NJPW Strong Style Evolved 2018 Results: Winners, Grades and Reaction

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistMarch 26, 2018

NJPW Strong Style Evolved 2018 Results: Winners, Grades and Reaction

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    Credit: New Japan Pro-Wrestling

    New Japan Pro-Wrestling invaded California Sunday night for its NJPW Strong Style Evolved event, bringing one of the hottest wrestling promotions in the world to a new audience in the United States courtesy of AXS TV.

    Headlined by the latest chapter in the Bullet Club saga pitting Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi against The Young Bucks, and featuring Cody and Marty Scurll against The Guerrillas of Destruction, the show was significant to the ongoing main event storyline that has engulfed both New Japan and Ring of Honor.

    IWGP heavyweight champion Kazuchika Okada teamed with fellow Chaos mate Tomohiro Ishii to battle IWGP intercontinental champion Minoru Suzuki and 2018 New Japan Cup winner Zack Sabre Jr. The Briton would be seeking to send a message to Okada ahead of their April 1 match for The Rainmaker's title. But would he?

    With an undercard featuring the likes of Tetsuya Naito, Hiroshi Tanahashi, IWGP junior heavyweight champion Will Ospreay and the icon Jushin Thunder Liger, the sold-out event promised fans in the U.S. an explosive broadcast.

    Who won and what do the results mean for the ongoing stories in NJPW?

    Find out with this recap of Sunday night's AXS TV broadcast.

Six-Man Tag Team Match

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    Roppongi 3K (Sho and Yoh) and Rocky Romero battled Christopher Daniels, Frankie Kazarian and Scorpio Sky in an energetic Six-Man Tag Team match to kick off Strong Style Evolved.

    Yoh found himself isolated from his partners early, but a hot tag to Romero turned the match in their team's favor.

    The action broke down late, and at one point Kazarian seemed to suffer a knee injury that commentator Jim Ross expressed concern over.

    Ultimately, Sho and Yoh delivered the 3K to Sky for the win.

              

    Result

    Roppongi 3K and Romero defeated Daniels, Kazarian and Sky

               

    Grade

    B

                

    Analysis

    This was meant to fire the crowd up and it did just that.

    Roppongi 3K is the younger act with the brighter future so using a trio of established independent acts such as Daniels, Kazarian and Sky to put them over in front of an American audience that may not be quite as familiar with the former IWGP junior heavyweight tag team champions is the right move.

    A hot match with a hotter crowd.

David Finlay and Juice Robinson vs. Hirooki Goto and Gedo

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    (Above video is NSFW)

    Juice Robinson defeated Hirooki Goto in a tag team match on the final night of the New Japan Cup, sparking speculation he may be in line for a shot at the NEVER Openweight Championship.

    Sunday, he would have the opportunity to make it 2-0 in recent matches with the champion, as he teamed with second-generation star David Finlay to battle Goto and the hated leader of Chaos, Gedo.

    To do so, he would have to fight from underneath. He did just enough, fending off the onslaught of Goto and Gedo long enough to make the tag to Finlay.

    The Northern Irishman exploded into the match and eventually pinned Gedo with a modified stunner.

            

    Result

    Finlay and Robinson defeated Goto and Gedo

            

    Grade

    C

             

    Analysis

    After so much was made of Robinson defeating Goto recently, not to mention Robinson's performance against Hiroshi Tanahashi in the New Japan Cup tournament, this was disappointing.

    The performers were not necessarily given enough time to deliver anything worthy or memorable. NJPW had the opportunity to really highlight Robinson in front of an American audience that still remembers his lackluster run as CJ Parker in NXT, and it failed.

Chuckie T and Toru Yano vs. Killer Elite Squad

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    Suzuki-gun's Killer Elite Squad (Lance Archer and Davey Boy Smith Jr.) are one of the most dangerous and unpredictable teams in wrestling.

    They were looking to maintain their march back to the IWGP Heavyweight Tag Team Championships, but they would have to overcome Chaos' Toru Yano and Chuckie T to continue their winning ways.

    Archer and Smith pummeled the competition, isolating Chuckie T and wearing him down with a punishing offense that included a version of Undertaker's Old School. Smith followed up with a standing Boston Crab, wearing down the back and core of his opponent.

    Chuckie made the hot tag to Yano, whose immense popularity led to a thunderous ovation. He engaged Archer in some humorous comedy spots and frustrated him with mind games. It was short-lived as Archer and Smith delivered a Killer Bomb to Chuckie for the win.

           

    Result

    Killer Elite Squad defeated Yano and Chuckie T

             

    Grade

    C+

              

    Analysis

    The crowd was red-hot for Yano, who was easily the most over star on the show to this point. Chuckie T is a long-time indie star who has the respect of fans stateside. All of that taken into consideration, the right team went over here.

    Killer Elite Squad has a distinguishable story in front of them: They are seeking the rematch with Evil and Sanada over the tag team titles they do not believe they should have lost.

    Archer and Smith continue to be the bruising badasses who tear through the tag team division, and that bodes well for their inevitable return match against the current champions whenever Evil returns from injury.

Tanga Loa and Tama Tonga vs. Marty Scurll and Cody

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    The implosion of Bullet Club continued Sunday as The Guerrillas of Destiny (Tama Tonga and Tanga Loa) battled "The Villain" Marty Scurll and Cody in a huge tag team match.

    Prior to the match, Cody attempted to talk his way out of the fight, suggesting everything in Bullet Club was fine. It was not, though, as Loa not only said the match would go on but revealed that if the G.O.D. were on a specific team, it would not be Team Cody.

    Early in the match, Loa and Tonga cleared the ring of Cody, and Scurll appeared to join in on the browbeating of the second-generation star. Unimpressed, the Guerrillas laid him out, sending The Villain scurrying to ringside, and Cody, for protection.

    As Cody found himself on the receiving end of an onslaught by Tonga, Brandi Rhodes pulled her husband from ringside and Scurll flattened Tonga with a kick to turn the tide in the heels' favor.

    Scurll teased his chicken wing but before he could execute the submission hold, Cody tagged himself in and tried for the Cross Rhodes. Tonga reversed into one of his own and made the tag to Loa.

    Loa endured several chops from Rhodes, all of which fueled his intensity.

    At one point, Cody mocked Kenny Omega, drawing major heat from the crowd. The former WWE star and son of the legendary Dusty Rhodes would get the last laugh, though, delivering Cross Rhodes to Loa to score the pinfall victory.

            

    Result

    Cody and Scurll defeated Loa and Tonga

                

    Grade

    B

                

    Analysis

    Cody did some brilliant heel work here, getting the fans in Long Beach to express their hatred for his character.

    Whether on the microphone or in the ring, Cody has embraced the freedom this independent run has given him and really become a better and more well-rounded performer than he was in WWE.

    His mocking of Omega added heat to their impending match, while his antics against two competitors supposed to be in the Bullet Club family only deepened the schism that exists within the world-renowned faction.

    Scurll was great in his limited screen time, really playing up some of the comedy to take the edge off the match ever so slightly.

Eight-Man Tag Team Match

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    Los Ingobernables' Tetsuya Naito, Sanada, Bushi and Hiromu Takahashi battled Dragon Lee, Ryusuke Taguchi, Kushida and the great Hiroshi Tanahashi in a gigantic Eight-Man Tag Team match.

    Just when it appeared as though Naito and Tanahashi would rekindle their rivalry, Los Ingobernables jumped The Ace and the match was underway.

    Dragon Lee and Takahashi paired off, unloading on each other with a series of brutal open-palm chops to the chest that drew a thunderous ovation from fans.

    The action broke down and all eight competitors were soon at each other. The babyfaces seized control, all four of them introducing Takahashi to an onslaught that left him reeling and at Kushida's mercy.

    Tanahashi tagged in and delivered duel dragon screws to Bushi and Takahashi, the paired off with Sanada. The tag team champion delivered a springboard dropkick that put the legend down, then he tagged Naito into the match.

    Taguchi tagged himself in and unloaded his trademark hip attacks to his opponents. An ankle lock to Naito followed.

    The babyfaces applied their signature submissions to their opponents, but Takahashi broke things up. Dragon Lee wiped him out at ringside, leaving Taguchi and Naito back inside the squared circle. Another ankle lock was interrupted by Sanada, who ate a Sling Blade from Tanahashi.

    Ultimately, the heels scored the win with Naito's Destino on Taguchi.

             

    Result

    Los Ingobernables defeated Tanahashi, Kushida, Dragon Lee and Taguchi

                 

    Grade

    B+

                

    Analysis

    An explosive, energetic and exciting match that allowed all eight competitors to shine, including Tanahashi and Naito.

    The outcome is unlikely to have any long-lasting effects on the New Japan product and was more likely a showcase for the popular heel faction Los Ingobernables.

    Taguchi loses nothing via his pinfall defeat, while Naito earns a bit of momentum after an uneven start to 2018. The best match to this point on the card.

Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Will Ospreay

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    Credit: New Japan Pro-Wrestling

    Originally scheduled to be Rey Mysterio Jr. vs. Jushin Thunder Liger, the bout was changed late to Liger vs. Will Ospreay after the future Hall of Famer suffered a torn biceps two weeks ago.

    Mysterio appeared in front of the Long Beach fans and expressed disappointment at not being able to wrestle against Liger and for New Japan.

    Liger drew a huge ovation, proving his undeniable legacy resonates even in America, where his star still burns bright. His opponent, Ospreay, was greeted warmly by fans who appreciate the reputation he is building for himself as IWGP junior heavyweight champion.

    Jim Ross brought the age difference between the two to the attention of the viewing audience, revealing Liger had been wrestling professionally for nine years by the time Ospreay was born.

    The back-and-forth nature of the match gave way to Liger dropping Ospreay on his head on the concrete at ringside. The champion, whose title was not on the line in this one, managed to slide back into the ring and prevent a count-out at 19.

    Ospreay landed on his feet at one point and appeared to have injured his left leg. Even favoring that leg, he still managed to soar through the air and wipe Liger out at ringside.

    With Mysterio watching at ringside, a slightly overconfident Ospreay attempted a 619 but Liger avoided it. He would not evade further attack from the young star, who continued to put the veteran at a disadvantage.

    Liger fought his way back into the match, blocking the OsCutter and following up with a vertical brainbuster off the ropes.

    Ospreay overcame a potential knee injury and the experience of Liger to deliver the OsCutter and score the win.

    After the match, the victor applauded the efforts of his opponent and thanked him for everything he has and will do for the industry. He continued, saying he wanted to carve out his own legacy and to do so, he needs to go through legends. He ultimately issued a challenge for a match with Mysterio, drawing chants of "yes!" from the fans in Long Beach.

    His promo was cut short by Marty Scurll, who attacked with his umbrella. Mysterio tried to make the save, but Scurll attacked and took his mask. Liger made the save.

                

    Result

    Ospreay defeated Liger

                 

    Grade

    B

                 

    Analysis

    The junior heavyweight champion is younger and will be a star for either New Japan or another organization for a long time.

    His showing here, gutting it out despite what could have been a knee injury, was superb. He extended his winning streak over Liger to 4-0, then delivered a challenge to Mysterio that will have the wrestling world eagerly anticipating that showdown.

    The involvement of Scurll suggests his rivalry with Ospreay is far from over. Given their chemistry, that is hardly a bad thing.

    A lot happened here, but all of it made sense within the stories being told and Ospreay came across as a starjust as he should have.

Tomohiro Ishii and Kazuchika Okada vs. Minoru Suzuki and Zack Sabre Jr.

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    Credit: New Japan Pro-Wrestling

    One week before challenging for Kazuchika Okada's IWGP Heavyweight Championship, 2018 New Japan Cup winner Zack Sabre Jr. teamed with IWGP intercontinental champion Minoru Suzuki to battle Okada and Tomohiro Ishii.

    Sabre and Okada gave a brief taste of things to come, pairing off and engaging in some chain wrestling to start.

    Soon, Ishii and Suzuki battled, two of the hardest-hitting wrestlers in the business engaging in a snug exchange of strikes. The heels took control of the bout, cutting the ring off and isolating The Stone Pitbull from The Rainmaker.

    The lower leg of Ishii was the target for Suzuki and Sabre, both of whom attempted to tap him out.

    Instead, Ishii made the hot tag to Okada, who exploded into the match and delivered a running back elbow to Sabre for a count of two. A DDT followed as chants for the champion broke out.

    Sabre applied the octopus to Okada, then countered a Tombstone piledriver into a double wristlock as he demonstrated his distinct submission style. Ishii broke up the hold but ate a big boot from Suzuki.

    Okada applied a cobra clutch, but Sabre rolled out. The Brit countered a Rainmaker attempt into an armbar and tagged in Suzuki, who continued the attack on Okada's arm.

    Suzuki and Ishii paired off, again unloading on each other with stiff, bone-rattling strikes that drew gasps from the crowd. Both men were staggered but continued to throw forearms at each other.

    Ishii countered a sleeper attempt by Suzuki but ate a knee to the midsection. Sabre tagged in and joined Suzuki in double-team offense.

    The Stone Pitbull continued to fend off the onslaught of his opposition until Okada re-entered the match. He fought Suzuki to the floor while Ishii and Sabre battled in the ring. Sabre eventually trapped him in Orienteering with Napalm Death, his new and incredibly effective submission. After the match, he trapped Okada in an Octopus to send a message to his April 1 opponent.

            

    Result

    Sabre Jr and Suzuki defeated Okada and Ishii

               

    Grade

    B

                

    Analysis

    A really solid tag team match that put over the submission prowess of Sabre while also painting him as the most dangerous wrestler on the roster. His ability to escape and evade, as well as punish his opponent with his unrivaled submission arsenal, is truly special and unlike anything else seen in New Japan.

    Like a shark smelling blood in the water, he has the uncanny ability to pick his opponent apart and get even the toughest competitors to submit at his hand.

    As was the case with the double-tough Ishii.

    More of a showcase for Sabre with a hint of brutality courtesy of Suzuki and Ishii to round it out.

IWGP United States Championship Match: Jay White vs. Hangman Page

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    Credit: New Japan Pro-Wrestling

    "Switchblade" Jay White was presented an opportunity to join Bullet Club by Kenny Omega in an attempt by The Cleaner to bring unity to the faction. White betrayed him, joined Chaos and became the top threat to Omega's title.

    He captured the gold from Omega on January 28 and Hangman Page immediately made his desire to win the title apparent, grabbing it from the new champion and confronting him moments after the win over Omega. Sunday, their rivalry culminated in a heated championship encounter.

    Page was ruthlessly aggressive from the get-go and that continued as the fight spilled to the arena floor. He punished White, sending him face-first into the ring post. The champion fought back into the match, even earning control of the match with a series of suplexes that drew comparisons to the late Eddie Guerrero from Jim Ross.

    White continued his attack, controlling the heart of the match and trying for his Blade Runner finish on the ring apron. Instead, Hangman Page countered. White shrugged it off and delivered a release German suplex to the arena floor.

    White attempted another German suplex from the top rope, but Page countered and delivered a spinning neckbreaker from the top rope. A two-count followed as the challenger was unable to put his opponent away.

    "There's another level where the big money is made and these two young men are looking to get there and stay there," Ross said, putting over the toughness and tenacity of the competitors.

    Page was driven from the ring to the floor with another wicked suplex. White followed with another side suplex as he attempted to wear down the Bullet Club enforcer. White tried for the Blade Runner, but Page countered with a powerbomb and then followed up with a piledriver.

    From the apron, Page delivered a Shooting Star Press that wiped the champion out. He delivered the Buckshot Lariat and nearly scored the victory as the crowd came alive for both men. White answered with the Kiwi Crusher but could only keep Page down for two.

    The Blade Runner followed up shortly thereafter and White retained his title.

    After the match, David Finlay exploded into the ring with a spear, laying White out. He swore he would never be done fighting his former tag team partner and issued a challenge for a match, with the title on the line, on April 24.

                     

    Result

    White defeated Page

               

    Grade

    B

                   

    Analysis

    This was a tough, hard-fought match between two young stars who figure to be cornerstones of whatever company they appear in. White may have won, but Page was made to look every bit the worthy challenger as he withstood a ton of scary-looking offense from Switchblade.

    Even in defeat, Page gained a ton via his performance. It would not be a stretch to suggest Hangman could be a world champion for any promotion in the world if given the opportunity, and more performances like this will only inspire such confidence.

    The attack by Finlay was unexpected and set up a big match for April 24. Unfortunately, the angle was not hot enough, perhaps because no one actually believes the Northern Ireland-born fighter will win that match.

    No matter how talented he may be, he simply does not have the exposure of emphasis put on him by NJPW that White has.

Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi vs. The Young Bucks

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    Credit: New Japan Pro-Wrestling

    Kenny Omega was once synonymous with Bullet Club, and he formed The Elite with The Young Bucks. They traveled the world together, even creating a hit web-exclusive show entitled Being The Elite.

    When The Bucks and the rest of Bullet Club betrayed Omega, Kota Ibushi came to the rescue, reforming the successful Golden Lovers tag team with Omega.

    Setting out to prove they are the best tag team in the world, not Ibushi and Omega, The Young Bucks announced their intentions to move up to the heavyweight division, beginning with their match against their former ally and his new tag team partner.

    Matt and Nick Jackson were left standing early, much to the dismay of the fans, who wanted so desperately to see Omega and Ibushi emerge victorious. Instead, The Young Bucks reminded fans why they have been the most successful tag team in wrestling for years now.

    With Ibushi down at ringside, Nick had to talk his brother out of using a table to continue his assault on Omega.

    The Golden Lovers responded to the onslaught by The Young Bucks, taking the fight to the competitors at ringside.

    Matt found himself in trouble as Ibushi worked over his lower back, a part of his body that has severely effected him throughout the year, dating back to January. He screamed in pain after a vicious backbreaker from Omega.

    As the match progressed, the action fell apart. All four competitors entered the ring and double-team attacks reigned supreme. The Young Bucks, in particular, nearly scored a pinfall on Ibushi.

    A double-team superplex from The Golden Lovers to Matt only further damaged his back.

    Nick prevented Omega and Ibushi from finish his brother, laying Omega on a table between the ring and guardrail. Matt, momentarily recovered, was hunched on the top rope but was soon knocked off following a bicycle kick from Ibushi.

    A springboard release German suplex from Ibushi off the shoulders of Omega to Matt scored a two-count.  Matt, showing great guts and toughness, countered a standing moonsault by getting his knees up, and caught Ibushi in a Sharpshooter.

    A moonsault from the top rope by Nick to Omega on the floor allowed Matt to reapply the hold to Ibushi. Unfortunately, his back would not allow him to keep hold of the move. It did not matter.

    Nick delivered a beautiful 450 splash to Ibushi and Matt threw caution to the wind, delivering an elbow drop to Omega, through a table, as The Young Bucks rolled.

    All four men crawled, scratched and fought to remain in the war before Matt ripped off his weightlifting belt and whipped Omega. The Cleaner responded by tossing the belt aside and delivering stiff V-Triggers to the face. Matt caught a charging Omega with a spear, though, cutting off the attack.

    Nick called for the Meltzer Driver, but Matt was unable to execute the move due to his back. Ibushi delivered a Last Ride powerbomb through a table, and The Golden Lovers delivered their own incarnation of the Meltzer Drive but were only able to score a two-count.

    At the insistence of Ibushi, Omega delivered the running V-Trigger and executed the One Winged Angel. Nick came from out of nowhere to break up the pin as chants of "New Japan" broke out some 37 minutes into the match.

    With Nick again disposed of at ringside, Omega and Ibushi delivered the Golden Trigger for the win.

    After the match, Cody confronted The Young Bucks, berating them for their loss. Omega made the save and shook hands with Nick but could not convince Matt to do the same.

                    

    Result

    The Golden Lovers defeated The Young Bucks

                  

    Grade

    A+

                 

    Analysis

    The storytelling in this match was superb.

    Omega was torn, his friendship with The Young Bucks keeping him from doing what was absolutely necessary to score the win. That emotional anguish led to Ibushi demanding he obliterate Matt Jackson with the V-Trigger, then the One Winged Angel and ultimately the Golden Trigger.

    His reluctance proved that, though he was betrayed by the Bucks, he still had a lengthy relationship with them that prevented him from doing them any real harm. With that demon exorcised, he can move on and further distance himself from the faction he was so integral in building to an international sensation.

    Speaking of Matt, he was outstanding here.

    While the emphasis was on Omega and his personal choice, Matt was very much the heart and soul here. He was defiant in the face of a united Golden Lovers front. He dared them to attack and demanded Omega man-up and put him away. 

    For all the criticisms of The Young Bucks and their supposed lack of psychology, Matt sold his injuries, and his performance was very much the glue that held the match together. A classic performance by one-half of a tag team that is polarizing but, on this night, was the legitimate best team in the world.