Strong Style Evolved
March 25, 2018
Walter Pyramid
Long Beach, California

Watch: AXS TV

Meet our previewers:

John Carroll: As John writes this Strong Style Evolved preview, they’re less than two days away from flying out to Long Beach for this very show. They also need to finish their damn Japanese pro wrestling panels for Anime Boston, which is the following weekend. Good time to be on a preview then! Only follow them on Twitter (@toshanshuinla) if you respect Maki Itoh. You can follow their podcast @wrestleomakase either way, though.

Taylor Maimbourg: Like John, Taylor will be heading to sunny Long Beach to take in Strong Style Evolved in person.  He hasn’t been to California in over ten years, so if you have any recommendations for what he should do while he isn’t watching wrestling, tweet him @tamaimbo.  Or just follow him on Twitter and Instagram as he documents the trip.

August Baker: Unlike his companions, August will be watching this show from home the next morning with the volume low to not wake his two month old baby. Follow him on Twitter @augustbaker12 or the Wee Baby Baker will cry.

CHAOS (Rocky Romero, SHO, & YOH) vs. SoCal Uncensored (Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian & Scorpio Sky)

John Carroll: Oh god, who invited the old ass Americans here? I know, they’re in southern California and they’re SoCal Uncensored and blah blah blah, but if you think that means I have to give a shit about them or this match you’re quite wrong. It’ll be cool seeing Roppongi 3K live for the first time (the last time I went to NJPW in August they were still sequestered in some awful closet in New Jersey), but other than that his match can take a long walk off a short cliff for all I care. Prediction: CHAOS

Taylor Maimbourg: Remember when Frankie Kazarian was part of the Bullet Club? Fun times. Of all of the people to put in this spot, I’m not sure why it’s SoCal Uncensored. With Dragon Lee coming in for the show, couldn’t they have brought in some more CMLL guys for this match? Would have been a nice nod to Roppongi 3K’s time in CMLL as Fujin and Rajin. This seems just a simple match to get Roppongi 3K back on the winning track before their Sakura Genesis three-way title match. Prediction: CHAOS

August Baker: It’s kind of a bummer that Roppongi 3K is being used in this spot. I get it though. People might know Daniels and Kazarian a bit from their time in ROH and TNA, but I would have much rather have had some crazy Jr Heavyweight tag antics. But viewers who are more Bullet Club fans than New Japan fans will probably appreciate these guys being on the card. It’s a little interesting because SoCal Uncensored are ROH champions, and at least Kaz and Daniels are considered heavyweights by New Japan. With Rocky as a pin taker, I think this match will try to appeal to the ROH crowd more than the New Japan crowd. Prediction: SoCal Uncensored

Juice Robinson & David Finlay vs. Hirooki Goto & Gedo

John Carroll: Juice & Finlay were a fun little team throughout the New Japan Cup tour, and Finlay getting to pick up a rare victory over someone other than a young lion (over Chuckie T) toward the end of it was a nice reward for them. Of course, the even bigger pinfall was Juice over Goto, seemingly setting up a NEVER Title match. As I write this it’s still unclear where that match will take place- it could be at Sakura Genesis, where we currently only have two matches announced (Okada-ZSJ and another goddamn junior tag title 3-way), but then again they could be saving it for the Dontaku tour where they have booked approximately 700 shows. Either way, this will obviously continue the build up to that showdown. Don’t have much doubt that Gedo is taking the fall here, but the match should be fine. Prediction: Juice & Finlay

Taylor Maimbourg: I’m spent a number of these New Japan previews lamenting the plight of David Finlay, so I was pretty jazzed to see him pick up a win over Chucky T during the New Japan Cup. The obvious set-up in this match is for Robinson and Goto, but don’t count out Finlay picking up the pin on Gedo to continue the mini-roll he has been on lately. I’ve really enjoyed the Finlay-Juice team, so although Juice may soon be preoccupied with the NEVER title, I wouldn’t mind them getting a shot at the Heavyweight tag titles as well. Now that I’ve set up all those dream scenarios, it’s most likely Juice picks up the victory and officially challenges Goto for the NEVER title. Prediction: Juice Robinson and David Finlay

August Baker: Last year, Juice challenged Naito for the IC title, and kept getting beat in tag matches until he finally scored a big pinfall over Naito to earn a shot. A lot has changed in a year. Juice already has a pinfall on Goto, and Naito didn’t have perennial pineater Gedo on his team. The upcoming Juice/Goto match is going to be great, and I hope it’ll main event on of the Dontaku shows, and give Juice a signature career win. Prediction: Juice Robinson & David Finlay

Toru Yano & Chuckie T vs. Killer Elite Squad

John Carroll: Look, Lance Archer seems like a nice guy and he occasionally reads and plugs our stuff so I feel bad saying this, but the Killer Elite Squad are just completely uninteresting right now. They were one of the biggest drags of an otherwise pretty damn good New Japan Cup tour, between the Yano-DBS mini feud and their boring tag matches. I usually enjoy Toru Yano quite a bit, but he needs a good straight man for it to work (or someone else who is funny like Omega or Karl Anderson, but DBS clearly is not that) and Davey is not the guy. There’s just nothing fun or interesting about watching Yano get one over on Davey, because to be quite honest he has the wrong kind of heat with me. I don’t want to see him get his, I just want him to go away. KES has also become an increasingly weird fit in Suzukigun, a unit that has really come into its own this year as crafty heels who outsmart you and sometimes even out-wrestle you (in the cases of Suzuki & ZSJ, mostly). Even Iizuka fits in better than them. They just barely seem like they’re part of the unit anymore, and frankly I would have preferred virtually anyone else from SZG coming over. It’s become one of my favorite units in the company (after being one of my LEAST favorites last year), but KES has very little to do with that. Anyway, they’re gonna win this match and it won’t be very good. Prediction: Killer Elite Squad

Taylor Maimbourg: I’ll admit to everyone that I’m scared. 2018 has been a breath of fresh air for the New Japan tag team division. First it was brand new champions in EVIL and SANADA. Then it was interesting challengers like Kazuchika Okada and Hirooki Goto. Teams like Tomohiro Ishii and Toru Yano being groomed for the next title shot. The momentum of the division was trending up. Then, during the New Japan Cup finals, Killer Elite Squad beat Ishii and Yano and called out the champions. My heart sank. Seemingly endless three-way matches flashed before my eyes. The newly found momentum of the division could be a thing of the past in a heartbeat. In January of 2015, Hirooki Goto and Katsuyori Shibata won the tag titles and it looked like a new start for the division. They lost the titles the very next month and the division went back in the doldrums. I’m praying history doesn’t repeat itself. To be clear, I actually like Killer Elite Squad, but now that War Machine is gone and GoD is wrapped up in the evolving Bullet Club storyline, they have become the face for the booking laziness that has plagued the New Japan tag title scene for far too long. As for this match, it seems pretty cut and dry. Chucky and Yano will bring the gags before being put away in decisive fashion by Killer Elite Squad. Then, at Sakura Genesis or Dontaku, hopefully I’m proved wrong and the tag title scene continues its 2018 resurgence. Prediction: Killer Elite Squad

August Baker: Hmm, I’m way more into Killer Elite Squad than my fellow writers apparently. I’ve enjoyed all their tag matches this year, though their single matches leave me cold. I think New Japan needs a big Western tag team to occasionally run amok through the division. Where New Japan has made mistakes in the past is having more than one of these teams at the same time. We all have flashbacks of the never ending series of GOD/KES/War Machine matches last year. We don’t need the Briscoes. We don’t need Guns & Gallows. We don’t need The Kingdom. We have Killer Elite Squad, and they fill their roles perfectly. With KES’s win over Ishii/Yano, they’re the defacto number one contenders, so they sure as hell aren’t losing to Chuckie T. Prediction: Killer Elite Squad

Guerrillas of Destiny vs. Cody & Marty Scurll

John Carroll: The most interesting storyline in wrestling is this BULLET CLUB split stuff, which by the way is also the first time the BC has been interesting since probably the first year they were founded. I have no idea where any of it is going and who is on whose side, and they keep throwing us some interesting curveballs. First it was Kota Ibushi teaming up with the “BC Japan/Tongans/OGs/Whatever” contingent on the New Japan Cup tour and largely just getting along with them fine. Now we have another little oddity here, with Team Cody coming face to face with that contingent in a tag match. The interesting thing is that no one from the Tongan camp has ever actually said that they’re Team Kenny or Team Cody, and in fact Tama Tonga is more over than perhaps he’s ever been simply for doing stuff like calmly sitting in the background of a Being the Elite brawl between Omega and Cody in the locker room, looking like he couldn’t give less of a shit about it. But here he and his brother are, facing Cody and Scurll. Is this match going to give us any more of a hint as to what side the Tongans are actually on? Or is Tama Tonga going to continue being an unflappable Switzerland in this BC World War? Prediction: Guerrillas of Destiny

Taylor Maimbourg: The best benefit of the Bullet Club storyline is that it has injected a ton of life into a New Japan undercard that can often be overly dry and pedestrian. The various branches have each gotten a spotlight, and as we move out of the New Japan Cup and into Strong Style Evolved and Sakura Genesis, it appears that the Tongan branch will get its chance to sort out exactly what is going on with them and where their loyalties lie. I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up going their own way, but I also never pegged Chase Owens for a natural fit alongside the Golden Lovers, so I might be totally wrong. This also is a match that will be hugely benefit from an American crowd as opposed to a Japanese one, as I’m sure the crowd will be rabid for the team of Cody and Marty. While at the end of the day it might not be a blowaway match, it may end up being an important one as the splintering of the Bullet Club continues. Prediction: Cody and Marty Scurll

August Baker: Tama Tonga comes off as the smartest guy in wrestling. While everything implodes around him, he holds his contingent in reserve, waiting for the dust to settle. Kenny and Cody are fighting for control of Bullet Club, but everyone knows who the Bullet Club OG’s are, and who Bullet Club really belongs to. With Chase an honorary Tongan, and Ibushi teaming with him and Fale on the last tour, I feel like Tama and company have been slightly more antagonistic to Cody’s faction. It’s going to be super interesting to see if these guys get dirty with each other, and if there’s a reconciliatory (and trademarked) Too Sweet at the end. Prediction: Cody & Marty Scrull

Hiroshi Tanahashi, KUSHIDA, Ryusuke Taguchi & Dragon Lee vs. Los Ingobernables de Japon (Tetsuya Naito, SANADA, BUSHI & Hiromu Takahashi)

John Carroll: Look, if you expect me to complain about getting to see an LIJ 8-man live, one that will include Hiromu-Dragon Lee & Naito-Tanahashi exchange to boot, you’ve come to the wrong place. I’ve said a million times that I will never tire of these LIJ multi-man matches because the unit is just so freaking good at working together and they’re literally never not great, so I guess I’ll repeat myself again: I’ll never tire of these matches, they’re literally never not great, and LIJ works so well together! Throw in Dragon Lee making a very welcome guest appearance, to continue his neverending rivalry/romance with Hiromu, and you have probably one of the best 8-man tags this company could book. If I have any complaint at all here it’s that I would have liked to see the Naito-Suzuki feud live, because that was a huge highlight of the NJC tour for me (watching two pricks try and out-prick each other is basically everything I love about professional wrestling), but I can certainly live with getting more Naito-Tanahashi instead. Prediction: LIJ

Taylor Maimbourg: When the card for the show got released, this seemed to be the match that got the most grief for reasons I don’t really understand. Yes, the story is trending towards Naito and Suzuki, but if that match is happening on one of the Dontaku shows, is there any rush to have a preview match here? They’ll get plenty of other chances. And this match looks like it will be a ton of fun. Obviously the Naito-Tanahashi and Hiromu-Dragon Lee interactions will be the focus, but did you know that this is Taguchi’s first time in North America since September 2005? That’s awesome! New Japan has so many events and matches that it can be hard to remember all of them, but the LIJ-Taguchi Japan matches last year were all great, and I don’t expect this one to be any different. Prediction: LIJ

August Baker: I also have no issue with another LIJ match, especially since it’s not against CHAOS. They are always, at a bare minimum, very entertaining. Other than the never ending feud between Hiromu and Dragon Lee, there’s not really much in the way of story here, so this should just be a fun match. If this was in New Japan, I’d pick Taguchi Japan to get the win, but LIJ is going to be more popular in the United States, so I guess they’ll get the win. Prediction: LIJ

Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Will Ospreay

John Carroll: Before I say anything else, of course I must acknowledge that losing Mysterio-Liger is a big blow to the card and all that. I probably cared less about Mysterio and that match than most but I understand that it’s still a big blow, but what can you do, the guy got hurt. Ospreay is an, uh, interesting replacement, to say the least. I would have just gone all the way with it and made this a title match to try and make up for the loss of Mysterio (is anyone really going to complain that JUSHIN F’N LIGER got a title shot out of nowhere??), but this does still say “special singles match” on the card, meaning it’s almost certainly still non-title. Oh well. I’m sure the match will be good and all that. Just seeing Liger in a major singles match is still a rare treat at this point, especially since he won’t be in the BOSJ this year. Ospreay is perhaps not the most inspired of choices for Mysterio’s replacement, but I can live with it. Prediction: Will Ospreay

Taylor Maimbourg: I can’t fault New Japan here, as Rey’s injury is an unfortunate surprise, but there is a little disappointment to be missing out on Mysterio-Liger. In truth, I think Ospreay is the best man for the spot, and I’m almost certain he will lay it all on the line to make sure that the crowd doesn’t miss Mysterio for a second. If I was New Japan, I would have made this a title match, as it would have given the match a little bit more juice to make up for losing Mysterio, but at the end of the day, I think this match will be great. At the age of 53, Liger won’t be around forever, and even though it’s not the original match, I’m sure it will still be something special. Prediction: Will Ospreay

August Baker: I was all set to talk about how interesting all these WWE/NJPW matches are, but Rey’s injury puts a damper on that. Ospreay will no doubt have a better match than Rey would have, but the energy with Rey and Liger in the same ring would have been something really special. Instead, we’ll have a regular, probably good match, but nothing special. There’s not going to be many more opportunities for single’s matches for Liger’s career, and even fewer with a guy as talented as Ospreay, so I expect both these guys to do good work. Prediction: Will Ospreay

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

John Carroll: Fun fact- when NJPW first put the card up on their US website last night, this match wasn’t listed there. So briefly I thought they were leaving these four guys off the show entirely, which would have been an, uh, interesting move. Anyway, there’s really no good reason why this match can’t be very good, especially being positioned third from the top here. It’s obviously a major stop on Okada and ZSJ’s road to the Sakura Genesis main event, so expect some big exchanges there. Ultimately it seems obvious that Ishii is taking the fall here, but I expect a very hot tag match along the way. Prediction: Suzuki & ZSJ

Taylor Maimbourg: If you had told me at the beginning of the New Japan Cup that Zack Sabre Jr. would be steamrolling the competition on his way to the Cup, I’m not sure how I would have felt. I like Sabre, but prior to the NJC, he didn’t seem to have much direction in New Japan. Now he does, and I’m pumped for his title match. Not to see him win the title, but to see Okada dominate him thoroughly, choke him out and throw him out of the ring. His heel promos have enraged me in all the right ways, and I absolutely cannot wait to see him get his comeuppance. Even better, I think the preview matches leading up to it all have a chance to be great as well. Look at the combinations in this match – Okada/Sabre, Okada/Suzuki, Ishii/Sabre, Ishii/Suzuki. How could this match be bad? Prediction: Minoru Suzuki and Zack Sabre Jr.

August Baker: This match makes me wish I could hop on a plane to LA and find a scalper on the street corner to buy a ticket. What a match. I love all four of these guys. With ZSJ/Okada headlining Sumo Hall, this will be the first of surely several opportunities for Zack to go toe to toe with Okada and prove he can grapple with the champ. Zack looked like a million bucks during the New Japan Cup, not only winning, but doing so with style and with great matches. I hope he unveils a counter for Okada’s dopey Cobra Clutch and shows Okada how a real submission master does things. Prediction: Minoru Suzuki & Zack Sabre Jr

IWGP US Heavyweight Title
Jay White (c.) vs. Hangman Page

John Carroll: Hangman Page picking up roughly 5000 pinfalls in New Japan earlier this year ended up being the set-up to this match, the biggest spot of his career by far. He’s semi main eventing in front of more fans than the vast majority of ROH shows have ever drawn. Is he ready for this spot? Tentatively I would say yes, as he’s looked better than he has at any other point in his career. Jay White too looked more comfortable than ever since he won the US Title, although we haven’t seen him in almost a month now. Honestly the biggest factor hurting this match, in my opinion at least, is just that both guys were nowhere to be found for the entire New Japan Cup tour. It feels weird that we built this match up pretty well at the end of the New Beginning tour (and on the second Honor Rising show) and then both guys just vanished for weeks, and now they just pop back in here and have the match. But anyway, I still think this match can surprise some people. I don’t see a title change being in the cards here, though. Prediction: Jay White

Taylor Maimbourg: Of all the matches on this card, this one seems to be the one that has both the lowest floor and the highest ceiling. Page has definitely shown improvement over the past few months, but away from the orbit of the Young Bucks, does he manage to keep improving? Jay White has shown flashes, but can he put it all together in a match where he is not facing an all-time great? I think at the end of day the match will be good, but most likely overshadowed by both the match before it and the match after it. I think it’s pretty clear that Jay White retains, but what comes next? With Finlay starting to pick up pinfalls, you might think he could challenge, but New Japan just recently had them one on one, so probably not. Jay White is in a bit of strange position. He debuted with a lot of hype, but after winning the US Title has disappeared, and not in a mysterious “where did he go?” way, but more of a “oh weird, he’s not here” way. The US Title was always a bit odd, but around the waist of Kenny Omega, at least it has a strong representative. Now with Jay White holding it, it seems unclear what the future holds. Prediction: Jay White

August Baker: Despite being the semi-main event, there’s been almost no build to this match. A month ago, White beat Omega to win the title, Page challenged, and the Bullet Club split began. And neither guy has been seen much since. This match is an afterthought to a larger story, just a loose strand that everyone forgot to mess with until this moment. It should be fine. It should be competent. But I don’t think it will be great, and I doubt it will be memorable. I don’t even have any good ideas about what White should do next. Though if Juice fails in his bid to become NEVER champion, a few matches with Jay White would do great for both men. Prediction: Jay White

Golden☆Lovers vs. Young Bucks

John Carroll: Yes, folks, this is your main event. A dream tag team match that’s been teased going back as far as, like, 2012 or so, with a storyline build that’s taken place almost entirely on a Youtube web series. Regardless of your feelings on the Bucks or Kenny, the fact that they’ve built this match up so well on their own, calling their own shots, with their own production, is a mighty impressive feat. The crowd is going to be going nuts for a match that really has received all of one segment’s worth of build up on actual New Japan television. That’s an accomplishment, and a testament to how ahead of their time these guys really are. As for the match itself, I have little doubt it will be spectacular, though I worry about it being too spectacular, as oxymoronic as that may sound. The Bucks are at their best when they remember to have a wrestling match (see: the R3K matches from January) and at their worst when they turn it into a disconnected series of tornado tag spots with an overly cutesy finishing stretch/spot (see: pretty much every ROH match they’ve had in the past two years). I think this will probably end up being something in between, but I just hope they don’t go too far down the ROH Bucks path. Either way, I think Kenny & Kota winning here is the only finish that really makes any sense. Being the Elite is already teasing some kind of storyline where Cody is trying to convince both guys to go single (finally setting up the brother vs. brother singles match for All In?), which makes it seem like that is going to be their storyline for the next little while here. Meanwhile, the Golden Lovers have only just reunited, and have wrestled all of one straight up tag match together so far. There’s a lot more gas in that tank, and beating them here kind of makes no sense. I’ll leave open the possibility of the Bucks winning via some kind of screwy finish involving Cody to put more heat on the ROH Omega-Cody match, but I think that would be a mistake. Prediction: Golden☆Lovers

Taylor Maimbourg: At first glance, it would appear that this match would be a crazy spotfest, but after this week’s Being The Elite with Kenny’s edited video, I think these teams are going to attempt to inject a lot of storytelling into this match. The Bucks have been on an incredible tear in 2018 (coming from someone who already thought they were really great) and have shown that as good as their spotfests are, their story-driven matches might be even better. I have almost no doubt that all four of these guys are going to go out and attempt to have the best match possible. What repercussions will this match have on the overall Bullet Club storyline, I’m not sure. With The Young Bucks recently moving up to heavyweight, it would seem to make sense to give them the win, but with Kenny’s match with Cody on the horizon, it would also make sense to give HIM the win. So who knows. Either way, I think we’re in for a barn burner. Prediction: The Young Bucks

August Baker: The roof is going to come unglued for this match, and for good reason. The match itself should be great, but you can read about that actual match from my companions. What I’m really excited for is what happens after. There’s no way all four guys are going to be shaking hands after this. I want Cody to come down. I want the Tongan’s to come down. I want battle lines to be drawn, for the ambiguity of who is on whose side to be over. I want this to be the first and only time The Young Buck’s wrestle as heavyweights because they choose different sides in this battle. I want ALL the drama to end this show. For as excellent as this match will probably be, I’m really hoping the post match stuff makes large strides forward in one of the best stories professional wrestling has seen in year. Prediction: Golden☆Lovers