New Japan Strong | Saturday 30th January 2021 | 03:00 (UK) | NJPW L.A. Dojo.

    The Lion’s Break: Contender tour continues. Kevin Kelly and Alex Koslov give us a run-down of what’s to come, including the NJPW Strong debut of Lio Rush in our main event. Koslov wants someone to put a stop to the antics of Bullet Club. 

    MATCH ONE: The DKC Vs Clark Connors

    A few weeks back, The DKC officially requested to join the LA Dojo. Katsuyori Shibata accepted this request, and this is DKC’s first match since becoming a Young Lion. He’s up against the Captain of the LA Dojo, Clark Connors. Questions are asked whether The DKC should drop the “The” of his name, and also whether he has to “unlearn” his previous move sets to fit with the Young Lion’s training. Reference is also made to The DKC and Connors previously teaming in a few matches.

    As expected from two Young Lions, the opening is based on grappling, with Connors having a slight advantage. The DKC tries to take Connors down with three shoulder tackles but to no effect. Connors gets the upper hand with a knee to the mid-section and a shoulder tackle of his own. A few chops in the corner, followed by a hip-toss, and The DKC takes control with a chinlock. Connors fights out and returns the favour with chops and a hip-toss. The DKC locks in an armbar but has to break after Connors reverses into a pinfall attempt twice. The DKC meets a charging Connors with a beautiful dropkick for a near fall. Connors gets a two count from a snap suplex. The DKC hits Connors with a few strikes, before fighting for another armbar. Connors gets to the ropes to force the break. The DKC runs the ropes but is met with a vicious spear, and Connors forces him to tap to the Boston Crab.

    Match Time: 7m 22s
    WINNER: Clark Connors via submission (Boston Crab)

    This was a beautiful example of “doing the basics well”, something the New Japan Dojos enforce in their Young Lion’s. The DKC looked a lot more aggressive than he has for a while, but could not match the intensity of Connors. Both commentators seem certain Connors is almost ready for his final test, after some impressive performances of late. However, his first-round exit in the Super J Cup is a blot on his record. Clark has a bright future ahead of him and already looks like he could hold his own with a number of New Japan stars. It will be interesting to see his continued progression in NJPW Strong.

    MATCH TWO: Rocky Romero Vs Chris Dickinson

    Dickinson gets the better of the first exchange, but early in their re-engagement, Romero locks in the Cobra Twist. Romero transitions for a pin attempt, but Dickinson escapes immediately and looks for an STF, forcing Rocky to the ropes. Romero throws the first strike with a leg kick, which Dickinson laughs off and returns with force. After trading kicks to the hamstring, Rocky slaps The Dirty Daddy. Dickinson responds with a dragon screw leg whip and a single leg Boston Crab – with Romero forcing the rope break. Dickinson blocks a dropkick from Rocky and locks in the figure four. Rocky eventually escapes by grabbing and twisting Dickinson’s ankle. Rocky fires back with a rewind kick after missing an enziguiri. Romero starts working the left arm of Dickinson. Romero traps Dickinson in the ropes and delivers a dropkick to the shoulder from the second rope. Dickinson grabs hold of a kneebar, again forcing Romero to reach for the ropes. Romero gets a near fall following a shiranui. Romero locks in an armbar, but Dickinson reverses to a pin for a two count. Romero attempts a shiranui off of the corner, but Dickinson counters into a Burning Hammer for a close two count. Dickinson transitions into an STF, forcing Romero to tap.

    Match Time: 9m 53s
    WINNER: Chris Dickinson via submission (STF)

    Post-match, an emotional Dickinson speaks of his pride in being in New Japan Pro Wrestling and tapping out one of the best foreigners to ever work for the company. He states he wants “it all” in the company – from the Young Lions to the top stars – and to stop him you’ll have to face him in the ring. He promises to make it a living hell for anyone who tries.

    Another simple NJPW-style match. Dickinson worked Romero’s left leg; Rocky attacked the left arm. There was no wasted movement and every attack looked effective. Despite the relative dominance from Dickinson, both men looked incredibly strong. Dickinson is an intriguing fit for the company style-wise and has some potentially incredible matches ahead of him.

    Next week’s show is confirmed as the start of The Road to The New Beginning USA 2021 tour.

    MATCH THREE: Fred Rosser, TJP and Lio Rush Vs Bullet Club (KENTA, Hikuleo and El Phantasmo)

    KENTA comes to the ring with the NJPW US Heavyweight Challenger briefcase, no doubt looking forward to cashing in against Jon Moxley somewhere down the line. Due to the record/broadcast delay, there is no mention of El Phantasmo winning the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Championships with Taiji Ishimori at Road to New Beginning. Lio Rush’s history with El Phantasmo is mentioned, as ELP defeated Rush in the first round of the 2020 Super J Cup.

    Bullet Club’s pre-match Too Sweet is prevented as Rosser charges Hikuleo. Hikuleo shoves Rosser spine first into the edge of the stage after the initial scuffle to give Bullet Club the advantage. Rosser tries and fails, to fight back with headbutts to Hikuleo, who shuts him down with a strong elbow strike. Lio Rush tags in, as do El Phantasmo – but before Rush can get any measure of revenge, ELP tags out to KENTA. KENTA and Rush exchange forearms, before Rush, runs the ropes. Lio manages to avoid a number of strikes before hitting a flurry of his own, catching KENTA off guard. TJP tags in and locks in an Indian Death Lock.

    KENTA crawls to the rope and the hold is broken by ELP reaching in and raking TJP’s eyes. Hikuleo provides a distraction allowing KENTA and Phantasmo to work over TJP in the corner. Hikuleo lands a huge legdrop on TJP for a near fall. TJP evades an attack in the corner from KENTA (who hits Hikuleo), and Phantasmo, and plants ELP with a tornado DDT, running off of KENTA’s chest. Lio Rush gets the hot tag but is up against Hikuleo who catches a crossbody attempt and slams Rush hard to the mat. Hikuleo almost chokes out Rush with a front chancery, but Rush evades a suplex attempt. Rush aims for the tag to Rosser but is cut off. Hikuleo throws Rush outside, and Rush dodges an attack from ELP. Hikuleo had followed Rush out, allowing Lio to slide back into the ring and tag Rosser. Rosser gets a near fall after a flying tackle and a leg drop on Hikuleo.

    Hikuleo catches TJP’s crossbody attempt from the top rope, but Rosser assists in taking him off his feet. TJP nails a double dropkick on Hikuleo and ELP while KENTA and Rosser brawl outside. TJP hits an inside-out springboard dropkick on Hikuleo, followed by Lio Rush taking out KENTA with a tope suicida through the first and second ropes. ELP counters the reverse slingshot cutter attempt from Rush, and Rush counters an inverted Go To Sleep attempt with an inside cradle for a two count. ELP blocks a kick attempt. Rush blocks a superkick attempt, spinning ELP around and rolling through a Sunset Flip for the pinfall.

    Match Time: 11m 54s
    WINNER: Lio Rush via Sunset Flip.

    Following the match, Bullet Club attack the victors when the lights go out. When they come back on, The IWGP US Heavyweight Champion Jon Moxley stands across the ring from Bullet Club! Moxley nails El Phntasmo and Hikuleo with belt shots before dropping the belt at his feet as a line for KENTA to cross.

    Both men exchange shots. Moxley escapes a Go To Sleep attempt and nails the Death Rider on KENTA. Moxley promises KENTA’s dream of being champion will be a nightmare, and promises a match in Tokyo at some point in the future.

    New Japan Pro-Wrestling STRONG returns For Episode 26. ROAD to THE NEW BEGINNING: USA 2021 on 5th February at 10 pm ET, 9 pm CT, 7 pm PT / 6th January 3 am GMT, and 12 pm JST, available on New Japan World.