NJPW Strong is holding their Strong Style Evolved tapings in Tampa, Florida on March 20th. Ahead of the show, I spoke with 'Filthy' Tom Lawlor who is defending the NJPW Strong Openweight Championship against Clark Connors in his eighth title defense.
Lawlor made his New Japan Pro Wrestling debut during the summer of 2020 on an episode of Lion's Break Collision. However he kicked his wrestling career into high gear when he competed in the 2021 New Japan Cup USA tournament, defeating The DKC, Ren Narita, Hikuleo and Brody King to win the tournament and become the first inaugural Strong Openweight Champion.
"I think this has clearly been the best my professional wrestling career has ever been,” Lawlor said.
He has defended the title successfully against Chris Dickinson, Karl Fredericks, Satoshi Kojima, Ren Narita, Fred Rosser and Taylor Rust. As of this writing, he has held the title for over 328 days.
I asked Lawlor what it meant to him to be the first Strong Openweight Champion given that he is tasked with establishing the belt.
"I bust my ass to be honest,” Lawlor said. “I wrestle a really hard style and I am willing to take as much as I give out and I think that's what New Japan is all about. And really I am lucky to have been given the opportunity. But once I got that ball, I wasn't going to slow down. I am not the fastest guy, but I am willing to run through whoever is in front of me."
Lawlor also expressed to me that while he takes everything he does in the ring very seriously, he's also having a good time.
"I take all that stuff very seriously to a certain degree because I am having a blast, believe me. I try to make every match as good as it can be. I try to mix my style and not compromise what I think professional wrestling should be with what the other guy is gonna do."
Additionally, I asked Lawlor what his interest is in regards to going to Japan and wrestling there.
"I have a deal with New Japan Strong, so I am very happy with where I am," Lawlor said. "If I end up over in Japan, that's cool. If not, then I am more than happy being here in the U.S.A. I am not an idiot, I read the news, I understand what's going on overseas, I mean when there's an entire month of flights not going into the country...I am more than happy being in the USA and being the face of New Japan Strong and being on the roster. I'd love to be over in Japan, I never got to fight over there, I haven't had a chance to compete over there, I've been there but that's my goal. and if it means I get to take the New Japan Strong belt over there and defend it, even better."
Lawlor also explained how he sees New Japan Strong in a similar fashion as WWE's developmental brand NXT, however with some exceptions.
"I like to equate New Japan Strong to NXT, for the New Japan audience. A lot of times guys just get stuck in NXT and right now if you look at NJPW Strong, we're stuck there, but it's a different situation. I think once I go over there, and some of the other guys from New Japan Strong go over there, you're gonna see a lot more wrestlers in the U.S in the independent scene who want to be part of the New Japan Strong roster. I think you're gonna see professional wrestlers take the same path that I am gonna take over there. "
One of the hot topics in wrestling right now is the concept of the 'forbidden door,' seeing companies work together and exchange talents for fans to experience never before seen matches, dream matches, and so on. I asked Lawlor who he would like to see walk through the forbidden door and step into the NJPW Strong ring. He brought up Bryan Danielson, saying he is someone he would love to face. Following Danielson, other names Lawlor wants to fight include Jon Moxley, Jonathan Gresham, and Josh Alexander.
Before we wrapped up our conversation, I also asked Lawlor about both his short and long term goals in pro wrestling.
"I'll be 40 next year, which sounds kinda old, but physically I felt worse when I was doing MMA,” Lawlor said. “I was more beat up, so this is being a little easier on my body right now, and when I look at guys like Minoru Suzuki, Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima, these are guys who are in their fifties, and Suzuki is huge star over here he just had an awesome match with Hiromu Takahashi and you wouldn't know that this is a guy in his fifties. So when I look at that I don't think I've even come close to overstaying my welcome in the pro wrestling world, because I've only been here a few years. My long term goal is to still be wrestling when I am 55, traveling the world. In the short term, my goal is to take the NJPW Strong Openweight title to Japan and in the shorter term it's to kick Clark Connors’ ass on Sunday at Strong Style Evolved."
You can listen to the full conversation with myself and Tom Lawlor below.