Clark Connors defeated AJZ
AJZ is a new face who debuted recently. Big bodybuilder-type who can move relatively well. Wears a gold bandana and puts his hair in a bun like a genie.
He and Connors grappled mid-ring early on with Connors getting the better of it. At about halfway through, they took the match to the floor and brawled there for a while, trading hard forearms. Back in the ring, the taller AJZ rushed Connors and took him down, then laid in a dozen wild punches from a mounted position.
The gritty Connors returned AJZ’s offense later with a few vertical suplexes. AJZ did a springboard kneedrop. Connors wrapped this match up after a snap powerslam and a backdrop bomb, pinning AJZ in dominant fashion, then touching him up a bit after the bell to let AJZ know whose house this really was.
El Phantasmo defeated Wheeler Yuta
This was El Phantasmo’s return to the show after recently showing up on IMPACT.
This was Wheeler Yuta’s second appearance on NJPW Strong, where he had a good match with Rocky Romero earlier this year. He came to the ring wearing a flashy Mortal Kombat-style facemask.
Phantasmo was verbally bullying the ring boys before the match. He also attempted to get a chant going through clapping despite no fans in attendance. Announcer Alex Koslov suggested it may have been for the fans at home. The match itself got underway a few moments later. Both were impressive in the opening minutes on the mat. ELP finally got the upper hand after raking Yuta’s eyes.
From here, the pace began to quicken. Yuta went for a frankensteiner but Phantasmo used a cartwheel to move out of the way. He landed a nice dropkick that knocked ELP out of the ring. Phantasmo then chose to stay outside until the count of 19, recovering as much as he was legally allowed to while on the floor.
Back in the ring, Phantasmo challenged Yuta to a Test of Strength, but it was a trick, because ELP twisted Yuta’s wrist backwards as soon as they locked fingers. He took Yuta down and worked over his arm a bit before climbing to the top rope for his signature rope-walking routine. ELP followed up a nipple-twist with a cross bodyblock off the ropes. That’s not a sentence I expected to type today.
Yuta rallied back with an Olympic Slam after Phantasmo had worked him over a few minutes longer. Yuta landed a crossbody block off the top ropes for two. More than ten minutes had elapsed at this point. Yuta attempted a possible superplex or another type of top-rope maneuver but ELP bit Yuta’s fingers, then knocked him off the ropes. ELP landed Thunderkiss ‘85 for a close two-count. Yuta came back and scored a close call after a German suplex with a bridge. He locked on a modified STF next, but again, ELP bit his way out of danger. He then landed Sudden Death, his “loaded” superkick, to put Yuta down for the count. Good match.
In a backstage promo, El Phantasmo said that Wheeler Yuta was yet another “indie darling” has felt the “most accurate and deadly” finisher in all of pro wrestling, Sudden Death. He had the cameraman point downwards so ELP could show off his right foot, which he claimed was “money.”
Between matches, a quick vignette aired for NJPW’s Ignition tour, which starts next week on NJPW Strong.
NJPW Strong Openweight Championship: “Filthy” Tom Lawlor (c) defeated Chris Dickinson to retain
If you’re a fan of Josh Barnett’s Bloodsport, this is must-watch. This felt like something straight out of Japan in the mid-1990s.
NJPW aired a nice package of the build between these two ahead of the match. The story is that Chris Dickinson, who was initially a member of Team Filthy, was basically outed from the group once he challenged Tom Lawlor for his Strong Openweight title, which Lawlor captured by winning this year’s New Japan Cup USA.
JR Kratos and Danny Limelight cornered Lawlor tonight.
Both Lawlor and Dickinson were cautious throwing strikes early on. Lawlor landed a low kick. He accused Dickinson of pulling his hair after the two exchanged holds on the mat. Dickinson aka Bas Rutten Jr. threw more kicks as the bout went on. After Lawlor missed a spinning heel kick off the ropes, Dickinson blasted him with a shoulder block.
The match spilled out onto the floor next. Lawlor begged off for long enough to throw a cheap kick into Dickinson’s gut. The two brawled on the apron until Lawlor was able to catch one of Dickinson’s kicks and wrap it over the ropes, effectively trapping Dickinson and allowing Lawlor to snap Dickinson’s neck over the cable with a stun gun.
Lawlor bullied Dickinson into the red corner, working him over not with MMA technique just lots of back-alley fists. Dickinson powered up after a while of this, and after eating a few more shots from Lawlor, he cursed him out and unloaded a half-dozen chops on Lawlor, forcing him into the same red corner. Dickinson stormed at Lawlor, who he had whipped into the opposite corner, but Lawlor caught him, then put him down with a spinebuster for two. Ten minutes had gone by at this point.
Lawlor then went after Dickinson’s knee and quickly had him locked in a figure-four leglock until Dickinson broke the hold by grabbing the ropes. Lawlor later locked Dickinson in a sleeperhold while sitting on the top rope for that extra leverage, but Dickinson was able to counter out of the hold. He then super-plex’d Lawlor from the top rope back into the ring. Beautiful execution. Lawlor sold like he’d just broken his back or tailbone.
Dickinson charged at Lawlor in the corner with lariats, but Lawlor countered out and locked in another sleeperhold. Dickinson reversed, then planted Lawlor with a Death Valley Bomb for a close two-count.
Danny Limelight jumped onto the apron, but Dickinson took him out with a forearm. JR Kratos was standing on the apron of the opposite side of the ring. When Dickinson walked over to get into it with Kratos, Brody King arrived and took Kratos out himself. King, clad in a fresh NJPW jacket, is actually a part of a new faction with Dickinson in ROH called Violence Unlimited. He and Kratos brawled to the back, away from the ring.
Lawlor had collected himself and locked Dickinson in a sleeperhold again. Dickinson rolled over his shoulder to escape the hold, then spiked Lawlor with a brainbuster for two. The ring announcer made the 15-minute call moments later. Dickinson landed an enzuigiri before locking in a STF hold. Lawlor looked to be in trouble before he was able to break the hold with a rope-break.
After slapping himself in the face a few times, Dickinson deadlifted Lawlor into a release German suplex. Dickinson went for another, but Lawlor but this time Lawlor blocked it by grapevining his leg around Dickinson’s. He was able to collapse Dickinson onto the mat and lock in a Kimura hold before spiking him with a Tenzan-styled tombstone piledriver for a two-count.
Lawlor began slapping Dickinson around. Dickinson didn’t take kindly to this and began unloading sharp chops and palm strikes of his own. I wonder how these two felt the morning after this. Lawlor locked Dickinson into a cravat hold and threw knees before launching him with a release Northern Lights suplex. He used a stalling Olympic Slam before floating over into a guillotine choke. Dickinson got his ankle on the bottom rope for a break. 20 minutes had elapsed at this point.
Dickinson threw a flurry of kicks, but Lawlor was able to catch one and lock in another sleeper. Dickinson reversed, but Lawlor kept wrist-control and used a tomoe nage sweep that gave Lawlor back control, which allowed him to again lock in the sleeperhold. I’ve only seen that sort of move used in BJJ, so this might be the first we’ve seen of this technique on television.
The fiery Dickinson screamed and went for a running lariat, but Lawlor sidestepped and locked on the sleeper one more time before dumping Dickinson on his head with a vicious sleeper suplex for the pin. Lawlor retains on his first defense of the Strong Openweight title.
Danny Limelight and Tom Lawlor celebrated backstage afterwards, but were quickly interrupted by “Alpha Wolf” Karl Fredericks, who walked up to Lawlor and gekiochi-kun’d Lawlor’s title before calling him a “chump” instead of “champ.”
“That’s pretty cool, Tom.” Fredericks eyeballed Lawlor’s title while Lawlor waved him off. Fredericks’ holds a pin over Lawlor from the multi-person tag match which stipulated that whomever pinned Lawlor in said match would earn a Strong Openweight title shot against the winner of tonight’s bout between Lawlor and Dickinson.
After Fredericks left, Limelight celebrated Lawlor being the longest-reigning (also only) Strong Openweight champion. Lawlor referred to Fredericks as “Blue Wolf” during this, which is a deep-cut reference for any old school NJPW or PRIDE fans out there. It’s also funny because Blue Wolf was awful.
Go out of your way to watch the main event, because it was one of the best matches on the show this year. It was definitely better and felt more important than anything from NJPW’s recent three-match run at Korakuen Hall this week. Hats off to both Lawlor and Dickinson who gave us a solid, no-frills main event that felt important. Despite losing, Dickinson feels stronger than ever on NJPW Strong, while Lawlor is now firmly the first non-Bullet Club regular to function as top heel on the show. I hope this isn’t considered a conflict of interest, but “Filthy” Tom was freakin’ great in this.