DDT’s little sister company has come a long way. From developing the stars of tomorrow in the small Kitazawa Town Hall (Tokyo), to showcasing them in slick, polished shows in Shinjuku FACE under the new “Fighting Gig DNA” brand, and now, their first solo outing in Korakuen Hall, DNA has produced some of the top prospects for the cult favorite promotion.
Whether it’s former sumo student and legitimate beast of a man Kazusada Higuchi, spunky high-flying idol Shunma Katsumata, or the more kicky and martial arts driven Kouki Iwasaki, to name a few, the young men of DNA have all already made an impact on the landscape of DDT, with several of them, including the three mentioned above, holding the KO-D 6 Man Tag Team titles, and Higuchi in particular earning his place among the top guys with several hard fought— though unsuccessful—challenges for the KO-D Openweight title. Needless to say, DDT has unlimited belief in its young stars, and this show was another proof of why.
Before we get into the meat of things, I have to give HUGE props to DNA for the amazing-looking set-up they have going on in Korakuen. The production of their shows has gone up a dozen notches since becoming Fighting Gig DNA, and this show is no exception. While DDT usually runs a pretty standard setup in Korakuen, this DNA show looks like its own, independant brand, with the thought and careful crafting put into in that it deserves. This gives their first Korakuen card a “big fight” feel, and proves the ambition of everyone behind the project.
LEONA def. MIZUKI WATASE
This is a “conflict settlement” match stemming from LEONA and Watase facing each other in tag matches on all three previous DNA shows of the brand’s new form (episodes 30, 31 and 32), and developing an almost inexplicable dislike for each other.
Watase is a good young worker, former holder of the KO-D 6 Man titles (with Higuchi and Iwasaki), and while LEONA (best known for being the scrappy son of wrestling legend Tatsumi Fujinami) is widely regarded as …not very good by the wrestling fan community at large, he seems to thrive on these DNA shows, giving good performances and making his mother (read: me) proud.
These two went at it with a lot of submission attempts, calling back to LEONA making Watase submit at the latest DNA show (ep 32, COME TOGETHER). It was a little awkward at times but all in good faith, and they never attempted something they knew they couldn’t pull off. Overall, this was a good little match, and much like his other DNA performances, highlighted how much LEONA has improved since his gruesome defeat at the hands of Jun Akiyama at Fortune Dream 3 almost a year ago. DNA seems like the perfect place for him to hone his skills, and he’s already shown a lot of growth over the few shows he has participated in.
Watase was no slouch either, determined to not be humiliated again, but he fell to a forearm strike that gave LEONA THE 1-2-3.
While the five minutes we got were really fun, the finish was a little abrupt, and even dare I say disappointing, and definitely makes me want to see more of LEONA and Watase one on one. Hopefully this isn’t the end of their rivalry in DNA, though respect was shown after the match.
NAOMI YOSHIMURA, REKKA & ROYCE ISAACS def. YUJI OKABAYASHI, DAIKI SHIMOMURA & NOBUHIRO SHIMATANI
The basis of this match is DNA rookie Yoshimura’s enormous ego (only matched by the size of his thighs) and his personal beef with BJW mainstay Yuji Okabayashi
This was a good showcase for some of the midcard DNA talent like Shimomura and Shimatani, but the focus was obviously on the Okabayashi/Yoshimura rivalry, with the “angry golem” of Big Japan using every opportunity to show his strength and character to his younger opponent, while Yoshimura shone as the young brute determined to make an impression. The crowd went crazy for him getting the upper hand on Okabayashi in their lariat battle, and there’s no doubt a singles match is in their future.
A fun six-man with a clear purpose, this ended when Yoshimura pinned Shimatani for the win, earning his Rights to Challenge contract in the process.
GO SHIOZAKI def. DAI SUZUKI
This is the third bout in Dai Suzuki’s seven match trial series, after encounters with Kohei Sato and Masato Tanaka.
Here, he faces NOAH’s misunderstood prodigal son, Go Shiozaki, fresh off a loss in the finals of the Global Tag League.
While the result of this match didn’t leave much to the imagination it was a good little showcase for Suzuki, who showed a lot of fire against the former three-time GHC champion.
I’ve been really enjoying this trial series. Dai Suzuki is an excellent and kind of goofy looking underdog who, while not really being a great wrestler by any standards, gives his all and is obviously no match for the people he goes up against, but he tries his hardest anyway and comes off as extremely endearing as a result.
There’s not a lot to say about this match, which was basically a glorified squash. Suzuki is really over with the DNA crowd, but sadly for him and them, Shiozaki turned his chest into mush before taking his head off with the Gowan Lariat.
TAKA MICHINOKU def. MAO
I’m fully convinced there are few things in pro wrestling better than TAKA schooling younger wrestlers. He’s so good at playing the dickhead veteran, toying with his opponents and doing away with rules, that it’s almost a pleasure to see him taunt and torment his juniors.
However, MAO refused to be taken to school so easily, instead taking pages out of his opponent’s book and using every trick he knows to show TAKA that he means business.
MAO is one of my favorite DNA guys. He may be a bit more serious and not as flashy as his NwA bandmates Makoto Oishi & Shunma Katsumata, but he’s every bit the wrestler they are. His 450 Splash is a thing of beauty. His offense is great for a guy who’s only been wrestling for less than two years and was out due to injury for at least a fourth of that. He’s quick on his feet, technically sound, already very crisp for someone with his level of experience, and is absolutely one to watch out or in the ever-exciting universe of DDT (see what I did there?).
However, he was no match for TAKA’s experience and trickery, and ended up tapping out to the Just Facelock after a really fun back and forth contest.
KONOSUKE TAKESHITA def. YUKI UENO
The story here is that these two were classmates, but are on two hugely different levels of the DDT ladder. While Ueno barely debuted seven months ago, Takeshita is already a two-time and current KO-D Openweight champion and arguably one of the current pillars of the promotion.
And it shows. Ueno is good, but Takeshita is always one, two steps ahead of him. This didn’t stop the rookie from taking it to the champ with everything he has. But it’s not enough, it’s never enough. The gap in experience was the key point here. Even though they are the same age, Takeshita has been making the ring his own for much longer, and his list of accomplishments is nothing to scoff at. He’s got more awareness, less wasted motion, knows how to watch his own back. I know a lot of people have turned the corner on Takeshita recently, and this match is good enough reason why. At 21 years old, he’s capable of looking like a seasoned vet against someone the same age as him, simply based on experience and confidence.
Ueno has something special that will maybe one day propel him to the level that his classmate is at, but currently, he’s no match for Takeshita, who put him down with his patented German Suplex for the win.
KAZUSHI SAKURABA def. KOUKI IWASAKI
Iwasaki has been DNA’s resident Kicky, Grapply boy since its inception, and even moreso since Ryota Nakatsu’s departure. So it’s only natural that when the King of grapplefuck himself, Kazushi Sakuraba, showed up, the young man wanted to challenge him.
Much like a lot of the matches on this card, this is a few months in the making, with Iwasaki and Sakuraba previously facing each other in tag matches. And as expected, Sakuraba has Iwasaki’s number. There’s seemingly nothing the youngster does that Saku cannot counter, and in the end, the veteran is just too experienced for Iwasaki to properly handle.
Iwasaki still put on a good fight, reminding people why he’s so high on the card, just under the tested and true aces of DNA. He’s here to stay.
KOTARO SUZUKI def. SHUNMA KATSUMATA
In the landscape of DNA, there’s Higuchi, the monster, and Katsumata, the smaller guy who never seems to be able to get one over on him. The two battled for the top spot on this show, and Katsumata was defeated, leading him to this match. Don’t be fooled by Shunma’s small stature, his cutesy idol gimmick or his eternal positioning as the number two to Higuchi’s Ace though: the guy is one of the most daring and skilled members of the brand, and a star in the making for DDT as a whole.
This is a rematch from Ep. 30 (the first show of the “new and improved” DNA), where Kotaro Suzuki came out victorious. Since then, these two have been teammates, confirming their excellent chemistry.
This continued to show it. Shunma is almost like a younger mirror image of Suzuki, who continues to be one of the most emblematic Jrs of the Japanese indie scene. The young man is quick and nimble, never shies away from dangerous situations, and can take it to any opponent with a fire that has always been one of my favorite things about him. They went back and forth, this never felt like an unequal contest, and the amount of offense Shunma got in was quite impressive.
Kotaro may have come out on top, but every defeat is another opportunity for Shunma to build his character, and will only make it even better when he finally pulls out a big singles win… especially against his fated rival.
KAZUSADA HIGUCHI def. “SPEEDBALL” MIKE BAILEY
This was a rematch from the final of the 2016 DNA Grand Prix, where Bailey was victorious.
Mike Bailey has been a really interesting addition to DDT over the past months, fitting in well with both the regular roster and the young talent of DNA. His innate ability to play the David to any Goliath he encounters serves him well too, especially here since this match is essentially a showcase for Higuchi.
The big man has been positioned as the leader of the DNA pack since the beginning, and if his record is anything to go by, it’s obvious that DDT sees great things in him. And they’re right. He may still be rough around the edges, but his power and intensity are truly something to behold. He carries himself like a superstar, and whatever flaws he might have in the ring, he covers with confidence and sheer force of will.
This was a very good match that highlighted both men’s strengths well, along with their tremendous chemistry. In the end, Higuchi won the showcase of styles, getting the victory back over Bailey.
Following the match, Higuchi announced that he would be graduating from DNA in July (the second wrestler to do so, after the now Basara-affiliated Ryota Nakatsu) and becoming a full-fledged member of the DDT roster. With back to back wins over his two rivals, Higuchi is ready to take his biggest lead of faith yet. He won’t be a big fish in a small pond anymore, as DDT is full of guys who can – and have – teach him a thing or two. But he’ll sure as hell continue to make an impression.
DNA’s first outing in Korakuen was a great showcase of its different stars and its up-and-coming talent. While some matches could have benefitted from a few more minutes, or to be taken up a few notches, nothing stood out as immediately skippable (yes, even the LEONA match. Watch that. Jooooin meeee.) and, in hard fought battles and even through loss, the boys of DNA proved that they’re not just the developmental branch of DDT. The recent rebranding has brought them a new fire, one that I can only imagine will burn brighter and brighter with each show. If DNA already provided excellent shows on a consistent basis prior to the revamping, their new look and attitude give them an edge that they were previously lacking at times.
This is just the beginning.