By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
Taped in Long Beach, California at Thunder Studios
Streamed September 18, 2021 on New Japan World
Kevin Kelly and Alex Koslov checked in on commentary in person for the first time in what felt like forever. We are on the Fighting Spirit Unleashed Tour…
1. Alex Coughlin vs Tomohiro Ishii. This is part of the Coughlin open challenge and the crowd (yes, fans!) seemed to be very happy with Coughlin when he made his entrance. Coughlin played to the crowd. The two locked up for a long time to begin the match. Ishii ultimately got the best of it, backing Coughlin into the ropes, but Coughlin responded by punching Ishii.
Ishii landed a shoulder-block to take Coughlin down. Ishii did it again after some forearms. Ishii landed some chops but Coughlin fired up and struck back. Ishii eventually stood there, through all the elbows, and then hit one for himself, which knocked Coughlin to the ground. Ishii then worked some chops while Coughlin used the ropes to hold himself up.
Eventually, Coughlin fired up, but Ishii kept landing his chops to keep control. Ishii toyed with Coughlin, but Coughlin countered with a dropkick. Coughlin hit a flying shoulder-block to take Ishii down. Coughlin hit a double axe-handle from the second rope and dead-lifted Ishii for a gut-wrench suplex and a two-count. Coughlin went for a body-slam, but Ishii blocked it and went back to chops on Coughlin’s red chest. Ishii landed a suplex for a two-count.
After being laid out, Coughlin sat up and ultimately hit a suplex before hitting a large lariat that Ishii no-sold. Eventually, Coughlin took Ishii down, but didn’t go for a cover, weirdly enough. Coughlin landed a bridge suplex, which resulted in a good near-fall. Coughlin went for a German Suplex, but Ishii blocked it and the two traded blows again as Ishii kept nodding no.
Coughlin hit a slap that took the spit out of Ishii’s face, landed a spear and all of that led to a hell of a near-fall. The crowd applauded. Ishii hit a German Suplex, but Coughlin no-sold it, so Ishii hit a lariat for a close near-fall. Ishii hit his vertical brain-buster suplex and that ended it.
Tomohiro Ishii defeated Alex Coughlin via pinfall in 9:13.
McGuire’s Musings: Boy, oh boy, I knew fans would add something to Strong, but I could have never imagined them adding this much. It’s like a whole new show. Strong was already one of the best hours of wrestling on television, and the fans in L.A. have taken this to the next level. The match was great. Coughlin earned a ton in defeat and Ishii looked like the powerhouse badass that he is. Coughlin can’t seem to win any of his open challenge matches, but at this point, I don’t even care because it feels like he gets better every single time he steps through the curtain. This was the perfect first match on the first Strong with fans.
2. Karl Fredericks, Clark Connors, and Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. “Stray Dog Army” Barrett Brown, Bateman, and Misterioso. Tanahashi received a great pop as the babyfaces made their entrances. Fredericks and Misterioso started out. Fredericks worked over Misterioso’s arm, but Misterioso countered with a side head-lock takeover, but Fredericks returned the favor and the two had a standoff. Misterioso took control, whipping Fredericks into the heel corner. Bateman tagged in.
The three heels worked over Fredericks after Tanahashi and Connors were knocked off the apron. Brown tagged in, but Fredericks hit a splash to give him the edge. Connors tagged in, but Brown immediately attacked him. The two traded shoulder-blocks, and eventually Connors took Brown down. Connors hit a low snap-suplex. Tanahashi and Fredericks ran in to go three-on-one with Brown. Connors, Fredericks and Tanahashi did the air guitar thing in unison.
Connors went to run the ropes, but Misterioso kicked Connors, which distracted Connors and it was enough for Brown to regain control with a suplex into the corner. Bateman then tagged in and hit a series of knees to the back of Connors. Misterioso tagged in and hit a series of kicks on Connors in the corner before landing a dropkick to the head, which got Misterioso a two-count.
Brown tagged in and kept control with forearms to the back of Connors. Brown did his rapid-chop thing and then landed a suplex for a two-count. Bateman tagged in and the three continued to work the advantage against Connors. Bateman mocked Tanahashi’s air guitar thing. Bateman sunk in a rear-chin-lock. Connors almost got the hot tag, but Bateman’s teammates tore Connors’ partners off the apron.
Bateman ran the ropes, but Connors caught him for a snap powerslam. Connors got the hot tag to Tanahashi, who came in and hit a flying elbow on Bateman and a body-slam/double-elbow on Misterioso and Brown. Tanahashi landed a dragon-screw leg-whip on Bateman. Bateman hit a chop to Tanahashi’s chest and tagged in Brown, who quickly ran into an elbow and cross-body from Tanahashi. Tanahashi tagged in Fredericks, who went at Brown.
Brown’s team went three-on-one against Fredericks. Bateman slammed Fredericks and Brown went for the cover, but Connors and Tanahashi made the save. Brown hit a running boot to Fredericks, but Connors ran in and landed a spear. All hell broke loose between all six men. A “This is awesome!” chant broke out. Fredericks and Brown got to their feet and traded strikes. Fredericks hit a spinebuster into the Manifest Destiny on Brown for the win.
Karl Fredericks, Clark Connors, and Hiroshi Tanahashi defeated “Stray Dog Army” Barrett Brown, Bateman, and Misterioso via pinfall in 13:33.
After the match, Karl Fredericks got a mic in the middle of the ring and called out Will Ospreay. Fredericks said the more he watches Ospreay, he can tell he’s not the real Ospreay. Fredericks then said he could beat Ospreay. Fredericks said he was raised by a killer. Fredericks asked Ospreay to put his money where his mouth is and said he is first in line for a title match with Ospreay. Fredericks closed by saying he’d beat the brakes off of Ospreay’s ass.
Ospreay’s music hit and Ospreay laid down his belt on the ramp before taking off his suit coat. Ospreay took off his watch and grabbed the title before walking to the ring. Inside the ring, the two jawed at each other. Ospreay went for a cheap shot and then beat down Fredericks. Fredericks then tackled Ospreay and tore off his shirt. Ospreay eventually hit a dropkick to Fredericks’s knee before he landed the Hidden Blade, which laid Fredericks out. Ospreay grabbed a mic and said he accepted the challenge.
McGuire’s Musings: This was exactly what you think it would be: Non-stop action with a ton of double- and triple-team moves without much ref enforcement. But if you’re NJPW and you’re going to get back in front of fans and you’re trying to gain more notoriety in the U.S., you’ll need at least one of these matches per card, because these are among the best matches you put out there. Connors still amazes me with how far he’s come, Tanahashi is a legend and Fredericks is on a killer mean streak. The post-match angle sets up a hot match that I can’t wait to see. Ospreay working on Strong is the exact bolt of adrenaline the show needs, so here’s hoping he doesn’t just stick around for three or four episodes. At first, I was curious to see if people would boo Fredericks because the crowd seemed a little indifferent during his promo, but once things got physical with Ospreay, it was clear who was what. These are the most exciting first 45 minutes of a Strong episode I’ve ever seen.
3. Juice Robinson vs. Hikuleo in a tables match. Juice jump-started the match by attacking Hikuleo in the corner. Hikuleo picked Juice up, however, but Juice wiggled down and hit a low-blow to take Hikuleo down. The crowd was really behind Juice. Hikuleo rolled to the outside. Juice hit a double axe-handle from the apron. Hikuleo regained control with a throat-slam onto the rail. Hikuleo set up one of the ringside tables. Juice countered Hikuleo’s attempt at a slam and ran Hikuleo into the ring post, which knocked Hikuleo onto the table. Hikuleo escaped, though, before Juice could follow up.
Juice went to suplex Hikuleo onto the table, but Hikuleo blocked it. Juice again teased putting Hikuleo through the table, but Hikuleo countered with a back-drop on the floor. Hikuleo then slid a table into the ring. Hikuleo slid another table into the ring. Hikuleo tried a third time, but Juice hit a dropkick to send the table into Hikuleo, driving Hikuleo to the floor. Juice hit a dive onto Hikuleo on the outside. Juice rolled Hikuleo into the ring and fired the crowd up.
Though Juice went to the top, Hikuleo caught him by the throat and threw him onto the opposite end of the table, which lay flat in the ring. Ouch. Hikuleo set up a table in the corner. Hikuleo put Juice against the table and chopped him. Hikuleo ran toward Juice, but he moved and Hikuleo crashed through the table. This did not end the match, however, because the rules state your opponent must put you through a table to win.
Juice set up another table while selling shoulder pain. Juice punched Hikuleo and put Hikuleo on the table. Juice climbed to the top rope and went for a back-splash, Hikuleo moved, the table didn’t break and Juice took the nastiest bump I’ve seen in a long time as he hit his neck on the table that didn’t break. As a result, Hikuleo hit the Tonga Driller through a table for the win.
Hikuleo defeated Juice Robinson in 9:57.
Juice waved to the fans to end the show as he was being carried out.
McGuire’s Musings: This had to go on last, if only because of the table stipulation. That’s not to say it was the best-wrestled match of the night, but that is to say it delivered in terms of what a table match ought to be. That bump from Juice toward the end had me fearing for his life. I don’t know if that was just a table mistake or if everything was designed to go that way, but if it was, and I was Juice, I’d take a minute or two to wonder if I ever needed to take that bump again. I still love Hikuleo, but this is the best I’ve seen from Juice on Strong, and the crowd loved him, which added so much to everything.
Speaking of that, this was the best episode of NJPW Strong that I have covered and the biggest factor in that, to me, was the crowd. The wrestlers were fired up. The strikes hit harder, the electric energy was palpable and everyone raised their games to a level I didn’t know was possible. Plus, Will Ospreay showed up. So, damn. What else does anyone need? If I can choose only one one-hour pro wrestling show this week, Strong is it, and it’s not even close. Let’s see if that’s the case next week, when AEW hits Arthur Ashe. My weekly NJPW Strong audio reviews are available for Dot Net Members.