New Japan Cup USA is returning for its second year! A drastic change from what we would usually expect with a New Japan Cup, this year the winner will not earn themselves a championship title shot. Instead, they will become the champion: one of the eight men filling the stacked brackets will become the first ever Strong Openweight Champion! After the very mixed reception (putting it kindly) to the new IWGP World Heavyweight Championship, the Strong Openweight title has taken a far more clean and orthodox approach.
The first iteration of the New Japan Cup USA in 2020 was filled with regular names and faces, seven of the eight being full-fledged roster members, but this year the chance to be etched into NJPW history extends further afield: only three of the eight participants are (confirmed) full-time roster members, and those three all began their journey as Young Lions.
That difference in the brackets from year to year speaks volumes to the progression of New Japan Strong. Originally planted with roots for those unable to travel due to the pandemic, it has grown into its own healthy branch of the NJPW tree; new faces have become regular; stories are being written and unbridled strong-style action is exploding in the cerulean blue ring every week. It’s not unfair to admit that Strong was first met with cautious optimism and it struggled to gain any solid momentum, but the influx of talented wrestlers making NJPW their permanent home has afforded Strong distinct uniqueness in the overwhelming wrestling landscape, and that will be on full display in this tournament.
Brody King vs Chris Dickinson
The stand out match of the first round, potentially the entire Cup: both favourites to win the tournament, but only one of them can progress to the semi-final. At Ring of Honor’s 19th Anniversary show, the pair, alongside Tony Deppen and Homicide, shocked the wrestling world by attacking ROH World Champion Rush, the group collectively known as Violence Unlimited (and their merch is sick). Allies in ROH but foes in the Cup, Violence Unlimited is a very befitting description of the action we’ll see in this match.
Brody is the only entrant in the tournament to be making back-to-back appearances, although he’ll be keen to forget his 2020 efforts that ended with a first round loss to Tama Tonga. Brody came close to still holding the Cup’s prize, but his attempt to win the right to challenge contract from 2020 Cup winner KENTA ended in defeat. Already coming close to holding the contract before, the monstrous Brody King will be remiss to let the chance pass him by again.
Dickinson took a few inches off of Blake Christian’s height with a sickening piledriver to earn his spot in the Cup. The Dirty Daddy has been a sensation since making his surprise debut on Strong, his aggression unmatched, chops and kicks that would make Kenta Kobashi and Toshiaki Kawada smile, a new-age throwback. He comes into the Cup with a mountain of momentum, knocking out Sterling Riegel to win in his final pre-Cup match. However, the post-match assault by his brothers in Team Filthy did not sit comfortably with Dickinson’s own morals. Uncertainty now brewing with his Filthy comrade Tom Lawlor, tensions will likely erupt if Lawlor and Dickinson reach the Cup final.
Clark Connors vs Lio Rush
Young lion no more, Clark Connors is heading into this match as an undeserved underdog. Connors NJPW tournament experience cannot be overlooked, having entered the Super J-Cup twice, Young Lion Cup, Super Junior Tag League, and winning the inaugural Lion’s Break Crown. Despite graduating from Katsuyori Shibata’s LA Dojo, Connors is still wearing the black trunks and boots, just like Shibata before him, and the similarities do not stop there. Perhaps too small to be a heavyweight, Connors will undoubtedly make the mightiest of juniors.
Lio Rush earned his way into the tournament by defeating the veteran Rocky Romero, his biggest win in a NJPW ring to date. Despite all the confidence in the world, and the ability to back it up, Rush has come up short in his NJPW ventures so far, losing to El Phantasmo in the first round of the Super J-Cup, which also marked Rush’s NJPW debut. Soaring to heights outside of New Japan, Rush is currently the MLW World Middleweight Champion (and kind-of-but-apparently-not the AAA World Cruiseweight Champion). If he can turn his fortunes favourably like he has elsewhere, the Man of the Hour may just become the man of the tournament.
Ren Narita vs Tom Lawlor
Requesting to join the LA Dojo so he could train underneath Katsuyori Shibata, Ren’s improvement can be seen in his results, most impressively defeating Chris Dickinson in a singles match. Narita was missing in action for nine months when the pandemic began, but since stepping back in the ring he has been nigh-unstoppable. A penchant for amateur wrestling, Narita will be tested unlike ever before when he steps into the ring with Lawlor.
The leader of Team Filthy, Tom Lawlor is as legitimate as they come. An MMA fighter bringing his experience into the squared circle, the menacing Lawlor is undefeated in singles matches within a New Japan ring (4-0). His MMA and amateur background against Narita’s amateur proclivity ensure this match will hit very differently to anything else in the tournament. Notably, Lawlor and his stable-mate Dickinson head into the Cup with tensions high and they sit on opposite sides of the bracket, making for the most intriguing aspect of this Cup. A Lawlor vs Dickinson final, group warfare between two authentic fighters? Yes please!
Fred Rosser vs Hikuleo
Demanding to be put against Rosser in the first round, Hikuleo had his request granted and now has revenge firmly in his sights. The Bullet Club man has a history of family success at his back – his brothers in G.o.D are the current IWGP Tag Team Champions – but this is an opportunity to claim his own success. Towering at over 6ft 8in, Hikuleo stands out unlike anybody else in New Japan, dwarfing the biggest of opponents. He is also the only man in this tournament to have entered the New Japan Cup in Japan, although still a Young Lion at the time he was knocked out in the first round.
Formerly known as Darren Young, Fred Rosser’s hard-hitting power is a far cry from the man we saw dwindling away in WWE. The only rematch of the tournament, Rosser will be entering confident in the knowledge that he already defeated Hikuleo in a singles match less than 2 months ago. A man that left WWE and has found himself a new home representing the lion mark, walking the same path as names such as Juice Robinson and Jon Moxley. Could history repeat itself for Rosser as it has his former WWE colleagues as he now looks to earn his first title in NJPW?
If the early days of Strong didn’t grab you, it’s time to give it a second chance. All is forgiven, no judgement here. It’s not like there are any other wrestling shows that require your attention on a Friday night!
When: Friday April 9th Friday @ 10pm EST/7pm PST (Same time every Friday!)
How to Watch: Available live on NJPW World for only 999¥ per month (roughly £7.50/$9.30)
Notes: English and Japanese commentary will be available!