By Chris Vetter, ProWrestling.net Contributor (@chrisvetter73)
New Japan Pro Wrestling “Resurgence”
May 21, 2023 in Long Beach, California at Walter Pyramid
Streamed on New Japan World
Ian Riccaboni, Veda Scott and Alex Koslov provided commentary. Veda is great, but her volume was a bit too low to start. As the pre-show opened, the doors had just opened, so the stands were almost completely empty for the first dark match. (I had the same experience for a NJPW event in Chicago in April 2022; few people were even in the building when the first match began.) This is a small arena, much smaller than I expected; it might have a capacity of 2,500.
1. The DKC defeated Tyler Bateman at 8:23. I think this is the first time I’ve seen DKC wearing something other than plain black Young Lion trunks; he has a splash of yellow on them. Mat reversals early and Bateman stalled to regroup. Bateman hit a standing neckbreaker and was in control. DKC escaped a powerbomb attempt by hitting a legdrop. Bateman hit a Crucifix Driver takedown for a nearfall. He got a rollup for the pin. Adequate.
2. Alex Coughlin defeated Christopher Daniels at 9:27. I’ve seen a lot of Coughlin in shows in the Northeast lately. Daniels refused a handshake. Coughlin overpowered Daniels early with a huge hiptoss and a back suplex, then a clothesline to the floor at 2:30, then a plancha onto Daniels. Back in the ring, Daniels seized control of the offense and grounded Coughlin. Daniels applied a Koji Clutch at 4:30 but Coughlin reached the ropes.
Coughlin hit an impressive gut-wrench suplex at 6:30, then he rose to his feet, still holding Daniels and hit a second gut-wrench, then a vertical suplex. Daniels hit the Angels Wings swinging faceplant but Coughlin kicked out at the one-count! Coughlin hit a German Suplex and he was fired up. He hit a Goldberg-style Jackhammer for the clean, decisive victory. Good match. Good use of Daniels in this gatekeeper role, too.
* Fred Rosser came to the ring. He said NJPW is celebrating its fifth year with an LA Dojo, and he played a video clip. This is basically a commercial for the wrestling school. “You know what time it is? It’s time to go to work.” He left. That was… entirely unnecessary.
3. Virus and Barbaro Cavernio defeated “The Mighty Don’t Kneel” Zack Sabre Jr. and Bad Dude Tito at 14:04. My first time seeing these luchadors; Barbaro wore an outfit right out of the Flintstones, but he removed it before the bell. Virus is a little older, really short, and a heavier luchador who wrestles without a mask, and he has long curly hair. TMDK got a nice pop, and Sabre wore his TV title belt. Sabre and Virus opened with some mat reversals. Tito and Barbaro entered at 3:00 and they are the muscle on each squad. Barbaro hit a dropkick.
Virus hit a baseball slide dropkick to the floor at 5:00. In the ring, Tito hit a bodyslam on Virus. He tied Virus in the Tree of Woe and stood on his groin (Oh Canada!). Sabre entered and applied a leglock around Virus’ head at 7:00. Barbaro made the hot tag but Tito hit a Mafia Kick. Tito hit a German Suplex for a nearfall at 10:00. Caverno suplexed Sabre. Virus applied a Stretch Muffler on Sabre, but Sabre reached the ropes. Sabre applied his modified Rings of Saturn double armbar on Virus, but Virus was able to escape at 12:00. Barbaro and Tito traded slaps, and Tito hit a Blue Thunder Bomb for a nearfall. Barbaro cranked back on Tito’s head, and Tito tapped out! That finish came out of nowhere. Really good match.
* A video package aired for the four women involved in a tournament to crown a Strong women’s champion.
4. Mercedes Mone defeated Stephanie Vaquer in a semifinal tournament match for the NJPW Strong Women’s Championship at 11:48. Mone wore a blue fur robe and a tiara headdress. Her hair is red and black today. My first time seeing Vaquer, who has long black hair and wore a one-piece red outfit; my initial thought is she is like Deonna Purrazzo. They traded quick mat reversals and Vaquer applied a leglock around Mone’s head. Mone hit a head-scissors takedown into a crossface, but Vaquer reached the ropes at 3:00. Mone hit a running back elbow into the corner, then a double knees in the corner. Vaquer applied a cross-armbreaker in the ropes, and Mone sold the pain in her left arm.
Vaquer repeatedly pounded Mone’s head into the mat and got a nearfall.Vaquer nailed a Dragonscrew legwhip at 6:00 and was in control. Mone hit a running Meteora double kneedrop off the ring apron onto Vaquer on the floor. Mone hit a tornado DDT on the floor, and she got a nearfall in the ring. Mone hit a second-rope Meteora for a believable nearfall at 8:00. Vaquer missed a running kneestrike in the corner, and Mone immediately nailed a kneestrike in the corner. Mone hit a top-rope crossbody block, but Vaquer rolled through and got a nearfall, then Vaquer applied a crossface on the mat.
Mone escaped and applied her own crossface, but Vaquer got a foot on the ropes at 10:00. Vaquer hit a DDT for a believable nearfall, then a backbreaker over her knee for a nearfall. Mone hit a Lungblower, tied Vaquer in the Gory Special and hit her Mone Maker/swinging faceplant for the pin. A really good match. While I never once thought Mone was losing here, I came away very impressed with Vaquer.
5. Willow Nightingale defeated Momo Kohgo in a semifinal tournament match for the NJPW Strong Women’s Championship at 9:35. I admittedly don’t know the Japanese wrestling scene outside of NJPW, so this is my first time seeing Kohgo. She wore a red kimono robe and has a red umbrella; she is really thin and a quick internet search says she is just 104 pounds. Willow has a slight height and weight advantage. Willow hit a bodyslam at 1:30, then a sidewalk slam for a nearfall, then a fallaway slam that tossed Momo half-way across the ring. Momo hit a second-rope crossbody block for a nearfall.
Momo hit a 619 at 4:00 then a springboard missile dropkick for a nearfall. Momo hit a fisherman’s suplex for a nearfall and it popped the crowd. Willow hit a Bulldog Powerslam, and they were both down. They traded forearm shots while on their knees, then while standing. Willow hit a snap suplex, then a rolling cannonball in the corner and got a nearfall at 7:00. Willow set up for a Doctor Bomb but Momo turned it into a huracanrana for a nearfall. Momo hit a superkick and a tornado DDT for a nearfall. Momo hit a Crucifix Driver takedown for a believable nearfall, but Willow got a foot in the ropes.
Willow hit a spinebuster for a believable nearfall. She hit a clothesline but Momo popped to her feet. Willow hit a Death Valley Driver for a believable nearfall; I thought that was it. Willow then nailed her Doctor Bomb/gutwrench powerbomb for the clean pin. That was really, really good.
* A video package aired showing Kenta defeating Fred Rosser to win the NJ Strong title. We then saw footage of Juice Robinson beating up Rosser, after Rosser left a ringside seat for Robinson’s real-life wife Toni Storm. We heard comments from both Juice and Rosser.
6. Juice Robinson defeated Fred Rosser in a Street Fight at 23:09. Doors and chairs are set up in the ring, and Robinson brought a kendo stick to the ring. A dozen New Japan dojo students came out ahead of Rosser. Rosser has a chain around his neck; Ian said he looked like Hercules, and he noted how both men had taped fists. Rosser grabbed Juice in the groin, then he clotheslined Juice to the floor. Rosser whipped Juice into a guardrail, and they brawled up the entrance ramp. Robinson dropped him chin-first on the guardrail at 3:30.
Juice choked Rosser with a belt. In the ring, Rosser hit a Death Valley Driver through a door set up in a corner at 8:00. Rosser ripped Juice’s shirt off, and he used the belt to whip Juice on his back, then Rosser choked him. They went to the floor, where Rosser dumbed a garbage can filled with debris on Robinson, then he hit Juice with the garbage can. Rosser tossed a stop sign at his head at 11:30. Juice is now bleeding from his head. Rosser crotched Juice across the top of the guardrail. Rosser hit a shot with the kendo stick that looked like it hit Juice in the bridge of the nose! The crowd was shocked by that.
Rosser pulled a ladder from under the ring; I love how Ian has an explanation of why it is there. Fred hit a slingshot to send Juice into the ladder as it was leaning against the ring post at 14:30. Rosser shoved food debris from the garbage can into Juice’s mouth. That is gross. They finally got back in the ring. Rosser put a trash can over Juice’s head; Rosser wrapped his Hercules’ chain around his arm and he repeated punched the trash can, then he hit several chairshots on the trash can. Rosser tied Juice in the Tree of Woe and he wrapped the chain around Juice’s neck at 18:30 and pulled back! “You’ve gone too far!” Ian shouted.
Out of nowhere, Toni Storm hopped in the ring! A massive pop for her, and she hit a low blow on Rosser! It had no effect, as he pulled out a protective cup. She slapped him on the face; Fred forcibly kissed her on the mouth and got a pop. He acted like he was revolted by it. Juice snuck up behind and hit a low blow on Fred (that will teach him to remove the protection!) Toni hit a piledriver and she rolled Juice on top, and he got a nearfall. However, Rosser hit a Lungblower move, then he applied a crossface.
Toni got a glass bottle and cracked it over Rosser’s head! She set up another door in the corner and she yelled at Juice to get up. Juice barreled into Fred, sending them both into the bottom of the door. Toni hit a running hip attack onto a stop sign placed over Rosser’s head. Juice slammed Rosser’s face onto a folded chair on the mat; Juice (with Toni sitting on his shoulders!) made the cover for the pin. Juice hugged Toni and got her white top covered in his blood. That was a fantastic street fight. Ian noted that he didn’t like that Rosser forcibly kissed Toni. (I had the same thought.)
* A short break to clean up that mess. Kyle Fletcher got in the ring dressed in a three-piece suit, and he has his IWGP Tag Team Title belt. He got on the mic, noting he is not dressed to wrestle. “So, why am I here?” He said he has not-so-happy news. He said Davis is injured and cannot wrestle, and it is unclear how long Davis will be out. So, they will not be defending their tag titles at Dominion on June 4. He said they will have to relinquish the titles. “Holding them is literally a dream come true,” Fletcher said. So, the match at Dominion will be for the vacant titles. “Aussie Open will be back in a New Japan ring sooner than you think, and we’ll stop at absolutely nothing to get them back!” he shouted, drawing a pop. Fletcher did a tremendous job of conveying his emotions here.
* A video package aired of the Kenta-Hikuleo feud. Kenta said he wanted a match after he gets a haircut.
7. Kenta defeated Hikuleo via count-out to win the New Japan Strong Openweight Title at 11:56. Hikuleo hit him with the title belt and some loud chops to his chest and back. Kenta got a shirt and pretended that Hikuleo was choking him. The ref got bumped, and Kenta went for a low blow, but Hikuleo blocked it. They rolled to the floor at 2:30, where Hikuleo hit more chops. They brawled up the ramp and through the curtain to the back! Kenta re-emerged through the curtain, and the commentators speculated on what happened to Hikuleo. Hikuleo came back out; Kenta wanted the ref to count out Hikuleo.
They wound up brawling on the floor, but Hikuleo was selling the backstage attack we didn’t see, as we hit the 5:00 mark. Hikuleo dropped Kenta throat-first on the guardrail, and they kept brawling by the risers. Hikuleo set up a table. They brawled up into the bleachers, and Kenta tossed Hikuleo off the bleachers and through the table on the floor! Kenta scrambled back into the ring to win via count-out, as Hikuleo was still writhing on the floor in pain. Veda and Ian explained (just now, for the first time) that this title belt could change hands by a count-out. Decent brawl but a huge thumbs down for a title change via count-out, especially when we didn’t know that in advance.
* The lights went out! Eddie Kingston appeared on the screen. He said he’s coming for the winner of the match. Kenta picked up the mic and said “any time, any place.”
* A pre-taped video shows that New Japan Strong is headed to Korakuen Hall in Japan for a pair of shows July 4 and 5, featuring the top U.S. wrestlers who have competed routinely.
8. Jon Moxley, Wheeler Yuta, and Shota Umino defeated Rocky Romero, Tomohiro Ishii, and Kazuchika Okada at 19:19. Moxley’s team came out through the crowd to a guitar solo theme, not “Wild Thing.” Each member of Okada’s team got separate entrances. Ishii and Umino opened, but Shota clearly wanted to fight Okada. They immediately traded stiff forearm shots. “I wouldn’t go strike-for-strike with Tomohiro Ishii,” Veda said. Shota shoved Okada, so Okada tagged in and he hit a big boot, and they brawled to the floor, with Okada whipping Shota into a guardrail.
In the ring, Okada hit a flapjack on Shota. Romero tagged in at 3:00 and he hit some chops on Shota. Wheeler tagged in and hit a kneedrop on Romero’s face, and he tied up Rocky on the mat. Romero hit his Forever Clotheslines in the corner at 5:30. Moxley bit Romero on the forehead; he tagged in for the first time and he continued beating up Romero. Moxley hit some (Danielson) Yes Kicks at 7:30. They went to the floor, where Moxley crotched Romero on top of the guardrail. Shota tagged in and hit a Rude Awakening standing neckbreaker on Romero.
Moxley hit a Hart Attack clothesline for nearfall at 9:30, then Jon applied a Texas Cloverleaf, but Rocky reached the ropes. Rocky hit a springboard tornado DDT and he made the hot tag to Ishii. Ishii hit a shoulder tackle that sent Umino flying, then one on Moxley. Moxley hit a stunner on Moxley, and he nailed repeated elbow shots to the side of Ishii’s head at 12:00. Ishii hit a German Suplex on Shota, then a brainbuster on Moxley! Okada made the hot tag and he unloaded forearm shots on Shota, then a DDT for a nearfall at 14:30.
Shota hit a back drop on Okada and a running back elbow in the corner, then a slingshot DDT. He set up for the Death Rider but Okada escaped. Okada nailed a neckbreaker over his knee, then a top-rope elbow drop on Shota. He made the Rainmaker motion, but Moxley got in the ring and stood nose-to-nose with Okada, and they traded forearm shots. Okada hit his dropkick at 16:30, sending Moxley to the floor. Romero tagged in, and the Chaos team hit blows on Umino, with Romero hitting a kneedrop for a nearfall.
Romero went to a cross-armbreaker on the mat, but Wheeler made the save and was loudly booed. Wheeler hit a German Suplex on Rocky. Romero caught Wheeler with a rewind kick. Ishii and Moxley hit simultaneous clotheslines. Okada snuck up and hit a Rainmaker clothesline on Moxley! Shota hit a Death Rider on Okada, then a Death Rider double-arm DDT on Romero for the pin. That was just fantastic.
* Backstage promo with Mercedes Mone who vowed she would beat Willow and win the title. We then saw a pre-taped promo from Kenny Omega, who said he has beaten everyone in the four-person U.S. title tournament. We then saw footage of Lance Archer beating Fred Rosser to advance to the finals.
9. Will Ospreay defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi to become No. 1 contender to the U.S. Title at 16:44. An intense lockup to open and standing reversals, and Ospreay bailed to the floor at 2:30. Hiroshi hit a second-rope crossbody block. Ospreay hit a plancha to the floor. In the ring, Hiroshi hit a flying forearm at 7:30, then a second-rope summersault for a nearfall. Ospreay hit a handspring-back-spin kick, then a springboard flying forearm for a nearfall. Ospreay set up for the Hidden Blade, but Hiroshi hit a dropkick on the knee at 10:00.
Hiroshi hit a dragon screw leg whip and Ospreay sold the pain. Hiroshi applied a Texas Cloverleaf and sat down on Ospreay’s back for pressure, but Ospreay reached the ropes. Ospreay hit his hook kick to the face, and they were both down at 13:00. They traded forearms and Ospreay hit some Kawada Kicks to the face, then a Helluva Kick in the corner. Ospreay nailed a top-rope flying forearm to the back of the neck. He set up for a Stormbreaker, but Hiroshi slammed Ospreay to the mat. Hiroshi hit a sling blade for a nearfall at 15:00.
Tanahashi hit a top-rope crossbody block and got a nearfall; he went for another dragon screw leg whip but Ospreay escaped and hit a double stomp to the chest. Ospreay hit the Oscutter for a believable nearfall, then the Hidden Blade forearm to the neck, then the Stormbreaker swinging faceplant off his shoulders, for the clean pin. Really good match, but I never once thought Tanahashi was winning here, as all signs point to Ospreay vs. Omega.
10. Willow Nightingale defeated Mercedes Mone to become the first New Japan Strong Openweight Women’s Champion at 13:34. Mercedes came out dressed like the queen in Snow White, and Veda joked that Willow shouldn’t take any apples. This crowd was HOT before they even locked up, chanting “This is awesome,” and both women looked like they were on the verge of crying. Cool moment. They shook hands, but Mercedes slapped Willow in the face. Willow hit an overhand chop. Willow missed a Whoopee Cushion buttdrop. Willow hit a Pounce at 4:00 that popped the crowd. They went to the floor, where Willow hit a clothesline.
In the ring, Willow hit a short-arm clothesline. Ian talked about how Mercedes is used to being in front of crowds this large, but it is relatively new to Willow, and she may have more nerves. Willow hit a bodyslam and flexed at 6:00. Mercedes hit a chop block to the knee and she got a nearfall. Willow was in charge early on, hitting an enziguri, then a spinebuster at 8:30, and she applied a Boston Crab, but Mercedes reached the ropes. Willow hit a second-rope delayed brainbuster for a believable nearfall at 10:30. They fought on the top rope, and it appeared that Mercedes dropped Willow throat-first on the top rope. However, in the process of snapping Willow’s throat on the top rope, Mercedes fell all the way from the ropes to the floor, which is where I believe she broke her ankle upon landing.
Mercedes crawled back in the ring, got on Willow, and got a nearfall. Mercedes hit a Lungblower and applied the Bank Statement crossface, but Willow powered out, and Willow hit the Doctor Bomb for a believable nearfall. It’s unclear if Mercedes actually kicked out. Willow picked her up again and hit a second Doctor Bomb for the clean pin. A really good match and I’m definitely surprised at the outcome.
* Willow celebrated with fans in the front row. Someone whispered at her, I presume telling her to get in the ring. She got on the mic as fans chanted, “You deserve it!” She thanked the fans; she suddenly fought back tears, which got her an ovation. She thanked Mercedes. “I fought for years and years to be on a stage like this, and to be able to have a moment like this.” She thanked fans for believing in her, and she said it was only the beginning. (I kept waiting for her first challenger to come out, but that didnt’ happen.)
Final Thoughts: A really good show. I liked the six-man tag for best, and that hardcore fight with Rosser-Juice was so memorable for second place. As good as Ospreay-Tanahashi was, in my eyes it lacked suspense on the outcome, and I’ll give that third place. The three women’s matches were all really good, too. Willow has become so good so fast, it is great to see her win this title belt. This loss doesn’t hurt a superstar like Mercedes, either.
I will reiterate that I never heard that the the NJ Strong title could change hands by a count-out; if it was said, I certainly missed it. It was an impressive bump by Hikuleo from the bleachers onto that table, so I don’t mind that Hikuleo didn’t recover in time to get back in the ring. Too bad it left a sour taste in my mouth, because it a decent brawl.
Titles changing hands via countout is actually pretty standard practice in Japanese wrestling in general, which is likely why it wasn’t announced. Of course, since it almost never happens(though it happened at the big Stardom show last month too) cause fans tend to hate it, it’s not exactly common knowledge at least to a non-Japanese audience.
And also relating to the big Apr 23 Stardom show, Momo Kohgo got injured on that show and this was her first match back since that injury. Glad to see she got the chance to participate even though she never remotely had a shot at winning.
I was at the show last night. That was no “guitar solo theme” Moxley came out to. It was his NJPW entrance music.