The Young Lion tradition in New Japan Pro Wrestling (Shin Nihon Puroresu) drew inspiration from the shisho-deshi (teacher-student) relationship which still exists in a modified form within the promotion. Young Lions are those who are currently training at the legendary New Japan Dojo which trained the likes of Keiji Muto, Shin’ya Hashimoto, Masahiro Chono, Jushin Thunder Liger, Yuji Nagata, Satoshi Kojima, Hiroyoshi Tenzan, Shinsuke Nakamura, Hiroshi Tanahashi and numerous other world-renowned names in the wrestling business.
Several members of the last Young Lions class are playing key roles at Wrestle Kingdom 12 on January 4th. Roppongi 3k (Sho & Yoh) along with Jay White are all in title matches and are prime to play key roles in the future of New Japan. The current dojo class has a number of interesting prospects who could also see their name headline major shows within the next few years after their overseas excursion.
Young Lions: Teruaki Kanemitsu
Kanemitsu is currently nursing a severe back-injury putting his future into serious question. If he is able to recover he has the potential to add depth in either the junior or heavyweight division. His road to recovery could make him a sympathetic figure in the eyes of fans who would appreciate what he would have overcome to continue his career.
Young Lions: Tetsuhiro Yagi
Yagi made his debut in May of 2017 and currently looks to be on the path of becoming a solid hand in the junior division for years to come. There is still plenty of time for him to show he has a higher ceiling, however, he could become a stalwart in a growing tag team division. He is 25-years-old.
Young Lions: Ren Narita
Narita debuted this past July and has the frame to add extra weight to become a solid junior or perhaps move up to the heavyweight division one day if he becomes a solid draw. He’s still inexperienced, yet has shown some potential in the ring. A future tag team with him and Yagi could be a solid way for both to grow. Narita recently turned 20 in November and will have a lot of time to develop.
Young Lions: Syota Umino
Umino is a 20-year-old and seems like he will fill out into a heavyweight. Despite only debuting this past April, he has shown a unique fire in the ring – similar to what Jay White showed when he was a Young Lion. He will in the least be a figure within the Never Openweight scene and could easily grow into a IWGP United States and IWGP Intercontinental title contender. He’s definitely an intriguing talent and should have a stellar career.
Young Lions: Tomoyuki Oka
Oka may be in his upper 20s, however, his extensive amateur wrestling and martial arts background makes him a hot prospect for the future. He was on New Japan’s radar in 2013 and began his dojo training in 2015. Oka has shown a great feel in the ring and could be a breakout star after he takes an excursion. It shouldn’t surprise anyone if Oka becomes IWGP Heavyweight Champion several years down the road, at the very least he will be a fixture around the IWGP Intercontinental Championship.
Young Lions: Henare
Henare received his initial training at the Fale Dojo (owned by Bad Luck Fale and has a working relationship with New Japan Pro Wrestling) with Mark Charles Tui playing a major part in preparing him for the New Japan Dojo. In the ring, he is showing the intensity of a Bruiser Brody/Togi Makabe hybrid. He returned from a lengthy injury with focus, passion, and a sense of purpose. Over the past several months he has begun to draw heavy reactions from live audiences and is setting himself up to become a future star in New Japan.
Young Lions: Hirai Kawato
Kawato is only 20, yet he already shows flashes of Koji Kanemoto. He will probably go on an excursion at some point in 2018, where he will solidify himself as the future of the junior division. He has all the necessary tools needed to succeed in the ring if he is able to develop charisma and showmanship he will become a major force for the promotion. The sky is the limit for Kawato.
Young Lions: Katsuya Kitamura
Kitamura is 32, but his background as an amateur wrestler and bodybuilder has earned him the nickname of Kinniku Monster (Muscle Monster). He was the winner of the 2017 Young Lions Cup and has stated that he wishes for his excursion to take place in the United States in 2018. With his physique and background, all signs are leading to New Japan pushing him heavily once he returns from his excursion. Age may be the only factor that holds him back from becoming a major draw, but he will definitely find his way to the top of the card in the future.
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12.22.2017: Preview: The History of NJPW
12.25.2017: Preview: Wrestle Kingdom 12 (1/4/2018)
12.26.2017: Tetsuya Naito: Stardust Champion to Ingobernable
12.27.2017: The Record Breaker: Kazuchika Okada
12.27.2017: Lionheart: Chris Jericho’s Return to Japan
12.27.2017: Takeshi Puroresu Gundan and The Last Laugh
12.28.2017: Switchblade: Jay White is NJPW’s Next Breakout Star
12.28.2017: Ace Under Pressure: Hiroshi Tanahashi
12.29.2017: Katsuya Kitamura: The Future of New Japan
12.29.2017: Kenny Omega: From Golden Love to Being The Elite
12.30.2017: Lion’s Gate: The Young Lions of NJPW
12.30.2017: Gang Warfare: Los Ingobernables de Japon
BONUS: Could Jericho vs. Naito Be Next on The List?