KENTA retained the STRONG Openweight championship against Eddie Edwards at “Capital Collision.” After the match, Hikuleo appeared on the screen and challenged KENTA to make their Special Singles match at Wrestling Dontaku a STRONG Openweight title match. KENTA accepted on the spot.
NJPW STRONG Openweight Championship
KENTA vs. Hikuleo
NJPW “Wrestling Dontaku 2023” – Fukuoka, Japan – 5.3.2023
KENTA has been champion since 2.18.2023 and this is his third defense. Jado is in Hikuleo’s corner. KENTA attempts to charge Hikuleo before the bell, but Hikuleo cuts him off with a big boot. When the bell rings, Hikuleo reaches down and is small packaged for two. KENTA then chop blocks Hikuleo’s leg and attacks that leg for a long time. Hikuleo muscles him up into a bear hug and then big boots him down once again. KENTA rakes his eyes and moves the referee in the way of another big boot, knocking down Kenta Sato. That gives KENTA free reign to low blow Hikuleo and bludgeon him with a kendo stick. He even wallops Jado with the kendo stick when he tries to put a stop to it. Hikuleo ends up catching the kendo stick mid-swing and breaking it in half. Hikuleo then takes down KENTA with a sit-out double chokeslam, but Sato is still out. KENTA counters the Godsend chokeslam with a triangle choke, transitioning into Game Over. After Hikuleo grabs the ropes to escape, KENTA strikes him in the back of the head with two successive knee strikes. Hikuleo goozles him to block the Busaiku Knee, but after a low blow, KENTA pulls off the Busaiku Knee for a two count. Hikuleo cuts off another knee strike with a powerslam and then pulls off the Godsend chokeslam for the pin at 9:45. The was executed well but not at all entertaining. I am tired of the BULLET CLUB cheating. It really took the luster off of what should be a big moment for Hikuleo. What happens later on the Resurgence show doesn’t help either. Bleh. **
Long Beach, CA – 5.21.2023
Commentary is provided by Ian Riccaboni, Alex Koslov & Veda Scott.
The DKC vs. Bateman
This is a battle between two coaches from the revamped New Japan Academy in Los Angeles. DKC’s new music rules. Bateman is quick to scramble to the outside when DKC goes for a crucifix submission. Bateman also backs DKC to the corner when he attempts a sleeper hold. Bateman drops him with a neckbreaker after a few downard forearm strikes to the face. He cracks DKC with a haymaker and a boot to the side of the face before biting the top of his head. Bateman grabs the ropes as quickly as possible when DKC surprises him with a kneebar, and then stomps on the back of DKC’s head. DKC takes him down with a cannonball headbutt to the sternum. DKC also counters a potential Last Ride with a falling leg lariat. Bateman catches DKC as he comes off the middle rope with a crossbody. He muscles up DKC onto his shoulders, which DKC turns into a crucifix driver. He pulls Bateman into a submission, and when Bateman rolls forward to escape that, DKC then rolls him into a crucifix pin to get the victory at 8:23. Solid, easy to digest action. Good way to get the sparse, early crowd going though I have to imagine wrestling in front of such a small crowd is disappointing. **¼
Alex Coughlin vs. Christopher Daniels
Coughlin has an ROH Pure Title shot against his trainer Katsuyori Shibata next Wednesday. What better way to warm up than to face an ROH pioneer and former World Champion? Daniels himself failed to capture the Pure Title from Shibata last month. Daniels denies Coughlin the Code of Honor, just like he did for the first ninety-nine ROH events. Coughlin overpowers the Fallen Angel, best emphasized when he deadlift Daniels off of the mat into a belly-to-back suplex. It takes Daniels kicking the ropes into Coughlin’s throat to gain some ground. He wears down the neck further before pulling Coughlin into the Koji Clutch, which Coughlin uses a rope break to escape. Coughlin resists the Angel’s Wings and catches a corner splash, belly-to-belly suplexing Daniels into the middle of the ring. Coughlin gutwrench suplexes Daniels twice and muscles him up into a vertical suplex out of a guillotine hold. Daniels drop toe holds Coughlin throat first into the middle rope and successfully delivers the Angel’s Wings. Coughlin incredibly kicks out at one, so Daniels signals for the BME. Coughlin escapes a uranage with an inside armdrag and German suplexes Daniels. He follows that up with a Jackhammer for the pin at 9:26. The story here was simple yet very effective. The crowd was impressed with Coughlin’s strength and perseverance, and it gives Coughlin a nice momentum builder heading into his Pure title challenge. **¾
TMDK (Zack Sabre Jr. & Bad Dude Tito) vs. Virus & Barbaro Cavernario
Virus and Cavernario represent CMLL. Virus schooled Sabre on the mat in the early going, while Cavernario’s speed enabled him to best Tito in a powerhouse battle. Sabre surprised Cavernario by dragging him off of the apron in a high angle ankle lock and stomped on his leg twice on the ground. This left Tito an opening to beat down Virus unimpeded, with Sabe joining in the fun. Virus is able to land a grounded dropkick on Tito and tag in the recovered Cavernario. Sabre stops his offensive stride on Tito with a sleeper hold, but Virus aids Cavernario by clotheslining Sabre’s legs out from under him on the apron. Cavernario then drop toe holds Tito onto the middle rope, where Virus splashes the back of his neck. Cavernario slingshot splashes off of the middle rope for a two count. Tito gets his feet up when he tries it a second time and deadlifts him into a German suplex for two. Cavernario blocks a clothesline from Sabre and hammerlocks him up into a suplex. Virus gets Sabre in a Stretch Muffler, and Sabre gets the ropes to escape. Sabre angrily pulls Virus in from the apron by his hair and hyperextends him into a full body stretch. Virus rolls his way free but takes a Pele kick to the arm. Virus evades a snap slam and clothesline Sabre so he can tag in Cavernario. Tito counters a wheelbarrow from Cavernario into a Blue Thunder Bomb. Cavernario slips out of Tito’s grasp, takes him down with a double leg, and locks him in the Cavernaria (a double leg capture stretch across his knees). Virus prevents Sabre from breaking the hold, and Tito submits at 14:05. What seemed like an oddity on the card ended up being a very entertaining bop. The two teams paired off perfectly, and the crowd was into the CMLL contingent who were given the chance to look dominant. Cavernario was always my favorite of the CMLL crew when he was in ROH and it was nice to see him back in the States. Sabre and Virus continuing to be aggressive after the bell has me hoping for a TV title match down the line. What a nice surprise this was. ***¼
NJPW STRONG Women’s Championship Tournament Semifinal Round Match
Mercedes Moné vs. Stephanie Vaquer
Moné represents New Japan and STARDOM, and Vaquer represents CMLL. Vaquer is one-half of the CMLL Occidente Women’s Tag Team champions. Vaquer is unbothered by the loud support for Moné and goes after the former IWGP Women’s champion relentlessly from the start. Moné realizes right away how persistent Vaquer will be and ceases her showboating instantly. She takes down Vaquer with La Mistica, but when she tries to strike Vaquer in the corner, Vaquer locks her in an armbar in the ropes. She follows that up with a springboard crossbody for two and shows her dominance with a skullf*ck. Even though Moné gets her foot up to block a corner charge, Vaquer takes her down moments later with a dragonscrew leg whip. Moné side steps an attack, sending Vaquer to the floor, and takes her down with a running Meteora off of the ring apron! She drops Vaquer with a tornado DDT on the floor. Back in the ring, she drives Vaquer face first into the middle turnbuckle before delivering another Meteora for two. Vaquer headbutts Moné down in the corner but misses a double knee attack. Moné pulls off her own double knee attack successfully. Vaquer rolls through Moné’s high crossbody and applies a crossface, but Moné is able to reverse it into her own crossface. Vaquer escapes and also evades the Moné Maker, DDTing Moné immediately into a grapevine pin for two. She gives Moné a package backbreaker for another two count. Vaquer rocks Moné with a forearm smash but misses a leg drop. Moné hooks Vaquer’s arms and rolls her up for the Moné Maker. Vaquer initially escapes, so Moné gives her a lung blower before trying again. This time, the Moné Maker pays off, giving Moné the pin at 11:55. This crowd was entirely behind Moné and the competitors played right into that. Vaquer dominated Moné from the start and made her fight for her victory. I was really impressed with both of them, and even in a loss, this felt like a star-making performance for Vaquer. ***¾
NJPW STRONG Women’s Championship Tournament Semifinal Round Match
Momo Kohgo vs. Willow Nightingale
Kohgo represents STARDOM, and Nightingale represents ROH. Willow overpowers Kohgo fairly easily. Kohgo picks up the pace to compensate, and it gets her a quick two count courtesy of a crossbody. She also utilizes a tiger feint kick and a springboard dropkick to get a nearfall. She has a tough time lifting Willow at first, but Kohgo ends up pulling off a fisherwoman’s suplex for two. Willow counters her crucifix driver attempt into a powerslam. She thrashes Kohgo with repeated forearm smashes, but her follow up somersault senton in the corner is unable to polish Kohgo off. Kohgo also uses a huracanrana to escape the Babe With The Powerbomb and successfully hits the crucifix driver. Willow’s placement from the fall allows her to place her foot on the rope to break the pin. Kohgo kicks out of a spinebuster and fires up after a clothesline. Willow weaves her into a Death Valley Driver. That only gets her a two count, so she muscles up Kohgo into the Babe With The Powerbomb for the pin at 9:37. They utilized the dichotomy between their styles and sizes really well, and the competitive nature of the match helped differentiate it from the other tournament bout. I’m thrilled Willow won, but came away impressed with Kohgo, who I knew very little of before this tournament. This was another really good match the crowd was into. ***½
Fred Rosser vs. Juice Robinson
These two were scheduled to wrestle at “Capital Collision”, but Robinson attacked Rosser before the bell and the match never happened. Robinson’s beat down was as a result of Rosser name dropping Robinson’s wife, Toni Storm, asking her to show up to the bout at “Capital Collision.” Robinson also cost Rosser his match against Lance Archer the next night, as well as his STRONG Championship match against KENTA in February. The first five minutes see Robinson in control after he Hot Shots Rosser on the guardrail and uses his belt to choke and whip Rosser. Robinson wraps his hand in a chain before attempting the Left Hand of God. Rosser ducks and puts Robinson through a door with a Death Valley Driver. He then gets retribution with his own belt attack on Robinson. Robinson gets busted open with a trashcan to the head. After using various weapons on Robinson, he places the trashcan over Robinson and smashes it with a chair and chain. He then chokes Robinson with a chain while Robinson is in a tree of woe. Commentary says he’s gone too far, but I think they’re forgetting just how badly Robinson beat the hell out of Rosser in DC. Just when Rosser was ready to nail Robinson with a fist full of chain, Toni Storm interfered with a low blow to Rosser. Rosser was one step ahead of Toni, revealing he was wearing a cup. Rosser then forced Toni to kiss him – you know, like a babyface! Thankfully, the crowd boos this. Rosser had not put his cup back, so Robinson’s low blow to cut him off paid off. He gets Robinson in the chickenwing STF after escaping Pulp Friction, but Toni smashes a bottle over Rosser’s head to save Juice. Storm hip attacked Rosser into a STOP sign, and Robinson’s swing-out DDT got him the pin at 23:10. This was a lifeless slog until Toni got involved – then it turned into a slog with a touch of sexual assault. Nothing they did during the brawl felt like a fight between two heated rivals. It felt like Robinson had his turn to beat up Rosser for a while, and then it was Rosser’s turn to beat up Juice until Toni showed up. Garbage. ½*
Speaking of letdowns, Kyle Fletcher comes to the ring and announces that due to an injury incurred by Mark Davis, they will be vacating both the IWGP Heavyweight and STRONG Openweight Tag Team titles. Aussie Open already had a triple threat IWGP Heavyweight Tag Title match lined up at Dominion against Bishamon and the House of Torture, so now those two teams will wrestle for BOTH sets of titles. This might have been a flub, as the New Japan site says it’s just for the IWGP Tag titles. Nevertheless, as a huge Aussie Open fan, this is a major bummer. Then, AEW signed them three days later. I’m looking forward to them getting an AEW tag title reign and then being forgotten about the moment it’s over.
NJPW STRONG Openweight Championship
Hikuleo vs. KENTA
Hikuleo has been champion since 5.3.2023 and this is his first defense. This is a rematch from “Wrestling Dontaku” where Hikuleo defeated KENTA for the title. KENTA asked for an immediate rematch, blaming the loss on his hair getting in his eyes. For this match, his hair is in a bun and he has on a headband to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Hikuleo big boots KENTA to thwart KENTA’s attempt to attack him with the STRONG title belt. Hikuleo thrashes his body with chops to the back and chest. KENTA runs Hikuleo into the referee to block the Godsend. Hikuleo clothesline KENTA to the floor after blocking a Busaiku Knee. They fight backstage out of sight. KENTA emerges first, and with Hikuleo limping back ringside, it appears KENTA hurt his knee. They fight between two sections of the bleachers where Hikuleo rams KENTA into a guardrail and steps twice. For some reason the referee just lets this go. Hikuelo has KENTA halfway up the bleachers and ready to deliver Godsend through a table below. KENTA fights his way free with open hand strikes and kicks Hikuleo in the groin. He then dumps Hikuelo over the rail and through the table himself. KENTA crawls back to the ring before the twenty count, but Hikuleo does not. KENTA wins the match by countout at 11:57, and apparently this title changes hands by countouts (maybe all New Japan titles do?) so he is also the NEW STRONG Openweight Champion. This was uninteresting and dragged on before that ending, and then that stupid ending just made it worse. What a crummy past hour this has been. *
As KENTA is celebrating, the lights go out and Eddie Kingston appears on the video wall. Kingston tells “whoever wins this match” to be prepared, because he’s coming for them. Speaking of Eddie Kingston, he will be part of the very first NJPW STRONG events in Japan! On July 4th and July 5th, the STRONG brand will present “Independence Day” at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo. Announced for those shows are Fred Rosser, Tom Lawlor, Eddie Kingston, Hiroshi Tanahashi, JR Kratos, Rocky Romero, and The West Coast Wrecking Crew. I am very excited for those shows.
CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii & Rocky Romero) vs. The Blackpool Combat Club (Jon Moxley & Wheeler Yuta) & Shota Umino
Okada, Ishii, and Hiroshi Tanahashi won the NEVER Openweight Six Man Titles at “Wrestling Dontaku.” After the match, Shota Umino came to the ring to challenge them to a title match, with Jon Moxley via video screen confirming himself as one of Umino’s two partners. Their other partner remains a mystery as of this writing. This match is a preview of sorts for that bout, with Romero standing in for Tanahashi, and Yuta filling the mystery partner spot.
Okada flipped off Umino and called him a young boy after he challenged him, so it’s no surprise he wanted Okada right from the start. Okada gave him what he wanted, but physically punished Umino for doing so. Romero and Yuta square off with one another, showcasing great finesse in their offense, but Moxley’s aggressive nature helped his team get the better of Romero. Yuta repaid the favor by cracking Romero with a haymaker to save Moxley from sharpshooter and throwing him into the guardrails. While Umino is maintaining control of Romero, Umino blindsides Okada with an attack and sends him crashing into the guardrails, with Yuta delivering a right hand to Romero to keep the match in their favor. Romero finally does create an opening to tag in Ishii when he takes down Moxley with a tornado DDT. Ishii has Yuta in his crosshairs for the Sliding D, but Moxley grabs his boot from the apron and takes him down with an Ace Crusher for two. Yuta and Umino help keep Ishii in their corner, but miscommunication from Umino and Moxley enables Ishii to drop Moxley with a brainbuster and tag in Okada. He mows down Umino with a running back elbow and drills him with a DDT. Okada lifts him up for a tombstone which Umino reverses into a Northern Lights backdrop. Okada backdrops out of the Death Rider and drops Umino with an Air Raid Crash. Moxley lands a top rope elbow drop and calls for the Rainmaker. Moxley interrupts and ends up being taken out with a dropkick. Umino surprises Okada with a neckbreaker. He once again goes for the Death Rider but Ishii cuts him off with a lariat. Romero double stomps Umino across the top rope for two. Umino is attacked by everybody in the corner, ending with Romero taking Umino off of the top turnbuckle and into the Diablo Armbar. Yuta comes to his rescue and winds up being spin kicked to the outside. Moxley takes out Romero and Ishii, but Okada takes out Moxley with the Rainmaker! Umino rushes in and drops Okada with the Death Rider. Okada rolls to the apron and Romero comes in. Umino drops him with an Okada style dropkick and then the Death Rider to get the pin at 19:23. This was a great preview for the match to come, as it showed the tension and relationships between the groups and gave the challengers momentum heading into the bout. Not only that, but the wrestling was engaging and exciting, and it made me even more excited for the title bout. We all knew Romero was here to take the fall, but even still, Umino’s final moment made a big statement for his team heading into Osaka. This was a success all around. ***¾
Emily Mae interviews Mercedes Moné backstage about the main event tonight. She is going to put Willow to sleep and become the first STRONG Women’s Champion – you can bank on that.
IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship #1 Contendership Tournament Match
Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Will Ospreay
The winner of this match will face Lance Archer at “Dominion” on June 4th to determine the #1 Contender for Kenny Omega’s IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship. Ospreay wears down Tanahashi’s back, and when Tanahashi begins to fire up, Ospreay takes him down with Pip Pip Cheerio. Tanahashi fires up when Ospreay gets him in his crosshairs for the Hidden Blade and dropkicks his leg out from under him. Tanahashi hyperextends the knee in the corner and takes down Ospreay with a dragonscrew leg whip. Ospreay gets the ropes to escape a sharpshooter. Ospreay shuts down Tanahashi with a hook kick, which also gives him some time to recuperate. Ospreay ends a strike exchange with Kawada kicks and a yakuza kick. After a flying forearm to the back of the head he hoists up Tanahashi for the StormBreaker. Tanahashi turns it mid-air into a Sling Blade, then hits another one for a two count. Ospreay rolled through a High Fly Flow, but Tanahashi reversed his pin attempt and dropkicked his knee out. Ospreay blocked a dragonscrew and double stomped Tanahashi! The OsCutter follows for two, but the Hidden Blade and Stormbreaker earn Ospreay the pin at 15:34. This burned hot and fast, feeling more like five minutes than fifteen. I’m glad NJPW hasn’t run this pairing into the ground because seeing them in the ring together genuinely felt special, and they have really good chemistry. Leave it to two of the best in wrestling today to make a great match look so effortless. We’re one step closer to Ospreay vs. Omega 2, folks. ***¾
Emily Mae interviews Willow Nightingale, getting some final thoughts before the main event. Willow admits to being nervous, but trusts that she will be the best version of herself once she gets in the ring. She says “let’s do this” before walking off screen.
NJPW STRONG Women’s Championship Tournament Final Round Match
Mercedes Moné vs. Willow Nightingale
The winner of this match will be the inaugural NJPW STRONG Women’s Champion. The significance of two black women main eventing a New Japan show is not lost on the competitors nor the crowd, and the crowd roars for the match before contact is made. Willow surprises Moné by twisting her wrist during the opening handshake, and moments later sends her to the outside with a Pounce. Back in the ring, Willow holds onto Moné’s wrist as she pulls her into two short-arm clotheslines. Moné chop blocks Willow’s knee to escape a slam, but Willow knocks her down with a back elbow to the sternum. Willow also cartwheels through an Irish whip and nails Moné with an enzuigiri. She also applies a ton of pressure to Moné’s back with a deep Boston Crab. Moné flips off Willow and uses that single finger to touch the bottom rope and escape. Willow gives her no time to recover, landing a superplex for two. From the apron, Moné throws rapid forearm strikes to Willow’s head and also throws her head first into the turnbuckles multiple times. Moné fights off a superplex, but in the process slips off and lands on the floor. Moné is able to slip out of Willow’s Oklahoma Stampede and get her in the Bank Statement. Willow muscles her up into the Babe With The Powerbomb for two, though it feels like her shoulder didn’t come up. Willow hits it a second time to get the pin and the title at 13:34. Days later, NJPW confirmed Moné hurt her ankle and the match was shortened, and it was reported elsewhere that Moné was set to win before the injury. That said, this match was really good until that point, and with Willow dominating Moné prior to the injury, the way the match ended still made sense. Circumstances aside, as a fan of Willow, I am thrilled she is the inaugural champion. For some, Mercedes’ injury may taint her win, but if Willow is given the chances to defend this title in high profile matches against high caliber opponents, I know she is capable of making the title her own. ***
Willow gives a post-match speech where she literally bursts into tears over how moved she was to share the ring with Mercedes Moné – how can anybody not love this woman? She’s living proof that kindness mixed with humble, hard work can lead to success.
Cut out the two walk and brawl matches and this is a really good show. No doubt about it, the women stole the show, and it was clear the crowd was there to see them as well. Maybe there is hope for a second NJPW Women’s Title after all.