NJPW Lonestar Shootout Report: Ishii vs. Dickinson, White vs. Speedball, Suzuki vs. Kross
By: Bruce Lord
New Japan Pro Wrestling’s LoneStar Shootout card comes at an interesting point in NJPW’s North American efforts. As I recently discussed, Strong has quietly become one of the most rewarding pieces of online wrestling programming. In addition to recent appearances by exciting talents new or returning to the NJPW ring (Mascara Dorada, Buddy Matthews, Kevin Blackwood), Bullet Club’s cross-continental civil war has been given a unique spin via Jay White’s role as the puppetmaster in absentia, pulling the strings and expelling the Guerrillas of Destiny while continuing his US of Jay sojourn.
That said, the practicalities of running a satellite promotion during the pandemic have tossed a couple of wrenches into the works. The IWGP US Heavyweight Championship, ostensibly created to be defended stateside to aid North American NJPW shows, hasn’t been seen in the US since Hiroshi Tanahashi defeated Lance Archer for the title back in August. With current champ Sanada on the shelf with an orbital injury, it’s anyone’s guess as to when it might return. (It should be noted Mike Bailey/Jay White match was announced well before Sanada’s injury, so it seems as though White’s recent promos demanding another crack at the belt weren’t meant to culminate at LoneStar Shootout regardless of said injury.) Additionally, things are a bit tricky tonight in terms of Strong continuity. The Strong Style Evolved tapings happened ten days ago, yet none of those thirteen matches, including Tom Lawlor’s defense of the STRONG Openweight Title have been broadcast on NJPW World.
While the above factors mean that tonight’s card doesn’t include any title matches, it doesn’t lack for import or star power. Chris Dickinson’s call-out of Tomohiro Ishii dovetailed perfectly with his recovery from his hip injury, and it’s hard to think of a better opponent to welcome the Dirty Daddy back to his own strikes and power-move style. After scoring an upset win against Minoru Suzuki at yesterday’s Bloodsport show, avenging a pair of losses from October, Dickinson’s future in the USA branch of NJPW (and possibly even the home promotion itself) looks bright. Speaking of Suzuki, he has obviously yet to sate American fans’ appetite for his style of sadistic home cooking which he’s been happy to hand-deliver across the country, and there’s some morbid fascination in seeing how he’ll work with Killer Kross as the latter reacclimate himself to the indies after two years in WWE. Throw in Speedball Mike Bailey who’s clearly champing at the bit to reestablish himself south of the border after having his legal issues resolved (his match with Bandito at yesterday’s Mark Hitchcock memorial show was as hyper-kinetic as you’d hope, and this is the second of four shows he’s working today alone), and there’s a lot in the mix tonight in addition to regular Strong talent, including Young Lions both graduated and still matriculating.
Let’s see how the show went down at the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas, called by Kevin Kelly and Matthew Rehwoldt.
Ren Narita vs. Rocky Romero
Narita still has his Shibata-like facial hair in place in this inter-generational LA Dojo clash. Kicks, slaps, and forearms are all traded before Romero picks a spin kick out of the air and settles into a half crab. Rocky maintains control with a snap suplex and hurricane DDT. Narita invites more forearms and takes control around the five-minute mark with a nice sequence of corner charges and suplexes. Rocky counters with a Shiranui, setting up the Forever Clothesline. While pressing his advantage, Rocky is suddenly snatched coming off the ropes and immediately pinned via a bridging overhead belly-to-belly suplex (AKA Narita Special #2). Ren Narita pins Rocky Romero via pinfall at 7:42.
The take-away: This was a quick and fun enough opener, meant to showcase Narita’s growing confidence, which almost bordered on cockiness. Whenever he makes his return to Japan, he’ll have been well served by his time under the Shibata learning tree.
Clark Connors, Karl Fredericks, Mascara Dorada & Yuya Uemura vs. FinJuice (David Finlay & Juice Robinson), Daniel Garcia & Kevin Knight
Knight and Dorada start with some crossovers and Lucha arm drags, a style rather different from what Knight normally trades in on Strong. Garcia and Connors are next and light each other up with chops before Uemura is in for some heavy strikes and Irish whips. FinJuice double team Uemura for a moment before Knight’s back to work some more grounded strikes against Uemura. Some more quick tags from the FinJuice side keep the heat on Uemura. After a back suplex, Uemura makes the hot tag to Connors, who takes FinJuice down with some charges and spears. Knight comes in to exchange forearms with Fredericks, who’s seeing his first action of the match and drops Knight with a spinebuster. A quick sequence of run-ins culminates in some heavy power moves from Uemura and a tope to the floor from Dorada. Ten minutes in, Fredericks and Knight are back in as the legal men, and Fredericks quickly seals the deal with a Manifest Destiny. Karl Fredericks defeats Kevin Knight via pinfall at 10:45.
The take-away: This was a pretty motley match on paper, somewhat reminiscent of the main roster NJPW multi-mans meant to give some exposure to Young Lions. A fun if not especially remarkable match, the focus here was clearly Uemura, and given how solid his power-heavy offense looked against a range of opponents (as it did on yesterday’s Bloodsport match with Bailey), it was a success.
Killer Kross vs. Minoru Suzuki
The broadcast feed is having some sound problems at this point, with Karl Fredericks’ theme continuing to play long after Kross has entered the ring, but thankfully it’s corrected in time for everyone to enjoy “Kaze Ni Nare”.
The size discrepancy here is quite noticeable (as is the audience’s heckling of Kross) as some head and arm locks are exchanged for just a minute before Kross rather awkwardly shoulder blocks Suzuki, who makes a comic play of evading Kross’ attempts to pick him up. Taking things outside, Suzuki wrenches Kross’ arm and smashes his head into the barricade. Suzuki is very much in goofy Murder Grandpa mode here, pantomiming with the ref and crowd.
Back inside, Suzuki does some joint work before Kross hits some clotheslines and forearms which don’t feel especially smooth. “You’re not so tough without that helmet”, some wag in the crowd yells, and I’m inclined to agree. Suzuki goads Kross – “Come on you fucking Young Boy!” – setting up an exchange of chest slaps. Suzuki tries to get the sleeper on to set up the Gotch, but Kross breaks the hold and puts his own sleeper on. Suzuki pulls Kross’ arms apart, and with a forearm and final curse (“Fuck you, Young Boy!”) hits the Gotch Style Piledriver for the win. Minoru Suzuki defeats Killer Kross via pinfall at 9:48.
The take-away: This was fairly awkward without much to recommend it. Suzuki is working a whole host of matches this weekend, and can’t be blamed for not taking this match especially seriously, though he certainly did Kross no favors with regards to establishing the former WWE wrestler’s credibility. But then again, neither did Kross. There wasn’t much fluidity to his offense, and he looked like a fish out of water whenever Suzuki changed up the tempo. After the win, Kross applied a choke to a ringside attendant (seemingly thinking it was Suzuki) in an attempt to regain some face, but meanwhile, Suzuki was mugging with a little kid in the crowd. You can’t fake the sort of intimidating cool Suzuki has, and at least right now, Kross doesn’t have it.
Amidst more doubled-up sound problems, John Moxley’s NJPW theme plays, and the Death Rider strides out to the ring and says that he wasn’t going to leave Dallas without stepping foot in an NJPW ring. He expresses his love for NJPW and its fans and talks up the variety of shows which have brought everyone together, united by a shared love of pro wrestling. Things shift over to Will Ospreay and says that he expects to face an Ospreay who isn’t afraid to back up his words with actions when he faces him on April 16th at Windy City Riot.
Mike Bailey vs. Jay White
Some classic begging off from White plays well with Bailey darting forward with martial arts strikes. Bailey is using speed and nimbleness to evade White’s more traditional offense, even though White’s not that much of a bigger competitor. The crowd’s split as White tosses Bailey off his shoulders from the crucifix position to the outside, snapping Bailey’s neck on the top rope in a nasty spot. White lights Baily up with chops outside, then slows things down back inside the ring. Bailey creates some distance with kicks and hits a standing corkscrew shooting star, but White’s quickly back in control with a Blade Buster for a two count.
White avoids Bailey’s Ultimo Weapon stomp, Bailey ducks out of Blade Runner, and there’s a replay from Bailey’s match with Bandito yesterday as Bailey leaps over a baseball slide to hit White on the outside with an Asai moonsault. White teases a DVD and sleeper suplex, but a missed standing moonsault sends Bailey’s knees painfully crashing into the apron. White ties Bailey up for a minute with the Tanahashi Tap Out, before Bailey’s able to begin to wear White down with a series of measured kicks to the chest. White hits a dragon screw, then Bailey connects with the double knees moonsault, though he’s limping from all of the leg damage he’s taken. Bailey hits a spin kick in the corner to set up Ultimo Weapon, but White ducks and for a second time Bailey’s knees crash painfully into the mat. Writhing in pain, he’s quickly dispatched by White after a sleeper suplex and Blade Runner. Jay White defeats Mike Bailey via pinfall at 14:10.
After the match, White grabs the mic, garnering a cheer, but it’s all to troll the crowd as he drops it and leaves the ring without saying a word.
The takeaway: Unlike Kross and Suzuki, this was a case of differences in personality and wrestling style complementing each other well. White has been hailed as the ultimate counter wrestler, and enduring, evading, and quickly reversing Bailey’s flurries of offense was right up his alley. As he re-enters the American scene, Bailey’s going to be faced with a range of opponents quite different from Bandito, and this match bodes well for him in that regard.
Chris Dickinson vs. Tomohiro Ishii
Both men go chest to chest before the bell, Dickinson sporting a busted-up eye after his win over Suzuki yesterday. Dickinson takes Ishii to the ground with a wristlock, and shoots Ishii off after a second lock up, setting up an exchange of shoulder checks. Speaking of Ishii’s footwork, Kevin Kelly observes that the Stone Pitbull “could have been a ballerina”, a possibility I don’t think anyone has ever dared verbalize to Ishii.
After a trade of chops, Dickinson gets the better of a shoulder check for a second time. Outside the ring, both men toss each other into the barricades and return at the five-minute mark, with Dickinson looking very sweaty but not gassed. A snap mare and measured kicks keep Dickinson in control, but a particularly spicy knife-hand chop wakes Ishii up, who begins to walk into forearm strikes, grinding Dickinson down in the corner with the Tenryu chops/forearms combo.
There’s another forearm exchange in the middle of the ring, before Dickinson picks an ankle to set up a high-angle German suplex. After some reversals, Ishii hits a German of his own but Dickinson pops up to deliver an Ishii-style brainbuster which the Stone Pitbull powers through. The sequence ends with simultaneous lariats taking both men down.
Dickinson hits a DVD for two, slaps at the NJPW logo on the stained cerulean canvas, and sets up for a lariat which Ishii counters. Dickinson goes for another brainbuster, both men power through lariats and forearms from one another as the match has become a war of attrition. “Come on, you motherfucker!” Dickinson entreats, and Ishii’s happy to oblige with a headbutt. A running lariat nets Ishii a two count, but Dickinson evades the brainbuster and hits a second of his own for a very close two count. Dickinson tries for a powerbomb to no avail and hits a lariat for another two-count at the fifteen-minute mark. Dickinson goes for a Razor’s Edge, and Ishii escapes and hits a sliding lariat. Dickinson kicks out at two, but Ishii’s able to finally hit the brainbuster to put Dickinson away. Tomohiro Ishii defeats Chris Dickinson via pinfall at 16:11.
After the match, Suzuki appears on the ramp, challenging Ishii to a future match.
The take-away: Kevin Kelly called the finish to this “anticlimactic”, suggesting that Dickinson might have been stunned by one of the kicks which set up the final brainbuster, but I didn’t notice anything especially amiss. This match definitely waxed and waned in terms of speed and intensity, but for my money that worked. While maybe not quite living up to the full potential this meeting had on paper, it was exciting to watch Dickinson try to best Ishii on Ishii’s own terms, trying to best him move for move with his own offense.
Final Thoughts: This was a shorter card than I was expecting even accounting for it only featuring five matches, though having a show clock in at less than two hours isn’t necessarily the worst thing on such a hectic wrestling weekend. While a bit less Strong-focused than I imagined it might be (it should be noted than a host of other matches are being taped as I type for later episodes of Strong), the casual New Japan or indie wrestling viewer tuning into this show got a bit of that program’s flavour.
I don’t expect either the Dickinson/Ishii nor the Bailey/White matches to be held up at match of the weekend candidates by the time the dust settles, but as a pair of matches I was legitimately excited for, I thought both fared well. Leaving aside the Kross awkwardness, this show also nicely profiled just how seasoned Narita and Uemura are becoming (I remain convinced that the latter in particular is the future of NJPW).