Lion’s Gate are New Japan’s smaller shows used to showcase their young wrestlers (known as young lions) as more than just the fall guy. They’re able to show more personality and connect with the crowd on a more intimate level in this smaller venue.
The eight edition of Lion’s Gate featured what is called the Young Lion Cup and that’s what I’m going to be talking about here. This was the first time since 2005 that New Japan has put on the tournament, last won by Hirooki Goto. In round-robin style, this is all for pride. To show that you are the best of the current crop of young wrestlers in New Japan Pro-Wrestling.
Hirai Kawato def. Ren Narita @ 7:13
Right off the jump, Narita was able to showcase his superior mat wrestling. Kawato displayed greater power and agility which aided him into a great dropkick to turn the match into his favor. The big moves were Narita’s second rop Leg Drop and Kawato’s Springboard Dropkick. Narita showed heart by being able to make the ropes on a picture perfect Boston Crab but Kawato nailed him soon after with a Jumping Roundhouse for the victory. This was a very good match for two guys who have only been wrestling for a combined three years.
Katsuya Kitamura def. Tetsuhiro Yagi @ 8:32
Due to the giant size difference, (Kitamura 253 lbs. Yagi 194 lbs.) Yagi looked to take it to the big man with a flurry forearm strikes into the corner. His speed allowed him to keep Kitamura grounded for a major portion of the match. His highlight, and the highlight of the show, was locking Kitamura into a Triangle Choke and before it was able to be countered, picking the ankle and transitioning into a Cross Armbreaker and leading that back into another Triangle. Very cool spot. Eventually Kitamura was able to use his power and once he did, he made quick work of Yagi. He hit several huge chops in the corner, Spear, Jackhammer, victory. The pacing was pretty nice throughout and Yagi received a lot of offense. Even if Kitamura doesn’t need to do much in order to be convincing, I wish he showcased more of his talent.
Tomoyuki Oka def. Syota Umino @ 10:51
For the finale of night one of the Young Lion Cup, the most experienced young lion, Oka, was tasked with performing against the most inexperienced young lion, Umino. The younger of the lions came out aggressive for the start. He landed several strikes and attacked the knee, locked in a Kneebar and even refused to break the hold until the referee began a count. Oka didn’t fire up until he was slapped on the back of the head, blatantly disrespected by his junior. The disrespect got Umino slammed and put into a Rear Naked Choke. After powering out, Umino displayed a great Dropkick and Falling Elbow Drop from the second rope. The finish was a thing of beauty. Once Umino was able to power out of a Camal Clutch, he was lifted into a Belly-to-Belly, Scoop Slam and a Boston Crab all within five seconds of each other. When Umino powered out again, he took another Belly-to-Belly into a Boston Crab and that ended the match. This was a great showcase for both guys with Umino looking like the scrappy underdog with an attitude problem and the older wrestler putting him in his place. Very good stuff all around from these two.
The first round of the 2017 Young Lion Cup gets a solid grade from yours truly. All six youngsters showcased different styles that can be easily differentiated from one another, all showing great promise. Each match featured the more inexperienced wrestler having a great high spot that helped him get over with the crowd. If you have thirty minutes it is well worth the time to watch these young lions progress before your eyes.