New Japan Pro Wrestling returns to the United States tonight with Strong Style Evolved at Walter Pyramid in Long Beach, California.
In the main event, Kenny Omega & Kota Ibushi team against The Young Bucks. The match was set up when The Young Bucks moved up to heavyweight and took exception to Omega calling his Golden Lovers duo with Ibushi the best tag team in the world. The Bullet Club's in-fighting will also continue earlier in the night, with Cody Rhodes & Marty Scurll taking on Guerrillas of Destiny.
The semi-main event features Jay White defending his IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship against Hangman Page. IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada and Zack Sabre Jr., who are set to face off at Sakura Genesis on April 1st, will be on opposite sides of a tag match. Okada will be teaming with Tomohiro Ishii to take on Sabre & Minoru Suzuki.
With Rey Mysterio missing the show due to his bicep injury, Will Ospreay is taking his place against Jushin Thunder Liger.
There are nine matches on the Strong Style Evolved card in total. The show airs live on AXS TV at 8 p.m. Eastern and will be live on New Japan World everywhere except the United States.
Per Dave Meltzer, the main event has been changed from a 30 minute time limit to a 60 minute time limit. This breaks from tradition as NJPW only does 60 minute time limits for title maches.
ROCKY ROMERO, SHO & YOH DEFEATED CHRISTOPHER DANIELS, FRANKIE KAZARIAN & SCORPIO SKY
Roppongi 3K ran wild on Kazarian in the early going. Kaz appeared to tweak his knee coming off the middle rope. He sold it for a minute, but continued working. Daniels hit an Asai moonsault to the floor, and Sky hit a springboard cutter as his team firmly took over.
YOH was able to make a tag to Romero, who fired up and shifted the momentum. Romero hit a springboard legdrop. SHO and YOH were sent outside, and Sky hit an awesome tope con hilo to the floor.
The teams traded nearfalls, before SHO and YOH hit Sky with the 3K, and SHO pinned Sky. A good opener.
JUICE ROBINSON & DAVID FINLAY DEFEATED HIROOKI GOTO & GEDO
Juice and Goto started off, and traded forearms, shoulder blocks, and elbow strikes. Goto came away from the sequence with a bloody mouth. Gedo and Goto worked over Juice, who responded by hitting his trademark jabs. Gedo and Juice traded thumbs to the eye, before tagging in their partners.
Finlay ran wild momentarily, but Goto cut him off. All four men jumpd into the ring as the match broke down, before Juice sent Goto outside. Juice landed a plancha on Goto, while Finlay hit Gedo with a cutter, and scored the pinfall.
DAVEY BOY SMITH, JR. & LANCE ARCHER DEFEATED CHUCK TAYLOR & TORU YANO
This match was built around Smith and Archer working over Taylor, while Yano played chicken and did his trademark comedy spots.
Smith and Archer jumped Taylor and Yano before the bell, and dominated the first several minutes of the match. Smith hit an impressive deadlift german on Taylor, and Archer did the Spoiler/Undertaker ropewalk spot.
Taylor was able to escape the Hart Attack clothesline, and made a hot tag to Yano. Yano hit an inverted atomic drop, but Archer no-sold it. Yano was sent outside, and tricked Archer and Smith into running into each other, allowing Taylor to hit a tope. Yano teased one of his own, but just untied the turnbuckle pad instead.
Archer charged into the exposed buckles, and Taylor scored a nearfall. Taylor hit a piledriver on Archer and went for the pin, but Smith broke it up. Smith took Yano outside, while Archer and Taylor traded nearfalls off an Archer chokeslam spot.
The finish saw Smith jump back in the ring, and aided Archer in hitting the Killer Bomb for the pinfall win. Smith and Archer are a good team, and Taylor looked good here.
CODY & MARTY SCURLL VDEFEATED TAMA TONGA & TANGA LOA
Cody and Marty did boo/yay spots with the mic. This was not a pro-Cody crowd. "F*** you, Cody" chants. Cody said that there would be no match, as the Bullet Club were friends. Tanga Loa grabbed the mic and said that they would not deny the crowd their match, and that if he and Tonga were on a team, it would NOT be Team Cody.
The teams traded offense, before Cody and Scurll took over. Scurll teased the chicken wing, but Cody stole his spotlight and tagged himself in. He went for Cross Rhodes on Loa, but Loa reversed and hit one of his own.
Cody hit a disaster kick and went to the top, but Tonga cut him off and hit a superplex. Tonga went to the top, but Scurll cut him off and hit a superplex. Loa hit a superplex on Scurll, and Tonga, Loa, and Scurll rolled ouside. Cody teased Omega's terminator dive, but Loa cut him off and hit a spear.
Loan and Tonga briefly took over, but Cody recovered and hit Cross Rhodes on Loa for the pin.
I know the idea here was to sell chaos and the match was just a backdrop for the Bullet Club dissent angle that is going on, but it felt like the finish came out of nowhere. Not that it matters, as Cody got a megastar reaction, and this had the most heat of anything on the show to this point.
TETSUYA NAITO, SANADA, BUSHI & HIROMU TAKAHASHI DEFEATED HIROSHI TANAHASHI, KUSHIDA, RYUSUKE TAGUCHI & DRAGON LEE
Tana and Naito started off. SANADA jumped in for the immediate double team, but Tana used a headscissors to escape. Lee and Takahashi tagged in and traded dozens of palm strikes to the chest, which got a great reaction. Takahashi went for a flying headscissors, but Lee used a handspring to avoid taking a bump, and hit a tope on Takahashi.
Taguchi orchestrated his train attack into the corenr on Takahashi, with everyone on the team hitting splashes or clotheslines in the corner consecutively, punctuated by Taguchi's hip attack. KUSHIDA tagged in, but the LIJ team jumped in and cut him off. They used a quick succession of tags to gain the advantage, with the highlight being SANADA tying KUSHIDA up with the paradise lock.
KUSHIDA was able to tag Tana, who hit double dragon screws on BUSHI and Takahashi. SANADA tagged in and stopped Tana's momentum by hitting a springboard dropkick. Tana tagged Taguchi, while SANADA tagged in Naito. Taguchi, Tana and KUSHIDA all attempted submissions at the same time, but Takahashi broke them up.
Things broke down into a four-way, which ended with Takahashi & Naito double-teaming Taguchi. While Takahashi fended off Taguchi's team, Naito hit Destino for the win.
Before the next match, Rey Mysterio came out. He apologized for being hurt, and promised to wrestle in New Japan when healthy.
WILL OSPREAY DEFEATED JUSHIN "THUNDER" LIGER
Ospreay won with an Oscutter. They worked at Liger's pace, which is about ten times slower than your typical Ospreay match, but Liger is about as great as you can be at 53 years old. This was fun.
Liger hit all of his trademarks including the Romero Special, the Shotei, the Frankensteiner, and multiple Liger Bombs. Ospreay sold a knee tweak for much of the match, perhaps to explain working at a slower pace.
After the match, Ospreay cut a promo. He thanked Liger, and challeged Rey to a future match, saying he needs to beat legends to create his own legacy.
As he talked, Scurll attacked from behind. Mysterio tried to make the save, but Scurll hit him and took hi mask off. Liger chased Scurll, and gave Rey his mask back. Rey and Liger posed together, and Rey and Ospreay shook hands, concluding the post-match festivities.
ZACK SABRE, JR. & MINORU SUZUKI DEFEATED KAZUCHIKA OKADA & TOMOHIRO ISHII
Okada and Sabre started, and worked to a stalemate. They tagged their partners, but continued going at it on the outside. Suzuki and Ishii also went outside, and Suzuki used a chair on Ishii right in front of the referee.
Ishii and Sabre double-teamed Ishii with armbars while Okada took the referee. Sabre worked over Ishii's right leg, while the crowd did dueling chants for and against him. Suzuki tagged in and continued working on the right leg of Ishii.
Ishii made the hot tag to Okada, who ran wild on Sabre. Sabre grabbed a hold to stop Okada's momentum, and regained control of the match with a modified octopus hold. Okada made the ropes, but abre quickly re-applied a standing octopus. Okada reversed into a tombstone attempt, but Sabre transitioned to a wristlock.
Okada tried to apply his Cobra Clutch, but Sabre slipped out. Okada went for the Rainmaker, but Sabre ducked. Sabre went for the double wristlock, but Okada slipped away. Both men tagged out, and Ishii and Suzuki traded chops, with Ishii getting the better of the exchange. They traded hard forearms in the center of the ring, with Suzuki getting the better of that one. Ishii fought back, leading to a double down.
Suzuki tagged Sabre, who scored a nearfall on Ishii. Suzuki took Okada to the floor and applied a sleeper, while Ishii got his second wind in the ring. Ishii hit a powerbomb for a nearfall. Sabre tried for a guillotine, but Ishii slipped out. Okada jumped in and hit his dropkick, leading to an Ishii nearfall on Sabre.
While Suzuki held Okada down in the corner, Sabre was able to apply his Orienteering with Napalm Death, a calf slicer/single-leg crab combo, and the referee called for the stoppage.
After the match, Sabre laid out Okada with an octopus hold, seven days before they meet for the IWGP title at Sakura Genesis. Standard, by the numbers booking here, but the crowd loved Suzuki and Ishii, and Okada was treated like the megastar he is.
They announced a North American return date, July 7 in San Francisco at the Cow Palace for a G1 Special show, Fighting Spirit Unleashed.
IWGP UNITED STATES CHAMPION JAY WHITE DEFEATED HANGMAN PAGE
The first few minutes of the bout saw them trading offense, with neither gaining a clear edge. That changed when Page clotheslined White with the middle rope, sending him to the floor. He whipped White into the guardrail, and threw him into the ring post.
Back inside, Page deadlifted white, then bridged into an unorthodox pinning suplex attempt. Page typically does at least one spot in every match that I've never seen before. White was able to stop Page with a lariat and a double sledge. White got a nearfall with a low suplex into the buckle pad, but started selling his lower back.
White went for the Kiwi Crusher, but Page turned it into a small package, scoring a nearfall. White hit a bridging german for a nearfall, and continued selling his back. Page countered with a draping DDT for a nearfall. Page went to the apron for a slingshot, but White cut him off. He tied Page in the ropes and chopped him hard, as the crowd got into the match for the first time.
White went for the Blade Runner on the apron, but Page avoided it. White had to settle for a DDT on the apron, and he hit a gutwrench suplex on Page from the apron to the floor, which got the crowd chanting. They went up top and Page hit a swinging neckbreaker off the ropes to the mat.
They kneeled on the mat and traded forearm strikes, selling exhaustion. Both men got to their feet and continued trading. White suplexed Page over the top rope to the floor, then went outside and hit another suplex on the floor. White tossed Page inside, and hit another suplex, and then another.
White went for Blade Runner, but Page countered into a powerbomb. He followed with a piledriver for a nearfall. White rolled outside, and White followed him out, nailing a standing shooting star from the apron to the floor. Page then hit a moonsault from the post to the floor.
Page hit a lariat for a nearfall. Page went for the Rite of Passage, but White rolled through for a nearfall. White hit a half nelson suplex for a nearfall, and a Kiwi Crusher for a nearfall. White went for Blade Runner, but Page countered. He hit a superkick and went for the Right of Passage, but White countered into a Blade Runner, into a three count.
This was very good, even great at times, but the lack of heat hurt it. As I said, I appreciate Page's creativity, but I think that both guys could do slightly less and get the same result that they're hoping for, saving some wear and tear on their bodies.
After the match, David Finlay attacked White, and made a challenge for the title on April 24 at Korakuen Hall.
THE GOLDEN LOVERS DEFEATED THE YOUNG BUCKS
Matt and Ibushi started, but Matt demanded that Kenny tag in. He did, and Matt cheap-shotted Ibushi on the apron, then tagged out. Omega tagged out, leavig Nick and Ibushi the legal men. Ibushi delivered some kicks, but Omega started selling that he was conflicted, allowing the Bucks to take advantage of his kindness and take over the match.
Omega went for the terminator dive, but Matt hit a superkick. Matt pulled a table from under the ring, in a bit of foreshadowing. Nick hit a springboard dive from the top to the floor onto both Omega and Ibushi. While Omega sold on the floor, the Bucks used tandem offense inside. Ibushi countered, and hit a dive from the post to the floor on Nick. Ibushi's offense was short-lived, as the Bucks regained control. Matt began selling his lower back.
Ibushi hit a desperation dropkick, and tagged in Kenny, who went to work on Matt's back. The Lovers took over, and hit a succession of moonsaults for a nearfall. They hit stereo Golden Triangle moonsaults, the Cross Slash, in an insane spot. Ibushi worked over Matt's back with kicks.
Matt was able to tag Nick, who shifted momentum to the Bucks with a bulldog on both of the Lovers. Nick hit a tope to the floor on Omega. Matt hit a blockbuster on Ibushi, and Nick covered for a nearfall. Both Bucks went to the top rope, but Ibushi shoved Nick to the floor. Omega and Ibushi hit a tandem superplex on Matt.
Omega and Ibushi teased the Golden Shower, but Nick cut them off and hit Omega with a suplex on the apron. The Bucks set up a table bridge from the apron to the guardrail. They teased an electric chair through the table, but Ibushi grabbed Matt from that position and hit a scary german suplex from the top rope into the ring.
Nick and Omega brawled outside, while Ibushi and Matt traded strikes in the ring. Omega jumped back inside and cut Matt off with a V-Trigger, but Ibushi hit a Last Ride for a nearfall. Matt rolled through into another V-Trigger, which got the Lovers another nearfall.
Omega whipped Nick over the barricade while Matt and Ibushi worked inside. Ibushi went for a standing moonsault, but Matt got the knees up. Omega jumped in for the save, but ate a superkick from Nick.
Nick hit a moonsault and a tornado DDT to the floor on Omega, while Matt applied the sharpshooter on Ibushi. Matt was forced to relinquish the hold after his back gave out, leading to a double down. Matt got to his feet and tagged Nick. They teased More Bang for Your Buck on Ibushi, but Matt splashed Omega through the table bridge instead.
With Omega out on the floor, Nick hit a splash onto a prone Ibushi, who was draped on the middle rope by Matt, leading to a nearfall. The crowd started dueling chants for the teams.
Ibushi ate stereo superkicks, but Omega made it back inside and briefly cut off Matt. The Bucks rebounded with superkicks, but Ibushi hit a bicycle kick on both men. All four men were down, and the crowd chanted "fight forever."
Omega nad Matt traded strikes as the show hit the four hour mark. Omega hit a dragon suplex, but didn't get all of it. Matt rebounded with a piledriver. He removed his belt and started whipping Omega with it, Hollyood Hogan-style, but Omega grabbed the belt and tossed it away, choosing to attack Matt with two V-Triggers. He went for a third, but Matt countered with a spear.
Nick went for the Meltzer Driver, but Ibushi hit a Last Ride through a ringside table. Omega picked up Matt, and Ibushi hit a Meltzer Driver for a nearfall. Omega hit a powerbomb for a nearfall. As Omega sold exhaustion, Matt hit a superkick. Ibushi helped Omega up, and Omega hit another V-Trigger on Matt.
Omega picked Matt up for the One-Winged Angel, and reluctantly hit it on his former friend. He went for the pin, but Nick dove in to break it up. With Matt down, Nick jumped in and hit both Lovers with strikes. Ibushi cut him off, and sent him outside. Omega and Ibushi hit the Golden Trigger on Matt for the pin.
Omega cradled Matt's head in his hands after he covered him, upset that he had to put his former Bullet Club mate down. He came to peace with his decision, and posed with Ibushi in celebration.
As the Golden Lovers left, Cody ran down to attack the Bucks. Omega and Ibushi ran back in to make the save before Cody could do any damage. Omega offered a handshake to Nick, and they embraced. Omega offered Matt his hand, but Matt refused, and rolled out of the ring.
Omega cut a promo after the match. He said that there are casualties in war. He's upset that dissension between The Elite was one of those casualties, but he chooses to find the silver lining. The silver lining is that the Golden Lovers are back, and they'll be back when New Japan returns in July. He promised to beat up Cody when they return, in a bigger and better building. Omega said he might have broken orbital bone, then finished his promo with a "Goodbye, and Goodnight, bang!"
This was an insane main event, capping a very good show.