Tonight marked the final night of NJoA’s Fighting Spirit Unleashed tour.
JR Kratos defeated Fred Yehi
Solid opener. Kratos worked over Yehi for most of this match. Kratos launched Yehi across from corner to corner with a vertical suplex. The story was Yehi kept trying to take Kratos off of his feet but he couldn’t do it until late in the match, when he landed two rolling German suplexes on the larger Kratos.
The finish came when Yehi had Kratos trapped in a triangle choke, but Kratos reversed it into a deadlift wheelbarrow power bomb for the win in 9:02.
Chris Dickinson defeated Royce Isaacs via submission
The story so far between these two links back to STRONG Openweight champion Tom Lawlor and his Team Filthy group. When Dickinson was still in Team Filthy, he challenged Lawlor to a match for Lawlor’s title. Lawlor answered by not only kicking Dickinson out of Team Filthy but ambushing him and recruiting the West Coast Wrecking Crew to take his place in the gang. A babyface Dickinson is out for vengeance on all of Team Filthy now.
The match itself was very good. They went hold for hold early until Dickinson shut Isaacs down with hard mid-kicks and a spinning heel kick coming off the ropes. Isaacs pushed the ref at one point, when Dickinson had Isaacs in a waist lock. In a moment behind the ref’s back, Isaacs shoved Lawlor into the cornerpost, shoulder-first, then drilled him with a back suplex.
Isaacs controlled much of the next part of this match. Dickinson scored a Death Valley Bomb as Isaacs went for a leapfrog. Dickinson scored a two-count, so he transitioned to an armbar, which Isaacs countered and reversed into a Texas Cloverleaf until Dickinson made it to the ropes for a break. Dickinson would soon tap Isaacs out with an STF in 11:08. Again, a really good match.
Backstage, Dickinson accused ex-best friend Isaacs of being a snake and that he would “cut the head off of the snake”. Dickinson thanked the audience that came to the taping that night before exiting.
STRONG Openweight Championship: “Filthy” Tom Lawlor (with JR Kratos) defeated Lio Rush via TKO to retain the title
Lawlor feigned engaging with Rush, then slid to the floor. Jay White does this all the time. Lawlor conferred with Kratos for a minute or so before Rush decided to break up the strategy session with a baseball slide dropkick through the bottom ropes. Rush jumped on Lawlor’s back and locked on a sleeper hold until Lawlor escaped. He went back to the floor to recover, but Rush was able to run him and Team Filthy associate Kratos into each other. This was a rare time where a wrestler came off looking clever instead of clueless.
Rush launched into Lawlor with low kicks. When Rush came off the middle rope, Lawlor caught him and slammed him into the red corner, then gave him a front uranage drop, spiking Rush. He locked in a guillotine choke that he turned into a cravat at around five minutes in.
Lawlor planted Rush with an exploder suplex. The crowd chanted for Rush. Rush tried firing up but Lawlor chopped the hell out of him in the corner. Rush wouldn’t let up. He went for a standing frog splash but Lawlor caught him in a triangle choke. He’d move into a single-leg crab next, until Rush escaped via rope break. Ten minutes had elapsed at this point in the match.
Rush was able to knock Lawlor onto the floor and take him out with a running suicide dive through the bottom two ropes. He was picking up momentum when Kratos grabbed him and went to press slam him. The referee saw it and ordered Kratos to let go or else he’d disqualify Lawlor. Kratos obliged, but Rush threw a shot at Kratos, which upset him. He grabbed Rush by the throat and again threatened violence, until ref Jeremy Marcus ejected Kratos from ringside. The audience sang “Na-na-na na, hey hey hey, goodbye!” as he exited.
The match heated up from here. Rush scored a close nearfall after a roll-up. He spiked Lawlor with a reverse frankensteiner, then caught him with a frog splash from the top rope for another close nearfall. The crowd was really into him. In a lot of ways, Lawlor and Rush are a babyface-heel pair made for each other.
Rush went back to the rear naked choke that he locked on Lawlor at the top of the match. Lawlor struggled out of it, then laid Rush out with a spinning Funaki tombstone, then locked in his own rear naked choke until Rush passed out. Referee Jeremy Marcus called the match; “Filthy” Tom Lawlor retained the STRONG Openweight title in 16:19.
Lawlor was in the ring with mic after Rush had left. He told the crowd to give it up for Rush, whom he called a worthy opponent. They chanted for him. Lawlor then put out another open challenge for his championship and wondered aloud whether it’d be a Young Lion or possibly a “scrub from another company.” Lawlor assumed no one would come to the ring to challenge him, so started posing with the belt for the crowd.
Ren Narita came out next and got right into Lawlor’s face. They were nose to nose. Lawlor shoved Narita a few times but he no-sold it, then gave Lawlor a hard index-finger point that really reminded me of Katsuyori Shibata in terms of body language.
“I already beat you before I was champion . . . and I’ve only gotten stronger since.” Lawlor downplayed Narita’s short career and told him to go back and train with Shibata for longer and maybe then he’d be ready for a shot at Lawlor’s Openweight title. Narita didn’t say anything. Then, suddenly, he kicked Lawlor in the face, a high kick that again looked like it came directly out of his trainer Shibata’s playbook. Narita dropped the belt over Lawlor, who was completely laid out, then left.
Tonight's main event truly felt like a main event. I don’t think many believed Rush would actually win the STRONG Openweight title, but the two were able to have a match that came pretty close to making you believe that maybe Rush could have eked out a win against Lawlor. Narita came off looking stronger than ever in his brief appearance with Lawlor, and I imagine they’ll tear the roof off the venue when they do have their bout. The openers were very good, but after watching over a year of NJPW Strong I can say with confidence that that is par for the course.