Preview: NJPW Strong Style Evolved (3/25/18)

The North American expansion of New Japan Pro Wrestling (NJPW) continues with a trip to the Walter Pyramid in Long Beach, California on March 25. Last July’s G1 In USA event was a big success with an attendance of over 2,000 but the company can and will do much bigger numbers in the future. NJPW did not rely on marquee matches or even have one name announced for Strong Style Evolved and tickets sold out within minutes. We now know the full card but the top three matches have the potential to be something very special and the card will be rounded out by with IWGP Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada and other big names. In the aftermath of the New Japan Cup tournament, the main event of Strong Style Evolved will be Kota Ibushi teaming with long-time friend and tag team partner Kenny Omega against The Young Bucks. The meat of the show will rely on the title match and the big first-time-ever tag team main event but New Japan Cup winner Zack Sabre Jr is in action in a preview against Kazuchika Okada. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the announced card live from the Walter Pyramid on AXIS TV. Jim Ross and Josh Barnett will be on commentary for the first live airing of NJPW on AXIS TV after Wrestle Kingdom 12 was the highest viewed of the weekly NJPW series. 

Roppongi 3K (Sho, You and Rocky Romero) vs. SoCal Uncensored (Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian and Scoropio Sky)

Photo: ROH

This will be the NJPW debut of Scorpio Sky, who joined Daniels and Kazarian a couple months ago in Ring Of Honor to make the three-man faction. A hot six-man tag team match should start this show off with a bang and fire the crowd up for the rest of the evening. Roppongi 3K have not been at their best lately, trading the IWGP Junior Heavyweight tag team titles as soon as they win them and coming on the losing side of battles of matches with Suzuki-Gun. This is a chance for Roppongi 3K to regain momentum and go after the NEVER six-man tag team championships. Daniels and company will put forth a great effort but it will be a big feather in the cap of Sho or Yoh if they win by pinning Daniels.

Photo: NJPW

David Finlay and Juice Robinson vs. Hirooki Goto and Gedo

Finlay Jr. and Juice have become a regular team and while they are more successful as singles wrestlers, it’s great experience to get in the ring with NEVER Openweight Champion Hirooki Goto. Perhaps this is a set up for Juice Robinson to receive a title match against Goto and Juice would certainly deserve it after exceptional performances in last year’s G1 Climax tournament and this year’s New Japan Cup tournament. Gedo could be the fall man in this match but it will likely be a clean victory for Hirooki Goto with the GTR.

Chuckie T and Toru Yano vs. Killer Elite Squad (Davey Boy Smith Jr and Lance Archer)

While there may be a few too many tag team matchups on this card, California should really enjoy Chuck Taylor wrestling for NJPW considering he wrestles for the SoCal based Pro Wrestling Guerilla as the PWG champion. Yano and Taylor is a dream team for pure comedy and they face the hardest hitting team in the company. A difference in styles to say the least and it will result in a victory for Davey Boy Smith Jr and Lance Archer. Yano has become an act that isn’t affected too much by wins and losses, The Killer Bomb spells the end here in a very fun match.

Dragon Lee, Ryusuke Taguchi, KUSHIDA and Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Los Ingobernobles De Japon (Hiromu Takahashi, BUSHI, SANADA and Tetsuya Naito)

Photo: NJPW

We are going to witness Naito vs. Tanahashi again, this time captaining teams of four. One of the rivalries of 2017 had reached it’s peak, but both are on a level playing field with both failing to win the New Japan Cup. The Junior Heavyweight action is going to be exciting and all over the ring. Dragon Lee is due for a bigger match and maybe his long time feud with Hiromu Takahashi continues after this match. KUSHIDA has become lost in the mix but Tanahashi couldn’t find a more reliable tag team partner. It would be marvelous to see KUSHIDA ignite a fire inside himself and take Naito to the limit in the finishing stretch until Naito wins for Los Ingobernobles De Japon.

The Guerillas Of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa) vs. Cody and “The Villain” Marty Scurll

Photo: NJPW

Bullet Club goes to war when The Elite collide with the BC original and his partner in crime. Tonga and Loa are former IWGP Heavyweight tag team champions multiple times, so the chemistry relies on their side, but Cody and Scurll are just as smart when it comes to winning matches. This looks to be the beginning of the end of Bullet Club, but which side will come out on top? Scurll and Cody spend more time in ROH so Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa should put it away with Guerilla Warfare, but it won’t be pretty.

Special Non-Title match: IWGP Junior Heavyweight Champion Will Ospreay vs. Jushin “Thunder” Liger

Photo: NJPW

Rey Mysterio suffered a partially torn left bicep after his appearance in the WWE Royal Rumble match and the huge WCW Starrcade rematch has been replaced by this match. This should be more of a technical affair with Liger’s age but that just makes Ospreay a better performer by adapting to different styles and facing icons. Jushin “Thunder” Liger is a living legend in pro wrestling not just Japan and he is his thirty-fourth year of competing in the squared circle. The efforts of Jushin Liger have not gone unnoticed over the years with his ability to stay on the undercard and make young Junior Heavyweights look even better. Even at the age of Liger won the inaugural RevPro Super J Cup last year, defeating “The Villain” Marty Scurll, current IWGP Junior Heavyweight champion Will Ospreay and KUSHIDA. With a slowed down style for both comes a smarter approach to wrestling as well, expect some unique counters and a match that will have everyone talking about Liger like thirty-four years have never passed. Ospreay previously defeated Liger in Liger’s final Best Of The Super Juniors tournament last year, expect the same but in an even better match.

CHAOS (Tomohiro Ishii and Kazuchika Okada) vs. Suzuki-Gun (Zack Sabre Jr and Minoru Suzuki)

Photo: NJPW

Zack Sabre Jr won the New Japan Cup, becoming the first European and only second Gaijin ever to do so, and now he hangs with the big boys at the top of the card. Sabre gets Okada at Sakura Genesis for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, but first comes CHAOS vs. Suzuki-Gun. Sabre has never even defeated Ishii, losing to “The Stone Pitbull” in last year’s IWGP United States title tournament at G1 In USA. The tide is changing in the favor of Suzuki-Gun as Suzuki holds the IWGP Intercontinental championship. Suzuki has been in wars with both opponents so he will know what to coach Sabre on. Sabre keeps picking up victories, leaving no doubt that he is ready for Okada.

IWGP United States Championship: “Switchblade” Jay White vs. “Hangman” Adam Page

Photo: NJPW

The career of “Hangman” Adam Page and “Switchblade” Jay White have been on the rise in the past couple years and the Ring Of Honor/NJPW relationship helps bring them together for the very first time in a singles match. Page has become a much more confident heel performer since joining the Bullet Club two years ago and most recently showed his daredevil side when he pulled off a moonsault from the balcony at ROH Manhattan Mayhem. While Page has evolved, White has achieved success at the young age of twenty-five when he defeated Kenny Omega for the IWGP United States Championship at New Beginning In Osaka. Now, Jay White is playing by his rules and joined CHAOS only to say his stay in the faction will be anything but permanent. White has been teaming with such CHAOS stablemates as Roppongi 3K in the past couple months but now he must put the gold on the line against a competitor waiting for his big chance. The outcome looks to be a defense for White but not an easy one, there may be interference incoming from Bullet Club to tend with. If Page hits the Right Of Passage it might be all over but White is beyond his years in endurance and resourcefulness to lose this championship so quickly. Adam Page is developing into a serious main event threat but he has the habit of losing big title matches, Page couldn’t defeat Bobby Fish for the ROH TV championship when Fish had taped ribs two years ago. Page is better all-around now than then but White’s time is now with all the momentum on his side.

The Golden Lovers (Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi) vs. The Young Bucks (Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson)

Photo: NJPW

The timing couldn’t be any more perfect for this tag team bout that’s sure to steal the show. Kota Ibushi just mixed it up with the best in the New Japan Cup but the reuniting of The Golden Lovers is another life-long goal of both Omega and Ibushi. The Young Bucks just went from a Junior Heavyweight tag team to a Heavyweight tag team after seven reigns as IWGP Junior Heavyweight tag team champions. The stars have aligned for North America to see this match for the first time and Kenny Omega has wanted this more than anyone. “I took the belts with Bullet Club. I did a lot, but that was all the job. Golden Lovers transcends wrestling. This is teal life. As long as there is a chance for this to happen, I wasn’t going to say goodbye to NJPW.” So the former KO-D tag team champions for DDT Pro and IWGP Junior Heavyweight tag team champions reunited at New Beginning In Sapporo and teamed up again at ROH/NJPW Honor Rising. With a great tag team comes great double team moves and The Golden Lovers have added a double knee-strike called the Golden Trigger to their array of dual 450 Splashes and dazzing offense. The Young Bucks are the best tag team in the world and even the high-speed thrills and a Superkick Party won’t stop Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi. The winning team should receive a shot at the IWGP heavyweight tag team Championships against EVIL and SANADA when EVIL returns from his broken orbital bone.