Twenty-one years ago, to the day, Toryumon Japan had its first show at Korakuen Hall. The first few classes of wrestlers from Ultimo Dragon’s gym made the long flight from Arena Naucalpan to have their formal debut in front of a crowd of 2131 (with the power of hindsight, this was a worked number, but it’s believed that they sold out the venue). The wrestling landscape was drastically different in 1999 than it is today. WCW and ECW still existed in North America. There were the traditional big two promotions in Japan along with major indie mainstays FMW. Giant Baba passed away on this day twenty-one years ago.

Almost sixteen years ago, Toryumon Japan closed. Ultimo’s students graduated from his school and created Dragon Gate. A wide fissure erupted between him and the students. It would take an ownership change, the departure of Dragon Gate’s biggest star, and the twentieth anniversary of the Toryumon Japan landing to heal this divide and create the unlikely scenario where we got the Toryumon Reunion.

JANUARY 31, 2020

Watch: Dragon Gate Network

Exhibition Match
Kento Kobune and Masahiro Inoue Time Limit Draw

This is the debut for Inoue, he’s 26 from Hyogo. Kobune debuted with Taketo Kamei in December 2019. Inoue, as mentioned by Jae and Larry Dallas on commentary, is aspiring to be a premier high flier. The majority of this was training holds and grappling but it broke down into a somewhat brutal chop match as Kobune and Kamei developed a reputation in their exhibition stint for being hard strikers. 

Having Inoue make his exhibition debut on this show is somewhat notable. Usually, in the Dragon System you work your way up slowly doing exhibitions on spot shows before making your Korakuen debut. When you’ve got a match with a literal rookie and someone who has been pro for only a month, you can anticipate that it could fall to pieces. A credit to the dojo in Kobe as this didn’t go off the rails. A solid exhibition. NR

The show opened with the entire Toryumon Reunion roster coming out to address the crowd with Ultimo Dragon taking the microphone. He couldn’t get too far into his address before GWD hit and M2K came out with their jackets and razor scooters (trust me, this is a lot more badass than it sounds. I wouldn’t question Masaaki Mochizuki’s credentials even if he came out with body pillow) to interrupt the opening address, much like how they would cause havoc in the first few years of Toryumon. Mochizuki brought up that he never got to face Ultimo as an M2K member so he laid out a challenge setting up Original M2K vs Ultimo, Dragon Kid and Second (Naruki) Doi. 

Crazy Max (Sumo Fuji, SUWAcito & TARU) defeat Takashi Minamino, CHANGO & Masahiro Takanashi

This opening match featured the original unit of Toryumon, Crazy Max vs three Toryumon X students. Don Fujii rolled back the years (and his various name changes) back to his original character. SUWAcito, a Toryumon X student himself, is better known by today’s audiences as Kagetora. This character is based off the retired original Crazy Max member SUWA, as in Toryumon X they made a “mini” Crazy Max variant. X was teased as their partner and it ended up being the other available original Crazy Max member, TARU. TARU left the Dragon System after the Ultimo split and bounced around a lot of promotions. The Toryumon X students were Takashi Minamino, portraying his Los Salseros Japoneses character, DDT/Gatoh Move mainstay Masahiro Takanashi, and CHANGO, who mostly wrestles in 2AW and Heat Up nowadays.

This was a feel-good remember the old days trios match. Minamino always had prodigious charisma for a wrestler of his age (debuted at age 16) and his charm never went away. Fuji, SUWAcito and TARU did a bunch of vintage Crazy Max tropes including Fuji slapping everyone, on opposing teams or not. TARU got in the ring for exactly the right amount (very little) and this was a breezy fun match. As a Dragon Gate fan, would absolutely love to see more of Minamino and Takanashi around more often. TARU and CHANGO can go back to where they came. ***¼ 

Toru Owashi defeat Konomama Ichikawa

After just over a month after losing it, Ichikawa gets his mask back to face the original power wrestler of Toryumon, Toru Owashi who beat him in 30 seconds and ran off to the back.

Of course, this wasn’t it as Ichikawa begged for a rematch. And that gave us the typical Ichikawa comedy match. I think Ichikawa is the greatest comedy wrestler of all time, so I really enjoyed the hijinks with him missing a quebrada, screwing up a ton and general dumbness. Owashi didn’t take it out of first gear and I don’t blame him. This was a good time if you love Ichikawa (everyone should love Ichikawa). Post-match, TARU came out to tease saving Ichikawa from further onslaught but gave him a TARU driller instead. NR

Dragon Scramble
Kanjuro Matsuyama defeated Karaoke Machine, Darkness Dragon, Amigo Suzuki, Tsubo Genjin, Shachihoko Machine #1, Hisamaru Tajima & Shachihoko Machine #2

This had basically standard Japanese battle royale rules with Royal Rumble staggered entry. 

The first people in the match were Amigo Suzuki, former Arai family member and later Ultimo Dragon Gym student, and Hisamaru Tajima, the would-be ace of Toryumon X who retired to run his family’s noodle restaurant. Just standard brawling until Shachihoko Machine 1 entered next. Shachi 1 has been out of wrestling since 2003. He did Shachihoko pose for about two minutes until Tsubo Genjin, from Michinoku Pro, made his entrance. They seemed to speed up entrances to maybe a minute instead of ninety seconds for Shachihoko Machine 2. This is the Shachihoko that modern audiences are more aware of as he is best known as Shachihoko BOY, a combination of the Shachihoko Machine and Shisa BOY character and former Twin Gate champion. 

The next entry was the forever charming Karaoke Machine coming in from the crowd and singing until he was rolled up for the first elimination. He then removed his yukata to be wearing awfully familiar tights. That went right into Darkness Dragon, the previous persona of K-Ness, making his way out and hitting a couple of M2K classic moves before the final entrant Kanjuro Matsuyama of Osaka Pro hit the ring.

The remainder of the match was the kind of standard Dragon Gate battle royal that we saw a lot of in 2019. This was nice to see all of these old minor faces show up but not a whole lot else to it. **

Italian Connection (YOSSINO, “brother” YASSINI, Condotti Shuji & Milanito Collection a.t.) w/ Pescatore Yagi defeated SAITO, Kenichiro Arai, Koichiro Arai, & Henry III Sugiara w/ Anthony W. Mori

This was the top unit in Toryumon 2000 Project defeating a collection of Toryumon Japan, Toryumon 2000 Project, and Ultimo Dragon Gym wrestlers. ItaCon consisted of YOSSINO (Masato Yoshino back in his Sexy Tarzan character plus a wig), YASSINI (“brother” YASSHI but a hunky model), Condotti Shuji (Shuji Kondo as ItaCon’s power fighter), Milanito Collection a.t. (the mini version of Milano Collection A.T., as portrayed by Tsutomu Oosugi of a billion characters but mainly the Speed of Sounds) accompanied by Yagi (current DG GM, referee but former fisherman turned baker). The mixed team are the adopted Arai brothers, Henry III Sugiara (as his Royal brother character but better known now as Takuya Sugiara), SAITO (the trainer of Super Shisa, nothing else to note here about how SAITO disappeared and Shisa appeared), and they were managed by Anthony W Mori, DG’s former prince but resident front-office official.

We got a lot of quality llave holds between SAITO and YASSINI. It’s wild to be reminded how much of a solid mat wrestler YASSINI can be as ItaCon were the purveyors of the mat-based llave lucha libre. Then it flowed into just another enjoyable free-flowing Reunion match. We got the Arai brothers trying twin magic. Dotti trying to attack Mori but Henry having none of it. YOSSINO losing his wig (again). 

This felt like a vintage Italian Connection match with plenty of hijinks and classic moves like YOSSINO’s From Jungle, Shuji’s Lanarse and SAITO locking in the Alejandro Lock. The good times, however, came to an end with a devastating King Kong lariat from Condotti Shuji on Koichiro Arai. This was a whole bunch of fun and everyone, including Sugiara, brought their top performances. This won’t be a match that makes any spreadsheets or MOTY lists, but it was really nice to be taken back to 2004 with this match. ***½

During intermission, Genki Horiguchi, Ryo Saito and Ultimo Dragon talked about the future Dragon Gate participation on the Dragomania shows this fall. That’s when Dragon Gate’s current heel unit, R.E.D. hit the ring as Eita continued his war against Ultimo and Toryumon. After a few minutes, they left the ring even though they were conspicuously in their ringside apparel. 

Genki Horiguchi def. Ryo Saito

This was the only match we knew of in advance. Genki reverted to his former surfer gimmick (including a wig and wet suit) while SaiRyo returned to being a cycling enthusiast (now ya’ll know why it’s called the Cycling Yahoo).

This match, was where the English commentators Jae and Larry Dallas thrived. Jae, certainly the most knowledgeable western Dragon System fan, really came into his own on this card. It was great hearing all the history and context about Genki and SaiRyo’s history and Dallas, perhaps the best Color Commentator working today, was thriving as a somewhat bewildered person that time traveled back to 2004. This match really showed the world that Dragon System fans loved and cherished. 

This isn’t a match where doing play-by-play is appropriate. Frankly, this card isn’t for that. This is a match that I’ve probably seen variants of hundreds of times. But this is a match where they truly turned to clock back to 2001. We got GH Locks, huge rubber band attacks, and even Big Fujii trying to steal Ryo Saito’s bicycle. This is what this show about: a true love letter to the first generation of now the most influential promotion of its era.

Genki won with a Backslide from Heaven after Fujii distracted Saito by stealing his bicycle. I loved it. ****

Ultimo Dragon, Dragon Kid & Second Doi def. M2K (Masaaki Mochizuki, Susumu Mochizuki & Yasushi Kanda)

Second Doi, of course, is currently Open the Dream Gate champion Naruki Doi as his baseball player gimmick. It was a reference to famous Yomuri Giants player Shozo Doi where they said Naruki was “related to him.” This match also had current Susumu Yokosuka use his real name, which he lost in a match against Masaaki Mochizuki. 

This was a real throwback to the traditional rudo vs Toryumon army matches of 2000 & 2001. M2K’s purpose in the promotion was to ruin the shows and send fans home unhappy. Hence the nickname of “Double Countout Committee.” So naturally, this began with a crowd brawl that barely got back into the ring before the twenty count. From there, we got a lot of classic M2K double teams, Doi doing his baseball-themed moves, just general time-traveling to the past era. 

Yasushi Kanda had the match won with the M2K finishing combination (triangle kick into Kamikaze into Gekujudoh Elbow), but he pulled up Dragon Kid to send him outside so they could go for the Double Countout, but R.E.D. attacked everyone and this led Susumu and DK on the ring alone. An errant box attack then an ultra hurricanrana won the match for Toryumon Seikigun. ***½

R.E.D. continued to beat up the Toryumon wrestlers until Eita picked up a microphone talked trash to the audience saying that this was the end of the show and R.E.D ruined it. Mocchy pled to Ultimo describing the differences between M2K and R.E.D. and talking about how they never teamed in Toryumon but did 25 years ago in WAR. YOSSINO came out and said this was probably his last time in Japan (because he wouldn’t have his friend Masato Yoshino around after Yoshino retires). It was then shaping up to be a handicap match until TARU came out and said he wasn’t going take R.E.D. trashing Toryumon so it set up an impromptu main event.

Ultimo Dragon, Masaaki Mochizuki, YOSSINO & TARU def. R.E.D. (Eita, Big R Shimizu, Diamante & H*Y*O)

This match was a lot like modern Dragon Gate faces vs R.E.D. matches with brawling and constant R.E.D. interference. We did get the former Bukoh Dojo members Mochizuki and TARU weirdly teaming up which is something for the record books. I feel like outside of the Anniversary matches, Diamante has been Ultimo’s best opponent (naturally due to their history in Mexico) and they had some highlights in this including a fakeout where Ultimo looked like he was going to moonsault onto H*Y*O but instead did a huge top rope plancha to the floor onto Diamante.

This broke down as you expected it would until Italian Connection made the save. Milanito was first in try break up the R.E.D foul play, he was beat down until suddenly the Ace of the Torymon 2000 Project, Milano Collection A.T. stepped foot in a Dragon System ring for the first time in 12 years, and fighting in the ring for the first time since he retired almost a decade ago due an eye injury. 

On a show where we went back in time and anything could happen, the most surprising thing was this as Milano made the save, showed the world how to properly do the Paradise Lock and the crowd became unglued. With R.E.D. neutralized, Ultimo hit the Asai DDT on Diamante for the win, avenging his loss that closed out 2019. ****¼ 

Final Thoughts

The closest thing I can compare this to was ECW’s initial One Night Stand show in 2006. In every sense of the word, this was a love letter to sixteen years ago and the incredibly special and influential promotion Toryumon. Full of remembrances, surprises, and heart-warming matches, this class reunion delivered on every note.

This isn’t a show where doing play-by-play would have been appropriate. The star ratings don’t matter (I only included them as to not completely break format). This show was about reconciliation. Most of these men haven’t been in a ring together since Toryumon closed, Ultimo left, and Dragon Gate was born. This time last year, individuals like TARU, Aagan Issou, and Milano Collection AT seemed like they would never come back home.

But they did.

In a lot of ways, I feel like this show was the true closing of the first generation of the Dragon System. These were men who started an incredible journey as teenagers and young adults to Mexico, that their end result was something that completely revolutionized the world of pro wrestling. Tonight we got to see that.

At the same time, this show opened the gate to a brand new world. Are we going to get more reunion shows? Could Milano, someone who is firmly with Bushiroad in New Japan/Stardom, be opening a different forbidden door? 

Those are questions for another day. 

This was an incredibly special show. And one that long time Dragon System fans dreamed of for years. Jae and Larry Dallas were great on the call, Larry Dallas played somewhat of the straight man trying to make sense of this wonderful and preposterous world of Toryumon, and Jae playing his dream role of getting to call this class reunion.

I don’t know if I want this to become a continual thing, but for one night, Toryumon was back. And I’m going to be eternally thankful for that. 

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