Most people either love the Dragon Gate style, or hate it. Generally there isn’t much in between.
If you demand submission exchanges, extended selling, slow storytelling, strong style strikes, or super serious heavy psychology based wrestling, you probably hate Dragon Gate. They give you small doses of all of that (ok, maybe not the selling), but for the most part Dragon Gate is sprint based style, a mix of Japanese junior heavyweight & lucha libre, with fast action worked at a pace no other style can match.
Dragon Gate’s first ever live iPPV offering (following up last months taped “Dead or Alive” iPPV show), which was essentially a live episode of Dragon Gate Infinity (the 300th edition of the show that I’ve been voting ‘Best Weekly Televsion Show’ in the WON Awards for so many years straight that I can’t even recall what I voted for the last time I didn’t vote for Infinity), was exactly what you would expect from a Dragon Gate show. A collection of sprints with hot action, creative spots, flawless execution, and long promos with heavy emphasis on storylines, with plenty of Dragon Gate’s unique comedy sprinkled in. Dragon Gate comedy is not quite the business exposing “wink, wink” Chikara style comedy, and not quite the juvenile WWE style comedy, but more like campy, clever fun.
And that’s basically how I would describe this show. It was fun.
This show did not feature a string of match of the year contenders, or even anything close to what I would call a “go out of your way to see” match. But everything here was certainly watchable, and nothing was boring, let alone offensive or overtly skippable. Not a home run show like “Dead or Alive”, but a solid double.
But veteran Dragon Gate fans knew this wasn’t likely to be a home run. Korakuen Hall shows aren’t throwaways by any means, but they aren’t the company’s big shows, either. Dragon Gate traditional PPV’s are almost always great, and Kobe World, their most important show of the year, is coming up on 7/21. This show was more or less a setup for World, which as of this writing has unfortunately not been confirmed for USTREAM worldwide iPPV.
But just because this show won’t be cracking any best show of the year polls, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth your time. There is no such thing as a bad Dragon Gate show, and if there is, I haven’t seen it. While Dragon Gate has rarely been the best promotion in the world in a given year, it has easily been the most consistent, and overall has been my favorite promotion for most of the past decade. They know what they do well, and they do it at a level of consistency nobody else can match. When it comes to consistent performances, no roster in the world can touch this one. A large chunk or the roster has been working together for a decade or so, and it shows. Dragon Gate has very few bad matches, let alone entire shows.
Production wise, the show opened with the “Feed the Monster” Infinity show open, which as a Dragon Gate nerd got me instantly hyped for watching Dragon Gate live for the first time. From there, if you’ve ever seen Infinity on YouTube or DailyMotion or anywhere else, that’s what this was. No special bells & whistles for the new international audience. This was airing live as usual in Japan, and the iPPV viewers just happened to be invited (albeit paying) guests.
The iPPV broadcast began 15 minutes early, as fans were still filing into the building, with Shingo Takagi at the commentary desk. They played clips of YAMATO turning on Shingo and joining Akira Tozawa’a Mad Blankey, and while I don’t understand Japanese, I can safely say that Shingo was not pleased with these developments. This, combined with the Infinity “Feed the Monster” opening that lays out exactly what unit each wrestler is affiliated with, is something that had new viewers clued in on some of what was going on within five minutes of the start of the show. You knew Shingo was a face, you knew YAMATO betrayed him, and you knew why Shingo wanted to kick Tozawa’s ass tonight. They also showed video packages to set up the matches that have already been announced for World.
The picture quality was a slight notch below what New Japan offers, but better than what you would get from wwnlive, SmartMark, or ROH. The stream was flawless. Not a buffering wheel in sight.
Unlike New Japan iPPV’s, there was no muting of entrance themes, because Dragon Gate produces their music in house. On the taped “Dead or Alive” show last month, the commentary was turned down to a barely audible level, which I found interesting because it amplified the in ring sounds. But on this show, the commentary was back to normal levels.
The pre show match hit the ring at almost exactly 4:30am central, the advertised start time.
0. Kenichiro Arai & Super Shisa vs Chihiro Tominaga & Super Shenlong III – Tominaga & the latest version of Super Shenlong are the remaining members of Shingo’s -akatsuki- unit, one of the weaker units in the company. Arai & Shisa are veteran undercard guys who figured to pick up the in here, and they did, when Shisa hit his Yoshitonic on Tominaga. This went about 7:00, and was perfectly fine as a pre show opener. The crowd couldn’t possibly care less about it, though. Even the finish barely elicited a reaction. **1/2
The main show started with the lottery drawing for the main event. Each of the ten competitors grabbed a child out of the crowd to pick the names out of a box. Yes, much like Doi Darts, this was a shoot. Speaking of Naruki Doi, he made a 5-year old cry, which was adorable, before wisely grabbing a teenager instead.
This was most definitely a shoot, but holy shit did the teams end up looking like a work. The first three picks for Team #2 were Masaaki Mochizuki, Don Fujii, & CIMA, unit mates from Team Veteran Returns. The first two picks for Team #1 were Mad Blankey stable mates YAMATO & BB Hulk, followed by tag team partners Doi & Masato Yoshino. The crowd was howling at the absurdity of these first seven picks. The last three provided some dissention, as Jimmy Saito (Team #2) ended up on the opposite side of Jimmy Susumu (Team #1), and Uhaa Nation ended up with the Team Veteran Returns guys, opposite his Mad Blankey teammates. On paper this draw looked fantastic.
1. Genki Horiuchi H.A Gee Mee!!, Jimmy Kanda, & Mr. Quu Quu Tanizaki Naoki Toyonaka Dolphin vs Ricochet, Rich Swann, & Shachihoko BOY – No elastic band attack from the Jimmyz this time, which if you haven’t seen it, you should seek it out. This was a lot of fun with a lot of the stuff you would expect from some of the usual suspects here. The finish was awesome, with Swann hitting a springboard 450 on Kanda, followed by a springboard shooting start press from the opposite side of the ring by 2013 “King of Gate” winner Ricochet. Second best match of the night. ***
2. Cyber Kong vs Jimmy Kagetora – At this point, my stream crashed, but it was my fault. I had never bothered to sign in, so I got stuck behind the pay wall when the free portion ended. Doh. I can’t properly rate this, because by the time I got done cursing and figuring out what happened with my feed, I missed half the match. What I saw didn’t look like much, and it was pretty short. Kong won it with the Cyber Bomb. Maybe a fresh push is coming for Kong, whose push stalled about two years ago after what looked like a momentum building feud with YAMATO that led to Kong being responsible for YAMATO losing his hair in a cage match. It’s been all downhill from there, with a losing streak at one point, and a stalled series of matches that was supposed to lead to King finding a unit (he’s one of the few “unitless” members of the roster). NR
3. Dragon Kid & GAMMA vs Mondai Ryu & Kzy – This was given some time, and was really good when Kid was in. Lots of comedy. Ryu has real go away heat from a lot of Dragon Gate fans. Not sure how long the “International Problem Dragon” has remaining in this particular gimmick (more on that later). Kzy is great as a super annoying pest heel. Kid scored the pin on Kzy, which is more significant than it appears on the surface, because Ryu & Kzy (along with Uhaa Nation) were scheduled for the next Triangle Gate title shot. But GAMMA cut a promo saying that he, Kid, & Don Fujii should replace them since they just won this match so easily. Ryu then cut a looooong promo, presumably complaining about losing his title shot, which was cut off by the song & laser lights Dragon Gate plays to signify the start of the next match. The crowd popped big for this. Ryu didn’t leave. The ring announcer announced HUB. HUB came in, sized up Ryu, and promptly whipped him in the face with his tail, sending him flying out of the ring. I loved this, and so did the crowd. Funny spot. **3/4
4. HUB vs K-ness – I’m a big fan of HUB, but this outcome was never in doubt with K-ness getting the next Brave Gate shot at World. He had to go over here, and he did. This match was worked at a slower pace than anything else on the show, with some mat work from K-ness. The best spot in the match, and I can’t believe nobody had thought of this yet, was K-ness tying HUB to the top rope by the tail, and standing a fraction of an inch beyond HUB’s reach as he flailed away like a little kid being held by the top of the head by an older brother. Great stuff. K-ness won it with the Hikari no Wa, and then cut a long promo talking about his Brave Gate match at World. **1/2
Intermission was pretty cool, as they showed a long montage of Open the Dream Gate title changes, many of which I had never seen before.
5. Akira Tozawa vs Shingo Takagi – Tozawa went right after him before the bell. This was fast & furious. Tozawa hit Shingo with two crushing chair shots to the skull that broke the chairs. Cringe inducing. Shingo took control and then proceeded to squash Tozawa, shockingly getting the pin in about 6:00 with the Made in Japan. Disappointing that the match was so short, but the story here is that Shingo, the consensus bad ass on the roster, is fed up, hates Mad Blankey, and means business. Plus, he’s getting the Dream Gate shot at World against CIMA. So this finish made sense for the story, if not a bit displeasing as a stand alone match. After the match, Shingo cut a promo saying that -akatsuki- would survive without YAMATO, and that he was going to beat CIMA at World much like he beat Tozawa here. The match was pretty great while it lasted, but it’s hard to go crazy when rating a match so short. **3/4
6. YAMATO, BB Hulk, Naruki Doi, Masato Yoshino, & Jimmy Susumu vs Masaaki Mochizuki, Don Fujii, CIMA, Jimmy Saito, & Uhaa Nation – This match was a fucking blast. 30:00 of fast paced, high energy, wild action. Too many awesome spots to name. Doi & Yoshino being on the same side meant that we got a heavy dose of Speed Muscle double team moves. Don Fujii was tremendous. Everybody had a chance to get some shine. Uhaa in particular stood out, and that was likely no accident. You better enjoy him while he lasts, because as soon as somebody with some stroke in WWE gets clued in on this guy, he’s on his way to Florida. Still somewhat green, he’s come a long way since his ACL tear, especially in the charisma department. “TOO EASY!” might be the best catch phrase in the business right now. At one point, with the ring cleared of everyone aside from Mad Blankey unit mates Uhaa & YAMATO, YAMATO offered a handshake, promptly followed by a kick to the balls, at which point he fell to one knee and mocked the “TOO EASY!”. YAMATO is so much better as a heel. CIMA pinned Jimmy Susumu with a Schwein for a two count, followed by a Meteora. This match was everything great about Dragon Gate, needed to deliver to make this a better than average show, and it did. Not the best Dragon Gate wild multi man I’ve ever seen, but it was really good and an absolute blast to watch. ****1/4
Post match, CIMA talked about his title defense at World against Shingo, but before Shingo could respond, Mad Blankey attacked him. YAMATO challenged Shingo to a unit vs unit match, with the losing unit forced to disband. Tozawa was great here, egging YAATO on and taunting Shingo. Shingo accepted. The match will be 8/1, after World, at Korakuen. Uhaa won’t be on that tour, but it would still be 5 vs 3 in favor of Mad Blankey. So Cyber Kong offered to join Shingo’s side for the match. Tozawa said if he could beat Uhaa in arm wrestling, he’d allow it. So we had an impromptu arm wrestling match, reminiscent of Warlord vs British Bulldog circa 1992. Kong won, when Tominaga tossed powder in Uhaa’s eyes. With the sides still uneven, Tozawa agreed to -akatsuki- needing only a two count to win, but added that in addition to the losing side disbanding, whoever takes the fall must either unmask or have their head shaved. To me, this either screams the end of Mondai Ryu, Cyber Kong being repackaged, or Cyber Kong screwing over Shingo and joining Mad Blankey.
Here’s hoping we get a chance to watch Kobe World on 7/21.
Photos: All rights reserved by mCespo