NJPW Strong‘s second episode (and first of the post-Yoshi-Hashi title win era of the human history) features dojo boys, indie wrestlers, and the semi-finals of the American New Japan Cup. A less eventful show than the pilot, it raises the question of how New Japan Pro Wrestling‘s stateside TV will continue after the tournament is over, and its new post-game show provides a possible answer.
A note before we get started: A fair amount of the review of the first episode of NJPW Strong was about New Japan’s responses to the coronavirus pandemic in specifically in America, and to Speaking Out. Those issues aren’t addressed in the article below because there haven’t been any new developments. While a COVID-19 scare caused NJPW to call off a house show in Japan, the virus has yet to impact its shows in America as far as the public knows. Meanwhile, the company still has yet to address the allegations against Chase Owens and Will Ospreay and is continuing to promote both men as usual. These topics will be covered on Fanfyte as they develop, but for now, here’s an article that’s just about a wrestling show.
NJPW Presents: American Indie Wrestling
Aside from the LA Dojo products and NJPW regulars, New Japan Pro Wrestling of America has featured a mix of total unknowns who you watch and wonder if they’re headed to the dojo, and better-known wrestlers you can see in other American promotions. When you see more notable indie guys show up in NJPW of America you hope that means they’re on the way to getting booked by NJPW in Japan. At least half of the experience of watching Tom Lawlor on Lion’s Break Collision and ACH on NJPW Strong is crossing your fingers for Lawlor to do the G1 at some point when borders are more open and/or ACH to be reincorporated into the junior division. Depending on how long NJPW Strong continues, it could become, and a probably should try to become, a desirable destination in itself.
The second episode of NJPW Strong starts with Barett Brown and Logan Riegel defeating Clark Connors and Jordan Clearwater, and while it’s fine, watching it didn’t entertain me as much as it left me with similar questions to the ones Rednex had for Cotton Eye Joe: Where did they come from? Where will they go?
The opening match contains one guy NJPW viewers know and three who could have been 3D printed from thispersondoesnotexist.com. Two of those people have been on NJPW of America shows before, but that still applies. Maybe Brown, Riegel, and Clearwater will do something in New Japan in the future besides wrestle openers on shows people are watching or going to for other people, but it’s hard to guess whether that’s even a possibility. Could some American indie guy who shows up on NJPW Strong eventually be elevated like Johnny Gargano was in Dragon Gate USA? For the unknowns and even the bigger indie names, it seems unlikely when they’re wrestling matches with no stakes, characters, rivalries, or drama of any kind, and without even any crowd reactions to show if someone is getting himself over.
The same points about no stakes applies to the high-flying six-man tag of ACH, TJP, and Alex Zayne vs. PJ Black, Misterioso, and Blake Christian, but in this case, the lack of crowd noise weirdly mutes moments and moves you can tell would be crazy over. Zayne and ACH look like they could be a fun tag team and Christian’s gymnastic feats look so effortless that it almost takes an extra half-second to process how impressive the move you just saw was. In a normal year, you’d come away from this match hoping for your faves to make it into BOSJ or something, but in the NJPW Strong setting, it feels like everyone is wrestling for nothing. If the match does anything aside from showing off high spots, it advertises GCW, where you can see Zayne, Christian, and now ACH regularly.
The matches on this show that are more recognizable as New Japan Pro Wrestling are the semi-finals of the New Japan Cup USA: David Finlay defeating Tama Tonga and Kenta defeating Jeff Cobb. Finlay and Tonga both made positive impressions in the first round, but there isn’t much to say about their match here except that it’s short. It’s so short that I think it’s supposed to sell Finlay as a powerful enough singles guy to beat plausibly Kenta. But Kenta is Kenta and beating Tama Tonga in a singles match is not that big of a kayfabe accomplishment in NJPW right now, so going into the final, it seems like Kenta should be able to beat David Finlay pretty easily.
Kenta vs. Cobb is the more substantial semifinal and a first-time match that really delivers. The dynamic between these wrestlers is set up quickly: Cobb has the size advantage and his freaky athleticism on his side, but Kenta wrestles like he has the edges on smarts and experience. We see Cobb inflict damage with his always amazing strength, speed, and moonsaulting ability, but Kenta is able to control the larger man with strategic submissions mixed in with his trademark offense. His win with a low blow and schoolboy rollup is both obnoxious and unexpected when the most obvious win for Kenta over Cobb would have been with Game Over, and he comes out of this match looking like, reputation aside, the favorite to win the final.
So Kenta vs. Finlay is our big match next week, and NJPW sells it a bit more though a new post-game show called Finish Strong in addition to the traditional backstage promos. Finish Strong #1 gets uploaded about twenty-five hours after the August 14 NJPW Strong, and its first episode makes it look pretty skippable. It’s hosted by Chris Charlton and features a recap that sounds like the ones NJPW puts on its English-language website, a Zoom interview with David Finlay that has the tone of a Zoom call in basically any workplace, and the announcement that Jay White will be back in action on the New Japan Cup USA Final show.
The promise of Jay White in Action isn’t just a promise of Jay White in Action, but that something dramatic could kick off the post-tournament phase of NJPW Strong. White’s been teasing on social media that he’s going to show up in Japan this month somehow, but he’s also in the NJPW Strong opening credits, so pick which one you think is a misdirect. Either way, when the American New Japan Cup comes to an end, NJPW Strong needs to create some new stakes and drama and generally work on building a life of its own as a weekly TV show, and White’s appearance next week could easily be how they do that.