Jack’s Dragon Gate: Truth Gate (02.02.17) Review
As the health of my ageing laptop continues to decay, I managed to lose vast chunks of this review not once, but twice, to the digital abyss. I have made a huge effort not to get frustrated and half arse the stuff I’ve had to rewrite but if any of this recap disappoints you, at least I’ve got my excuses in early! As always, full credit to the superb I Heart DG for the English transcriptions of the promos, which I have paraphrased in this article.
Some bad news coming out of the 23rd January live event in Kobe- Masato Yoshino suffered a herniated disc and three fractured vertebrae, and will of course be out for quite some time. Considering the intricacy and pace of Dragon Gate’s style it’s remarkable how infrequently the promotion has to contend with a long term injury loss, so this one will have really thrown booking plans for a loop. Making matter worse, Kotoka has also been consigned to the sidelines with a knee injury, meaning that the scheduled eight man tag match for this evening, set up with a main event angle at the last televised show, will have to be altered. Naruki Doi and Ben-K are now two partners down for their battle with VerserK… I wonder what they’ll do about it…
Before the show proper begjns, YAMATO and BxB Hulk sign the contract for their Open the Dream Gate Championship match later in the evening. Hulk promises that the man who lost 4 straight matches to start the year would not show up in the main event, and that fans could expect an exciting, heart-stopping title match. YAMATO remarks that he wants to see Hulk all full of piss and vinegar, but has no intention of losing his Dream Gate title to him.
1- DON FUJII, SHUN SKYWALKER & YUKI YOSHIOKA VS. JIMMYZ (Genki Horiguchi, Jimmy Kagetora & Jimmy Susumu)
Shun Skywalker is another of the hugely exciting 2016 class. Formerly known as Shun Watanabe, he’s now put on a garish, tasselled, green and silver body suit, and adopted the Skywalker name. I don’t necessarily think this is an upgrade on ‘plain rookie.’
This was the usual silky smooth, bags of fun six man tag opener. Don Fujii is really good in his role as the grumpy but caring Uncle to assorted Dragon Gate rookies; his grizzled demeanour and tough strikes gives his inexperienced partners a welcome credibility boost, but he never overshadows them, allowing the up and comers plenty of room to shine. Yuki Yoshioka takes the majority of the punishment for his team in this one. He has this habit of showing intensity and frustration just by roaring and pulling an angry face, but otherwise looks good. Despite being a Dragon Gate lifer, KAGETORA seems to fly under the radar somewhat on the roster, but he’s terrific here, stringing together these terrific, seamlessly fluid striking sequences. There’s some fun exchanges with Shun Skywalker in particular. And, ultimately, it’s KAGETORA that secures the victory, dumping Yoshioka with the Gurumakakari to end a very watchable opener! *** 1/4.
2- BIG R SHIMIZU VS. TAKEHIRO YAMAMURA
I’ve seen this match get a lot of hype, and the first minute or so made me think it would live up to it. Yamamura just blitzes Shimizu with this furious burst of offense, nailing him with a dropkick and then wiping him out with a dive from the floor. No fucking around! It made me think we were in for a totally electric ten minute sprint. Sadly, the pace slowed down considerably from there, and while there were intermittent great moments and sequences across the match, I didn’t end up enjoying this as much as I’d hoped I would. That’s not a knock on Shimizu and Yamamura, because they told a good, satisfying story which many people seem to have really dug. Shimizu is much bigger and stronger than Yamamura, but Yamamura actually controlled much of the match with well timed strikes and submissions, keeping Shimizu subdued and stopping him from building up any momentum. The strike exchanges had value in at least being different from the sometimes repetitive lucharesu on amphetamines Dragon Gate style, but, man, I really love lucharesu on amphetamines. Shimizu did eventually manage to get going, and almost won the match in the dying moments with his Shot Put Slam, but the 20 minute time limit expired before he could successfully make the pin. It was a good way of getting both men over while still providing a legitimate finish, but the problem is that Shimizu and Yamamura were forced to go 20 minutes when they could have had a more explosive match in 10. I watch Dragon Gate for matches that are much more chaotic and quick than this one, which was slow and measured and, for me, not all that compelling. As I alluded to earlier, other people have raved about this match and what great performances both men put on, and I wouldn’t even disagree with that particularly, but it wasn’t quite my cup of tea. ** 3/4.
3- JIMMYZ (Jimmy Kanda & Ryo Jimmy Saito) VS. DR. MUSCLE & YASSHI
Having only revealed himself to be Naruki Doi at the last televised event, Dr. Muscle is back and this time siding with VerserK. Who could be hiding under the mask?
Well, whoever it is, they don’t look entirely comfortable in the role, moving around with an awkwardness and hesitancy you don’t expect from a Dragon Gate wrestler. This is just about OK, but quite forgettable and flat. Dr. Muscle and YASSHI control the vast majority of the match, but Jimmy Kanda livens things up with a good performance off the hot tag. Sadly, it all wraps up anti-climatically with a DQ finish, as Muscle goes nuts with the VerserK crate. **.
4- OVER GENERATION (CIMA, Dragon Kid & Eita) VS. TRIBE VANGUARD (Kzy & Yosuke Santa Maria) & MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI
A return to form after the indifferent last two matches! This is the usual fast paced six man tag fun, with the added intrigue of CIMA and Dragon Kid squaring off against their next challengers for the Twin Gate Championships, Kzy and Yosuke Santa Maria. Maria, happily, keeps her irritating antics to a minimum. There are heat segments on both Eita and, to a lesser extent, Kzy, and both are thoroughly watchable. Finally, we cut loose with the wild finishing stretch! Absolutely textbook! CIMA ultimately gets one up on Santa Maria, putting her down with the Crossfire Powerbomb for the three count. *** 1/2.
Next up is the scheduled eight man tag, with Naruki Doi leading a team against four VerserKers. However, as we discussed earlier, injuries to Masato Yoshino and Kotoka mean Doi is currently short of two team mates! Doi admits that this is a difficult situation, and even though he still doesn’t like Yoshino at all, even he’s a little bit concerned about the severity of his injury. Happily, Doi has been able to find two able tag partners who will step up to the plate- CIMA and Masaaki Mochizuki! That appears to be that, but then, there’s another twist. CIMA reveals that he’s had a phone conversation with Masato Yoshino, and while Yoshino is happy for he and Mochizuki to deputise, he also asked CIMA to consider letting some younger guys have the opportunity. And, as it happens, both CIMA and Mochizuki agree that there are two such wrestlers who deserve the chance- Big R Shimizu and Takehiro Yamamura! Both those guys are more than happy to step up to the plate, and I think we’ve got an eight man tag going!
5- BEN-K, BIG R SHIMIZU, NARUKI DOI & TAKEHIRO YAMAMURA VS. VERSERK (Shingo Takagi, T-Hawk, Cyber Kong & El Lindaman)
Oh man this is absolutely fucking killer. Dragon Gate tag wrestling is always immense fun in the ten minute bursts you get on the undercard, but when it goes more epic in scale you could really believe, in spite of its flaws, that you’re watching the future of wrestling. There’s a nice, simple, compelling storyline supporting the incredible in ring action, with the improvised team of technicos feeling like convincing, sympathetic underdogs against the bullying dickheads of Verserk. Big R Shimizu and Yamamura, having already had what some have called a breakout performance earlier in the show, light up this match as well. It’s so rewarding to watch Shimizu and Ben-K exchange power moves toe to toe with the mighty Shingo (Ben-K has been wrestling for just over a year and already looks just terrific, so confident and assured even in such a high profile match) but I think Yamamura is the match’s MVP. He takes the brunt of VerserK’s beating and just does not give up. There’s this moment when he’s all alone in the ring and desperately keeping both T-Hawk and Cyber Kong at at bay with rapid fire chops, and it’s properly inspirational. He plays a huge role in the gripping final minutes as well, blitzed by the best moves that the entire faction has to offer and still kicking out at 2.999, hopelessly outmatched but hanging on in there. For much of the match I’m absolutely going *****, but ultimately the finishing stretch does push on a little further than it needs to, and when the finish does come, it’s a massive let down. Dr. Muscle hops up on the ring apron and smashed the red VerserK crate over Yamamura’s head, allowing El Lindaman the opening to hit one of his Bridging Suplexes and keep him down for the three. Dr. Muscle then unmasks for the second time in as many shows, on this occasion revealing… Punch Tominaga. As an oddball Over Generation B-teamer, Tominaga had been tolerable, but nothing I’ve seen from him makes me excited to see him in a more promiment role, which this high profile heel turn seems to imply. Still, none of this detracts too much from 21 minutes of largely enthralling action, seamless, ambitious, high concept pro wrestling which makes me want to evangelise this company to the entire world. **** 1/2.
Post match, El Lindaman confirms that Punch Tominaga is the newest member of VerserK, because he wants to be treated like the first class wrestler that he is, and Over Generation didn’t give him enough respect. Lindaman wonders what’s happening to Over Generation? They used to have no less than eight members, but both Lindaman and Tominaga defected, Gamma is old and broken down, and Cyber Kong put Kaito Ishida on the injury list. OG’s Eita comes out to fire back- he was polite to Tominaga while they were team mates, but secretly he always considered him a drag. CIMA targets Cyber Kong, pointing out that not only has he injured Ishida and Masato Yoshino, he’s also busted open Jimmy Susumu and CIMA himself at recent events. If that’s the way Cyber Kong wants to give it out, he has to be prepared to take it in the same way, and he wants to know if VerserK are willing to as well. He proposes the remaining members of Over Generation against VerserK in an all out war!
VerserK’s leader Shingo dismisses the challenge, asking precisely what kind of war are Over Generation’s leftovers able to fight? He does, however, give Takehiro Yamamura some begrudging praise, and offers him a spot in VerserK as an underling, to study under the great Shingo Takagi. Yamamura tells him to fuck right off, and CIMA reiterates his challenge for a match. T-Hawk steps in now to turn him down, pointing out that VerserK have five members, while Over Generation only have four. But VerserK can’t get out of it that easily, because now Naruki Doi jumps in and offers to make up the numbers for Over Generation.
Still, Shingo is reluctant. He reminds us all that VerserK won the New Year Unit tournament at the last show, proving that they are Dragon Gate’s superior faction. What do they have to gain from this match with Over Generation? CIMA has an idea. The winning faction can steal a member of the losing one! The first ever Loser Loses a Member match! This is deemed an adequate stipulation, and the match is set for a future show! Whew!
6- OPEN THE DREAM GATE CHAMPIONSHIP- YAMATO VS. BXB HULK
Hmmmmm. This is the sort of needlessly long singles match that signifies its intentions to solve world hunger and climate change from the first minute and is usually utterly insufferable as a result. The opening minutes of this, certainly, are not a good time. Lots of lying around on the mat, killing time with submission holds that you suspect will be of no relevance later on. Particularly egregious is the endless Crossface hold that YAMATO drains the life out of Hulk and the crowd with. Korakuen Hall is just dead for the majority of this skirmishes, and you can’t blame them. Inch by inch, the action starts to liven up, and a couple of ludicrously high impact bumps down the stretch redeem the match somewhat. The best of these by far is the startling moment where Hulk hits Yamato with the EVO Powerslam off the second rope to the outside, sending YAMATO clattering back first into the ring apron. Both men look in serious danger of crippling themselves, and it’s a moment of real, on your feet drama. The whole finshing stretch is much more what i want from Dragon Gate, lots of elaborate, athletic moves and a much faster pace, but it’s not as easy to appreciate when the opening stages of the match have so determinedly tried to take you out of the action. YAMATO polishes Hulk off with the Galleria to retain his championship. ***. One of the less enthusiastic three stars I’ll give, actually, but the utter insanity of the powerslam to the floor makes me want to be generous, and if you like loooooong slow burning matches this might do it for you in a way it didn’t for me.
YAMATO was pleased to see some of the old BxB Hulk come out in that match. Both men show each other respect, but Cyber Kong interrupts to drop YAMATO with the Pineapple Bomber and declare himself the next Open the Dream Gate challenger!