Videogame producer Daizou Nonaka has been taking a keen interest in NJPW STRONG
Hey everyone, Capcom’s Daizou Nonaka with you once again.
Wrestle Kingdom 15 was really special, right? Two amazing nights, two sets of fantastic title matches. I think especially Hiromu Takahashi and Kota Ibushi set a high standard wrestling back to back and have only elevated the value of the titles they won going into 2021.
Between tours though, we had a little time to shift focus, so I looked across the ocean to America and NJPW STRONG. I’ve always kept my eye on STRONG since its debut, but recently I’ve been completely drawn in; it airs right at noon every Saturday Japan time, and it’s become a weekend ritual for me.
It’s a tight, easy one hour watch, and the shows are all in these four week tour style blocks, each with a clear and easy to understand theme. It’s nice to see some of the wrestlers that compete in Japan showing up on STRONG as well, but my favourite part of the show are the wrestlers you can only find on STRONG. I thought I’d turn my pixel art hand to that cast of characters. Here we go!
Let’s start with the LA Dojo boys. In front are Clark Connors and The DKC, with Karl Fredericks, Alex Coughlin and Kevin Knight behind. Fredericks graduated from the Dojo since winning the Young Lion Cup and started using his new red gear with white accents. He’s really come into his own with a heavyweight strike based style.
Then you’ve got Clark Connors. He won Lion’s Break Crown and really seems to be setting himself up for an impressive run in the junior heavyweight ranks. He takes no prisoners in the ring, but outside of it, you see his fun side in the commercials for LEC, and that makes him hard not to love.
Then there’s newcomer Kevin Knight. he debuted in December, and no question is well worth checking out for that unbelievable dropkick alone. And speaking of new, The DKC is in the house! He appealed to Katsuyori Shibata on January 9 and I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do. He’s smaller in stature, but really brings the fight to his opponents. He fits right in with the New Japan style. As for Coughlin, he’s out right now with an injury, but he’s got a captivating style and he’s really expressive. I’m excited to see him come back.
Here we have our heavyweight contenders. Fred Rosser, Misterioso, PJ Black and Jordan Clearwater. You’d think with his years in WWE that Rosser would have a very American style in the ring, but he fits right in with the Strong Style philosophy.
Misterioso is a heavyweight luchador. He carries a lot of responsibility to represent lucha libre on NJPW STRONG, and does so with the traditional mask, blended with stars and stripes gear on occasion. He leaves an impression, though he’s had to deal with some harsh criticism from Katsuyori Shibata on the Japanese commentary.
I first saw PJ Black in a video vignette introducing him that showed him jumping out of an airplane. That perfectly showed off who he is; a heavyweight but with a high flying approach and an individuality that’s hard to ignore. He’s a heavyweight technician, but one that can hit a 450 out of nowhere as well.
Plus, I can’t ignore Jordan Clearwater, the wrestling prospect who’s moonlighting as a businessman as well! He calls himself ‘the golden boy’ and he has a physique to match. Shibata might make fun of his ring gear, but I think he has a lot of potential.
Of all the junior heavyweights on STRONG, there are three I want to single out: Blake Christian and the Riegel Twins, Logan and Sterling. It’s pretty crowded in the junior heavyweight scene on STRONG, but Blake Christian really stands out to me. he’s quite slight, but he has so many ways to fly at his opponents. Whether off the top, on the run, or springboarding off the ropes, he flies all over, but there’s a real progression to each of his moves as well. It’s a high risk style, amd he always seems beaten up after his matches, but you just can’t take your eyes off him.
As for the Riegels, they’re a tag team really ready to explode on the worldwide scene, I think. They’ve got so many double teams it’s impossible to count, and they’re great to watch, even if they’re hard to tell apart- Sterling is the one with the more pronounced facial hair!
Brody King is someone fans in Japan were already somewhat familiar with before he started on NJPW STRONG. He had a phenomenal match with KENTA at the end of last year. His original offense, and that Gonso Bomb in particular are spectacular. Before STRONG, I saw him as a tag team wrestler, but he’s been a star all of his own on STRONG, and I love to see it.
Next up, Team Filthy. JR Kratos, Danny Limelight, newcomer Chris Dickinson, and the Filthy One himself, Tom Lawlor. It’s been really interesting to see this faction get formed around the former MMA fighter Lawlor, all on STRONG. They’ve certainly made an impact, and they feel very fresh and distinct from groups like BULLET CLUB.
Lawlor might have made a name for himself in MMA, but he’s adapted perfectly to pro-wrestling, even when it comes to the outside brawling that may entail. Plus his denim shorts are… special.
Danny Limelight is the only junior heavyweight in the group, having joined Team Filthy after he turned his back on Rocky Romero. He’s taken a leading role in his tag matches of late. That includes teaming with super heavyweight JR Kratos. He has impressive speed for someone of his size, and seeing him charge at his opponents is scary indeed.
Finally, there’s Chris Dickinson. I’ve only seen the one match he’s had on STRONG to date, so I don’t know much other than he seems to be a strike based wrestler, but there’s no doubt he has explosive ability, and I can’t keep my eyes off those drawstrings on his tights…
So there’s a wide range of characters on STRONG, but they all have something in common. That’s a respect for the NJPW ring. Everybody here comes from differing backgrounds; some from major worldwide promotions, some the LA Dojo, some just trying out, but they all have a respect for NJPW that really comes through, especially in their backstage comments.
I do want to give a little final nod to the English announce team on STRONG. I love seeing Alex Koslov go from a former wrestler to going behind the booth. He has the insight a wrestler can give, and it’s great to see him react as a fan. Kevin Kelly handles play-by-play perfectly, and he really brings out the character of every wrestler in his interviews. And a nod to Chris Charlton for Finish STRONG, a show that breaks things down in English that I can understand as well!
I watch STRONG religiously every Saturday, and I hope you’ll join me every weekend!
Daizou Nonaka is a 37 year veteran of videogame development and pro-wrestling fandom. He never, ever skips the Gekiochi-Kun commercials on World.