Dramatic Dream Team (DDT)
“Dramatic General Election 2014: Final Voting Day Last Hope Special”
September 28, 2014
Korakuen Hall, Tokyo
A lot has happened in DDT since I last took a look into them. You see, I had every intention of reviewing the big Sumo Hall show (Ryōgoku Peter Pan ~ Maybe Summer Will Change My Life), not least because it featured a couple of New Japan regulars. I’d prepared (stolen) some images and done some research on characters and factions. For example:
I had even pre-written the introduction ahead of sitting down and watching it, managing this lightly pretentious bit of bluster.
[..] after binging on serious tournament-style wrestling, the lighthearted offerings of DDT seem like a nice detox for the mind. As previously-discussed, DDT offer the Japanese version of sports-entertainment rather than the high drama of ‘wrestling’ itself. There are good wrestlers and serious matches from time-to-time, but it’s a story and humour driven enterprise. Obviously not speaking Japanese is going to hamper this review, but I did enjoy Max Bump: most of the jokes were visual or just too weird to really require any kind of explanation. It’s more than ‘comedy in wrestling’, I guess, and more ‘commitment to an alternate universe’.
However. I had a bit of a problem. I kept falling asleep. I made it through the initial battle royale with a little difficulty and then fell asleep during the six-person match on no less than three separate occasions. Opting for a new strategy, I skipped to the Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Konosuke Takeshita match and fell asleep. And then again. I managed to get through Kota Ibushi vs. Shuji Kondo in a bleary fashion but promptly fell asleep during the main event. Though I don’t suffer from narcolepsy and I wasn’t bored, something about the presentation of the show had a deeply soporific effect on me. I decided to cut my losses and not bother.
So. If you want to catch up then read the excellent Dramatic DDT blog. And because I don’t fully understand DDT, this review might be a little bit shorter and more confused than normal. Finally, DDT is way more resistant to the Meltzer star system than probably any company since XPW. Take the results with a pinch of salt. You’re either going to laugh along or find it lacking seriousness.
DDT are taking an ambitious run at the Saitama Super Arena in February, a venue capable of holding over 30000 people, but is scalable down without a preponderance of empty seats. The main event is decided by popular ballot, hence the title of this show. We’ll deal with the results at the end but this show is a big deal in and of itself, so let’s get on with the action!
Makoto Oishi and Shunma Katsumata vs. Gorgeous Matsuno and MIKAMI: A fun (you might hear that word a lot I suppose) and short comedy (you might hear that world a lot I suppose) match (you mig…I’ll stop now) to open things up. Matsuno is a genuinely odd-looking chap, the classic mutton attempting to dress the way the lamb did 30 years ago when the lamb was a professional figure skater and coming across sort of harmless and hilarious and a little bit tragic.
Matsuno can’t wrestle in the traditional sense, performing one of the most hilarious versions of the Tiger Feint Kick (popularised by Rey Mysterio as the 619) I’ve ever seen. The other three guys work around this enjoyable mess, MIKAMI impressing in the brief moments he was allowed to, with Oishi rolling Matsuno up with something complicated looking. **
Gota Ihashi, Hoshitango, Michael Nakazawa and Tomomitsu Matsunaga vs. Shuten-doji (KUDO, Masa Takanashi and Yukio Sakaguchi) and Saki Akai: Another relatively short one in which the serious Shuten-doji gang team up with the cute Saki Akai without having their buzz harshed as she takes bumps and does dives just as much as anyone else here. Everyone else I have seen before and they’re all just as good or weird as I remembered, except Gota Ihashi, who is new to me and I must admit that I quite like the look of.
Ihashi begins the match by kicking Akai out of the ring to steal her thunder and then positions himself in most of the interestingness that follows. He’s a big lad but performs a good frogsplash and takes a mean bump, such as the finish, where KUDO hits a diving double knee as Ihashi attempts to wriggle out of the Tree of Woe. Short and like a lot of things I am not sure why it’s happening, but I’m with it. **3/4
Antonio Honda vs. Daisuke Sasaki: At last I finally get to see Honda work a full match rather than battle royales or weird interludes where he gets people to drink things and fall under his spell and Sasaki seems to be a pretty good person to have that match with. You could be critical and argue that for all of Honda’s idiosyncracy (pudding bowl haircut, old-school strongman singlet emblazoned with flower) that Sasaki provides a generic guy mirror but pretty much every double act needs a straight man.
It also struck me during this match that whilst DDT is generally loosely compared to WWE with respect to their provision of ‘sports entertainment’ rather than ‘serious wrestling’ (though of course both provide both and it is a silly generalisation) that DDT is pitched almost entirely to the crowd in house whilst WWE is pitched almost entirely to the crowd at home.
For example: there’s a segment where Honda gets hurled into the crowd and pulls a funny face that sets off a few people laughing near where he lands. The camera doesn’t quite pick all of this up but it changes the atmosphere naturally, albeit a little confusedly if you weren’t paying complete attention. Compare and contrast the segment on WWE Raw 29th September where the exploding briefcase of Seth Rollins courtesy of Dean Ambrose was over-directed to hell, with them both just standing there reacting for a completely unnatural amount of time. Not that I want to be the guy who bags on wrestling for being unnatural!
Anyway it’s a cool match, partly a brawl and partly in the ring. Honda goes for a springboard back elbow to the outside but can’t generate any bounce so just collapses in a heap (intentionally!). Sasaki takes advantage with a big suicide dive and controls until a Bionic Elbow-assisted comeback brings Honda to the brink. However, Sasaki manages to lock on a Modified Crossface for the tap and the win. ***1/4
Smile Squash (HARASHIMA and Yasu Urano) vs. DJ Nira and Super Sasadango Machine: Comedy matches aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but sometimes they get you right in the zone. This is from a review that my friend Olly gave regarding Sebastian Radclaw vs. Mad Man Manson from a PWK show in Birmingham (England) that he attended.
I cannot emphasise how hilarious his ring entrance is, not his entrance to the ring when announced but how he enters the ring, i described it in a previous cast but for the avoidance of doubt he climbs one foot after the other onto the bottom rope, one foot after the other onto the second rope, one foot after the other onto the top rope, gingerly turns around and descends one foot after the other onto the second rope, one foot after the other onto the bottom rope, and then, somewhat reservedly, lands on the canvas. he also goes out of the ring in the same manner. and the crowd goes fucking barmy for it.
This one for whatever reason got me in the right place and as such I am going to drain all of the humour from it by recapping parts of it. From the outset it appears that Super Sasadango Machine and DJ Nira have managed to steal one of KO-D Champion HARASHIMA’s contact lenses, which DJ Nira eats to disgusted squeals from the Korakuen.
HARASHIMA enters, selling one eye. Being the champion he is so much better with one eye than his opponents, eventually overpowering them. Restrategising, SSM and Nira manage to extract HARASHIMA’s other contact lens and render him functionally blind, leading SSM to drop an elbow, not before performing John Cena’s ‘can’t see me’ gesture. The lens is fed to the stricken Urano.
But SSM and Nira still don’t have enough firepower to win, so they happen upon a genius solution. SSM takes off Urano’s t-shirt and puts his own mask on Urano and is then led to Urano, who HARASHIMA in his blindness thinks is SSM, and wallops his own partner with a G2S-position Dodon and a knee to the face. SSM, dressed as Urano, tosses HARASHIMA, expecting the win.
But Urano is made of solid stuff and manages to hold off the bad guys until HARASHIMA finds his way back to the ring wearing a pair of really nerdy salaryman glasses. Now back to full strength, he quickly boots Nira and SSM around the head and wins the match in easy championship style and did I mention that throughout the entire thing I was laughing even though it was genuinely dramatic as well? No? OK. Yeah. I was. Fun! ***3/4
KO-D SIX MAN TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP – Team Dream Futures (Keisuke Ishii, Shihegiro Irie and Soma Takao) (c) vs. T2Hide (Sanshiro Takagi, Kazuki Hirata and Toru Owashi): Takagi and Owashi, the grizzled vets come out to applause, performing their signature taunts (or in Takagi’s case, Steve Austin’s signature taunts), before running backstage to cut a promo. Kazuki Hirata then emerges with two dancing ‘girls’ to perform a fairly competent routine in the ring ahead of the first bell. Team Dream Futures emerge, and there’s a six man handshake, and we begin.
And it’s a cool, entertaining from start to finish and straight-forward six man match with no asides or comedic set-pieces that is received incredibly well. For the majority of the match it is very fluid and quick, with tag exchanges and sharp bursts of action between everyone with styles ranging from technical to aerial to hard-hitting to lucha to big man crush. If there’s nothing here for you, consider other entertainments.
The final stretch puts Hirata over big, refusing to yield to Irie’s bossing tactics or pin to his booming top rope frogsplash. The crowd rise as one to chant HI-RA-TA! before Hirata takes the Mikey Whipwreck-style underdog roll-up out of nowhere win. It’s a popular victory in the room, and though Irie looks bereft, the new champions are crowned to great celebration. Worth a watch. ***1/2
DDT EXTREME TITLE – NOBODY KNOWS RULES MATCH- Danshoku Dino (c) vs. Akito: This match is far too confusing to review adequately though it won’t stop me from trying. The problem is enshrined in the stipulation: the rules of the match and how to win it are unclear to all except the referee, who thinks the stipulation is so complex that he has to have it written down for him.
It throws all granted things like ‘psychology’ and ‘build’ out of the window and reminds me of the card game Fluxx, in which the rules continually shift, meaning that you could have had nothing all game and then all of a sudden everything lands in your lap and you win.
There’s a screen at the back of the Korakuen with various stipulations on a screen and as each stipulation is explored (ie. pinfall) and failed (Akito actually pins Dino and the referee does not award the win) then it is crossed off. The problem is that the stipulations are all in native script and I have no idea what any of them actually say.
Not that it’s not an enjoyable beast in its ridiculousness, with the more serious Akito a fine foil for the ridiculous Dino. Akito wins via a confession of love to Dino. I’m serious. The crowd love it. I am baffled. I only know the finish because I looked it up. You might think this sounds crap but I quite like being baffled from time to time. ***
KO-D TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP – Golden☆Lovers (Kota Ibushi and Kenny Omega) (c) vs. Happy Motel (Konosuke Takeshita and Tetsuya Endo): Wheels within wheels, cycles within cycles. Golden☆Lovers have held the KO-D Tag Titles since January, gaining them in a three-way tag match against champions Yankee Two Kenju (Isami Kodaka and Yuko Miyamoto) and tonight’s opponents, Tetsuya Endo and Konosuke Takeshita (who were not part of Happy Motel at that point). Six defences later brings them here, where a nice video package plays positing that Endo and Takeshita are the future of DDT.
Their credentials are outstanding. Mature and talented wrestlers with boyish good(ish) looks, Takeshita is a mere 19 years old, with Endo a relative grandfather at 23. Their slot in the three-way tag match was earned when a #1 contendership against Ibushi and Omega went to a time limit draw. Takeshita fought the biggest star in Japanese wrestling, Hiroshi Tanahashi, at the Sumo Hall show, putting in a creditable performance in defeat. Given Ibushi’s occasional itinerancy and Omega’s questionable contract status, there are far worse people that DDT could bet their shirts on.
Konosuke Takeshita's German suplexes and lariats are out of this fucking world
— #DownWithChrisAndThe (@BlacktusJack) September 29, 2014
This is a barnburner of a match between two established present day greats and two guys that I am certain that will make a major splash in the industry. They’re not just performers of moves but inhabitors of the role. Just as Ibushi and Omega play the veteran bullies role, they play the plucky guys who won’t be victims to this onslaught.
Ibushi opens with handshakes, though Omega lays back. It’s impossibly to go move for move in recall of this match. Just know this: it built well, it didn’t show its hand too early, it used a combination of cool moves, hard strikes, selling, diving, psychology and had a crowd absolute blazing for pretty much everything that went down.
The home stretch was a masterpiece. Even a couple of minor smudges made by either team were skilfully covered over and recast as the result of enthusiasm rather than carelessness. Either team could have won it countless times over, but the real winner was Happy Motel, with Takeshita crowning his team with the most perfect arcing Bridging Cross Arm German Suplex I may have ever seen, including Daisuke Harada.
In the days after the show, we learn that Kenny Omega has finished his run with DDT and will sign for New Japan Pro Wrestling in a permanent exclusive deal, unlike Kota Ibushi, who extended his dual deal by an extra year. But right now this doesn’t matter because ultimately foreign guys will move around a bit but there are two DDT dojo guys right here who have all the stuff.
MY GOD WHAT A MATCH! ENDO & TAKESHITA ARE THE FUTURE OF JAPANESE WRESTLING! Remember those names everyone. I'm deadly serious here.
— Alan (@Alan4L) October 2, 2014
Ibushi and Omega are gracious in defeat and raise their opponents’ hands in victory. Just as they were once the promising Young Turks, the cycle continues onward. See this match or don’t, one way or another you will hear these names again. ****1/2
The next day, the election results came in. Kota Ibushi, who usually crushes the vote, narrowly won from Isami Kodaka and will headline the Saitama Super Arena show in February 2015 against the KO-D Champion, whomever that is. Kodaka faces the champ at a Korakuen show before the end of 2014.