By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
Taped February 17, 2022, in Los Angeles, California at The Vermont Hollywood
Streamed March 12, 2022 on New Japan World
The opening video aired before Ian Riccaboni and Alex Koslov checked in to run down the card. This is the second week of the Rivals tour…
1. Hikuleo vs. Kevin Knight. Knight immediately ran at Hikuleo with his dropkick to begin the match. Knight landed a wild splash and then eventually hit an outside splash onto Hikuleo. Knight went to the top and leapt over Hikuleo. Knight came at Hikuleo, but Hikuleo threw Knight in the air and hit a tough elbow to take control.
Hikuleo threw Knight into a corner and tried to cover Knight with his boot, but Knight kicked out. Knight chopped Hikuleo and Hikuleo tried to return the favor, but Knight ducked. As a result, Hikuleo hit a massive forearm and got a two-count. Hikuleo stood on Knight’s back and Knight screamed in agony. Hikuleo hit a forearm and then threw Knight across the ring, a la Keith Lee.
Hikuleo ran at Knight, but Knight moved and fired up with chops and an uppercut, but Hikuleo cut him off with a headbutt. Hikuleo hit a body-slam for a one-count. Hikuleo worked a chin-lock and when Knight tried to fire up, Hikuleo cut Knight off again with forearms to Knight’s back. Hikuleo lifted Knight for a suplex, but Knight countered and eventually hit an enzuigiri.
Knight ran at Hikuleo and hit a dropkick and a splash. Knight kicked Hikuleo’s leg, but Hikuleo ran the ropes and Knight actually hit that perfect dropkick on 6-foot-8-inch Hikuleo. Unreal. Knight ran the ropes, but Hikuleo lifted him, but Knight got out and landed a standing frog splash. Knight went for a Boston Crab, but Hikuleo fought him off, chopped him and choke slammed him for the win.
Hikuleo defeated Kevin Knight via pinfall in 8:15.
McGuire’s Musings: This was fantastic. Knight always shows hella fire, but he was extra flame-tastic here. And my God, actually landing the best dropkick in all of wrestling on a guy so much bigger than him was a work of art. This was one of the more fun NJPW Strong matches in recent memory and it’s worth going out of your way to see. The outcome wasn’t really in doubt, but damn if Knight didn’t make a doubter out of me for a split second. Hikuleo, meanwhile, in case you forgot, is a star. That said … damn, the same can probably be said for Kevin Knight after this showing. Good stuff all around.
2. Kevin Blackwood vs. Ariya Daivari. Daivari put his hand out for a handshake to begin the match, and Blackwood obliged. Blackwood worked a waist-lock into a front face-lock. Blackwood kind of/sort of taunted Daivari and backed away. Daivari hit a shoulder tackle and taunted Blackwood in return. Blackwood took Daivari down and worked a double wrist-lock. Blackwood hit a knee and threw Daivari halfway across the ring for a slam.
Daivari came back with a Russian Leg Sweep. Blackwood answered that with a kick to Daivari’s chest and a chop. Blackwood hit a kick and went for a Texas Clover Leaf, but Daivari threw Blackwood to the outside of the ring and Daivari hit a shoulder tackle through the ropes. Daivari hit a chop. Back in the ring, Daivari went for a pin, but only got a one-count. Daivari threw Blackwood into a corner. Before long, Daivari landed a draping neck-breaker over the second rope and a trap DDT for a two-count.
Daivari went for his finisher, but Blackwood ducked and fought back with some forearms. Blackwood hit a series of German Suplexes. Blackwood then landed a super-kick and another German for a two-count. Blackwood hit a rolling elbow and went to the top rope, but Daivari moved. Blackwood rolled through and hit a Spicoli Driver for a two-count.
Blackwood hit a series of kicks to Daivari, but Daivari caught Blackwood’s leg and eventually planted Blackwood. Daivari then hit his finishing clothesline for a hell of a near-fall. Wow. But the match kept going. Daivari rolled to the outside and grabbed a chair. Daivari went to hit Blackwood, but Daivari stopped himself. Daivari threw the chair outside and the crowd booed. Blackwood then surprised Daivari with an inside cradle and got the 1-2-3.
Kevin Blackwood defeated Ariya Daivari via pinfall in 8:52.
After the match, Daivari attacked Blackwood and hit his finisher again. Daivari then grabbed his Magic Carpet and went to the top rope to hit the Carpet Ride. Daivari flipped Blackwood and the crowd off. Daivari then left the ring as the crew tended to Blackwood.
McGuire’s Musings: I hope this means Daivari has finally decided what he’s going to be. The story they have been telling with him has been easy enough to follow; it just hasn’t really caught on for this viewer. Actually, at this point, by the time he grabbed the chair, I was just hoping he’d start beating the hell out of Blackwood and we could all move on. Speaking of Blackwood, this was a good debut for him and the commentary team did a good job of explaining his story. I don’t know if the win was supposed to mean we’ll see more of him on Strong, or if it was only supposed to be a conduit for Daivari to finally, mercifully turn heel for real, for real, but time will tell. Either way, this was a good match and one that’s worth your time to see, if only for that gnarly near-fall toward the end.
3. Jay White vs. Swerve (a/k/a Shane Strickland). After Swerve made his entrance, White got a mic and mocked Swerve’s entrance theme. White said Swerve could leave his jacket on and join the Bullet Club. White put up the Too Sweet and Swerve teased it, but Swerve kicked White instead. The bell rang to begin the match and White rolled to the outside. Swerve hit a kick on White. Swerve threw White back into the ring and worked over White with chops and strikes. Swerve went for a double-stomp, but White rolled to the outside.
White teased rolling back into the ring, but Swerve caught him and stomped on White’s hands. Swerve hit a big boot and got a one-count out of it. Swerve rolled at White, but White countered with a DDT to slow things down. White landed some massive chops. On the outside of the ring, White kept running Swerve’s back into the apron and the guardrail. White chopped the hell out of Swerve and rolled Swerve back into the ring.
Back in the ring, White landed a neck-breaker, which was good enough for a two-count. White worked a head-lock before turning that into pulling on Swerve’s hair. White went back to a chin-lock while giving the Too Sweet sign. The crowd was white hot. White went back to a chin-lock. White threw Swerve to the mat, but Swerve popped right up and chopped White. White came back with a chop of his own. Swerve then chopped White. They traded chops. The sequence ended with Swerve kicking White to the outside of the ring.
White came back into the ring, but Swerve fired up and hit an elbow to the back of White’s neck. Swerve rolled at White, but White moved and chopped Swerve. That didn’t matter, though, because Swerve hit a tilt-a-whirl slam before rolling through into a brain-buster for a two-count. After trading move attempts, White hit a modified German Suplex to get back on the offensive. White hit a running uppercut and went for a slam, but Swerve countered into an inside cradle for a two-count.
White hit a deadlift German Suplex. White then landed a twisting suplex for a two-count. White toyed with Swerve. The two traded strikes. White jawed at Swerve and chopped Swerve. Swerve came back with some kicks, but White kept on his chops. White ultimately choke-slammed Swerve. White went for a suplex, but Swerve landed on his feel and hit the Eagle’s Slide, but he couldn’t capitalize with a pin. Instead, Swerve kicked White to the outside and hit a double-stomp while White was hanging by his feet on the bottom rope.
Back in the ring, Swerve went to the top rope and landed the double stomp for a good near-fall. Swerve lifted White, but White countered into an attempted Bladerunner. Swerve countered that and worked an arm submission. Swerve stomped on White’s arm in a nasty spot and White sold the hell out of it. Swerve tried to lift White, but White ran Swerve into the ref and low-blowed Swerve. White hit a Sleeper Suplex and the Bladerunner and that was the end.
Jay White defeated Swerve via pinfall in 17:50.
After the match, White grabbed a mic and said he gave Swerve a chance to get in the Bullet Club, but Swerve didn’t want to do it, so he should get out of White’s ring. White shushed the crowd, and mocked Swerve by yelling “Whose house?!” The crowd responded with “Jay’s house!!” White said you never know when or where he’s going to turn up, except for one place, and that’s on New Japan Strong. On that note, he said, the U.S. of Jay Tour rolls on. White asked who will be next in his open challenge.
White said no matter who it is or where they’re from, they better bring their best. White called himself the No. 1 asset in all of pro wrestling. White said he’s the first-ever Grand Slam Champion. White said he’s the leader of Bullet Club and the catalyst of professional wrestling. White said it’s still his era and threw the microphone down and walked out of the ring to end the show.
McGuire’s Musings: This was Shane Strickland/Swerve Strickland/Isaiah Swerve Scott’s first match back after getting let go from WWE (remember, this was taped in middle February). He looked great here. In fact, he looked one hundred thousand million times more great here than he did on Rampage last night when he made his AEW in-ring debut against Tony Nese. Swerve has all the respect and credibility in the world and watching him get his feet wet in pro wrestling again is a lot of fun, but gosh darn-it, Jay White is on a roll. Since he dropped his belt, he’s become the poster-child for a wrestler that doesn’t need a belt to do great things. He gave Swerve so much here and Swerve ran with it, to his credit. In all, this was a fantastic main event and one worth watching if you haven’t seen it already.
Speaking of which, this whole episode is worth your time. I’m telling you, that crowd at the Vermont Hollywood makes these tapings infinitely better. If I’m New Japan, I seriously consider making that home base for Strong. They just bring it better than anyone else does. Outside of that, these were three really good matches that maybe even veered into great for a minute or two here and there. I won’t even add the caveat that if you like the New Japan style, you’ll like this episode, because it’s really not that. You could love AEW, MLW, GCW and even a little bit of WWE and still find things to value in this episode. I’ll have more to say in my Dot Net Members’ exclusive audio review.