Los Angeles, CA – 8.14.2021
Commentary is provided by Kevin Kelly, Alex Koslov, and Matt Rehwoldt (the former Aiden English).
This is the first U.S. New Japan event in front of fans since February 1, 2020. The venue is the Torch outside of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and it looks super cool.
Jordan Clearwater, Kevin Knight & The DKC vs. Stray Dog Army (Bateman, Barrett Brown & Misterioso)
This match was a dark match on the initial broadcast, but aired on the first episode of NJPW XTRA on October 31st. We’ve seen Bateman and Barrett form an affiliation over the past couple of months, but Misterioso just appeared alongside them on yesterday’s episode of STRONG. This is the Stray Dog Army’s very first match as a trio. The name Stray Dog Army is kind of like The Lone Rangers, but I like it anyway. DKC catches a surprise punch from Brown, throwing him down and delivering a falling chop. Misterioso and Knight grapple quickly and continue the pace on their feet. Misterioso armdrags Knight into a basement dropkick for a two count. Misterioso and Brown pass off Knight to Bateman for a bodyslam onto his face. Knight escapes a second and tags in Clearwater who lays out Bateman with a running neckbreaker. Bateman attacks Clearwater’s throat and the rest of his army assists in wearing him down. Clearwater tags DKC after taking down Bateman with a DDT. DKC wears down Bateman with karate chops. DKC and Knight double team Bateman, leading to Knight getting a two count with a jumping Mad Splash. Knight blasts Bateman with a dropkick to the chest. Misterioso manuevers Knight and Clearwater into a double suplex, and Brown wipes them out with a suicide dive. Bateman tosses DKC outside with them, and Misterioso wipes them all out with a high crossbody. Misterioso sends Clearwater back into the ring. Brown nails him with the .50 Caliber Kick, and Bateman drops him with This Is A Kill for the pin at 9:32. A very solid match to show the coherence of the Stray Dog Army, which was especially apparent given how little Clearwater worked with his teammates who are a regular tandem. **¾
Alex Coughlin Challenge Series – Match #3
Alex Coughlin vs. Karl Fredericks
Coughlin and Fredericks were LA DOJO classmates, but Fredericks graduated last Summer and Coughlin is still a young lion. In previous singles competition, Fredericks is 3-0-1 against Coughlin. A slap from Coughlin changes the tone of the match from respectful to intense. Coughlin takes down Fredericks with a shoulder tackle, but Fredericks is able to come back with a leaping crossbody and leaping elbow drop for two. The fans are delighted as Fredericks throws kicks at Coughlin’s back. Coughlin shuts him down with a flying shoulder tackle. He also belly-to-belly suplexes Fredericks out of the corner after blocking Fredericks corner splash. He does some damage to Fredericks’ mid-section, which Fredericks stops with a fallaway enzuigiri. Fredericks lands his corner splash successfully along with a Shibata dropkick. Fredericks softens up Coughlin’s neck as Coughlin suplexes and slams Fredericks to wear him down. Fredericks gives Coughlin a receipt for the slap at the beginning of the match. After a neckbreaker across his back, Fredericks drops Coughlin with Manifest Destiny for the pin at 10:48. This was probably the strongest singles match for Coughlin in the U.S. to date, and one of Fredericks’ finest as well. Their familiarity with each other, their willingness to both give and take a beating, and a tuned in audience came together for a really engaging and fun battle. ***½
Fred Rosser, Rocky Romero & Wheeler YUTA vs. Clark Connors, Ren Narita & TJP
Rosser has new and significantly improved theme music. YUTA has Connors’ arm pre-damaged as he passes him off to Romero to continue his work. Although Connors escapes Romero’s grasp briefly when escaping the forever clothesline, a mi paso gets Romero back on the right track as he lands a double stomp to Connors’ shoulder after the fact. Rosser angers Narita when he knocks him and TJP off the apron upon tagging in to continue his teams beat down on Connors. Connors escapes the grasp of his opponents by taking out YUTA with a Pounce. Narita gives Rosser a return shot by booting him off the apron twice. His lack of focus enables YUTA to take him down with an enzuigiri. Rosser gets a tag and comes to blows with Narita, suplexing him onto the ring apron for a two count. Romero and YUTA even the odds for Narita, who found himself in a three-on-one situation momentarily. Rosser takes down Narita with the Gut Check, and impressively Narita is on his feet shortly after. He and Rosser knock each other down with simultaneous forearm shots. A series of offenses ends with Connors Goring Rosser. Romero avoids a Gore with Connors and hits him and TJP with Forever Clotheslines. Romero delivers a running Shiranui to Connors for two. Connors avoids another Shiranui and drops Romero beith a belly-to-back bomb. TJP hits the Mamba Splash, and Connors pins Romero at 11:19. This was effective in showing the teamwork of TJP and Connors, and furthering the tension between Rosser and Narita. I am really looking forward to that singles match, and enjoyed this action packed bout as well. ***¼
Adrian Quest, Chris Dickinson, Fred Yehi, Lio Rush & Yuya Uemura vs. Team Filthy (Tom Lawlor, Danny Limelight, JR Kratos, Royce Isaacs & Jorel Nelson)
Quest replaces Brody King, who was removed from the match “due to unforeseen circumstances.” Uemura is an NJPW Young Lion making his U.S. debut on this card. Former Team Filthy member Dickinson almost submits Lawlor early, but Kratos saves him from such a fate. The crowd cheers for future STRONG Championship challenger Rush as he attacks Limelight. Lawlor surprises Rush from behind, throwing him down to the canvas by his hair. Quest and Rush get in some offense on Lawlor, but Lawlor cuts off Quest with a knee strike to the face. When Quest is about to dive onto Lawlor, Isaacs cuts him off with a powerslam. Team Filthy gas each other up as they beat down Quest in their corner. They enjoy a Kaientai Deluxe-esque group pose as well. Quest escapes when he catches Isaacs with a lung blower and tags in Uemura. Uemura unloads on Limelight, but when Isaacs and Nelson break his pin attempt and attack him with a German suplex/knee strike combo, things break down between the two teams. Kratos throws Rush onto a group of people onto the outside. As Kratos is considering diving off the top and to the floor, Uemura slips underneath and gives him a running powerbomb! Rush saves Ueumura from Limelight’s Symbiote DDT. Rush hits him with a roundhouse kick and the Come-Up. Uemura then pins Limelight with a Deadbolt Suplex at 12:45. That was non-stop action and a lot of fun. We got to see more build-up between Lawlor and Rush en route to their title match, and Uemura earning a pinfall in his debut. It was nice to see Limelight get some moments to shine, even if he ate the pin, which seems to be the status he has been mostly relegated to. ***½
After the match, Kevin Kelly asks Tom Lawlor if he is worried about Rush taking his championship from him. Lawlor says he isn’t going to lose to someone who is better off playing video games and pretending to be a rapper on Bandcamp. Rush, however, tells Kelly that the title belongs to him. Uemura asks for a microphone. He tells the crowd that he wants to get stronger in the LA DOJO. He then calls out to “Shibata-san.” Katsuyori Shibata makes his way to the ring and formally welcomes Uemura into the LA DOJO with the same words he said to the DKC when he took him in as a student in January: “come with me.” He then hands Uemura an LA DOJO t-shirt. Uemura puts on the shirt and the two embrace before heading backstage.
Juice Robinson vs. Hikuleo
This match was set-up on yesterday’s episode of STRONG. Hikuleo does not budge from Robinson’s side headlocks or shoulder blocks. Hikuleo ends up belly-to-back suplexing his way out of a side headlock and pummeling Robinson on the mat. Robinson baits Hikuleo into a low bridge to the outside and wipes him out with a pescado. Hikuleo however sends Robinson face first into the ring post. Hikuleo wears down Robinson’s midsection. When Robinson looks to come off the top turnbuckle, he crotches Robinson on the top rope. Hikuleo looks to superplex Robinson, but Robinson slips under and powerbombs Hikuleo across the ring. Robinson blasts Hikuleo with the Left Hand of God and a lariat. Hikuleo comes back with his own lariat. When he goes for the Tongan Driller, Robinson victory rolls him into a pin at 9:00! Robinson is the best babyface, and his charisma went a long way in making Hikuleo look like a monster. Hikuleo lays out Robinson after the match. Given how much Robinson got out of Hikuleo, if I have to endure more Hikuleo matches, I am glad Robinson will be his opponent. **¼
Tomohiro Ishii vs. Moose
These two met in singles action in ROH five years ago. Ishii is one-third of the NEVER Openweight Six Man Tag Team Champions. Moose is able to withstand the thick Ishii’s running shoulder blocks. He blasts Ishii with a hard dropkick to the head in the corner. Moose puts Ishii in his crosshairs for a spear, but Ishii moves, sending Moose crashing into the metal guardrails. Even with this set back, Moose escapes a suplex from Ishii back in the ring and knocks him down with a forearm smash. Moments later, Ishii wins a forearm strike exchange and pulls off a vertical suplex on Moose. After a Saito suplex from Ishii and a pump kick from Moose, they knock one another down with two stereo clotheslines. Moose impressively walks the ropes and takes out Ishii with a high crossbody. He then gives Ishii a release powerbomb for two. Moose stops Ishii on the top rope with a dropkick, then brings him down into a Rydeen Bomb for two. Ishii kicks out after a lariat at one, but he stumbles twice before getting to his feet. Moose gets up after taking a lariat and nails Ishii with another dropkick. Ishii avoids a spear and German suplexes Moose. He turns Moose inside out with a lariat for two. After an enzuigiri, Ishii hits the Sliding D for two. Ishii then drops Moose with a brainbuster for the pin at 16:07. That was a damned war – just two men beating the hell out of each other from bell to bell. I loved it, the crowd loved it, and it was great fun. ***¾
Will Ospreay surprises the audience, making his first appearance since suffering a back and neck injury at Wrestling Dontaku in May. He throws a black satin bag into the corner before getting hold of a microphone. He informs the New Japan office that he is medically cleared. He teases being part of the G1 Climax before confirming he will NOT be in that tournament. He also will not be going to Japan, because he feels slighted that he was stripped of the IWGP World Heavyweight championship just because he had to miss four months due to an injury. He makes a damn fine point noting that Jon Moxley didn’t defend the IWGP U.S. Heavyweight title for over a year without issue. Osprey is willing to negotiate with New Japan if they want him to come back to Japan: they just need to put the word “Interim” in front of Shingo Takagi’s championship. He then pulls out his IWGP World Heavyweight championship belt out of his bag, claiming he is still the real champion, and that he is willing to defend the title against anyone, anywhere, at any time. In the meantime, he is going to make a home in NJPW STRONG, which he claims needs a star since nobody cares about the LA DOJO. This statement brings out Karl Fredericks and Clark Connors who are held back by staff. Ospreay also mocks TJP who he calls Shibata’s bitch boy. He throws a water bottle at TJP and then runs through the crowd before he, Connors, or Fredericks can retaliate. Lots of really interesting things can come from this promo both in America and Japan, and I am interested to see just how this title situation is resolved.
Jon Moxley & Yuji Nagata vs. The Good Brothers (Doc Gallows & Karl Anderson)
The Good Brothers won Tag Team Turbulence last month and are the current Impact Wrestling tag team champions. Moxley issued a challenge to the Good Brothers, without revealing his partner, which was accepted. Many thought it would be Sami Callihan who was feuding with Kenny Omega at the time in Impact, but it turned out to be Yuji Nagata, whose respect Moxley earned after defeating him in May. When Moxley goes for the Death Rider during their strike exchange, Anderson quickly bails. Gallows jabs Moxley in the throat and Nagata asks for a tag. Fireworks distract the crowd as The Good Brothers get the better of Nagata and maul him in their corner. Nagata fakes out Gallows and dropkicks his knee out in order to tag Moxley, who shotgun dropkicks Anderson to the floor and wipes out the Good Brothers with a double suicide dive. Moxley uses a chair for some offense, then in the ring German suplexes Anderson and then Gallows. He puts Anderson in the Bulldog Choke, converting into a piledriver for two. Gallows saves Anderson from the Death Rider. Nagata gets Anderson in a crossface but he gets to the ropes. Gallows sends Moxley into the barricades as Nagata does damage to Anderson’s left arm. Anderson comes to assist Gallows, and the Good Brothers give Moxley the Magic Killer through a chair set up by Moxley. Despite putting up a good fight, Nagata succumbs to the numbers game inside the ring and falls to the Magic Killer at 10:33. This meandered for a while and then ended. It wasn’t boring, and the fireworks distraction was hilarious, but there was very little of importance or substance in this match, which is true of many Good Brothers matches. **½
Gallows says no matter what continent or company, the Magic Killer puts everyone away. Anderson claims that they and the Elite packed everyone into the building. Anderson’s microphone cuts out and the back-up microphone doesn’t work either. Matt Rehwoldt tells them to “use their theatre voice” which is very funny. The Guerillas of Destiny then make their way to the ring. Of course, Tama Tonga and Karl Anderson were part of the core four who created BULLET CLUB, along with Prince Devitt and Bad Luck Fale. Commentary lets us know they’ve exchanged barbs on Twitter, and that Tonga may think the Good Brothers may have forgotten where they came from. A face to face confrontation leads to the Good Brothers heading for higher ground.
NEVER Openweight Championship
Jay White vs. David Finlay
White has been champion since 5.3.2021 and this is his first defense. White and Finlay are generational dojo rivals. White holds the overall singles record against White with 12 wins to 2 losses, but in their most recent singles match, Finlay defeated White during the New Japan Cup quarter-finals in March. They have also been feuding in Impact Wrestling of late. With this defense, White becomes the first person to defend the IWGP Heavyweight, IWGP United States, and NEVER Openweight Championships in the United States. He also lost the first two when he defended them in the U.S., so the speculation during this match was whether the third time will be the charm for White, or if history will repeat itself.
Finlay is the aggressor to start the match. White manages to shove him off the top turnbuckle and to the floor, with his hip hitting the edge of the ring on the way down. White drops Finlay with a Gourd Buster on the apron before attacking his hip and ribs back inside the ring. Finlay takes back control when White pursues him on the floor. He takes out White with a backdrop and a series of uppercuts. One shoulder block to the mid-section turns things back in White’s favor, and he drops Finlay with a DDT. Finlay cuts off White with an uppercut in the corner. White Hot Shots Finlay stomach first onto the top rope to stop his flurry of attacks. He’s able to suplex Finlay out of the ring and onto the ring apron again, and gets two with a uranage. Finally pummels White’s neck to block a belly-to-back superplex, and brings down the champion with his own superplex. White falls to the floor when hit with a forearm smash. When he re-enters the ring, White hits a lariat. Finlay retaliates with one of his own.White stops Finlay coming off the ropes with a Complete Shot, and then German suplexes him. Finlay blocks the Blade Runner and drops him with a pair of Blue Thunder Bombs for a two count. He gets White in a Rings of Saturn, but White is able to get to the ropes to escape. When Finlay goes for Trash Panda, White shoves Finlay into the referee and low blows him amidst the referee regaining his composure. Finlay gets in his own low blow as well, and then hits Trash Panda for two. Finlay blocks the Acid Drop, but succumbs to Prima Nocta. Finlay schoolboys White to block another Blade Runner attempt. Finlay goes for an Acid Drop, but White counters with the Blade Runner for the pin at 22:59. There was an interesting dynamic in this match, as the fans were much more into White than they were Finlay. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, but it is worth mentioning since it goes against the alignments of the competitors. This was really good. Finlay and White have excellent chemistry, and their familiarity with one another resulted in some really interesting counters and exchanges. I think the low blow stuff was superfluous, but it filled the Gedo shaped void one usually sees in White matches. This was both a rock solid first title defense for White and a very enjoyable semi-main event. ***¾
Former NEVER Champion Tomohiro Ishii then comes to the ring and stares down White. White tells Ishii he has already beaten him and tells him to scram. Ishii stares down White some more before leaving.
IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship
Lance Archer vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi
Archer has been champion since 7.21.2021 and this is his second defense. Tanahashi wisely goes with the strategy of taking out Archer’s left knee. We see the former champion Jon Moxley watching from the front row as Archer controls Tanahashi with a claw. Archer violently sends Tanahashi crashing into the guardrails after taking him out with a somersault senton off the apron. In the ring he takes down Tanahashi with the Derailer. Archer wastes time intimidating the time keeper, and even though Tanahashi is able to lay in a few shots on Archer when he re-enters the ring, Archer knocks him right back down. He kicks Tanahashi low when Tanahashi uses the ropes to get to his feet in the corner. Tanahashi is able to cut off Archer with a dragonscrew leg whip. Archer big boots Tanahashi to the outside and chokeslams him on the apron to keep firm control. Back in the ring, Archer tightrope walks the top rope into a moonsault press on Tanahashi. He drops Tanahashi with the Blackout, and becomes angry when Tanahashi gets his foot on the bottom rope to stop the pinfall. When his anger subsides he attempts a second Blackout, which Tanahashi counters into a Sling Blade. Tanahashi hits another Sling Blade. Archer pops up but is caught with Twist and Shout and a third Sling Blade. Archer splashes Tanahashi into the corner. He then exposes that entire corner by taking off the turnbuckle pad. Archer sets up a chair in the corner. It ends up backfiring as Tanahashi sends Archer head first into the chair and rolling him up for two. Archer cuts off Tanahashi with a lariat and pulls him into a Black Hole Slam for two. Tanahashi fights Archer off the top turnbuckle and lays him out with Aces High. The High Fly Flow lands on Archer’s lower back. He rolls Archer over and hits the High Fly Flow again to win the title at 19:26. Archer is a tremendous bully, and few are better at showing fortitude than Tanahashi, and this combination made for a great match. Tanahashi was able to weather the storm of Archer’s relentless onslaught, get in his leg attacks where he could, and string together offense when possible. It was great to see Tanahashi back on U.S. soil and to see the U.S. title back around the waist of a consistent New Japan competitor. ***¾
Moxley gives a scowl towards the ring, and we’re told he slammed down his beer and walked off. Archer tells Tanahashi has always had his respect, and his favorite memory is their G1 singles match they had in Korakuen Hall in 2019. He’s happy Tanahashi came to the United States for New Japan, but he wants him to come to AEW. Archer says when he does, he better step in the ring with him and defend that title. For now, he thanks Tanahashi, and gives him the space to celebrate his victory. Tanahashi then promises Archer “everything.” He then celebrates his title by telling the crowd he will be back, and then performing his signature Air Guitar celebration.