Lost in the shuffle of a fantastic 2013 for the world’s two largest promotions has been a stellar year for Dragon Gate, which has also enjoyed a tremendous year both in the ring and at the gate.
While many have felt that Dragon Gate has been the true number two promotion in Japan for the past several years, with the struggles of NOAH to draw fans to anything but retirement shows, and the struggles of All Japan to draw fans to any show period, at this point there is no longer any doubt. Dragon Gate is a steady promotion that chugs along, does their thing, and consistently puts nice sized crowds into nice sized buildings for their big shows.
Dragon Gate is no stranger to international expansion, with sister promotions Dragon Gate USA & Dragon Gate UK operating overseas, and in 2012, debuting a worldwide subscription service for their monthly Dragon Gate PRIME ZONE shows. PRIME ZONE are intimate studio style shows produced by Dragon Gate Studios (there is also a Dragon Gate Records under the Dragon Gate umbrella, which produces all of the in house entrance music and CD compilations), shot from innovative angles and featuring promos with English subtitles.
This year, following the lead of New Japan, Dragon Gate (or more accurately, Dragon Gate’s broadcast partner GAORA, which made the call) dipped their toes in the international iPPV water with USTREAM, first with a taped delayed version of the “Dead or Alive” PPV, then a live test run of a Korakuen Hall show. Since then, it’s been full steam ahead with all of the traditional PPV’s appearing on the medium. A blow away “Kobe World” show was followed up with November’s “Gate of Destiny”, leading to the big year-end show from Fukuoka, “Final Gate”.
Dragon Gate had always been the hardest promotion for puro fans to get their hands on. In year’s past, it wasn’t uncommon for major shows to simply never emerge in the west (legally or otherwise). That’s all changed with PRIME ZONE & iPPV. With these pay options, plus live events & DVD’s from the DGUSA & DGUK offices, this is a great time to be a fan with multiple ways to follow the product. The days of hoping & praying for shows to emerge months after the fact are long over.
1. Rocky Lobo, U-T, Yosuke Santa Maria vs Ryotsu Shimizu, Jimmy Kagetora, Jimmy Kanda – The Millenials, a unit made up entirely of those born post 1990, took Dragon Gate by storm in the second half of the year and injected the company with a much needed boost of fresh blood. Rocky Lobo is an import from the DTU promotion in Mexico, which housed the 2013 excursions Eita, T-Hawk, and hot rookie U-T. Yosuke Santa Maria is the former Super Shenlong III doing a lucha exotico gimmick. In addition, he does an amazing job being effeminate. If you didn’t know any better, you would think it’s a female. Shimizu is another rookie that broke through this year, and despite the goofy anime gimmick, he has tons of upside and has received a good undercard push as of late. This had a ton of innovative flying from the Millenials side, particularly Lobo, who did wacky dives from wacky angles. Santa Maria looked outstanding, including a cool leg lariat spot; although he was having a ton of problems with his bra, (I can’t believe I just typed that). Kagetora looked the best I’ve seen him, maybe ever. This was a great opener, with bodies flying all over the place and everybody looking sharp. This would be the best non-main event match on many WWE shows. Shimizu used his giant swing on Santa Maria, and they went into a Guerrero/Malenko sequence of pins & reversals, with Santa Maria eventually scoring the pin. I loved this opener; it was a real showcase for the young talent that has been the theme of DG during the second half of the year. ***1/2
2. Hollywood Stalker Ichikawa vs Don Fujii vs Batten Tamagawa – Tamagawa is a freelancer who has done a few DG shots this year but mostly works out of DDT. This was a short comedy match that didn’t work. Fujii used a double choke slam off the top and scored a double pin. Tamagawa was not over in the least, and he was terrible. I hope that he crawls back into the DDT prelim hole he came out of. DUD
3. Mondai Ryu, Kzy, Cyber Kong vs K-Ness, Super Shisa, Gamma – K-ness has been featured more than usual in 2013 and has really had a resurgent year. However, he didn’t get to do much here. This was just a match. Shisa pinned Kzy with Yoshi Tonic. *1/2
4. Open the Brave Gate Championship – Genki Horiguchi H.A.Gee.Mee!! (c) vs CIBA – The video package for this was set to Coldplay’s “Yellow”. Dragon Gate always has cool video packages for their title matches. CIBA is the former Kotoka, and mimics CIMA. He’s another young talent who they have pushed up the card this year. The Brave gate at times has been a high spot title, but not this year. This was worked at a slower pace and with some real intensity. The story early was the veteran beating down the youngster, but CIBA fought hard and it ended up being a good back & forth bout. Genki retained with the Beach Break, but CIBA looked good and to me he comes out of this stronger than he came in. ***
5. Open the Triangle Gate Championship – Flamita, Eita, T-Hawk (c) vs Dragon Kid, Masaaki Mochizuki, CIMA vs Mr. Que Que Naoki Tanazaki Toyonaka Dolphin, Jimmy Saito, Jimmy Susumu – The Millenials “A” team, Eita & T-Hawk, have been firmly established as stars, with this Triangle Gate run, a brief run as Twin Gate champs (while holding the Triangle Gate), T-Hawk’s spirited Dream Gate challenge against Masato Yoshino, and Eita’s star making tap outs of YAMATO & Genki Horiguchi. Their Triangle Gate partner is DTU’s Flamita, a breakout star himself this year who made a name for himself against Dragon Gate USA (and sometimes Dragon Gate) stars AR Fox, Ricochet, & Rich Swann in Mexico. This match went excessively long and dragged at points. Early on, it was the two veteran teams joining forces to beat up the cocky Millenials. A lot of the typical wacky DG spots and dive sequences. No real flow for much of this, and it could have been significantly shorter. Millenials were eliminated first when Mochi tapped out Eita with an armbar. This guaranteed a title change. Pace picked up when it was Team Veteran vs The Jimmyz. Dragon Kid hit a nice Dragonrana for a two count. Moments later, it was Dragon Kid alone with Susumu. DK got a near fall with a crucifix. Susumu hit a big lariat, then a gorgeous World Liner to win the titles. Last five minutes were good, but again, this match dragged on forever. ***
Intermission. Odd placement.
6. Open the Twin Gate Championship – YAMATO & Naruki Doi (c) vs Akira Tozawa & Shingo Takagi – Tozawa had been doing commentary earlier in the show. YAMATO & Doi make a nice sleazy heel team. The heels bullied Tozawa for a while, building to the hot tag. Then there was a second heat segment on Shingo. Good action from there. Shingo hit two Made in Japan’s on YAMATO, but he kicked out of one and Doi saved on another. A few minutes later, he hit another high angle Last Falconry on YAMATO, and this time he pinned him. That made two straight title changes on this show on V1 defenses. This was better than the Triangle Gate match was, but never quite hit that full extra gear to make it great. ***1/4
7. Open the Dream Gate Championship – Masato Yoshino (c) vs BxB Hulk – Hulk hasn’t been featured all that heavily this year, but these two have been beating each other in tag matches recently to build to this. Yoshino came into this bout in the midst of a surprisingly good early run as champion. Yoshino worked the neck early, and Hulk worked the legs. Very deliberate pace until Tozawa stopped a salt attack and used the salt on Hulk. Hulk fought out of a Sol Naciente clean. He gained control until missing a Phoenix Splash. Yoshino fired up, hit a huge lariat that Hulk took a great bump for, went through his sprint, hit two Torbellino’s, and then locked on the Sol Nociente for the win. Good, not great, match. ***1/4
Solid show, but below the usual Dragon Gate PPV standards. The title matches were all good, but nothing was great. The opener was the best match, and it really did a great job displaying the young undercard talent. Monster Express and the Jimmyz come out of the show with all of the titles. Mad Blankey went 0-3 on the night, and we may be closing in on the end of that unit soon.