Fale Dojo held the Exhibition Round Robin event on May 14, at the Dojo facility in Otahuhu, Auckland. Prior to the 6:30 pm bell-time, the fans had the opportunity to enjoy the family-friendly environment: This included purchasing merchandise and meeting Toks Fale (Fale Dojo Head Coach) who had just returned from a successful tour with New Japan Pro-Wrestling. Fale brought with him his newly won IWGP tag team belt which was proudly put on display for the public.
The strong style action kicked off with the introductions led by Coaches Toks Fale, Tony Kozina, and Mark Tui. The Exhibition event marked the conclusion of the three-month training for the young lions of the February 2022 intake.
Five matches were scheduled for the evening, headlined by the Round Robin matches which featured Michael Richards, Andrew Villalobos, and Jake Taylor who were recently signed to New Japan Pro-Wrestling.
The young lions demonstrated a variety of exercises of the NJPW training system that helped develop their skills, movement, coordination, and balance. These workouts consisted of front and backward rolls, and the ever-challenging neck bridge.
Round Robin – Match 1 (30 Minute Time Limit)
JAKE TAYLOR vs. MICHAEL RICHARDS
Torquay, Victoria, Australia | Mount Wellington, Auckland, NZ
The opening match of the event was the first of the Round Robin matches which featured Jake Taylor against Michael Richards. Referee Lloyd Morgan was present as the official for the event.
Taylor and Richards took their time to feel each other out before locking up. Richards executed a go-behind waist lock but was thrown off by the larger Taylor. This was a much-refined Taylor from previous Exhibitions, as he was more aware of his big man attributes which he applied to his advantage.
Although Richards had experience on his side, Taylor controlled the pace of their encounter. Richards shifted the momentum to his favour with his speed and aggression, driving Taylor into the corner. However, Taylor met Richards at his speed only to strike him down with a selection of power moves to slow down the match.
Richards attempted to lift Taylor into a bodyslam, but Taylor imposed his brute strength and sent Richards flying outside of the ring. Referee Morgan checked on Richards before starting the 20-count for the young lion from Mount Wellington to get back in the ring, which he did on the seventh count.
Taylor laid into the back of Richards’ with some thunderous forearm shots, followed up with an elbow. Taylor applied a modified surfboard while jamming his knee against Richards’ spine to inflict extra pain. Richards refused to submit, he made his way to his feet and countered into a sleeper hold, but Taylor pushed Richards back into the corner turnbuckle to break the hold.
Taylor, without looking behind at his opponent, assumed that Richards was hurt. When Taylor turned around, he was surprised with an Irish whip to the opposite corner. Taylor reversed the momentum, however, and sent Richards to the turnbuckle. But Richards rebounded off and hit Taylor with a clothesline.
The lions began exchanging strikes until Taylor booted Richards in the gut and lifted him up into a bodyslam. Seeing that Richards was in severe pain, Taylor went to apply the Boston crab submission hold but before he could lock it in, Richards crawled to the ropes using his forearms to release the hold.
Taylor charged at Richards while he used the ropes to get to his feet. Richards dodged out of harm’s way and rebounded off the ropes. Taylor awaited Richards as he came charging towards him, to which Taylor picked up Richards, and crashed down with an immaculate Deep Six side slam.
Taylor successfully applied the Boston crab. Richards fought in agony and managed to crawl his way to the ropes, but Taylor pulled Richards away from the safety of the rope while still applying the hold. Richards looked like he was about to pass out. Referee Morgan raised Richards’ arms two times as his arm fell to the mat. The third time, Richards’ arm stayed up, and then he crawled to the ropes.
Taylor had Richards at his mercy. While picking up his fellow lion to instil further punishment. Richards, on adrenaline, escaped Taylor’s grasp. He sped to the opposite of the ring while Taylor stood still in the center. Richards rebounded off the ropes and connected with a flying European uppercut.
Richards lifted Taylor up into a suplex and followed up with his own Boston crab. Richards, however, was not able to hold both legs of his larger opponent as the hold became a single-legged crab, which allowed Taylor to power out with ease.
Taylor ran against the ropes while Richards stood up, Taylor connected with a big boot. Richards dropped to the mat, and Taylor covered Richards while Referee Morgan counted to three, giving Taylor the first win of the Round Robin.
Winner: JAKE TAYLOR
Special Challenge Match (10 Minute Time Limit)
ELIJAH TAITO vs. RICHARD MULU
Otara, South Auckland, NZ
The next match was a unique encounter that featured two participants, Elijah Taito, and Richard Mulu, who happened to be cousins. Taito initially was booed by the crowd while Mulu was cheered when he entered ringside. As the match progressed, the crowd switched their allegiance to Taito and turned against Mulu when Mulu began trash-talking his opponent, then telling the crowd to “shut up”.
Taito and Mulu slowly circled each other. They locked up several times, but neither lion was able to gain an advantage. This was unfamiliar territory for Mulu, the intimidating heavyweight: In past Exhibitions, Mulu would easily bulldoze his way through his opponents.
Mulu understood that he would not be able to manhandle Taito the same way, and resorted with a boot to Taito’s gut. Mulu executed a huge clubbing forearm onto Taito’s back and applied a headlock.
“I LIKE IT!” Mulu shouted aloud.
Taito tried to muscle his way out, but Mulu regained control. Mulu with his massive arms squeezed away at Taito’s head. Taito attempted a second time to muscle out, but again, Mulu reasserted his dominance.
While locked in the hold, Taito pushed Mulu off against the ropes, Mulu ran back to shoulder block Taito, but he did not go down. Taito ran against the ropes and charged at Mulu, but Mulu did not flinch when Taito connected.
Mulu dared Taito to challenge him again. Taito obliged, this time connecting with a flying shoulder block that affected Mulu as he stumbled back against the ropes. Taito seized his opportunity, seeing that Mulu was off-balance, and struck with a clothesline that dropped Mulu to the mat. The crowd erupted in cheers.
Taito attempted to Irish whip Mulu from the corner turnbuckle to the opposite end. But the Irish whip was reversed as Taito hit the corner turnbuckle, and Mulu charged in with a ferocious avalanche splash.
Mulu followed up by repeatedly shoulder-barging Taito up against the turnbuckle before laying in a thudding forearm onto Taito’s chest. Taito, relying on his instincts as a trained military soldier and Mixed Martial Arts fighter, fended Mulu off with his incredible strikes. Taito tried to lift Mulu into a bodyslam but was unable to as he dropped to the mat. Mulu paid him back with a clubbing forearm.
“HOW DO YOU LIKE THAT?!?!” roared Mulu, silencing the crowd with his mighty presence.
Mulu applied a bearhug on Taito in the middle of the ring. Taito was at his most vulnerable. Mulu squeezed away while Taito was losing air in his body,
Taito reverted to what he knew best, unleashing his remarkable striking ability to break loose of Mulu’s death grip. Taito followed up with a couple more strikes, but his momentum was broken when Mulu intercepted with a clubbing forearm shot.
“SEE WHAT HAPPENS?!?!” Mulu hollered.
Mulu threw another clubbing forearm onto Taito, but Taito fought back with his strikes. This became a battle of styles as the two exchanged hits until Mulu broke the back and forth by reapplying the bear hug.
“SHUT UP!” Mulu growled at the crowd about their support of Taito, the ex-military soldier turned young lion.
Taito broke Mulu’s hold with a knee strike. He pushed Mulu into the corner and charged into the turnbuckle, but Mulu moved out of the way. Mulu then prepared to hit back at Taito with an avalanche splash, however, Taito dodged out of the way at the last second. Mulu was dazed from crashing into the turnbuckle.
Taito saw his opening, lifted Mulu, and came crashing down on the mat with a power slam. Referee Morgan counted to three, and Taito gained the victory while the crowd celebrated.
Winner: ELI TAITO
Round Robin – Match 2 (30 Minute Time Limit)
ANDREW VILLALOBOS vs. JAKE TAYLOR
Sydney, NSW, Australia | Torquay, Victoria, Australia
Andrew Villalobos and Jake Taylor stood at opposite corners of the ring. Villalobos walked all the way from his side to confront Taylor face to face. This might have seemed a bold move by Villalobos to show fearlessness towards his opponent, Taylor, who had the defeat of Michael Richards on his hands. But the move also demonstrated Taylor’s confidence in the way that he did not have to move to initiate contact.
Villalobos circled quickly and cautiously around Taylor who was planted in the middle of the ring. The lions engaged in a Greco-Roman knuckle lock that Taylor dominated. Villalobos fought his way back up, but Taylor leaned in further and backed his opponent down into a neck bridge. Villalobos maneuvered his way out of the neck bridge, put Taylor into an arm twist, drove him over with a headlock take over onto the mat, and quickly laid on top for an attempted pinfall.
The lions engaged in a second lock-up, where Villalobos made his way around to the back of Taylor and countered into a schoolboy roll-up, but Taylor was able to kick out.
Taylor then executed his own mighty headlock take over that sent Villalobos crashing onto the mat. Taylor tried a pinfall while still applying the headlock, however, Villalobos kicked out.
Taylor held Villalobos captive in an armlock, and Villalobos executed a forward role to break Taylor’s grip. Taylor grabbed Villalobos by his long hair and threw him down to the mat. Referee Morgan warned Taylor about his illegal tactic.
Taylor speared Villalobos when the two lions crisscrossed against the ropes. Taylor hit Villalobos with some clubbing blows to the back.
“COME ON COLOMBIA!” Taylor tormented Villalobos.
Villalobos fought back with a succession of strikes, but Taylor stopped his momentum by executing some fierce chops. As Villalobos laid in pain across the bottom rope, Taylor put all his weight on top of his opponent’s throat.
Taylor continued his merciless clubbing strikes. Villalobos tried to counter with some grappling, reverting to the schoolboy roll-up, but Taylor kicked out. Villalobos unloaded with a succession of strikes on Taylor, then ran against the ropes with the intention to finish off his larger opponent with a forearm strike, but Taylor waited and floored him with a momentous shoulder block.
With Villalobos laid out on the mat, Taylor applied a sleeper hold and put all his weight down on his opponent. Villalobos fought off the hold with upward knee strikes to Taylor’s chin, this allowed the young lion from Sydney to get back on his feet. Villalobos rebounded against the ropes to strike Taylor down. However, Taylor had other plans and wiped out Villalobos with a devastating lariat that Stan Hansen himself would have approved of.
The dazed Villalobos slowly made his way to his feet, and Taylor met him with a slap to the face. Villalobos instinctively fought back with a series of forearm strikes. Villalobos ran back to the ropes and hit Taylor with an enzuigiri. Taylor dropped to the mat for the first time in the match, as did Villalobos, who in addition to taking a lot of punishment; the enzuigiri that he executed added to his fatigue.
Both lions got back on their feet, Villalobos landed some strikes, and pushed Taylor into the corner turnbuckle. Villalobos swung his opponent from Torquay, Victoria against the ropes, Taylor rebounded and hit a forearm strike which dropped Villalobos to the mat.
Taylor positioned himself in the corner and awaited Villalobos to get up off the mat so that he could knock him down with the big boot, the same move which he defeated Michael Richards with. Taylor charged in, but Villalobos side-stepped. Taylor collided into the opposite corner with such momentum, that he bounced off and received a power slam by Villalobos.
A rejuvenated Villalobos administered some strikes followed up with a jumping high knee. Then he applied the Oklahoma roll, but Taylor was able to escape the pinfall attempt
Villalobos went to strike Taylor with a boot, Taylor caught Villalobos’ leg and hit him with a knee strike which sent Villalobos to the mat. Taylor dropped on top of Villalobos, laying back first for the pin. But as Referee Morgan began counting, Villalobos clutched Taylor’s arms in a crucifix position and rolled all of his weight over, pinning Taylor’s shoulders to the mat. Morgan counted Villalobos’ pinfall to three.
Villalobos was vulnerable to Taylor’s immense presence during the match, and it seemed as if Villalobos’ attempts to out grapple his opponent was a game plan that was failing. However, Villalobos stuck to his objective and got close enough to outsmart Taylor.
Winner: ANDREW VILLALOBOS
Special Challenge Match (10 Minute Time Limit)
TONY KOZINA vs. NIKOLAI ANTON BELL
Portland, Oregon, USA | Christchurch, Canterbury, NZ
Exhibition Round Robin resumed after the intermission with a special single match pitting Fale Dojo Pro-Wrestling Coach, Tony Kozina, against young Nikolai Anton Bell, the newest young lion to train at Fale Dojo / NZ Dojo.
The speed at which Kozina and Bell approached each other at the start of the match indicated that it would be an exciting fast-paced contest. But as the bout progressed, it was the physical nature of NZ strong style that captivated the crowd.
As the teacher and student locked up, Bell took Kozina to the mat. However, Kozina gripped Bell with an armlock. Bell managed to roll his way out of the move.
Kozina and Bell tie up for a second time, Bell applied a headlock, Kozina struck at Bell’s ribs, Bell then grounded Kozina with a headlock takeover. Kozina countered by applying a head scissors lock around Bell’s neck. Bell used a headstand to flip out of Kozina’s strong leg grip.
In their third tie-up, Kozina applied a headlock, and held on tightly, putting pressure on Bell’s face.
Bell walked him and Kozina up against the ropes and pushed off his teacher to escape the hold. Kozina ran across the ropes and connected with a shoulder block, but young Bell did not tremble.
Kozina grabbed Bell in an armlock and transitioned into a drop toe hold. Kozina, using his leg strength, stretched Bell’s leg while he was able to escape.
The participants proceeded to another tie-up, this time, Kozina struck Bell hard. Kozina threw Bell into the turnbuckle with such velocity.
Kozina shoulder barged Bell against the turnbuckle and then hit a stinging knife edge chop.
Bringing the best of American wrestling to New Zealand’s shores, Kozina executed a snap mare takeover and unleashed a kick to Bell’s spine. Kozina followed up with a nerve hold before dropping an elbow on Bell’s head. Kozina then added a kick across Bell’s chest.
Kozina threw Bell against the turnbuckle which added pain to his spine, Bell retaliated with repeated chops, that shook Kozina against the corner turnbuckle.
Bell attempted a bodyslam, but Kozina the veteran laid a clubbing forearm on Bell’s back and followed up with a headbutt, sending his student falling to the mat.
Kozina reapplied the nerve hold, Bell fought through the pain as he stood up. Bell struck Kozina to escape the hold, then swung the teacher across the ropes. Bell attempted a dropkick, however, Kozina, the veteran, held onto the ropes, sending Bell crashing back first onto the mat.
Kozina delivered an elbow drop and went for the pin, but Bell kicked out. Kozina then Irish whipped Bell against the ropes, as Bell came back, Kozina threw him over for a back body drop. Bell held onto Kozina from the back and slid down in position for a sunset flip. Kozina countered Bell’s desperation with a jumping double foot stomp, a move that is often used by Kozina’s student, Fale Dojo graduate, and current All-Elite Wrestling star, Aaron Solo.
“COME ON KIDDO!” Kozina screamed at Bell.
Kozina, the former two-time NWA Junior Heavyweight Champion, stood Bell up against the turnbuckle. Kozina then attempted to rush into Bell with a clothesline, but Bell moved out of the way at the last second, sending Kozina out of the ring and landing on his back.
Although Kozina was the antagonist, the crowd cheered for Kozina to climb back into the ring which he managed to do at the seventh count despite being in severe pain. These precious seconds gave Bell enough time to regain himself. Bell unleashed some strikes while Kozina was draped up against the corner turnbuckle.
Bell climbed up the corner and started the ten punches, however, Kozina pushed Bell off before he could begin. Kozina charged at Bell, but Bell was waiting and executed a superb dropkick which sent Kozina to the mat.
Bell attempted a Boston crab, but Kozina countered the move with a modified victory roll-up pinfall attempt. Bell charged at Kozina who was in the corner, Kozina moved out of the way as Bell collided into the turnbuckle.
While Bell lay helpless on the matt, Kozina delivered a running knee drop and attempted pinfall out of it. Bell fought his way back to his feet. He swung Kozina against the ropes with the intention to hit a forearm strike. However, Kozina struck Bell first. Kozina then executed a stunning swinging neck breaker. Kozina hooked Bell’s leg to pick up the three-count pinfall.
Kozina left the ring shortly after, while Referee Morgan checked on Bell. Bell regained himself and stood in the middle of the ring and was applauded by the crowd. Bell bowed in acknowledgment before leaving the ring.
Winner: TONY KOZINA
Round Robin – Match 3 (30 Minute Time Limit)
MICHAEL RICHARDS vs. ANDREW VILLALOBOS
Auckland, Mount Wellington, NZ | Sydney, NSW, Australia
Both arriving at Fale Dojo in June 2018, Michael Richards and Andrew Villalobos have journeyed alongside each other. Often, they have found themselves as tag team partners, or as opponents. This match happened to be one of those instances where they would find themselves on opposite corners of the squared circle.
Richards and Villalobos engaged in an intense lockup. Richards backed Villalobos into the corner where he held him until Referee Morgan started the 5-count warning to disengage. Richards, on the warpath from his loss earlier in the evening, shoulder barged Villalobos repeatedly against the turnbuckle, then followed up by throwing his opponent to the opposite end of the ring. Richards charged at Villalobos from behind and threw him through the ropes to the outside.
Richards followed Villalobos to the outside with clubbing blows before pushing him back inside the ring to the excitement of the crowd. Richards attempted to gain a pinfall, but Villalobos kicked out before Referee Morgan completed the three-count.
Changing his game plan, Richards applied a sleeper hold to wear down Villalobos, but Villalobos made his way to the ropes to break the hold. Richards then executed a front face lock before turning the move into a neck breaker. Richards tried another pinfall attempt, but Villalobos kicked out.
Richards went back to the sleeper hold, Villalobos fought his way up and threw a few elbows at Richards’ abdomen to release the hold. Richards let go, only to throw a series of forearm strikes.
To break Richards’ momentum, Villalobos instinctively went to execute a waist lock into a schoolboy pinfall attempt. As Richards kicked out, Villalobos executed a leglock submission hold. Richards fought through the pain and inched his way to the ropes to release the hold.
Villalobos rolled Richards into a small package pinfall, but Richards kicked out. Villalobos attempted to lift Richards into a suplex, but Richards blocked the hold with forearm shots to Villalobos’ spine.
Richards resumed his offensive strikes on Villalobos who was up against the corner turnbuckle. Villalobos fought his way out as the NJPW young lions exchanged forearm strikes. Richards gained the upper hand before executing the spinning fisherman suplex, Villalobos narrowly avoided the three-count when he lifted his foot onto the bottom rope.
Richards went to attempt a second spinning fisherman suplex. Villalobos escaped behind and applied the waist lock into the schoolboy roll-up, but Richards kicked out. Villalobos held on to Richards’ leg and applied a single-legged crab. The pain was too much for Richards, and he tapped out, giving Villalobos the victory.
This was Richards’ second loss in the Round Robin, after losing his first to Jake Taylor. Villalobos was the overall winner having defeated both his fellow NJPW young lions.
Villalobos won both matches with the same game plan. He got in close enough to defeat both opponents, which he did so by defeating Taylor via pinfall, and Richards by submission.
Winner: ANDREW VILLALOBOS
Coach Kozina thanked the crowd that packed out the Fale Dojo facility. The night concluded with the young lions reciting the Japanese prayer, bowing to their Senpais and each other.
Credit Cover Graphic: Michael Richards, WWGFX
Credit Photos: Isoa Kavakimotu