NJPW STRONG #79 – The New Beginning USA 2022 Part 3

Seattle, WA – 2.19.2022

Commentary is provided by Ian Riccaboni & Alex Koslov.

The morning of this episode, Hiroshi Tanahashi made his first defense of the U.S. Championship since winning it at Wrestle Kingdom 16:


IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. SANADA

NJPW “New Years Golden Series 2022 Night 14” – Hokkaido, Japan – 2.19.2022

Tanahashi has been champion since 1.5.2022 and this is his first defense. Tanahashi and SANADA are tied at three wins each in their six previous singles matches. SANADA won their first encounter, which also happened to take place in this same building. Tanahashi punches SANADA in the stomach in the corner after breaking a hold. Otherwise, the opening involves a lot of chain wrestling. Even when they go to the floor they trade wristlocks, although SANADA pulls Tanahashi face first into the ring post. SANADA basks in the claps from the crowd after putting Tanahashi in the Paradise Lock, mercifully dropkicking Tanahashi to free him from the humiliating hold. SANADA attacks Tanahashi’s neck with forearms and chest and throat with uppercuts. A flying forearm and flip senton off the second gets the champ a two count. Tanahashi fakes out SANADA before dropkicking him in the knee and taking him out with a dragonscrew leg whip. Tanahashi pays back SANADA with his own Paradise Lock and dropkick. He then wipes out SANADA on the floor with Aces High. Tanahashi does more damage to SANADA’s leg when he re-enters the ring. SANADA escapes a cloverleaf and O’Connor rolls Tanahashi into the Skull End position. Tanahashi escapes, drops SANADA with a Sling Blade, and goes for High Fly Flow. SANADA gets his knees up to block it, but it hurts his own leg as well. SANADA uses a moonsault press off the second rope to get Tanahashi into Skull End. When Tanahashi seems out of it, SANADA goes for a moonsault. Tanahashi gets his knees up to block! As they fight in a double front facelock, Tanahashi drops SANADA with two Twist and Shouts and a Total Anarchy. The Sling Blade gets the Ace a two count. SANADA rolls through the High Fly Flow and muscles Tanahashi up into a TKO. SANADA lands a moonsault onto Tanahashi’s back but misses one onto his chest. SANADA ends a strike exchange with several rolling forearm strikes. Tanahashi straight-jacket German suplexes SANADA for two. Tanahashi misses the High Fly Flow. SANADA uses his legs to roll Tanahashi into the Japanese Leg Roll Clutch for the pin at 29:26. The story here was simple: Tanahashi and SANADA had become so familiar with each other that it was impossible for either of them to pull off their finishers. SANADA had the benefit of being alert and capable when Tanahashi crashed and burned on a High Fly Flow, catching the champion unexpectedly in a clutch. It was a big moment as SANADA finally earned his first singles title in New Japan, and did so while displaying a rare amount of emotion for him. It’s very peculiar that both of Tananashi’s reigns ended so quickly, but I am very interested in what SANADA’s output as champion looks like. Just, nobody from House of Torture, please. ****

Now onto this week’s episode!

Kevin Knight & The DKC vs. Midnight Heat (Ricky Gibson & Eddie Pearl)

Midnight Heat were the DEFY Wrestling tag team champions at the time this match took place, and this is their NJPW debut. As you’d expect from the name, they’re an 80s throwback team with satin jackets and a sweet theme song that sounds like Kavinsky or NightStop. The Dojo students get the better of Midnight Heat in the opening minutes. Ribson and Pearl eventually catch DKC with “Back Sabbath”, a side Russian leg sweep/back cracker combo. They wear down DKC’s back and shoulder, and prevent DKC from tagging Knight after a couple miscalculations. DKC does finally tag Knight after taking out Pearl with a karate kick. Knight splashes Gibson in the corner and lands a running Mad Splash. He wipes out Pearl with his signature dropkick. Knight shoulder tackles Gibson into a sunset flip from DKC for a nearfall. Knight tries a sunset flip out of the corner on Gibson, but Gibson sits down on the attempt and grabs the ropes to get the pin at 9:18. Midnight Heat were solid if not unspectacular, but the match was not necessarily structured in a way that allows for them to be shown in their best light. Knight and DKC continue to have great showings and win over audiences. **

Fred Rosser vs. Gabriel Kidd

Kidd became mired in controversy a few days prior to this match being aired due to some podcast comments. He even missed the STRONG “Rivals” taping two days prior – unsure if that was his choice or New Japans. What the future holds for him is to be determined. Regardless of that unpleasantness, this was quite a fight. They chopped each other’s chests raw, smacked each other silly with open hand shots, and threw some headbutts for good measure. Rosser took out Kidd with the Gut Check. Kidd stopped his clubbing blows to the chest and back with a surprise lariat and a brainbuster. Kidd missing a moonsault gave Rosser an opening for a running kick to the side of the head and a lariat of his own. Kidd kicked out of a running Death Valley Driver, but an Emerald Flowsion got Rosser the pin at 14:52. These two are very good at putting on engaging slugfests, so this was fun to watch, albeit a little longer than it needed to be. ***¼

“US of Jay” Open Challenge #2
Jay White vs. Jay Lethal

Hikuleo is in White’s corner. Lethal was a surprise opponent, answering White’s “U-S-of-Jay” Open Challenge. Hikuleo gets in the way of Lethal’s suicide dive attempt, so Lethal settles for a dropkick on the floor when Hikuleo isn’t paying attention. White catches Lethal off guard with a DDT inside of the ring, and then gives him a Saito suplex. Lethal knocks White back to the floor after ducking a boot and successfully lands his suicide dive. White blocks Hail to the King, but after an inverted Finlay Roll, Lethal connects with it successfully for a two count. White German suplexes Lethal from the mat and takes him down with a neckbreaker. Lethal avoids the Blade Runner, but Lethal throws the referee out of the way so he can stomp Lethal in the corner. He also drives Lethal’s knee across his shoulder. Lethal surprises White with a superkick and locks him in a figure four. Once White escapes using the ropes, he eggs on Lethal to strike, and Lethal wisely kicks out his knee instead. Lethal then ends a forearm strike exchange with an Ace Crusher. Lethal’s knee buckles when White evades the Lethal Injection. Lethal counters the Blade Runner twice. When he tries the Lethal Injection again, White chop blocks his leg out. Two Cobra Clutch suplexes and the Blade Runner gets White the pin at 20:07. Lethal was an exciting surprise for the crowd as well as a logical follow up to Christopher Daniels. This kept a good pace and kept me engaged the entire time. They each fought for their finishers, with White simply wrestling a smarter (and on occasionally dirtier) match, scoring with the Blade Runner before Lethal could pull off the Lethal Injection. You got to see a lot of emotion and character elements from both throughout the match which made everything connect with the audience more easily. Very good stuff. ***¾

White gets on the microphone and says he would gladly face Lethal again, maybe even in AEW. But for now, Lethal is old news, and he’s looking to the future. He confirms the “U-S-of-Jay” challenge is still open, and ponders who will answer next.

Speaking of Jay White, on the same night of this episode, White kicked the Guerrillas of Destiny out of the BULLET CLUB and welcomed The Good Brothers back in. Given Tonga is a founding member of the BULLET CLUB, this was a huge moment for New Japan, and happened on an Impact show of all places. The G.O.D. will be in Japan shortly for the New Japan Cup, so it will be interesting to see the fallout of this story in New Japan proper. What will fellow founding BULLET CLUB member, Bad Luck Fale, have to say? And in the U.S., does Hikuleo stay with White and his tag team partner Chris Bey, or side with his real life brothers Tama and Tanga?

This week’s XTRA match is a replay of the eight-man tag team match from STRONG Episode 62. You can read my review here.

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