New Japan Pro Wrestling
NJPW Strong: Rivals – Episode 1 
March 5, 2022
The Vermont Hollywood
Los Angeles, California

Watch: NJPW World & FITE

NJPW Strong finished 2021  and has started 2022 on the uptick. The match quality and booking have been entertaining at the least and superb at its best. After spending a few weeks away from Southern California, Strong is back in their adopted home for a slate of shows known as ‘Rivals’. The initial episode is much of what I have come to expect from Strong match-wise featuring a rising stars, a renowned veteran and this week, the return of a familiar face to the promotion.

TJP def. Brogan Finlay

TJP is being reestablished as a force to be reckoned with in the Junior Division. The satellite member of United Empire is coming off a loss to Clark Connors last month in what was a fun feud ending match. Brogan Finlay has been wrestling for a little over a year compared to the 15+ years TJP has under his belt. The experience level of Brogan really seems to prevent him from having much more than the formulaic matches he has had up to this point. Episode 1 was no different. TJP does a great job of leading Brogan through the match allowing him to get in some offense as well as some counters to Perkins’s offensive attack. TJP eventually wins this one with his Mamba Splash. There isn’t much to say about this one other than it did Brogan some good to get the ring work in and it gives TJP a win keeping his Junior Heavyweight Title aspirations alive. ***1/4

TJP takes the mic to announce his plans to pursue the Junior Heavyweight Title when he is interrupted by Mascara Dorado who delivers a great-looking hurricanrana to Perkins setting up a match down the road.

Christopher Daniels def. Karl Fredericks

Karl Fredericks is subbing this week for Gabriel Kidd who is taking some time away from wrestling to heal his mind and body. As much as I am a fan of Kidd in 2022, I am pleased to see Fredericks step in to challenge the SoCal legend, Christopher Daniels. Daniels, who recently returned to in-ring work, has looked great in the few outings I have seen. Although this was taped prior, Daniels is coming off an excellent ROH tribute match with Bryan Danielson last Wednesday on AEW Dynamite. As great as the Fallen Angel has wrestled this year, Fredericks has looked great as well.  This match acts as an exhibition in the early portion where we are treated to some excellent mat work and hold exchanges. The Alpha Wolf gets to display his aerial acumen against Daniels. The chops and the punches in this match are stiff as hell. This match’s purpose is as much to showcase Fredericks as it is to show what a phenom Christopher Daniels is. I really love this kind of physical match where it’s more of a back and forth with each wrestler highlighting their strengths. In 2022, Daniels’ strength appears to be allowing his opponent to show what they are capable while still being a dominant force. In the closing stretch, Fredericks counters an attempted Angel’s Wings with a hellacious body drop for a near fall. In the end, Daniels is able to position himself into a BME for an impressive victory over a very game opponent. ****1/4

Daniels takes a moment after the match to put over Fredericks and the LA Dojo. He gives the Alpha Wolf not only a stamp of approval but an invitation to a rematch whenever Karl wants. We can hope this happens at some point.

Jonah and Bad Dude Tito def. Fin Juice

Bad Dude Tito and Jonah get the rematch with Fin Juice coming off the controversial loss (according to Tito and Jonah) on the last tour. Jonah appears to be getting bigger with every appearance. He may be on the same wintertime diet I am on, which spoiler alert, is not very effective for weight loss. Bad Dude Tito has impressed me this year with his work and I feel like his star is on the rise. Fin Juice are on a win streak on Strong. As much as I dislike anything Juice Robinson is involved with, I do recognize his talent. David Finlay has flourished as a part of Fin Juice where he has honed his skills and used the opportunity to his advantage. Tito and Jonah have a spot in the match where they pass off Juice to each other in a suplex position which was very innovative. The ending sequence includes an interference spot where an unidentified wrestler helps Tito and Jonah get control of Robinson ending with a great top rope frog splash from the Bad Dude himself for the win. ***3/4

After the bell, we find out the unidentified man is none other than Shane Haste! TMDK is back together and they completely decimate Fin Juice and Brogan Finlay who came to his brother’s aid. The faction of Jonah, Tito and Haste should be a great addition to the Strong roster. Next week, the Rivals tour continues with episode 2.