NJPW STRONG #122 – Best of STRONG 2022

12.31.2021

This week is a special Best of episode, where three hosts choose one of their favorite matches from the 50 episodes of STRONG that aired in 2022 to feature. The three hosts are Ian Riccaboni, Alex Koslov, and IWGP World Heavyweight Champion Jay White.

Alex Koslov’s Pick
STRONG Openweight Tag Team Championship

Aussie Open (Mark Davis & Kyle Fletcher) vs. West Coast Wrecking Crew (Royce Isaacs & Jorel Nelson)

STRONG Episode 106 – Fighting Spirit Unleashed 2022 Part 1 – 9.10.2022

Aussie Open have been champions since 8.13.2022 and this is their second defense. Nelson challenged Aussie Open backstage on STRONG 102, right after they won the titles. Nelson takes down Fletcher with a spear. He then knocks Davis off the apron and shoulder tackles Fletcher, taking him to the corner where Isaacs punches him in the stomach and Nelson pounces Fletcher. They do some damage to Fletcher’s left leg, but Davis interjects illegally to help him out. Davis however finds himself succumbing to a delayed double vertical suplex. Fletcher stops Nelson who has sat himself on the top turnbuckle by sending him tumbling down to the floor with an enzuigiri. Davis bum rushes Isaacs to the floor, and Aussie Open drops both Nelson and Isaacs onto the ring apron with back suplexes. Aussie Open then double teams Nelson back in the ring as Isaacs recovers. When Fletcher gets Nelson back on top turnbuckle, Nelson bites Fletcher’s face to get him down and takes him out with a high crossbody. Isaacs tags in and wipes out Fletcher with a flipping clothesline. Isaacs stacks up Aussie Open in the corner and batters them with clotheslines before muscling Fletcher into a Jackhammer for two. Isaacs German suplexes Fletcher and with Nelson gives him their Dominator/neckbreaker combo. Davis breaks the cover, and Nelson cracks him with a knee strike right underneath the chin. Aussie Open reversed double German suplex attempts into double brainbusters. Nelson ducks a double forearm smash, resulting in Fletcher and Davis striking one another. Davis is taken out with a dragonscrew leg whip. WCWC hit a modified version of Movie on the Roof and Fletcher gets shoulder up just before a three count. Fletcher superkicks Nelson and Isaacs is taken out by the Aussie Arrow. Nelson leaps in from behind to break the pin and is then dropkicked by Fletcher to the floor. Aussie Open were then free and clear to deliver Coriolois to Isaacs for the pin at 11:38. This was intense, fun, and had me and the crowd believing we were on the verge of seeing new champions crowned. Something I’ve noticed is how generous Aussie Open are with their opponents, and it makes their matches so much better. WCWC delivered a tremendous performance in their own right and the layout of their match turned the crowd in their favor. ****

Ian Riccaboni’s Pick
Clark Connors vs. TJP

STRONG Episode 77 – The New Beginning USA 2022 Part 1 – 2.5.2022

Connors comes in with a taped up knee, but it turns out to be a smokescreen to lure TJP into a tackle to the corner. Connors chops TJP repeatedly in the corner, then takes him down with a pair of German suplexes. TJP slides to the floor to avoid a powerslam, only for Connors to Pounce him onto the timekeeper’s table! In the ring, after some punches in the corner, Connors bulldogs TJP for a two count. TJP once again blocks a powerslam and locks Connors in a guillotine choke in the ropes. He pulls Connors to the apron where he gives him a shoulder-capture DDT onto the ring apron. TJP attacks Connor’s left shoulder back inside the ring. When TJP has Connors positioned for a facewash kick, Connors gets back to his feet and Pounces TJP as he rebounds off of the ropes. A misdirect from TJP, however, allows for him to land a springboard flying shoulder-capture DDT. TJP blocks another powerslam with a cross armbreaker, which Connors turns into a full-nelson, which TJP escapes using the ropes. Connors spears TJP off of the ring apron and to the floor. TJP halts Connors in the ropes with an armlock, and then drops a knee to Connors’ lower back as he hangs on the rop rope. TJP is incredulous when the Mamba Splash doesn’t keep Connors down, and even more incredulous when Connors kicks out of both a crucifix driver and Detonation Kick with consecutive one counts. Connors slams TJP on his stomach to block a tornado DDT. TJP stops Connors’ on the top turnbuckle, slamming his arm into the ring post. Even so, Connors is able to headbutt TJP down to the mat and hit his own Mamba Splash! After a powerbomb, Connors finally pulls off a powerslam successfully. The Trophy Kill then gets Connors the pin at 18:19. This was a perfect way to end this rivalry, with the former young lion beating his former partner, mentor, and the man who betrayed him. The crowd was very behind Connors, which made moments like the powerslam pay off, him kicking out at the count of one back-to-back, and the eventual win all coming off so well. Even after graduating it takes a significant win to propel the young lions to their next level, and this felt like that moment for Connors. ****

Jay White’s Pick
US of Jay Open Challenge #6

Jay White vs. Hikuleo

STRONG Episode 90 – Mutiny 2022 Part 1 – 5.13.2022

This match came about due to Hikuleo confronting White at STRONG 86. White plays cat-and-mouse with Hikuleo, but Hikuleo eventually cuts him off with a shoulder block and drops him ribs first onto the guardrails. Hikuleo however misses a chop, connecting with the ring post instead, and White then shoves Hikuleo face first into the ring post. White creatively uses the ring apron to suffocate Hikuleo before giving him a neckbreaker onto the floor. White attacks HIkuleo’s left leg back in the ring, which also allowed him to cut off Hikuleo’s comeback by kicking him in the leg and delivering a DDT. White chop blocks Hikuleo when Hikuleo elbows out of a sleepwalker suplex attempt. White puts himself in a position where Hikuleo is able to powerbomb him out of the corner. White rolls to the floor to avoid being pinned, and when Hikuleo throws him back in the ring, White gives him a dragonscrew leg whip as he is re-entering the ring. White drags Hikuleo into a rope hanging DDT for two. Hikuleo grabs White’s hand to stop his barrage of chops and takes him down with a clothesline. He also pulls off a walking powerslam on White. He then snaps off a powerslam when White comes off the ropes and pulls him off in a goozle. White counters Hikuleo’s chokeslam with the Blade Runner for the pin at 18:33. I was very nervous when I saw the length of the match, but they did a fantastic job. White’s adaptability outdid Hikuleo’s strength, though they had the crowd thinking it was all over for the Switchblade before he surprised Hikuleo with the Blade Runner. Kudos to both guys for keeping me engaged in the match and making Hikuleo seem like a convincing choice to end White’s U-S-of-Jay tour. ***½

Here are my Top 10 New Japan matches to take place in the U.S. in 2022. Two matches from this episode made the list!

  1. Will Ospreay vs. Jon Moxley (Windy City Riot; 4.16.2022)
  2. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Jon Moxley vs. Will Ospreay vs. Juice Robinson (Capital Collision; 5.14.2022)
  3. Will Ospreay vs. Orange Cassidy (AEWxNJPW Forbidden Door; 6.26.2022)
  4. Tom Lawlor vs. Fred Rosser (STRONG Episode 96; 6.25.2022)
  5. Clark Connors vs. TJP (STRONG Episode 77; 2.5.2022)
  6. Eddie Kingston vs. Tomohiro Ishii (Capital Collision, 5.14.2022)
  7. Shingo Takagi vs. El Phantasmo (Rumble on 44th Street; 10.28.2022)
  8. Aussie Open vs. The West Coast Wrecking Crew (STRONG Episode 106; 9.10.2022)
  9. Ren Narita vs. Buddy Matthews (STRONG Episode 83; 3.19.2022)
  10. CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada & YOH), Jon Moxley, Eddie Kingston, Homicide & The Amazing Red vs. BULLET CLUB (Jay White, Juice Robinson & El Phantasmo) & Team Filthy (Tom Lawlor, Royce Isaacs & Jorel Nelson) (The Night Before Rumble on 44th Street; 10.27.2022)

In addition to every New Japan U.S. show, I also review all of the IWGP United States title defenses. This year, the title was cursed, with KENTA being injured in the match where he lost the title, SANADA and Juice Robinson both vacating the title for health reasons before defending the title once, and Will Ospreay almost dying from a kidney infection while holding the title. Despite this, from a match quality standpoint, the IWGP U.S. title had its best year ever. Of the nine title matches that took place in 2022, I rated eight of them four stars or higher. Below are all the IWGP U.S. title matches ranked from favorite to least favorite, and all of them except for number 9 are worth going out of your way to watch:

  1. Will Ospreay vs. Tetsuya Naito (Battle Autumn Night 16; 11.5.2022)
  2. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Tomohiro Ishii (Wrestling Dontaku; 5.1.2022)
  3. Will Ospreay vs. David Finlay (Burning Spirit Night 14; 9.25.2022)
  4. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Jon Moxley vs. Will Ospreay vs. Juice Robinson (Capital Collision; 5.14.2022)
  5. Will Ospreay vs. Orange Cassidy (AEWxNJPW Forbidden Door; 6.26.2022)
  6. KENTA vs. Hiroshi Tanahashi (Wrestle Kingdom 16 Night 2; 1.5.2022)
  7. Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. SANADA (New Years Golden Series Night 14; 2.18.2022)
  8. Will Ospreay vs. Shota Umino (NJPWxSTARDOM Historic X-over; 11.20.2022)
  9. SANADA vs. Will Ospreay (Dominion; 6.12.2022)

Wrestle Kingdom 17 will feature what is maybe the most highly anticipated IWGP U.S. Title defense since Wrestle Kingdom 12, as the very first title holder, Kenny Omega, returns to NJPW for the first time in four years to challenge Will Ospreay. With cheering more or less back in Japan, several Western talents from different companies kicking off the year at Wrestle Kingdom, and some possible big shake-ups happening at both Wrestle Kingdom and New Years Dash, I am very excited to see what 2023 holds in store for New Japan overall.

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