New Japan Pro Wrestling
NJPW Strong: New Beginning USA Episode 3
February 19, 2022
Week 3 of this slate of episodes is upon us. This week’s action has been my favorite of the tour and the best of the year.
The Midnight Heat def. The DKC & Kevin Knight
The Midnight Heat are the hometown talent this week. Hometown talent does not always translate to hometown heroes. They take on the team of LA Dojo standouts, The DKC & Kevin Knight. The Midnight Heat wrestle mainly in Defy Wrestling. This is my first time watching their work. To take the word ‘Midnight’ and put it in your name when you are a tag-team, have music that recalls the heyday of tag-team wrestling in the United States AND to wear those tights are things that should certainly come with a particular style. Midnight Heat wrestle that style. Heel-heavy and plodding work are their touchstones and that is not a bad thing here. Knight and DKC are two talents who typically find their way onto Strong tapings in singles or tag matches. DKC ring work and style seem to be improving with each outing. His fire up spots and athleticism is fun to watch. Kevin Knight looks great on this, um, night. There is a mix of athletic, high-flying spots and hard-hitting, snug action. Nonetheless, the heels use the ropes to steal a pin from the DKC. I think we may see more of the Midnight Heat in the weeks and months to come on a national level. Once again, Strong books their shows to build momentum and this match serves that purpose well. ***1/2
Fred Rosser def. Gabriel Kidd
Christ on a cracker, this match ruled so fucking hard.
I would have bet a year’s salary back in 2010 that there was no way Fred Rosser would still be in wrestling, let alone wrestling for a major promotion AND having matches of this quality. At the end of 2021, Rosser wrestled a program with Tom Lawlor that concluded with an excellent showcase of his style of rage-filled violence. There is a lot of the same feel in this match. Gabriel Kidd a fucking wrestling dynamo. As he has continued his return to the ring after an extended absence, Kidd has ascended to the top of my list of favorites to watch in 2022. It is exciting to see someone be as proud to be a part of an organization because of its history as Kidd is to wrestle for NJPW. I am not going to describe this match move for move other than to recommend you go out of your way to watch the seated, Shibata-style chop-fest in the middle of the ring. It was not obvious until the end the match that Rosser’s eardrum was injured in this incredible melee, but my god it is something to watch. The brutality exhibited throughout this match is as good as I have seen this year. There is a similarity to the Busick vs. Slade match from Beyond earlier this month. Certainly, a match worth going out of your way to see if you haven’t. As much as Busick and Slade managed to tell a compelling story through bloody and convincing spots, the NJPW version of this style match is what I prefer. Kidd and Rosser show their technical prowess to go with their innate ability to fuck each other up. Rosser wins this match and I can only hope this is the start of a rivalry. Don’t miss this match. ****3/4
U.S. of Jay Challenge #2
Jay White def. Jay Lethal
This week we have a match I hadn’t considered on White’s current run on Strong. After the requisite Bullet Club bullshit from White and Hikuleo, this week’s challenger is introduced. Jay Lethal, on loan from AEW, is on tap this week and I could not be happier to see it. I got my introduction to Lethal during his run in the X-Division in TNA. As silly as the management in TNA made Lethal look, he always managed to put on tremendous matches. The original group of X-Division wrestlers are some of the bests I have ever seen and it’s a damn shame how that dipshit company ruined such an innovative group of wrestlers. But TNA bashing is for another day. White and Lethal have a brief history as adversaries in the ring. The first and only time they faced each other was in 2017 for Ring of Honor (Riccaboni called that match as well). A lot has changed since then. White’s role as leader of the Bullet Club has thrust him to the top of NJPW’s pecking order. Jay Lethal is one of ROH’s most decorated wrestlers and now he serves the role of mid to upper mid-card talent at AEW. For my personal taste, I have never gone out of my way to watch Jay White wrestle. His talent and charisma are undeniable, just not always my thing. When he works the truly slowed-down heel style, I couldn’t care less about watching him. When he wrestles with the speed and style he utilized in this match, I enjoy his work immensely. It is obvious Jay Lethal has a lot left in the tank and he is using this renewed spotlight to remind us he is not done yet. We get a top rope elbow from Lethal here which hearkens back to his days in TNA. Lethal is very good at selling body parts and in this match, we are treated to selling his knee and his neck. White has a way with his European uppercut that make it one of the best in the business. We get to see why both of these guys are considered to be two of the best by their respective organizations and fans alike. White finishes off a very worthy Lethal with a Blade Runner in the middle of the ring for a clean win. After the match, White commends Lethal and reminds him they are now 1-1 and if Lethal wants a rubber match, he is game. ****
If Strong were the only weekly show I was able to watch, I believe it could hold my interest in pro wrestling. Episodes like this one are evidence of how talented this group in NJPW America are. Every week the matches are compelling and hard-hitting. The story arcs easy to follow and nothing on the show makes me want to change the channel if my wife walks in the room. I know it seems like I give this show only effusive praise. That’s because it worthy of it. If you aren’t watching this show, you are really missing out on some of the best week to week wrestling matches in the world.
Next Week: The New Beginning USA tour concludes with Filthy Tom Lawlor and wow does he and the other featured talent have their work cut out for them if they are going to top the quality of this show.