New Japan Pro Wrestling
NJPW STRONG Detonation
December 3, 2022
My self-imposed Summer/Fall hiatus has ended. Football season is winding down, my fantasy football team is an atrocity of errors, my sportsbook accounts have dwindled to new lows (thanks, University of South Carolina football program) and the real estate market here in Middle Tennessee has quieted to a somewhat manageable ‘low roar.’ That can only mean one thing for me; I can hope to rekindle my relationship with my first love, pro wrestling. I mark my return to reviews and writing in general about this glorious pastime with the latest block of episodes of New Japan STRONG.
Episode one of the Detonation tour features a Lucha Libre tag match and a couple of grudge matches featuring many familiar faces. I’m glad to be back, whether you’ve noticed I was absent or not; thank you for reading.
Rocky Romero & Adrian Quest def. Virus & Atlantis Jr.
The opening contest is a tag match fought under Lucha Libre rules which are oddly similar the rules AEW tag matches are fought under. Perhaps Tony Khan should make it official and name Lucha tag rules the house style.
Virus is an unmasked luchador who I am completely unfamiliar with. Atlantis Jr. is a second-generation luchador and another wrestler I have never watched. A major blind spot in my wrestling fandom is Lucha Libre. My goal each calendar year is to explore historical lucha matches, I never seem to get around to it. Primarily due to not having a clue where to start. This is where I’ll heap praise onto Wrestling 101 (www.thewrestling101.com), a project I am both enamored with and inspired by. Voices of Wrestling has worn a lot of hats in regard to my wrestling fandom. Big projects like this are where I have learned the most about a sport, I once considered myself an expert on. Spending time on the VOW site all those years ago showed me that I am an educated novice fan of pro wrestling. Today, I can totally embrace this label and I look forward to the lucha entries coming from this project.
Romero and Quest counter the styles of Virus and Atlantis Jr. very well in this match. The unconventional rules, by NJPW standards, keep the match moving at a good clip. Earlier this year, I found myself burned out on Rocky Romero matches. He works a very formulaic style that wears thin on me. I greatly respect his career and the impact Rocky has had on so many, making it tough to denigrate his current work. Thankfully, Romero has been featured in more tag matches recently, which suit him well and has worked to change my opinion of his wrestling. Adrian Quest works a complementary style to Romero and is very competent on the mat as well as in the air as evidenced by a triangle dive to the floor in the closing minutes of this one. Overall, there was neither anything great nor anything offensive in this match. It was perfectly fine and served its purpose as an entertaining opener.
Homicide def. Danny Limelight
Okay, I am told Danny was once a member of LAX. Sometimes I wonder how much of this stuff I retain because so many facts like this totally evade me. I am only familiar with Limelight as a member of Team Filthy. Homicide, on the other hand has been a wrestler I have enjoyed watching. My introduction to Homicide goes back to ROH when he and Colt Cabana had a blood feud culminating in series of matches that built on each other resulting in an all-time classic Chicago Street Fight at Better Than Our Best, a card, like most of that period ROH, that stands the test of time.
Homicide and Limelight’s rivalry seemingly will come to head in this match. Homicide employs biting and back scratches to counter Limelight’s more conventional move set. I found the work in this match be formulaic and somewhat stale. A match like this is where Ian Riccaboni can really shine by keeping the viewer interested through his commentary. Ian gives us a cultural history lesson concerning the typical united front that Puerto Rican immigrants tend to exhibit instead of the apparent hatred these two men have for each other. Living in the American south, I am not the least bit familiar with the cultural norms of Puerto Rican immigrants, so I appreciate information like this. For some reason we are treated to dueling Three Amigos; unsuccessful by Limelight, but countered successfully by Homicide. Ultimately, Homicide stood victorious in a match that frankly, I have already forgotten about. Not even the post-match debut of Bobby Fish who attacked Homicide added any juice to this. In regard to Fish; would someone in his life please take the mic away from him? It does nothing but take away from his character. His charisma doesn’t necessarily jump off the screen and at times his words feel forced. Go watch Cabana vs. Homicide from Better Than Our Best instead of this.
NJPW is including more promos in STRONG broadcasts as of late. Tonight, Blake Christian opened the show with a scathing diatribe hyping his match against Juice Robinson and prior to the main event we are shown a pre-taped interview with STRONG Tag Team Champions, Motor City Machine Guns. MCMG are responding to a challenge by the Stray Dog Army which will be coming up in a future episode.
Juice Robinson def. Black Christian
Juice Robinson was in desperate need of repackaging earlier this year. He teased leaving NJPW and the predominant opinion I saw from fans was in favor of this move. Instead, Robinson reinvented himself as ‘Rock Hard’ Juice Robinson and became a BULLET CLUB member. Blake Christian has been on a tear recently in New Japan. He is a wrestler who I have watched improve in both the ring and as a character since I first saw him on a Scenic City card in Chattanooga a few years ago. His ‘All Heart’ moniker is appropriate for the type of work Blake puts in. Earlier this summer, I attended Music City Mayhem when he faced Hiromu Takahashi. His performance that afternoon was one of the weekend’s standouts for me.
The pace and fierceness these men wrestle in this match make it worth watching it. I have found two wrestlers I plan to keep up with going into the new year in these guys. Juice flourishes as a heel, his style and arrogant disposition seem to be a natural fit. He looks like he has been rejuvenated and it’s clear he is having fun. In the end, Juice wins via heel tactics just like the Lord intended. That said, Blake lost nothing here. Very good match and an encouraging way to end an otherwise underwhelming episode of STRONG.
Next week we see if the Detonation tour keeps the momentum of the final match going.