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NJPW Strong Style Evolved (March 25) Results & Review

NJPW Strong Style Evolved (March 25) Results & Review

New Japan Pro Wrestling
Strong Style Evolved
March 25, 2018
Walter Pyramid
Long Beach, California

Watch: AXS TV & NJPW World

Meet our Reviewers

Rich Kraetsch: The face that runs the place. Follow him on Twitter at @VoicesWrestling and subscribe to the Voices of Wrestling flagship patreon at patreon.com/voicesofwrestling.

Kelly Harrass: What the? It’s a Sunday night wrestling show that isn’t WWE?! Needless to say, Kelly is thrilled. He’ll be reviewing this show under the watchful eye of his new Detective Pikachu Amiibo. Follow Kelly on Twitter @comicgeekelly and listen to his podcast here.

Griffin Peltier: A fan of wrestling who just so happens to have a voice. Watches wrestling and writes about it. Follow him on the Tweeter machine @biggrifftwelve or don’t. No big deal. He thinks this New Japan show will give us quality sports-like entertainment.

Alex Wendland: VOW editor and hanger-on. Really looking forward to tonight’s matches, not so much looking forward to three hours of 2018 JR. Doesn’t have a podcast, but does have a Twitter, @AlexWendland

Roppongi 3k & Rocky Romero def. SoCal Uncensored

Rich: An otherwise solid opener marred but a bit of sloppiness (Kazarian blowing a springboard dropkick the most egregious) and absolutely embarrassing commentary from Josh Barnett and Jim Ross who clearly had no clue who SoCal Uncensored was. I’m going to let it go after this match because there’s no point in beating a dead horse but if you’re going to go live on AXS TV, do a fucking Wikipedia search, watch a few episodes of ROH TV before you go live. Overprepear. Be the experts. That’s not so much to ask. Anyway, fun opener that followed the basic heel/face dynamics and a clear direction to make SHO and YOH stand out. ***

Kelly: They need to get out of the fucking ring, but otherwise it was okay. ***  

Griffin: This was a good match to open the show. SHO and YOH looked like future stars and really showed their talents against the team of veterans. Some very cool spots, and SoCal Uncensored are very fluid working together. I hope Kazarian isn’t too hurt after his botched legdrop (well I think it was meant to be a legdrop). A good opener to keep the crowd hot. ***

By the way, I’m watching on New Japan World. During the commercial, Barnett dropped a very njpw is not for kids-esque “F Bomb” when speaking with JR about the wrestlers being in the ring during the match without tagging. Have they ever watched New Japan before when not being paid to do so? That is literally the New Japan tag rules. (Ed. Note: This was heard on the AXS TV feed as well.)

Alex: An as-expected opener and outcome. Sho and Yo stood out among the solid veteran hands of ROH and their own veteran hand leader, Rocky Romero. With so many guys and so little time it would’ve been difficult for anyone to get much going before having to finish up. Jim Ross and Josh Barnett were especially bad here as they didn’t understand NJPW tag team rules, but they sure got the closed-fist rules down. ** ¾

Juice Robinson & David Finlay def. Hirooki Goto & Gedo

Rich: Coming into this match I actually debated who would get the pinfall, stupid me. Of course. the most selfless booker/wrestler in history, Gedo would take the fall TO David Finlay no less. It’s been slow and not exactly obvious but Finlay and Juice have a three-match win streak going. Could we be lighting them up for a future IWGP Tag Title shot? Count me in if that’s the case. This was a fun one featuring Goto getting accidental blood, Juice being Juice and some enjoyable comedy and tag action. **1/2

Kelly: I have to say, the finish shocked me. With Finlay and Juice picking up the win, I wonder if we’ll see them as a pushed tag team going forward? This match was fun, but completely disposable, so it was exactly what you want out of a New Japan undercard match. Goto had a busted mouth in this so the match gets an extra half star for the accidental blood. **¾

Griffin: Goto bleeding from the mouth is such a cool visual – it’s not a huge Muta-esque bloodspill, but it really adds to the overall feel of the New Japan product. This was a good match and they really focused on the Juice and Goto feud ahead of their NEVER title match. I really like this Juice and Finlay pairing. Good stuff. **¾

Alex: The “young Irish lad” David Finlay (a lotta people forget he’s Fit Finlay’s son) is as Irish as I am and I’ve never lived more than 30 miles from Lake Michigan. Another tag win for Fit Finlay’s Son has to be building for something. I’d like to think it’s either another run at Jay White or a heavyweight tag run with newly-actually-relevant guy Juice Robinson. Oddly, I think the sum of that team is less than the parts, but it could be fun if they get a real chance. ***

Killer Elite Squad def. Toru Yano & Chuckie T.

Rich: We have our Match of the Night contender! Okay, maybe not but this was still an enjoyable tag match with a nice blend of comedy and focused offense from KES. Yano was SUPER over to the Long Beach crowd and Chuckie, who wasn’t initially as over, is so damn good he had people popping huge for every nearfall. KES was the perfect straight-laced foil to the madness that is Yano & Chuckie so it made for an enjoyable balanced. ***1/4

Kelly: I don’t know if a crowd has ever loved a wrestler as much as this crowd loved Yano. Chuckie T wasn’t as popular, but got a good reaction as well. Even if the crowd wasn’t going to react to KES, Archer made sure they did by soaking everyone in the crowd with bottles and bottles of spit. These two teams meshed incredibly well together and I actually thought that the CHAOS team had a chance to win a few times. KES predictably picked up the W in this good prelim tag. ***

Griffin: I liked this match. It had good comedy and Yano’s antics were really on point tonight. Killer Elite Squad looked vicious throughout the bout, which is smart booking ahead of their eventual match with EVIL & SANADA for the Tag belts. Chuckie T. also got a chance to shine a bit, which is great if New Japan plans on using him some more. Good stuff. **¾

Alex: Even I was enjoying Toru Yano in this match and he’s almost always an insta-skip when I’m on a catch-up binge. KES and Chuckie T/Yano gave us a little bit of everything from comedy to flying to power. Could’ve worked even better as the opener, but no complaints. ***¼

Cody & Marty Scurll def. Guerrillas of Destiny

Rich: Structurally the match was nothing to write home about but the character work between all four men, Cody and Marty in particular, was spectacular. It’s been said quite a few times but Cody is firing on all cylinders now and is able to do something few wrestlers can these days: get genuine visceral negative reactions. The pre-match standoff between the two waring Bullet Club teams was as good as anything that happened in the match itself so this is a tough one to grade. It wasn’t a great “match match” but an entertaining affair nonetheless. I’m all in on the Bullet Club war and can’t wait to see what happens next. **3/4

Kelly: This match was essentially just an extension of the currently rift we’re seeing grow in Bullet Club. And I’m totally fine with that because it’s easily the most interesting story going in wrestling today. Cody was fantastic here getting so much heat from the crowd and knowing how to get them to hate him even more as the match went on. It’s fun watching how Cody is even making the Bullet Club fans splinter as well. I can’t think of another time we’ve seen fans of the same group disagree like this. The match itself was fine, but this was all about the story and character work. Tanga Loa was actually the standout as far as the wrestling goes for me. While it was more of an angle than a match, I still enjoyed it. ***

Griffin: Cody delivered a pretty good pre-match promo, setting the stage for this BULLET CLUB vs. BULLET CLUB tag match. The addition of the Hollywood weight belt is great for Cody, he gets it. Tama Tonga is one of my favourites and he showed why he should be pushed harder among the New Japan roster. Cody tagging himself in because he couldn’t stand to see Marty be more popular than him was a great spot that is a perfect example of subtle storytelling. The match was a good tag team bout that showcased all four members of the BULLET CLUB. This show so far has been really good. This match had good plot advancement for future episodes of both Being The Elite and Tama’s YouTube show. I can’t wait for what’s next in this BULLET CLUB war. ***1/4

Alex: The extended promo to start the match was the clear highlight of the whole outfit, but there was nothing to complain about here. This was obviously building towards something more, but it was still disappointing that G.O.D wasn’t able to turn this into something a little more. Until now we haven’t had any real top stars on the card and, while fun, it’s starting to show. That changes with the next match…**3/4 for the match, ***1/4 for the promo

Tetsuya Naito, SANADA, BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi df. Hiroshi Tanahashi, KUSHDIA, Ryusuke Taguchi & Dragon Lee

Rich: The year is 2031. The United States is nothing but a smoldering mass. Somewhere in some country both Hiromu Takahashi and Dragon Lee are tagged into a match and proceed to slap the fuck out of one another for two straight minutes. I so adore this continued story. I hope it goes on forever. I hope no matter where their careers end up that there’s always time set aside every so often to see these two dudes square off and try to kill one another. This eight-man started relatively mundane but picked up pace in the latter half and was without a doubt the best match of the show thus far. The crowd was all in on LIJ but remained respectful towards Taguchi Japan which created a fun dynamic. There’s nothing in this match that stood out or will be remembered for years to come but it was a cleanly worked, fun match with some of New Japan’s top stars in front of a molten hot crowd. ***1/2

Kelly: I could watch Dragon Lee and Hiromu slap each other for hours. For me, that was the high point in a match full of great moments. The match was already good going into that moment, but things really kicked into another gear when that rivalry was renewed once again. It’s always a good time when we get to see Taguchi lead his men into battle as the head coach of Taguchi Japan and this didn’t disappoint. The coach looked shockingly competitive when he was up against Naito. Maybe it’s about time for Taguchi to make the move up to heavyweight? At this point in the show, this easily the match of the night. It was exactly as good as you want one of these LIJ multiman tags to be. ***1/2

Griffin: If I had to watch one match pairing for the rest of my life, I would certainly pick Dragon Lee vs. Hiromu Takahashi. This was a good match that delivered all the hits for all eight guys involved. There wasn’t anything too over the top in terms of action, but they had some good spots. I would’ve loved if there was more Hiromu vs. Lee action, but that’s because I could watch them for hours. A good match that did it’s job to put over all the competitors. ***

Alex: The whole card picked up here in terms of star power, crowd reaction and work rate. Getting to see Hiromu and Dragon Lee slap each other in the middle of the ring again made this the best match so far after just 5 minutes. You can’t overstate how over that rivalry is, even after nearly five years. The rest of the match was a standard fare LIJ 8-man tag, but that’s still pretty good and the crowd was over the moon to see Tanahashi and Naito lead their, ahem, junior heavyweight teams into battle. ***¼

Will Ospreay def. Jushin Thunder Liger

Rich: Ospreay did an admirable job filling in for Rey Mysterio, who appeared before the match and teased a match in NJPW soon. Will worked his ass off throughout and even gutted through what appeared to be a jammed up knee to put together a cohesive match worthy of both men. The story of the match for me, though, was Liger who continues to defy logic at age 53 and still brings his A game to big time matches like this. If you have a chance to see Jushin Thunder Liger live, do it. You don’t often get to see an all-time legend play his greatest hits at near peak form. ***3/4

Kelly: Jushin Liger is a living legend and can still put on a killer match when he needs to. Initially this was supposed to be a match between two legends, but Rey Mysterio’s injury necessitated that Will Ospreay fill in. Will did great here, even with potentially injuring his knee during the match. It shouldn’t be much of a shock that Ospreay won, but Liger looked like he had it won a couple times… not including the brainbuster nearfall that the director decided that they shouldn’t bother to show. That may have been the single worst bit of wrestling show directing that I’ve seen in quite some time. Outside of that though, this was fantastic, but that should come as no surprise. Ospreay is Ospreay and Liger might be the most talented wrestler of his age working today. ***¾

Griffin: Before the match, Rey Mysterio Jr. came out and apologized for not being able to compete against Liger tonight. He promised to have the match once he’s cleared. Now that Rey seems to be in New Japan, I hope we get him in the BOSJ. This was a very good match between Ospreay and Liger. Ospreay seemed to have tweaked his knee fairly early on in the match but that didn’t stop him from doing some truly stunning moves. Liger is still really really good despite his age and this was a great treat. I would gladly take more Liger/Ospreay matches. ***3/4

Ospreay then cut a promo and is seemingly now the Jr. Legend Killer after challenging Rey Mysterio Jr. What a match that would be! Scurll attacked Ospreay from behind and ripped Rey’s mask off his face. Some interesting stuff in the Jr. division and I’m excited to see where we go from here.

Alex: My working theory/baseless conspiracy is that Rey Mysterio Jr. could’ve worked around his injury this weekend, but with the tickets already sold and a much bigger building to sell later in the year they’re holding Rey off for the Cow Palace. Folks, I’m just here asking questions.

What we got in replacement was an abbreviated exhibition between the legend and the ascending champion. Jushin Thunder Liger continues to work like a man half his age, but in ever-shorter spurts. Ospreay seemed to jam his knee early in the match, but had fewer and fewer problems with it as the match went on, so hopefully it was just a knock and not anything more serious. ***1/2

Minoru Suzuki & Zack Sabre Jr. def. Kazuchika Okada &Tomohiro Ishii

Rich: The first match on the show that had actual weight to it as all four were building to their respective Sakura Genesis matches. While Sabre/Okada had some intriguing points throughout the match, it was hard not to be fixated on Ishii and Suzuki who had amazing interactions throughout. The crowd knew they were seeing something unique in those two and responded as such. Ishii and Suzuki exchanged stiff forearm shots and had the crowd in the palm of their hands. Even the finish—Ishii giving up in a Sabre’s submission—was made better by Ishii being one of the most sympathetic characters in pro wrestling history. The guy takes a beating and never ever gives up, he always comes back for more and he’s built a special place in all of our hearts. Fun match that accomplished exactly what it needed to in building up Sakura Genesis. ****

Kelly: It was amazing to watch Suzuki-gun just dominate Okada and Ishii in the way that they did. The way they picked those two men apart, treating CHAOS like they were nothing was almost unbelievable. Okada is the most dominant champion in wrestling, but he sure didn’t look it here. God, I can’t wait for this title match! On the other side of things, we got some awesome exchanges between Suzuki and Ishii, making me really wish that Ishii was the next in line for an IC Title shot. Those two out on the “two men bludgeon each other” segment that we all expect from big New Japan shows. No one takes a beating better than Ishii and no one gives a better beating than Suzuki so this was a perfect match up. Coming out of this, ZSJ just continues to look even better and Okada actually looks vulnerable. As good as this match was, that might be the biggest accomplishment. ****¼

Griffin: KAZE NI NARE! I love this pairing of Minoru Suzuki and Jack Sabre Jr. (/JR) This was a great match. The preview of Sabre Jr. and Okada for Sakura Genesis was great, and Suzuki and Zack being bullies is tremendous. Zack is so damn smooth in the ring and his stuff looks so painful. I really enjoyed Zack targeting Okada’s arm, as it gives their match in a week a great narrative in what is sure to be a MOTYC. Holy hell! that strike sequence between Suzuki and Ishii brutal. Suzuki-gun. This is by far the match of the night so far. Really good stuff. ****1/2

Alex: This match, especially getting to see Kazuchika Okada and Zack/Jack Sabre Jr. square off in the first couple of minutes, was the first time Strong Style Evolved went anywhere above come-see-the-stars house show level. For their part, Ishii could have an Intercontinental title shot against Suzuki tomorrow and it would be a match of the year contender. Given that Sabre looks to be made of molded rubber, the contortions he bends opponents into suddenly becomes ironic. He constantly looks like his submissions are compensating for the fact that is own knees could buckle and hyperextend over his own weight.

Anyway, there has been something in every match so far more over than the match before it and this was definitely the best match on the show so far. All four of these guys came off like killers and I’m looking forward to whatever matches they wind up in later this year. ****

IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship
Jay White (c) def. Hangman Page

Rich: Bleh. I love the Switchblade character. I like that he stirs up shit. I like everything they are doing with him but I’m not going to ignore that he’s pretty much shit the bed in two of his biggest singles matches so far this year. The Tanahashi match wasn’t as bad as it seemed live and was actually pretty good on re-watch and the same could be said about this one. Still, watching in the moment, something feels missing. Something is lacking. There’s a certain methodical nature to the matches that’s less a smart worker taking his time in a match and more guy standing around trying to figure out what move to do next. There was a sequence in this match where Page was clearly trying to do some type of springboard and White wouldn’t get set up in the right position or straight up forgot what they were going to do so they had to abort. There was a similar awkward spot in the Tanahashi/White match at Kingdom leading me to believe there’s some type of disconnect with White in ring. Page worked his ass off (and at times literally tried to kill himself) to get the crowd invested in the match and while they did in the final minutes, I can’t help but be disappointed by the end result. If White is going to be a main event player in NJPW he’s going to have to start taking these big matches by the horns and start delivering main event performances. ***1/2

Kelly: I don’t know what it was about this match, but something didn’t click with me. I really enjoyed the last third, but the opening two thirds were boring. I don’t know why though. The work was strong, but I think the lack of any real story hurt it. So far Switchblade’s matches have been heavily based around a story, but this was lacking one outside of Page wanting the title. That’s a fine story, but they didn’t do anything to bring much interest into the early goings. It didn’t help things that the commentary was as interesting as drying paint and was honestly putting me to sleep. It took Page nearly killing himself a couple times to get me (and the rest of the crowd) into the match. I should note, Page was awesome here. This was his best NJPW match for sure. Where this match was majorly lacking was the lack of any real Switchblade character work. Ultimately, this was a good, but forgettable match. I am very much looking forward to the match between White and Finlay though! ***½

Griffin: In what is probably Adam Page’s biggest match of his career so far, these two guys put on a clunky slow-paced match… and I really liked it. This felt like a fight between two guys who both wanted to be champion. White beat the crap out of Page and Page beat the hell out of White. The deadlife German suplex on the ring spot was certifiably insane. The two guys brought their all to the match and it showed. It was physical and a brawl that mixed in wrestling moves. This didn’t need to be a standard do move after move type match and it wasn’t. It was a good story that built to a crescendo. It’s a shame the crowd wasn’t all that receptive, because this was a star-making performance for Page within the New Japan ranks. In the end, I would have preferred if Page won, but still this was one hell of a match that will be appreciated by some and absolutely hated by others. ****

Alex: The first half of this match was kind of a drag. They were doing everything right, and doing it well, but it just wasn’t clicking. But they went to another level starting with the deadlift German suplex and went from there tossing each other on their respective heads. It was a legitimizing performance for Hangman Page who has otherwise been an afterthought and a dick joke. He became a real guy in the NJPW scene with this match and he deserves it for the bumps he takes.

But why was Hangman Page the semi-main guy on New Japan’s third-ever foray into a brand new territory? Is NJPW so forward thinking that they recognized his popularity from Being the Elite and used his American popularity to round out their New World exhibition?

NO!

They realized in February that they could use tonight to elevate someone instead of elevating NJPW. They’re saving top end, star-versus-star matches for the Cow Palace! It’s the Rey Mysterio Conspiracy all over again! Still, White and Page need firm mattresses and at least a few bags of frozen peas after those ridiculous bumps. ****¼

Golden☆Lovers (Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi) def. The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson)

Rich: A masterpiece of modern pro wrestling storytelling with each of the four participants playing their roles to perfection and continuing the best narrative in pro wrestling. Conflicted opponents. Fracturing partners. High spots. Kickouts. Saves. Table spots. Selling. Storytelling from the opening bell until it was finally, mercifully, over. This was an unbelievable roller coaster of emotions and an example of how great pro wrestling can be. *****

Kelly: Four of the best wrestlers in the world stepped into the ring for over 35 of the most compelling minutes of wrestling that I can recall seeing. This had everything you could ever want out of a high level tag match like this. Not only was this match done to prove who truly is the greatest tag team in the world, but the Young Bucks had to prove to themselves that they could beat Kenny. Matt Jackson powered through this match with a back that could have given out on him at any moment like he was Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 13. This was an absolute war and no man walked out unscathed, but Matt took the brunt of the beatings. There was no clear star of this match because all four men are so damn good at their jobs. When watching most long matches, even ones that I love, I do find my attentions drawn to other things. That was not the case here. My eyes never left the screen for the entire runtime of the match. This was an incredible match not only from the in-ring action, but through the emotional story these men told as well. This is pro wrestling at its best. *****

Griffin: Holy shit.

This was a fantastic piece of art put together by four of the best artists in modern professional wrestling. This match had it all. Great storytelling? Check. Great selling? Check. Masterful spots? Check. Upping the ante in violence from both teams? Check. I am struggling to come up with words that can truly do this match justice. Bravo to those four artists. *****

Alex: No one puts together a main event as well as Kenny Omega. No one tells a story like the Young Bucks. No one is as masterful in the ring as Kota Ibushi. If you’re going to have a one-match show, it had better damn well be this masterpiece of professional wrestling. This is 100 percent my non-Wrestle Kingdom match of the year and, given how invested I’ve become in the return of the Golden Lovers and fracture of The Elite, may be my overall match of the year on a re-watch with different production qualities if the NJPW World rebroadcast has a different commentary team.

It started with Matt Jackson wearing the #TeamCody weight belt even though Nick Jackson wasn’t, playing of the dissention Cody planted during Being the Elite over the past month–seriously, if you aren’t watching Being the Elite you’re missing the beats of this story.

Throughout the match, Kenny Omega was reluctant to hit his more aggressive moves against his former best friends. Kota Ibushi, though, continued to remind him what was at stake and convinced Kenny to do more and go further. For his own part, Ibushi recovered from a sloppy beginning to save his, Omega’s and Matt’s life on the double superplex. From that point on, Ibushi was perfection in this match.

After the match, pay attention, Cody came out to confront HIS MAN Matt and pushed down Nick. The exact opposite of Omega’s falling out with the Young Bucks in Japan. The details matter so much in this story. Oh, and they did 15-20 of the most ridiculous spots you’ll see all year with the highest emotional stakes you’re likely to see all year. Unbelievable performance with an incredible amount at stake in the storyline. *****


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