Jack Reviews Dragon Gate: Champion Gate in Osaka Days 1 & 2
From Final Gate in December through to Dead or Alive in May, Dragon Gate don’t usually schedule any PPVs. Champion Gate weekend is a fun way to keep things interesting during this fallow period- every title belt in the company is defended over the course of a doubleshot in Osaka, with the two shows edited down into one broadcast. Day 1 features Eita putting his Brave Gate Championship on the line against El Lindaman, a VerserK member who has been a real thorn in his side as of late. Then, in the main event, the other VerserK members challenge the Jimmyz for the Open the Triangle Gate Championship. On Day 2, Kzy gets another chance at CIMA and Dragon Kid’s Twin Gate Championship, this time with BxB Hulk as his partner, while YAMATO tries to avoid being put on the injured list and having his Dream Gate Championship stolen by VerserK’s runaway freight train Cyber Kong. Kong is also part of VerserK’s Triangle Gate challengers the previous night, and so will be hoping to win two titles in two consecutive days. Plus, some choice non title action as well! Let’s get to it!
As usual, all credit to iheartdg for making the promos here intelligible for non Japanese speakers and also being generally the best Dragon Gate resource on the web.
1- Naruki Doi & Drastik Boy vs. Tribe Vanguard (YAMATO/Flamita)
I can’t say I’ve ever seen Drastik Boy compete before, but if he’s anywhere close to Flamita’s league we should be in for a good time. Flamita is one of the most enjoyable high flyers in the world even at the tender age of 22, and it is a total joy to see him back on tour with Dragon Gate.
Drastik and Flamita have the most delightfully springy, flippy feeling out process. Drastik Boy looks decent- not as fluid or confident in the ring as Flamita, but certainly capable of keeping up with everyone. It’s always nice to see new faces in Dragon Gate anyway, since their roster is so settled and stylistically similar. Flamita though, Flamita is the bees knees. He lands this terrific slingshot flipping huracanrana into the ring, and I’m also impressed by his springboard flying headbutt, during which he actually seems to float. Drastik Boy impresses with this spinning flying DDT. Naruki Doi and YAMATO take somewhat of a backseat, but their exchanges with each other are heated and fun, with their difficult history together as former VerserK members very much in mind. Flamita drops Drastik Boy with the Flam Fly (Standing Spanish Fly) to secure the win at 13:04, a really really fun opener! *** 1/2. As soon as the bell rings, VerserK hit the ring to attack Tribe Vanguard, with Cyber Kong targeting YAMATO ahead of their title match tomorrow.
2- Open the Brave Gate Championship- Eita vs. El Lindaman
Hot start to this one, with Eita charging across the ring and dropkicking Lindaman’s stable mate Punch Tominaga off the ring apron. Then, he wipes out Lindaman and his gang on the floor with a tope! From there we get a match that’s actually a little better than I thought it would be, considering Dragon Gate singles matches can often be frustratingly slow, and neither Eita nor Lindaman are mega experienced. Lindaman’s control segment is, in all honesty, not thrilling, but the finishing stretch is genuinely dramatic and filled with great near falls. Both guys do well in creating a big match atmosphere; you feel like they both really despise each other and also desperately want the Brave Gate Title. Sadly, the finish proves inconclusive, as the referee gets knocked down and VerserK take the opportunity to jump Lindaman in the ring. Takehiro Yamamura leaps in to try and make the save and the brawl gets truly out of hand. The referee becomes sufficiently aware of his surroundings to call for a no contest, and at 15:57 the title match has ended in CONTROVERSY! Pity because it was on the brink of becoming a real undercard gem at that point. Instead, I will have to award it only partial undercard gem status. *** 1/4.
Post match, quite a lot happens. Kzy, Kagetora and Yosuke Santa Maria all come out to join the fray, with the ulterior motive perhaps of inserting themselves into the title picture. Once everyone has been separated, Yamamura criticises Lindaman for getting his goons involved and ruining a title match everyone was excited for. Yosuke Santa Maria and Kzy suggest Eita also had a part to play in letting everything get so out of hand, and think it has harmed the prestige of the Brave Gate Championship. Kagetora points out he has been Brave Gate Champion nine times and wants the opportunity to restore honour to the title. Eventually, the referee decides to lay down the law; he strips Eita of the Open the Brave Gate Championship, and puts it up for grabs in an eight man single elimination tournament instead. Eita will rematch with El Lindaman in the first round, and the rest of the field will consist of Yamamura, Kzy, Santa Maria, Kagetora, Punch Tominaga, and one more competitor to be announced. The tournament sounds bags of fun, although Dragon Gate’s booking can be so contrived at times. Eita did barely anything inappropriate in that match and is now having all these supposed fan favourites taking shots at him while selfishly positioning themselves in the title picture, and then he’s stripped of his belt as well? Poor guy.
3- Open the Triangle Gate Championships- Jimmyz (Susumu/Saito/Kanda) vs. VerserK (Shingo/Kong/T-Hawk)
This is pretty bloody great. It’s perhaps not up there with the best trios matches Dragon Gate have ever done; the finishing stretch doesn’t have quite enough of those utterly blissful moments where astonishing innovative offense gets strung together so seamlessly and at such pace. Instead, it’s more ‘everyone runs in and out the ring and plants each other with big moves,’ which is also a very good formula in its own right, of course. The Open the Triangle Gate Championships have felt like the least important Dragon Gate belts since I started following the promotion, but the final two or three minutes of this are so unbelievably tense and fantastic you’d think the lives of these wrestlers depended on the match’s outcome. Tominaga hops onto the ring apron and bashes Saito over the head with the VerserK bucket, and Saito just fuckin’ no sells it and ties T-Hawk up with this awesome huracanrana! ONE, TWO, THR-NO! I am all in favour of the occasional no sell when it leads to genuinely brilliant out of nowhere edge of your seat moments like that. VerserK resort to plan B and blast Saito in the face with a fistful of powder. Shingo, Cyber and T-Hawk then all land big moves on him in quick succession, culminating in T-Hawk hitting the Night Ride! AND AGAIN SAITO KICKS OUT! Unperturbed, Hawk lands a second Night Ride, and with that, we’ve got new Triangle Gate Champions at 22:15. Hell of a match in the end! ****.
Naruki Doi, Ben-K and Big R Shimizu hit the ring to protest the final result, with Doi pointing out all of VerserK’s cheating and suggesting that the result should be overturned. T-Hawk is not pleased with this suggestion. Doi admits that there might be another reason why he, Ben and Shimizu are out here- to assert themselves as VerserK’s first challengers. T-Hawk mocks Doi’s choice of partners, claiming both of them are far too inexperienced to challenge for gold. Doi retaliates by suggesting that Ben-K is stronger than them all, which enrages Cyber Kong in particular. This leads to the challenge being accepted for the 20th March! Getting the title belts off Jimmyz and onto VerserK was a good call. Jimmyz are a solid, likeable veteran team but are nowhere near as threatening and serious as VerserK are, and the Triangle Gate belts felt a bit midcardy when they had them in their possession. Ben-K, Naruki and Shimizu vs. VerserK is such a huuuuuuuge match, and it feels like even a title change that early in VerserK’s reign would be momentous and captivating. Can’t wait to get to the 3/20 show!
Onto the 5th March show, where we catch the last couple of minutes of Ben-K, Naruki and Shimizu’s victory over Don Fujii, Masaaki Mochizuki and Takehiro Yamamura. Ben-K defeated Yamamura with the Ben-K Bomb (Deadlift Sitout Gutwrench Powerbomb), and it looked a pretty fun match! Post match, the Naruki Doi/Masato Yoshino romance continues to blossom. Yoshino believes Doi is looking forward to his return so they can tag again, but this suggestion embarrasses poor Naruki. Eventually, Doi admits that perhaps he is excited for Yoshino to recover so they can be a duo once more. Kotoka, also injured, decides he wants in on this and suggests DoiYoshiKoto would be a great trio. Doi slaps him down, saying that when he, Ben-K and Shimizu take the Triangle Gate belts, they’ll be no room for him. Aww.
4- Open the Twin Gate Championships- CIMA & Dragon Kid vs. Kzy & BxB Hulk
This match swings back and forth, with the champions initially taking control but Dragon Kid then suddenly finding himself the face in peril. It’s a decent heat segment from Kzy and BxB Hulk, who both have enough fun offense in their locker to keep things lively. CIMA inevitably makes the hot tag, and instead of this leading into the finishing stretch, it allows Over Generation to force Kzy into playing Ricky Morton. The climactic stages of the match are, as usual, beautiful carnage. Kzy is not one of my favourite guys on the roster but he is terrific in this match, so fired up and snappy and just desperate for the tag titles. It feels so much like his story, and everyone else is a supporting actor. There’s bags of tension as the near falls get that bit tighter and the challengers come so close. The crowd are so into it! Kzy spikes Dragon Kid with an Impact Driver and CIMA juuuuuuuuuust breaks it up at 2.99999 for one of the best near falls of the whole darn year! In the end, it’s just not meant to be for Tribe Vanguard. The top rope Dragonrana from Dragon Kid is followed swiftly by the Meteora from CIMA, and that’s the end of Kzy’s Twin Gate title chase at 22:13. One of those glorious Dragon Gate matches where the mixture of world class high flying and epic melodrama takes your breath away. Kzy was on fire and, y’know, the other three guys are no slouches. You can tell in particular CIMA just loves putting these guys over, even in victory. The drama became heartstopping by the end. I thought this would be very good, and it turned out to be a top 10 Match of the Year so far. **** 1/2.
5- Open the Dream Gate Championship- YAMATO vs. Cyber Kong
I was not expecting great things from this, and I didn’t get them. YAMATO’s title reign has been such a bland letdown thus far, and while Cyber Kong is enjoyable as VerserK’s meathead enforcer, he wouldn’t be my first choice on the roster to watch in a main event singles match. Kong just wore YAMATO down in competent fashion for a while. YAMATO comes back, and there’s spots where he really has to battle for a bodyslam. and crashes into Kong three times in the corner with quick running forearms, and you really get the sense of him chipping away at a colossus. But then, he also takes Kong over with ease with an Exploder suplex, so that story never gets off the ground. Things then take a strange turn when the usually masked Kong rips his own hood off, which has the crowd shrieking in astonishment. Kong continues to pull out all the stops, dousing YAMATO with black mist and then dumping him with a sit out powerbomb for 2.9999 and a GREAT near fall. The tremendous Osaka crowd are right into this now. YAMATO weathers the storm, and ends up resorting to a simple sleeper to put Kong away, clambering onto his back and refusing to let go until he’s out cold at 19:28. ** 1/2. An acceptable effort that heated up a good deal right at the end, but I feel people will only remember Kong removing his own mask from this, and understandably so. YAMATO’s Dream Gate defences are doing little for me.