We’re taking a look at the best of 2021 on NJPW Strong this week, featuring Tom Lawlor’s Strong Openweight title defence against Chris Dickinson, and the Hikuleo vs. Fred Rosser no-DQ match from this past May.

Quick Results
From May 2021 – Tom Lawlor pinned Chris Dickinson in 21:16 to retain the NJPW Strong Openweight Championship (****¼)
From May 2021 – Fred Rosser pinned Hikuleo in 15:32 (***½)
From October 2021 – Juice Robinson pinned El Phantasmo 13:50 (***½)

Kevin Kelly, Alex Koslov and Tom Lawlor host this week – and this show’s up for free on YouTube…

Koslov picks first – and it’s the Lawlor vs. Dickinson match from this past May…

New Japan Strong Openweight Championship: Chris Dickinson vs. Tom Lawlor (c)
Lawlor came out on the back of JR Kratos, as Danny Limelight’s presence at ringside added to the automatic disadvantage for the former Team Filthy man Dickinson.

Once he’d shed his summer-cut Canadian tuxedo, Lawlor gets going as he feints some kicks, only for Dickinson to shoot for the leg and take Lawlor down to the mat. Lawlor takes things to the corner for a break, then rolled Dickinson to the mat for some headscissors. Dickinson ties up the legs as he went for a leg lock on Lawlor, but the champion had similar ideas as he managed to finagle his way into a Sharpshooter. After a rope break, Dickinson tries for a Judo-style takedown, but Lawlor hooked the ropes and forced another break before Dickinson threw a series of kicks, only to get taken down by Lawlor. A triangle armbar attempt from Dickinson is broken as Lawlor rolled into a head and arm choke, but he couldn’t hold it for too long as Dickinson escaped, keeping the almost Bloodsport-y vibe to this going with a search for an armbar.

Lawlor countered as the pair eventually separate, but Dickinson suckered Lawlor in for a dropkick, before he charged the champion to the outside. Dickinson followed, but the brief Benny Hill chase ends with him dragging Lawlor to the apron, where he threw some uppercuts to the leg. A Dragon screw against the edge of the ring takes Lawlor to the floor… where the pair exchange strikes before Lawlor broke the count, rolling back outside after Dickinson took him in.

They head onto the apron for chops and forearms, but Lawlor caught a kick to tie up Dickinson in the ropes, hanging him up in the ropes for good measure. Lawlor follows up with some chops, but Dickinson retaliates in kind, throwing in a clothesline in the corner before a second one was countered into a takedown. Lawlor rolls Dickinson into an ankle lock, then transitioned it into a Figure Four. Dickinson rolls it over to reverse the hold, forcing Lawlor to break via the ropes. Uppercuts from Lawlor look to re-establish himself in the match, as he went for a rear naked choke… but Dickinson backs into the corner to break it… so Lawlor just climbs the ropes as he tried to hang his opponent.

Dickinson slips free and chops Lawlor on the top rope, then threw in some elbows before bringing the champion down with a superplex. Charges take Lawlor into the corner, with clotheslines being the order of the day, before a surprise death valley driver dropped Lawlow. That’s the cue for interference as Danny Limelight distracts the referee, only to get knocked down, while JR Kratos’ own distraction ended by way of Brody King, who ran out to take care of the big man.

Lawlor tries to go for a choke, but Dickinson escaped and hit a brainbuster for a two-count, as the match descended back into strikes. Elbows lead to Dickinson going for a powerbomb, but instead he just twists Lawlor with a Dragon screw ahead of an enziguiri for a near-fall. A STF followed from Dickinson, but that too ends in the ropes as Dickinson just dumped him with a German suplex. Another German suplex lands, but from the impact Lawlor repositioned into a Kimura. Dickinson escaped, but gets dumped with almost a Tenzan Tombstone Driver for a near-fall, as the pair resorted to strikes, going back-and-forth before some cravat knees from Lawlor led to an Exploder suplex.

Lawlor racks Dickinson and drops him, then rolled him into a grounded guillotine choke, but that ends in the ropes as Dickinson rolled through. Dickinson stings Lawlor with a series of kicks, but ends up getting caught in a rear naked choke briefly… Dickinson fought free, but got pulled into another rear naked choke, which he rolled back on for a near-fall. A back suplex offered some more hope for Dickinson, only to run right back into a sleeperhold, which Lawlor turned into a sleeper suplex… and that was all. My WORD. This was one for the ages – and a match that will have tongues wagging. Perhaps even more so if they were able to have a crowd – but for anyone who’s a fan of the Bloodsport/Ambition-style of wrestling, this is going to be right up your alley. Get this on your watchlists! ****¼

We’re back with the lads, as Tom Lawlor’s taking centre stage before Kevin Kelly introduces the next pick – the first ever no-DQ match in Strong’s history…

No Disqualification: Hikuleo vs. Fred Rosser
Kevin Kelly noted this was the first no-DQ match on Strong’s history – it says a lot when you don’t go ham on stipulation matches…

Rosser jumped Hikuleo from behind as Rosser was meant to be making his entrance… and it’s all Rosser to start with as he came in off the top rope to knock the big man down. Hikuleo cuts him off with a scoop slam, then took him into the corner as the aggression stayed high. A cheeky tug of the hair from Hikuleo led to Rosser firing some punches to get free, before Hikuleo elbowed out of a Fireman’s carry.

Rosser’s chucked outside, but he recovers to choke on Hikuleo with some camera cabling as the pair brawled around ringside. Hikuleo looks under the ring and grabs a chair, but Rosser ducks some shots as Hikuleo hit the ring post. Hikuleo has more luck throwing Rosser into the ring post, before he pulled out a table… but he’s interrupted as Rosser picked up a plastic box and just CHUCKED it off of Hikuleo’s head. Impressive aim. Hikuleo recovers after an exchange of strikes, looking to chokeslam Rosser on the floor, but it leads to nought as Rosser charged him into the no-crowd as Rosser pulled down some of the curtains as they fought backstage. Rosser pulls off some wrist tape to choke Hikuleo with, but Hikuleo got free and threw him outside through the right door.

They’re in a loading bay, with a handily-placed truck for Hikuleo to throw Rosser into as they fight within the ring truck. Rosser pops up Hikuleo, sending his head into the roof as some more elbows wore down the big man, leading up to a legdrop. Thing is, this isn’t falls count anywhere, so they need to make it back to the ring… but first, Rosser thinks about pulling the shutters down on Hikuleo, only to get stopped with a low blow. Instead, it’s Hikuleo who gets hold of the shutter, but Rosser rolled inside at the last minute to avoid the guillotine-like door. Rosser’s right back with a leap out of the truck as the pair fight back into the building, but not until Rosser choked Hikuleo with a hose. Finally making it back to the ringside area, Rosser chops Hikuleo against the ring post, but Hikuleo responds by throwing Rosser’s head into the ring post.

A Hot Shot drops Rosser against the guard rails, before Hikuleo set up the table and teased a death valley driver off the apron. Rosser slips out though, then went for a bulldog… but it’s a Japanese table which did not break, as both men bounced off of it. You know what to do, Maffew…

Rosser got back to his feet first and took things back into the ring. The Gut Check gutbuster takes down Hikuleo, with a basement dropkick following… and that’s the win. I’m still not sold on a basement dropkick as a finish, but that’s needless nitpicking on a match that was a massive change from what we’ve grown used to seeing on New Japan Strong. Plenty of footage for the B-reels in the future (well, maybe not the table spot) with the pair fighting inside and out as Rosser took home a decisive win. ***½

Back from the ad break, Lawlor mocks Fred Rosser for being bald these days, before he made the final pick… he wasn’t allowed to pick himself, so he picks the match of the year – Masked Strong Spirits vs. Sinn Bodhi. Sounds a little carny to me. Kevin tells Tom that it has to be an actual match – not a commercial – from Strong, so we get a match from Philadelphia between two guys more used to the “main roster”…

El Phantasmo vs. Juice Robinson
Juice decides to pose before the match, like a mix between Hiroshi Tanahashi and Ryusuke Taguchi. Muscle arse.

We start with ELP charging down Juice, following a poke to the eye, before ELP shoved Juice into the bottom rope, seemingly tweaking his knee in the process. A Manhattan drop, then an Atomic drop sent ELP sailing outside, while a plancha crushed the Canadian on the outside. Phantasmo takes a back body drop in response to his plea for a time out, ahead of some mounted punches in the corner, with all ten landing ahead of Phantasmo flopping to the mat.

Phantasmo’s back up throwing forearms, who then superkicked Juice in the gut as the back rakes came out to play. A side chinlock keeps Juice down, but he gets free with some jabs before Phantasmo grabbed Juice’s nipples… and earned himself a left hand. Juice pushed back in, getting a near-fall out of a cannonball, before a full nelson slam and a back senton drew another two-count.

More back rakes stop Juice briefly, before he shrugged off a springboard crossbody to hit a Fireman’s carry gutbuster for a near-fall. Phantasmo crotches Juice in the ropes and brought him down with a ‘rana… following with a big splash off the top to nearly win it. A Styles Clash keeps Phantasmo close, before a V-Trigger and a One Winged Angel tease leads to a ref bump… which cost Phantasmo as he punched Juice in the balls, but couldn’t get the win.

Instead, ELP tees up for Sudden Death, but Juice ducks it and countered with Pulp Friction for a near-fall, before a lariat spun Phantasmo ahead of a new move – the HHB – almost a Ki Krusher – and that’s the win for Juice. ***½

They replay Juice’s challenge to Moose for “next week,” then went back to the lads to wrap up the show. Alex Koslov’s got a present for Kevin Kelly – a sparring session with JR Kratos, who sneaks up behind them before Kevin wrapped up. We’re back in two weeks with the first new show of the year – so there’ll be no New Year’s Day Strong…

These “Best of” shows are filler, regardless of the promotion, but at least we got a cracker of a match and some notable stuff from Strong’s solid year. It’s perhaps a wee bit telling that two of the three matches on show came from the empty arena days might just speak to my point that Strong’s had a bit of a drop off since it hit the road… but that’s being remarkably uncharitable for the holidays!