(Ahem. So, this was supposed to post on FRIDAY before this week’s Strong aired, but it didn’t and due to work being completely insane, I didn’t follow up to see that I screwed it up. Anyway, it’s late and I’ll have the next one up at the usual time, many apologies to the 5 or so of you who read this.)
Give Hiromu Takahashi the IWGP World title, you cowards.
If you’ve been watching the New Japan Cup, you know I’m right.
That’s it, that’s the intro this week.
Let’s watch some wrestling, shall we?
Your hosts are Ian Riccaboni and Alex Koslov as the Rivals tour continues.
Tonight on New Japan Strong, we’re in for a good one with another United States of Jay challenge as Jay White is back in the main event! And in the main event of Scott’s heart, of course. Also tonight, Kevin Blackwood and Ariya Daivari will tangle!
But up first, it’s the Bullet Club member the size of a tree, Hikuleo! Of course, size isn’t the only thing that Hikuleo has in common with something wooden. His opponent is Kevin Knight, who will attempt to pass the LA Dojo Hikuleo test that awaits all Lions; do you have enough skill to wrestle yourself?
Kevin Knight vs Hikuleo
Running dropkick by Knight as the bell rings! He’s showing fire out there! HUGE flying clothesline in the corner by Knight! Low bridge sends Hikuleo to the floor, and Kevin follows him out with a plancha! Back in and Kevin jumps over Hikuleo to avoid the lumbering giant, but gets popped-up and forearmed into mush. Knight gets thrown into the corner and Hikuleo steps on him for one, then stomps away.
They trade shots and Hikuleo destroys him with a forearm for two. Boot choke against the bottom rope by Hikuleo, who has done what could generously be called ONE move up to this point in the match, with everything else being forearms, chokes, and stomps. Oh, and no-selling all of Kevin’s stuff. Biel throw by Hikuleo doubles his move output.
Body slam by Hikuleo and we hit the chinlock. Knight fights out and kicks the knee of Hikuleo, then hits an enzuigiri to put Hikuleo down to a knee. Pop-up this time is countered with a Knight dropkick, and Kevin keeps going and hits another Okada-esque dropkick for two! Hikuleo goes for the Tongan Driller, but Knight escapes, spear to a sitting Hikuleo by Kevin! Splash by Knight! 1, 2, no!
Knight goes for the MOVE OF DEATH~! for all Young Lions, the Boston Crab, but Hikuleo’s legs are like twelve feet long and he shrugs Knight off, then slaps him in the chest and chokeslams him for the pin. (Hikuleo over Kevin Knight, pinfall, 8:13)
THOUGHTS: **1/4. I mean, what can I say here? Hikuleo treated him like a jobber and sold almost nothing for the first 5 minutes or so, gave him a bit, then shrugged him off and pinned him. This was better than the typical Hikuleo stuff due almost entirely to Knight bouncing around like a pinball out there, hitting moves and firing up the crowd in-between the monotony of Hikuleo’s offense. And I’m NOT being too hard on him here, he has one card to play – his size. That’s it, and it leads to repetitive matches that bore the s--- out of me. Kevin did what he could, though.
Ariya Daivari vs Kevin Blackwood
Daivari is still on his ‘I want to be good’ internal strife, while Blackwood is debuting here in full Perez Hilton cosplay. Handshake is accepted by Kevin and here we go. Grappling sequence goes to the mat and Blackwood clowns him a bit as he ends up on top. Back up and Ariya returns the favor with a shoulderblock.
Kevin controls with a double wristlock, then an overhead pumphandle throw. Snapmare and a kick to the back by Kevin gets one and he goes for a Cloverleaf, but Daivari kicks off and tackles Kevin to the floor. Back in and Daivari controls. He catches a charging Blackwood with a shoulder and hits a neckbreaker on the 2nd rope, then DDTs Blackwood for two.
Kevin makes a comeback with strikes and rolling Germans, bridging a 3rd one for two. Rolling elbow is followed by a Death Valley Driver for two. Big swing misses, though, and Daivari hits a uranage, then a hammerlock lariat (Chase Owens’ Jewel Heist)! 1, 2, NO! Daivari can’t believe it and goes out to get a chair, but changes his mind and tosses the chair down….and gets small packaged for the pin. (Kevin Blackwood over Ariya Daivari, pinfall, 8:51)
THOUGHTS: ***. I liked this one, as it was a decent match and it had storyline reasons to do the finish they did. Blackwood may have something. I didn’t see a ton beyond typical indy stuff here, but I liked his selling and he’s got a good snap to his offense. Daivari is a consummate professional and is a good hand to have when you have guys coming in for their debuts like this. Overall, I would like to see Blackwood come back for some more beatings.
Post-match, Daivari snaps and attacks Kevin, hitting the Carpet Ride and leaving Kevin dead before giving him and the crowd the finger. Good enough.
Commercials! Team Filthy ships to Parts Unknown!
Main event time! Jay White makes his way down to the ring to await his mystery opponent…..who is none other than Shane “Sw3rve” Strickland! Oh, this is gonna be GOOD, isn’t it? Jay gets the stick and offers Swerve the chance to skip the match…..and join Bullet Club instead! What a deal! Yeah, Swerve may not be in WWE anymore, but that Bullet Club money is gonna be sweet! Swerve takes his time to consider this generous offer, but then remembers that he’s signed to AEW and kicks Jay in the gut. Guess it’s going to be a match, then.
Jay White vs Shane “Swerve” Strickland
Swerve continues his cheap attacks with kicks that send Jay scurrying from the ring after the bell sounds. Jeez, you not only turn down the man’s offer to make you rich, you then proceed to attack him? What a dick. Back into the ring and it’s all Swerve, forcing Jay to bail again to avoid a double stomp.
Jay tries to come back in, but gets caught by Strickland and gets his fingers stomped on. Jeez, did Jay run over his dog or something? Swerve with a kneedrop as the crowd chants his name while Jay sells his ASS off to get it over. Finally, Swerve tries some fancy b------- and almost gets caught with a Blade Runner, then DOES get caught with a DDT for Jay to take over.
White beats on him in the corner a bit before tossing him to the floor, and now it’s apron to railing time as Jay just beats on him. Back in at 11 and Jay gets a neckbreaker for two. Now to the chinlock and you really want to know why I love Jay so goddamn much? Because this has been a perfect heel performance down to every bit of the formula. He sold like nuts to make sure Swerve looked good, took over and slowed the match down to build the anticipation for the comeback, and, and here’s the important part, he made all of it look like it was unchoreographed, in the moment wrestling. Like he found those advantages for the first time even though we all know how match formula works and the crowd is just totally with this thing as a result. I don’t joke when I say that if he’s not the best in the world, he’s on an awfully short f------ list.
Jay yanks the dreads to piss the crowd off further and disgust Ian, and I hope we don’t have to wait too many years before Riccaboni gets either with Kelly on NJPW or ends up in the AEW booth, because he’s insanely good. Back to their feet and Swerve slaps Jay, so Jay rakes his eyes and slams him to the mat, then back to the chinlock that Jay just works on, never resting for a second. Swerve with a chop now and they face off with a chop battle, smile now on Swerve’s face, because he wants to f--- Jay UP.
Right hand from Swerve sends Jay crashing through the ropes to the floor. Swerve is fired up now, hitting an elbow to the back of Jay’s head off the second rope. Tilt-a-Whirl slam into a deadlift brainbuster gets two for Strickland. Jay fights out with back elbows, then a Saito suplex. White with running uppercuts, then a Downward Spiral into a German suplex. Jay steps on Swerve’s throat just to be an asshole before going for the spinning uranage, Swerve blocks, Jay hits him with kneelift as the crowd, in fact, lets us know that we are in Swerve’s house.
Swerve comes back and just fires kicks into the midsection of Jay, but misses a big overhand and Jay catches him with the spinning uranage to put both guys down. This match RULES. Swerve keeps blocking the Sleeper suplex and stops Jay with kicks, then drops Jay with a cutter and White is in trouble. He tries to go back to the hair, but gets dropped to a hanging position off the apron and Swerve hits a double stomp onto Jay from there.
Back in and Swerve goes up, double stomp hits! 1, 2, NO! They got me for a second. They exchange armdrags and Swerve catches Jay with a hammerlock and SNAPS the arm back over Jay’s shoulder! Swerve laughs at White’s misery and goes for the kill, but Jay pushes Swerve towards the ref in the corner. The ref DOESN’T get bumped, which is important, but he turns his head away briefly to avoid Swerve, which allows Jay to hit a Greco-Roman ballshot. Sleeper suplex hits this time, and that sets up the Blade Runner to end a HELL of a match. (Jay White over Swerve Strickland, pinfall, 17:16)
THOUGHTS: ****1/2. Yeah, I went that high. This was an incredible performance by both guys in their roles, particularly Jay White. White was an absolute rat bastard in this one, pulling hair, going to the eyes, hitting a low blow, doing every trick in the heel book at exactly the right times to get the maximum impact for the match. He sold and sold and sold for Swerve to get him over and had to resort to the low blow to preserve his undefeated record in the US of Jay challenges. And I’m not discounting Strickland at all here – he was an excellent babyface, hitting smooth moves and making frenetic comebacks at various points in the match to win the crowd to his side. This was the best Strong match since Kidd/Kingston in January.
Look, I know I’m a homer for him and I don’t know if he’s the best heel in wrestling as a worker – I would assume that’s probably still Katsuhiko Nakajima. But when it comes to the intangibles that make up all the other parts of wrestling combined with a package of incredible ring skills, there’s not a single doubt in my mind that Jay White is the best overall heel in all of professional wrestling at this moment.
Post match, Jay’s got the STICK~! “Get him out of here!” Swerve isn’t Bullet Club and he didn’t win, so get him out of Jay’s ring! Yeah! Get him out of there! Oh, sorry. Back to recapping. He shushes the crowd, saying that they’re here to listen to him. Who’s house? Jay’s house! He repeats this a few more times and says that all Swerve had to do was throw up the two sweet. You never know where Jay is going to turn up, except for one place, and that’s right here on New Japan Strong! And that’s why I recap it. The US of Jay rolls on; whoever is next, they’re getting in the ring with Switchblade Jay White! The last real Rock N’Rolla, the man who sold out Madison Square Garden, King Switch, the first ever Grand Slam champion, the leader of Bullet Club, the catalyst of professional wrestling – whoever shows up next, they will breathe with the Switchblade, because it’s still HIS era!!
Jay takes his leave, Ian and Alex wrap it up. And we’re done.
FINAL THOUGHTS: I doubt I’ll ever give a negative review to a show with a Jay White match that good, but this was a good show regardless. The Hikuleo match was short and Knight got to at least practice, while the Daivari turn, even if we could see it coming, was logically built to and also allowed Blackwood to get a decent showcase. Zero complaints about this one, as this was a really good hour of wrestling.
As always, thanks for reading this thing I wrote,
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