By Austin Grinnell
I have not watched any of the first five of the Lion’s Gate Project shows, but the Young Lion’s concept is something that I am familiar with as a fan of puroresu (Japanese Wrestling). For the uninitiated, the young lion program is essentially the training and development program used by New Japan Pro Wrestling. Young men who want to be professional wrestlers, and who want to become one through NJPW, start working out at the New Japan Dojo, where they are trained and educated in the ways of pro wrestling.
When ready, the young lion’s are given plain black tights and boots and thrown out in front of the live audiences, usually serving the same type of role as the North American “jobber”, taking losses against more established opponents. The young lion’s will quite often be pitted against one another as well.
While, occasionally, young lion matches may be difficult to watch, the calibre of talent and training offered up by New Japan keeps me excited to see new young wrestlers. It offers them the ability to learn in front of the big crowds, while developing personality that will continue to grow with their characters later on. My favorite young lion at the moment is Hirai Kawato, as his crazy antics and die-hard approach to his matches have made him quite enjoyable to watch.
Now, the Lion’s Gate Project shows seem to be all about pairing up the young lions with and against more veteran hands, and I am not sure what to expect, but I’ve started the show and it’s time to get down to business!
Tetsuhiro Yagi [Young Lion] Vs El Desperado [Suzuki-gun]
Desperado himself is a product of the New Japan Dojo, and coming off of a last place finish in his block of the Best of the Super Juniors, Desperado can’t really afford anything less than a victory here against the young lion.
Yagi is putting up quite the fight in what’s proving to be a more technical affair than I had anticipated. Both men have been working for various submission holds. Desperado has locked in Numero Dos, a variation of the Stretch Muffler, and forced the submission from the young lion, Tagi.
Winner: El Desperado
Shota Umino & Hirai Kawato [Young Lions] Vs The World Class Tag Team [CHAOS]
The World Class Tag Team consists of Jado & Gedo, who some of you may be familiar with from their time in ECW in the 90’s, sharing the ring with the likes of Rob Vam Dam & Sabu. The match hasn’t even started yet, and there’s crazy Kawato getting into the grill of Jado and trying to pick a fight.
Shota Umino is the son of long-time New Japan referee Red Shoes Uno, who you can identify, surprisingly, by the red shoes that he wears while officiating. There’s no special treatment for Umino though, as Gedo & Jado separate him from partner Kawato. Jado connects with some vicious Knife-Edged Chops, seating Umino in the World Class corner before arrogantly stomping away at the young man.
Outside of the ring, Jado beat Umino with a steel chair across his back while Kawato tried to alert the referee to the shenanigans. It really feels like they’re building to the hot tag here, with Umino struggling to get away from his aggressors, and the veterans using their intelligence and willingness to cheat to their advantage.
While running the ropes after the aforementioned hot-tag, Kawato missed the top rope and had it rebound against his face. Fortunately for the youngster, it didn’t look like it affected him much, as he continued on. Again, Jado is working over Umino with Knife-Edged Chops and scores a near-fall, but Kawato breaks it up. With Gedo holding him back outside of the ring, however, Jado manages to apply the Crossface on Umino and force the submission for the second straight match.
Winners: The World Class Tag Team
Dinosaur Takuma [KAIENTAI Dojo] & Takuya Nomura [BJPW] Vs Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Tiger Mask [NJPW]
-The two young lions in this bout are not from the New Japan Dojo, marking a shift in the show from the first two matches which featured exclusively New Japan talent. Takuma is from the KAIENTAI Dojo, while Nomura wrestles for Big Japan Pro Wrestling. Their opponents in this bout bleed New Japan though, as Tenzan & Tiger Mask represent the veteran guard of the promotion.
Takuma seems to be the bigger of the two young lions and thus, starts the match against former IWGP Heavyweight Champion Tenzan. We get a bit of comedy here early on as Takuma uses his tail to reach for a rope break. He IS a dinosaur after all. A brief exchange between Tiger Mask and Nomura ended with Takuma coming back into the ring. The veterans have been working him over here, with Tiger Mask applying a Figure Four Leglock.
Dinosaur Takuma hit a sloppy looking Slingblade variation, which allowed the tag to his partner. Nomura came in to try and swing the momentum back in their favor, and successfully applied a Cross Armbreaker after Tiger Mask blocked a Fujiwara Armbar attempt. Showing intelligence beyond his years, Nomura continued the attack on Tiger Mask’s arm and even kicked out of a Tiger Bomb.
Tenzan scored a near-fall on Nomura with one of my favorite moves, the Brainbuster, but could not put away the young duo there. Nomura took out Tenzan with a big Dropkick and made the tag to Takuma. The two men tried to single out Tenzan, but just didn’t have enough left to keep up any momentum. Dinosaur Takuma took out both of his opponents with a surprise Spear though, and then hit a really nice Fireman’s Carry Powerslam on Tenzan for a near-fall of his own before eating a Spinning Heel Kick that almost ended the match.
Tenzan came back with a Side Effect and the Anaconda Vice to force the third straight submission victory for the veterans over the young lions on this night.
Winners: Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Tiger Mask
Katsuya Kitamura [Young Lion] Vs Manabu Nakanishi [NJPW]
These two guys work a lot with and against each other, and for good reason. Kitamura is very reminiscent of the elder Nakanishi in many ways. The early goings of this one are just an excuse for each guy to chop the other, until Nakanishi uses a Double Axe Handle to knock over his younger opponent and take control of the match.
Kitamura had a nice display of strength with a Suplex on Nakanishi that turned the tides and allowed him to build up some momentum. A failed German Suplex from Kitamura led to him catching Nakanishi with a Spear off the ropes before applying the Torture Rack briefly. Despite it being one of Nakanishi’s signature moves, Kitamura regularly uses the Torture Rack to great reaction from the crowd.
Nakanishi with a Lariat for a two count, and then the Torture Rack for the submission victory.
Winner: Manabu Nakanishi
Yuma Aoyagi [AJPW] Vs YOSHI-HASHI [CHAOS]
Aoyagi is here representing All Japan Pro Wrestling, against a man who has the attention of Minoru Suzuki, in YOSHI-HASHI. Aoyagi’s been wrestling since late 2014, and is one of the more seasoned young lions showcased on this event. Surprisingly, the youngster has been on the offensive for most of the early parts of the match, but as I type this out, he makes a slip up and the veteran YOSHI-HASHI makes him pay by taking the fight to the outside and sending him into the turnbuckle post.
YOSHI gets the better of the exchange outside of the ring, effectively just beating up his opponent. YOSHI applied an awkward looking Camel Clutch to try and force the submission, but then modified it into a Rear Naked Choke before Aoyagi managed to make it to the rope for a break.
Aoyagi scores with a few quick moves and presses, but runs directly into a Superkick from YOSHI-HASHI for a two count. Aoyagi managed to get a two count of his own with a Fisherman’s Suplex, but could not put away his opponent. Quickly after, he executes a German Suplex to perfection, but the same result of two. YOSHI quickly applied the Butterfly Lock and scored the submission win.
Ayato Yoshida [KAIENTAI Dojo] & Satoshi Kojima [NJPW] Vs Tomoyuki Oka [Young Lion] & Yuji Nagata [NJPW]
-Oka’s been getting some decent shots in multi-man matches featuring Kojima and Nagata in recent months, so Yoshida is the wild card here, and he starts the match out with young lion Oka. The two younger wrestlers come to a stalemate in the first portion of the match, and make way for the old dogs to come in and rumble.
Neither Kojima or Nagata could get the advantage in the beginning. A traditional strong style exchange of strikes led to Kojima gaining the upper hand and tagging Yoshida back in. That may not have been the smartest decision though, as Yoshida immediately turns to exchanging Forearm shots with the legendary “Blue Justice” Yuji Nagata.
Kojima with the Rapid Fire Knife Edged Chops on Oka, followed by the Flying Elbowdrop. Yoshida tagged in and continued the assault on Oka, but not before knocking Nagata off the apron on the other side of the ring. Team Kojima is starting to cook here as the former IWGP Heavyweight Champion takes Oka down with a Neckbreaker and then knocks Nagata back to the floor, prior to tagging Yoshida back into the ring.
Yoshida with a big Penalty Kick gets a two count on Oka, but it’s the teamwork and isolating capabilities of Kojima & Yoshida that is the real story here. Oka manages to get the hot tag in for Nagata, who comes in and immediately takes out Kojima before focusing the brunt of his assault on Yoshida, catching him with boots to the face several times.
Nagata looked to have the match won with an Armbar, but Yoshida made the save and Oka tagged himself in to face off with Kojima. Oka with a big Powerslam and then a Boston Crab on Kojima, but again, Yoshida was there to make the save for his partner with a vicious kick to the back of Oka.
Kojima hit the Koji Cutter on Oka and I thought it was over, but the two count led swiftly to a charging Lariat from Kojima, knocking Oka out for the three count.
Winners: Ayato Yoshida & Satoshi Kojima
Match of the Night:
The main event was solid here. Tomoyuki Oka continues to impress me, looking seasoned beyond his time in the sport. Oka is one of the better young lions when it comes to holding his own in the ring with the established names.
Yuji Nagata and Satoshi Kojima beating each other up will never get old for me either, but the big surprise for me was the performance of Ayato Yoshida, who stood out on the show as far as the young lion talents go. It would appear that Yoshida has been a staple of these Lion’s Gate Project shows, and I look forward very much to seeing more of him in the future. He seems like the kind of guy who could make some noise in a Junior Heavyweight tournament sooner than later.
Next up for New Japan are the Kizuna Road shows from June 18th through June 27th, on the road to the G1 Special in USA on July 1st and 2nd. The next Lion’s Gate Project event will be July 4th and feature a main event of Yuji Nagata against Ayato Yoshida.