If WrestleKingdom is New Japan’s WrestleMania, then these are the matches from Axxess…

New Japan’s at Differ Ariake for perhaps the final time (as the venue, formerly home to Pro Wrestling NOAH, is scheduled to close later this year), and we’ve got three matches that wouldn’t be out of place on a Lion’s Gate Project show as the best of the Young Lions pair up with some of New Japan’s elder statesmen.

We’ll be skipping over the non-wrestling stuff from the “WrestleKingdom Fan Festa”, suca s Will Ospreay randomly coming out with a Terry’s Chocolate Orange, but there was one pretty big announcement in among all this: fans of Fire Pro Wrestling will be happy to know that the PC release of the game last year will be coming to the PS4 in time for this year’s G1… and both versions will feature licensed New Japan wrestlers!

Tiger Mask & Ren Narita vs. Jushin “Thunder” Liger & Tetsuhiro Yagi
We’ve got the guys who finished bottom of the most recent Young Lion Cup, with Yagi and Narita picking up a point each thanks to their final-day draw.

Narita went straight for Liger at the bell, stomping him into the corner as the veteran was caught unawares. Heck, Narita even took him briefly into the guard railings to check off that required spot, only for a Shotei to knock down the rookie back in the ring. A quick tag out from Narita brings Tiger Mask in, enraging Liger, who made a similar tag out himself as Yagi – with a little bit of hair growth – wanted to take his chance too.

Tiger Mask was able to take Yagi down a little quicker, with some kicks knocking the young ‘un down, and it was so bad that even Liger tried to kick his own partner. Hey, it worked, as Yagi fires into a dropkick then a tag out as Liger threw Tiger Mask outside for a baseball slide dropkick into the guard railings. A Romero special followed, but Narita quickly runs in to break it up and gets turfed outside as Liger introduces him to the guard railings. That left Tiger Mask on his own again as he was isolated by Yagi and Liger in the corner, ending when Liger and Tiger hit duelling clotheslines on each other. We’re back to the Young Lions after some tags, with Narita stomping Yagi into the corner once more before chopping the taste out of him.

Yagi replies with chops of his own as this became rather slap happy, with Yagi taking the worst of it before he was caught in a cross armbreaker by Tiger Mask… which turned into a triangle armbar as Liger eventually wandered in to stomp it free. A roll-up after that nearly stole it for Yagi, but with Liger being held outside, it’s a quick finish as a head kick and a Tiger Driver earned the win. Decent enough stuff, but Narita and Yagi didn’t really show too much during their exchanges with each other. **¼

After the match, Liger resumed the beatdown on Narita, stomping him and throwing him into the corner as everyone else just watched on. Oh Tiger Mask, so fickle, he doesn’t even care about his tag partners! Liger, on the other hand, found time to say happy new year in time to music, so… yeah! Happy new year to you too, Liger-san!

Satoshi Kojima & Katsuya Kitamura vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Tomoyuki Oka
He may have won the Young Lion Cup, but Kitamura doesn’t get to have his own music just yet…

Interestingly, we opened with the regular tag partners facing off, as Kojima and Tenzan locked up before going through the usual crowd pleasers. Shoulder tackles first, then Mongolian chops before the Young Lions tagged in, as we got the sometimes/former Monster Rage pair. Ah, remember when Oka was pegged to be in the World Tag League, and then he was… just a ringside attendant for those matches? Still, he’s come a long way since making his debut a year ago today.

They trade chops back-and-forth as Oka edged ahead with a running shoulder tackle, only for Kitamura to change tack and just throw him down with a gutwrench suplex as Oka was dragged into the wrong corner. Kitamura and Kojima exchange regular tags as they wear down Oka, until he eventually hit one of his special belly-to-belly suplexes. That gets Oka a chance to tag in Tenzan, who made a beeline for Kitamura with more Mongolian chops, before suplexing the Young Lion Cup holder for a near-fall. From the kick-out, Tenzan segues it into an Anaconda Vise, but Kojima wanders in to break it up… and get sent outside as Tenzan continued his stomps.

A spear from Kitamura puts an end to that, as a tag to Kojima gives us some mocking Mongolian chops… which Tenzan stops with a Mountain bomb. Conveniently, Oka wants back in but he quickly misses a charge and eats some Machine gun chops from Kojima, before turning things back in his favour as Kojima was thrown into his regular partner.

Oka finishes Kojima with a powerslam, but rather than go for a pin, Kojima’s rolled into a Boston crab… and of course he’s not tapping to the Standard Issue Submission, as the Bread Lover powers out with ease before working up into a Koji Cutter for a near-fall. Once Oka was back to his feet, Kojima goes for the Strong Arm Lariat, and that does the job as the two K’s get the W. Fun enough, and this time we didn’t have the Young Lions overshadowed as much. **¾

Manabu Nakanishi & Shota Umino vs. Yuji Nagata & Hirai Kawato
We said this during the latter stages of the Young Lion Cup, but Umino’s sneaking in a good run as a rookie here, having really filled out his frame in recent weeks. That’s not a snide way of calling him fat, but he’s definitely headed towards the heavyweight ranks once he graduates.

This time we start with the youngsters, but it’s Kawato who gets the first break as he grabbed an armbar on Umino before the elder statesmen of New Japan tagged in. Their tie-up spot was a little more ponderous, with Nagata being sunk to his knees before the pair traded kicks and forearms as Nakanishi edged ahead with a shoulder tackle. Umino returns to the fray as he keeps Nagata cornered with forearms… but a simple boot took the veteran back out as he knocked the rookie down with relative ease. Kawato gets in on the act two as duelling kicks nearly end things while Nakanishi inadvertently ties up the ref while protesting.

Nagata continues to wear away on Umino, landing chops and knees to the midsection as Blue Justice again antagonised Nakanishi into tying up the ref. Not to cheat, but just to wind him up! Eventually Nakanishi makes it in legally to slam and splash Nagata, before getting rid of the annoyance that was Kawato… and eventually spear Nagata!

An Exploder suplex gets Nagata back in play as the two Young Lions tag back in, leading to Umino landing a missile dropkick and a running forearm to Kawato for a solid two-count. The diving back elbow off the top prompts Nagata to wander back in to break up the pins as Nakanishi and Umino pair up for more strikes, before we get duelling submissions.

Kawato makes the ropes from the Boston crab though, and flies back in with a wacky forearm to Umino before applying his own Standard Issue Submission. It sounds like Nakanishi’s been thrown into the guard rails, but it doesn’t matter as another rope break follows, while Nagata and Nakanishi trade blows on the outside. Another missile dropkick, this time from Kawato, gets a two-count as Nagata restrains Nakanishi in a crossface Nagata Lock, giving Kawato free reign as his corkscrew high kick (or Kofi Kingston’s Trouble in Paradise) picked up the win. Fun enough while the rookies were in, but you know the deal with Nagata and Nakanishi these days. **½

As a trio of matches, these were fine, but very reminiscent of the World Tag League pairings. Slow when the older guys were in, quicker but not as polished when the Lions were in… still, it game them all valuable ring time since the youngsters will most likely be watching on from ringside at WrestleKingdom, whilst the veterans will probably be limited to spots in the pre-show Rumble.