Port Hueneme, CA – 4.23.2021
Commentary is provided by Kevin Kelly & Alex Koslov.
Clark Connors & TJP vs. Team Filthy (JR Kratos & Chris Dickinson)
TJP and Connors surprisingly get the best of Kratos early on. Kratos drives Connors back to his corner after taking a double dropkick, and the Dirty Daddy helps him take the match over. TJP comes in for the assist, but a near collision between TJP and Connors allows Dickinson to attack and keep things in Team Filthy’s favor. Connors slips out of a suplex from Dickinson and rolls to his corner to tag in TJP, who knocks down Dickinson with a springboard forearm. TJP gets two after a tree of woe. Dickinson escapes the Detonation Kick. Connors tags TJP unbeknownst to Dickinson, and after trading chops is able to powerslam Dickinson for two. As Connors puts Dickinson in a Boston Crab, TJP halts Kratos with an Octopus hold. Kratos breaks free from TJP and then saves Dickinson. As TJP wipes out Dickinson on the floor, Connors Gores Kratos. Dickinson suplexes TJP on the floor and then surprises Connors with an enzuigiri. Connors kicks out of the brainbuster that comes after. Dickinson hits a Death Valley Driver. Kratos makes Dickinson get out of the ring so he can go for a pin. It fails, and Connors goes for the Boston Crab. Kratos makes up for his flub by wheelbarrow suplexing Connors for the pin at 11:06. They continued the animosity between Dickinson and the rest of Team Filthy just enough for it to be noticed, but not totally disrupt the flow of the match, which I appreciate. TJP and Connors are really good together. **¾
Rocky Romero vs. Wheeler YUTA
This is YUTA’s NJPW debut. Lately he has been a featured guest in Ring of Honor, and is the #1 Contender for the IWTV Independent Wrestling Championship. He focuses his offense on Romero’s legs. YUTA shows off both his Lucha and World of Sport influences as he takes down Romero several times. YUTA misses a crossbody and Romero puts him in an Octopus Stretch right away. Romero is able to drive his knee into YUTA’s arm. YUTA blocks the Forever clothesline and pulls off a crossbody successfully. Romero jams YUTA’s arm over his shoulder. YUTA hooks Romero’s arm and drops him with an Angle Slam, and then rolls Romero into an Indian Death Lock variant, and then into an STF. Romero makes his way to the apron so he can snap YUTA’s arm on the top rope when he comes over. YUTA blocks a Shiranui but eats a rewind kick. YUTA comes back with a German suplex. Romer Falcon Arrows YUTA into a cross armbreaker. YUTA rolls up Romero for two to break it. Romero lands a leaping knee to the chin and successfully lands the Shiranui. He puts YUTA’s left arm in an armbar and YUTA taps at 12:41. I fully admit to being biased as a big YUTA fan, but this was my favorite STRONG debut in a while. Not only did he look incredibly formidable against Romero, but got to showcase so many of the different wrestling styles he utilizes in a really compelling manner. I am really excited to see more from him going forward. ***¼
New Japan Cup USA 2021 Final Round Match; STRONG Openweight Championship
Brody King vs. Tom Lawlor
King used his power advantage from the get-go. When King missed a cannonball senton, Lawlor immediately slammed King’s leg against the ring post. King had his leg worked over by Dickinson and somewhat by Rush, so Lawlor is wisely capitalizing on their handiwork. It got worse for King when he missed a chop and hit the ring post, giving Lawlor another part to go after. Lawlor slams and stomps on King’s hand right after the collision. King gets a moment of respite when Lawlor lands after a flying clothesline, and King rebounds off the ropes with a senton splash. King sends Lawlor into the corner with an exploder suplex and successfully lands the cannonball senton for two. King also manages to pull off a superplex for two. When he goes for the Ganso Bomb, Lawlor kicks out his bad leg and applies an ankle lock. He converts to a jackknife pin, which King picks up into a piledriver for two. A strike exchange leads to Lawlor dropping King with a uranage. King kicks out of that, and a follow up knee strike to the face. King gives Lawlor a German suplex and a lariat for two. He goes for the Ganso Bomb. Lawlor slips behind into a rear-naked choke and then a Cattle Mutilation. When Lawlor releases the hold he goes for a PK. King catches it, so Lawlor goes back to the rear-naked choke. A second PK connects and Lawlor goes back to the choke. King lets out a primal scream before passing out. The referee calls for the bell at 20:05, winning Lawlor the tournament and the title. This was well executed, well paced, and the final minutes of the match were especially exciting. A lot of what brought both men to the finals was implemented in this match, and that context made everything even more meaningful. When I originally watched this I was more familiar with Brody and was disappointed Lawlor won, but after seeing all the great matches Lawlor has had during his STRONG tenure, he’s a perfect pick to begin this title’s lineage. King going from being eliminated in the first round of the New Japan Cup USA in 2020 to a finalist in 2021 also speaks to his trajectory in STRONG. ***¾
JR Kratos and Chris Dickinson come out to celebrate with Lawlor. Lawlor is presented with the trophy, and he has Kratos put the STRONG Openweight Championship around his waist. Lawlor says there was no doubt who was going to be victorious when the tournament was put together. He’s been the strongest for a long time. Lawlor says he’s familiar enough with how these types of ceremonies go and fully expects someone to come out and issue a challenge to Lawlor for his title at any moment. Because of this, he takes a pause awaiting a challenger to come through the curtain. When nobody comes out, Lawlor says he isn’t surprised, as there isn’t anyone in the back who can stop him. However, Chris Dickinson pipes up and says Lawlor doesn’t have to look too far for his first challenger. He says if New Japan is where people compete at their highest level, then he wants his chance to do so in a championship match. Lawlor and Kratos are not pleased with Dickinson’s insubordination, but after Dickinson goes backstage, Lawlor holds his title high.