New Japan Pro Wrestling
Lion’s Break Collision #1
July 3, 2020
Port Hueneme, California
Watch: NJPW World
When the coronavirus pandemic went into full swing around mid-March, that put New Japan in a very difficult position, with regards to their roster. While they still had access to the bulk of their roster (who are, of course, mostly based in Japan) when action resumed with the New Japan Cup, a number of talents were stranded either in the United States or elsewhere. New Japan ultimately decided to make the best of the bad situation, and held a secret TV Taping in Southern California for a weekly show called Lion’s Break Collision. The talents featured on this taping varied from New Japan regulars based on the West Coast, talents associated with New Japan’s LA Dojo, and some new faces that we really haven’t seen in New Japan before. Pretty much everyone was excited to hear that we would be getting more in-ring content from New Japan, and there was certainly a ton of curiosity going into this first show.
Instead of kicking off the show with a match, we got a clip of a Skype interview with Kevin Kelly and Karl Fredericks. In case you missed the big news, Karl Fredericks has officially graduated from young lion status. We would see Fredericks in the main event of this first Lion’s Break Collision episode, but the news of his graduation brings up an interesting question, with regards to the young lions of the LA Dojo. Of course, with the young lions from the main New Japan Dojo, we see the wrestlers as young lions for a number of years, before going on their excursions abroad. With the revival of the LA Dojo, what exactly is the path for those young lions? Do they even go on excursions, or do they just….graduate? That question has never really been answered. Karl Fredericks might be the exception, given the massive amount of potential he has, but what about guys like Alex Coughlin and Clark Connors? Will they go off to Mexico or the UK? I’m very intrigued to see if those two follow the path of Fredericks, or if they do go on excursions to the countries I just mentioned.
I should note that, for the matches on this show, we got the full English Commentary team of Kevin Kelly, Chris Charlton, and Gino Gambino.
Alex Coughlin vs. Clark Connors – Ten Minute Time Limit Draw
Right away, the most noticeable feature about this show is that they are using a much smaller ring. I’m not sure why they’re going with a smaller ring, but it’s an interesting look, to say the least. As for this opening contest, it should come as no surprise that the first match of this new series was a battle between young lions. With Karl Fredericks graduating from young lion status, these two are all that’s left of the original class of young lions from the new LA Dojo. Coming in, the record between Connors (who now looks like Woody Harrelson with hair) and Coughlin (who now resembles a slightly beefier Finn Balor) in singles matches was 1-1-1. While both were looking to take the lead in this series with a victory, that wouldn’t end up being the case, as the bout ended in a ten minute time limit draw.
This was a very solid match from start to finish, as one would expect from a bout involving two young lions. The first few minutes featured some nice exchanges on the mat, with Coughlin deciding to target the arm of Connors. As the match progressed, the intensity picked up, as both men got into big strike exchanges, with a few near finishes here and there. Connors nearly had the match won at one point with a Boston Crab, but the work done to his arm forced him to switch to a Half Crab, which likely contributed to Coughlin being able to get to the ropes. In the final few seconds, Coughlin was able to lock in an armbar, but he wasn’t able to do much with it, as the time limit expired. Your typical young lion affair, with good wrestling throughout. ***1/4
Afterwards, we got a backstage interview with Clark Connors. He said that he wouldn’t be the last from his class to graduate from the LA Dojo, and proclaimed he was going to do his best to win every “gosh-darn” match he can. That last line got a nice chuckle out of me, as Connors tried to keep his thoughts as PG as possible.
There was an intermission between the matches, which was a little weird considering it was only a two match card. However, I bring up the intermission because we were treated to a hilarious Japanese style commercial with the LA young lions, who were advertising a soapless cleaning sponge.
Karl Fredericks & TJP def. Jeff Cobb & Rocky Romero
This was our first look at Karl Fredericks since graduating from young lion status. In addition to his new hairdo and very noticeable earrings, his new wrestling gear featured tights and boots with a red, black, and while color scheme with tassels……lots of tassels (I wonder if he got any advice from The Young Bucks on his wrestling gear). Now when I first heard that Fredericks was graduating from young lion status, I was a little nervous. I only say this because, since I started watching New Japan in 2013, the only other young lion I’ve seen that didn’t go on an excursion before graduating was David Finlay, and his career since hasn’t exactly been stellar (though he finally started to gain some traction in the last year or so in the form of his tag team with Juice Robinson). However, it was pointed out on commentary that not all young lions needed an excursion to achieve success in New Japan, with Hiroshi Tanahashi being brought up in a direct comparison to Fredericks, as someone who didn’t go on an excursion. Now we all know that New Japan is very high on Fredericks, but even that brief comparison to Tanahashi just goes to show what they think of him.
When the dust settled, this ended up being a very good tag team contest, which shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, given the competitors involved. We saw the usual quick and smooth action from both Rocky Romero and TJP, but the real story of the bout involved Jeff Cobb and Karl Fredericks. Whenever those two were in the ring together, the atmosphere was much more intense. Cobb connected with some big shots, but Fredericks was able to nail his fair share of offense on Cobb. We didn’t see a ton of new offense from Fredericks, but he sprinkled in a few things here and there that he didn’t do when he was a young lion. It came down to Fredericks vs. Romero after TJP took Cobb out on the floor, and Fredericks was able to score the win for his team when he caught Romero in a backslide. A big win for Fredericks following his graduation, and a very good tag team bout as a whole. It wasn’t super long, but all four guys put forth the effort. ***1/2
However, things didn’t end there. Shortly after the match ended, Cobb and Fredericks got into a shoving match, and had to be separated by their respective partners. It’s clear that the issues between Cobb and Fredericks are not over, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see a singles match with those two on a future episode of Lion’s Break Collision.
Once the brawl in the ring was broken up, we got a very interesting backstage interview with Karl Fredericks. He talked about how pack mentality is king in New Japan Pro Wrestling, and how everyone always gets asked what faction they’re going to join, whether they’re a young lion coming back from excursion or a new wrestler joining the roster. He referred to himself as an alpha (which was on his tights), and said that he wouldn’t submit to the leadership of somebody else. Now I know a number of people have been wanting to see someone in New Japan who’s completely on their own, but given how New Japan is so structured around units, that’s never going to happen. If anything, I believe that Fredericks (once he’s able to travel back to Japan) will be leading his own faction at some point. This promo was just further indication that New Japan is really behind Fredericks in a big way. He’s making it clear straight away that he won’t be falling in line with any of the current units in New Japan.
The first episode of Lion’s Break Collision was an absolute breeze to watch. It only clocked in at thirty-eight minutes, and it’s even less if you skip the brief intermission. The two matches were both very solid, and didn’t overstay their welcome at all. What was interesting to see is that we got some storyline stuff going in the main event, which just adds to the enjoyment of the show, because you trust New Japan to follow up with stuff like that. If this first episode of Lion’s Break Collision was any indication of what’s to come, then we’re in for an entertaining run of shows over the next several weeks.