New Japan were back in action to start off September, with the return of their Lion’s Gate Project shows.

One of the big complaints about New Japan recently has been the lack of Young Lions on their shows, with David Finlay staring at the ceiling for midcard guys. Hopefully the card today will provide us with some new black-trunked youngsters to go into those opening matches… Aside from a tasty New Japan vs. NOAH main event, the bulk of today’s card is rookie vs. veteran matches, with the likes of New Zealander Aaron Henry taking on 17-year veteran Quiet Storm, and NOAH’s Kenou – fresh from the Super J Cup – facing New Japan Young Boy Teruaki Kanemitsu.

We’re back to the “single, fixed camera” view, which likely means we’ll see at least one person dive off screen today.

Katsuya Kitamura vs. Tomoyuki Oka
We started off with a pre-show match Katsuya Kitamura and Tomoyuki Oka. This is likely to be all grappling, much like their last encounter at the first Lion’s Gate Project show.

Kitamura takes Oka to the ropes for a break, before he goes for an armbar, which gets reversed. Kitamura gets a toe-hold, and keeps Oka down, before Oka pushes free from the hold. Oka finally gets some offence in the form of a headlock takedown, but it’s short-lived, and he goes back to the arm, wrenching away on it and grounding Kitamura with an armbar.

Kitamura rolls into the ropes to break the armbar, then makes a comeback with a single-leg crab with Oka nowhere near the ropes… but he still drags himself into making the break. Oka’s dragged back into the middle of the ring, and gets caught in a toe-hold a la Terry Funk, which is then turned into a leg grapevine which eventually ends in another rope break.

From the stand-up, Oka stomps away at Kitamura, then snapmares him into a rear chinlock, but Kitamura frees himself and applies a grounded hammerlock, forcing another rope break. A Fireman’s carry is blocked, so Kitamura just flapjacks Oka for a series of near-falls, before he tries a half-and-half suplex for another two-count.

Oka lands a belly to belly suplex, then turns over Kitamura into a Boston crab… but Kitamura hangs on and grabs the rope as the bell sounds to mark the time limit draw. Hey, it was short, basic, but pretty fun for no-frills grappling. No way in hell would you see a flapjack get a pair of quick near-falls in a “main roster” show though! **

Henare vs. Quiet Storm
Aaron Henry, or “Henare”, as he’s just called here, is the latest in the line of Kiwis making a name for themselves in the wrestling world these days, following the likes of Jay White, Travis Banks and TK Cooper, to name just three.

Henare’s got the usual Young Lions’ black trunks get-up, whilst Quiet Storm seems to be a mash-up of Mike Awesome and Hernandez.

Henare gets taken to the ropes from the opening tie-up, before he trades hammerlock with the more-experienced Storm, and gets taken down into a headlock. Rolling back from the headlock gets Henare a one-count, before a shoulder tackle sent him back to the mat. Some chops barely fazed Storm, but Storm’s replies certainly did.

Storm tied up Henare with an armbar, before an elbow drop gets him a near-fall. The pair traded forearms and chops, before a spinning back elbow off the ropes saw Henare take Storm down. Henare whipped Storm into the corner, but was met with a big boot, before another back elbow dropped Storm for a two-count.

Storm reverses another whip into the corner, then dropped Henare with a lariat in the corner, and then a bodyslam. A diving cross body to a sat-up Henare gets a two-count, before Storm gets another near-fall after reversing a suplex, and then gets the win with a lariat. A decent showing for Henare here, and I’ll be digging out some of his older stuff to see what he was like before the Young Lion treatment. **½

Hirai Kawato vs. Hajime Ohara
Kawato is one of the Young Lions you’ll no doubt have seen by ringside for any number of New Japan shows as of late, whilst Ohara is a 12 year veteran. Yep, we’re still at opposite ends of the experience spectrum here.

Kawato is the home favourite, and he started by going for a waistlock, only to be caught in an armbar, and eventually taken down by Ohara, who tied him up in the Cattle Mutilation early on. The double armbar continued and was turned into a wristlock, reversed back and forth, with Kawato scoring a headlock takedown that was quickly nullified.

Kawato slaps Ohara in the ropes, and gets a few forearms in response, but he takes as good as he gets, and even drops Ohara with a flying forearm off the ropes. Ohara takes some kicks to the chest, then catches one en route to an eye rake, then slams Kawato hard to the mat. After trapping Kawato in the ropes, Ohara wrenches back with a chinlock, then dropkicks Kawato as he was still caught between the middle and top strand.

Ohara grabs a rear chinlock, but Kawato elbows free, but runs into the path of another chinlock and gets wrestled to the mat for a series of one-counts. After finally getting a two-count, Ohara goes for a single-leg Boston crab, which Kawato finally breaks via the ropes.

A dropkick from Kawato sends Ohara to the mat, and counters an avalanche charge before connecting with a springboard missile dropkick for a near-fall. Kawato transitions from the kick-out into a single leg Boston crab of his own, with Ohara dragging his way into the ropes, before making a comeback by dropkicking Kawato into the turnbuckles.

Ohara follows with an avalanche forearm, then another dropkick in the corner. Kawato elbows out of a back suplex, before falling into a Fireman’s carry that was turned into a regular backbreaker for a near-fall. Seconds later, Ohara picked up Kawato for a modified vertebreaker, and then tied him up in the Muy Bien – a single-leg Boston crab with an added armbar – for the submission win. Another good match involving a rookie, Kawato showed he could hang with Ohara, but the real test would come when he’s stuck with another Young Lion for many matches. **½

Teruaki Kanemitsu vs. Kenou
Kenou had a decent run in the Super J Cup this year, reaching the second round before losing to eventual winner KUSHIDA. Kenou and Kanemitsu grapple early, with Kenou grabbing a wristlock, which is reversed by the rookie. From a headlock, Kanemitsu shoves Kenou into the ropes, but gets taken down with a shoulder tackle, before replying with a back elbow off the ropes.

Kenou kicked at Kanemitsu, sending him flying to the mat, before a rear chinlock ended when Kanemitsu wriggled to the ropes. More kicks send Kanemitsu down, as Kenou went for a pin, then transitioned into the single leg Boston crab – today’s favourite move, clearly. The pair exchange slaps, with Kanemitsu landing a dropkick, then an avalanche forearm, and a shoulder tackle, ending with a spinebuster, only for Kenou to quickly grab an ankle lock on the rookie.

Kenou dropped down and scissored the leg, but Kanemitsu held on, and eventually hauled himself to the bottom rope. Kanemitsu rolled away from a double stomp, and landed a second spinebuster after a ducked kick, and then the Boston crab, which Kanemitsu lost control of, allowing Kenou to make the ropes with ease.

A suplex from Kanemitsu was reversed, allowing Kenou to sweep the legs and hit a double stomp to the back, before a Shining Wizard to the back, and a double stomp off the top rope almost got Kenou the win. Seconds later, a PK did the trick, as the rookies picked up another loss. Decent, but Kanemitsu’s still needing a lot of work to be done. **¼

Shiro Tomoyose vs. Tomoaki Honma
The 25-year-old Tomoyose is one of NOAH’s rookies, whilst Honma… no introduction needed, surely?

Honma reversed a waistlock early on, then a wristlock, before standing up from a headlock takedown in what’s seemingly a default opening sequence. Tomoyose takes down Honma and stomps away, before a single chop from the veteran decks him, then works into a single leg Boston Crab that forces Tomoyose to grab the ropes.

Tomoyose fires back with forearms, but they barely register as Honma swiped him to the mat. A crossbody finally takes Honma down, as does a bodyslam, with a leaping elbow and a legdrop seeing Tomoyose score a Kokeshi for a near-fall. That can’t be true… Kokeshis always miss! Honma takes some forearms to the back, but slides out of a suplex and counters with a DDT. An Irish whip sends Tomoyose into the corner, where Honma follows with a bulldog out of it, then an authentic Kokeshi (which also hits), before Tomoyose fights out of a suplex attempt.

The pair trade shots back and forth, but Honma runs into a dropkick and takes an Avalanche in the corner from the rookie. Tomoyose goes up top, and connects with a Nakanishi-like crossbody for a near-fall, only to be felled by a leaping Kokeshi after he’d sent Honma into the ropes. After missing to lariats, Honma takes a slap, before dumping Tomoyose on his head with a lariat for a near-fall, which led to Honma connecting with a swandive Kokeshi for the win. Good stuff, and it actually makes a change not seeing Honma miss 80% of those headbutts! **¾

GO Asakawa vs. David Finlay
Asakawa’s from the Kaientai Dojo, and is very much a rookie, whilst Finlay seems to have found a black vest.. And leopard print trunks? Has he finally moved out of the Young Lion designation?

Finlay grabs a waistlock, then wrestles for a hammerlock, only for Asakawa to fight free as both men struggled to gain an advantage. We saw Finlay wrench in a headlock, and resisted being shoved off by Asakawa, who succeeded only to get taken down by a Finlay shoulder tackle. A back elbow from Finlay rocks Asakawa, who fired back with a body slam, then some forearms.

Finlay landed a back suplex for a near-fall, before going for a leg grapevine that forces Asakawa into the ropes. An European uppercut sends Asakawa staggering into the ropes, then down to the mat, before he fired back with a forearm to the German’s midsection.

A running forearm into the corner rocks Finlay, before another running forearm from Asakawa puts Finlay down, and in place for a sliding lariat for a near-fall. Finlay elbows out of an Exploder suplex, then runs into the corner with an uppercut before stomping Asakawa off the middle ropes and out of the corner for a near-fall.

Asakawa turns a suplex into a small package for a near-fall, then he dumps Finlay on his head with a hiptoss that looked more like a judo throw. A spinning uranage gets Asakawa a near-fall, and Asakawa’s offence continued with more strikes until a uranage backbreaker gets Finlay a near-fall, before a stunner (!!) gets Finlay the win. This seemed a little short, but it was perfectly fine for what it was. **¾

Ayato Yoshida vs. Juice Robinson
At 23, Yoshida’s another Kaientai Dojo rookie, going up against “sort-of” Young Lion Juice Robinson.

Yoshida grabs a wristlock, but it gets reversed… and you know how pretty much every other match today’s started. Add in some cartwheels, and you get the drill. Robinson clings onto a headlock, before he shoves off Yoshida and finally lands a shoulder block.

Yoshida replies with an armdrag, then a kick to get him a near-fall, and then it’s his turn for a headlock, but Robinson pushes free, then squashes him with a back senton. A series of headbutts from Robinson dazes Yoshida, who then gets whipped into the corner, and met with avalanche clotheslines, before a suplex gets Juice a two-count.

Yoshida slaps at Robinson’s chest, so he gets some forearms as a receipt, but Robinson’s second back senton gets nothing but knees. He popped up quickly and took a slam from Yoshida, who chopped away with kicks and a knee lift, before taking down Robinson with a bulldog. Robinson got to his feet, but was quickly floored with a dropkick for a near-fall, before he had to ram into a corner to break a mounted sleeperhold.

Robinson’s cannonball dive missed as Yoshida rolled away, before a Side Effect got him a near-fall. A leg lariat got Robinson back on track, before he powerbombed Yoshida for a near-fall, despite a stacked-up pin. An Unprettier attempt from Robinson was countered with another mounted sleeperhold, this time sending Juice to his knees, but Robinson fought free and dropped Yoshida with a sidewalk slam.

Yoshida kicked away a clothesline, before falling to a lariat, as Robinson went for the Unprettier again, and this time drilled him with the move for the win. Not too bad, still basic stuff, but they kept it short enough. **½

Hitoshi Kumano vs. Ryusuke Taguchi
NOAH’s Kumano has been wrestling for three years, and Taguchi… add him to the “no introduction needed” folder if you’ve been watching New Japan for any length of time!

Kumano refuses a handshake, and we get the standard opening with wristlocks, hammerlocks and headlocks. Taguchi takes down Kumano and grabs a headlock, and the two square off after Kumano reverses it. After offering a handshake of his own, Kumano instead switches up and backslides Taguchi for a two-count, and then catches a hip attack, dropping Taguchi with an atomic drop.

Kumano rolls up Taguchi, but the referee doesn’t count for some reason, so Kumano just slaps Taguchi in the rear before landing some hip attacks of his own. Copying your opponent’s moves must be a NOAH thing, I guess? Taguchi drops Kumano with a series of hip attacks, then ties him up in a grounded armbar, keeping hold of it until Kumano finally rolled into the ropes. More hip attacks from Taguchi follow, before a missed leaping hip attack gives Kumano a chance to take him down with a forearm. Kumano launches into Taguchi with more forearms in the corner, before Taguchi slips out of a suplex, only to get forearmed on the top rope, and brought down to the mat with a superplex for a near-fall.

Taguchi elbows free of a move, and trades forearms with Kumano, before rolling down into an ankle lock, then turning it into a heel hook, but Kumano’s able to reach out for the ropes. More hip attacks as Kumano was in the ropes, before a sliding hip attack got him another two-count. Kumano tried to fight out of the Dodon, and succeeded at first, before rolling back on another Dodon attempt for a near-fall.

Kumano ducked an enziguiri and scored a two-count with a roll-up, before another roll-up from a Dodon attempt almost saw him take the win. The pair traded hip attacks, before Taguchi finally landed the Dodon facebuster for the win. Not spectacular, but I enjoyed the back and forth with both men going for endless hip attacks. ***

Go Shioaki, Maybach Taniguchi, Katsuhiko Nakajima, Masa Kitamiya & Kaito Kiyomiya vs. Katsuyori Shibata, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Satoshi Kojima, Yuji Nagata & Manabu Nakanishi
A continuation of the NOAH vs. New Japan feud that bubbled up towards the end of the G1 here, and this match would look at home on any New Japan undercard!

The match starts with a ten-way brawl, and with the fixed camera, this is going to be hard to follow, particularly since they all left the ring. The dangers of fixed camera broadcasting, folks! Shibata got sent head first into the announcer’s table by Shiozaki, as Nakanishi in the ring resisted an Irish whip and slugged it out with Taniguchi.

A double axehandle finally dropped Taniguchi for a near-fall, but he came back with a bodyslam off the ropes before tagging in Kaito Kiyomiya – very much the odd one out in this match, as he’s still a rookie. Nakanishi chopped away at Kiyomiya, then landed a double axehandle before tagging in Tenzan, who headbutted the rookie.

Mongolian chops from Tenzan kept Kiyomiya down, as did a spinning heel kick, which got Tenzan a near-fall. Kojima came in and unloaded on Kiyomiya, before clearing Masa Kitamiya off the apron for some reason. The crash test dummy treatment for Kitomiya continued with the arrival of Shibata, who lit him up with chops, and then grounded him with a rear chinlock.

Shibata knocked Shiozaki off the apron, which gave Kitomiya a chance to get some shots in, but Shibata withstood them and dropped the rookie with a slap. Bored of beating up a test dummy, Shibata tossed Kitomiya into the corner, which allowed Shiozake to tag in as the pair laid into each other with forearms.

A diving forearm from Shiozaki took down Shibata, before Nagata made the mistake of entering the ring, and getting tossed out by Nakajima. Shibata and Shiozaki went at it in the corner, dishing out chops and forearms like they were going out of fashion, before Shiozaki’s Fisherman buster got him a near-fall.

Shibata dropped Shiozaki with a German suplex, before landing the diving dropkick into the corner, and a butterfly suplex for a near-fall. Shiozaki took some face-washing boots, before the pair traded forearms and uppercuts, ending with a Shiozaki dropkick. A German suplex from Shibata dumps Go, who quickly returned the favour, only for Shibata to pop up and drop him with an STO. EVIL will be watching…

Masa Kitamiya and Satoshi Kojima finally tagged in, but Kitamiya misses a back elbow in the corner, and went straight into the path of the rapid-fire chops. Kitamiya cuts off Kojima before he could go for the elbow drop, but a DDT gets Kojima back on track, as does a rolling elbow. Kitamiya deadlifts Kojima up for a suplex, before bringing in Nakajima, as the pair work to squash Kojima in the corner and bring him out with a dropkick.

Nakajima kicks Nagata off the apron, before missing a PK on Kojima, who replied with a Koji Cuttter and then tags in Nagata. Some Nagata kicks send Nakajima into the corner, but he replied with a pump kick, as the pair went to forearm shots, before Nakajima downed Nagata with a Dragon screw leg whip. A Yakuza kick kept Nagata at bay, but he kneed his way out of a back suplex attempt, as the NOAH team stormed the ring to clear the apron. Everyone else fought around ringside as Nakajima kicked at Nagata in the corner.

Nagata got back to his feet, and took down Nakajima with the eye-rolling armbar as the home team flooded the team, knocking the NOAH guys to the floor. Kiyomiya tried to run in to break it up, and unwisely got to a fight with Nagata… and got thrown to the outside. Nakajima hit an enziguiri then tagged out to Kiyomiya, who renewed his tussle with Nagata, dropping him with a spinning back elbow. A leaping forearm and a suplex got Kiyomiya a near-fall, before Nagata elbowed out of a German suplex attempt, and got the same back.

A running knee to the midsection got Nagata a two-count that was broken up by Kitamiya, and the ring filled up again, as Kitamiya took out Kojima and Tenzan. The NOAH team assaulted Nagata five-on-one, with Kiyomiya scoring a missile dropkick for a near-fall, before everyone but he and Nagata went to the floor. Kiyomiya caught Nagata in a Boston crab, but Nagata powered out, but was slapped down again. An overhead belly to belly suplex surprised Kiyomiya, who eventually fell to the Backdrop Hold. Well, the red flag of a rookie on the NOAH team proved to be right, but the kid held his own in a really entertaining main event. ***½

Afterwards, the ring filled up as the two teams continued their war, with Shibata in particular locking Shiozaki in a rear naked choke, forcing the more pull-aparts. Hey, you can’t argue with Shibata… if you did, he’d just choke you out! Our kick you in the head… neither are good things.

For a card full of rookie vs. veteran matches, this was about what you’d expect. Nothing mind-blowingly good, but likewise, nothing so awful you’d question why you watched it in the first place. Unless you fancy taking a look at the future of New Japan’s Young Lions, you can probably get away with skipping this show, but at least give the main event a watch.