Chicago, IL – 4.16.2022
Commentary is provided by Kevin Kelly and Matt Rehwoldt.
Clark Connors, Karl Fredericks & Yuya Uemura vs. The Factory (QT Marshall, Aaron Solow & Nick Comoroto)
This match came about as a result of The Factory trying to recruit Karl Fredericks, him turning them down, and a war between the LA DOJO and Factory arising from that incident. Fredericks did a remarkable job fighting off all of the Factory early on, with Uemura and Connors lending a hand to even the odds. However, when they came into the ring to even the odds when Comoroto broke Fredericks’ pin on Marshall, it allowed Solow to sneak attack Fredericks from behind and send him into the buckles and for the Factory to take over. A missed lionsault from Marshall gave Fredericks the space to tag in Connors. Marshall cut off his dive with a knee from the apron, but Connors got revenge by spearing Solow to the floor and onto Marshall. Comoroto saved Solow who was triple teamed in the ring, and kinda sorta delivered a triple Samoan drop to his opponents. Fredericks and Connors wiped out Solow and Comoroto with stereo suicide dives, leaving Marshall with Uemura. Uemura looked for the arm trap overhead suplex, but as the referee was looking at the competitors outside, Marshall was able to low blow Uemura without penalty. Marshall then dropped Uemura with a Diamond Cutter for the pin at 11:56. I really don’t understand The Factory’s involvement in NJPW, as even AEW fans dislike them, so it isn’t like their involvement would attract their audience. That said, Solow had a very good showing, and I think him facing Connors would be a blast. Hopefully the LA DOJO prevails soon and the Factory disappears after that. **¾
Fred Rosser, Chris Dickinson, Josh Alexander, Alex Coughlin & Ren Narita vs. Team Filthy (JR Kratos, Danny Limelight, Jorel Nelson, Royce Isaacs & Black Tiger)
Another U.S. PPV, another Team Filthy ten man tag match. Rosser recently made it known he wants another crack at Tom Lawlor’s STRONG Openweight championship, so defeating Lawlor’s faction would only strengthen his case. Alexander is so far undefeated in NJPW which has put him into the championship conversation as well. Team Filthy ended up catching Dickinson, a former member of their stable, and beating him down in their corner. Limelight’s swagger gave Dickinson enough time to turn him inside out with a lariat and tag in Rosser, who ran roughshod on the opposition. Kratos and Coughlin, who have also been at odds, got to throwdown against each other, and Coughlin wowed the crowd with a delayed vertical suplex to the big man. Right after, Coughlin mi paso’d Limelight into Alexander’s arms, resulting in Alexander dropping Limelight on the ring apron, which was super slick. Kratos wiped out everyone on the floor with a big Undertaker dive to “holy shit” chants. The only two not affected were Rosser and Tiger. Rosser avoided a Tiger Driver and gave Tiger the Gut Check. He then locked in the Backlund approved Crossface chicken wing to get the submission victory for his team at 13:50. This had some very good individual moments, but ultimately was the weakest of the three Team Filthy ten man tags. **¾
After the match, Tom Lawlor attacks Rosser with his belt. He is interrupted by his opponent for tonight, Yuji Nagata. Nagata then challenges Lawlor to change their scheduled match from a non-title match to one for the STRONG Openweight Championship. After his manhood is questioned, Lawlor reluctantly agrees to put his title on the line.
NJPW STRONG Openweight Championship
Tom Lawlor vs. Yuji Nagata
Lawlor has been champion since 4.23.2021 and this is his ninth defense. This is also the first time the title is being defended outside of an episode of NJPW STRONG. Lawlor almost gets an early count out after rocking Nagata with a forearm shot on the floor, and then works on both Nagata’s left arm and leg inside the ring. When Nagata begins attacking his legs, Lawlor kicks out Nagata’s right leg so he can bring him down into a grounded rear naked choke, of which Nagata uses the ropes to escape. Lawlor follows him to the floor where he applies a guillotine choke, which Nagata escapes using an exploder suplex. Lawlor brilliantly escapes a crossface into a leg lock back inside of the ring. The crowd is jubilant when Nagata gets the ropes and gets Lawlor back into a crossface, and later when he escapes Lawlor’s sleeper with a Saito suplex. Lawlor keeps his confidence however, going back to the sleeper hold, and nailing a PK when it works. Nagata’s fighting spirit kicks in when he kicks out at two, so Lawlor grabs him in a sleeper, transitions into a straightjacket choke, and nails him in the back of the head with a knee strike for the pin at 13:57 to retain the title. What I dug the most about this was watching Lawlor move from a champion thrown off his game by having to accept a title defense seconds before the bell rang, and thus moving through a whole bunch of different strategies, into a champion with a strategy he was confident in and succeeding because of it. That story was enhanced thanks to Nagata’s resolve and the crowd’s admiration for him. I kind of liked that the STRONG title was only being defended on STRONG, but now that the toothpaste is out of the tube, I say send Lawlor to the G1 and have him defend it on the final night. ***½
United Empire (Jeff Cobb, Great-O-Khan, Aaron Henare, TJP, Mark Davis & Kyle Fletcher) vs. BULLET CLUB (Karl Anderson, Doc Gallows, Hikuleo, El Phantasmo, Chris Bey) & Scott Norton
Everyone in the United Empire aside from Cobb and TJP are making their NJPW U.S. debut on this show. Cobb and O-Khan are sporting their IWGP Tag Team championships they won last weekend. Scott Norton is proudly wearing the BULLET CLUB USA shirt, which is interesting since he turned down Kenny Omega’s invitation to join the group back in 2017. Although he is teaming with them tonight, commentary makes sure to let us know Hikuleo’s stance is unknown, accentuated by the fact that his tights have no BULLET CLUB logos or text. This match was wrestled for awhile like people who were excited to share a ring with Scott Norton. Things really cooked up when Fletcher and Davis took control in the home stretch. They wisely renamed their awesome Fidget Spinner finisher Corealis, which they used to pin Bey at 11:40. As a big fan of Aussie Open I was glad to see them get a big run of offense in at the end, and the confrontation between O-Khan and Cobb with the Good Brothers was a nice tease to a future tag match. As a whole, though, the match was a big ol’ pile of nothing. **½
Chicago Street Fight
FinJuice (David Finlay & Juice Robinson) & Brody King vs. TMDK (JONAH & Shane Haste) & Bad Dude Tito
You’ve likely read people on Twitter complaining about how needlessly long this match was. Those complaints are absolutely warranted and correct. I am curious if the match was artificially inflated as they figured out streaming issues on FITE, or if it was always intended to be that long. After all, it was announced with No Time Limit. This was your classic plunder match, and because it was in Chicago, the announcers constantly mention the LOD/Ahmed vs. NOD match from WrestleMania 13. Thankfully, no nooses here (just a cowbell used to choke someone out), but there was a fire extinguisher. The key issue in this feud has been between JONAH and Finlay, and that’s who it boiled down to. JONAH caned Finlay in the back as Haste and Tito held him in place. King and Robinson saved their partner with their own canes. Robinson wiped out Tito with the Left Hand of God and a spear through a door. JONAH landed a top rope splash onto King onto a ladder that was propped up between the guardrails and the edge of the ring. Finlay gave Haste a brainbuster onto a chair. JONAH brought a sledgehammer into the ring and Finlay brought in his shillelagh. JONAH struck first, and Robinson prevented him from smashing the shillelagh with the sledgehammer. Pulp Friction from Robinson led to Finlay giving JONAH the Acid Drop. Finlay blasted JONAH with the shillelagh three times before pinning him at 24:11. Finlay getting revenge for his brother was a great way to end this match, and possibly this rivalry. There was nothing bad about this at all, and the last few minutes were actually really great; this match was just interminable. They were teasing that this was Juice Robinson’s swan song from New Japan (it wasn’t) and that would’ve been a big bummer to go out with such a meh match. **¼
Jay White then comes to the ring for his open challenge. The video screen shows Jon Moxley backstage. He walks up to someone we can’t see and tells them “hey, go get them, Shooter!” Shota Umino throws his jacket over his shoulder and walks out. Umino and Moxley bonded after Moxley defeated him at “Dominion 2019.” He became Moxley’s tag team partner during the 2019 G1 Climax tournament, but were kept apart during the pandemic. In the meantime, Umino has been stationed in the U.K. since November 2019, including during the pandemic as part of his excursion. This is his first U.S. match since February 2020, and his first New Japan USA match since August 2019.
US of Jay Open Challenge #7
Jay White vs. Shota Umino
Umino attacked White right away, but White took over on the floor by sending Umino crashing chest first into the guardrails twice. Umino takes down White with a back elbow and lands a basement dropkick to take back over. Umino wins me over by using Daisuke Harada’s hip toss knee strike before giving White a reverse brainbuster for two. White caught Umino with a neck snap on the top rope and then dropped him right after with his signature DDT and a Blade Buster. He gives Umino some harsh words before dropping him with a uranage slam. Umino reels from White’s chops, finally ducking one and cracking White with a huge open hand strike across the jaw. It looks like Umino tried to set up White for the Death Rider after White kicked out of a pump-handle slam, but White backed him to the corner to escape. Umino blocks the Blade Runner and German suplexes White before taking him down with a running neckbreaker. Umino underhooks White again, and White pulls him into the Blade Runner for the pin at 15:45. Umino is definitely still a bit rough around the edges, but it is clear his affiliation with Moxley is doing him a major service in the eyes of the Western audience. Still, this was a far cry from the quality of match Jay White’s other open challenges have produced. **¾
Tomohiro Ishii vs. Minoru Suzuki
This match came about due to Suzuki challenging Ishii at “Lonestar Shootout.” Surprisingly, this is only their sixth singles match, with Suzuki leading the series 3-2. After beating the shit out of each other to start, Suzuki attacks Ishii’s left arm. Ishii can’t help himself but to continue using that arm to throw strikes and even powerslam Suzuki, and it’s clear that the pain made it difficult for him to follow up and sustain his offense. As Suzuki threw forearms at him, Ishii would use his head to push Suzuki back to the corner where he dropped him with a forearm shot. Not to be denied, three dense sounding forearms from Suzuki left Ishii a lifeless heap. Ishii awakens from a PK, and he and Suzuki knock each other to opposing corners from a forearm strike battle. Ishii fought out of a GSP attempt and blasted Suzuki with a headbutt to the jaw to buy some rest time. Suzui kicked out of a sliding lariat. Ishii blasted him with multiple headbutts and a lariat before dropping him with a brainbuster for the pin at 18:46. People love seeing these two hit each other hard, so they did just that. What made this different from the rest of Suzuki’s U.S. matches is Ishii got way more offense and generally has better body language than most. This show was in desperate need of a pick me up, and Ishii and Suzuki provided it. ***¾
Eddie Kingston makes his way to the ring. He calls Ishii an amazing fighter and a Strong Style Pitbull, but says that he is the living embodiment of King’s Road. He challenges Ishii to a match in Washington, D.C. on May 14th, to which Ishii immediately accepts. I am so pumped for that.
Jon Moxley vs. Will Ospreay
All of the United Empire is in Ospreay’s corner. Ospreay welcomed Moxley as Moxley entered through the crowd and they brawled before getting into the ring. Although Moxley had control, Ospreay chopped him to the floor when took a seat on the top turnbuckle, and then wiped Moxley out with a twisting press. Ospreay is even the first one to strike blood, busting open Moxley by throwing a chair at his head. Moxley caught a back handspring from Ospreay, giving him a German suplex, and then shotgun dropkicking him off of the apron and into the guardrails. This busts open Ospreay, who is able to catch Moxley on the ring apron with an OsCutter. He then jumped off the top rope, over the guardrail, and gave Moxley an elbow drop through a table! Moxley kicks out of a shooting star press back inside of the ring. He blocks an OsCutter and drops Ospreay with the Death Rider, but Ospreay nails the Hidden Blade quickly before collapsing next to Moxley. After knocking each other down with lariats, Moxley gave Ospreay a piledriver. Ospreay flipped through another lariat attempt and gave Moxley a sit-out powerbomb for two. Moxley ducks Hidden Blade and slams his elbow into the side of Ospreay’s head before applying a sleeper. Ospreay lands on his feet out of a sleeper suplex and finally hits the OsCutter, but only for a two count. Moxley blocks another Hidden Blade with a lariat. He curb stomps Ospreay for two. Ospreay hook kicks Moxley after escaping Death Rider and takes him down with a Spanish Fly. He finally hits Hidden Blade and Moxley gets his shoulder up at two. Moxley blocks the Storm Breaker with two Death Riders. Ospreay kicks out, so Moxley immediately applies a sleeper choke, but the referee calls for the bell saying he counted the three after the second Death Rider at 21:24. It seemed like a possible mess up at first, but the amount of dispute from Ospreay over the count makes it pretty clear it was designed in such a way to leave doubt, and they did it really well. The match itself was exciting, with a lot of intensity, counters, and big kick outs. The quality of the match also makes digesting the ending easier, as I absolutely want to see them wrestle again. This definitely exceeded expectations. ****¼
Moxley says Will Ospreay earned his respect by accepting his challenge tonight and giving him a hell of a fight. He says Ospreay doesn’t run, which is more than he can say for Hiroshi Tanahashi. Moxley says Tanahashi has been ducking him for three years, and he is getting damn impatient. He says Washington D.C. will be Tanahashi’s last chance to accept his challenge. Either Tanahashi can show up and agree to the fight, or Moxley can drag Tanahashi by his stupid ponytail to D.C. himself. Moxley says he will be the new Ace in New Japan.
The last two matches saved this show from being a bust. It was easily the lowest quality of the three U.S. PPV’s in the STRONG era and had insufferable production problems during the live viewing. Those issues will need to be cleaned up if NJPW wants to have a more significant impact in the U.S.