb was blocked.

Cobb clubs free, but swings into a Coughlin slam for a two-count, before coming back with a Spin Cycle suplex for a near-fall. Punches and a clothesline dump Coughlin, before a Tour of the Islands gets Cobb the emphatic win. As close to a squash as you’ll get in New Japan, with Cobb looking good in his brief outing here. **½

Kevin Kelly tells us the first round of the New Japan Cup USA is next week – and we get an interview with Misterioso here. Misterioso tells us he needs to show his talent where it counts, so he can prove he belongs.

New Japan Cup USA 2021 Qualifier: Misterioso vs. Ren Narita
We’ve a bit of a scrappy start as both men looked for a lock-up, but Narita can’t get anything going as Misterioso targeted the arm.

Taking it to the mat, Misterioso works the leg of Narita, but it’s countered into a cross armbar, before they reset with a knuckle lock. From the Test of Strength, Narita’s taken down as Misterioso forces some pin attempts, before a monkey flip from Narita countered the hold. A side headlock grounds Misterioso, who eventually pushes Narita away, only for a see-saw sunset flip to trigger some back-and-forth pinning attempts. Kicks from Narita take Misterioso into the corner, and Narita stays on the masked man with knees and kicks. A whip takes Misterioso into the corner for a bridging facelock suplex that nearly gets the win. Narita keeps it going with a side Russian legsweep, before he tied up Misterioso in a leg spreader, but Misterioso gets free and eventually caught Narita with a clothesline.

A springboard armdrag from Misterioso takes Narita outside, but Misterioso doesn’t quite get all of a Golden Triangle moonsault. He manages to stay on top of Narita with some stomps, before a senton atomico back inside gets him a near-fall. Kicks keep Narita down, as does a slap, before a scoop slam off the ropes and a springboard backflip into a standing moonsault caught Narita. Somehow Narita’s up first, and tries to roll Misterioso into a Boston crab, but it ends quickly in the ropes. Misterioso gets a boot up in the corner, then pulled him up to the top rope for an avalanche gourdbuster for a two-count. Narita ducks a clothesline and grabs a rear naked choke on Misterioso, turning it into a Cobra Twist, but it’s broken in the ropes.

From there, Narita dumps Misterioso with a German suplex for a near-fall, before Narita rolled Misterioso into the Narita Special #3 leglock for the eventual submission. This one was a bit rough around the edges, with some stuff that made you go “huh?” – Narita makes it into the tournament, with the brackets yet to be announced. **½

Time to plug the LEC cloths!

New Japan Cup USA 2021 Qualifier: Bateman vs. Brody King
Bateman’s 3-0 in his prior singles meetings with King, all of which came on the California indie scene in 2017.

King looks for a wristlock early on, but Bateman kicks it away before a waistlock takedown frustrated Bateman. Another lock-up comes to nought, as the pair begin to trade strikes, going back-and-forth with elbows until Batemen raked the eyes. A cross-chop hits King in the throat, before Brody charged down Bateman… only to get tripped with a drop down. Bateman drives King’s knee into the mat, before a pancake and a back senton from King turned it around for a two-count. Chops keep Bateman in the corner, before he was taken down for a neck crank that led to another two-count.

Bateman escapes a gutwrench suplex, and goes back to the eyes as he tried to keep King at bay. Chops keep King in the ropes, but he fired back before getting punched out, with a low dropkick putting Bateman ahead. He doesn’t go for a pin, and instead drops a knee on King’s ankle, but Brody’s back with a clothesline before he took a headbutt in the corner. King hits back with an Exploder into the corner, before a cannonball squishes Bateman for a two-count that never should have started as Bateman had his hand under the ropes. The pair resume with back-and-forth elbows, then chops, with Bateman removing his jacket to invite King to chop harder…

Bateman fakes out a chop and kicks King’s knee to start a new barrage of offence, including a rolling elbow before he’s caught with a uranage for a near-fall. A charge misses as Bateman slips onto the apron, then kicked King in between the ropes ahead of a German suplex into the corner. That’s followed up with a running knee, but Bateman struggled to move King as he could only get a two-count out of it.

Both men are struggling to get back to their feet, but Bateman hits first with a brainbuster for a near-fall. Bateman looks for a tombstone, but King escapes with a German suplex, before he runs into a boot. That’s shrugged off as King lands a clothesline, before a Ganso Bomb puts Bateman away. This was fine, but like the rest of the show, just felt like it was lacking any kind of buzz. ***

Next week: our final qualifiers for the New Japan Cup: Chris Dickinson vs. Blake Christian, and Clark Connors vs. TJP. Hang on, I thought the first round was next week? I guess “plans change”! For the first time in a while, this week’s Strong felt like an utterly skippable show, with little pace or substance to proceedings. Not a horrible show, but it just felt “there” as Strong puts on a rare mis-step in 2021.