The Lion’s Break: Contender tour continues. Kevin Kelly and Alex Koslov give us a run-down of what’s to come, including the debuts of both Ren Narita and Bateman in our main event.
MATCH ONE: Jordan Clearwater and Kevin Knight Vs The Riegel Twins
Logan Riegel starts off against Kevin Knight in a grappling exchange. Knight gets an early pin attempt, but is pushed back to his corner. Clearwater tags himself in and is immediately taken down by a hurricanrana. The Riegel Twins work over Clearwater with double team moves, but he eventually overpowers a double arm wringer and makes the tag. Knight comes in hot, throwing tackles and a beautiful standing dropkick. Logan gets the hot tag and takes on both opponents, hitting a Rocker Dropper on Knight and then a slingblade to Clearwater on the apron. Logan sets Knight up, with Sterling elevating him to hit a high-angle swinging DDT to get the win.
Match Time: 6m 12s
WINNER: The Riegel Twins via DDT.
A lot was made on commentary about not being able to tell the Twins apart. This was a fine, if fairly standard tag match. This is The Riegel Twins’ first victory since Episode 13, and gets them back on winning ways. As they left the ring, they claimed the match was “too easy”. We’ll see if they can get momentum going in coming weeks.
Kevin Kelly mentions the next match is like “the marquee of a monster movie”. He has Brody King standing by and asks why he thinks JR Kratos singled him out. King says he respects Kratos coming in and picking a fight with the biggest guy – something he’d probably do himself. But if Kratos thinks he’s making a name off King’s back, he’s picked the wrong guy.
MATCH TWO: JR Kratos Vs Brody King
6’1″, 301lbs Kratos Vs. 6″ 300lbs King
The two behemoths stand in the middle of the ring, staring each other down while removing their ring jackets. The bell rings and they both start throwing heavy forearms at each other. Kratos gets the early advantage with a slap to the face in the corner. Brody is the first one to seek space and runs the ropes, only for Kratos to hotshot him across the top rope. Brody misses a splash in the corner and eats a running single leg dropkick from Kratos for a near fall. Brody manages to hit a few clotheslines in the corner. King with a black hole slam on Kratos for a two count. Both men trade strikes, but Kratos fakes out King with a punch and lands a body shot followed by some hard knees to the stomach. Brody throws Kratos into the turnbuckle with an exploder suplex. King with the cannonball in the corner, but Kratos forces the break by grabbing the bottom rope. Kratos catches a crossbody from King and power slams him. Kratos with a vertical suplex for a close two count. King hits a German suplex and a lariat for a two count. King hits three short-arm lariats to finally put Kratos down for the win.
Match Time: 10m 9s
WINNER: Brody King via Lariat.
On commentary, Koslov put it best – “These two men are going to destroy each other for our entertainment. I like that.” This was a fight. Just two six-foot-tall, three-hundred-pound monsters beating each other up. Simple, but effective. Kratos had the better of King for large parts of the match, but in the end, Brody proved just too much. It was interesting to see King wearing a Violence Unlimited knee pad, given his partner in that team – Bateman – is due to debut in the next match.
MATCH THREE: Ren Narita Vs Bateman
Both men making their NJPW Strong debut. The commentary does a great job of explaining Ren Narita’s experience as a Young Lion, and the next steps of being sent on excursions to face people with different styles to gain experience.
The early feeling out process sees Bateman focusing on the wrist of Narita. Narita controls Bateman with a headlock, taking him down to the mat repeatedly. Narita transitions from the headlock, to chinlock, to a figure-four head scissors. Bateman holds Narita in a reverse-DDT position before hitting a knee to the back of the head and a forearm to the chest simultaneously. Bateman challenges Narita to strike him, and ends up being backed into the ropes, but hits a double thrust to the throat while the referee is distracted. Narita absorbs a number of hard strikes and chops to fire back with forearms to ground Bateman on the apron, but gets dropped throat first across the top rope. Bateman gets a two count with a belly-to-back slam. Ren Narita reverses an Irish whip and hits a belly-to-belly suplex. Narita gets a two count with a float-over arm capture suplex.
Narita hits a Russian legsweep and keeps the legs trapped to transition into a submission attempt. Bateman gets to the ropes to break. Narita hits a dropkick-style stomp to the knee, and hits the ropes, but eats a boot to the face from Bateman. Narita kicks out at two from a short-arm lariat. Bateman hits an Emerald Flowsion, but again Narita kicks out. Bateman removes his elbow pad before hitting Narita with some forearms, but Ren absorbs each one and stays standing. They trade forearms before Bateman grabs the throat and throws a lariat to no apparent effect. Narita counters another lariat attempt into a hammerlock, transitioning beautifully into a Cobra Twist, but Bateman grabs the rope to break. Narita gets a near fall from a bridging German suplex. Narita grabs the legs in a Cloverleaf, and steps over to turn Bateman. Bateman taps!
Match Time: 14m 53s
WINNER: Ren Narita via submission (Cloverleaf).
Bateman throughout the match seemed to overestimate Narita, taunting him and challenging him to get up. Narita fought through all the punishment he had thrown at him, including a number of cheap shots and shortcuts, eventually getting the submission win. Kelly and Koslov put Narita’s win over as a huge statement and upset on commentary.
Post-match, Narita states he won, but he’s “still not satisfied”.
New Japan Pro-Wrestling STRONG returns For Episode 25. LION’S BREAK: CONTENDER on 29th January at 10 pm ET, 9 pm CT, 7 pm PT / 30th January 3 am GMT, and 12 pm JST, available on New Japan World. The main event will be Fred Rosser, TJP and Lio Rush (making his debut) against Bullet Club (KENTA, El Phantasmo and Hikuleo).