JR Kratos defeated Jordan Clearwater
Good heavyweight match to kick things off. Kratos blasted Clearwater with a shoulder block as the bell sounded. These two are roughly the same height but Kratos outweighs the younger Clearwater by a few dozen pounds. Kratos played bully throughout most of the match, which in turn forced Clearwater to fight back.
Kratos is one of the best active heavyweights on national television right now. He suplexed Clearwater around the ring midway through, once with an impressive deadlift suplex and later with a vertical suplex that happened to launch Clearwater a few feet more than one normally would land from that move. Clearwater came back in short bursts, once even landing a running neckbreaker for two on Kratos.
From here, Clearwater applied a standing ankle lock before letting Kratos go. Kratos flattened Clearwater with a big lariat just after the five-minute mark, then locked on a crossface submission until Clearwater made it to the ropes for a break. Kratos then used an atomic drop (nice) and a running single-leg dropkick on Clearwater before putting him away with a modified fisherman's buster for the win.
Short, hard-hitting, and interesting to see Clearwater outclassed by a bigger, more established wrestler like Kratos. I imagine a rematch between them would be even better than what we saw tonight, and I look forward to it down the road.
Interview with KENTA
"I'm gonna beat him up, kick his ass, that's it. I've had the briefcase for over, what, six months? So, I'm gonna kick his ass."
In response to Kevin Kelly's interview with IWGP US champion Jon Moxley last week, KENTA appeared tonight with a few words of his own. "He's, like ... cheap." KENTA first explained that Moxley was "not a man," then proclaimed he'd be the first-ever Japanese-born IWGP US champion. "I know I'm the best person to represent New Japan to the world. I deserve to be the first Japanese United States champion."
KENTA then addressed Moxley in Japanese, where he pretty much restated what he'd just said in English. He implied he'd save the US title from "rotting" on Moxley, and threatened to beat him up again.
Bateman defeated Clark Connors
Good match that went just under ten minutes. Bateman has been booked like one of the top wrestlers on the program since arriving. They started this match exchanging shots and holds on the mat. They played up Bateman's clear size advantage over Connors, who wasn't really able to sink in any of his offense because of his lankier opponent. Connors would rely on his toughness to pull himself away from Bateman's hold, eating a number of hard chops without selling them, frustrating Bateman. You could see Connors' chest turning red immediately.
Towards the middle of the match, the two started to strike each other in a back-and-forth contest. After around five minutes or so, Connors tackled Bateman as he came off the ropes, decking him with a pounce, but it wasn't enough to put away the taller Bateman. Connors later answered with a powerslam but again, just two.
The finish saw Bateman catch Connors in a hanging guillotine choke as he came off the ropes, then put Connors down for two with a Northern Lights bomb. After Bateman spiked Connors with a tombstone, that was it. Bateman scores the win and moves ahead in the NJPW Strong pecking order.
In his post-match promo, Bateman claimed he couldn't feel his hands or fingers, implying how hard-hitting his match with Connors was. He then explained how Connors had "made" Bateman beat him in the way he did. "I'm the captain now," Bateman said.
Team Filthy (Chris Dickinson and Danny Limelight) defeated TJP and Ren Narita via submission
Really good tag team match. Narita and Dickinson were in first for their teams and looked great at the start. It was a nice catch-style exchange between these two.
TJP was next and tried locking in an armbar on Dickinson, but no dice: "Dirty Daddy" transitioned to a half-crab for a bit, then punished the young lion with hard low kicks before tagging out to Filthy teammate Danny Limelight.
Dickinson had been in for about five minutes by this point, so Limelight was fresh. Limelight immediately went and talked trash at Narita, who shoved Limelight to the mat with force. Narita has looked really good in his past couple matches on Strong. He ended up taking a lot of Team Filthy's offense midway through, with the team trapping him in their corner of the ring.
After hitting a desperation-German suplex, Narita finally tagged out to TJP, who soared into the ring, landing a springboard forearm shot to Limelight. The younger Limelight later turned the tables on TJP and countered a move of his with a crucifix bomb, then a fisherman's buster with a cradle for a close two-count.
Towards the end of the match, TJP locked in a modified kneebar on Dickinson while Narita was able to lock in his modified cloverleaf hold, the same one Tiger Mask used on Dynamite Kid in one of their early matches. Both opponents broke the simultaneous submissions via rope breaks.
Once Narita landed a front suplex off the ropes on Limelight, TJP stuck his patented frog splash from the top, then covered Limelight for a very close call, Dickinson making the last minute save. Dickinson neutralized Narita with a brainbuster (or a spinebuster, according to Alex Koslov), then locked in a tight STF on TJP for the submission victory.
After the match, Dickinson and Narita got into it, jaw-jacking a bit with each other in the ring before Limelight sucker-punched Narita and helped Dickinson lay him out. In their post-match promo, Dickinson insinuated that there'd be more to come between him and Narita, and Limelight chimed in before they finished and he used his mic time to call out TJP to close out the show.
What I liked most about this week's episode of NJPW Strong was its variety. JR Kratos vs. Jordan Clearwater served as a solid, high impact heavyweight match, something we don't see every week.
Bateman vs. Clark Connors was another good match with more emphasis on a story that's likely to unfold over the next few episodes of Strong. It's interesting to have someone on the show function as "traditional heel," an outsider with an edge over the home team's top star.
The final bout had great tag team wrestling with a proper amount of on-screen time given to all involved. This match had time on its side, or rather it had enough time allotted so that it could work. This felt like a well-paced bout that really kicked up in intensity towards the end, though all four seemed able to get to that point after a slow build.
This is an episode worth checking out if you're looking to hop on this latest season of NJPW Strong. One hour of consistently well-curated wrestling.