Los Angeles, CA – 12.24.2022
Commentary is provided by Ian Riccaboni, Alex Koslov, and special guest Peter Avalon.
Mascara Dorada & Lince Dorado vs. C4 (Cody Chhun & Guillermo Rosas)
This is the STRONG debut for both Dorado and Rosas. Of course, Dorado and Dorada were teammates in WWE as part of the Lucha House Party with Kalisto. The Luchadores get the better of C4 until Rosas surprises Dorada, pulling him down to the floor to stop his springboard attack on Chhun. C4 wears down the King of the Ropes until Dorada showcases that nickname with a facebuster off of the middle rope to Rosas. Dorado wipes out Chhun with a spinwheel kick upon tagging in and scores a nearfall on him with a brainbuster. After a high crossbody fails to get the pin, he applies a cross armbar, which Rosas breaks with a senton splash. Chhun pops up Dorado into a sit-out powerbomb for Rosas for two. Dorado takes them out with a double back handspring Ace Crusher. Dorado helps Dorada wipe out Rosas on the floor with a somersault senton off of the top rope. Dorado then Frankensteiner’s Chhun off of the apron and onto Rosas on the floor. Dorado pins Chhun back in the ring with a shooting star press at the same time Dorada pins Rosas with a flying elbow smash at 10:35. I really appreciate that they are establishing new tag teams now that tag titles have been brought into the STRONG fold. LHP vs MCMG would be a hoot, but I liked what I saw out of C4 as well. This was a fun way to kick off the show, and the crowd was hot. **¾
Kevin Blackwood vs. Bobby Fish
This is Fish’ STRONG debut, and his first NJPW match since (not counting War of the Worlds 2017) since late 2016. He is a two time former IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champion with Kyle O’Reilly. Blackwood scored a double stomp to Fish’s neck and looked for a sleeper hold back in the ring. Fish escaped that in the corner and threw a kick to Blackwood’s mid-section instead of exiting the corner cleanly. He had thrown some shots to Blackwood’s mid-section prior to this, but it became more of a focus after this kick. Blackwood reversed a brainbuster attempt into a suplex and then tossed Fish across the ring with an exploder suplex. Blackwood throws a myriad of kicks before sending Fish into the mat with a hammerlock. Fish managed to dragonscrew leg whip Blackwood from the apron. Fish’s arm snapped when he tried picking up Blackwood. Blackwood rolled him into a sitting Fujiwara armbar, but Fish used the ropes to escape. Blackwood crawled to the top rope. Fish kicked his left leg out and then took him down with a super Falcon Arrow for the pin at 12:00. These two are so similar it felt like watching somebody wrestle themselves. What made the match, though, was they both had strategies they kept consistent and the crowd had a clear favorite (Blackwood). Fish winning was the right call given he has an actual story going on, while Blackwood is an inconsistent presence. This was better than I anticipated. ***
Homicide runs out and attacks Fish after the bell, getting revenge for when Fish attacked him after his match with Danny Limelight three weeks ago. As officials break up their fight, David Finlay joins the fray with shilelagh in hand. Fish directly interfered in an eight man tag two weeks ago, grabbing Finlay’s leg from the floor during the contest. Finlay made sure Fish went backstage before locking eyes with Homicide.
NJPW STRONG Openweight Championship
Fred Rosser vs. JR Kratos
Rosser has been champion since 6.25.2022 and this is his sixth defense. Jay White defeated Rosser in a non-title match last month. While normally this would put White in contention for a title match, White decided that since he was the reigning IWGP World Heavyweight Champion that he would instead gift a title match to JR Kratos as a thank you to Team Filthy, who had been teaming with the BULLET CLUB lately. Rosser squashes Kratos with a seated senton to the chest. Rosser keeps him grounded while continuing his attack. Kratos fires up from Rosser’s corner hip attacks, but Rosser takes him back down with a superkick. Rosser pulls him to the apron hoping to give him a backbreaker. Kratos pummels him back and tries for a sunset flip to the floor, but Rosser counters by sitting down on his chest. When he tries a running body block off the apron, Kratos catches him and drives him back first into the ring post. Kratos belly-to-belly suplexes Rosser on the floor and then picks up a guardrail to use as a weapon. Rosser prevents him from doing so, but is tossed across the ring out of a release vertical suplex. Rosser attacks his knee to turn things around. Although he is too weak to give Kratos a backbreaker on the apron, he does score with a neckbreaker. As Young recouped next to the apron, Kratos’ eyes got wide, as he realized Rosser’s positioning enabled him to apply a sleeper while still laying on the apron. Rosser wisely pulled Kratos off of the apron and into a tombstone piledriver on the floor. Rosser feels he has something to prove, so he stops referee Jeremy Marcus from counting Kratos out. Commentary makes a good point – isn’t the referee count out mostly for the safety of the person being counted out? But Jeremy obliges, and Kratos stumbles back in, taking out Rosser with an STO. He clobbers Rosser with a haymaker while still dazed, and stuns Rosser with a leaping enzuigiri to stop Rosser on the top turnbuckle. Kratos clotheslines Rosser to the outside and goes for broke with a Superman dive. Back in the ring, he takes down Rosser with a lariat and a Falcon Arrow for two. Kratos tries to pick up Rosser in an electric chair position. Rosser fights out, chop blocks Kratos’ knee, and tries for the crossface chicken wing. Kratos slamming himself back first into the apron fails to make Rosser release the hold. Jeremy Marcus calls for the ball at 18:44 when Kratos passes out. As much as I welcome new people onto the show, there is something really satisfying in seeing someone who debuted on Episode #14 get a title match. Kratos was the kind of uphill battle Rosser claims to welcome, and he took on that challenge smartly and valiantly. In fact, Kratos ended up fighting from behind for a good portion of the match, and it made for one of his most unique STRONG bouts yet. I really loved how each of them adapted as the match progressed and wasted no time attacking each other when they saw an opening. Rosser’s title reign has been slightly underwhelming, but this was excellent. ***¾
Peter Avalon leaves commentary and appears on the ring apron with a microphone. He gives Rosser props for the impressive victory. He knows Rosser doesn’t back down championship challenges from anybody, Avalon does so, and Rosser accepts. Avalon then attacks Rosser from behind and holds the title to call his shot. Several roster members enter the gray and fight one another for seemingly no reason. That was a weird ending to the final fresh episode of 2022, and while I think Rosser vs. Avalon will be good, it feels like a filler defense.
Next week’s episode, which airs on New Year’s Eve, is the annual “Best of” episode. In addition to posting my reviews of the matches included, I will also share my Top 10 list of NJPW matches that took place in the United States.