2/26 NJPW Strong results: McGuire’s review of Tom Lawlor vs. Taylor Rust for the Strong Openweight Championship, Matt Rehwoldt vs. El Phantasmo, and Karl Fredericks vs. Ethan HD

By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)

NJPW Strong
Taped January 15, 2022, in Seattle, Washington, at Washington Hall
Streamed February 26, 2022 on New Japan World

The opening video aired before Ian Riccaboni and Alex Koslov checked in on commentary to run down the card. This is the final week of The New Beginning USA Tour…

1. Ethan HD vs. Karl Fredericks. Not long into the match, Fredericks backed HD into the ropes and wound up, but didn’t hit him. Fredericks grabbed a wrist-lock, but HD countered with one of his own. Fredericks took back control and tried for an arm-bar, but HD blocked it. On their feet, the two tied up and HD worked a head-lock. HD tried a shoulder-tackle, but Fredericks didn’t move. It happened again. On the third attempt, Fredericks came back and landed one of his own.

Fredericks hit a loud chop and a kick to the back. After going back and forth, HD hit a standing double-stomp on Fredericks for a one-count. Back on their feet, HD went for a DDT, but Fredericks pushed out, only to have HD land a super-kick and a back-stabber for a two-count. HD toyed with Fredericks, but Fredericks got up and started hitting forearms. HD hopped onto the second rope for a springboard enziguri for a two-count.

HD kicked Fredericks’s back twice. Fredericks got to his feet and eventually hit a spinning kick to slow things down. Fredericks landed a splash followed by a bunch of strikes and a dropkick to HD’s head in the corner. Fredericks hit a back suplex and an elbow for a two-count. With HD on the outside, Fredericks tried for a splash, but HD got a boot up to stop everything. HD then landed a springboard moonsault from the inside middle rope to Fredericks on the outside. Wow.

When HD tried to get back in the ring, Fredericks cut him off and hit a springboard double-stomp. Fredericks tried to pick HD up, but HD was dead weight. HD woke up, though, and hit a sort of F-5 for a two-count. HD went for a package power-bomb, but Fredericks fought out and the two traded forearms again. HD ran at Fredericks, but Fredericks hit a spinebuster and the Manifest Destiny for the win.

Karl Fredericks defeated Ethan HD via pinfall in 11:06.

After the match, Fredericks posed in the corners…

McGuire’s Musings: I get that New Japan brings in some locally known talent, depending on where they are for these Strong tapings, for a one-off, but I’d like to see Ethan HD back on Strong someday. He isn’t the most chiseled wrestler you can find, but he does bring a sense of uniqueness to the program that is fun to watch. He looks like he’s a brawler, but he can clearly work that New Japan style as well as almost anyone else on the roster. And that moonsault from the inside middle rope to the outside was a lot of fun. Fredericks, meanwhile, continues to rack up wins, but it does kind of feel like he’s spinning wheels. For being the first graduate of the LA Dojo, it seems like he should be involved in something a little more meaningful by now, but he’s not even in a feud. Maybe that will change with this next tour, the first installment of which we will see next week.

2. Matt Rehwoldt vs. El Phantasmo. Before the match, Rehwoldt grabbed a microphone and called Seattle a fog-covered crap-hole. Rehwoldt said “Cobain had the right idea,” and he couldn’t wait to get out of the region. ELP took the microphone and told Rehwoldt to watch his mouth. ELP said nobody makes fun of this “shit-hole other than me.” ELP called himself the king of the Pacific Northwest. ELP said it’s ELP Day and Rehwoldt attacked him to start the match in earnest.

Rehwoldt kept control with strikes and elbows. Eventually, ELP landed a dropkick and a back-splash. ELP did his signature multiple springboard flip, but Rehwoldt came back with a senton and a running kick. Rehwoldt whipped ELP into the corner and hit a big splash before landing a spinning neck-breaker for a two-count. ELP fired up and hit a moonsault from the second rope for a two-count. ELP landed an inverted atomic drop, body-slam and an elbow from the second rope.

ELP went for a super-kick, but Rehwoldt cut him off and slammed ELP for a close near-fall. Rehwoldt went to the top rope, but ELP cut him off with a kick. ELP went for a super-plex, but Rehwoldt fought out and landed a swan dive for a two-count. The two traded blows in the middle of the ring. ELP hit a combination of strikes, but Rehwoldt rolled ELP up for a two-count. ELP landed a slam, went to the top and hit a senton/moonsault combination from both corners for the win.

El Phantasmo defeated Matt Rehwoldt via pinfall in 7:37.

McGuire’s Musings: This was a weird one because ELP does so well at being a heel and he’s a master at making crowds hate him. Rehwoldt, meanwhile, played the babyface color commentator role for a whole tour of tapings not that long ago. This time out? It was Opposite Day, I guess. Still, this is the best Rehwoldt has looked in a New Japan ring since doing some work for them after leaving WWE. In fact, I wouldn’t mind seeing him pop up more in the role he played here because he was ruthless with the cheap heat from the crowd. As for ELP … I don’t know. I think I like him too much as a smarmy, asshole heel. These two worked well together, though, so the match itself was pretty good. Even so, here’s hoping ELP can go back to annoying people the next time we see him.

3. “Filthy” Tom Lawlor vs Taylor Rust for the Strong Openweight Championship. The two locked up, but Lawlor backed Rust into the ropes and everything broke up. Lawlor went for Rust’s legs, but Rust countered and the two started again. Lawlor raked Rust’s eyes and hit a pair of knees before Rust hit a clothesline and worked a side headlock. Lawlor countered with a hammer-lock, but Rust took Lawlor over a couple times before grabbing an arm-lock.

Rust worked a high wrist-lock, but Lawlor picked Rust up and drove him into a corner for the break. Lawlor hit a few chops. Rust fought back, but Lawlor caught Rust and hit a dragon-screw leg-whip from the second rope. Lawlor sank in a figure-four leg-lock. Rust slapped Lawlor to get out of it. Coming off the ropes, Lawlor kicked Rust in the knee to take him back down. On the outside of the ring, Lawlor tried to chop Rust, but Rust moved and Lawlor chopped the ring post. When Rust tried to re-enter the ring, however, Lawlor took out Rust’s knee to take back control.

Lawlor sunk in a sharpshooter in the middle of the ring. Rust made it to the ropes for a break. Rust hit an enzuigiri and a high kick to buy himself some time. Rust went for a kick, but Lawlor caught him and worked the ankle lock. Rust worked his way out of it and ultimately landed a scissors kick to take Lawlor down. Rust went for A Perfect Circle, but Lawlor got out and went to the outside of the ring. Rust landed a dive onto Lawlor on the outside. Rust rolled Lawlor into the ring and went to top, but missed a splash. Lawlor followed that up with an elbow.

With Lawlor on the top rope, Rust hit a kick to cut him off. Rust hit a super-plex. As both guys got to their feet, the traded forearms. Rust hit a slap but Lawlor came back with an Exploder for a two-count. Lawlor sunk in a triangle choke while posing on the top turnbuckle. Rust got out of it with a slam. Rust went for A Perfect Circle and hit it, but Lawlor kicked out for a good near-fall. Rust hit some kicks, but Lawlor caught him and threw Rust across the ring. Lawlor went for a discus clothesline, but Rust blocked it. Rust sunk in an arm-bar, but Lawlor got out and landed an enziguri. Lawlor hit a knee and sunk in the rear-naked choke for the win.

“Filthy” Tom Lawlor defeated Taylor Rust via ref stoppage in 18:38 to retain the Strong Open Weight Championship.

After the match, Lawlor grabbed the microphone and said Rust was just another in a long line of pretenders. Lawlor said he shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds New Japan Strong. Lawlor said he’s wondering who’s going to be next to challenge the champ. Lawlor said just like he thought, nobody is coming out to catch a beating. Clark Connors’s music then hit and Connors came out with a Shawn Kemp jersey on. Lawlor got in Connors’s face and asked him if he wanted to do it right now. A referee came out and held the title up, but Lawlor stole it back from him and left the ring. Team Filthy went to the back and Connors posed in the ring to end the show.

McGuire’s Musings: If I hadn’t had the result spoiled for me, I would have been on the edge of my seat for some of those false finishes. I was surprised to see Rust hit the Perfect Circle and then have Lawlor kick out. Throughout the last third of the match, it felt like Rust could have pulled this one out and kudos to Lawlor for giving him as much as he did. While this was really good, my nit-pick complaint of the week goes to the lack of selling Rust ultimately did with the leg on which Lawlor worked for the first half of the match. It felt like that was the story they were going with here and all it took was Rust firing up for him to forget that the eight previous minutes were given to Lawlor beating his knee to shreds. Still, this was a good match and Lawlor is one of the most fun champions in all of wrestling. Whomever ultimately takes his title will have awfully large shoes to fill.

This was a good way to close out the Seattle tapings — and even better that we got one more Clark Connors appearance before those guys moved on to a different town. The opening match was better than expected, the middle match threw me for a loop with the babyface/heel roles and that main event delivered. Where Rust goes from here on Strong, if anywhere, is anybody’s guess, but if he sticks around, I can think of at least a few people on this roster that would make a good dancing partner for him. We’ll see. I’ll have more to say, as always, on my return to the Dot Net Members’ exclusive audio review coming up shortly.


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