Tonight's episode of NJPW Strong was described as an LA Dojo showcase, with a focus on each of the trainees. Karl Fredericks and Alex Coughlin were pushed as the show centerpieces. Trainer Katsuyori Shibata spoke in English about his trainees, basically hyping his guys up for tonight's card.
TJP defeated the DKC via submission
The opener saw TJP take most of the first part of this match on offense, and it was mostly on the mat. The DKC came across as a competent grappler, though. He never felt like he was too far behind TJP. DKC caught TJP with a dropkick late, kicking off a short series of fiery comeback action. He has great babyface energy. TJP eventually tapped him with a modified STF/abdominal stretch submission. They shook hands afterward.
DKC said backstage that he's in the gym and giving his best effort in his new path as a LA Dojo Young Lion under Shibata.
Fred Rosser and Ren Narita defeated Alex Coughlin and Kevin Knight
We saw some feistiness between Coughlin and Rosser before the bell. It was a simple way of drawing me into the match without any other context. Rosser and Knight were in together first and had a great exchange. Knight is super athletic. Rosser bullied Knight around before tagging out to partner Ren Narita, stomping over Knight a few times.
Knight and Rosser made a comeback midway through this after Narita got the better end of a beating from both Coughlin and later Knight. Knight at one point landed a beautiful high dropkick on Narita. It wouldn't be hyperbole if I were to compare him with Okada's. Some may even rate Knight's higher. Go and watch for yourself.
Coughlin took Rosser out with a missile of a shoulder tackle. He later showcased his raw power by ragdolling the not-small-at-all Rosser, and later launching Narita with a deadlift backdrop suplex from hell.
Towards the end of the match, Rosser landed a powerful lariat on Knight, sending Knight spinning to the mat. Narita and Coughlin brawled on the floor as Knight and Rosser struggled for control on the top rope. Knight knocked Rosser off the turnbuckle and landed a high crossbody block, but Rosser held onto Knight while rolling through, reversing Knight's momentum and lifting him into a double-knee gutbuster. Rosser pinned Knight after connecting with a running basement dropkick, picking up the win for him and Young Lion Narita.
Knight talked about how he's taken a loss every single time he's been in the ring, then said he "couldn't do it." Coughlin shared some words of support for his training partner and urged him to keep going. Knight said he'd keep training.
Karl Fredericks defeated Clark Connors
Tonight's main event was between the hypothetical "best of the best" on NJPW Strong. Connors and Fredericks trained at the same time in the LA Dojo, alongside Alex Coughlin, but Fredericks won the Young Lions Cup in 2019, hence "graduating" from the dojo one year ahead of Connors, who would go on to win the Cup last year.
Things kicked into overdrive early on. After an even exchange between both on the mat, the action spilled to the floor. The bigger Fredericks at one point dove through the ropes, landing onto Connors with a tope suicida. They continued to brawl on the floor, with Connors suplexing Fredericks onto the floor.
Connors kept control on offense from the time he'd brought the fight back into the ring. The pace slowed, and Connors seemed to target Fredericks' back and shoulder area, using a variety of both modified abdominal stretches and hard double-chops to the back of Fredericks.
Fredericks powered back from Connors' control and threw some hard kicks to a seated Connors, then both continued exchanging hard shots for a short while.
At the ten-minute mark, Connors collided with Fredericks, sending him flying with a shoulder tackle. Towards the end, their exchanges got much faster, with one exchange ending with Fredericks picking Connors up and drilling him into the mat with a backdrop suplex. Fredericks dropped his jumping elbow drop on Connors before locking him into a crossface submission. Connors made it to the ropes for a break, then was able to lock Fredericks into a Boston Crab, the Young Lion signature. Fredericks was close to tapping but eventually made it to the bottom rope to break the hold.
Connors went to the top, assumedly for a super flying shoulder block, but Fredericks got up and knocked him dizzy with a jump enzuigiri kick to the face, then superplex'd him from the corner post into the ring.
Both looked exhausted and were slow to their feet by around 15 minutes into the match. The two then traded even harder elbows and slaps. Fredericks leveled Connors with a running basement kick, but Connors asked for more. Fredericks went for another kick, but Connors stood up and caught Connors with a snap powerslam. We saw a big spear from Connors next. The two then went back and forth, teasing finishers until Fredericks finally was able to plant Connors with Manifest Destiny, his version of an elevated DDT, and picked up the win.
Connors said he'd watched all of his matches on NJPW Strong and that he's noticed he has grown since he'd gotten to NJPW. He also said he liked that announcer Kevin Kelly had been referring to Connors as a "wild rhino" that now, the Young Lion Clark Connors is dead. He's now the "motherf**king" Wild Rhino".
Final thoughts: This was a hell of a showcase. Everything was very good, but I thought both the tag team match and the main event stuck out in the best kind of way. The effort both Fredericks and Connors gave in tonight's main event was comparable to any modern high-impact sport. Kudos to them for shining in the spotlight. Also, fans should keep their eyes peeled on both Fred Rosser and Kevin Knight as the show goes forward. Both are unique and could add a very interesting element to the show later in the year.