New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) returns to the United States as it presents Strong Style Evolved, live from the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach, California. The main event will see the Golden Lovers (Kenny Omega & Kota Ibushi) facing off against the Young Bucks (Matt and Nick Jackson) to see who the greatest tag team of all time is, and will see the in-fighting of the Bullet Club continue. The IWGP United States Championship is also on the line, as champion “Switchblade” Jay White will face off against the rising star of the Bullet Club, and Team Cody mainstay, Hangman Page, in Page’s biggest match of his career to date. The IWGP Heavyweight Champion, Kazuchika Okada, will also be in action, as he teams with CHAOS stablemate Tomohiro Ishii to face the Suzuki-gun team of Minoru Suzuki, and Okada’s next title challenger Zack Sabre Jr. All of this and more as NJPW returns to the USA for Strong Style Evolved.
+ Jay White (c) vs Hangman Page (IWGP United States Heavyweight Championship): the crowd was very quiet early, thanks to this match’s position on the card (following the Champ, before the real main event), but these two did manage to get the crowd alive late. Some stupid and dangerous moves required to get that reatcion, however, are unforgivable. These two were going so hard at each other, you could tell they did not like the response they were getting, but in the end it was a good match, in a bad spot, with a bad crowd, and a good aftermath
+ CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada & Tomohiro Ishii) vs Suzuki-gun (Minoru Suzuki & Zack Sabre Jr.): the brief Sabre/Okada moments give me hope that their Sakura Genesis match may well be one of Okada’s absolute best, especially because of one counter in particular that had me all but applauding my screen. Suzuki and Ishii smashed the absolute SHIT out of each other to a raucous ovation, which was easily my moment of the night, and in the end this was probably the best match on the show
+ Dragon Lee, Ryusuke Taguchi, KUSHIDA & Hiroshi Tanahashi vs Los Ingobernables de Japon (BUSHI, Hiromu Takahashi, SANADA & Tetsuya Naito): any time Dragon Lee and Hiromu Takahashi are in the same match you know it will be good. Any time Tanahashi/Naito or Lee/Hiromu were in the ring together, the arena erupted, but the rest of the match was full of fantastic back and forth action as well. This was great, and I really enjoyed the winners’ celebration as well
+ Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga & Tanga Loa) vs Bullet Club (Cody & Marty Scurll): Cody’s pre-match promo was perhaps the best part, simply because of how despised Cody was in the Long Beach arena – in fact, he may have been the only guy who got booed all show. Scurll may have been one of the most popular all night, but that may have just been because he was paired with Cody. This was predominantly storytelling, continuing the Bullet Club in-fighting, but the in ring action was fine
+ CHAOS (Chuckie T & Toru Yano) vs K.E.S. (Davey Boy Smith Jr. & Lance Archer): holy cow this American crowd loved Yano, and he may have been the most popular all night, main event notwithstanding. The KES team were able to elicit lots of hate just from not playing with the more goofy good-guy team. The crowd bought in to every single thing Yano did, and it made for an incredibly entertaining match. A quick line from Lance Archer referencing the ‘B Bros’ gave me a small chuckle
+ Roppongi 3K (Rocky Romero, SHO & YOH) vs SoCal Uncensored (Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian & Scorpio Sky): the USA love for Daniels was clear from the very beginning, and all six guys seemed to be having a blast getting the crowd riled up. It looked like Kazarian injured himself, which did put a damper on things, but aside from some really bad camerawork, this was a good match to start the show
– Golden Lovers (Kenny Omega & Kota Ibushi) vs The Young Bucks (Matt & Nick Jackson): this had the potential to be a match of the year contender, but unfortunately it had far too many sloppy moments to be considered that good. The Bullet Club in-fighting was again great, with Omega not really wanting to fight the Bucks, but it did leave Ibushi standing off to the side too often. Omega and the Bucks are clearly so comfortable with each other they could go all out and know they were in safe hands, and Ibushi is so phenomenal that this was a match full of huge high spots but every single one of them looked like it could have gone wrong at any moment. This was a fantatic spectacle, but not a very good match
– Jushin Thunder Liger vs Will Ospreay: another surprisingly short match, this felt really by-the-book. The post-match shenanigans and challenges were more interesting than the match itself. Liger is 53 years old, so in that regard it was fine, but it still didn’t measure up to much of the other stuff on this show
– Taguchi Japan (David Finlay & Juice Robinson) vs CHAOS (Gedo & Hirooki Goto): I am very surprised this wasn’t a Goto/Juice title match. Goto was bleeding from the mouth after just a few minutes, and the match was over a few minutes after that. This was too short and didn’t accomplish anything important
– the whole show had a fair amount of production issues; all night the sound was wonky, with the crowd super loud, the music really quiet and the commentators somewhere in between. The commentators were horrible, and the announcers made numerous errors, especially with things like who was what champion. The cameramen also missed a huge number of moves throughout the night, and never seemed to focus on the people being introduced. It felt very amateur overall
> It has occurred to me that Minoru Suzuki is basically just Zack Sabre Sr.
Should you watch this event: The main event tag match was really disappointing, but the US title match and the preceding CHAOS/Suzuki-gun tag match were both really good. Most of the remaining matches were good or great, with every match having at least one or two moments worth seeing, but overall this event failed to live up to my expectations.