By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
Taped in Long Beach, California at Thunder Studios
Streamed October 2, 2021 on New Japan World
Kevin Kelly and Alex Koslov checked in to remind us that this is the culmination of the Fighting Spirit Unleashed Tour and then ran down the card…
1. Fred Yehi vs. JR Kratos. The two felt each other out to begin the match before Kratos pushed Yehi across the ring and slapped him in the face. Yehi hit a couple loud chops, but Kratos took back control with an elbow and a chop of his own. Kratos took Yehi down with a back-heel-trip.
Kratos lifted Yehi from the canvas for an impressive suplex and a two-count. Kratos landed a release suplex, essentially throwing Yehi across the ring. Kratos worked a rear chin-lock. Kratos eventually went for an elbow and Yehi moved before trying to take control with chops and elbows. Yehi went for a Cobra Twist, but Kratos blocked it. Still, Yehi landed a double stomp and a series of German Suplexes, which was awfully impressive.
Yehi sunk in a submission, but Kratos rolled out and went for an arm-bar. Yehi wiggled out and back to the chops we went. Yehi went for a vertical suplex, but Kratos blocked it and hit a slam of his own for a two-count. Yehi went for a triangle choke, but Kratos lifted Yehi up and around for a slam and a win.
JR Kratos defeated Fred Yehi via pinfall in 9:04.
McGuire’s Musings: This was more a showcase for Kratos than anything. Kelly laid it on thick throughout the match, putting the guy over, which makes me wonder if Kratos has big things coming his way in the immediate future in New Japan. Yehi seems to be the guy that gets dominated a lot, whenever he faces these bigger guys. It’d be nice to see him get a win or two. Either way, there wasn’t much to this and the outcome never really felt like it was in doubt.
2. Royce Isaacs vs. Chris Dickinson. There was a lot of grappling to begin the match before the two reconvened on their feet. Dickinson hit some kicks and went back to working a waist-lock. Isaacs grabbed the ref, though, and took control with a slam and some knees to Dickinson’s back. Isaacs hit a series of elbows and got a two-count out of it.
Isaacs kept control with a back suplex. Dickinson tried to fire up, but Isaacs cut him off at every turn. Isaacs then hit a back-breaker for a two-count. Isaacs worked a chin-lock and talked trash while doing so. Eventually, the two traded forearms in the middle of the ring. The exchange ended when Dickinson hit an enzuigiri.
Dickinson dead-lifted Isaacs into a German Suplex. Dickinson hit a series of dragon-screw leg-whips. Dickinson then sunk in an STF, but Isaacs made it to the ropes for a break and then rolled to the outside. Back in the ring, Isaacs stomped on Dickinson, but Dickinson eventually went into a rear naked choke. Isaacs worked his way out and landed a Falcon Arrow for a solid two-count.
The two traded standing switches before Dickinson landed a Death Valley Driver for a good near-fall. Isaacs sank in a Cloverleaf, but Dickinson made it to the ropes for a break. Dickinson went for the STF and got it, which was enough to get Isaacs to tap out.
Chris Dickinson defeated Royce Isaacs via submission in 11:08.
After the match, Dickinson cut a promo backstage, saying it was a big win for the Dirty Daddy. Dickinson said it was a war with Tom Lawlor. Dickinson kept calling Lawlor a snake. Dickinson ended by saying everyone knows who he is, which is the Dirty Daddy…
McGuire’s Musings: Isaacs looked really good here and Dickinson gave him more than enough room to shine. There were even a couple spots where I thought perhaps Isaacs would land the surprise win. It seems like we’re on a collision course for Dickinson and Lawlor again and I’m not complaining. Give them a 60-minute iron man match, damn it. Anyway, this was an unexpectedly competitive match and a pretty good one at that.
3. Lio Rush vs. “Filthy” Tom Lawlor for the Strong Openweight Championship. Lawlor began the match by sliding to the outside of the ring and jawing at fans while conversing with JR Kratos, who was in Lawlor’s corner. After about a minute, Rush hit a dropkick on Lawlor, which inspired Lawlor to get into the ring and go after Rush, but Rush sunk in a choke. Lawlor made it to the ropes for a break.
On the outside of the ring, Lawlor tried for a splash on Rush, but Rush moved and Lawlor landed on Kratos. Back in the ring, Rush hit a series of strikes and that was good enough for a two-count. Rush kept control with kicks and punches. Eventually, however, Lawlor caught Rush and slammed him. Lawlor got on top of Rush and hit a series of punches. Lawlor worked over Rush’s arm on the canvas.
Eventually, Lawlor hit an Exploder for a two-count. Lawlor started chopping Rush, but Rush fired up before Lawlor whipped him into the corner and Rush hit the corner pad harder than I’ve ever seen someone hit the corner pad. That got Lawlor a two-count. Rush tried for a standing frog-splash before long, but Lawlor caught him and worked a leg submission. Rush made it to the ropes for a break.
Rush fired up and dove through the ropes onto Lawlor, who was outside the ring. When Rush tried to get back in the ring, Kratos stopped him and lifted Rush, but Lawlor told Kratos to put Rush down. Rush slapped Kratos, so Kratos threw a fit and the referee kicked Kratos out of ringside. Back in the ring, Rush rolled up Lawlor for a very close near-fall. Rush hit a Poison-Rana and a high frog-splash for another super close near-fall.
Rush went for Rush Hour, but Lawlor caught him and put Rush in a rear-naked-choke. Rush eventually rolled through for a pin and a two-count. The two traded forearms. Lawlor hit a body-slam, but Rush bridged out. The two traded choke attempts and Rush ultimately sunk in a rear-naked-choke of his own. Lawlor ran Rush into an exposed corner to get out of it and then Lawlor got his rear-naked-choke in for the win.
“Filthy” Tom Lawlor defeated Lio Rush via submission in 16:19 to retain the NJPW Strong Openweight Championship.
After the match, Lawlor called for a mic. Lawlor clapped for Rush as Rush rolled out of the ring. Lawlor called Rush a worthy challenger. Lawlor said Team Filthy is the “strongest for the longest.” Lawlor said he hasn’t seen many people step up and challenge him. Lawlor then asked who was going to challenge him next. Lo and behold, Ren Narita walked out and confronted Lawlor. The two stood forehead to forehead before the show closed with Lawlor telling Narita he already beat him and that Narita should go back to the dojo before Lawlor will accept his challenge.
McGuire’s Musings: It should be noted that Lio Rush didn’t necessarily submit; he passed out. But six in one, half a dozen in the other. You get it. This was perhaps the best Lio Rush I’ve seen on Strong and he picked a great time to give his best because this was a very good match. The intensity was there and a few of those bumps on Rush’s end looked nasty. It’s also interesting, again, when it comes to how much of a switch someone seemed to turn when it comes to Kratos. It looks like the guy is going to factor into all of the upper card stuff moving forward and that can only be a good thing.
In all, the first two matches of this episode weren’t must-see, but they also weren’t a waste of time. The main event, however, delivered in a big way. NJPW dedicated the last half-hour to it and that was the correct call because Lawlor and Rush put on a hell of a show. If there’s one match from any promotion that I’d recommend this week, I’d go with Rush vs. Lawlor — even more so than Bryan Danielson vs. Nick Jackson. As for Lawlor and Narita … that should be fun. Narita has proven he can hang with some of the best on Strong and Lawlor is on fire these days as champion. The only question now is, do all these roads ultimately lead to a Dickinson/Lawlor rematch? My audio reviews of NJPW Strong are available weekly for Dot Net Members.