New Japan Pro Wrestling
NJPW Strong: New Beginning USA Episode 4
February 26, 2022
The final night of the New Beginning USA 2022 slate of shows is set to showcase an NJPW Strong Openweight Title match along with matches featuring Karl Fredericks and El Phantasmo. Last week’s episode was one of my favorite hours of wrestling tv this year. It will be fun to see if the show quality continues as NJPW Strong closes out this tour of the Pacific Northwest before heading south for the remainder of the winter.
Karl Fredericks def. Ethan HD
Sometimes when I watch these regionally based shows from Strong, I am reminded about how I have spent the last several years focused on two or three promotions causing me to miss a lot of very talented wrestlers. It is especially glaring when a wrestler like Ethan HD is on a show and I have no idea who he is. Ethan HD, I am told is a Pacific Northwest indie stalwart. So much so, he has a sandwich named after him at a Seattle eatery. You can keep your title belts, trophies and fan awards, my version of ‘making it’ involves being famous or infamous enough to have a culinary dish named after me. Anyway, this week we get the debut on Strong of Ethan HD versus the LA Dojo’s first graduate, Karl Fredericks. Karl has a hell of a look. He is clearly a talent whose career trajectory was stunted by Coronavirus. Without a pandemic and all that has come with it, Fredericks would probably be at or near the top of the NJPW roster by now.
For a wrestler I have never seen anything from, I quickly became a fan of Ethan HD. It makes total sense that NJPW would bring him to wrestle. He and Fredericks have an even match early on. Showcasing his toughness, Fredericks withstands a series of hard kicks and forearms from Ethan. But, when it is time to turn it on, Fredericks has no problem showing why he is so highly thought of. A standout move in this match is Fredericks’s execution of a Shibata dropkick in the corner. It is a thing of beauty. Speaking of beauty, Ethan HD hit Fredericks with a middle rope moonsault from the inside of the ring to the outside that has to be seen. There are forearm exchanges, suplexes, double stomps from the top rope among other moves that kept this match even until the end. Ultimately, Karl put HD away with a Manifest Destiny for the win. Ethan HD had an impressive debut tonight; I will be seeking more of his matches out in the future. As for Fredericks, we can only hope the travel restrictions are eased in order to get this man back to Japan so we can finally see of the matchups NJPW can deliver. ***3/4
El Phantasmo def. ‘Drama King’ Matt Rewholdt
El Phantasmo has never been a wrestler I paid much attention to. I know he has quite the following and his career has been on the uptick as of late. Maybe tonight’s match will cause me to be more excited when I see his name on the card in the future. Matt Rewholdt on the other hand is someone who I have enjoyed watching for several years. Whether in NXT, WWE, Impact or on the indies, Rewholdt has not only delivered several compelling matches despite some unfortunate booking decisions, but he is incredibly adept at eliciting a crowd response on the mic. Before the bell, we get an exchange about what a shit hole Seattle is involving the suicidal intentions of Kurt Cobain and a mocking of English’s former tag-team partner’s signature mantra which causes English to attack E-L-P before the opening bell. The match itself gives Rewholdt the opportunity to show us what he is known for when not on the mic; an athletic, brawling style. A standout tonight is his top rope swanton onto a prone Phantasmo. El Phantasmo’s lucha-libre based style features an array of impressive moves. The duo of top rope maneuvers that Rewholdt could not recover from were executed with precision. In the end, El Phantasmo gets the win. This match did nothing to raise or lower my interest level in E-L-P, maybe I just don’t get it. ***1/2
A brief JR Kratos promo aired where he is calling out Alex Coughlin. Look for that match to happen on the next set of shows.
‘Filthy’ Tom Lawlor def. Tyler Rust
Tyler Rust, a former member of Team Filthy, has reason to be motivated for this match. Lawlor unceremoniously threw Rust out of his faction after a loss to Jeff Cobb. Lawlor has been on a tear through NJPW Strong for quite some time. This match represents a battle of youth versus experience, brawn versus brutality. After a long career, this is Tyler’s chance to show he belongs amongst the top of the card on Strong.
The last time Lawlor put his title on the line, it was in a great match against Fred Rosser (Rosser is having an incredible run in Strong). Tyler Rust reminds me of a younger Drew McIntyre in frame and in his ring style. Lawlor has ring music that best fits his aesthetic and is always a welcome sound to my ears. So much so, I wish his entrance took longer so it could keep playing. Lawlor exudes the qualities of a filthy human being. He makes clean jean shorts look grimy as hell. He puts me in mind of a guy who works four ten-hour shifts at a factory so he can moonlight as security at a questionable strip club on Fridays and Saturdays. In other words, his gimmick is working.
Lawlor spends the first five minutes of this match working Rust’s legs in order to take a big strength away from him. A figure four leg lock by Lawlor furthers the damage to Rust’s right leg. This match is being worked at a deliberate pace which tells me it is likely to go 20+ minutes. Rust manages to gain some control on the outside of the ring where he drives Lawlor into the ring post multiple times. At the ten-minute mark, this match has gone how I would have expected thus far. Both men wrestling a deliberate style, neither one able to take complete, dominating control. Rust mounts an offensive assault on Lawlor when he catches Lawlor with a killer scissor kick leading to a top rope suplex that leaves Lawlor stunned. As tough as he is filthy, Lawlor recovers and engages in a forearm exchange with Rust in the middle of the ring that looks as brutal as it gets. Lawlor is simply a great wrestler as evidenced by the exploder suplex and the way he works a triangle choke out of a defensive position seated on the top rope. Rust also looks tremendous on this night. He hits Lawlor with a Perfect Circle for a convincing near fall. It felt like the natural ending of the match until Lawlor kicks out at 2 7/8. Lawlor withstands an attempted submission and is able to deliver a knockout knee to the back of Rust’s head leading to an arbitrary rear choke and the ref has to call the match in favor of the Filthy One. ****1/4
Lawlor addresses the crowd acknowledging his own dominance and wondering who is next. Not surprising at all to anyone who has been watching, our next competitor is the Wild Rhino Clark Connors. What is surprising is Tom agreeing to the match right here tonight. A ref is summoned and each man takes position in his corner. Lo and behold before the bell can ring Filthy Tom takes his belt from the ref and retreats to the back. At NJPW Strong: Rivals, our main event of the tapings will be Connors vs. Lawlor for the Openweight belt. That is an intriguing matchup. It leaves me to wonder if the sand is quickly leaving the hourglass for Lawlor’s run as champ. Connors would be a good choice to succeed in that match. I will be watching, that is for sure.
With the conclusion of each set of episodes, I like to name a match of the tour and the wrestler or wrestlers of the tour.
Match of NJPW Strong: New Beginning USA 2022
Fred Rosser vs. Gabriel Kidd ****3/4
I seem to be the high-water mark on this match of those who have seen it or reviewed it. Not very surprising because of the very high rating I gave it but it’s somewhat surprising it is not garnering more attention than it has. This was a well-worked, brutal affair.
Wrestler of NJPW Strong: New Beginning USA 2022
What a year Kidd was having before he rightfully decided to take a hiatus to heal his body and mind. I am hopeful he is able to return to form when he is ready and only if doing so makes him happy. Like I said in an earlier review, Gabriel Kidd had risen to the top of my favorite wrestlers to watch in 2022. As of now, his match with Rosser is my match of the year.
Next up: New Japan Strong: Rivals 2022