NJPW Strong: The New Beginning in USA 2022 continued from Seattle with Ian Riccaboni on commentary filling in for Kevin Kelly who is still in Japan doing English commentary for the Golden Series tour.
The Midnight Heat defeated Kevin Knight and The DKC
The Midnight Heat (Eddie Pearl & Ricky Gibson) are DEFY Wrestling’s current and longest reigning Tag Team champions. They’ve been active on the Pacific Northwest indie scene for the past couple years.
Gibson and Young Lion Knight started the match off, but as soon as Knight grabbed hold of Gibson for a wristlock, Gibson broke the hold and immediately tagged out to Pearl.
Once Pearl was in the ring, DKC began firing up on the apron and insisted Knight tag him in. He shouted “DK FIRE!” at Pearl upon entrance. How could anyone dislike this guy? His energy alone is infectious.
DKC took Pearl out with a hard karate chop to the chest, knocking him off his feet. Pearl rushed over to Gibson for consolation and hugged him around the waist. Gibson called for a timeout, but the ref did not oblige.
DKC and Pearl grappled on the mat with DKC getting the better of the exchange before tagging Knight back in. The LA Dojo duo double-teamed Pearl, laying him out with a double shoulder tackle. Gibson took a double hip toss from the Young Lions next. DKC chopped Pearl up some more with knife edge karate chops to the neck and chest.
The Midnight Heat made a quick and crafty comeback next, laying the DKC out with Back Sabbath, the team’s side Russian leg sweep/back cracker double team maneuver.
The Heat kept DKC in their corner and continued on with their double-team strategy, constantly tagging in and out while keeping DKC grounded and away from the red corner where a frustrated Knight waited for the tag.
Gibson held DKC in position as Pearl was coming off the ropes with a double axe handle, but DKC shoved Gibson into harm’s way, which led to Pearl accidentally taking out his partner. DKC saw his chance to tag out to Knight, but Pearl ran across the ring and decked Knight, knocking him off the apron to the floor, ruining any chance DKC might have had at tagging out.
Pearl caught DKC with a Bobby Eaton-esque right hand to the face. DKC then caught Pearl running off the ropes with a high leg lariat and finally tagged out to Knight. The crowd was getting louder in support of the Young Lions from here on out.
Knight cleaned house, taking Pearl out with a Stinger splash in the corner and landing a switch-around standing frog splash on Gibson for two. Pearl tried breaking up the pin with an elbow drop, but Knight moved out of the way so Pearl dropped the elbow on Gibson instead. The Midnight Heat were really good at playing the fool for the babyfaces and getting the crowd as into the match as possible.
Knight took Pearl out with a mega-high dropkick. I swear, this guy gets a half inch higher on his dropkicks every time I watch him. I urge anyone who hasn’t caught this guy throw a dropkick yet to do so now. Hops, he has.
The finish saw Knight attempt a sunset flip in the corner, but Gibson trapped his arm while holding the rope for leverage to score a dubious three-count on Knight as the referee didn’t see Gibson cheating. The crowd booed, but the Midnight Heat sure looked happy. This was a fun opener.
Fred Rosser defeated Gabriel Kidd
This match was great, but even I felt sore after watching it.
To say both Kidd and Ross were amped up for this might be an understatement. They jaw jacked at each other during the ring introductions before the bell sounded.
The two locked up after the bell sounded, but neither could gain the upper hand up front. Kidd muscled Rosser to the ropes. They traded shoulder tackles next though neither really budged. Kidd was able to take Rosser out with a backdrop early, but Rosser was up seconds after and laid Kidd out with a running lariat. Both rolled to opposite sides of the floor for a breather.
Back in the ring, the trash talk continued. They bashed each other with forearms and started exchanging stiff open hand strikes where you could see sweat flying off both of their bodies with each shot they threw.
They traded headbutts next before launching into what felt like a never-ending chop-for-chop sequence that had me wincing at times. The violence was relentless.
For those keeping tabs, this match felt like a marker for how far Rosser has strayed from the WWE in-ring style many of us were used to seeing from him. He’s shed pretty much all of what once was “Darren Young” in becoming who he is now: a really big, really tough, really mean dude.
They exchanged more hard strikes in the corner. Kidd got the better of the exchange, fell to the mat and sat cross-legged ala Katsuyori Shibata, his trainer, and shouted at Rosser to bring it on.
Rosser crawled to the center of the ring and sat across from Kidd, declaring the ring was “his house.” The two started slapping each other in the face while seated. Kidd looked to have bashed Rosser in the ear with one of the shots.
Back on their feet, Kidd boxed Rosser into the corner with more palm strikes. Kidd’s wrist tape started flying off. On commentary, Alex Koslov said this match would take years off their lives.
Rosser halted Kidd’s onslaught with pure power, hoisting Kidd into the air with a fireman’s carry and bringing him down with a gutbuster, stopping Kidd’s momentum. Rosser’s wrist tape began coming off, too, when he threw left and right lariats to Kidd’s back and chest. Kidd later answered with a big brainbuster.
Kidd went to the top rope for a moonsault, which looked beautiful, but no one was home as Rosser moved out of the way before Kidd crashed to the mat. He caught Kidd with another big running lariat and scored a near fall from it. Next was a running death valley bomb for another two count. He finally put Kidd down for good with an Emerald Frosion to pick up the hard-earned victory; strong style indeed.
Kidd got on the mic afterwards and, while pointing to the NJPW Lion mark logo, said that it was the reason why everyone had been brought together there. He thanked the crowd before declaring that New Japan was “the best professional wrestling company on the planet.” He thanked DEFY for allowing NJPW into their house and once again declared NJPW the best in the world, and in Japanese, to boot.
“U.S. of Jay” Open Challenge Series: Jay White (w/ Hikuleo) defeated Jay Lethal
White is everywhere these days. Outside of Strong, White has recently appeared on AEW Dynamite and Rampage, has made appearances with Bullet Club on Impact and was even featured on a recent “greatest hits” edition of NJPW on AXS TV which aired his match against Hiroshi Tanahashi for the IWGP Heavyweight title in Osaka in 2020.
White came out to the ring with Bullet Club cohort Hikuleo, who we saw on last week’s edition of NJPW Strong against Cody Chhun.
The next mystery opponent in White’s U.S. of Jay open challenge series turned out to be former ROH Champion and AEW roster member Lethal. The two actually faced off once before in ROH in 2017 when White was on excursion from NJPW with Lethal coming out victorious.
When the bell rang, White walked to the center of the ring and pointed at the NJPW lion mark and shouted that Lethal was now in his house, his territory. Lethal didn’t bite. The crowd was excited as the two circled each other. They didn’t touch for almost a minute or so before locking up.
The two mixed it up on the mat. They traded holds although anytime Lethal grabbed a hold, White would strong arm his way out or at least make things uncomfortable for Lethal as he held control. Fans were chanting “Let’s go, Jay!” but I’m not sure which Jay they were supporting.
Lethal later caught White with a Chris Jericho-style springboard dropkick that knocked White from the apron to the floor. White tried following up with a dive through the ropes, but Hikuleo stood in harm’s way and held his hand out, ordering Lethal to stay inside the ring.
After another exchange in the ring, White was able to catch and drill Lethal with a snap backdrop suplex. He taunted Lethal, mashing his face with his boot.
Lethal was later able to pull off a suicide dive through the ropes that he attempted earlier before rolling White back into the the ring. He went for Hail To The King, his own version of Randy Savage’s diving elbow drop, but White blocked it, using an inside cradle for two.
Lethal used a reverse fireman’s carry roll on White, which I hadn’t seen done before tonight. Imagine Finlay’s fireman’s carry roll but starting from the torture rack position. He connected with the diving elbow on his second try. White took Lethal down with a quick flatliner before planting him with a release german suplex. He used a Blade Buster on Lethal for two.
Later, White would go after Lethal’s knee, stomping at it and wrenching it over his own neck at one point. Lethal connected with a superkick moments later, but he grasped at his knee after landing it, so he wasn’t able to capitalize on the moment.
Lethal called for Lethal Injection, but White blocked it and went for a half-and-half suplex. Lethal blocked that and slapped on a figure four leg lock in the center of the ring. White would eventually make it to the ropes for a break.
They traded more chops next. Lethal wobbled on his injured knee. They traded forearms at a rapid pace until Lethal caught White with a cutter out of nowhere. He went for Lethal Injection, but White rolled out of the way and Lethal sold his knee as though it buckled after he’d bounced off the ropes.
White went for the Blade Runner, but Lethal escaped. He went for Lethal Injection once more, but White used a chop block as Lethal was bouncing off the ropes to take out his worn-out knee.
White spiked Lethal with two half-nelson suplexes before pinning Lethal with the Blade Runner to pick up the win. White is now 2–0 in his open challenge series.
In his post-match promo, he said that he and Lethal were now 1–1 and if they wanted to even the score, maybe they could run it back once more and lightly hinted at it happening in AEW. He said the U.S. of Jay challenge is still open and awaited any of the latest free agents in wrestling to step up and take him on. He finished with his usual Switchblade Era spiel before the show wrapped, capping another solid episode of Strong.
This was a top shelf episode of NJPW Strong. Each match had a distinct flavor, completely differing from one and other. The tag team opener was fun and intense, while Rosser vs. Kidd was one of the more violent matches in the show’s short history.
The main event, or the Battle of the Jays, was one of the best main events the show has had, as well. Because of how talented both Lethal and White are, they turned in a quality match that is as good (if not better) than much of NJPW proper’s upper-card. If they do have a rematch in AEW, I assure you they’ll tear the house down.
Next week sees NJPW Strong Openweight champion “Filthy” Tom Lawlor take on former Team Filthy member Taylor Rust.