Dramatic Dream Team
Saitama Super DDT 2015
February 15, 2015
Super Arena Community Hub, Saitama
Dramatic Dream Team, to many the fools-at-errand of contemporary professional wrestling, are daring to dream big once again. Their successful show in August 2014 drew a sold-out house to Tokyo’s Sumo Hall for what many take to be their annual excursion beyond the confines of the Korakuen and several countryside campsites. It’s tempting to be patronizing toward the largely independent company trying to present in-jokes and dick jokes and sex jokes on a grander scale but here they are with another show of allegedly 6500 butts on 6500 seats (caveat: the venue is scalable). Can many companies say that over the last 5 years?
Tonight’s main event was decided by public poll several months ago, with poll winner Kota Ibushi – winning by a thin sliver from Isami Kodaki – set to face whomever reigned as the KO-D Openweight Champion. As was the case at the date of the ballot, HARASHIMA (placing #3 in said vote) holds this piece of silverware, having defeated Kodaka and two-thirds of Team Dream Futures in Soma Takao and Shigehiro Irie along the way. The remainder of the card features outside talent, star power and the usual array of DDT regulars with stipulations coming out of the wazoo.
In the dark matches we have missed a six-man tag between the attendees of the DDT dojo and the crowning of the inaugural King of Dark Champion, a wooden spoon title for the perpetual loser on dark matches. Gota Ihashi is our first champion, and short may he reign!
YOSHIHIKO ARMY (YOSHIHIKO, Antonio Honda and The Great Kojika) vs. AKEBONO ARMY (Akebono, Toru Owashi and Kazuki Hirata): Lord knows why YOSHIHIKO (a reminder for newcomers; a sex doll that must be referred to as if human and real and this is the only concession I will make on her majestic account) is angry with Akebono but even the monster former Triple Crown champion and acclaimed sumo yokozuna looks fearful of his prospects against arguably the greatest technical worker of their day, especially backed up by the 72 year old deathmatcher Kojika and the luxuriantly-coiffured luchadore parody Honda.
The sheer disbelief Akebono showed when he saw Yoshihiko manhandling Toru Owashi made me laugh tears. #ddtpro
— STRIGGA (@STRIGGA) February 17, 2015
Despite the might of the monster and the constant looming threat of YOSHIHIKO’s Infinity Destroyer, it is young Kazuki Hirata who steals the spotlight once again. His signature spectacles are a hit at the merch table, with many crowd shots catching a number of fans gleefully wearing them as Hirata launches into one of several attempted mid-match dance spots. Maybe to casual eyes it is a well-worn spot but seeing everyone go along with it and Hirata’s complete enthusiasm for priding his pseudo pop career over in-ring work is quite giddying to witness.
The match is pretty terrible if you’re looking for sublime technical ecstasies, psychological brilliance or well-constructed magic. Kojika is really old and slow. Akebono isn’t going to have one of his dozen or so remaining big efforts here. Owashi is fine but hams up his role as Hirata’s admonisher-in-chief. Akebono takes the win with a simple body press on Honda to set up a post-match dance off with Hirata. Yes this is remarkably similar to Too Cool and Rikishi and I will thank you for not pointing this out. Fun though! **
IRON MAN HEAVY METAL BATTLE ROYAL – Aja Kong (c) vs. Kubo Yumakoto vs. Bernard Ackah vs. Makoto Oishi vs. Saki Akai vs. Shunma Katsumata vs. Tomomitsu Matsunaga vs. Yuto Aijima vs. Zeus vs. Hikaru Sato vs. Soma Takao vs. Yasu Urano: Well you are shit out of luck if you think that I can recall this entire thing from bell to bell but here’s the general scoop. Yumakoto, posing as a cameraman, downs Kong on his way to the ring to begin the match as champion. All the while he works with a camcorder literally taped to his hand, performing an impressive array of moves effectively without the use of his right hand. Every time he hits one he pretends to return to filming. Good bit.
Eventually Katsumata downs Yumakoto to yoink the title and various people enter and do their compressed routine. Hikaru Sato carries a fighting trophy and enters haltingly, stopping to pose for an imaginary photograph every few yards. At first it looks weird, then it becomes hilarious. Somehow he manages to deprive Katsumata of his title and continues to fight holding both belt and trophy. Naturally he loses.
Soma Takao inherits the title before an entertaining passage in which All Japan muscleman Zeus tosses half the participants out before taking the title on for himself. 9 seconds later he is rolled up by Matsunaga. Zeus is pissed and lariats Matsunaga and Makoto Oishi takes advantage to take control of the title.
Enter the mighty Aja Kong. Age has not withered her brutality nor time affected her ability to kick the crap out of someone. She doesn’t mess about in biffing Oishi to regain the title and eliminating Saki Akai with a Brainbuster for the nostalgia rub victory. I laughed, I cried, I have seen better. **1/2
DDT EXTREME TITLE – RULES RUMBLE MATCH – Akito (c) vs. X (Shiori Asahi): Shiori Asahi’s run in DDT recently has been a wild success and a scream. One of TAKA’s trainees at the K-DOJO, Asahi has been repeatedly billed as ‘X’ in an attempt to build up anticipation for this mystery man. The gimmick has encountered two (deliberate) major problems: i. he is not remotely famous by any stretch of the imagination; even amongst wrestling nerds he is considered a journeyman ii. everyone knows that X is him. He gets coated in streamers and people rise to their feet to greet him to the ring, and I’d say it’s up there with the great wrestling entrances. DDT’s crowd, generally being quite quick on the uptake, really help out. And he hasn’t exactly harmed his run by being impressive to watch.
On the other side is Akito, who has definitely pushed along the standing of the Extreme Title (always contested under frequently outré stipulations) in matches that have generally favoured his more serious style. This time we have a Rules Rumble, in which the rules change every 90 seconds. Beginning as a standard rules match, we cycle through the following stipulations: Grappling Prohibited, 2 count only, Give Up Only and No Rope Escape.
From this you can see how the match might be laid out; with grappling, without it, with many rapidfire 1 counts, etc. It’s a fun contest, with both men showing incredible adaptability to the differing psychologies in play. The match ends in the final stipulation as Asahi plants Akito with an innovative facebuster-type move and pins Akito in the ropes, grabbing hold of the middle rope for extra leverage. ***1/4
KO-D SIX MAN TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP – Brahman Brothers (Shu and Kei) and Gorgeous Matsuno (c) vs. Shuten-doji (KUDO, Masa Takanashi and Yukio Sakaguchi): Without being crass and insensitive I intend to write quite a bit on the upper card matches. If you have seen one Brahman Brothers match, you have seen them all (the bowling ball, the water, the ink, the suitcase, the hair, brilliant!). Gorgeous Matsuno is a strange frail matinee idol frozen in time and Shuten-doji are all very solid wrestlers in the serious mould. They brawl all around the arena and send chairs scattering. Heavy ECW Gangster-Baldies war vibes, except without the self-seriousness. Much hilarity comes when the frightening ex-shooter Sakaguchi is paired off with the fragile Matsuno, neither of whom knowing what to do with each other. Their disparity plays into the finish as the Shuten-doji member chokes out Matsuno to crown new champions. **3/4
FOUR WAY TABLES LADDERS AND CHAIRS MATCH – Golden Storm Riders (Daisuke Sasaki and Suguru Miyatake) vs. Crazy & President (Jun Kasai and Sanshiro Takagi) vs. MIKAMI and Shuji Ishikawa vs. Team Dream Futures (Keisuke Ishii and Shigehiro Irie): This one is also too crazy and long-winded to give the full overview on. There are 100 chairs, three ladders and ten tables. A number of chairs have been constructed into a castle in the corner of the ring. Jun Kasai is in the match. I don’t think I need to spell this one out too heavily. There are innovative spots, violent spots, funny spots and unsuccessful spots. At 12 minutes it doesn’t blow the roof off any TLC match you ever saw, neither does it grind upon your patience.
DDT President Sanshiro Takagi grabs the win on behalf of team Crazy and President. Suspended over the ring is a DDT tote bag containing a ‘luxury prize’, which appears to be a couple of A4 pieces of paper stapled together. Reading the print out, Takagi has won the right for his team to compete in a DDT ‘Street Wrestling’ event to take place in April. That’s right: the entire match was a maguffin to promote an event down the line and also help celebrate Takagi’s 20 years in the business. Oh LOL. ***1/4
Danshoku Dino vs. Michael Nakazawa: Subtitled ‘Love of Memory’, this represents Michael Nakazawa’s last match as a full-time member of the DDT roster. His destination? A job as a gym instructor in Singapore for English- and Japanese-speaking clients. And they said wrestling cannot take you to the high life.
This segment is structured more like a life drama featuring a wrestling match rather than a sporting contest. Nakazawa’s wife was on hand in a video segment to say that she didn’t want to join him in Singapore and would not be in his corner. Fortunately for Nakazawa, after writing his wife a letter to the strains of the original version of ‘Dancin’ In The Moonlight’, one of his favourite singers – Shigeru Matsuzaki – would be.
The match here is secondary here to a high-class send-off for a performer in his 10th year with the company. Danshoku Dino, returning from injury, threatens to steal the spotlight by more than his gimmick of permanent ostentatiousness, in this case approaching the ring by clambering over the chairs of spectators
They have a fun match up to the halfway point, at which Matsuzaki grabs the microphone to stop Nakazawa angrily using a chair on Dino (Dramatic DDT states: “cheating to win isn’t going to help him get his wife back.”). From here we go into the regions of DDT not made for the more prudish among you, with both men ending up in thongs to the point where if you screw up your eyes, it looks like two naked dudes wrestling. I’D IMAGINE.
If you have low tolerance for Ryusuke Taguchi’s butt-based offence you might find little joy here as nearly every move is innuendo-laden or demonstrably false (Nakazawa utilises Kenny Omega’s Hadouken, for instance). Dino wins, leading to a disconsolate semi-nude Nakazawa to speak emotionally before being serenaded by Matsuzaki (still got it!).
In full bridal gown, Nakazawa’s wife appears atop the video screen. Michael gives chase and they have an emotional reunion (Nakazawa is still wearing a posing pouch here, I must stress this). Riffing on Macho Man and Miss Elizabeth, they share a tear-streaked kiss as the syrupy ballad plays on. Hella emotional.
Sadly for Nakazawa, his wife said in the post-show that she still didn’t want to go to Singapore. ***1/2
Kazushi Sakuraba vs. Super Sasadango Machine: Yes that is the erstwhile superstar of real fighting and Gracie Hunter and he of a very strong Wrestle Kingdom 9 match and yes he is taking on DDT’s headmaster of comedy who lives his current life in perpetual sartorial homage to Super Strong Machine. *shrug, mouths ‘it’s DDT’*
If you haven’t seen the current iteration of SSM then you’re either going to be laughing out loud or sat in white-knuckled annoyance, but let’s assume you’ve got this far because you enjoy this whole whacked-out charade. Machine begins his recent matches with a PowerPoint display, much like a university lecture, where he proposes a problem (how to beat Sakuraba, which he phrases “How To Eliminate The Disparity Problem In The World Of Professional Wrestling”) and conducts a mock-serious version of having undertaken painstaking research, complete with slides, which leads him to a conclusion which he takes forward to the match you are about to watch.
As he sees it, Sakuraba is a wrestler par-excellence. SSM cannot hope to compete in a pure wrestling match. Through a series of hilarious slides that invokes luminaries such as French economic theorist Thomas Piketty…well actually I got lost in how that maps onto his certain victory, except to say that the ‘disparity problem’ can be solved by a banana peel.
Now, like the usefulness of cheese in mousetraps, I feel that the slipperiness of banana peels in real life doesn’t quite work the same way as it does in cartoons and I fear for the success. The opening stages of the match itself it is quite cool, showing that SSM can actually roll on the mat with Sakuraba, though it’s pretty clear to see that that pursuit of this purist strategy will yield little, err, fruit.
After being decked a while in the corner, SSM reaches for banana peel. He eats a snapmare and delicately places the peel over his face. Sakuraba charges in for a double foot face stomp and slips! I feel really silly writing this down but also I was laughing my head off. Taking advantage, SSM hits a brainbuster, though Saku manages to kick out. The plan is working!
Sakuraba regains control with a jujigatame, though SSM manages a rope break. He grabs more peel from his cornerman and leaves it in a place for Sakuraba to slip on, which he does (FANTASTIC acting from Saku here). SSM hits the brainbuster (Bloody Sunday Lehmann Shock, I should say) and again gets the near fall. One more dastardly banana attack and SSM could accidentally prove the validity of university.
Then the match gets weird. Yes, yes, I know.
Sakuraba has SSM in a kimura by the ropes. SSM’s cornerman threatens to throw in the towel and the referee is in animated expectation of the end. They pause in that position as emotional music plays and a photo montage of Sakuraba and SSM plays, with SSM as the narrator of his own moment of victory. In the half-light they wrestle in slow motion, SSM evading a slap and hooking Sakuraba for one last Lehmann when the montage returns, paused at the moment before inevitable triumph. It’s so odd and kind of beautiful and so well-executed, I couldn’t believe it was happening in pro-wrestling; it was like something out of a Daniel Kitson one-man play.
Then the lights go up and Sasadango’s fantasies are dashed. Sakuraba locks on the kimura and taps his man in seconds. So much for research! Great entertainment. ****
KO-D TAG TEAM CHAMPIONSHIP – Happy Motel (Konosuke Takeshita and Tetsuya Endo) (c) vs. Strong BJ (Yuji Okabayashi and Daisuke Sekimoto): It is most definitely clobbering time. Casually mentioning this match on Twitter amongst my fellow wrestlepals caused no end of grief as my phone went off about 70 times over the next hour with people chipping in about how much they were looking forward to this one. But it’s a pleasant headache and one that I’m pleased to deal with because matches like this, with four excellent dudes on a suitably large stage, are still pretty rare.
The challengers, independent veterans of several promotions but mostly married to Big Japan’s strong division, dominate a great deal of proceedings as you might expect given their considerable advantages in weight, experience (Sekimoto debuted when Takeshita was 3), strength, power and believability. I could watch stretches like the first seven or eight minutes of this match for much longer, just Okabayashi and Sekimoto repeatedly tagging in to wallop one of their flighty champion opponents into mush for a bit, occasionally breaking it up by gruffly charging the non-legal man off the apron.
The home team drag themselves back into it, showing the moxy that has earned them four successful defences since downing the not-inestimable Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi pairing. The moments between Takeshita and Sekimoto make for a mouthwatering future singles clash, both men in possession of ungodly-great German Suplexes. Takeshita’s has an almost impossible arc to his bridge, resembling an upside-down ‘U’, whilst Sekimoto’s strength allows him to deadlift people in the uppermost moment of the hold for seconds before crashing them down.
Down the stretch all finishes are teased with big moves crashing in from all angles, but in an unexpected turn, Strong BJ take the titles as all 250lbs of Yuji Okabayashi comes flying from the top turnbuckle to finish Endo with the Golem Splash. Maybe the match didn’t quite live up to the hype of all those rapidfire tweets or the standards of say Kobashi/Kikuchi vs. The CanAms, but just because they didn’t manage it here doesn’t mean I wouldn’t look forward to the rematch. And besides, it was still really good. ****1/4
KO-D OPENWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP – HARASHIMA (c) vs. Kota Ibushi: A fine video plays beforehand, showing the two opponents as effectively the two star students and carriers of the DDT ethos; working high-octane matches, performing in silly stunt shows and both gladly high-fiving fans on their way out of a Korakuen show. DDT’s relationship with kayfabe is pretty tenuous but it’s cool that when they choose to don the mask and say ‘hey ok this is a serious match’ that everyone goes along with it. What the tipping point is where angry messageboard posters start complaining that “THIS ISN’T LOGICAL!” is I am not sure but DDT, in their growth, might be approaching that.
Ibushi and HARASHIMA (in storyline) are best characterised as friendly rivals and the two serious long-term candidates for company (f)ace. They don’t appear to be pals but fine in each other’s company. They handshake at the outset of the match, with an extra pat for good measure, and the first two rope break spots indicate that neither man is likely to get nasty.
HARASHIMA carries himself as ever the weary and wary warrior, impassive and impervious to fear. He uses his quick feet to stifle Ibushi’s early enthusiasm, kicking Ibushi out of mid-air as he attempts an evasive vertical leap. HARASHIMA controls much of the early pace until a rather 00s-era WWE section where Ibushi walks away toward the stage, beckoning the champ to follow. Dutifully he does, even though higher ground with things to leap off is Ibushi’s calling card and one which he readily plays – moonsaulting from atop a video screen. It comes across a touch stagy, though it picks the crowd up a gear.
From the conclusion of this ‘big spot’ there are ten minutes of world class professional main event wrestling. HARASHIMA catches Ibushi up top with a Super Reverse Hurricanrana and follows through with the Somato (running kneestrike, kind of a cross between the finishers of Nakamura and Bryan) but Ibushi, selling grogginess hard, kicks out. The champion looks furious, though his friends in his Smile Squash stable implore him to finish the job.
Ibushi soon flips out of a hold by HARASHIMA and levels him with the Somato, only managing a rather undramatic and annoyed one count after a weak cover. The insult of imitation doesn’t sit well with HARASHIMA who, so gentlemanly at the outset, begins laying his forearms in. He tries to hit the killshot Somato but Ibushi grounds him with a lariat. Seizing control, Ibushi goes near with a sitout powerbomb and misses a followup Phoenix Splash. HARASHIMA pops up and hits the Somato to the back of Ibushi’s head but is too beaten down to make the timely cover.
Challenger and champion work back to their feet and hit huge animated haymakers through the fatigue. HARASHIMA wins the initial battle but stalks the seated Ibushi for too long, who works his way back into dominance with a shoten flurry and a power-up lariat. Ibushi goes for another finisher but the champion works his away out, hitting a brusque Dominator variation for a close-but-no-cigar fall.
HARASHIMA peppers the younger man with brutal kicks and signals for the Swan Dive Somato but Ibushi cuts him off whilst perched atop the ropes and hooks him into his own super-finisher. Ibushi takes not only the win with the rarely-outed Phoenixplex, but becomes KO-D Openweight Champion and clubhouse leader in the Fujiwara Armbar Wrestler of the Year. ****1/2
Celebrations, speeches and plaudits all follow. Between the end of this event and the commencement of this review, Ibushi named his most difficult opponent ever as challenger for the title…YOSHIHIKO!