Dramatic Dream Team (DDT)
“God Bless DDT”
November 30, 2014
Korakuen Hall, Tokyo
As we slope toward the end of 2014 we can begin to reflect on the kind of year that individual promotions have had in terms of business, art, the flow of talent, the health of talent and prospect for the future (amongst other criteria, I suppose). DDT, who often resist comparison to traditional promotions in a lot of respects, can’t escape this particular microscope.
Business seems pretty healthy in DDT. Their Sumo Hall show did well and they’re having a gallant crack at selling the Saitama Super Arena out in February when New Japan are out of town with a headline match of Kota Ibushi vs. whoever the KO-D Champion is, presumably HARASHIMA. They’re not catching NJPW any time soon and their junior guys are still working in restaurants to pay the bills, but morale appears to be pretty much up.
Artistically they seem like they’re still satisfying their fans and attracting more people toward the shows they put on, though the sub-promotions and events held at camp grounds and on trains mean that they’re always going to be a little in the margins for your complete casual (and heck, maybe they like that). When you’re weird, I guess you’ll only ever be a certain amount of popular. In this cool little news feature, Sanshiro Takagi even says “if pro wrestling is all you know, you end up having a pretty narrow perspective of things.” So yeah, he doesn’t care for you too much if you’re just some “WRESTLING FAN” but in the best way possible. Worth a watch!
The flow and health of talent looks exceedingly strong. Yes, Kenny Omega has gone, but he’s a foreign worker and getting 7 years out of them in this day and age is practically unheard of. Kota Ibushi is still there. Tetsuya Endo and Konosuke Takeshita are young and brilliant. Kazuki Hirata is ridiculously over. And even half the guys who seem to slither by a couple of episodes unnoticed turn out to be pretty good. They’ve also started a thing called DNA, showcasing dojo guys from DDT and sister promotion Union and what do you know they’re all pretty good as well.
Danshoku Dino does have a herniated disc though, and Michael Nakazawa is leaving to go into Real Employment, so it’s not a life for everyone.
So yeah I guess I am saying that on the whole DDT can be pretty proud of themselves in 2014 for staying pretty true to their idiosyncratic selves whilst growing a bit. Most people in the overseas community usually hear about DDT via Kota Ibushi wrestling a blow-up doll and look no further or hear that they’re a ‘comedy fed’ and look no further but there’s definitely something going on behind the eyes, as it were. If you’re thinking of dipping in, then this show is as good a place as any to start.
The show opens with the death of any episode of WWE’s Monday Night Raw – a lengthy promo with an authority figure. Two of them in fact, the SHOOT owner Sanshiro Takagi and the on-screen authority figure Amon Tsurumi. I couldn’t really tell what they were saying but the audience were in stitches and it all seemed like fun. Saki Akai came out at one point to accept something and then left. She is really tall, I had no idea.
Antonio Honda, DJ Nira, Michael Nakazawa and Hoshitango vs. KUDO, Yukio Sakaguchi, Gota Ihashi and MIKAMI: Presented as ‘Comic-gun vs. Serious-gun’, this naturally invites the classic dynamic of silly wrestlers trying to win with antics and the serious people either bashing their way through with traditional manoeuvres or being thwarted by their unorthodox opponents. Nakazawa ends up wearing a Mr. Socko type object over his hand and sets about delivering a mandible claw to anyone in sight, though sometimes their serious opponents manage to avoid the trap and send a rival’s mouth darting toward the covered outstretched hand.
Sakaguchi is really good in matches like this. He’s pretty green for a 41 year old, having spent a lot of his career in real fights, but he carries the contrast well by never acknowledging that his opponents are silly; he just tries to destroy whatever the tactics. Fine, funny opener, with seriousness winning the day as KUDO won with a diving double knee. **3/4
KUDO, Sakaguchi, Ihashi and MIKAMI d. Nira, Honda, Nakazawa and Hoshitango
DDT EXTREME TITLE #1 CONTENDERSHIP – Keisuke Ishii vs. Tomomitsu Matsunaga vs. Masa Takanashi: Comedy wrestling can be a good avenue to make the early running in a match engaging if the workers involved aren’t positioned for that ‘big fight feel’. Headlocks and chain wrestling and rope break spots are great, but they don’t always work for people working to get over. Here, the story is opened up via a simple comic spot (where two people form an alliance and then break it off in pursuit of individual glory) that lays out the psychology and then we go from there. It’s only a short TV-style three-way with lots of fast and compelling action, everyone gets to look good and no one has the chance to get bored. Funny, eh? Matsunaga, a lifelong lower midcarder, takes the surprise win when he reverses Takanashi’s Takatonic into a cradle. ***
Kota Ibushi and Shunma Katsumata vs. Smile Squash (Yasu Urano and Akito): Bit of a weird one as we open with what appears to be a lengthy promo on the streets of Tokyo, before cutting to a hair salon where the promo-giver seems very pleased that his unruly hairstyle had been pleasingly straightened and conditioned. We then throw over to the match, sponsored by Wella Professionals and Beauty Products, where each man has had a hair makeover and has an individual stylist in their corner.
The second layer to the story is that since Kenny Omega left, Ibushi’s Golden Storm Riders faction is looking for a new member to fill the vacancy and this represents former opener Katsumata’s opportunity. He’s pretty good, though very small, with Ibushi often using Katsumata’s relative lack of size to throw him and flip him at his opponents. At one point, Ibushi musses his hair up performing a move, so he crawls into his salon chair to get it fixed, leaving the auditionee at Smile Squash’s mercy.
This eventual carelessness and focus upon hair causes Smile Squash to gain the upper hand, win the match and take the prize of 1 year’s supply of Wella Hair Products, which is kind of awesome and necessary as both guys have that long fine hair that really needs intensive washing to maintain without breaking. Fun match, with Katsumata looking like a strong fit further up the card. ***
KO-D SIX MAN TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP – T2Hide (Sanshiro Takagi, Toru Owashi and Kazuki Hirata) (c) vs. Brahman Shu, Brahman Kei and Gorgeous Matsuno: Your mileage may vary with the Brahman Brothers but you cannot deny their commitment to their gimmick, complete with medieval tonsure and constantly lugging around 15th century style water buckets, suitcases and bowling balls to flesh out their jester monk characters. Often seen around the lower card of the independent circuit, their act usually involves water being doused over everyone in the first few rows, like some kind of wrestling version of Gallagher. Often working opening matches in a half-full Korakuen they can appear very much INDEPENDENT WRESTLING GIMMICK but here in front of a full house absolutely champing at the bit for laughs, they come across like savvy entertainers shepherding their frail team mate through 14 minutes of fun.Takagi is working hurt (storyline?) as we see from a pre-match segment where he appears reluctant to step down off a stack of cardboard lest he hurt his knee. Through the match his teammates avoid tagging him in, but when they finally do he leaps from the turnbuckle and…hurts his knee. Meanwhile the Brahman are bowling balls and wheeling suitcases into their opponents in typical nonchalant fashion, before Hirata stops everything to perform his hilarious dance routine. It’s chaotic and brilliant, like Chuck Barris gameshow wandering onto a Vic & Bob set, universes colliding and debris falling everywhere.
In a blizzard of black mist spat by the Brahmen, Hirata and Matsuno ended up facing down for the fall, with Matsuno, who really reminds me of William H. Macy’s character in Magnolia, the child star who can’t let go deep into adulthood, taking the win and claiming the title for his team. Hirata is furious, and backstage the Brothers seem nonplussed despite Matsuno’s joy. A fun ride, not much of a wrestling match per se, but the crowd were locked in tight. ***1/4
The video I watched joins Daisuke Sasaki vs. Shigehiro Irie deep in progress, showing less than half of what seemed like a solidly entertaining match won by Irie with a frog splash. I can’t really rate it though. Irie looks to have shed some weight.
Additionally there was no sign on the tape of an angle shot regarding the Iron Man Heavymetalweight Championship, which has been absent from DDT shows since pop star LiLiCo lucked into the title in August. Kazuki Hirata wants to face LiLiCo, but she sent her bodyguard Bernard Ackah. Ackah is an acclaimed MMA/kickboxing personality in Japan, with a similarly charismatic nature as Bob Sapp. Anyway, Ackah decked Hirata, building slowly toward the February super show.
KO-D TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP – Happy Motel (Konosuke Takeshita and Tetsuya Endo) (c) vs. Makoto Oishi and X = Shiori Asahi:
Asahi, a K-DOJO regular who generally makes about three or four DDT shows per year, gets a ridiculously warm entrance: much of the crowd stand up and hold up pieces of paper and chant A! SA! HI! throughout the match. He also gets bombarded with streamers on a scale worthy of a grand champion upon their retirement. I have no idea why but it looked cool.
Happy Motel, making their third defence, eat quite a lot of punishment in the early stages, with Endo playing the Dying Ricky Morton-shaped Swan for long stretches as Oishi, usually an endearingly dorky opener, and Asahi break out a lot of fun and innovative offensive attacks. In particular they keep going for a move where Asahi locks an opponent whilst his own back is to the mat, as if pausing for a triangle choke attempt. In that position, Oishi crawls over the back of the stricken opponent and hits a Canadian Destroyer type move. They fail a couple of times, but when they hit it the place goes crazy.
The champs prove too strong, eventually, in a match that resembles a non-stop cool Dragon Gate midcard affair, more lucharesu than traditional Japanese tag match style. After the match, two of the ‘Serious’ team from earlier in the show, Shuten-doji’s KUDO and Yukio Sakaguchi come down to the ring for a wee facedown to set up a match on the Never Mind show before Christmas. ***3/4
KO-D OPENWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP – HARASHIMA (c) vs. Soma Takao: Really nice, multi-stranded video package to open up, hitting the following key points:
- Takao may have won this title shot by winning a rock/paper/scissors contest but has had a long journey to get to this point, never holding individual gold in the promotion he’s worked in for six years.
- HARASHIMA has defeated Takao’s stablemates in Team Dream Futures, dropping Keisuke Ishii during this title reign and Shigehiro Irie during his last.
- We see posters for the Saitama Super Arena show with only Kota Ibushi pictured, presumably because we don’t know who will be the champion going into the event.
HARASHIMA is a dominant champ, in his sixth KO-D Openweight reign, and his fourth that has lasted longer than six months. He sort of looks the part as well, even in this strange world, partly weary and partly supremely confident, with a similar kind of intangible charisma as Hiroshi Tanahashi, only on a reduced scale.
The match starts slowly, which is a real contrast to everything gone beforehand. Chain wrestling leads to reversals and gradually the pace builds and the atmosphere builds when Takao hits a dropkick that sends the champ scuttling to the outside.
Both work well together, with HARASHIMA best at working dominantly as he did with Isami Kodaka, and Takao best as a fighting underdog, which he is, given that his match here was granted by a worked contest of luck. Nonetheless, DDT is booked incredibly smartly (which is why I gave my WON vote for booker of the year to Sanshiro Takagi rather than Gedo and Jado) and pretty much anyone can be pushed into any kind of match without real consternation or disbelief that they might actually win (and yet the titles do mean something).
The peak of the match is great, as Takao eats a Somato (running knee) and fighting spirits his way back to hoist HARASHIMA up for his finisher, some kind of over-the-back tombstone, with HARASHIMA kicking and fighting until he’s dropped head first. He kicks out and Takao’s face is a picture, pleading with the referee to reconsider how many times his hands actually hit the mat. After a stretch of slugging, HARASHIMA hits a Blue Thunder Driver, a Buzzsaw Kick to the head and finishes a well-received 20 minutes with another Somato. ****
Shigehiro Irie puts his name down for another shot at the title in the post-match, and Hirata vs. Ackah is announced for a tour show. Spoiler: Ackah wins. Another fun DDT show!