Growing up on a battlefield is tough. It takes courage and focus, it takes knowing yourself and understanding where you come from to know where you’re going. Sometimes you have to put your pride aside, take the losses and grow from them.

This is the story of a young man who had to learn all that to finally find himself.

If you follow Dragon Gate in any way today, you might know Big R Shimizu as the young powerhouse indiscriminately throwing rookies and veterans around like ragdolls, plowing his way through the roster with his patented Shot-Put Slam, one of the most protected finishers in a promotion known for often nerfing them.

But to reduce him to that would be a crime against his character, and the time and work it took to get there.

In a time where much emphasis is put on the New Generation of Dragon Gate, with people like Eita, T-Hawk and El Lindaman being at the center of several stories, Shimizu is a special case.  Being the only one in said New Generation not associated in any way with the Millennials (Ishida and Yamamura do not count, as they debuted much later than these people), Shimizu had to carve out his own path without the help of a unit centered around the concept of youth and renewal.

Initially a low-tier member of the roster under the Ryotsu Shimizu gimmick, an anime policeman character that did him absolutely no favors, he was a lot like a bootcamp trainee who fooled around a bit too much. He was the butt of many jokes then: Mad Blankey stole his anime pants, he lost match after match and making a fool out of himself at every turn. But he soldiered on.

His story truly started when he reinvented himself as Big R Shimizu, one hell of a big soldier boy with a past in amefuto and shot-put. He joined dia.HEARTS, a unit that was captained by then-Open the Dream Gate champion BxB Hulk and counted among its ranks veteran workers Masaaki Mochizuki and Dragon Kid.

With the latter, Shimizu was given his first taste of glory, as the trio won the Open the Triangle Gate titles in December 2014. Though dia.HEARTS and a first title reign marked a turn in Shimizu’s career, he never seemed to be able to reach that next level that started to be expected from the young members of the roster. His 2015 was uneventful to say the least, dia.HEARTS weakened after losing all their titles and their leader when BxB Hulk was sidelined with an arm injury. Through the months, Big R never truly seemed to find his footing, and that would last until one fateful day in February 2016.

If there’s one strategic mastermind on the Dragon Gate roster, it’s Naruki Doi.

Venomous to a fault, the then-number three of Verserk had managed to talk rival units Monster Express and dia.HEARTS into a Losing Unit Disbands match, with Shimizu, still inexperienced in these sorts of things, actually pushing for the match at the exasperation of everyone else, especially T-Hawk, a young man who knows all about the danger of Losing Unit Disbands matches. After BxB Hulk made a rare appearance since his injury, Verserk were added to the match, but what the dia.HEARTS leader thought was a good play on his part ended up being his unit’s downfall. After a highly emotional match on par with Dragon Gate’s best, Verserk member YAMATO pinned dia.HEARTS’ lovable jester Kzy to end it.

Losing your unit is difficult. Losing your first unit is a lesson.

For Shimizu, it seemed to be the kick he needed to finally go into high gear, and become the top prospect he became in 2016. In dia.HEARTS, though the unit gave him a much-needed restart, he never truly felt like a top player, often overshadowed by the sparkly BxB Hulk or the fierce Masaaki Mochizuki. Now that he had to put it all behind him, take what he’d learned from being around the more experienced members of dia., and become his own man.

The next chapter opened with a reignited rivalry with Monster Express’ T-Hawk. One of the ex-Millennials, he had already experienced the rise and fall that often occurs when everything happens too fast, too soon. After a series of singles matches, they seemed to find a certain affinity in both being power wrestlers on a roster where they are few and far between, T-Hawk invited Shimizu to Monster Express, and new battle lines were drawn.

On paper, the team looked incredibly promising. Two of DG’s young prospects, revitalized by an association that surely should have propelled them to new heights, the pair were given the honor of ending YAMATO and Naruki Doi’s record-setting Twin Gate reign. While promising, they hit the same wall that they both had faced before as singles competitors and never seemed to fully click as a team. They would lose the titles three months later to the much more seasoned pairing of Jimmy Susumu and Jimmy Kagetora, but that was only the beginning of the end.

It was during this reign, though, that the defining part of Shimizu’s journey happened.

In May, he entered the annual King of Gate tournament, where he would open the festivities in his block in grand fashion by completely destroying Gamma in four minutes. A warning was sent to the rest of the competitors, and Shimizu made good on it as the tournament went on. A man on a mission, he made short work of Naruki Doi, fighting through every wacky submission attempt with blood in his mouth, and ragdolling the man who had taken everything from him. The Shot-Put Slam that ended this match is perhaps one of the most gasp-inducing spots of Shimizu’s young career, something that you could watch on loop and still jump out of your seat when Doi almost goes through the canvas.

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Later, wins over Genki Horiguchi and El Lindaman would give Shimizu access to the semifinals, where he met Masaaki Mochizuki. There again, he refused to be bested by an elder, and if Mochizuki is known to hit hard, it’s clear that Shimizu’s intention was to show that he can hit harder. The match was a test of Shimizu’s strength and capacity to endure, and in the end, he put his former friend away to punch his ticket to the most important match of his young career: the King of Gate final.

On June 12, 2016, Shimizu went up against YAMATO, another man on a road to redemption, in the final of Dragon Gate’s premier tournament. And though he didn’t win, as the story that led to this match was not his, Shimizu put up the fight of his life, throwing YAMATO around with such force that he seemed he might break him. It was gruesome, wince-inducing, and extraordinary, a star-making performance much like the rest of the tournament had been for him. He no longer looked like an overgrown child trying to find his footing, but instead had truly settled into the powerhouse role befitting of someone like him. Over the years, it’ll be interesting to see if Shimizu can grow even further, maybe even into the role of ring general that his presence and strength alone are already starting to evoke.

He may not have won King of Gate, and the road ahead is still long and full of surprises, but through his incredible, hard-hitting performances, Shimizu proved to be the future just like the ex-Millennials are, no longer trailing behind them but firmly leading the charge.

Now, eight months after losing dia.HEARTS, Shimizu is once again without a unit. After weeks of tension within the unit, T-Hawk left them in the dirt to join the dark side. After an emotional showdown with Verserk, where Shimizu managed to put away fellow big boy Cyber Kong and fought like a beast to save his family, Monster Express is no more. The battlefield stretches out far into the horizon, and as everyone gears up for war, with no army to stand behind him or beside him yet, there is no doubt that Big R Shimizu will be on the front line.