Pro-Wrestling Coach Tony Kozina oversees the day-to-day development of the young lions. With 27 years of experience, Kozina helped shape the minds and abilities of the young lions, applying his vast knowledge to teaching the lion’s life skills that are necessary to understand the life of a traveling professional wrestler. The young lion’s of June 2023 marked Kozina’s fifteenth intake at Fale Dojo.
“This past intake, our June 2023 intake may be the most promising since our famous intake of February 2019 that we still talk about,” Kozina likened the calibre of the 2023 June intake to that of the 2019 February intake which produced Oskar Leube, Aaron Solo, and Tome & Stevie Filip.
“A wide variety of talent with good attitudes and a knack for learning quickly made the past three months a joy,” Kozina explained. “We have three of these lions staying for additional intakes, so they can fine-tune their abilities and instincts, and that helps to make our September intake that much better. It all feeds off the other.”
“The proof is in the pudding as we have several of our lions making their TAMASHII debut Sept 15th in Sydney,” Kozina alluded to the upcoming NJPW TAMASHII event in Sydney. “Most notably, Vinnie DiMaria, Malcolm Evans, Johnny Gardner, Tyler Illes, and Trent Hooper. That is a direct result of their dedication over the past three months. No excuses, just results.”
Read Ite Lemalu’s TAMASHII Focus: Tony Kozina talks Dojo showcase at njpw1972.com
Tacoma, Washington, USA
The number of American prospects coming to Fale Dojo continues to grow with the addition of Malcolm Evans as one of four new Americans to join Fale’s pride. Known in the squared circle as Malcolm Phlex, Evans gained his initial training in 2014 under the tutelage of Len ‘the Grappler’ Denton, Dave Hollenbeck, and Jeremy Blanchard. A born leader, Evans would go on to give back to his community helping 17 students from the Oregon Pro Wrestling school make their in-ring debuts. Looking to progress his craft, Evans was encouraged by 2020 Fale Dojo graduate, Derrick Shaw, to stretch his limits at the Dojo.
“Derrick-San suggested I come out to Fale Dojo. We spoke about furthering my career goals and having Fale-San help to make that happen. Derrick-San believed having me learn from a big man like Fale-San would help accomplish this being he has worked with some of the best in NJPW.
“My initial thoughts after starting the training at the Dojo was how wet it was out here, it reminded me of home. My first training was mentally tough as well as physically exhausting. Hearing we would be running a 3k every morning placed me in a state of focus. Game on, do whatever it takes, and focus on the goal!!
“I encountered some nagging injuries which were my main challenges but worked around them and continued training with the boys. What I gained most out of Fale Dojo’s training was increasing my warrior mindset and ability. There were so many lessons learned here in and out of the ring.
“Fale San and the team have increased my physicality and the way I study film on my opponents and new techniques. I believed I was a force to be reckoned with before I arrived. Now I feel even more outstanding in my abilities to take on anyone. I showed that in my first two Lion’s Den matches, and I’ll show it again when I debut in Sydney Australia on September 15.”
Brooklyn, New York, USA
Soldier, fighter, and professional wrestler; Brooklyn’s Elijah Melendez has acquired resilience and a vast skillset in combat that comes with fighting through many battles. On top of his 10 years in the squared circle, Melendez is well versed in Kyokushin karate, aikido, Brazilian jiujitsu, army competitive, and catch wrestling. Melendez was prepared for the wrestling ring by Jose and Joel Maximo. In March 2018, Melendez trained at the LA Dojo for a week under Katsuyori Shibata, Rocky Romero, KUSHIDA, and Scorpio Sky. In April of this year, Melendez trained at the Just Tap Out training facility in Japan under Taka Michinoku, before beginning his training for what would be his greatest battle at Fale Dojo for the 2023 June intake.
“My first goal was to get to Japan. Check. My second goal was to get to New Japan Pro-Wrestling. I heard about Fale Dojo in 2019 just before the COVID pandemic. My plan was to join right after college, but my life had taken a different turn. My grandmother’s health was declining, and I took care of her from the time I got out of college until I joined the Army. Unfortunately, while I was in basic training she passed. My family was a big part of why I came to Fale Dojo. My grandparents never got to see me wrestle. My dad recorded some of my first matches. I spent the last 4 years planning and taking every measure I could to get back on track with wrestling. When the Lion’s Roar docu-series hit New Japan World, that was all I needed to confirm my decision to come here the first chance I could.
“The Seniors were the most helpful since I arrived. They laid everything out as expected and made everyone feel welcome. The rules and etiquette came fast as I was used to it from my previous experiences in Japan. Having been to Japan twice and having the military background under my belt I was preparing to face the toughest three months of my life. I did everything I could ever since that first New Japan camp in LA to prepare myself for training here. Even after all the prep, nothing prepares you more than being thrown into the fire. Even after watching Lion’s Roar and any training footage of the Dojo I could find online, I still didn’t know what to expect.
“Competing on Lion’s Den was definitely my highlight. I haven’t had many opportunities to compete in front of an audience. Getting to wrestle in New Zealand was a huge check off my list. I didn’t think I would wrestle in Lion’s Den. I had a lot of doubts about how training was coming, and I thought I wouldn’t be ready. But when I was selected to go out there, I had to turn on the thunder. I was happy to see my training pay off and the feedback I received from Tony-San and Fale-San helped me a lot through the rest of the intake.”
Bristol, England, United Kingdom
Beginning his wrestling training in 2013 while completing his secondary education, Bristol’s Lewis Savery took part in some intensive boot camps that were run by international guest coaches. These experiences provided Savery with a solid foundation before focusing on intense training for two years. In addition to professional wrestling, Savery was experienced in grappling and weightlifting, as well as rugby. Being a fan of New Japan Pro-Wrestling, Savery set his sights on making his way to Fale Dojo.
“Fale Dojo has been an ambition of mine since its inception. I grew up as a massive fan of NJPW, and always wanted to be a full-time professional wrestler for the brand. While I pursued other passions in my early twenties, I never lost sight of this goal. I knew when the time was right, I would make the journey here. I chose Fale Dojo as it appeared to be the most accessible path to my objective, and I wanted to take the opportunity to learn from Fale-San and Tony-San, who both have tons of experience and knowledge to offer.
“I tried my best to come to the intake with an open mind and with as few preconceptions as possible. Having some prior experience, I knew I would have to be humble and be prepared to start from zero. I saw this as an opportunity to rebuild myself from the ground up. Honestly, I was just happy to finally have the opportunity to test myself in the NJPW NZ Dojo and see how far I could push myself.
“I would say the biggest challenge for me has been time management. Tony-San told us very early that our training is a 24/7 endeavour, and I guess I didn’t really grasp to what extent that was true. While we train for three to four hours a day, there is so much more that has to be done to ensure we are performing to the best of our abilities: Proper nutrition, weight training, adequate sleep, recovery activities such as sauna, stretching, and studying tapes. Additionally, being on the other side of the world meant I had a very small window each day to contact my friends and family, so I had very little free time to be idle. At times this was overwhelming, but I found it progressively easier to maintain the discipline as I now see the results of my efforts.
“My biggest accomplishment is having had the opportunity to wrestle on the Lion’s Den show organised by the Dojo. Coming here, I didn’t think I would have the chance to wrestle in front of a live crowd, but being selected to be a part of the show and wrestle under the New Japan banner was a huge honour.”
Cronulla, New South Wales, Australia
Ready for a challenge, is how Cronulla’s Brent Townsend best described his reasons for training at Fale Dojo. Beginning his training at the Vulcan’s Pro Wrestling School in NSW under the Fiji Warrior, Townsend would debut a year later in Vulcan Championship Wrestling (VCW) and become ‘Mr. Wrestling’ Tommy Renegade. At the recommendation of fellow VPW alumni and Fale Dojo graduate, Andrew Villalobos, Townsend made his way to Fale Dojo, NZ to begin his three-month training.
“I came to Fale Dojo because I was ready for a new challenge in my professional wrestling journey and thought the Dojo would be the best place to grow and develop. Moving overseas for the first time in my life as well while learning a new style with new coaches and new methodology was only going to help me become a better athlete and also would make me a better person and the Dojo has done that in spades.
“This is some sort of training! I was quite taken aback by the load in the training and the consistency of how often we worked out at that intense scale. But that’s exactly why I came here. To be pushed to levels I didn’t know I had mentally and physically.
“I’m a big family person and being away from them was really tough as they were always my biggest supporters. Having my support network away became taxing, but I reminded myself of why I was on this journey in hopes that I would make them proud of what I was achieving.
“Without question, my debut on the Lion’s Den in July and the following show was my highlight. That was truly a dream come true moment for me, to be able to say I’ve wrestled for New Japan Pro-Wrestling. A company that inspired me to pursue professional wrestling in the first place. That’s an achievement that I’ll never forget for the rest of my days.”
Bringing his blend of wrestling, fighting, and love for food, culture, and people, Pedro Ramirez fully embraced his Fale Dojo experience; from his wrestling training to his enjoyment of tasting the local cuisines. Starting his wrestling training in 2017 in his native Chile at a local lucha libre gym, Ramirez then moved to Australia taking with him his wrestling aspirations. Over the next five years, Ramirez spent time on the Australian independent scene developing his craft and based his training at Sydney’s Compound Grappling Academy which specialises in a variety of fighting disciplines.
“After years involved in professional wrestling, I took the decision to take the next step to go and become a professional in this discipline. As soon as I heard about Fale Dojo and its reputation, I wanted to be part of this, to learn and experience in person how to train at a professional level.
“My first thoughts as soon as I started my first training was that it was physically, extremely demanding, and it wasn’t to be easy at all. One of the biggest challenges was adapting myself to the Dojo lifestyle. But some of the Seniors and my fellow lions were really helpful when the situation became a bit overwhelming. Fale-San helped me to understand many of the situations and he was always willing to talk about anything that I’ve gone through.
“My biggest accomplishment was my debut in NJPW Tamashii Lion’s Den. An amazing experience that helped me taste the professional level of wrestling and the NJPW Tamashii system. My other accomplishment has been going through the training successfully and always doing it with a smile. I’m in the best shape and condition I’ve ever been in my life.”
Cover Graphic: Blackstorm Creative