A familiar face appeared in the line-up for the latest Lion’s Gate Project show, as Daisuke Sekimoto took on New Japan’s latest hot prospect – Shota Umino!

Tokyo’s ShinjukuFACE was the venue as always for today’s five-match card. Apologies as always for the screengrabs, as the Lion’s Gate shows are fixed-camera affairs.

Yuya Uemura vs. Yota Tsuji
The New Japan Dojo’s latest pair of graduates have had two meetings ahead of this match, both of them going to ten minute time-limit draws. I suspect we’re going to get a third one here…

It’s a tentative start, with a lot of grappling and jockeying for position, before we ended in the ropes with Uemura breaking cleanly. Second time was the charm as Tsuji grabs a headlock, sinking it in, before Uemura tripped him to the mat and worked a leg grapevine for a spell. Uemura’s back in with a headlock as we wash, rinse and repeat, with Tsuji busting out a cravat… someone’s been watching Hero tapes!

Uemura escapes the cravat and wrenches the arm before taking Tsuji down by his leg, but it’s too close to the ropes and referee Kenta Sato forces a break. After that, Uemura manages to get a head with a hiptoss before grabbing a chinlock on Tsuji, who had to fight to get to the ropes this time as another break was called for. Staying on top, Uemura kicks away at Tsuji’s legs and drops elbows as another grapevine tried to force a submission, before he worked his way into a toe hold and a knee bar, again forcing Yota into the ropes.

The five minute mark passes as Uemura again trips Tsuji, this time following up by ramming his knee into the canvas as the leg work began to take its toll. Uemura pulls back on Tsuji with a STF, but he doesn’t keep hold tightly and so… another rope break. Things switch up when Uemura throws forearms, but Tsuji is right back in with a dropkick that almost turned into a push-down stomp, and there’s the fightback!

Tsuji throws forearms into the corner, then whips Uemura across the ring for a leaping elbow, as he picks up a near-fall from a simple body slam. Some forearms are exchanged in kind, before Tsuji lost a slam and was met with a pair of dropkicks from Uemura, who tried to end the match within the time limit with a Boston crab… but Tsuji got his way to the ropes to break the hold.

Another leaping elbow into the corner, this time from Uemura, softened up Tsuji some more as a slam drew a near-fall, but Tsuji mounted one more comeback, getting a two-count off of a back body drop before returning the favour with a Boston crab, with Uemura almost making it to the ropes before the time limit expired. A fun opener, and as I was about to say Tsuji had held back his aggression during the match, he laid down a little beating to Uemura afterwards, so it’s all gravy. Those opening exchanges did feel a little uncharacteristically loose though, but these guys are fairly new so there’s plenty of scope for improvements! **¾

Tomoyuki Oka vs. Manabu Nakanishi
There’s been two prior singles matches here, and you’ll be shocked to learn that Oka didn’t win either of them. I know, right?!

We started with Oka on top, grabbing a headlock on the veteran, before we moved to the shoulder tackle spots, with neither man budging. Eventually Oka charged down Nakanishi, before sparking a chop battle, with Nakanishi throwing a little heavier shots on the Young Lion. The match spills outside as Nakanishi works the arm by the front row, before taking things back inside, where he continued to aim for Oka’s shoulder and arm.

Those punches sent Oka onto the apron in search of some respite, but Nakanishi brings him back in for more chops and stomps ahead of a slam and a big splash. Oka kicks out from that and began a fightback, taking Nakanishi into the corner for an avalanche, before mustering up the strength for a suplex as he collected a solid two-count from that. A Boston crab from Oka looked to be optimistic, especially as Nakanishi easily powered out of it, following up with a short lariat as Oka’s days looked to be numbered.

Sure enough, a wind-up lariat takes down Oka, but only for a two-count, before Nakanishi tried for the Argentine backbreaker. That’s avoided, as he rolls up Nakanishi for a near-fall, only to run into another lariat as the veteran continued to edge ahead. Second time was the charm for the rack though, and the Argentine backbreaker forces the submission. Basic stuff, and plodding as you’d expect from Nakanishi these days – but a perfectly decent match with those limitations. **

Ryusuke Taguchi & Ren Narita vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Hiro Saito
That’s a combined age of 103 years in the team of Tenzan and Saito, or to put it another way, Saito had been wrestling for 21 years before Narita was even BORN.

It’s Tenzan and Taguchi who start us off though, even though Taguchi was just hell-bent on winding up Saito by trying to get him to join Taguchi Japan. Eventually Tenzan bumps fists and dishes out some Mongolian chops, only for Taguchi to instantly respond with a hip attack as both men tag out. Narita has no problem slapping the taste out of Saito’s mouth though, and that’s only going to rile up the veteran… as was another cheeky slap. Saito’s in with clubbing forearms to the neck before slamming Narita, as he followed up with a rear chinlock that the hard camera couldn’t see. The veterans target Narita, as you’d expect, with Tenzan getting a two-count out of a suplex as Taguchi ran in to try and break it up.

The match spills outside, where Narita gets double-teamed by Tenzan and Saito, with the latter using chairs as the referee just stood by and allowed it. Narita’s able to beat the count back into the ring, but he just gets slingshotted under the bottom rope by Saito, before making the tag out to Taguchi… who barely enjoyed better luck.

After missing a few hip attacks, Taguchi finally connects as Saito brings in Tenzan for some headbutts, but Taguchi and Narita turn it around, landing a double-team suplex for a near-fall. Tenzan’s right back in with a Mountain bomb before Saito delivered the back senton everyone came to see… but Taguchi broke up the cover, before Narita almost stole the win with a small package and a schoolboy. It couldn’t last though, and with Saito taking care of Taguchi on the outside, Tenzan’s able to put away the Young Lion with a lariat and an Anaconda Vise for the submission. Fun while it lasted, with Narita showing some good fire in spells – but in the end, he was overwhelmed as you’d expect. **½

Shota Umino vs. Daisuke Sekimoto
The match that drew the most buzz is our semi-final – and they didn’t mute out Sekimoto’s theme! Which means we had someone right by the hard camera singing along with it… which had me in TEARS.

We had another tentative start here, with Sekimoto being forced to kick-out when Umino rolled from his headlock takedown, before Sekimoto got up and used his strength to restrain Umino from a standing side headlock. Umino takes it into the ropes for a break, since he can’t shoot off Sekimoto, who in the end just shoved away the Young Lion out of frustration. Umino managed to sneak ahead, taking down Sekimoto and throwing some stomps, but that just angers him. Chop. Slam. Umino down. Sekimoto stays on top of Umino, literally, as he dropped some elbows for a near-fall, before pulling the Young Lion up into some repeated body slams, forcing Umino to kick out yet again.

Sekimoto goes back to the slam as he teases a Boston crab on Umino, who kicked his way free… and into a monstrous stomp as Sekimoto just grabs a single-leg crab instead. Umino’s able to make it to the ropes anyway, but he’s met with more chops as Daisuke was just overwhelming him. Shota tries to mount a comeback, but those chops are derailing him, before he finally succeeded, scoring with a dropkick to give himself a little breathing room.

The comeback continues in earnest there as Umino lands a clothesline after a couple of attempts, taking Sekimoto into the corner before connecting with a missile dropkick for a near-fall. An armbar follows, but the crowd just laugh at that as nobody bought Umino winning with that… but to his credit, Umino actually forced a rope break, before snatching another two-count with backslides and La Magistrals.

Umino actually manages to hurk up Sekimoto with a bridging German suplex for another unlikely near-fall, but a Fireman’s carry proved to be his undoing, as Sekimoto countered with a slam that turned into a backbreaker on the way down, before a Boston crab almost forced Umino to tap, only for him to make it to the ropes in the nick of time. Sensing victory, Sekimoto picked up Umino and threw some more overhead forearms, which prompted another fightback from Umino, only for him to get murdered with a lariat and a suplex for a near-fall.

Sekimoto heads up top next, drilling Umino with a missile dropkick as we get another two-count, before a spin-out Dominator and another goddamned lariat dumps Umino on his head for the win. Umino had heart, but he ultimately was little challenge for Sekimoto today. ***¼

Ayato Yoshida vs. Yuji Nagata
The continuation of a feud that started almost a year ago in tags against Nagata on these shows – we now get the big singles blow-off.

Nagata started by grabbing Yoshida’s waist, but the Kaientai Dojo regular looked for a wristlock instead as the pair went back and forth in the early exchanges. Nagata quickly had enough of Yoshida, taking him into the corner by his throat as the pair exchanged forearms, with Yoshida winning out as he throws Nagata to the floor. A leaping knee took Nagata off the apron as he put the boots to Nagata out of camera view… prompting the veteran to fight back, throwing Yoshida into the post then back into the ring. Some more knees from Nagata follow back in the ring, before an armbar forced Yoshida to drag himself into the ropes for respite… only to be met with some more kicks to the chest once freed.

The pair eventually get back to their feet and trade forearms, with Yoshida finally knocking down Nagata, before taking him down again with a bulldog. More shots from Yoshida left Nagata down, but those PKs get a little predictable… although a caught PK sees Nagata pulled into a guillotine choke as he tried to get free. Yoshida keeps it on, but Nagata eventually suplexes free, before being caught with another PK as Yoshida seemed to sense victory.

Nagata blocks a head kick and lands an enziguiri of his own, but he tries too soon for the backdrop hold and has to counter the counter as he catches Yoshida in the Shirome armbar! After getting pulled back into the middle of the ring, Yoshida finally makes it to the ropes as Nagata continued the arm work, throwing in a brainbuster for the hell of it, before a single head kick clocked Yoshida.

Yoshida fired back in kind and hits a backdrop suplex, leaving both men down… they fight back to their feet, but Nagata’s forearms seemed to have a bit more force behind them. Quality over quantity, eh? That maxim came true again when he shrugged off another barrage from Yoshida and threw elbows, before a kick to the chest drew another two-count, before ragdolling him into a Backdrop Hold for the win. A solid main event, but one that saw Yoshida offer little threat before being overwhelmed… the theme of the show really! ***

The twelfth Lion’s Gate Project show was a breeze to watch, as it should be with five matches! Unless you’re an ardent viewer of these, you’ll probably have been attracted by Daisuke Sekimoto being on the card… and he did not fail to deliver against Shota Umino. As for the rest of the card… it was what it was, with the focus being put on Young Lions against veterans, rather than each other as we’re firmly in the “build them up” phase of these guys’ developments.

Worth a passing watch, but make sure you give the final two matches your attention.