Lio Rush gets his shot at the hardware as he took on Filthy Tom Lawlor for the Strong Openweight strap.
JR Kratos pinned Fred Yehi in 9:13 (**½)
Chris Dickinson submitted Royce Isaacs in 11:08 (***½)
Tom Lawlor defeated Lio Rush via referee in 16:19 to retain the NJPW STRONG Openweight Championship (***½)
We’re back at Thunder Studios with Kevin Kelly and Alex Koslov on the call. They run down today’s Team Filthy-heavy card, and then it’s off to the clip reel.
JR Kratos vs. Fred Yehi
We’ve got an obvious size difference on hand here, but Yehi doesn’t back down in the early going.
Kratos and Yehi trade swipes early on, but it’s Yehi who hits the deck initially before he looked to hit and run on his larger opponent. Kratos traps him in the corner with overhand chops, before a standing head-and-arm choke was turned into a sorta STO as Yehi struggled to get out of the blocks. A suplex gets Kratos a two-count, before he hurled Yehi into the corner with an Irish whip. It’s all Kratos here, who sinks in a chinlock to keep Yehi grounded, before Yehi managed to escape an elbow drop, then switch around as he seemingly looked for a Cattle Mutilation. Kratos blocks it as he got to his feet, with Yehi being rolled away before he strike back with elbows to the face.
Again, Kratos easily charges Yehi down, before Yehi hit the ropes to hit some elbows, as his search for a Cobra twist was just stopped. Kratos’ hiptoss lands, but he misses a splash as Yehi struck back, surprising the big man with a German suplex before rolling Kratos into a Koji clutch. Switching tactic, Yehi goes for a suplex, but Kratos easily countered out with a sorta-Angle slam for a near-fall, before Yehi’s attempt to catch out Kratos with a triangle armbar ended with the big man countering with a wheelbarrow German suplex for the win. This felt a little clunky, with Kratos blitzing through Yehi in what for all the world felt like a “slotting” match. **½
Royce Isaacs vs. Chris Dickinson
We’re straight into the next match as we’ve Royce Isaacs against an expelled member of Team Filthy in singles action.
Dickinson tries to ground Isaacs to start, but had to defend a triangle armbar attempt before he grabbed a leglock. That ends in the ropes quickly, as Isaacs returned by booting Dickinson into the corner as Isaacs tried to dictate the pace. Knees to the ribs of Dickinson have him on all fours, while a back suplex dropped the Dirty Daddy for a two-count. Isaacs ends up getting caught with chops as Dickinson fought back, before a backbreaker put Dickinson back on the deck. We’re back with back-and-forth forearms as Dickinson fought back in, eventually cracking Isaacs with an enziguiri, then a German suplex, before he looked to roll Isaacs for a half crab.
Instead, Dickinson rolls Isaacs into a STF, but Isaacs drags himself outside and avoided a dive… then returned to the ring to throw some rights. He’s got Dickinson down on his haunches, then deadlifted him up into a Falcon arrow that didn’t quite do the deal, before a series of switches led to shoulder tackles from Dickinson. Isaacs looks for a leapfrog, but it’s deftly turned into a death valley driver for a near-fall, before Dickinson trapped him in a cross armbar. Isaacs rolls free and countered into a Cloverleaf, but Dickinson frees himself, then tried to trip Isaacs back into a STF, eventually rolling through into the hold as Isaacs furiously tapped. This was a heck of a TV match with Isaacs showing he’s more than just a tag wrestler, but in the end it’s an emphatic win for Dickinson. ***½
Backstage, Dickinson declared war on Team Filthy again, vowing to cut the head off of the snakes within the group…
NJPW STRONG Openweight Championship: Lio Rush vs. Tom Lawlor (c)
Lawlor came to the ring on the back of JR Kratos, but opted to slide outside at the bell as he looked to frustrate Rush in the early going.
Getting back inside, Lawlor’s caught by Rush, who leapt on him with a rear naked choke, which looked to have Lawlor in trouble before the champion got to the ropes. A leap over to the apron from Rush looked to set up for a springboard back into Lawlor… but Tom swings and misses (aggravating his arm seemingly) while Rush looked for a moonsault off the apron to Kratos at ringside. Rush continues to evade as he sidestepped Lawlor’s charge, which ended up taking Kratos into the rails, before a spinning heel kick back inside earned Rush a two-count. Lawlor fought back, charging Rush into the corner ahead of a takedown, which led to some choking and mounted punches as Lawlor looked to take control.
A chop from Lawlor sunk Rush into the corner, before cravat knees and a front facelock led to a suplex as Lawlor then followed up with an overhead wristlock. An Exploder chucks Rush across the ring for a near-fall as the crowd started to get behind the challenger, who ended up getting thrown hard into the corner again. Rush manages to make an opening, floating over Lawlor before escaping a back suplex… but his standing frog splash sees him land in a triangle armbar as Lawlor regained the upper hand. Lawlor ties Rush in knots, before Rush rolled out of a rear naked choke, taking Lawlor on the apron in the process.
A handspring kick knocks Lawlor to the floor, as a low-pe just about found its mark, but JR Kratos interferes, pulling Rush off the apron before he was caught doing a press slam. The ref tells Kratos to put Lio down, only to get slapped as the ref then ejected Kratos from ringside. Amid all that, Rush sneaks in with the Rush Hour springboard stunner, but Lawlor kicks out at two before he charged into an exposed corner. The camera missed whoever undid that turnbuckle cover, but it’s a moot point as Rush heads up top for a frog splash… but Lawlor kicks out in the nick of time. A second attempt at Rush Hour’s countered into a rear naked choke, but Rush rolls back to try and nick the pin, before the pair began to trade forearms.
Rush breaks the habit with a flurry of strikes, only to get caught with a slam from Lawlor for a near-fall. A rear naked choke from Rush almost led to the title change, but Lawlor charges into that exposed corner to break up the hold. With Rush staggered, another Tenzan Tombstone Driver spiked Lio, before the rear naked choke led to the ref stoppage. A good title defence as Rush was forced to wrestle Lawlor’s style – but in the end Filthy Tom escaped with the win, and his title to close things out. ***½
After the match, Lawlor audibly asked about his next opponent… and the open challenge was finally answered by Ren Narita? The pair go nose-to-nose before Lawlor refused the challenge, noting that he’d beaten Ren in the tournament to crown the first STRONG champion. Narita kicks him, and I guess that’ll be the impetus to accept the challenge in the end.
A strong end (aha!) to the first set of tapings with fans, as the Team Filthy-dominated episode reminded us who’s really on top here as we seamlessly moved into the next challenger – while Chris Dickinson lurks in the background as a future contender.