Long Beach, CA – 9.18.2021
Commentary is provided by Kevin Kelly & Alex Koslov.
With AEW Rampage beginning on 10 PM EST on Friday nights, starting with this episode, NJPW moved the weekly STRONG debuts to 8 PM EST on Saturdays. It’s also the first episode with fans!
Alex Coughlin Challenge Series – Match #5
Alex Coughlin vs. Tomohiro Ishii
Ishii absorbs Coughlin’s onslaught of forearm strikes. Ishii knocks down Coughlin with shoulder blocks. He literally walks into Coughlin as Coughlin throws more forearm shots, and knocks Coughlin off of his feet with one hard shot. Coughlin manages to reverse a corner whip and knocks down Ishii with a dropkick. Coughlin then delivers his signature flying shoulder tackle and takes over Ishii with a gutwrench suplex. Ishii has himself a violence party in the corner, but when he takes down Coughlin with a suplex, Coughlin sits up in defiance. He absorbs some kicks from Ishii before backdropping the Stone Pitbull. Coughlin surprisingly does not go for a pin after a lariat, instead adding a bridging fallaway slam to the equation, but Ishii gets his shoulders up at the last moment. Coughlin gets another nearfall after a spear. Ishii German suplexes and lariats Coughlin for two. The vertical drop brainbuster puts down the young lion at 9:13. Coughlin has a similar build and tenacity to Ishii, so it was completely believable that he would be able to match against him so well. However, nobody is as intense or focused as Ishii, and that brainbuster shows no mercy. This was for sure Coughlin’s best Challenge Match so far, and a heck of a match to bring us into the live crowd era of STRONG. ***½
Hiroshi Tanahashi, Karl Fredericks & Clark Connors vs. Stray Dog Army (Bateman, Barrett Brown & Misterioso)
The SDA beat down Fredericks in their corner. Fredericks escapes their grasp by catching Brown with a jumping crossbody. Even with a poke to the eye, Connors gets the better of Brown with multiple suplexes. Tanahashi and Fredericks prevent Misterioso and Bateman from swarming Connors. Fredericks and Tanahashi drop stereo elbows onto Brown, and with Connnors jam on some air guitar in celebration. Misterioso kicks Connors in the back as he hits the ropes. He also holds onto his boot so Brown can attack and suplex Connors into the corner. Even after Connors throws Bateman, Misterioso and Brown yank Tanahashi and Fredericks off the apron so their beatdown on the Wild Rhino can continue. Luckily he catches Bateman with a powerslam not long after and tags Tanahashi. The Ace runs roughshod on the SDA. Bateman knees Tanahashi very hard in the back of the head to stop his momentum. Brown takes down Fredericks with a Complete Shot for two. Fredericks comes back with a spinebuster on Brown, and pins him with Manifest Destiny at 13:33. They lost a little steam during the comeback and the opening could’ve been truncated, but overall this was fun. Tanahashi let the other five individuals be the focus of the match, mostly exiting to give those not invested in STRONG something to be excited about. ***
The winning team is heading backstage when Karl Fredericks decides to head back to the ring and ask for a microphone. Will Ospreay’s negative comments about the LA DOJO at “Resurgence” are still swirling in his head. He also remembers that Ospreay said he would defend his IWGP World Heavyweight Title anytime, anywhere, and challenges Ospreay for that title on a future episode of STRONG. Ospreay makes his way to the ring and holds the title in Fredericks face. They get into a brawl that ends with Ospreay laying out Fredericks with the Hidden Blade. As he stands on Fredericks head, Ospreay admits Fredericks had the guts to call him out. He agrees to face Fredericks in Dallas, calling him a “young boy” in the process.
Juice Robinson vs. Hikuleo
The only way to win is to put your opponent through a table. Commentary even clarifies it must be an offensive move that puts the other competitor through a table. This match was set up due to Hikuleo putting Robinson through a table on STRONG #55, and Robinson then saving his friend Matt Morris from being put through a table by Hikuleo on STRONG #56, both of which occurred after Robinson defeated Hikuleo at “Resurgence” and Hikuleo attacked him afterwards. A table is set up ringside, with Robinson wiping out Hikuleo on the floor with a cannonball senton after Hikuleo moves away from the table. Two tables end up in the ring, and Robinson dropicks a third into Hikuleo’s face. Hikuleo throws Robinson off the top and onto a table that is laying flat. When Hikuleo goes to spear Robinson through the table, Robinson moves and he drives himself through the table instead. Robinson blasts Hikuleo with the Left Hand of God and places him on a table. Hikuleo avoids his top rope senton, causing Robinson to crash onto, but not through, the table. That looked painful as hell. Hikuleo successfully puts Robinson through a table with the Tongan Driller at 9:57 to win the match. I’m glad they kept this short – table matches aren’t terribly exciting in general, and this was no exception. The two fake outs and the finish were the high points, and my God did Robinson’s table bump look brutal. All I can say is that I can’t know how to hear any more about tables! **½