Tonight’s episode of NJPW Strong was also the final installment of their New Beginning USA 2022 tapings from Seattle.
Karl Fredericks defeated Ethan HD
Good opener. Ethan HD is a 16-year Pacific-Northwest indie veteran. Seattle fans know him as one half of former DEFY Wrestling Tag Team champions, the Amerikan Gunz, alongside Mike Santiago.
This was a competitive match from beginning to end. They went hold for hold early on. Lots of chants for Fredericks from the crowd. Ian Riccaboni made a pretty brilliant point on commentary when he compared Karl Fredericks to a young Sting.That’s a perfect way of viewing him, from the athleticism to the charisma, there are lots of clear similarities.
Fredericks landed a Stinger splash before connecting with a Shibata-style running dropkick and jumping elbow for a two-count. Announcer Alex Koslov called HD “Ethan Page” by accident. When Ethan HD connected with a sudden springboard moonsault midway through the match, it jolted the crowd, who sounded like they went from 0–90 mph at this point. The venue was much louder from here on out.
Ethan HD earned a close two-count after using a Death Valley Bomb on Fredericks. They traded forearms. Fredericks caught Ethan HD with a spinebuster off the ropes, then spiked him with Manifest Destiny to put him away.
El Phantasmo defeated Matt Rehwoldt
If Taylor Rust wasn’t so damn good in the main event coming up after this, I’d have said Matt Rehwoldt was the MVP of the episode based on his performance here. This was a fun match made that much more interesting by Rehwoldt leaning into the heel role and letting El Phantasmo shine as an antihero.
Rehwoldt, who has both wrestled on and done commentary for Strong in the past, referred to Seattle as a “fog-covered craphole,” which set the crowd off. Boooo. Rehwoldt then said “Cobain had the right idea,” and that he couldn’t wait to get out of the region.
El Phantasmo grabbed the mic. “Watch your mouth! No one makes fun of this s***hole but me!” The crowd went wild. He called himself the King of the Pacific-Northwest and said it was “ELP Day” before Rehwoldt cut him off and attacked ELP, starting the match.
El Phantasmo used a smooth springboard hurricanrana that took Rehwoldt to the mat. ELP flashed his headbanga’ pose for the crowd, who ate it up. Rehwoldt answered back later with a Eddie Guerrero-style slingshot senton onto ELP. He flashed a pose of his own next, conducting the air and infuriating the crowd. Phantasmo became the de facto babyface. Rehwoldt took a bow in the middle of the ring while ELP caught his breath in the corner. The crowd began chanting “YOU SUCK!” at Rehwoldt. Phantasmo landed a Lionsault for two and the crowd chanted “EL-P” over and over.
Rehwoldt used a backrake on Phantasmo. That’s been Phantasmo’s recent specialty attack, so Rehwoldt gave him a taste of his own backrake medicine. He then connected with a swan dive from the top rope across the ring and scored a close nearfall. ELP fired back with his Sudden Death superkick, then planted Rehwoldt face-first with a CR II before pinning him after a swan dive of his own—a receipt for the backrake, no doubt!—and a double-jump moonsault. El Phantasmo picks up the win in just under ten minutes in a really fun match.
A quick vignette.of Team Filthy’s JR Kratos aired next. He called out Alex Coughlin, saying that if Coughlin thought that their last match on NJPW Strong was simply a one-and-done, he was wrong. Specifically, Kratos said Coughlin had “f*cked up.” He told Coughlin to watch his back before fading to black.
NJPW Strong Openweight Championship: Tom Lawlor (c) (w/ West Coast Wrecking Crew) defeated Taylor Rust
This match was blow-the-bloody-doors-off good. If you watch the show regularly, you’d expect this to be good, but I don’t think many could have expected this match to be as intense and high-level as it was.
A promo package aired before the match explaining the feud between Lawlor and ex-Team Filthy member Rust. When Rust signed with WWE, Lawlor “fired” him from Team Filthy, particularly for his “white belt performance” loss to Jeff Cobb on the show in 2020. Rust returned to NJPW Strong late last year in Philadelphia looking for revenge on his ex-captain.
Tom Lawlor’s racking up a number of matches that are both really good but also all different. He doesn’t repeat himself or have a go-to schtick that we’re all waiting to see in every match. It makes writing about his matches a bit more exciting.
The first five minutes of the match were pretty much even on offense. Neither could get more leverage over the other until Lawlor dragon screwed Rust off the top turnbuckle to the middle of the ring. Lawlor slapped on a figure-four leglock, but Rust broke the hold with a rope break.
The match spilled out to the floor. Lawlor did the Filthy Strut before smashing Rust’s knee into the ring apron. Rust slammed Lawlor into the ring post.
Back in the ring, Lawlor locked on a sharpshooter until Rust grabbed the ropes for the break again. Rust connected with a jumping back enzuigiri at around the ten-minute mark. Both were knocked cold for a few moments.
When Lawlor escaped to the floor, Rust chased after and caught him with a tope suicida. Rust would later block Lawlor from coming off the top rope with a big pump kick before superplexing Lawlor from the top back into the ring. You could hear the crowd boiling.
The two got back to their feet and traded big forearm shots for a minute or so. The crowd loved it. Lawlor locked Rust in a standing triangle choke where Lawlor used the turnbuckle for support. Rust reversed it with a sit-out powerbomb for two. The crowd started chanting “This is awesome!”
Rust connected with his finish, The Perfect Circle, but Lawlor kicked out. Lawlor slammed Rust and showered down more forearms while he was still on the mat. Rust caught Lawlor with a flying armbar but Lawlor would quickly reverse. They kept reversing submission holds on the mat, with Rust catching Lawlor in armbars at different angles as Lawlor kept trying to escape.
Lawlor caught Rust with a low push-kick from behind that took out Rust’s sore knee. He then locked Rust in a straight jacket hold from behind before KO’ing him with a knee to the back of the head. Lawlor cinched in a sleeper, and after a few moments referee Jeremy Marcus called the match. Lawlor walked away victorious once again, retaining the Strong Openweight championship.
After the match, Lawlor got on the house mic and opened a challenge to anyone in the back for his next championship match. No one came out initially, but then PNW native and LA Dojo representative Clark Connors’ music hit.
Connors got right into Lawlor’s face and challenged him to a match right then and there. Lawlor got on the mic and called for a referee. They were going to do this right now. A ref came out and was handed the Strong Openweight title. Connors whipped off his Shawn Kemp jersey and looked ready to challenge for the title right then and there in khakis. When the new referee held the title belt in the air, Lawlor grabbed it from his hands and hopped out of the ring, then headed towards the exit with the West Coast Wrecking Crew. Jorel Nelson jacked Connors’ Shawn Kemp jersey wearing it and Connors’ beanie as Team Filthy left.
The New Beginning USA 2022 was one of the most effective series of shows the brand has had since forming. Having a live audience has made a world of difference, too, and it really showed at these tapings in Seattle.
Matt Rehwoldt and El Phantasmo had a really entertaining match where both were able to showcase more aspects of their craft because of how good the crowd response was. Rehwoldt has the capacity to be a really good heel if he wants to go that route.
The main event was another one of those matches where if more people watched, it would be the most talked about match of the week. Rust can be a big-time player in NJPW or probably anywhere. And Lawlor is becoming a main event machine, a Filthy Flair, you could say. His matches are always different and he somehow brings out the best in all of his opponents without compromising anything about himself or his wrestling. Or his shorts. But yeah, go out of your way to see this one.