Karl Fredericks vs Ren Narita

In many ways, New Japan Strong has done what it was supposed to do: be a development territory for the LA Dojo, and this opening match was a showcase for two of its best products. Devote and Protege of Dojo Boss Katsuyori Shibata, Narita has developed in the mould of the straight-ahead wrestler, while Fredericks has leaned into his Native American heritage.

Every opening match should tell the story of what is going to happen in the rest of the show, and really set the tone for the style of the promotion. This one followed that formula to a T, hard-hitting, as you’d expect from Narita and some impressive athletic spots from Fredericks. Narita really has connected with the Strong audience, not to say that Fredericks hasn’t, but it was noticeable the babyface Fredericks was booed every time he laid in a strike on Narita in the early going, There was also a bit of disappointment when Fredericks took the win with his Manifest Destiny Northern Lights DDT. Fredericks won this one, but Narita is a star. 

Post-match, QT Marshall invaded the ring with the leader of The Factory who beat down Fredericks while his oppos, Aaron Solo & Nick Comoroto, held Fredericks down for not joining their Factory when he had the chance, thus developing the following story for Fredericks and the LA Dojo. 

Team Filthy (Jorel Nelson, Royce Isaacs, JR Kratos, Danny Limelight & Tom Lawlor) vs The DKC (Fred Rosser, Yuya Uemura, Tanga Loa & David Finlay)

Big faction multi-man matches are the bread and butter of Japanese shows, usually angled towards one major feud from one team member to the other, and this match was no exception. The main event story on Strong is about “Mr No Days Off” Fred Rosser (the former Darren Young) and NJPW Strong Openweight Champion “Filthy” Tom Lawlor. Rosser lost his signature Afro to a sneak attack from Lawlor. Rosser has now offered to put his contract on the line to get to Lawlor and that is good old fashioned personal issue storytelling at its finest.  

The match itself was hot and heavy as the Hontai crew went after Team Filthy. A little sloppy in spots, but it was held together by the Rosser and Lawlor narrative. JR Kratos and Tanga Loa had a big man showdown that was a sight to see and bodes well for a singles match down the line. In Japan, Loa has looked a little lost getting into a new babyface persona but now seems to be back on all cylinders. The West Coast Wrecking Crew Royce Isaacs and Jorel Nelson got to show off their wears as the best tag team on Strong. The ending was weak though, as Danny Limelight blew spots on his way to pinning Dojo member DKC. No one will remember that though, they will remember the heated brawl that happened after, as Finlay targeted Limelight and Rosser attached Lawlor once more. 

Great-O-Khan vs. Chase Owens

A match between former and current tag team champions. Against all odds, Chase Owens is still employed by New Japan wrestling, and personal life aside, he is a good nuts and bolts wrestler in the southern rasslin’ style as you’d expect from a former student of Ricky Morton. O-Khan is an exceptionally talented odyssey of a human being, who doesn’t seem to like pro wrestling that much, but knows how to work a crowd better than any of his Dojo contemporaries.

This was an excellent example of that, as the small in stature bully who hides behind his much bigger partner ran into the mythological muscle man of the United Empire. Despite being a heel in the United Empire, who are by no means Cool Heels, O-Khan has become incredibly popular and was the clear fan favourite here. In many ways, this was the reverse of your classic southern main event, a monster foreign heel who relies on mysticism vs the hometown hero. It’s just the fans were much more on the side of the monster. 

Owens took the win with a roll-up and his feet on the ropes, which furthers the story of the IWGP Tag Team titles. Owens and Bad Luck Fale did not look threatening at all in their Three-Way match title victory at Wrestling Dontaku so the win here at least makes their title defence against O-Khan and Cobb look less of a foregone conclusion. 

United Empire (Aaron Henare, Kyle Fletcher, Mark Davis, and Jeff Cobb) vs. TMDK (Mikey Nicholls, Shane Haste, and Jonah) and Bad Dude Tito

United Empire have not been around that long but have managed to amass a vibrant roster of stars from RevPro and New Japan. Largely rooted on the other side of the Pacific, TMDK, after their return from WWE, have regrouped in NJPW Strong and on this occasion were joined by Bad Dude Tito, the only none Australasian in this match.

With Jonah eyeing up Cobb and TMDK originals Mad Mikey Nicholls and Shane Haste lining up wonderfully with Aussie Open, this proved to be a tight and driving tag match. Big Lads wrestling done properly if you will. So big, in fact, a man like Aaron Henare, who is huge, looked like a bit dropped off. If Aussie Open are sticking around in NJ and TMDK are sticking around for a while, then now would be a very good time to bring in some tag titles for Strong as this match demonstrated.    

To a huge pop, it came down to Cobb and Jonah, as everyone hoped. The two most talented big men of their era, both of whom can really go despite their size, are made for each other. TMDK took the win with Nicholls pinning Kyle Fletcher. Hopefully, this is the start of something big. After the match, the TMDK originals invited Bad News Tito to join the group and Tito accepted.

Brody King vs Minoru Suzuki

“Who the Hell are you?” said Minoru Suzuki in the pre-match promo. Brody King is an international multimedia star, and a badass, but there is only one King of Pro Wrestling and something has to give. King dominated the early going, but missed a chop and slammed it into the ring post, and Suzuki grinned like a 4-year-old on Christmas morning. Then it was a rollercoaster of pain for both wrestlers, as no matter how far Brody King got separation, Suzuki went after the hand. With Suzuki laying in forearms that would knock out a horse, the match continued apace. 

King eventually got some headroom and managed to get a Gonzo Bomb on Suzuki for a very unpopular win. It couldn’t last long, and King needed to end it before he was choked out for a third time, which was a neat story to tell for a match with very little build-up. Suzuki hit a piledriver on the ring attendant after the match, which was obviously the right thing to do.

Eddie Kingston vs Tomohiro Ishii

The classic narrative of pro wrestling is the irresistible force against the immovable object, as noted philosopher Gorilla Monsoon often mentioned. This is what happens when an immovable object meets an immovable object. 

I’ve been watching Eddie Kingston wrestle for a decade and I am truly happy to see him in the position he is in. No one works harder or knows what to do in the right situation than the Mad King, and Ishii is his Japanese counterpart. Ostensible brawlers, they have more than enough scientific wrestling knowledge to take on all comers. However, this had to be about power. Strikes and big moves were the order of the day. They satisfied the crowd’s need for some thump, and then an actual wrestling match broke out with Eddie providing the momentum. 

But then it was back to the strikes, all the strikes. Interrupted by some suplex exchanges, this match was living up to its promise of Strong Style vs King’s Road. Dressed in his Kawada collars to honour his hero, Kingston hit two back fists, but Ishii landed a head butt to regain control, finally delivering the Avalanche Brainbuster to seal the win. 

Lio Rush then came out to his home DC Crowd to cut a promo explaining his injury issues and to challenge people for his return. 

CHAOS (IWGP World’s Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada & Rocky Romero) vs Bullet Club (Jay White & Hikuleo)

Okada is back in imperious mode at the moment and there is no better wrestler on earth when he has the title and is cooking, Jay White is the best heel worker in the world and his re-emergence from exile at Wrestling Dontaku kicked off the story of the summer, and this would be the opening battle. White has never beaten Okada for the title, he is bitter and desperate, and that is when he does his best work. Romero is a supreme tag wrestler, drafted in when Trent Beretta couldn’t return to his CHAOS brethren because of a Covid diagnosis. 

The crowd were hot for this, as they should be, and it felt like pushing the Bullet Club narrative at Dontaku has been well received. Hikuleo has become a well-rounded monster in his time in NJPW Strong and, while his future is unclear, the only son of Haku not to get kicked out of Bullet Club was in a secure company here.   

A crowd-pleasing call and response affair, with White at his most annoying best, building pace to the hottest of hot tags. Okada then went to work with Hikuleo, taking the lead so White could pick the bones. Okada though found an upper hand. White countered his way out of trouble, his strongest in-ring asset, but Okada tagged out to Romero. In the end, Romero and Okada had the better teamwork, even breaking out Strong Zero from Roppongi Vice and sending a nod to Berretta. 

However faced with White on top form, it only took one Blade Runner to get the win. Predictably, White and Hikuleo jumped on Okada after the match, to build towards the main event at Dominion. Tanga Loa made the save as he tried to reconcile with his brother Hikuleo. 

Four-Way Match for the IWGP US Championship: Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Juice Robinson vs Jon Moxley vs Will Ospreay

This was, on paper, a terrible idea. Four-Way matches are inherently bad because it’s impossible to get any momentum going when you know there are two other people who are going to interfere. Robinson is just coming off a heel turn and desperately needs a singles match to establish who he is. John Moxley is at his best as a single-minded killer, so giving him three targets dilutes his attention. Will Ospreay was the only person with experience in this match, at least watchable ones. So, dear reader, I was not looking forward to this. 

Robinson came out to his new music, which is a shame as his old one was a banger but is the least Bullet Club music ever, but “Rock Hard” needs a new identity. Will Ospreay is a man who produces equal amounts of awe and disgust to the point he will soon be making his GCW debut at a show entitled “I Never Liked You Anyway” and his pre-match promo was delivered in his usual incoherent style. But Moxley’s intro in NJPW always looks cool, the slow-dirge blues-rock while him climbing through the crowd, is effortlessly cool. However, you may never be as cool as Hiroshi Tanahashi.

Inevitably, the match started with Ospreay attacking Mox, leaving Tanahashi wrestling Robinson. After some big bumps to take Robinson and Ospreay out the way, Mox and Tanahashi began a showdown, which was interrupted by Robinson, who was attacked by Ospreay, which we didn’t see because the camera wasn’t covering it and therein lies the trouble. Juice Robinson introduced the first chair, and then everyone realised that 4-Way bouts are No-Disqualification ones when the ref didn’t do anything about it. 

All four men ended up in the ring and it settled into a back and forth pace. Mox was bleeding in Tanahashi’s Texas Cloverleaf as Juice Robinson delivered the US title belt to the back and then the front of the head, the match then descended into a spot fest. Everyone hit their finishers, ending up with Ospreay in Moxley’s Chokehold as Tanahashi delivered the High Fly Flow. After another skirmish, Moxley ended up going through a table on the outside, thanks to Tanahashi taking them both out. Robinson then went at it, with Ospreay pinning him with his new unnamed finisher after a low blow. And so, mercifully, it was over. Bullet Club closed out the show with their new champion. Robinson cut a promo on the three people he beat, looking more secure in the title picture than he ever did as a face. 

Overall, the main event that was all style and very little substance can not put a dark picture on a good card. Kingston and Ishii stole the show, and the semi-main tag match tells the story of New Japan probably up until the G1 Climax in July. At least, with a title change in the main event, these shows, which cost extra to a New Japan World viewer can be seen as vital viewing and worth the price of admission. A solid outing overall with good commentary from Ian Riccaboni, Lio Rush and the vastly improved Alex Koslov.   

All pics courtesy of NJPW

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