The latest round of the Lion’s Gate Project shows saw Shota Umino get his first singles main event, as he took on Kaientai Dojo’s Ayato Yoshida.
Yuya Uemura vs. Yota Tsuji
This is the fourth singles meeting between these two, with all of them so far having been time limit draws… and I’d expect the same here.
They keep it pretty straightforward in the early going, with Uemura and Tsuji trading headlocks and hammerlocks as they went back-and-forth, with Uemura trying to get the upper hand. Tsuji punches his way free from an armbar, before kicking the legs out from underneath Uemura as he took the fight to the mat. The single, fixed-camera gets a decent view of Tsuji’s toe-hold, but Uemura uses his free leg to kick his way free, and drag his foe into a similar hold. Tsuji escapes and throws Uemura’s knee into the mat, as it became clear that his tactic was to avoid Uemura getting to his feet. A leg grapevine keeps Uemura down, but he’s able to break via the ropes before coming back with a dropkick.
Despite having a dodgy wheel, Uemura’s able to launch into Tsuji in the corner with a back elbow, before a slam led us to an attempt of the Standard Issue Submission… Tsuji puts up a fight on the Boston crab before he grabbed the ropes just as he’s about to get rolled over. The pair get back up and trade off with right hands, as Tsuji looked to take the upper hand once again… going for a Boston crab, which Uemura manages to avoid by grabbing the ropes.
A desperation chop rings out across ShinjukuFACE as Uemura tried to fight back, but Tsuji delivers a back body drop before going back to the Boston crab, this time stomping on Uemura to try and weaken him… but Uemura grabbed hold of the leg to save himself before time ran out… just as Tsuji rolled him over! Really good stuff as they told the usual Young Lion story. For my money, Tsuji would have won on points if that were a thing, but another draw continues the trend for the latest pair of graduates. ***
Shunsuke Sayama vs. Ren Narita
I’ve not been able to track down much about Sayama, apparently he’s three years into his career, and has travelled A LOT, including a tour of the US earlier this year, while wrestling for the likes of Kaientai Dojo, Wrestle-1 and FREEDOMS in Japan.
We start off with the pair grappling on the mat, with Narita looking for headlocks and Sayama escaping them, before the traveller went after Narita’s arm. A snapmare takes Narita down for a kick to the back, but it barely gets a one-count from referee Marty Asami as Sayama keeps up on Narita with more stomps and kicks. Narita tries to fire back with chops to the chest, but he gets what he gives as a series of kicks takes him to the mat for a solid two-count.
Eventually, Narita hits back with a double axehandle blow for a near-fall, before getting something similar from a hiptoss from the ropes. They go back and forth some as Sayama slapped the taste out of Narita’s mouth, before clocking him with an enziguiri that led to a faceplant on the way down for a near-fall. A dropkick from Narita’s enough to keep him in it, as he followed in with the Boston crab… and there’s the submission! That felt against the run of play as Sayama’s strikes seemed to take a lot out of Narita, but in the end the trusty Standard Issue Submission did its job! This one didn’t click much with me as the two didn’t seem to gel. Sayama’s strikes were nice and solid, but Narita’s felt a little off. This wasn’t bad, but it just didn’t work for me. **½
Manabu Nakanishi & Toa Henare vs. Hiroyoshi Tenzan & Dinosaur Takuma
We’ve a reunion from 2016’s World Tag League, as Henare and Nakanishi partner up again. Dino Graps is back… and I didn’t realise until now, but Takuma has a glow-in-the-dark tail!
We start with Takuma and Nakanishi, as the latter resisted shoulder tackles and right hands before decking the dino with a headbutt. Some more right hands are shrugged off as a cross-chop sent Takuma into his owner, as both men tagged out… giving us Tenzan vs. Toa! They too exchange shoulder tackles, but Tenzan resists and comes back with Mongolian chops as Henare was on the defensive.
A legdrop from Takuma’s followed up by some biting, before Henare’s Samoan drop turned things around. Nakanishi returned in to chop Takuma into the ropes, before he too indulged in a dino snack, as Henare returns to drop an elbow for a near-fall. Nakanishi’s back in to dish out Mongolian chops, which irritated Tenzan on the apron, before Takuma dished out some of his own… except Nakanishi stopped Takuma from making the tag out by grabbing his tail. What an ass! Eventually Nakanishi misses a knee off the ropes, but he’s met with a shoulder tackle from Takuma as Tenzan came in to dish out some punishment in the form of his own Mongolian chops. A suplex gets Tenzan a near-fall, as does Kokeshi, before Nakanishi just chop blocks Tenzan’s knee out from under him.
Tenzan struggles to whip Nakanishi off the ropes and gets met with a clothesline… while Takuma takes an axehandle blow to the gut as he tried to run in. Henare and Nakanishi manage to combine for a pair of Argentine backbreakers, but it’s Henare and Tenzan who’s legal, and with Tenzan raking the eyes, he gets free. A spinning heel kick takes Henare down before Takuma returns for a hiptoss and a flip senton as Henare looked to be in big trouble.
The Kiwi’s cornered and thrown into a spinebuster from Takuma for a near-fall, before they deal with Nakanishi’s interference… allowing the dino to hit a death valley driver on Henare for a solid two-count. Eventually Takuma runs into a spear that almost turned into a uranage, as Henare followed up with a uranage… and that’s the win! That’s the first time the pairing of Nakanishi and Henare have picked up a win, and it was a match that was fine when the veterans weren’t in, but on the whole perfectly acceptable wrestling. **¾
Tomoyuki Oka vs. Yuji Nagata
You’ll be shocked that in their five prior singles meetings, Oka hasn’t won a single time.
We start with some grappling as Oka looked to grab the arm of Nagata, but it was way too soon for that, as Nagata was easily able to escape, and a similar headlock takedown too. Oka gets fired up as he starts to pelt Nagata with forearms, but a series of kicks from the veteran stops those as he suckered Oka into the hesitation dropkick to take him down. Oka’s right back up though, as he slammed Nagata for just a one-count, before putting the boots to him, taking Nagata into the corner… where one of those kicks was caught, allowing Nagata to stand up and shove Oka down to turn the tables. The match spills outside, with Nagata throwing Oka into the crowd as we get a view of the wider arena, including the wall that Oka’s thrown into.
Back in the ring, Nagata thunders through Oka with kicks, before pulling him into a cross armbreaker right by the ropes. After the expected rope break, Oka began to fight back with some forearms, before he ran into a big boot and returned fire with a spinebuster-like takedown into the corner. A Stinger splash is next, as is an overhead suplex that gets Oka a near-fall, before he pulled Nagata into a camel clutch-like chinlock… a hold that segued into an Arabian clutch of sorts, then the full-fat camel clutch, before Nagata pulled his way to the ropes.
An overhead belly-to-belly followed as Oka stayed on top of Nagata, picking up another near-fall, as he went to the Boston crab… which is usually where Young Lions’ offence against veterans begins to fall apart. There’s the rope break, but Oka keeps up on Nagata… only to get pulled down into the Shirome!
This time, Oka needs the ropes to save himself, but Nagata started to get comfortable and eventually took him down into a side headlock, forcing yet another rope break. They start trading off with forearms as Nagata remained ahead, catching Oka with another boot, then a spinning heel kick as the Young Lion again fell to the mat, before being picked up for a Backdrop Hold that won the match. Entertaining fare, especially Oka’s initial flurry of offence, but that now makes it 0-6 in a run that I cannot ever see Oka breaking. Gradual progress, eh? ***
Ayato Yoshida vs. Shota Umino
Another main event for Yoshida came in a week where he’d main evented Kenta Kobashi’s latest Fortune Dream show, teaming with NOAH’s Kaito Kiyomiya to beat Big Japan’s Takuya Nomura and FREEDOMS’ Toru Sugiura. In contrast, this was Umino’s first ever main event as a singles wrestler…
We start with Umino taking Yoshida into the corner for a chop, then again, as this time the Kaientai Dojo graduate took the bait. Some chops were absorbed by Umino, who comes back in with a shoulder tackle, before he’s eventually caught with a snapmare and a PK to the back from Yoshida.
Yoshida keeps on top of Umino with some Bryan Danielson elbows, hitting them hard and frequently to the point where it looked like the referee’d have to stop the match, before Umino was whipped into the ropes for a flapjack. A kick to the lower back is next as it looked like Yoshida was kicking Umino’s rear end – literally! Things work up into a chicken wing from Yoshida, as he pulled Umino into the middle of the ring… but Shota elbows free… only to get caught in a mounted key lock as he was forced to roll and drag himself towards the ropes for freedom.
Eventually Umino begins a comeback, chopping Yoshida in the chest before getting rocked by a single receipt… but a dropkick turns things back around. A missile dropkick off the middle rope’s enough for a near-fall, as Umino’s offence quickly ends up getting countered with Yoshida going for another chickenwing. It’s escaped, but Umino takes a hiptoss/knee strike before catching a kick to take Yoshida down into a Boston crab… and after he twice dragged Yoshida away from the ropes, he opts to turn it into a single leg crab, only for the rope break to be finally earned. With no other finisher in sight, Umino looked for a fireman’s carry, but Yoshida slipped out and into a chicken wing… Umino escapes, but gets pulled into a Side Effect, which almost ends the match.
Yoshida ends up running into a spinebuster as he tried to stay on top of things, allowing Umino to head up top again for a missile dropkick, before he almost took home the win with a bridging German suplex! Another knee from Yoshida puts a stop to the offence as the pair begin to trade right hands from their knees, before Umino got carried away and ends up getting caught in another chicken wing, this time getting pulled to the mat.
After a little struggle, Umino made it to the ropes yet again, but he’s met with a PK and another running kick to the gut for a near-fall, before a backdrop suplex proved to be too much, as Yoshida picked up his first singles win under the New Japan banner. This was a hell of a contest, with Umino taking the step up against name – albeit not New Japan – talent, only to come up short. Plenty of back-and-forth made this a good match to watch, and now the question is… what’s next for Yoshida? ***½
As it stands, there’s no more Lion’s Gate Projects on the books until at least the end of September, after the G1 Climax and Destruction tours, which is a bit of a shame. This was an enjoyable show, thanks in part to the card being mostly young lions against each other, and not the usual “young lion versus veteran” which while good for progression, can be touch to watch as the pace and speed of the match meanders. Weighing in at 90 minutes, with interval, this is a breeze to watch – and you should! The opener and the main event were enjoyable matches, while Oka/Nagata was entertaining in parts.