Tonight saw the next installment of NJPW Strong: Rivals tapings from Hollywood.
Hikuleo defeated Kevin Knight
Solid opener. Kevin Knight dashed to the opposite corner and took Hikuleo out with a dropkick as soon as the bell sounded. He landed a giant Stinger Splash and almost flew out of the ring in doing so. If you haven’t been keeping up with NJPW Strong, Knight is a Young Lion with an insane vertical leap. It’s like he has springs in his legs. When Hikuleo escaped to the floor, Knight chased after him and took him out with a plancha. The crowd loved this.
Hikuleo would come back quickly, landing a pop-up elbow. Moments later he took Knight’s head off with another vicious elbow that looked great on camera. He ragdolled Knight from corner to corner, then did a one-footed standing pin that Knight shoved off.
Hikuleo continued working Knight over in the ring. The five-minute call sounded as Knight tried making a comeback, but Hikuleo held onto control. It wasn’t until Knight landed an enzuigiri kick and another Stinger Splash that he was able to regain control on offense. He connected with his Hydraulic Dropkick that caught Hikuleo in the face—Hikuleo is 6’8”, by the way—and the crowd got loud for that. The Hollywood crowd in attendance was clearly a pro-Knight crowd.
Hikuleo later went for the Tongan Driller but Knight flipped out of it, bounced off the ropes, then took a seated Hikuleo out with a low sliding shoulder tackle. Knight then a standing frog splash for two. Hikuleo responded with a massive chop followed by a chokeslam for the victory. Again, solid opener. Knight is one to keep an eye on, but don’t sleep on Hikuleo, either.
Kevin Blackwood defeated Ariya Daivari
The “new” Ariya Daivari, who has been trying to be a good guy instead of a bad guy over the past few months, offered Blackwood his hand before the match started. Blackwood was hesitant, but shook Daivari’s hand anyway. Early on, Blackwood did his best Razor Ramon impression when he got on top of Daivari and paintbrushed the back of Daivari’s head. Daivari didn’t like that, so he did some paintbrushing of his own next.
Blackwood tossed Daivari with a wrist-clutch suplex and connected with a high kick to Daivari’s chest. Daivari later answered back with a flying shoulder tackle that laid Blackwood out on the floor outside the ring.
Daivari caught Blackwood with a snap neckbreaker that bent Blackwood’s neck across the middle rope; Daivari executed the move through the ropes and landed on the apron.
Blackwood rallied back with more strikes and a German suplex for two. He then earned another two-count for a Death Valley Bomb. Daivari answered moments later with his signature hammerlock lariat for a near fall. Daivari argued with the referee before sliding to the floor and grabbing a chair from under the ring. Daivari’s integrity was being tested again. The crowd began to hoot and holler both for and against Daivari using the chair. He reluctantly tossed the chair out of the ring and went for a vertical suplex but Blackwood, who by now had enough time to recover, used a small package cradle for the win, shocking Daivari.
After yet another loss, Ariya Daivari finally snapped, attacking Blackwood after the bell. “Nice guy” Ariya is gone, and in his place is the meaner, heelish Daivari from the past. He unloaded on Blackwood and shouted at the crowd before landing the Magic Carpet Ride splash from the top rope. He flipped off the audience before exiting.
U S of Jay Open Challenge: Jay White defeated SW3RVE
Most know SW3RVE as Shane Strickland or Swerve Strickland now in AEW. The crowd was noisy, clamoring and muttering about SW3RVE as Jay White grabbed the mic to address him inside the ring. White offered him a spot in Bullet Club. They almost did a “Too Sweet” gesture, but SW3RVE, in fact, swerved White and kicked him in the face instead.
SW3RVE went through rapid-fire offense at the start and teased a big double-stomp on White before White slipped to the floor for a breather. White does this in almost all of his matches, just like Keiji Muto does. When White tried getting back into the ring, SW3RVE trapped his arms and stomped on both of White’s hands.
There were a lot of moves or sequences of moves that SW3RVE did that don’t really have names yet. He’s unique in that so much of what he does is signature, from offensive moves to simply moving around the ring. He did a forward roll from the apron to the floor for no other reason than it looked cool. His ring style is out there, it’s distinct.
White changed the pace catching SW3RVE and throwing him to the floor to bash him repeatedly against the ring apron and guardrail. Back in the ring, the match slowed with White holding SW3RVE in a side headlock. The live crowd was actually split behind both White and SW3RVE. A handful of fans love “Switchblade” regardless of how ruthless he acts in the ring.
Whenever SW3RVE would try to get back in the game, White would bring him back to the mat with questionable tactics, like eye-gouging or hair-pulling, for example. They traded hard chops. SW3RVE landed a flying back elbow off the second rope. He earned a two-count after spiking White with a deadlift brainbuster.
After the ten-minute call sounded, White was able to plant SW3RVE with a snapping backdrop suplex. He caught SW3RVE with a flatliner, a release German suplex and a Bladebuster for two. SW3RVE tried rallying back as the crowd chanted “Who’s house? SW3RVE’s house!” over and over.
They mixed it up again and traded hard palm strikes, chops and kicks. White laid SW3RVE out with a big spinning uranage. SW3RVE was up quickly and moments later connected with the Ego Slide. The crowd was up high at this point.
SW3RVE chopped White, who was standing outside the ring on the apron. White fell to his butt, so SW3RVE kicked him low in the chest, knocking White off balance and off the apron. White tried hanging on by hooking both of his ankles to the bottom rope, so he was dangling upside from the rope to the floor. SW3RVE climbed to the top rope and crashed onto White with a diving double stomp to the floor. The fifteen-minute call sounded right after.
In the ring, SW3RVE landed another diving double stomp for two. White kicked out. SW3RVE locked in a hammerlock with his knee while snapping White’s arm by kicking his arm. On camera, it looked as though White could have separated his shoulder. Elegant and brutal.
The finish to this was a little bit wonky. White grabbed referee Jeremy Marcus and shoved him. Marcus turned his back and it looked like he thought SW3RVE was going to crash into him, but he didn’t, but Marcus flinched and looked away. With his back turned, White snuck in a low blow to take SW3RVE out. The crowd didn’t see that but saw the referee move into the corner and seemed confused and/or put off and started booing heavily. White hit a sleeper suplex followed by the Bladerunner for the win shortly afterwards.
“Who’s house?!” White cut a promo afterwards, claiming that he proved that no one messes with him in “his house.” Since this taped when White was on AEW, IMPACT and NJPW on AXS all in the same week, he mentioned that while he’d been “everywhere” lately, and that while he’d appear anywhere at anytime, you could always count on him to be in a NJPW Strong ring without surprise. He then asked who’d face him at Strong Style Evolved in Tampa coming up. It hadn’t been announced yet, but earlier this week, NJPW of America announced that White’s opponent will be Chris Sabin in Tampa.
This was a good episode of Strong that had a great main event. White and SW3RVE need to have another match down the road; this felt like a warm-up for something bigger. The finish doused cold water on the match, but the chemistry was natural between the two, and in the right setting they might have the ability to have a downright classic. But the finish here is what held the match back.
For a show that clocks in about five minutes of wrestler mic time a week, the Ariya Daivari build-up and meltdown has been textbook perfect, and he has only had to cut that one initial promo in Philly last year to set the table. I’m interested to see where he goes in NJPW Strong from here.
The opener between Hikuleo and Kevin Knight was a nice preview of two guys who’ll be on top of the card here or somewhere else in the relative future. Hoping to see them have another match when they’re both more developed, perhaps in a year or so.