Last week, we took a look ahead to the first round of qualifiers for the New Japan Cup USA 2021. Turns out, I wasn’t that accurate with my predictions, and am sitting on a 33% success rate after the Road to Strong Style Evolved. Will this week see me fare any better?

    Once again, this week’s NJPW Strong will open with a tag team match followed by two qualifiers for the New Japan Cup USA tournament, which will be held on Strong throughout April. The winner of the tournament will earn a future title shot at the IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship, held by Jon Moxley. 

    The story of this match for a lot of New Japan Pro-Wrestling of America fans will be focused on one man – Barrett Brown. During New Beginning in USA Night 1, Kevin Kelly mentioned on commentary that Brown has to “start finding the winning formula” or his time in NJoA may be coming to an end. Unfortunately, despite showing an aggressiveness missing from recent months, Brown was on the losing end that week as well. He’s now gone six months without a victory in NJPW, and after the match said that something has to change.

    Adrian Quest was one of his opponents at New Beginning and will look to carry that winning momentum through to this week’s show. There’s a question of whether Quest will trust Brown as a partner – given Brown tried to take Young Fuego’s head off with a vicious lariat the last time the two met. But, Quest seems to be enjoying the spoils of victory and seems quite happy to work with anyone to do what it takes. We’ve not seen much of Quest’s explosive offence in recent tag matches, so he might be out to put himself in the limelight.

    The Riegel Twins come into this off the back of a victory in eight-man tag action, after teaming with Brody King and ACH on New Beginning in USA Night 2. Partnering up with King has brought out a new side of the twins, with them pressurising opponents more. It remains to be seen whether they will keep this up without Brody shouting orders at them from the apron, but they are a more-than-capable tag team and have what it takes to get the job done.

    The Riegel Twins can be trusted to work quick tags and double teams, but I’m not so sure Quest and Brown will be able to get on the same page. Brown is under pressure to start getting victories, and the viciousness he showed last time out will no doubt escalate as he tries to get the job done. Will he and Quest be able to come up with a game plan and keep the emotions out of things, or will the pressure and frustration get to him? If Brown and Quest lose, will this be the last time we see Barrett Brown in an NJPW ring? Will he go down the same route as The DKC and appeal to join the LA Dojo? I’m going to stick my neck on the line and say The Riegel Twins will win this – I can’t see Brown and Quest co-existing well enough to not let Brown’s frustrations take over.

    New Japan Cup USA 2021 Qualifying Match:

    Jordan Clearwater is another man with something to prove in NJoA. “The Golden Boy” has not lived up to his moniker yet, with only one victory under his belt – and that in eight-man tag action, coincidentally with Adrian Quest on his team in a victory over a team containing Barrett Brown and The Riegel Twins. While he’s had impressive showings in both singles and tag matches, he needs to find something to kick on his singles career on NJPW Strong. The New Japan Cup USA could be the catalyst he needs – a good tournament showing has built the career of many NJPW wrestlers. But to get there, he has to overcome the size and experience disadvantage he’ll be giving up to Hikuleo.

    A member of the legendary Fifita family and the infamous Bullet Club, Hikuleo has made his presence felt in NJPW Strong. This has mostly been in tag matches with his stablemates though, his singles match outings have been limited so far – with his last being a defeat to Fred Rosser. In fact, he only holds two singles victories in his NJPW career – both on NJPW Strong (over Brody King and TJP). Every other one of his 43 wins has come with tag partners. Hikuleo will also be looking to use this tournament to elevate his status and break out as a singles competitor.

    Sorry Jordan, but Hikuelo’s size, power, and experience will be too much for you to overcome. I don’t think this will be a one-sided match but can’t see any other outcome than a Hikuleo victory.

    New Japan Cup USA 2021 Qualifying Match:

    I’m glad we get to see these two finally clash in one-on-one action. They’ve met three times on NJPW Strong in tag matches, with Kratos (as part of Team Filthy) holding a 2-1 record over Mr. No Days Off.

    Rosser comes into this week’s main event with momentum off the back of a tag team victory over Bullet Club, and a singles victory over Hikuleo in his last few outings. A 19-year-veteran, Rosser shows no signs of slowing down and is constantly adding to his repertoire. His run in NJoA has seen him chalk up two match-of-the-year candidates (against Clark Connors from episode 12, and Tom Lawlor on episode 15).  You can watch both of these as part of the Best of NJPW Strong 2020, on NJPW’s YouTube channel. His determination is unparalleled, and a run in the New Japan Cup USA 2021 has got to be on his mind – not only to step into the ring with the best NJoA have to offer, but to also earn a shot at championship gold. It’s been five-and-a-half years since Rosser last held a championship, and over 12-years since he last held a singles title. For a man of Rosser’s talent, that is an unwanted record, and one he’ll be wanting to correct.

    JR Kratos is a beast of a specimen. If you were to build a heavyweight professional wrestler from scratch to compete in 2021, Kratos would be close to whatever you come up with. His striking is vicious. He delivers a suplex with a ferocity many can’t match. His spear looks as though it will cause internal injuries. And on top of all that, he’s ridiculously agile. How many other near-300lb men can throw themselves over the corner with tope con hilo’s? In NJPW Strong, Kratos has been a stalwart member of Team Filthy but is perhaps more known for his brutal wars against Jeff Cobb and Brody King. Kratos is one half of the current NWA World Tag Team Champions (with Aron Stevens) and will want to add more singles success to his C.V. If he can get through the challenge of Rosser, there won’t be many who will fancy stepping up to stop him in the tournament.

    This is going to be brutal. There are no two ways about that. Rosser has built himself a reputation in NJPW Strong for not backing down from a fight. He has stood toe-to-toe with some of the biggest and baddest, and the clashes with Kratos in tag team matches have been intense. Kratos has the obvious power advantage, but Rosser’s experience and technical ability should see him have the edge if he can get this to the mat. That is a big “If” against Kratos, but Rosser will not be intimidated by the challenge. I’m picking Fred Rosser to advance.

    New Japan Pro-Wrestling STRONG – Road to Strong Style Evolved airs on Friday, March 12, 2021 (10 pm ET, 9 pm CT, 7 pm PT in America) / Saturday, March 13, 2021  (3 am GMT in the UK / 12 noon JST in Japan), available on New Japan World and Fite.TV.