Lion’s Break Collision 1 (Friday 3rd July) – New Japan of America review

    It’s been two and a half years since New Japan Pro Wrestling sent Katsuyori Shibata to Los Angeles to open and run their LA Dojo and the results have paid dividends. With his band of Young Lions featuring standouts such as Karl Fredericks, Clark Connors, Alex Coughlin and, relatively recently, UK recruit Gabriel Kidd, he has forged a crop of up-and-comers who are hungry to make their name in Japan as well as playing a pivotal role in giving the company a foothold in the United States.

    In the midst of the global COVID-19 crisis, New Japan of America, as the US arm has been branded, has now begun to showcase the LA Young Lions alongside some of the more experienced US talents who couldn’t travel to Japan to be part of the New Japan Cup and subsequent summer tour. This latest show riffs on Lion’s Break moniker usually coined for such showcases of emerging talent and will be released weekly. Lion’s Break Collision is a 30 to 40-minute burst of action, so far usually two matches and a few interviews. It’s a neat format, bolstered by the stellar announce team of Kevin Kelly, Gino Gambino, and Chris Charlton and is a brilliant platform for the youngsters.

    Clark Connors and Alex Coughlin resulted in a time limit draw

    Clark Connors has made a name for himself as the team captain of the LA Dojo and, alongside his opponent Alex Coughlin, represents a bright future for NJPW. Connors has a background in football (no, not the one where they actually use their feet) and has previous form in the most recent Young Lion Cup. It was in the 2019 Young Lion Cup that Alex Coughlin also came to the fore, battling his way past the likes of Yota Tsuji and Clark Connors.

    Given the show is called Collision, this match certainly lived up to the name. Connors and Coughlin threw everything they had at each other. Given the traditionally limited move set of Young Lions, employed so that they can focus on the basics, this may not sound like much but its intensity was such that neither Connors nor Coughlin would look out of place on the main NJPW card.

    Watching these two develop over the last couple of years has been fantastic but the pressure is on both men to move up and make their main roster debut. The sense of struggle to win and prove themselves was palpable here, even within the confines of a limited move set and a ten minute time limit. It may sound like a cliche but intensity was the word. As the ring announcer counted down the minutes and neither Connors nor Coughlin could score the pinfall or the submission, it’s quite clear that this is far from over.

    Karl Fredericks and TJP defeated Jeff Cobb and Rocky Romero

    Karl Fredericks on the other hand, has the opposite problem. Having now graduated from the traditional black trunks of the Young Lions to his own flamboyant tassled ringwear and the main roster, he has everything to prove. In his interview at the top of the show, Fredericks inexplicably vowed to do this by punching Jeff Cobb in the face. An interesting proposition, given Cobb’s size, strength and penchant for throwing folks around the ring like they’re nothing. But I suppose if you’re going to punch above your weight and make a name for yourself, calling out an Olympian and one of the baddest members of the NJPW roster is one way of doing it.

    Having had his New Japan Cup main roster debut pulled from under him due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, Fredericks certainly set his stall out in this match. He is an incredible prospect like Connors and Coughlin and put on a good showing here. His kickboxing training with Shibata and the raw strength of his elbow strikes, again reminiscent of his trainer, made for exciting Strong Style action.

    After pinning Rocky Romero with a backslide, Fredericks’ post-match scuffle with Jeff Cobb wasn’t quite the throwing of hits we saw in the actual match but I suppose it makes sense given that they’re obviously building to Cobb versus Fredericks some way down the line.

    While the format slightly suffers from the lack of a crowd which is so integral to pro wrestling given that their reactions ultimately determine who gets over, who gets a push and so on, NJPW’s sport-like qualities arguably lends itself better to a crowd-less presentation. With former MMA fighter ‘Filthy’ Tom Lawlor debuting in a couple of weeks, it will be interesting to see how many of the US roster who are unable to currently travel show up in Lion’s Break Collision in the coming weeks and months.

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