Tampa, FL 4.9.2022
Commentary is provided by Ian Riccaboni & Matt Rehwoldt.
Hikuleo vs. Andy Brown
Hikuleo comes out to new and improved theme music. This is Brown’s NJPW debut. I believe the only time I have seen him before tonight is his two PWG appearances. Brown landed a seated dropkick through the ropes and a senton splash, and almost pinned the BULLET CLUB’s monster with a Superman Punch to the back of the head. A pop-up punch and snap slam turned things back into Hikuleo’s favor, and a chokeslam got him the pin right after at 4:34. With the BULLET CLUB storyline going on and where Hikuleo’s loyalties lie in question, there was no question he was going to gobble up the newcomer. *¼
Josh Alexander vs. Karl Fredericks
This is Alexander’s first time in NJPW since “Battle in the Valley” nearly six months ago. Fredericks smothers him with offense, not giving Alexander any chance to recover. It takes Alexander exploding out of the corner with a big boot after Fredericks sent him back first into the buckles to turn things in his favor. When Fredericks fights back in the corner and seems to have Alexander posed for MD, Alexander counters with a release Gourd Buster. Fredericks fires up with uppercuts during a strike exchange, and follows Alexander into opposite corners with knee strikes before elbowing and kicking Alexander down into a Shibata dropkick. Alexander uses the ropes to escape an STF and evades a corner yakuza kick, enabling him to pull Fredericks to the apron for a falling slam. He follows that up with his signature crossbody to Fredericks’ lower back. Alexander catches a fallaway kick from Fredericks, but Fredericks escapes an ankle lock attempt and lands a springboard dropkick to Alexander after draping him across the top rope. Fredericks gets a couple of close nearfalls, but Alexander is able to block another MD attempt. He gives Fredericks a rolling elbow and a German suplex before delivering the C4 Spike for the pin at 14:14. Fredericks losing to Daniels made me wonder if STRONG had cast him aside for other prospects, and him losing to Alexander instills some of those same feelings. However, Fredericks had a great showing in front of a lively crowd, and with Alexander now 5-0 in STRONG, I can at least see a purpose behind Fredericks’ loss that I didn’t necessarily see against Daniels. Anyways, this was very good. ***½
As Fredericks is about to exit the ring, QT Marshall, Aaron Solow and Nick Comoroto of AEW’s Factory unit make their way to the ring. In so many words, Marshall calls Shibata and New Japan’s LA DOJO overrated and offers Fredericks a spot in the Factory. Naturally, Fredericks refuses the offers and succumbs to 3 on 1 beat down. Marshall is ready to strike Fredericks with a gold match when Clark Connors and Yuya Uemura come to their fellow DOJO brethrens aid. Fredericks expresses interest in fighting the Factory, and a couple of days later, a trios match between Fredericks, Uemura, and Connors and the Factory was announced for “Windy City Riot.” Of all the outsiders NJPW could have brought in…
Fred Rosser & Eddie Kingston vs. Daniel Garcia & Fred Yehi
This is Rosser and Kingston’s first time teaming together. Yehi and Garcia teamed once during a trios match last Summer, coincidently teaming with Rosser. Kingston and Garcia have to be kept apart before the bell by their respective partners. When he’s tagged in to face Yehi, he can’t help but assault Garcia, with Yehi and Rosser once again having to physically pull their partners apart. Kingston takes down Yehi with an STF, then once again fights Garcia against the guardrails and bites on his forehead. Yehi attacks Rosser from behind while he’s focused on this brawl, and Garcia joins his partner in beating down Mr. No Days Off in their corner. Garcia attacks Rosser’s left leg while Yehi attacks Rosser’s left shoulder. Rosser manages to knock them down with a double clothesline and tag in Kingston. Kingston machine gun chops Garcia in the corner, but an attack from behind by Yehi assists his partner in attacking Kingston on the mat. Kingston throws Garcia across the ring with a butterfly suplex and tags Rosser back in. Kingston is able to rid of Garcia for Rosser with a uranage suplex, though Yehi then takes him out with a German suplex after the fact. Kingston Backfists Garcia when he re-enters the ring. He then Backfists Rosser into the Gut Feeling from Rosser for the pin at 9:27. You don’t get heated, intense brawls of this nature often on STRONG, and that intensity vibe set the tone for what became a really engaging, unique tag team encounter. I want to see Garcia and Kingston go at it in a singles match on a future NJPW show very badly ***¾
“US of Jay” Open Challenge #4
Jay White vs. Chris Sabin
White has recently been embroiled in a feud with Sabin and Alex Shelley, his former partners from his time in the New Japan Dojo as well as Ring of Honor, in Impact Wrestling. White defeated Shelley at “Sacrifice”, then with Chris Bey as his partner split tag team matches against Shelley and Sabin. This is Sabin’s first New Japan match since Power Struggle 2018. White throws chops at Sabin, but immediately rolls to the floor when Sabin looks to retaliate. Sabin takes him out with a suicide dive, enavling him to get in his chops and a PK. Sabin gains momentum with a series of offenses, but is cut off when White crotches him on the top turnbuckle. He gives Sabin a backbreaker on the ring apron and further attacks his back and neck inside of the ring. Sabin rolls through a snapmare and delivers an enzuigiri to buy some recovery time. After a few shots to the head, Sabin drops White with a DDT, but White comes back with one of his own. Sabin then plants White with a tornado DDT for a nearfall. White escapes a Cradle Shock attempt and drops Sabin with a snap Saito suplex. He strings a Complete Shot, German suplex, and uranage together, but only gets a two count. Sabin escapes a Blade Runner and yakuza kicks White in the corner. A battle of chops ends with a pair of lariats from Sabin. White counters the Cradle Shock into the Blade Runner for the pin at 18:12. This match was engaging, but in a different way than the previous match. This one had a little less sizzle but a lot of substance, and it continues the trend of White’s Blade Runner being a match ender no matter when it’s hit. It’s kind of amazing Sabin is still this good, and the connection he and White have as mentor/mentee turned sour made this a very enjoyable encounter. ***¾
Jay White then tells the audience they have a fair bit of business to discuss. Since the last set of STRONG tapings, the entire BULLET CLUB in Japan except for Jado abandoned the Guerrillas of Destiny, Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa. White says he has cut the dead weight from the BULLET CLUB, and he may not be done doing so. He is the one that decides who stays and who goes, and that there are two sides of the fence: with the BULLET CLUB, and without the BULLET CLUB. This brings out Hikuleo, the younger brother of Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa, who finds himself caught in the crosshairs of this BULLET CLUB civil war. White nervously explains to Hikuleo that his brother’s time in the BULLET CLUB has expired, but that Hikuleo’s time has not. He calls Hikuleo the future of BULLET CLUB, and asks him to throw up the “too sweet.” Hikuleo pulls the microphone out of White’s hand. He says White’s correct in stating that he is the future of BULLET CLUB, but he wonders why the future can’t start right now. White says he may just have to teach at Hikuleo that while the future may be his, it is still his era. Hikuleo stares White down as White heads to the back. I have to admit, I am fully immersed in this BULLET CLUB story.
STRONG is taking a break next weekend since “Windy City Riot” is taking place at the same time STRONG goes live. I guess since “Resurgence” and “Battle in the Valley” started on West Coast time they were okay with a STRONG episode airing a few hours beforehand.