NJPW Lion’s Gate Project 4 (April 13, 2017)

It’s been a while, but New Japan hit the road again for their fourth edition of their Lion’s Gate Project, highlighting stars of the New Japan Dojo – and other promotions too.

Last year we had three of these, featuring New Japan, Pro Wrestling NOAH and other groups. Of course, the New Japan/NOAH tie-in has long since ended, so now we’ve got New Japan working with All Japan and the Kaientai Dojo (indeed!) for these shows. One of them even brought a wrestling dinosaur!

Syota Umino vs. TAKA Michinoku
This was Syota’s pro debut, and he’s the son of referee “Red Shoes”, who was the referee in charge here. Wait a minute… In spite of the white soles on his boots, he fit in with the Young Lions motif, so we’ll be calling him Black Shoes.

There was no father/son screwjob here, as instead Black Shoes started by wrenching away on TAKA’s arm, only to get caught in some grounded headscissors. After trying again, TAKA rolls Black Shoes into a guillotine, but the rookie manages to switch around and break via the ropes, before he misses a dropkick. It was second time lucky for Umino, who followed up with a slam and a diving back elbow off the top!

That’s a rarity for a Young Lion! He went into a single leg crab afterwards, but of course TAKA made the ropes. The hold’s reapplied, but TAKA breaks once more, then applies a crossface. Umino tries to break via the ropes, but after TAKA rolled him into the middle of the ring, he had no choice but to tap. A decent but basic debut from young Black Shoes, who’ll be on a few of the Road to Wrestling Dontaku shows later this month… and may be taking a page out of Hirai Kawato’s book, as he slapped TAKA after the match. Not sure how wise THAT was! **¾

Hirai Kawato vs. El Desperado
The second half of Suzuki-gun vs. Young Lions here, and Kawato predictably took the fight to his more experienced foe, who kept sliding out to the floor. That game of cat and mouse earned Kawato a kick to the face as he re-entered the ring, and then we had some crowd brawling, which is just fantastic on a fixed-camera show!

I presume Desperado threw Kawato into the crowd, but we don’t see it as it’s all off camera. They finally head past the camera, as Kawato gets thrown into a dividing wall in the venue, then crotched in the ring post before having his legs grapevined around the post. From there Desperado worked over Kawato’s knee, which led to Kawato falling to the mat as he was whipped between corners.

Kawato used his good leg to block Desperado’s charge, but he followed up with something off the top and got dragged down. A springboard dropkick follows, but it also aggravates the knee as Kawato sells that leg marvellously… Desperado tries to resist a Boston crab, but to no avail, but Kawato’s bad wheel helps him make the rope break after all.

A spinebuster almost wins it for Desperado out of nowhere, as he then turns around Kawato in a Lion Tamer-esque single leg crab, before dragging him into the middle of the ring in a Stretch Muffler that eventually ends with a rope break. Kawato nearly nicks the win with some roll-ups, including a snapping slam into a small package off the ropes, but Desperado manages to hit the Angel Wings and a Code Red for the win. This was really good, with Kawato continuing to show fire, and actually pushing Desperado close. There’s a begrudging handshake after, but Despy clocks Kawato with a forearm. Perhaps from Liger? ***¼

Yuma Aoyagi & Koji Iwamoto vs. Gedo & Jado
Aoyagi and Iwamoto are from All Japan, and have had over 400 matches between them at this point, so this isn’t as much a Young Lions’ match but more of a chance for Yuma and Koji to show themselves.

We start with Iwamoto and Jado as they take each other into the ropes, only for Iwamoto to not break cleanly. He’s the aggressor in the opening stages, and after a shoulder tackle forces Gedo to come in, we end up with Gedo and Aoyagi to reverse roles. Aoyagi gets taken to the outside, where Jado works over him with some chops around ringside whilst the referee was distracted by Gedo.

There’s copious amounts of cheating from the veterans as they raked and choked away on Aoyagi. Finally, Iwamoto gets the tag back in as he forearms away on Gedo, before a kneedrop gets him a near-fall. Jado comes in to rake Koji’s eyes as he had Gedo in an Octopus hold, and we’re back to double-teaming for another spell.

Aoyagi flies with a crossbody and a dropkick for a near-fall on Jado, before it’s Jado’s turn to take some two-on-one charges, with some back elbows in the corner, before a Northern lights suplex gets Yuma a near-fall. In the end though, some underhanded tactics get things back in the way of the veterans, as Jado almost finished off Yuma with a rope-hung… but Iwamoto makes the save, before a crossface sees Jado earn a tap-out win. A pretty solid tag match, very little in flashiness, but not a contest you’d probably come back to either. **¾

Toru Sugiura vs. YOSHI-HASHI
At 26, I’d hardly class Sugiura a Young Lion or anything like that… heck, he’s half of the current FREEDOMS tag team champions after winning the belts three weeks ago.

They start with some holds as both men tried to gain an early advantage, but it was Sugiura who gained first blood with a dropkick before sending YOSHI-HASHI to the outside, where he threw some chairs onto YOSHI-HASHI before hitting a back senton onto them. At least, I presume that’s what happened, as the fixed camera meant we didn’t see any of it.

YOSHI-HASHI reverses a suplex and sends Sugiura onto the pile, before both men beat the 20-count to return to the ring, where Sugiura’s choked on in the corner, before he surprises the CHAOS member with a crossbody off the top rope! A series of running forearms takes down YOSHI-HASHI for a near-fall, but he counters a Fisherman’s buster into a Bunker Buster that almost didn’t go to plan.

Sugiura fights out of a flipping powerbomb, but has no answer to it at the second attempt, as he’s forced to kick out of the pinfall. From there, YOSHI-HASHI sets up for a senton bomb and misses, before a diving clothesline gets Toru a two. A missile dropkick gets a similar result, but YOSHI-HASHI hits back with a lariat, before a Butterfly lock forces the submission. Decent enough, but some of the slips perhaps showed why both guys are where they are. ***

Dinosaur Takuma & Ayato Yoshida vs. Satoshi Kojima & Hiroyoshi Tenzan
Takuma and Yoshida are from the Kaientai Dojo, and of course, Takuma’s ring gear has a dinosaur tail. From a promotion that also has a guy cheerleading with tomato pom poms (Kaji Tomato), I’d expect no less!

We start with Kojima and Yoshida working around wristlocks, before we got some tags to give us Takuma and Tenzan. No dinosaur jokes here, please. The Dinosaur ducks a Mongolian chop, then grabs a headlock before taking down Tenzan with a shoulder tackle. Unfortunately the Dinosaur quickly ended up on the backfoot, and in the wrong corner as the former tag champs worked over the reptilian wannabe.

A vertical suplex gets Tenzan a near-fall, but Takuma comes back with a shoulder tackle as Yoshida returns to knock Kojima off the apron, then catch Tenzan in a sleeperhold. Yoshida goes all Shibata with a PK for a near-fall after the sleeper’d taken Tenzan down, but the veteran comes back with more Mongolian chops and a spinning heel kick.

Kojima returns to chop away at Yoshida in the corner, with the top rope elbow drop following for another near-fall. The two go back with chops and forearms until Yoshida hits another PK to Kojima, which allows for a dino senton from Takuma, then a death valley driver for a near-fall. The Dinosaur spears his way away from a TenKoji Cutter, but ends up taking a Koji Cutter anyway for a near-fall. Yoshida takes the TenKoji Cutter afterall, as the Dinosaur goes down to a brainbuster and a Strong Arm lariat for the win. I really enjoyed this, and for more than the fact that it involved a wrestling dinosaur. These Lion’s Gate shows are good in the fact that although you can probably guess who’s winning, they’re largely competitive squashes, so aren’t a waste of time. ***¼

Manabu Nakanishi & Katsuya Kitamura vs. Yuji Nagata & Tomoyuki Oka
New Japan World used Nakanishi’s “real” theme for once, and Kitamura gets a loud response, completely overshadowing everyone else in the match.

The Young Lions started us off, as a throwback to their encounter at one of the earlier Lion’s Gate Project shows, going for holds and headlocks, with Oka getting the early advantage. Kitamura powers up and trips Oka though, and we’re back to a stand-off for a moment, as the two clonk into each other with shoulder tackles.

From there, the rookies moved onto forearm shots back and forth, with Oka eventually taking Kitamura down to a knee for like a second. We move onto the veteran pair, with Nagata working over Nakanishi’s wrist, before it’s reversed and broken free of, as the pair end up going to shoulder tackles with Nakanishi coming out on top. A big splash off the ropes gets a near-fall with Oka breaking up Nakanishi’s cover, but that leads to Nagata taking a double-team chop as Kitamura took over.

Nagata comes back by kicking Kitamura’s leg out of his leg, then brings in Oka to pick apart the downed muscleman. We see Nagata repeatedly boot Nakanishi off the apron as Kitamura’s left isolated for a spell, before he comes back with a flapjack and manages to tag in Nakanishi. Some chops take down Oka, who then takes a corner lariat as Nagata rushes in… and gets one of his own!

Oka tries to resist an Argentine backbreaker, and manages to reply with a belly-to-belly on Nakanishi before bringing in Nagata for some more boots. An Exploder’s blocked by Nakanishi, but he runs into some more boots before deciding to simply spear Nagata. Kitamura comes in, but finds himself in a Nagata ambar as Nakanishi breaks free of Oka to… KHALI CHOP HIS PARTNER FREE!

I think we’ve veered into quasi-comedy match territory folks!

Nakanishi and Kitamura mimic each other for a double team charge, then a double team Argentine backbreaker that Nagata escapes from, only to take a brainbuster from Kitamura for a near-fall. In the end though, it’s the muscle man who takes the fall, courtesy of a backdrop hold as Nagata takes the win. Perhaps a little on the slow side, but this was a good main event considering the limitations of those involved, and a fine way to close out the show. ***½

Weighing in at less than two hours, this is a staggeringly easy show to watch. Considering the experience levels of the youngsters involved, there was nothing even close to bad on here, and if anything there was a surprisingly good match involving young Kawato that I’d dare say you should watch, especially if you’ve taken an interest in his development and sort-of feud with Jushin “Thunder” Liger.

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