Tonight featured the last content from the Strong Style Evolved 2022 tapings from St. Petersburg, Fla.
The DKC defeated Kevin Knight via submission
High quality opener. These Young Lions usually tag together which made the match more interesting; Ian Riccaboni even said they were "like brothers" on commentary. In many ways it was your prototypical NJPW Young Lion style match, but both DKC and Knight added their own distinct wrestling pizazz to make it stand apart from other NJPW rookie openers.
The bout became a much higher impact affair after a few minutes in. The crowd got into it as the match went on, especially towards the finish. Late in the match, the DKC fired up, shouted "DKC FIRE!!" and threw a number of knife-edged chops into Knight's throat. Knight responded with a basement shoulder-tackle. DKC caught Knight with a flying jump kick off the ropes; it was more like a Bruce Lee type kick as opposed to the modern wrestling fare. It looked cool. He'd later tap Knight out with a crucifix Bomb that he turned into a modified crucifix/Koji clutch submission hold for the win.
Mascara Dorada defeated TJP
In related news, NJPW announced earlier today that TJP would participate in this year's Best of the Super Juniors 29 tournament in Japan next month.
As for the match between him and Mascara Dorada, it was very good, albeit short. This was Dorada's first time back in a NJPW ring in six years. The two complemented each other nicely and felt naturally in sync working together.
It was subtle, but on commentary, Riccaboni and Matt Rehwoldt talked about the history between these two. They didn't mention it, but they are referring to WWE's 2017 Cruiserweight Classic that TJP won, and Dorada (as Gran Metallik) was a part of.
Early on in the match, Mascara Dorada caught TJP with a perfectly timed Asai moonsault after TJP had slid onto the floor from the outside. His momentum was short-lived, though, as TJP would take back the reins, neutralizing Dorada in the ring with a hammerlock surfboard submission, then released the hold by falling backwards and snapping Dorada's arm backwards. The crowd booed.
Dorada came back and in the end scored a pinfall on TJP after planting him with a spinning sit-out Death Valley Bomb.
TJP acted like a sore loser afterwards by unmasking Dorada, forcing him to throw a towel over his head to protect his identity. The crowd was heated as TJP left the ring with Dorada's mask. I imagine we'll see a rematch between these two down the road based on what we saw tonight.
Jay Lethal defeated Ren Narita
Retired NJPW referee Tiger Hattori joined the English broadcast team for this match.
When the bell sounded, Lethal took his time engaging Narita, instead choosing to please the crowd with his version of the Flair Strut mixed in with a couple of "Woos!" Narita didn't look pleased. They started off with an extended exchange, going back and forth first on the mat, then running off the ropes. Lethal teased Lethal Injection, but Narita shoved Lethal away.
Ian Riccaboni put over Lethal on commentary as an unsung, underrated wrestler of the scene for years, and rightly so. I mention this because it also reminded me of how young Narita is and how he's only been wrestling for five years. But he didn't look out of place at all with a vet like Lethal. It's almost as though Katsuyori Shibata fully transferred his wrestling spirit into Ren Narita's body, and what we see now is simply that.
Speaking of Shibata-esque wrestling, Narita later caught Lethal with a few high roundhouse kicks to the chest. Lethal would recover and later attempted a springboard dropkick to Narita as Narita stood on the apron. Narita ducked, but Lethal caught him with a draping cutter which brought Narita back into the ring.
Lethal missed a diving elbow drop, allowing Narita to recover and plant Lethal with a front suplex. He earned himself a nearfall after hitting a nice bridging single-arm suplex. Narita then went for the Narita Special #3, a modified Texas Cloverhold, then transitioned from that into a figure-four leglock. Lethal was able to force the break, and when they separated, we could see Narita's nose and/or mouth were bloodied up. The announcers weren't quite sure what happened to cause it, and it wasn't clear on screen, either.
Lethal used his Lethal Combination on Narita, then followed up with a deadlift brainbuster before connecting with Hail to the King, his Randy Savage-inspired diving elbow drop.
It was around the ten-minute mark when Lethal locked on his own figure four. When Narita got out of the hold, Lethal went for Lethal Injection, but Narita blocked it again, catching Lethal with a sleeper hold before transitioning into a cobra twist submission. The visual here was inadvertently amazing, with Narita's face now pouring with blood down onto Lethal's ribcage.
Lethal countered the hold, rolling Narita up for two. They exchanged roll-up pins before Lethal was finally able to catch Narita in rhythm with Lethal Injection and put him away for the victory in just over ten minutes.
Lethal offered Narita his hand after the match. Narita proudly accepted and shook Lethal's hand while bowing. Both looked terrific in this.
This was a short and sweet episode of Strong, clocking in at under an hour with three very good matches that didn't drag. This episode is the epitome of what we often call an "easy watch."
The DKC vs. Kevin Knight is a great primer for those unfamiliar with the LA Dojo's latest prospects. Mascara Dorada vs. TJP had natural chemistry and previewed what could become a longer rivalry down the road between the two. Jay Lethal vs. Ren Narita was one of those Strong matches that if it were in front of a different and/or bigger audience, it'd have torn the house down. Lethal is a pro's pro, and Narita is something special, proving it all in about ten minutes with Lethal.