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NJPW Strong results: Juice Robinson vs. Hikuleo tables match

Announcers Kevin Kelly and Alex Koslov opened the show in front of a new backdrop that read “New Japan: Fighting Spirit Unleashed.” Kelly explained that over the next three weeks on Strong we’ll be seeing the new Fighting Spirit Unleashed that culminates in a Strong Openweight title match between champion Tom Lawlor and Lio Rush. This was the first episode of Strong that featured a live audience at ringside. 

Tomohiro Ishii defeated Alex Coughlin

This was great. This was the first of Coughlin’s Challenge Match Series, or a series of bouts against senior NJPW stars. This is similar to what both Yota Tsuji and Yuta Uemura completed this year, their final obstacle before becoming a full-time NJPW roster member. Coughlin will soon be a Young Lion no more.

Coughlin got right in Ishii’s face before the “Stone Pitbull” had even stepped into the ring. They started off with a long collar and elbow tie-up until they were forced to break when they were up against the ropes. Coughlin landed a cheap shot as they broke the hold. Just as you’d expect, Ishii dished out a brutal receipt of chops and elbows. Coughlin’s chest was pink not even five minutes into this. 

Coughlin came back and put Ishii down with a flying shoulder block, then a deadlift gutwrench suplex for two. Ishii responded with even harder combinations of strikes in the corner. He scored a two-count with a huge angle backdrop suplex. 

Coughlin immediately sprung back up after Ishii put him down again with a vertical suplex. He’d also use a backdrop suplex on Ishii for a two of his own, and later his signature bridging fall-away slam, again for two. They did a tit-for-tat elbow spot next, but Coughlin was able to power up again and hit Ishii with a spear. It wasn't enough, though, and Ishii put Coughlin away with a vertical drop brainbuster to win in just over nine minutes. 

Hiroshi Tanahashi, Clark Connors & Karl Fredericks defeated the Stray Dog Army (Bateman, Barrett Brown & Misterioso)

Tanahashi making an appearance on tonight’s episode was kind of surreal. His presence alone felt like it elevated the match from the get-go. Just watching him pose on the top corner turnbuckle and show his IWGP US championship did something to alter the dynamic of the match before it even started.

The Stray Dog Army is a new name for the gang of three led by Bateman. They jaw-jacked with the babyface team before the match was underway. The crowd chanted for Tanahashi before this started; Tana humbly declined the praise with a “no, no” hand gesture.

Fredericks and Misterioso kicked things off for their teams. SDA triple-teamed him early, but Fredericks was able to land a cross body block and tag out to Connors. 

Later, Fredericks and Tanahashi landed a double-team elbow drop, and then all three played simultaneous air guitar, which was awesome.

Brown tagged in next and shut Connors down with a suplex into the corner. Bateman was next and used his usual dirty wrestling tactics on Connors. Tonight he fishhooked Connors’ nose right in front of the referee. 

SDA worked over Connors for a few more minutes, using quick tags in and out to keep the pressure on Connors. When Connors was finally able to make it to the red corner, Misterioso and Brown pulled Tanahashi and Fredericks off the apron so Connors couldn’t tag out. 

Finally, Connors was able to tag out to Tanahashi, and what a hot tag it was. Tana cleaned house, then did a double-elbow drop to Misterioso and Brown. The crowd was probably at its loudest by this point as the crowd started chanting “Go Ace!” 

They did a spot where first Brown took out Fredericks, then Connors took out Brown, Tanahashi slingbladed Brown, Bateman suckerpunched Tanahashi, and finally Fredericks came back and took out Bateman with an enzuigiri kick. Everyone was laid out and the crowd let out more loud cheers and a “this is awesome” chant, the first on Strong ever. 

Fredericks would lay Brown out with Manifest Destiny to pick up the win for his team. Everyone looked great in this, but having both Tanahashi and a live audience really enhanced the match quality and made it feel more meaningful than the usual six-man tags on the show. 

“It’s obvious: This asshole running around this place right now is—and always was—the real Will Ospreay.” Fredericks grabbed the mic afterwards and immediately called out Ospreay, saying he’d become a prick since “turning over a new leaf,” or becoming a heel and forming the United Empire with the Great O-Khan and Jeff Cobb. He said he wasn't the same Young Boy he was 18 months ago and now, he’s a killer. He then issued a strongly worded challenge to Ospreay, who appeared with his version of the IWGP World Heavyweight title. The two then got into a wild brawl where Fredericks ended up tearing Ospreay’s pink dress shirt off his back. Ospreay then laid Fredericks out with the Hidden Blade back elbow, grabbed the mic and left Fredericks with these words: “I’ll see you in Dallas, Young Boy.”

Hikuleo defeated Juice Robinson in a tables match

The first person to put their opponent through a table would win, which meant no pinfalls, submissions, count-outs or disqualifications.

This was a rematch from their bout at Resurgence last month, and tonight’s match was much better. Robinson went after Hikuleo before the bell sounded. He threw Hikuleo into the corner and laid in a number of closed fists to his head, but Hikuleo was able to lift Robinson onto his own shoulders in position to be power bombed. Robinson bit his way out of the hold, then kicked him in the groin. The juice was loose, indeed. 

Robinson ran off the apron and and landed onto Hikuleo with a somersault senton. The crowd was very into him at this show. Robinson tried suplexing Hikuleo through a table but couldn’t swing it. Hikuleo later back body-dropped Robinson onto the floor. Robinson dropkicked a table into Hikuleo’s face, then caught him with a pescado back on the floor. 

When Robinson went to the top rope later, Hikuleo press slammed him off of it and back into the ring. He’d then set up a table in the corner and attempted to impale Robinson through it, but Robinson dodged it and Hikuleo went through the table. Since Robinson himself didn’t put Hikuleo through the table, the match was still on. 

Robinson tried putting Hikuleo through a table with a diving senton off the top but Hikuleo moved, and Robinson landed on the table neck-first and actually split the table, although not fully. Hikuleo finished Robinson off next with a Tongan Driller through a table, thus winning the match in ten minutes. 

Final thoughts: 

This was definitely the most “big time” episode of NJPW Strong. With the live crowd, bigger set, and stars like Hiroshi Tanahashi, Will Ospreay and Tomohiro Ishii showing up, the entire show felt elevated and more important than usual. This might be a good jumping on point for anyone wanting to get into Strong now that hasn’t already.

Next week sees Fred Rosser vs. Ren Narita in the main event, plus Jay White vs. Wheeler Yuta in singles action.