It’s been awhile, but New Japan’s Lion’s Gate Project returned with two new Young Lions making their in-ring debuts – and another wacky assortment of faces.

We’re at ShinjukuFACE in Tokyo for the first wrestling I’ve seen in what feels like forever that hasn’t come from a centre or a mill in Louisiana…

Yuya Uemura vs. Ren Narita
A debut for Uemura then, who joined the New Japan dojo barely a year ago, having had some amateur wrestling experience. He’s shows it off here against his fellow Young Lion as he tried to evade a takedown attempt, before he was forced to fight free of a headlock on the mat.

Although he’s taken down, Uemura countered out into some headscissors, only for Narita to get free and nail a shoulder tackle as the more experienced of the lions started to take advantage, as he worked his way into something approximating a camel clutch as Uemura crawled free. After getting free, Uemura tried to fire back, succeeding with slaps and some rather wild rights, before clocking Narita in the ropes with forearms. More slaps led to Uemura scoring with a double-leg takedown for a near-fall, but Narita’s too smart for the Boston crab as he goes straight to the ropes, before returning fire from earlier.

A desperation kick to the gut was all Uemura could muster as Narita hits a standing dropkick for a near-fall, before rolling him into a Boston crab, dragging him back into the middle of the ring for the inevitable tap. A decent showing from the debutant in his first match, but he’s got quite a ways to go, it has to be said, particularly with the consistency of his strikes. Still, day one and all that. **½

Yota Tsuji vs. Tomoyuki Oka
Like Uemura, Tsuji has been with the New Japan dojo for about a year, having coming from a more sports-oriented background. He’s also shaved his head, making him totally undistinguishable from the photo on his New Japan profile page!

Tsuji tries a similar tactic to the first match, but Oka’s smart to the takedowns and spins free, before trying his luck with a side headlock, taking down the debutant with a shoulder block once he’d been pushed free. It’d been a rather stuttering start for Tsuji, who couldn’t get going as Oka seemed to be proving a point, keeping him on the mat with forearms to the lower back. A wicked STF sees Oka wrench back on Tsuji, who decides to go the long way as he crawled towards the ropes, only for Oka to turn it into a modified camel clutch as he tried to twist his head off. It was quite the bullying tactic, as the crowd began to get behind Tsuji… and it worked as he mounted a comeback, slamming Oka for a near-fall, before taking Oka into the corner for some mudhole stomping.

Problem was, Oka charged free with a clothesline and tore back into him with a belly to belly, as Tsuji bounced for a near-fall, before he was rolled over into a Boston crab for the eventual submission. I enjoyed this debut more, with Tsuji being bullied before firing back, but as with all of New Japan, there’s a pecking order, and there’s no way he was even getting a sniff on day one here. **¾

Tiger Mask & Tetsuhiro Yagi vs. Gedo & Hiro Saito
Turning 57 next month, it’s an odd thing to see Hiro Saito on New Japan’s “developmental” show, but here we go.

We have staggered entrances, finishing with Saito’s silenced intro as we can’t break copyright. It’s quite the honour for Yagi, you’d think. Tiger Mask started by chasing Gedo up the aisle, as we have a lot of stalling before we headed into a knuckle lock. Gedo lost out, but he escaped a wristlock by tripping Tiger Mask, only to get caught in an armbar attempt on the mat, before eventually tagging out to Saito. That was the cue for Yagi to come in, as he’s pulled to the mat by Saito, who worked over his leg with stomps.

It’s quite a methodical, old-school beatdown as Saito took him into the ropes, neutralising that leg before Yagi could even think of throwing kicks… but the Young Lion does mount a comeback of sorts, only for the veteran to cut him off almost instantly, taking him down for a knee to the back of the head. They head outside too, where Saito uses a chair on Yagi during some brawling, before throwing in in so Gedo could almost take the win.

Gedo kept up the assault on the Young Lion, throwing him into Saito’s knee in the corner, before Saito came in for an elbow drop for another near-fall, before dumping him in the ropes with a suplex. It’s massively one-sided as Yagi had to rely on Tiger Mask breaking up pins as Gedo and Saito exchanged frequent tags, cutting the ring in half expertly.

Eventually, Yagi scored with a dropkick as he was given some feint hope, allowing him to tag in Tiger Mask, who almost won with a wheelbarrow roll-up on Saito. He followed up with a head kick and an attempt at a Tiger Bomb, but Saito blocked it and lands a jawbreaker instead, before a dropkick earned him a near-fall. Gedo returns to take out Tiger Mask’s legs, before getting caught in a double armbar as Saito made another save.

Yagi’s practically begging to be tagged back in… and Tiger Mask lets him have it, as Yagi runs in with forearms to Gedo, followed by a big dropkick for a near-fall for the rookie. More forearms from Yagi looked to have him on his way, but Gedo surprises him with some roll-ups for near-falls, before a tradeback back senton from Saito allowed Gedo to get the win with the Gedo clutch. Enjoyable fare – with the expected result, but Yagi showed some good heart as I’m sure he ticked something off his bucket list here. **

Three matches in a shade over 40 minutes eh? After this past weekend, I’m all for slimline cards!

MANJIMARU & Ken45° vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Manabu Nakanishi
This is my first time seeing either MANJIMARU or Ken45… the latter of which has a mohawk Bull Nakano would be proud of.

We started with Tenzan and MANJIMARU having a stalemate from the opening lock-up, before Tenzan won out with shoulder blocks as Ken45 tried to tag in as his partner rolled to the floor. Apparently it counted, as he came in to try and chop Nakanishi, succeeding as he took him into the corner, only to get some receipts.

Nakanishi eventually scores with a lariat as Tenzan’s brought back in for some stomping, before Tenzan worked up to his usual routine of Mongolian chops. The Michinoku Pro guys took the match to the outside, where MANJIMARU throws Tenzan into the ring post before using a chair. Those two end up in the ring as Tenzan traded right hands, only for Ken45 to come in and choke him in the ropes as the New Japan guys were kept on the back foot.

More chops follow from Ken45 as Tenzan was pinned in the corner, much to Nakanishi’s consternation, before he came in to break up a pin from a MANJIMARU suplex. Tenzan broke free and hits a spinning heel kick, but Ken45 stops the tag out… only to take a Mountain Bomb as Tenzan finally brought Nakanishi back into play.

Nakanishi goes to town with chops for both opponents, before slamming MANJIMARU ahead of a kneedrop. The lariat follows for a near-fall, before he reversed a double-team suplex attempt, bringing Tenzan back in to barge his way ahead for a brief spell, only to get sandwiched by lariats from MANJIMARU and Ken45.

A kick to the gut almost puts away Tenzan, as does a wacky roll-up, but Nakanishi makes a save and helps out with his part of the old Tenkoji Cutter, nearly ending the match with that, before the Anaconda Vise forced Ken45 to tap. Nothing much to write home about, although the Michinoku Pro guys did pretty well – even if MANJIMARU aces a sore loser and ended up having to get battered out of the ring after the match. **¾

Go Asakawa & Ayato Yoshida vs. Yuji Nagata & Shota Umino
We’ve split entrances again here, before the ever-enthusiastic Umino started the match against Asakawa… not exactly enjoying a good start as he was barged down with a shoulder tackle.

Yoshida’s in next, although he wanted to face Nagata, as he threw Umino into the turnbuckles before forcing the tag, peppering Nagata with kicks and knees to send the veteran into the corner. Nagata fought back, as the “home” team took control, with Umino back in to stomp on Asakawa… oh, and throw some chops too.

Asakawa is back with elbows though as the momentum swings back-and-forth, with the Kaientai Dojo team enjoying a spell on top as they isolated Umino with a mixture of slams and frequent tags. Yoshida still wanted a piece of Nagata, booting him off the apron, before Asakawa almost forced Umino to tap to a Dragon sleeper. Eventually Umino gets in a back elbow, but Yoshida again cleared the apron as the Young Lion was forced into a desperation dropkick, before finally tagging out to Nagata… a Nagata who had more than enough pent-up frustration, which he took out on Asakawa with kicks. An Exploder suplex gets a two-count for Nagata, who rolled over into the Nagata Lock IV crossface, before dumping Yoshida to the floor.

Asakawa escapes a suplex and throws some more shots, taking down Nagata before Yoshida tagged in… only for Yoshida to take some forearms as he and Nagata didn’t hold back. PKs to the front and back gets Yoshida a near-fall, prompting Nagata to tag out to Umino, who happily starts the comeback with some forearms of his own. After scoring with a missile dropkick, Umino tried to make Yoshida tap with an armbar, only for Asakawa to break it up…

Nagata holds Yoshida in place for another Umino dropkick, almost ending the match, before Asakawa returned to break up a Boston crab from the Young Lion. That earned GO a spinebuster, but Umino has to fight free again as he ran into a hiptoss knee strike by Yoshida, who cleared the apron and then dumped Umino with a backdrop suplex for the surprise win. That has to be one of the rare times that a New Japan guy’s lost in these matches, especially since the co-operation with NOAH ended on these shows. A good main event, with surprising amounts of fire from the K-Dojo guys, who stole the show. ***¼

After the match, Yoshida challenged Nagata to a singles match – and I’m guessing that’s going to happen on the next Lion’s Gate show on May 15?

Lion’s Gate Project 11 was a quick, inoffensive show, packing five matches and an interval into 90 minutes. It was a nice surprise to see an “away win” on the show, while the debuts of two new Young Lions remained an encouraging sign of just how consistent the New Japan Dojo has been. Long may it continue!