NEW JAPAN PRO WRESTLING
LION’S GATE PROJECT 8
OCTOBER 12, 2017
SHINJUKU FACE – TOKYO, JAPAN

Watch: NJPW World

LION’S GATE is always a highlight for me. I think I have been to six of the eight Lion’s Gate shows. I was lucky to sit in the front row for this one, which is probably the most intimate environment you can get for New Japan. As always, Shinjuku FACE was packed and enthusiastic.

YOUNG LION CUP
HIRAI KAWATO DEF. REN NARITA

Kawato is the senpai of the current young lion tribe. A 20 year-old fan-favorite, Kawato will be familiar to most regular New Japan viewers. Kawato was very good here; showing off the kicks that have wowed audiences since his tryout. He also has a very impressive vertical leap which caught my attention on a counter dropkick and swan-dive missile kick.

19 year-old Ren Narita was solid here. This was only his seventh career match, and his first in Tokyo since he debuted at the last LION’S GATE show. “RenRen,” as one supporter called him, resembles a young Taichi, and seems to be more of a natural heel. He showed good aggression here; for some reason he reminded me of a very green Japanese version of Bret Hart. He used a rare second rope guillotine drop and also sent Kawato neck-first into the bottom rope with a slingshot.

Ultimately, Kawato won with a Kofi Kingston-eqsue spinning enzuigiri for the win at 7:14. **1/2

YOUNG LION CUP
KATSUYA KITAMURA DEF. TETSUHIRO YAGI

The second match of the night featured the two oldest young lions. 25 year-old Tetsuhiro Yagi debuted at the May LION’S GATE show and is surely bound for the heavyweight division. He has a solid, somewhat wiry build and is great at expressing emotion in the ring. His dropkick arch looks great and he got a good reaction with a Muta lock. Overall, he impressed the crowd and seems to be developing into a well-rounded young lion who’s ready to contribute to openers even on mid-size New Japan World shows.

31 year-old Katsuya Kitamura is not your typical young lion. He’s the most muscular and tanned guy on the roster and he spends most of his time wrestling in the mid-card.  Kitamura triggers an audible buzz everytime he enters the ring. He would have to be one of the favorites to win this league. After spending most of the meat of the match getting neutralized by Yagi, Kitamura fought back with some booming chops.

Kitamura won with a Goldberg tribute: spear into jackhammer at 8:32. I could hear Kitamura say “this is my house” about seven times as he exited; he also dropped a “who’s next?” in his English promo backstage. Yagi looked very good here, but I would have liked to see more offense from Kitamura. **1/2

YOUNG LION CUP
TOMOYUKI OKA DEF. SHOTA UMINO

This match is the reason I went to this show: a singles match between my top two prospects in New Japan. Shota Umino is the 20 year-old son of main event referee Red Shoes Unno. He shows great potential as a babyface or heel in the ring and is already a convincing post-match backstage promo. Debuting back at the April LION’S GATE show, Umino has already earned a spot on most house shows.

26 year-old Tomoyuki Oka is also basically a lower midcarder in his team with Kitamura. He’s developing more of a presence and learning how to use his size. Oka did a great job of selling for Umino’s attack given his significant size advantage. Unlike Kitamura, Oka never really seemed like he was getting dominated without fighting back. Oka gained control and showed off what seemed like a dozen different neck submissions before Umino fought back to a good reaction. They told a simple yet effective story and had the crowd behind them all the way.

Oka hit the first deadlift front suplex (I think) I’ve ever seen before locking in a Boston crab for the win at 10:50. This is one of the best young lion matches of the year. ***1/4

These two had the best promos of the night, too. Oka confidently claimed he’d win the YL Cup and World Tag League. Umino was frustrated with his performance, but passionately promised to train harder to improve.





MANABU NAKANISHI DEF. KOTARO YOSHINO

SEIZE THE TACTICS! Yoshino is a happy-go-lucky, goofy dancing caveman from Kaientai Dojo. This was fun, but nothing special. I understand why guys like Yoshino are on these shows, but he’s not much of a serious prospect for the future of major league wrestling in Japan. Nonetheless, I was definitely entertained and I legitimately laughed for a great portion of the match; especially when the crowd chanted in caveman: “unbaba, unbaba, unbaba…”

Referee Marty Asami’s facial expressions were great in this match. Nakanishi won in 7:32 with his Argentine backbreaker. **

TENKOJI (HIROYOSHI TENZAN & SATOSHI KOJIMA) DEF. YUMA AOYAGI AND GO ASAKAWA

I’ve spoken and written about Yuma Aoyagi on multiple occasions. He’s one of the best prospects in Japan and, currently, one of my overall favorites to watch in the country. The All Asia tag champ was seconded here by fellow AJPW youngsters (tag partner) Naoya Nomura, Koji Iwamoto, and Yusuke Okada. All three wore AJPW shirts, which was a cool visual callback to the NJPW young lions appearing at AJPW’s GROWIN’ UP.

The main takeaway here is that they are building to a singles match between a bulking Yuma and Kojima. I would assume it will happen on the next LION’S GATE show. Tenkoji seemed to be more laid back than usual and truly enjoying the intimacy of Shinjuku FACE. K-DOJO’s Asakawa was also good here; he hit a really cool blizzard suplex. Koji beat Asakawa in 12:33 with a lariat. The match was fine, but like I said: Koji vs Yuma. **1/2

YUJI NAGATA DEF. DAISUKE KANEHIRA

I’m guessing Nagata books these LION’S GATE shows, as he has a big part in training the young lions. He’s also been in the main event of all eight shows; only on the losing side once. This was good, but a little disappointing. I had high expectations of HEAT-UP’s Daisuke Kanehira, but I think I prefer his previous LG match against YOSHI-HASHI. In the early stages, Kanehira seemed a little hesitant going up against a legend like Nagata. Kanehira’s look also reminds me of a grimier version of T-Hawk.

Nagata-san won in 12:12 with a backdrop hold. **3/4

Final Thoughts:

With six matches in about 90 minutes, this show is worth a watch. If you’re pressed for time, just watch Oka versus Umino.