Washington, D.C. – 5.14.2022
Commentary is provided by Ian Riccaboni & Alex Koslov.
Karl Fredericks vs. Ren Narita
This was an interesting pairing, and a tale of two different students. Fredericks is the first LA DOJO graduate, who finds himself in a bit of a rut. Narita is still a young lion, but has developed into a fan favorite with many fantastic performances. It’s similar to the dynamic Fredericks had with Coughlin at “Resurgence.” Two particular moments stuck out to me, as it was clear they utilized signature Dojo moves to establish dominance: Fredericks resisted Narita’s Boston Crab, and then later, Narita moved out of the way of a Shibata dropkick. After a t-bone suplex, Narita went for the Narita Special. Fredericks rolled once, but Narita managed to lock it in, and Fredericks fought his way to the ropes to escape. Narita then put Fredericks in a Cobra Twist after a sleeper hold, and then went back to the sleeper. Fredericks spinned out of it, gave Narita the neckbreaker across his back, and then delivered Manifest Destiny for the pin at 10:32. That was a nice callback to their first match where Narita won because he was able to thwart the MD. Fredericks had needed to get some momentum going, and this hard fought bout was a good way to do so, but it is clear that fans are ready to see Narita in the spotlight as well. ***¼
As Fredericks is heading backstage, he is blindsided with a forearm smash from QT Marshall. Aaron Solo and Nick Comoroto join in on the beatdown. Marshall says Fredericks will rue the day he turned down his offer to join The Factory, and says he’ll see him in Philadelphia, Marshall clobbers Fredericks with his gold watch, and the Factory stands tall. Where were Fredericks’ DOJO mates?!
Fred Rosser, Tanga Loa, David Finlay, Yuya Uemura & The DKC vs. Team Filthy (Tom Lawlor, JR Kratos, Danny Limelight, Jorel Nelson & Royce Isaacs)
Four PPV’s in a row with a Team Filthy ten man tag. I understand they need to make room for some of the New Japan flyovers, but I really think for being the backbone of STRONG, Team Filthy deserve something more substantial on these cards. Previous matches had numerous issues mixed together, but here the focus was on the pending STRONG Openweight title match between Rosser and Lawlor. When Rosser became legal, he couldn’t help himself, and brought Lawlor, who was not legal, to the floor for a running powerslam. Both teams had to restore order. Later when they were both the legal men, Lawlor knocked out Rosser with an enzuigiri, but not before Rosser took him down with a rolling clothesline. The other notable thing from this match was it was the first time the U.S. audience got to see Tanga Loa since he joined the Hontai faction. It’s taken some getting used to seeing him on the Tecnico side, but he’s done really well thus far. Rosser got the crossface chicken wing on Lawlor, and Lawlor threw himself and Rosser to the floor. Limelight flubbed the Symbiote DDT on DKC, but then used the ropes for a compact tornado DDT to get the win for Team Filthy at 14:48. I am happy with that result as it seems Limelight has become the designated fall guy for Limelight ever since he signed with MLW and he could use the credibility boost. The match was as good as pretty much all the other big Team Filthy matches. ***
Great-O-Khan vs. Chase Owens
Owens and Bad Luck Fale defeated O-Khan and Jeff Cobb for the IWGP Tag Team Titles two weeks earlier in a three way match where neither of them were pinned. O-Khan and Cobb also have a rematch for those titles lined up at Dominion on June 12th. This was Owens’ first U.S. NJPW match since STRONG 19. The crowd was very into O-Khan, who further endeared himself by trying to make Owens kiss his foot and sitting on the back of his head in the corner. Owens gave him a taste of the same kind of medicine by pulling O-Khan’s throat into the top rope and pulling on his long ponytail. He even mocked O-Khan’s Mongolian chops, but O-Khan made him pay by dishing out the genuine article. Owens took down O-Khan with the C-Trigger and Jewel Heist, only earning a two count. O-Khan backdropped his way out of a package piledriver. As he went for the Eliminator, Owens slipped out, schoolboyed O-Khan, and used the ropes to pin him at 8:46. That is a baffling choice. O-Khan had gained some fans through a heroic act in Japan, has an upcoming tag title match against Owens, AND debuted in AEW a couple of weeks later. Why on Earth you’d have Owens get the duke here I do not understand. Super solid match, decision notwithstanding. **¾
TMDK (JONAH, Mikey Nicholls & Shane Haste) & Bad Dude Tito vs. United Empire (Jeff Cobb, Aaron Henare, Mark Davis & Kyle Fletcher)
This is Nicholls’ return to NJPW, last seen in December 2019 teaming with Jeff Cobb in the 2019 World Tag League. He and Haste are a well established team, perhaps best known for their days as TM-61 and The Mighty in NXT. Tito was attacked by all Members of the Empire, but Haste grabbing Henare’s legged enabled Tito to wipe him out with a spin kick to the back of the head. Henare is then beaten down by all of the Empire until Henare drops Haste with a Samoan Drop. The excellent wrestling between Haste/Nicholls and Aussie Open made that a match-up I hope to see in this year’s World Tag League. After those teams took each other down, Henare and Tito wiped each other out, and Cobb and JONAH sent everyone else out, leaving the meaty team leader’s leg to duke it out. It ended with both men laying after Cobb clobbered JONAH with a lariat, and JONAH took him down with a spear. Haste and Nicholls wiped out Davis with a clothesline/chop block combo, and then planted Fletcher with Thunder Valley (a stalled double spinebuster) for the pin at 12:09. With the Empire defeating them last month, that leaves the two sides at 1-1 in their rivalry, and the United Empire 0-2, which isn’t a good omen for Ospreay in the main event. The highlight of this match was the tag match that took place within this eight-person tag, though the crowd roaring for JONAH and Cobb was quite great. After the match, it looks as if Bad Dude Tito is officially welcomed into TMDK. ***¼
Brody King vs. Minoru Suzuki
Although King avoided Suzuki’s rope-capture armbar, he accidentally chopped a ring post, giving Suzuki plenty to work with back in the ring. King shoved Suzuki to the corner to stop him from twisting on his wrist and arm, following up with a cannonball splash. King’s hand is too hurt for a Ganso Bomb which delights Suzuki. Suzuki even welcomes chops from King. King unwisely uses his hurt hand enough times for Suzuki to regain control. Suzuki kicks out King’s leg so he can lock in his sleeper hold. He attempts the GSP, but King backdrops his way free. King overhead throws Suzuki when Suzuki goes for another sleeper, and Suzuki manipulates King’s fingers when King tries another Ganso Bomb. King settles for a big lariat, and then two more after that, before successfully pulling off the Ganso Bomb for the pin at 9:05. The crowd seemed very surprised by this result, but knowing Suzuki is fine to lose in NJPW USA and what I felt was to come in the next match, it made total sense to me. It was unique from all of Suzuki’s typical U.S. matches, and only second to the Ishii bout in terms of quality during this particular U.S. sojourn. ***½
Eddie Kingston vs. Tomohiro Ishii
After Ishii defeated Suzuki at “Windy City Riot”, Kingston came out to challenge Ishii in person, and it instantly became the most anticipated match on this card for myself and many others. In some ways, this match was the story of Kingston proving himself while also overestimating himself. Kingston is quite a striker, or at least fancies himself to be one. However, Ishii is a striker unlike most, and with Kingston so dazed early on, Kingston had to take him down with a divorce court to gain some leeway on the Stone Pitbull. Kingston rattled Ishii in the corner, but wore himself down in the process, opening himself up for a Saito suplex from Ishii. Kingston came back with a clothesline and utilized a Stretch Plum variation. But then Kingston opened up an open hand strike exchange with Ishii. Ishii hung with him the whole time, and each of them German suplexed one another and left both men laying. It seemed Koingston had Ishii down for the count with a half-nelson suplex, but Ishii got his shoulder up right before the three count. Kingston dropping Ishii with a DDT, and Ishii rebounding with a Sliding D right away was quite the moment. It takes two Backfists to the Future for Kingston to put Ishii down, but in between Ishii nailed him with a headbutt, meaning Kingston could not capitalize when Ishii went down. When he did come to, Kingston looked for a 2k1 Bomb, only for Ishii to knee Kingston in the head and deliver another headbutt. A lariat from Ishii led to the vertical drop brainbuster and the win at 16:07. That was the hard-hitting spectacle everyone wanted, and plenty of emotion sprinkled in from both competitors. Few are better than Kingston when it comes to emoting during a match, and between this and the Tanahashi match, Ishii had a hell of a month. Let’s get Eddie back to Japan yesterday. ****
Washington, D.C. native Lio Rush makes a surprise appearance, last seen at STRONG 77. He had been out of action since the end of January after suffering an injury in PWG. He notes that he is still not cleared to compete, but he is here to send a message: the entire landscape of the junior heavyweight division will change at the hands of Lio Rush. He specifically names Robbie Eagles, Taiji Ishimori, and Hiromu Takahashi as individuals whose time is dwindling, and says that his time is approaching. Rush then joins the commentary table for the final two matches of the evening.
CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada & Rocky Romero) vs. BULLET CLUB (Jay White & Hikuleo)
At “Wrestling Dontaku”, Jay White returned to Japan after a 15 month absence, attacking Okada and challenging him for an IWGP title match at “Dominion.” The match was set, and this semi-main event serves as a preview for that upcoming encounter. The night before, Hikuleo finally made it clear he was loyal to White and the BULLET CLUB. Okada and White started the bout, with White slithering away to his corner when Okada was setting him up for the Landslide. To some surprise, Romero insisted on getting the tag when Hikuleo became the legal man.Romero put up quite the fight, but one chop from a man a whole foot taller swung the match into the BULLET CLUB’s favor. Romero is beaten down in their corner. He rolls out of the way of a running splash from Hikuleo. White tries to knock Okada off the apron, but Okada blocks and strikes back. Romero has to rebound kick Hikuleo and turn a running powerslam into a DDT in order to finally tag Okada back into the bout. White almost had the champ pinned with an elevated neckbreaker. White is popped up into a modified Air Raid Crash from Okada. Okada lands his elbow and calls for the Rainmaker. White ducks, and Okada counters the Blade Runner, knocking White down with his signature dropkick afterwards. Romero is tagged back in and unloads with Forever Clotheslines. He gets the Diablo armbar on White which Hikuleo intercepts. Okada clothesline Hikuleo to the floor and follows him out. Romero counters the Blade Runner twice and dazes White with a rebound kick. White blocks the Shiranui and drills Romero with the Blade Runner on the third try to get the pin at 15:59. It was obvious Romero was the fall guy here, but they still gave him way more in this match than I expected. The interaction with Okada and White were enjoyable and made me look forward to their match, and it’s clear Hikuleo looks comfortable in the ring with the main eventers. Good stuff all around. ***½
BULLET CLUB continues their attack on Okada after the bell. Jay White is about to hit OKada with the IWGP title when Tanga Loa runs out. White bails and Hikuleo holds up the too sweet to Loa. Loa shakes his head and tells his younger brother that “you don’t turn your back on family.” White talks to Hikuleo and he leaves with White. Loa looks at them with disappointment, and HIkuleo looks back with a shrug while holding up the Too Sweet.
IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Jon Moxley vs. Juice Robinson vs. Will Ospreay
Tanahashi has been champion since 5.1.2022 and this is his first defense. Ospreay was supposed to challenge Tanahashi for the vacant title on that date, but COVID prevented it from happening. Tonight he gets the shot he feels he is owed. Moxley also holds a controversial pin over Ospreay last month, and himself has held this title on two previous occasions. He also called out Tanahashi after defeating Ospreay at “Windy City Riot.” Finally, Juice Robinson surprised Tanahashi with an attack after his victory at “Wrestling Dontaku”, now as a member of the BULLET CLUB. Robinson is also a two time IWGP U.S. champion, and this is his first match since that attack. He has a completely new look and music to boot. Tiger Hattori is there to present the title.
Osrpeay immediately attacked Moxley at the bell, with the two of them fighting around the ring. Tanahashi and Robinson followed suit. Moxley backdropped Ospreay onto the entrance stage, and Robinson crashed and burned with a cannonball into the barricades, leaving Moxley to finally get his hands on Tanahashi for the very first time. Ospreay surprised Moxley with Pip Pip Cheerio when Moxley came charging off the ropes. Moxley turned Ospreay inside out with a release suplex. Robinson caught Ospreay with a chair when he went for a back handspring, and then used the chair on Tanahashi’s midsection, and suplexed Moxley back first onto the seat of the chair. Tanahashi came back with a crossbody to Robinson, then a Dragonscrew leg whip to Ospreay and Robinson at the same time. Moxley blocks Ospreay from hitting the OsCutter, and then drops him and Robinson with a double DDT. Moxley is now busted open as Tanahashi takes him down with the Slingblade. Tanahashi softened Moxley’s leg before putting on a cloverleaf. Robinson decided to stop Ospreay from breaking up the hold, and instead did it himself by clobbering Tanahashi in the back of the head with the U.S title belt twice. The rest of the challengers took turns pitching each other out of the ring trying to pin the weakened champion, but to no avail. We get a flurry of finishers to each other, ending with Moxley drilling Ospreay with a huge Death Rider. This time, Ospreay kicked out emphatically, and Moxley put him into the Bulldog choke immediately. Tanahashi broke up the hold with a High Fly Flow onto both mens backs. A table was set up ringside by Ospreay earlier, and after fighting on the apron, Tanahashi puts Moxley through it with a High Fly Flow! In the ring, Ospreay took down Robinson with a Spanish Fly and called for the Hidden Blade. Robinson threw the referee into his trajectory and then gave Ospreay a low blow. Robinson dropped Ospreay with his new finisher, The Rock Slide, and pinned Ospreay for the win and the title at 15:45. The United Empire pointed out to referee Jeremy Marcus that Ospreay’s foot was under the rope, but the decision is final. This was insanity in all the best ways, and so much fun to watch. Moxley and Tanahashi finally got to face-off, but their issue is clearly not yet over. Ospreay has another questionable loss for the second PPV in a row. Robinson’s BULLET CLUB tenure begins with him becoming the first 3 time IWGP U.S. Champion, with potential rematches against all three opponents. This was such a great way to end the night, even if some people were let down by the result. ****¼
Tiger Hattori hands Robinson the title, and Robinson shoves him away. The rest of the BULLET CLUB joins him on the stage: Jay White, Hikuleo, and Chase Owens. I guess Owens needed to win so all of BC would be victorious for this closing segment. Robinson brags about beating Ospreay, Moxley, and Tanahashi at the same time. He’s no longer Flamboyant – he’s Rock Hard. He’s the boost the BULLET CLUB needed, as they continue to be “Too Sweet.” After they leave, Moxley talks about how important New Japan is to him and how privileged he feels to be here, and thanks the D.C. crowd for experiencing tonight with him. He also says he will whoop Tanahashi’s ass the next time they’re in a ring together.
This was a big step up from “Windy City Riot.” The matches were better, the crowd was hotter, and the production issues that plagued that event weren’t present on this event. This show also felt important, as much of what happened on this show will affect NJPW’s stories both in Japan and the U.S. I’m really excited to see what they have in store for the rest of the year.