The Road to Strong Style Evolved starts here! After last week’s huge main event, and to coincide with the start of the New Japan Cup, this week’s NJPW Strong sees the start of the qualifying rounds for New Japan Cup USA. If you want a quick preview before we get into the show, have a look here. Let’s see how my predictions go!

    We open the show with video messages from Lio Rush and Rocky Romero ahead of their main event qualifying match. Both men show each other respect. Rocky says he will win, hold the trophy high, but reject the title shot at the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship – he wants the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship instead. Lio says he needs to prove himself after what happened at the Super J Cup 2020.

    New Japan Strong | Saturday 6th March 2021 | 03:00 (UK) | NJPW L.A. Dojo.

    The Road to Strong Style Evolved
    MATCH ONE: Karl Fredericks and Alex Coughlin Vs Clark Connors and Kevin Knight

    As covered in the preview, Fredericks and Coughlin are both returning from injury. This is Coughlin’s debut on NJPW Strong. Connors has recently graduated from Young Lion status, but is still linked with the L.A. Dojo, and still wearing his Young Lion ring gear. The new “Captain” of the Dojo, Coughlin, comes to the ring extremely fired up, getting in the face of Connors and Knight while Fredericks is still making his entrance. Coughlin is even forceful with his partner, going head-to-head with Fredericks to tell him he’s starting the match.

    Knight and Coughlin start and trade holds for hold early on. Knight hits a chop on a corner break but only fires up Coughlin. Knight blocks a hip toss and lands one of his own, and goes for the cover. He gets a two-count as Coughlin bridges out on his head – showing his neck injury is fully healed. Fredericks and Connors tag in but are evenly matched on shoulder tackles. The two trade some stiff chops in the middle of the ring. Fredericks takes charge with an uppercut. Fredericks attempts to leap over Connors, who catches him and drops him with an ugly mixture of a powerslam and flat liner, landing Fredericks right on the formerly injured shoulder. Fredericks and Coughlin drop Knight with a double shoulder tackle. Coughlin lifts Knight from a bottom wristlock position and lands a powerslam. Coughlin wraps up Knight’s leg and arm in a bow-and-arrow, but bridges over first before rolling through. Fredericks gets a near fall from a beautiful leaping elbow drop.

    Knight manages to powerslam Fredericks and both men tag out. Connors and Coughlin trade chops and uppercuts in the middle of the ring. Connors absorbs the hits and punches Coughlin in the neck. Connors dodges a clothesline, changes direction, and sends Coughlin flying with a Pounce. Fredericks and Knight both hit the ring for corner assaults. Coughlin stacks Knight on Connors back, and lifts them both for a gut-wrench side slam! Connors avoids another clothesline and delivers a spear. Knight and Fredericks tag back in and trade forearms. Knight nails Fredericks with a beautiful dropkick and locks in the Boston Crab – but Karl gets to the ropes to break it. Fredericks goes for a suplex, but Knight counters with an inside cradle for a two-count. Fredericks hits Knight with a spinebuster for a two-count. Coughlin gets rid of Connors with a fallaway slam. Coughlin hits a double chop on Knight, sending him to Fredericks. The Alpha Wolf lifts and plants Knight with the Manifest Destiny to pick up the win.

    Match Time: 12m 41s
    WINNER: Karl Fredericks and Alex Coughlin via Manifest Destiny

    Post-match, Karl says it’s good to be back, teaming with Coughlin to go to war with their team mates. Fredericks says he’s the man until someone proves him wrong. Coughlin reminds us he’s been out seven months, and that watching his friends, co-workers, his brothers, do what he couldn’t do was a dark period. He didn’t think he’d be able to come back, and would hide his face so people didn’t see him crying. But he’s back, and better than ever.

    I said in the preview this would be a show-stealer, and I was right! Fredericks called this a war – it was. All four men had something to prove, and showed it in the ring. There was a good mix of fundamental wrestling and stiff shots. Coughlin’s intensity was refreshing from the Young Lions matches. But it was the experience of the first L.A. Dojo graduate, Fredericks, over the inexperience of one of the new members, Knight, that proved decisive.

    Prediction Result: 0/1

    The Road to Strong Style Evolved
    MATCH TWO: NJOA New Japan Cup USA 2021 Qualifying Match: The DKC Vs “Filthy” Tom Lawlor

    During the entrances, Koslov likens The DKC to a Shitsu in a fight with Tom Lawlor’s Pitbull.

    Right off the bell, Lawlor boots The DKC in the shoulder and sends him flying. The DKC responds immediately with an outstanding dropkick. Lawlor drags the DKC to the outside, and eats a body slam on the floor for his trouble. Back in the ring, The DKC hits a spinning back-fist and a body slam for a near fall. DKC blocks a left hand and gets a two-count from a Northern Light’s Suplex. Lawlor creates space by rolling DKC head first into the bottom turnbuckle. Lawlor takes over the match with kicks, forearms, and stomps. Lawlor kicks DKC in the legs, hits a knee-DT, and locks in a leg lock – but DKC gets to the ropes to break. Lawlor goes for a suplex, and DKC attempts to counter, but Lawlor still floats through – dropping DKC mid-turn with the suplex onto the shoulder. Lawlor drops DKC with a Russian Leg Sweep and transitions into a Figure Four. DKC tries to fight out with slaps, but Lawlor traps the arm with a Kimura while in the Figure Four! DKC manages to get to the ropes to a break. DKC avoids a kick and rolls up Lawlor for a very close near fall. DKC starts fighting back with forearm strikes, and locks in a front face-lock. Lawlor starts to fade, and DKC gets a two-count with a suplex. DKC goes for a karate-style kick, but Lawlor catches him, lifts him, and slams him to the mat. Lawlor tries to lock in the rear-naked choke, but DKC rolls through and attempts an armbar. DKC ends up in high mount, raining in shots, but Lawlor rolls through and lifts DKC with a crotch lift, before landing a vicious facebuster. Lawlor puts DKC on his butt from a sleeper, and hits a PK to pick up the win.

    Match Time: 9m 13s
    WINNER: “Filthy” Tom Lawlor via PK

    Kelly and Koslov mention after the match that the sleeper-to-PK combination is something Katsuyori Shibata used, with Lawlor sending a message to The DKC’s sensei.

    I honestly thought this would have more of a technical base, but both men brought an intensity and a desire to just beat the living daylights out of each other. The Figure Four / Kimura Lock combination from Lawlor was impressive. The DKC had probably the best showing he’s had since becoming a Young Lion, but Lawlor was too much.

    Prediction Result: 1/1

    The Road to Strong Style Evolved
    MATCH THREE: NJOA New Japan Cup USA 2021 Qualifying Match: Rocky Romero Vs Lio Rush

    Both men grapple to start, attempting to gain momentum, but are evenly matched. After a collar-and-elbow tie-up, Rush drops Romero with a shoulder tackle. Romero instantly replies with a tackle of his own. Both men attempt dropkicks at the same time twice, before Rocky goes low and dropkicks Rush in the knee. Romero gets a close two-count with a la magistral cradle. Rush hits the ropes, changing direction a few times. He baits Romero in and catches him with an up-kick and a dropkick for a two-count. Romero gets some separation with a body slam and an elbow drop. Rush hits a bicycle kick, backing Romero into the corner. Rocky avoids contact, but can’t hit the Forever Clothesline. Rush catches Romero’s kick, and ducks an enzuigiri, but Romero hits the rewind kick. Rocky starts targeting Rush’s left arm, with a diving knee to the arm from the second rope.

    Romero absorbs a few forearms, controlling Rush with an arm wringer. Romero goes for another la magistral, but Rush rolls through and hits a rolling roundhouse kick to kneeling Rocky. Lio attempts a handspring, but Rocky kicks his left arm from underneath him. Romero hangs Rush across the second rope and nails a second rope dropkick to the left shoulder. Rush avoids a shiranui, but eats three Forever Clotheslines. Rocky goes for a fourth, but Rush counters with a leaping clothesline from the second rope. Rush gets a two-count with a Falcon Arrow. Rush aims to hit the ropes, but Romero grabs his ankle. Rush breaks with a series of body shots before landing an axe kick across Romero’s back. Rush lifts Rocky on to his shoulder, but Romero escapes and hits a jumping knee to Lio’s jaw. Romero manages to hit a running shiranui, but only gets a two-count. Rocky goes for another shiranui, but Rush counters and gets a near fall with a Death Valley Driver.

    Both men trade forearm and elbow strikes, but Rocky goes back to the arm with a stiff kick. Rush avoids an elbow and hits some rapid shots. Rush hits a thrust kick to the knee, then a spinning back kick. Romero goes for his slingshot cutter, but Rocky counters with a backslide for a two-count. Romero gets an inside cradle for a near fall, but Rush reverses, and rolls through for a pin for the three count!

    Match Time: 13m 57s
    WINNER: Lio Rush via Inside Cradle Reversal

    As expected, this was a back-and-forth match throughout. Even with Romero causing damage to Rush’s left arm, The Man of the Hour’s explosive offence kept him in the game. The reversal of the inside cradle for victory took Romero by surprise, and puts yet another block at his attempt to get his hands on the IWGP Junior Heavyweight Championship. I can’t imagine this sitting well with Rocky, so we’ll see what happens in the coming weeks.

    Lio moves on representing the Junior Heavyweights in the New Japan Cup USA. It’s still too early to predict who will win – especially given there are six more qualifiers to come, and we only know the participants in one of those – but Rush looks ready for whoever comes next.

    I end up with only a 33% success rate in my predictions. Let’s see if I can get back on track next week, as we see Fred Rosser Vs JR Kratos in qualifying action on The Road to Strong Style Evolved. The other two matches will be announced shortly, and I will be going again with a preview as part of TWM’s coverage of New Japan Strong here.