Tonight saw the second installment of NJPW Strong: The New Beginning USA 2022 from Seattle.
Hikuleo defeated Cody Chhun
Chhun is from Washington state and had a number of fans cheering for him in the audience before the match. It was a pretty huge reaction for him, as noted by announcer Ian Riccaboni.
The two traded chops early. Hikuleo took Chhun out with a massive lariat early on, then lawn-darted him into the corner ringpost. Chhun rolled to the floor and Hikuleo chased after him. He found Chhun and blasted him with a chop that sounded painful, to put it mildly. Even the announcers were aghast.
Hikuleo has improved so much in such a short time. I don’t think he’s been wrestling for too much longer than Chhun, but he comes off like a serious monster for the company.
Chhun tried body slamming Hikuleo, but the larger Hikuleo fell on top of Chhun and pinned him for a count of two. Hikuleo launched Chhun from one corner of the ring to the other.
The crowd was loud in support of Chhun from this point on. He’s a textbook “white-meat” babyface in many ways. He’d eventually fight back hard enough to bodyslam Hikuleo, which earned a loud reaction from the crowd. Chhun connected with a superkick and jumping cutter from the top rope for a very close two. Riccaboni teased an upset before Hikuleo laid Chhun out with a snap powerslam off the ropes followed by a massive chokeslam for the win. Textbook-quality babyface vs. heel match with a great pace that reeled the crowd right in. Both were very good here.
Josh Barnett defeated Ren Narita
If Narita didn’t already remind you of Katsuyori Shibata, he came to the ring for this match wearing Shibata-like black kickpads. It’s almost cosplay at this point.
He and Barnett demonstrated excellent grappling technique over the first five minutes. Barnett was the larger of the two and was able to sink in more leglock attempts. Barnett’s size seems to have not slowed him down much, however. He ducked down and under for a go-behind waistlock “like a shark,” Riccaboni said. Barnett is still quick.
Five minutes into the match, Narita busted out the high and low kicks. Barnett responded by ragdolling the young Narita around the ring with a number of suplexes, including one sick-looking front suplex. Narita answered back with suplexes of his own throughout the match, and at one point he almost dumped Barnett on his head after catching him with a front suplex off the ropes.
While the crowd started out silent, they were on their feet by the end. Barnett spiked Narita with a backdrop suplex, then went to the mount position for a bit of ground-and-pound before submitting Narita with an armbar. Barnett made sure to release the hold as soon as the ref called the match, a touch of nuance modern wrestlers need to start incorporating into their matches, too.
This was excellent overall. Billy Robinson was smiling upon this match from the heavens, I’m sure of it. If you’re familiar with either Barnett or Narita’s in-ring style, you got exactly what you’d expect. I like having these types of matches mixed into the card, too. It spices things up, especially in a live setting.
FinJuice (David Finlay & Juice Robinson) defeated JONAH & Bad Dude Tito
Believe it or not, this was one of the best tag team matches of the year so far.
Finlay connected with a dropkick early on and knocked Bad Dude Tito off his feet. When Robinson tagged in later, he crushed Tito with a big standing senton. Juice was extra fiery tonight. FinJuice did double corner lariats before Robinson connected with a running cannonball.
FinJuice had been in control for most of the first part of the match until JONAH distracted referee Jeremy Marcus for a moment, which gave Bad Dude Tito a chance to take Finlay out with a running back elbow. The heels kept him in the corner and were shameless in their double-team attack. The crowd booed.
Finlay fired up and took JONAH and Tito on a detour through Spinning Back Elbow City until JONAH kiboshed that by crashing into Finlay with an avalanche. He’d go on to press slam Finlay onto the top of the corner ringpost. JONAH used tons of impressive and at times wild power spots.
Bad Dude Tito put Finlay down with a crazy spinning Blue Thunder Bomb for two. It was after this spot that Finlay was barely able to make the tag out to Robinson off camera, JONAH had distracted referee Jeremy Marcus again, preventing him from seeing the tag. Finlay would make a comeback anyways, connecting with a nice flying cross-body block on Tito.
The finish came when JONAH and Tito lifted Finlay in the air for some kind of double suplex spot when Robinson interfered, taking matters into his own hands after JONAH’s persistent cheating. This gave Finlay a chance to reverse the momentum from the suplex, then rolled up Bad Dude Tito with an inside cradle for the three-count and win a at around the 12 minute mark.
A brief, but excellent episode of NJPW Strong this week. We got three excellent (albeit short) matches that all had a different flavor.
Next week will see the third show from The New Beginning USA 2022 tour and will feature another match in the U S of Jay open match challenge, with Jay White taking on a mystery opponent in the main event.