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Jack Reviews Dragon Gate: Dead or Alive 2017

May 26, 2017 | Posted by Jack Stevenson
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Jack Reviews Dragon Gate: Dead or Alive 2017  

We have made it through the long winter months, and it’s time for the hottest time of the year for Dragon Gate to begin; Dead or Alive, then the round robin King of Gate tournament, leading neatly into the Kobe Pro Wrestling Festival. Dead or Alive is (in)famous for its traditional clusterfuck cage match main event, but we’ve also got three titles on the line tonight and the debut of Naruki Doi and Masato Yoshino’s new stable, so lots to be excited about! Hooray!

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0- Shun Skywalker & Shun Watanabe vs. Jimmy Kanda & Syachihoko BOY
This was the show’s dark match, and was thus predictably a quiet but watchable affair. It was an opportunity for three youngsters to get a run-out on one of the bigger shows of the year, and they all looked very smooth and professional, as does every up and comer that Dragon Gate churn out. Watering down the usual Dragon Gate style actually makes for an effective way to approach dark matches like this, as it makes them pacy and flippy and fun without being too challenging or draining. Kanda put Watanabe down with the Ryu’s (a spinning sit-out Pedigree) for the win. ** 3/4.

1- Over Generation (Eita, Gamma) & Drastik Boy vs. Tribe Vanguard (Flamita, Kzy, Yosuke Santa Maria)
As the opener to the show proper, this worked really nicely. A brisk pace was kept throughout and there were some really nice dives to enjoy, with Flamita and Drastik Boy making their usual sizeable contribution but Kzy stealing the show with an astonishing step up flip dive to the floor. The limitation of this match was that it very much felt like an outing for the B teams, with Flamita arguably being the furthest up the card in the match despite not even being a Dragon Gate full timer. So, it never felt particularly consequential, but it was breezy and easy to watch and a fine effort from all involved. As he has done so often on this tour, Flamita pinned Drastik Boy with the standing Spanish Fly. *** 1/4.

2- Don Fujii & Masaaki Mochizuki vs. VerserK (YASSHI, Punch Tominaga)
If not quite a fully fledged comedy match, this was certainly the most light hearted bout of the evening, as Dragon Gate’s grumpy dads had some fun at the expense of the VerserK C-team. Don Fujii dragged Brother YASSHI all the way to the upper tier of the crowd, the ideal place to batter him with palm thrusts. It was a good time, although towards the end it became a bit too serious, and went too long considering the limitations of three of the four competitors (Mochizuki still looks like he could wrestle circles around 95% of the world, despite being the wrong side of 45). But, it was never close to outright bad or anything. Fujii crushed Tominaga with a Choke Slam off the top rope for the three count. ** 3/4.

In a short interlude, all the competitors in the main event came out to talk up their chances of victory. Nothing much of note was said, other than “RAH RAH RAH I’M GONNA WIN,” but Naruki Doi certainly seemed the fan favourite. Unsurprising I suppose, considering the limp year Hulk and YAMATO have had, but it’s still worth mentioning.

3- Open the Brave Gate Championship- Jimmy Kagetora vs. Takehiro Yamamura
A great pairing on paper delivered a great match in the ring! Yamamura had pinned Kagetora twice in tag action in the build up to this match, and I think that really helped make it feel like a title change could have been in the offing here, even though Yamamura is relatively inexperienced and Kagetora had only won the title a month and a half ago. There was a bit of cursory leg work from Kagetora that sort of played into the finishing stretch, with Yamamura obviously only selling when it suited him but doing a good job of not making it blatant and obnoxious. The real strength of the bout was in the gripping near falls, several of which were real edge of the seat stuff. Rookies pushing veterans to their absolute limits will always be a compelling story, and that’s what this was. And it also helps when said veteran is so lovely to watch in the ring! Kagetora is just so FLUID, his strike combinations are LIQUID WRESTLING and I also love all the different ways he managed to catch Yamamura off guard with the 619. Wrestlers could get some good ideas by watching him set the move up without it looking horribly contrived. A super satisfying Brave Gate match, and though Kagetora was able to defend his title with the Gurumakakari, I hope that’s not the last we see of Yamamura in the title picture. *** 3/4.

A grumpy Yamamura rejected a handshake from Kagetora post match. In spite of this, the champion still had nice things to say about his defeated challenger, claiming he’s done things 18 months into his career that Kagetora couldn’t even consider at that stage in his own. If Yamamura wanted to challenge again, he was welcome to. He should take Kagetora up on that offer!

4- Jimmyz (Genki Horiguchi HAGeeMee, Jimmy Susumu, Ryo Jimmy Saito, Jimmy K-Ness JKS) vs. MaxiMum (Masato Yoshino, Big R Shimizu, Ben-K, Kotoka)
This was another very good match, better than I was expecting. Considering its position on the card, in the middle of three title matches, I’d imagined this would be a somewhat restrained affair, its only real purpose to give MaxiMuM a debut win over Dragon Gate’s, well, gatekeepers. Instead, this quickly became a full on, fast and furious sprint, with tons of cool moves and near falls. It was a really fun, pleasant surprise, the sort of match that wouldn’t look out of place as the main event on a smaller televised show. It was also a total joy to see Masato Yoshino tearing about again as if he hadn’t come back in three months from an injury that should have kept him out twice along. Watching him running the ropes at his trademark lightning speed was completely heartening. The finish left me a little cold though, with Saito dumping Kotoka with the Double Cross for the victory. There’s something to be said for not making the Jimmyz so obviously a faction that more important people to beat to enhance their credibility, and Kotoka in fairness has been presented as a bit of a loser throughout his tenure in Dragon Gate, but being finally allowed entry into MaxiMum enhanced his credibility somewhat and it’s a shame to see such an exciting new group lose their first match together. Still, the bout itself was lovely stuff. *** 1/2.

But the action did not stop there, as the Jimmyz questioned what Masato Yoshino thought he could achieve with the likes of Kotoka and the rookie Ben-K in his stable. This comment upset Yoshino, but he was also irritated with his teammates for not getting more upset at being insulted. Yoshino then declared the Jimmyz the first targets of MaxiMum. This triggered a scrappy little brawl to end the segment.

5- Open the Twin Gate Championship- Over Generation (CIMA, Dragon Kid) vs. VerserK (T-Hawk, El Lindaman)
I liked this match quite a bit despite it having many of the things that usually turn me off lengthy Dragon Gate tags. I watched it in the immediate aftermath of an excruciating dinner with my warring parents, so maybe I was just grateful for the distraction. This had a really long build up portion in which the two teams exchanged control multiple times without really doing anything different to each other. Again, I usually dislike this a lot but on this occasion I thought it built the tension reasonably well, with it being the second most important match on the show, and CIMA, Dragon Kid and T-Hawk are all just really fun pro wrestlers to watch going about their business. The finishing stretch was also great, which helped make the previous action worthwhile, lots of flying and sick moves and everything you’d want. On a smaller show with less on the line it might have all come across overblown and obnoxious, but a semi main event Twin Gate title defence can justify to a greater extent shooting for epic, even if usually I’d rather they didn’t. On the night, I thought this worked, just about. CIMA and Dragon Kid secured the win with a Meteora into the Bible! *** 1/2.

So, these were the rules for the main event, semi paraphrased from the Dragon Gate English language Facebook page. I didn’t watch last year’s show when I was more of a casual fan because the stips were so unusual (although last year’s I think further confused matters by giving each competitor a surrogate on the floor whose hair or mask was on the line), so PAY ATTENTION, because this is a little complicated…

There are four flags placed atop a pole in each corner of the cage, one for each challenger- Shingo, Cyber Kong, BxB Hulk and Naruki Doi. On a fifth pole, in the middle of the cage wall, hangs the Open the Dream Gate Championship.

The four challengers have to retrieve any of the flags. Once they have, they become eligible to win the Dream Gate Championship. They can be eliminated at any point in the match, via pinfall or submission. If that happens, you’re out of the match and must leave the cage.

Defending champion YAMATO is in the cage the whole time, but cannot actually win the match until the field has been whittled down to two. On the plus side, he is GUARANTEED one of those final two spots- he cannot be pinned or submitted until then.

Eventually, it comes down to YAMATO and one challenger. Assuming that challenger has retrieved a flag, the Dream Gate Championship is now in play, and will be won by whoever can climb the cage and retrieve it from the pole. The loser sacrifices either their mask (Cyber Kong) or their hair (BxB Hulk, Naruki Doi, Shingo Takagi, YAMATO). You can get eliminated early, and you don’t get the championship, but you’re safe in all other regards. For the final two wrestlers, it is very, very high risk, but the highest possible reward.

6- Steel Cage Match, Hair vs. Mask vs. Open the Dream Gate Championship- YAMATO vs. BxB Hulk vs. Naruki Doi vs. Cyber Kong vs. Shingo Takagi
This was probably the strangest wrestling match I have ever seen. It had a very significant problem with it- in practice, the capture the flag bit made absolutely no sense, and yet simultaneously was the most fun part of the match. Logically, what should have happened was this- every one of the four challengers, as soon as the bell rang, should have climbed up the cage and grabbed themselves a flag. None of them had anything to gain from denying their opponents a flag, and while YAMATO could possibly get a slight advantage by stopping them, since it could leave another obstacle in the way of his final opponent, there would be little he could do if everyone went for the flags at once. However, what happened instead was that everyone, not just in the match but seemingly on the whole fucking roster, went absolutely insane trying to stop their foes from getting a flag. Here are some examples of what I mean by ‘absolutely insane.’ Masato Yoshino pelted Shingo Takagi with baseballs from ringside. Despite not having a dog in the fight, the Jimmyz apparently didn’t want VerserK to win and so doused Shingo and Cyber Kong with water pistols as they attempted to climb. Yosuke Santa Maria met Naruki Doi on top of the cage and kissed him full on the lips. Over Generation’s Gamma (another group without a representative in the match but very much on the ‘anyone but VerserK’ brigade), for reasons completely opaque to me, showed up in his underwear with a hard hat on his head and attempted to slam a pie in Cyber Kong’s face, but missed and smashed YAMATO. El Lindaman tried to help Cyber Kong by slinging him a rope ladder, which if anything looked even more difficult to climb than the cage, though Kong stuck with it anyway, presumably out of politeness. Flamita moonsaulted off the top of the cage onto a whole bunch of people on the floor. I COULD GO ON. Did I mention that NONE OF THIS MATTERED? Everyone was going to such extraordinary lengths to deny their opponents or the opponents of their stable mates or just people they didn’t like a flag, and all of those for NO COHERENT REASON AT ALL. If all this venom had been targeted at YAMATO, with Tribe Vanguard desperately trying to protect him, I could understand, but whether or not someone had a flag they could still be pinned or submitted, which should have been what all the challengers were trying to do to each other, so they could get to YAMATO.

The thing is, as illogical as all this was, it was also deliriously good fun and an absolutely terrific spectacle. But in the end, despite everyone’s best efforts, every one of the four challengers was able to get a flag, and so the match moved on to whittling down the field to YAMATO and one challenger. This was comfortably the least interesting part of the match, but happily they rattled through it pretty quickly, with BxB Hulk, then Shingo, then Naruki Doi falling, leaving YAMATO and Cyber Kong to have a Title vs. Mask singles match. For a little while this was worked like a standard ‘escape the cage’ match, except obviously you had to just climb up top and grab the title rather than leave it completely. Honestly, this was fine, but no better than the mini number one contenders eliminator that had preceded it. It all felt far too normal after the intoxicating zaniness of the opening part. Happily, VerserK then decided to invade the cage en masse to help Cyber Kong, with Shingo’s crashing chair shot to YAMATO feeling genuinely significant since the two of them had been struggling to get along in the run up to the match. It’s rare for Shingo to sacrifice his ego for the grander cause, so yeah, that felt quite huge. YAMATO was decimated and the title seemed to be Kong’s, but then Tribe Vanguard led a fightback, Cyber Kong was stopped from climbing the cage, VerserK were cleaned out in the ring, and YAMATO recovered to secure the belt. I would try harder to put over the drama this had but I’ve already rambled on for ages; suffice to say, this was an inspiring and deeply cool finishing sequence. Yet the result also left somewhat of a sour taste in the mouth. Cyber Kong unmasked himself voluntarily during his title match with YAMATO in Korakuen in March. Obviously there is a difference between ripping your own mask off in the heat of the moment and being forced to surrender it forever, but whereas the main hook with a wrestler losing their hair is the humiliation factor, the main appeal of an unmasking is getting to see the face beneath it for the first time, with the embarrassment of losing it a distant second. And we already know pretty well what Kong looked like. It felt a bit of a cop-out booking decision from Dragon Gate when they also teased us with, say, Shingo having his infamous mullet shorn from him.

So, what the hell do you rate a match like this? On balance, I am going with ***. Some people have called this their favourite match of the year. I am sure others will despite it. I can forgive the lack of logic in the ‘capture the flag’ portion because it led to a lot (a lot a lot a lot) of fun. The final couple of minutes were also tremendous. The bits in between were entirely forgettable for a main event, and the actual result was also a bit of a bait and switch. *** seems fair, but if I’ve misunderstood something really important in the rules that explains the entire capture the flag insanity (though I have thought and thought and have no idea what that could be), add an extra 1/4 * or 1/2 * or something.

Post match, Kong desperately tried to come up with excuses to save his hair. The cage was higher than he’d expected. Punch Tominaga could have his head shaved instead. YAMATO was having none of it, and Kong eventually relented and let YAMATO remove his mask. Kong also had to reveal his real name and age, which was a new stip to me. He is called Takashi Yoshida, and he’s 34. The more you know. Kong claimed that he had nothing to lose now, and that would make VerserK more terrifying than ever. YAMATO urged him to consider Takashi Yoshida as his new ring name. From there, all that was left to do was thank the fans and wind the show down!

The final score: review Good
The 411
In terms of match quality, Dead or Alive has actually already been surpassed this year by a couple of the Korakuen shows, but in terms of spectacle it was... quite something. And in fairness there was a lot of good action- Kagetora vs. Yamamura was ace, the Twin Gate match was really good, so was Jimmyz-Maximum. The cage match will cut through public opinion like a knife through hot butter but you won't be short of an opinion on it. For a four and a half hour show, this also went by pretty quickly, which is a good sign. If you're intrigued by Dragon Gate and want to see it at its absolute best, this isn't necessarily the best place to start, but for a unique and entertaining pro wrestling experience, Dead or Alive 2017 comes with a solid recommendation.