NJPW STRONG #97 – United Empire: Rising

I had a hunch some people from New Japan would be sticking around for the AEW shows after Forbidden Door. It was a pleasant surprise to see Bishamon were the talent chosen to do so, and that they had something far more worthwhile than wrestling The Factory awaiting them on the July 1st episode of Rampage:


Bishamon (Hirooki Goto & YOSHI-HASHI) vs. The Young Bucks (Nick Jackson & Matt Jackson)
AEW Rampage #48 – Detroit, MI – 7.1.2022

If Bishamon wins, they get a shot at the AEW tag team titles. They give both the Bucks the War drum punches on their backs. Nick’s distraction helps Matt give YOSHI-HASHI multiple Northern Lights suplexes, including a tandem one on him and Goto. Matt then helps Nick with an escalera twisting press onto Bishamon. During the break, the Bucks wear down YOSHI-HASHI in their half of the ring. Matt even knocks Goto off the apron and mocks YOSHI-HASHI by extending his hand for a tag. Nick PK’s Goto from the apron and lands a springboard double stomp to YOSHI-HASHI’s back, just to show off. YOSHI-HASHI suplexes Nick as we return from the commercial break. Goto gets in a bulldog on Matt, but succumbs to the Young Bucks tandem offense shortly after. YOSHI-HASHI saves Goto with a clothesline to Nick in the corner and the Head Hunter combo for two. Nick kicks YOSHI-HASHI to the ropes to escape Shoto. The Bucks knock down their opposition with superkicks, while Bishamon knocks them down with lariats. Goto takes down Nick with an Ushigoroshi, then YOSHI-HASHI superkicks him into a second for two. They go for Shoto again, but Matt superkicks YOSHI-HASHI, then both Bucks superkick Goto. The BTE Trigger and Meltzer Driver get the Bucks the pin on YOSHI-HASHI at 9:31. Bishamon had some moments, but this was totally a showcase for the tag champs. That said, I am very glad we got to see YOSHI-HASHI and Goto again, and the crowd dug em too. Now back to clap crowds for you two! ***

Philadelphia, PA – 7.2.2022

Commentary is provided by Ian Riccaboni & Matt Rehwoldt.

As the title suggests, every match features members of the United Empire. They even get their own special opening which is pretty cool.

United Empire (Great-O-Khan, Aaron Henare, Mark Davis & Kyle Fletcher) vs. TMDK (JONAH, Mikey Nicholls, Shane Haste & Bad Dude Tito)

This is a rematch from “Capital Collision”, with O-Khan swapped in for Cobb. Tito was also made an official TMDK member after that Collision match, and this is his first match as part of the stable. The opening brawl ends with Haste finding himself at the mercy of the United Empire’s wrath. Nicholls helps his tag partner by tripping Fletcher as he hits the ropes, and JONAH throws him into the barricades. Haste gets a bite of a respite as Fletcher is now beat down by all of TMDK in their corner. Fletcher manages to get the better of Haste in a forearm battle and hops over him out of the enemy corner so he can get to his own corner and tag in Davis. David impressively fights off Haste, Tito, and Nicholls. JONAH poses a challenge, but an enzuigiri takes the big man down. Henare and Tito engage in a strike exchange, which O-Khan intercepts with a tackle to the corner. All of the Empire attacks Tito, ending with O-Khan passing Tito into Henare’s arms for a sit-out powerbomb. Fletcher and Davis send Haste, JONAH, and Nicholls crashing into the barricades with double suicide dives. O-Khan Mongolian chops Tito from behind. Tito spikes him with a Blockbuster, but Henare plants him with the Streets of Rage after a headbutt for the pin at 11:35. This was on par, but very different, from their match at Capital Collison. It was good for Henare to pick up a big win before his first G1 too. These two groups are just great and work so well together. ***¼

Backstage, Shane Haste tells Mike Nicholls that he’s curious s to know what will happen if they face Aussie Open without their United Empire buddies around them. Haste says they laid the groundwork in Japan for people like Fletcher and Davis, and that Aussie Open are nothing but a couple of posers.

Jeff Cobb vs. Willie Mack

This is Mack’s NJPW debut. The last time he and Cobb were in a ring together was as a tag team, attempting to qualify for the NWA Crockett Cup in 2019. Mack took a tactic of surprising Cobb with some unorthodox methods, such as a double nipple twist and a slap to the face before landing a tope con hilo. Cobb sends Mack back first into the barricades and takes over on offense back inside the ring. Mack cuts him off with a running gamengiri. Cobb misses a standing moonsault, but Mask hits his own after a Samoan Drop. Cobb stops Mack as he ascends the ropes and brings him down with a superplex. Mack, however, ducks a ripcord clothesline and drops Cobb with a Rydeen Bomb for two. Cobb blocked a Stunner, but Mack nailed him with a roundhouse kick. Cobb slipped off of Mack’s shoulders and schoolboy pinned him at 13:13. I am totally stunned how this much played out – Mack controlled almost all of this match, and Cobb had to sneak his way into victory. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but given Cobb’s position in New Japan, I found myself perplexed by the choice. The people loved Mack, and I would be down for seeing him again, but I am so curious as to the decision behind the structure of this match. **¾

Next week marks the beginning of the “Ignition” tour, and the tournament to crown the first ever NJPW STRONG Tag Team Champions. Ian Ricabboni runs down the opening round matches:

*Christopher Daniels & Yuya Uemura vs. The Factory (Aaron Solo & Nick Comoroto)
*TMDK (Shane Haste & Mikey Nicholls) vs. The West Coast Wrecking Crew (Royce Isaacs & Jorel Nelson)
*The Stray Dog Army (Barrett Brown & Misterioso) vs. Midnight Heat (Ricky Gibson & Eddie Pearl)
*Aussie Open (Mark Davis & Kyle Fletcher) vs. The Dark Order (Evil Uno & Alan Angels)

You may remember Karl Fredericks was originally supposed to team with Christopher Daniels. The reason for his replacement is unknown, but there is reasonable speculation it may have had to do with vocalizing his displeasure over not being invited to the G1 Climax on Twitter. Again, that is purely speculative.

Will Ospreay vs. Homicide

This is Homicide’s first NJPW match since their first U.S. tour in 2011. Coincidentally, the last time he wrestled for NJPW was in the same building as tonight’s bout. Eddie Kingston joins commentary for this bout and Aussie Open are in Ospreay’s corner. Homicide doesn’t let Ospreay mouth off at him without paying for it. After Ospreay cuts him off with a back elbow, he wipes out Homicide with a pescado. Ospreay’s mouth gets him distracted by Kingston on commentary, which turns into Homicide giving Ospreay a suplex and neckbreaker on the entrance ramp. Back in the ring, Ospreay manages to chop Homicide off of the top turnbuckle and out to the floor. Homicide pulls out a ghetto fork he clearly placed earlier under the protective mats on the floor. Ospreay stops Homicide from using it by biting his hand and blasting him with a spicy dropkick. Kingston leaves commentary to fire up Homicide, and it works, as he gets to his feet, blocks a boot, and snaps Ospreay’s ankle. Homicide then wipes out Ospreay with a tope suicida. Back in the ring, Ospreay counters a Tiger Driver with a Frankensteiner. He takes down Homicide with a back handspring enzuigiri and hits Pip Pip Cheerio for two. Homicide fights out of the Storm Breaker and belly-to-belly suplexes Ospreay into the turnbuckles. Homicide then blocks the OsCutter. Ospreay pulls Homicide over into a sit-out powerbomb for two. Homicide also kicks out of the OsCutter. Homicide seemingly passes out to avoid the Hidden Blade. His adrenaline rises as Ospreay throws forearms at his head and pulls Ospreay forward to bite his ear. Ospreay blasts him with a crescent kick. Homicide ducks the Hidden Blade again and drops Ospreay with an Ace Crusher for two. The Cop Killa also gets him a two count. Kingston passes Homicide his fork in secret, but the referee grabs his arm when he is about to strike Ospreay. Ospreay takes this moment to kick Homicide in the face and nail Hidden Blade. Homicide amazingly kicks out, and Ospreay drops him with the Storm Breaker for the pin at 20:47. I haven’t been a fan of Homicide’s output for many years now, but he worked his ass off here. Ospreay gave him a ton, but it was a far more equal fight than Cobb vs. Mack. The momentum shifts were interesting, well placed, Kingston’s involvement added to the drama, and the crowd was very hot. When I saw the match graphic and then the match time, I was dreading this, and yet I sit here content and surprised by how much I enjoyed this. ***¾

One of the best STRONG matches this year was featured on this week’s XTRA: Clark Connors vs. TJP from STRONG #77. I recommend checking it out.

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