The debut episode of NJPW Strong premiered on New Japan World on Friday with the opening round matches of the New Japan Cup USA tournament.
The eight-man single-elimination tournament will be contested over the first three episodes culminating with the finals on Friday, August 21st.
The English commentary team consists of Kevin Kelly and former New Japan wrestler Alex Koslov, who stepped away from the industry in January 2015.
KENTA VS KARL FREDERICKS
Fredericks has graduated out of the black trunks and boots and has a red and white color scheme including tassels.
These two were set to meet in the New Japan Cup, which was postponed due to the pandemic and neither could participate in the delayed version.
KENTA wore his “Go 2 Sleep Club” shirt and he looked like he just did.
KENTA took control and mocked Fredericks before he played to the non-existent crowd. KENTA continued with kicks and stomped down on the head of Fredericks. KENTA hit the Green Killer (draping DDT) and Fredericks kicked out.
Fredericks fought back with several pin attempts and applied the half-crab, which KENTA broke free from.
KENTA and Fredericks traded shots with KENTA slapping the hell out of him and hit a PK. KENTA hit the Go 2 Sleep and pinned him.
WINNER: KENTA at 11:06
It was a good match for what they had to work with, which is a very empty environment with no ambiance beyond the commentators. Fredericks is very good and had this been in front of 400-500 people, I’m sure they would have gotten behind his comeback and pin attempts. KENTA relied on his brutal strikes that translate in an empty environment.
TANGA LOA VS JEFF COBB
Loa went for several shoulder blocks and Cobb wouldn’t go down, then Cobb tried, and Loa wouldn’t drop. Cobb hit several flying shoulder blocks and put Loa down with each one.
Cobb caught him in the corner and suplexed him and got a two-count with a bridge. Loa fired back with a big dropkick and went for Apeshit, which was countered. Cobb through him to the ropes and hit Tour of the Islands for the victory.
WINNER: Jeff Cobb in 8:46
Cobb advances to face KENTA in the semi-finals next week.
This was an average match at best and I found it to be very basic with back-and-forth striking after the showdown at the start with the shoulder blocks.
Not the most dynamic match.
CHASE OWENS VS DAVID FINLAY
Kelly noted Owens is working on his body and recently moved from Virginia to Texas and is training in the heat.
Out of the gate, you can see the speed and crispness out of Finlay. The announcers detailed his shoulder injury that he missed nine months from last year.
Owens got the heat by snapping Finlay’s neck onto the rope and attacks Finlay’s back.
Finlay displayed fired as he fought back but was stopped with a back elbow and slingshot backbreaker for a two-count by Owens.
Finlay countered the package piledriver with a back body drop.
Finlay caught him with the Prima Nocta kicking off the turnbuckle.
WINNER: David Finlay at 9:47
They had a very good technical match with each showcasing a lot especially Finlay, who continues to improve and Owens is a great foil for the type of match they had. It is very hard to judge these matches when it’s such a dead atmosphere and you’re watching a workout as opposed to a regular pro wrestling match, but I enjoyed the match for what it was.
TAMA TONGA VS BRODY KING
After an opening flurry with a splash, Tonga was caught by being pressed in the air and hit with a senton from King.
Tonga caught King with a flying neck breaker to cut off King’s offense and used the face wash technique in the corner. King caught Tonga attempting a splash and suplexed him into the corner.
Tonga hit Veleno and tried for the Gun Stun, which was countered with a German suplex and hit a lariat. King called for a powerbomb, which was blocked and Tonga hit the Tongan Twist followed by the Gun Stun to pin King.
WINNER: Tama Tonga at 7:16
It was another average match on the show where there was nothing wrong but nothing overwhelming to put over.
Backstage, Tonga said his first match back was a test against a behemoth like King. His turn wasn’t today, and he moves on to face David Finlay in the next round.
*KENTA vs. Jeff Cobb in the semi-finals of the New Japan Cup USA tournament
*Tama Tonga vs. David Finlay in the semi-finals of the New Japan Cup USA tournament
*They also said there would be several tag matches
I thought the first episode of this series was average and a major factor is an atmosphere as it’s tough to get past. New Japan is handling their U.S. shows the same way Impact Wrestling is where they aren’t putting anyone in the audience and I don’t fault them when it’s the safest method, but the atmosphere suffers greatly.
The match I liked the most was the opener between KENTA and Karl Fredericks as KENTA felt like he was a step above everyone on this show. His offense works very effectively in this quiet setting because you can hear everything, and he also has great facial expressions to convey his attitude that came off well.
As for the rest of the card, I can’t recommend anything to go out of your watch to watch.
The commentary was okay with Kevin Kelly doing the heavy lifting and Alex Koslov getting accustomed to the role, which is new to him. It is best to judge Koslov after he’s had several episodes under his belt. His strengths are knowing all the guys from working with them and now has to get comfortable verbalizing his thoughts and contributing the story of the matches.