New Japan Pro Wrestling
NJPW Strong Rivals – Episode 2
March 12, 2022
The Vermont Hollywood
Los Angeles, California

Watch: NJPW World & FITE

Coming off the somewhat uninspired premiere episode of the Rivals slate of episodes, I am hopeful NJPW: Strong can find the firm footing it has had for the last several weeks and deliver an entertaining series of matches. With Kevin Knight in the opener and the U.S. of Jay Challenge continuing in the main event, on paper, signs are pointing to an improvement over last week.

Hikuleo def. Kevin Knight

The tradition of featuring LA Dojo students in the opening match each episode continues this week with Kevin Knight taking on the giant, Hikuleo. Despite being a Young Lion, Knight gets a lot of shine in this match. His move set includes a Hydraulic Dropkick which is quite a sight to behold. Knight has incredible ability when it comes to high flying. He displays a plancha  to the outside as well as the aforementioned Hydraulic Dropkick to Hikuleo’s face! This is quite the accomplishment considering the height Knight had to reach. The amount of offense Knight was afforded here is a great sign for the rising star. Ultimately, Hikuleo finishes off Knight with a hellacious chop and chokeslam for the win. A valiant effort by the Young Lion is recognized by the crowd. Every week, we seem to be treated to an opening match which displays the phenomenal job the dojo system is doing in Los Angeles and are reminded the future is bright for this promotion. A good opener with many innovative spots to get us started this week. ***3/4

Kevin Blackwood def. Ariya Davari

Ariya Davari has been struggling to stay on the right side of the rule book for the last several matches. His resistance to use underhanded tactics seemingly have caused him to lose. Will he be able to hold off the temptation to cheat to win? If a heel turn includes getting rid of that ridiculous ‘Magic Carpet’ he uses as a finisher, I am in favor of a turn to the dark side. Kevin Blackwood is an east coast indie scene stalwart. He has a unique look and his association with Daniel Garcia has likely assisted his booking calendar filling up. Blackwood was recently on PWG’s Battle of Los Angeles which I am looking forward to watching when it is released around Inauguration Day, 2025. Kevin was also in a stand out tag match at Terminus 2. This match was relatively formulaic with an offensive back and forth by each wrestler. In the closing stretch, a frustrated Davari exits the ring to retrieve a chair from under the ring. A quick aside, why the fuck do promoters continue to keep chairs, kendo sticks, extra tables and sacksful of tacks under the ring? Are any of these items required to set up the ring? If so, couldn’t someone do a ‘safety sweep’ prior to bell time to ensure the matches go off without the use of these perilous items?  I ask because I truly do not know. If anyone would have thought of these things, Davari would not have had to have the crisis of consciousness he suffered from here tonight. Despite his better angels preventing him from using the chair during the match, Blackwood managed to schoolboy Ariya for a win in his debut NJPW match. Alas, Davari loses his cool and beats the shit out of Kevin with said chair and uses his magic carpet to frog splash Blackwood thus rendering the winner unable to celebrate his win. Davari has officially chosen the dark side and kept his stupid rug meaning I no longer give a shit about this storyline.  ***1/4 (the rug)

U.S. of Jay Challenge Series
Jay White def. Sw3rve

Sw3erve is coming off his short stint as one of the hottest free agents in pro wrestling. His stay in WWE was eventful but further proves how out to lunch the sports entertainers from Stamford, CT are when it comes to utilizing their talented roster. Tony Khan, my current lord and savior, has used the roster cuts at WWE to his advantage. His moves seem to be for the sole purpose of building a real-life Murderer’s Row of the best wrestlers on the Planet. So, I was not surprised when it was announced at Revolution, Sw3rve was All Elite. Not only could Sw3erve be All Elite, but he was invited to join the Bullet Club by White prior to the bell. Appearing to give Jay what he wanted before Sw3rve, um, swerved White with a kick instead of a ‘Too Sweet’. This match was a showcase for both wrestlers. Jay White was able to show what made him one of the best wrestlers in the World a few years back and Sw3rve picked up where he left off a few years back when he was one of the most unique and innovative wrestlers on the independent scene.  A highlight for me was a double stomp to the outside of the ring by Sw3erve to White who was suspended with his feet under the bottom rope. Not the first time I had seen this done, but probably the best version of it. These two men slapped and chopped the hell out of each other on this night.

Sw3erve is a top-level talent who does the little things very well. An example is how Sw3rve used his imagination to break a behind-the-back wrist lock by White with his legs. That is not something I see every day so when it’s done this well, it is remarkable. Jay White wins this match after a ref distraction used to land a low blow. I can’t help but believe this ending did not go as planned so the three of them had to do a little improvisation. Still, I highly recommend this match. Despite the confusion, it is clear these two guys like to work with each other. The resulting win for White seemed to have caught the crowd off guard. This crowd was 60%-40% in favor of Sw3rve made most obvious by the booing at the end of this match. Jay takes the mic to claim this is ‘His House’, a play on Sw3rve’s catchphrase. White boasts of being everywhere as of late but that he can always be counted on as a member of the Strong roster. This leads to his revelation that he has no opponent for the upcoming Strong Style Evolved show (for those who pay attention, it was recently announced he would be facing Chris Sabin) in Tampa Bay, Florida. The steady climb back up the ladder will continue for Switchblade Jay White. **** (not counting the ending)

Final Thoughts

This episode is worth a watch for Kevin Knight and the main event. Although your mileage may vary as it pertains to the ending of the main event, the action prior is worth a watch. I haven’t seen the card for episode 3, I can only hope it is a continuation of the improvement we saw this week. Minus the goddammed rug.