May 21, 2023
Long Beach, California, USA
Watch: NJPW World
New Japan Pro Wrestling returned to the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach, California, for the first time in almost four years this past Sunday (May 21st) for Resurgence, a show headlined by a four-woman tournament to crown the first NJPW STRONG Women’s Champion.
Interestingly, Resurgence was not on FITE but was instead a NJPW World PPV. US shows might have been sold like that in the past, but as far as my memory serves, this was the first time that I, as someone in the UK, have purchased a US-based show on World.
Whether it was the first time or not, the audio and video quality was a step up. Commentary was provided by Ian Riccaboni, Veda Scott, and Alex Kozlov.
The DKC def. Bateman
Either the merch line queues were swamped, or they only opened the Walter Pyramid doors shortly before the first bell of this match because there was essentially no one in the crowd for this.
The work was fine and told a decent story of The DKC getting his first NJPW win over someone that wasn’t a Young Lion, but the lack of atmosphere hurt my investment and enjoyment a fair bit. **1/2
Alex Coughlin def. Christopher Daniels
A solid gentleman’s three to wrap up the kick-off show, giving Alex Coughlin a decent win ahead of his ROH Pure title challenge against Katsuyori Shibata.
Daniels, who recently celebrated 30 years as an active wrestler, worked over Coughlin’s neck for a lot of the match before ‘The Android’ made a comeback with a slew of power moves and eventually sealed victory with a lovely Jackhammer. ***
Barbaro Cavernario & Virus def. TMDK (Zack Sabre Jnr & Bad Dude Tito)
I cannot stress enough how much I love the energy of TMDK under the leadership of Zack Sabre Jr. They’re just the best.
Sabre and Bad Did Tito were both great in very different ways in a tremendously fun opener. On one hand, you had these intricate grappling exchanges between ZSJ and Virus, and on the other, you had two bulls in Barbaro Cavernario and Tito just running into each other.
The finish was shocking and greatly threw off the crowd, but I thought it was great. I had assumed that TMDK would be going over, given that the CMLL representatives aren’t a regular team, but they zagged the other way, with Cavernario snagging a quick tap from Tito after transitioning from a Lungblower into a rear choke. ***1/2
Post-match, they teased Sabre defending his NJPW World TV title against Virus, which I can absolutely get behind.
NJPW STRONG Women’s Championship Tournament Semi-Final
Mercedes Moné def. Stephanie Vaquer
Mercedes Moné was over big with the Long Beach crowd, as expected. When all was said and done, I felt she delivered the best performance of her New Japan run.
It’s a very similar sentiment for Stephanie Vaquer, someone I hadn’t seen work before this show but who absolutely blew me away with her performance. She was smooth, slick and all of her offense looked nasty – the spot where she locked in an armbar over the ropes so deep that Moné was basically half out of the ring was brilliant.
My rating might be a bit high, but I thought this was an excellent, tightly-paced match that left me wanting even more. ****
NJPW STRONG Women’s Championship Tournament Semi-Final
Willow Nightingale def. Momo Kohgo
Although this didn’t peak as high as the other semi-final, these two women still had a pretty entertaining match over the course of about nine-and-a-half minutes.
Like Vaquer, I’d not seen Momo Kohgo wrestle before this show. All in all, I thought she had a good showing; while her strikes looked weak, her bigger spots, like the Fisherman’s Suplex and Crucifix Bomb, came across well and drew great reactions from the live crowd.
Willow eventually proved too much and put her away for the three with the Babe with the Powerbomb. ***1/4
Juice Robinson def. Fred Rosser
What a long, overbooked mess.
Things started well enough, with Rosser and Robinson brawling on the outside with the intensity you’d expect of what has been a pretty personal feud. Likewise, I had no issue in principle with Toni Storm getting involved in the finish given her importance to the story.
My issue is that this match had no idea what it was supposed to be and distorted the face/heel dynamics, making it very hard to engage with.
Rosser, the babyface, spent so long in control that you had Ian Riccaboni on commentary saying that he’d gone too far and Robinson was no longer able to defend himself properly. I thought, perhaps, that this would be a tool to turn Rosser, and I would have had no problem with that.
Toni Storm’s initial interference and Rosser initially blocking the low blow by wearing a cup cemented him back as a babyface. That was until he then tried to kiss her. Ignoring for a second the fact Rosser is gay, forcing himself on the partner of his opponent is the sort of heel tactic you’d have expected to see a few decades ago.
Like the booking, the finish ended up quite wonky as Robinson tried to spear Rosser through the door, but it ended up more of a tangled, mangled cannonball that he followed up with a front DDT on a chair.
There was a good match somewhere, but it went on for far too long, and the execution left an awful lot to be desired. *
After the ring crew had tidied up all the weaponry and debris from the Street Fight, Kyle Fletcher hit the ring to announce that because of an injury to tag team partner Mark Davis, Aussie Open would be relinquishing both the IWGP and STRONG Tag Team titles. Both vacant titles will be decided at Dominion on June 4th when Bishamon face House of Torture.
NJPW STRONG Openweight Championship
KENTA def. Hikuleo (C)
In wrestling, the suspension of disbelief only works properly if you have evidence to know something is possible. For example, you’re most invested in the nearfalls of moves you’ve seen people win matches with before. Time limits matter more when you’ve seen matches go the distance. Likewise, countout teases work best when you’ve seen people fail to beat the count.
Although this match was all bells and whistles, it was a ton of fun, far more enjoyable than their first meeting, and it freshened up, at least in my mind, most of the countout teases I’ll see over the coming months.
The core of the match told a simple story of Hikuleo getting sucked into KENTA’s mind games and ultimately being hoisted by his own petard. Instead of just chokeslamming KENTA through the table he set up on the outside, Hikuleo tried to do it from the standst. That extra set up time allowed KENTA to turn the tide, throwing Hikuleo over the railing and through the table before sneaking back into the ring to win by countout. What a rascal. ***
In theory, KENTA’s first defense in his second reign will be against Eddie Kingston, who appeared on screen post-match to issue a challenge. I suspect that the match will take place at Independence Day, a brace of STRONG-branded shows that they announced for Korakuen Hall in early July.
Jon Moxley, Shota Umino & Wheeler Yuta def. Kazuchika Okada, Tomohiro Ishii & Rocky Romero
The grumpy prick Kazuchika Okada we’ve been treated to this year might genuinely be the man’s alpha form. Honestly, the absolute contempt he treats the supposed next generation gives me so much strength. You got more of that here at the start, as he responded to Shota Umino getting in his face by nodding at him and letting Tomohiro Ishii deal with it.
Talking of Umino, I thought this match marked one of his best performances since returning to the promotion late last year. He worked with real purpose, got the winning pinfall over Rocky Romero. From the outset, you could fully buy into his disdain for Okada, culminating in him standing over Okada as he trash-talked him and got into it with Ishii.
As well as getting me pumped for the six-man title match at Dominion, this 20-minute contest has me into a Jon Moxley/Okada singles match later this year. Every exchange between those two was money, from Mox interrupting Okada’s big Rainmaker pose to Okada knocking him into the middle of next week with said move. SIGN ME UP. ****
IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship No #1 Contender’s Tournament Semi-Final
Will Ospreay def. Hiroshi Tanahashi
To the surprise of no one, this was very good. It wasn’t a patch on their G1 match from 2019, but it wasn’t trying to be, with the story instead being that Ospreay was now decidedly above Tanahashi in the company pecking order.
Indeed, rather than Tanahashi hitting a plethora of High Fly Flows, he hit one, which was immediately countered into a pinfall by Ospreay. Tanahashi’s closest nearfalls were roll-ups or counters, indicating that that was the only way the Ace would only get one over on the United Empire leader.
As for Ospreay, his victory was decisive. Starting with a springboard forearm, he followed up a nasty Hidden Blade with a Stormbreaker. It’d probably have cracked four stars if this had less of a slow start, but it was still excellent nonetheless. ***3/4
Inaugural NJPW STRONG Women’s Championship
Willow Nightingale def. Mercedes Moné
If the Long Beach crowd were excited for Moné’s first match on this show, they were all kinds of HOT for this main event.
Both women were too, but sadly the match wasn’t quite able to deliver. After some slightly clunky exchanges early on, this was beginning to pick up some real steam down the stretch before Moné appeared to break her ankle in a fall to the outside.
That injury meant they had to rush to the finish, which unfortunately sucked. Nightingale put Moné down with a Doctor Bomb, a move that Moné didn’t kick out of, but the referee didn’t call three on. Instead, after deflating the crowd, Nightingale then had to reset for the Babe with the Powerbomb, which eventually got her the win. **1/2
I honestly don’t know whether the original plan was for Willow to win the inaugural STRONG Women’s title or whether they had to call an audible because of Moné’s injury. Either way, for the match (and the show) to end like that was a shame because both women were fired up, the crowd were fired up and both had shown out well earlier in the evening.
Had the Women’s title match finished as it was supposed to, Resurgence would have wrapped up as a very good show for NJPW. As it was, it’s probably a 7/10 showing for the promotion.
The woeful, overbooked Rosser/Robinson match aside, everything else ranged from good to great. If you’re pushed for time, check out Moné/Vaquer, the six-man tag and Ospreay/Tanahashi.
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