Written By: McXal
Dragon Gate USA – Open The Historic Gate – 25th July 2009
I know it’s been a while since I posted anything. I have a legitimate excuse though. I started work on the 9-disc Green Destiny Top 25 NOAH Matches compilation…but there were a few issues with discs that I need replaced so that threw that review on the backburner. Then I got started on PWG Sells Out 2, but, as good as the PWG Sells Out compilations are, they are VERY intensive work to watch and review. Since I’ve spent most of my hiatus from ROH trying to take in as much wrestling as possible, I’ve spent so much time watching compilation sets that, in truth I was finding them hard work. So I’ve decided to start work on my DGUSA reviews. To give you some background, I was and remain a huge fan of Gabe Sapolsky’s time as head booker with ROH. Granted I’ve seen very little of the post-Gabe ROH product, but I’m quite sure I don’t support the decision to remove him from the company. So when he finally re-emerged onto the independent wrestling scene, I knew I wanted to support him in some fashion. In league with Davey Richards and Bryan Danielson (although Dragon would leave for the WWE before initially appearing for the company) he started the EVOLVE promotion. They promote a more realistic, win/loss orientated style of pro-wrestling, with a desire to focus on and showcase younger, up and coming talent with a revolving cast of more established independent names to supplement that. Whilst I love the concept, and have heard nothing but good things about a lot of their main events (such as Richards/Ibushi, Hero/Hidaka, Danielson/Sawa etc) I don’t really have the money or time to invest in getting behind another American independent unless they’re something a bit special.
Which is why I turned to Gabe’s other new project – he was appointed as Vice President of the American expansion of Japan’s Dragon Gate organisation. They promise not to be like any other indy promotion out there. They market themselves as a ‘premium’ product, mixing the biggest names on the US indy scene with some up and coming guys AND flying in all the top guys from Dragon Gate in Japan on a regular basis. But there’s more, they promise their DVD’s will have top notch production values (something ROH is frequently knocked for), lots of extras, swish packaging, cutting edge graphic design etc etc. And, credit to them, they have delivered. I know they’re still produced by Sal Hamoui’s Floridian company who did all the production for ROH DVD’s until they moved that in-house (and subsequently proved exactly how GOOD Sal’s group were by how mediocre ROH’s in-house was at first). But they’ve stepped up their game. We’re talking double DVD sets, premium packaging (like we saw during the initial print of ROH’s first three nationwide ppv shows). The high quality product, the superb talent roster and the fact that DGUSA openly admit they won’t be able to run ultra-frequently due to the commitments of a lot of the Dragon Gate guys in Japan meant I decided to support Gabe’s post-ROH endeavours by following this promotion. And so I’ve been quietly buying all their DVD’s. I’ve got every show through their ‘Uprising’ Canadian event, and have just put a new order in for the trilogy of shows featuring Bryan Danielson from the summer of 2010 and will continue following the product until time, finances of life dictates I stop.
And so I begin with show 1. The majority of DGUSA’s shows are taped for ppv (be it national ppv or as of autumn 2010, iPPV). Open The Historic Gate is the debut show – with the majority of the card being taped for their debut ppv ‘Enter The Dragon’. This is the summer of 2009 and, to get us off the ground, the majority of the talent on this event has been flown in from Japan. All DG’s top names are here tonight – names like CIMA, Yokosuka, Doi, Shingo, Yoshino etc. But we’ve also got Mike Quackenbush bringing a group from Chikara in, independent starlets (and now causing a stir in TNA as GenerationMe) the Young Bucks, veteran 2 Cold Scorpio and Kenn Doane (formerly Spirit Squad’s Kenny Dykstra in the WWE). It’s a strong card, headlined by Shingo vs Naruki Doi in a bout which got LOTS of MOTY hype. Lets get to the ECW Arena in Philadelphia, PA. Commentary from former ROH voice Lenny Leonard and Leonard Chikarason.
Former ECW and WWE eye candy Dawn Marie is special ring announcer for the evening. She does NOT look good and she’s complete garbage at it.
BxB Hulk vs YAMATO
Regular viewers of Hulk will be relieved to know that, unlike with any of his ROH appearances, we he does have dancing girls during his entrance tonight. In fact, I think one of them is Daizee Haze. Hulk is one of Dragon Gate’s top babyface names so I imagine would be set to be a major star of the new American arm of the company.
BxB almost lands on dancing Daizee’s head as he moonsaults off the ropes during his entrance. She doesn’t look pleased at all. They trade wristlocks early on, with the crowd still really hot for the first ever DGUSA match. Yamato has a slight power edge over Hulk, but BxB is clearly the quicker and proves it by cranking up the pace with some lightning fast armdrags. He floors Yamato with a heel kick, but Yamato, who has had MMA training, shoots a leg and applies a leg grapevine almost defensively. He does some damage there and capitalises immediately, going to the outside to drive Hulk’s leg into the guardrail. BxB returns fire with another heel kick, only for Yamato to put him on the mat again by dropkicking the knee out from under him. Soon the leg is so damaged that Hulk can’t even run the ropes. Until he makes a miracle recovery and cartwheels into a springboard dropkick. STANDING BACKFLIP into a clothesline draws massive applause. Standing corkscrew senton gets 2, and at least Hulk is limping to sell the leg attack whilst hitting all the high flying stuff. Just as he gets some momentum going Yamato hits the ropes into a big spear, then rolls him into a Texas Cloverleaf. Hulk can’t hit the EVO, but does manage to counter Yamato’s Galleria into a swinging DDT. BxB takes Yamato into the corner for a SUPER POWERSLAM and the match is all even again. He repeatedly kicks Yamato in the head…EVO! FOR 2! Yamato reached the ropes at the last second there. He goes to the top rope but MISSES a Phoenix Splash and re-injures his leg in the process. Gorgeous brainbuster from Yamato for 2. HEAD DROP SLEEPER SUPLEX FOR 2! GALLERIA! Yamato wins the first ever Dragon Gate USA match at 15:22.
Rating – **** – Fantastic match to open the show. Whilst not technically perfect it had the crowd really into things, and immediately established BxB Hulk as a major babyface name. He was already likely to be well known to those in attendance. YAMATO may have been a little newer to them, but I really enjoyed his performance in there. BxB has a lot of exciting spots but I thought YAMATO dominated it here with an awesome assault on the leg, and one of the most insane finishers (a reverse suplex into a sit-out piledriver) you can imagine. Definitely looking forward to seeing more of these two.
Kenn Doane vs 2 Cold Scorpio
I don’t think this one actually made the ppv cut but, as it was part of the main taping, I’m glad it wasn’t relegated to the bonus DVD. Doane had an awesome run feuding with CM Punk and Brent Albright during Paul Heyman’s stint as OVW Booker and looked like he had a bright future. But, after promising signs when he started in the WWE as Spirit Squad’s Kenny, once he went solo his career stalled and he was eventually dropped. This is a real chance for him to get his career up and running again. Obviously everyone should know who Scorpio is. He’s a veteran who wrestled for all of the ‘big 3’ at some stage. He had some of his best matches in this very building whilst part of the ECW roster.
How old is Scorpio now? He seems to have been around for literally as long as I’ve ever watched wrestling. Apparently he’s been wrestling for longer than Doane has been alive. Kenn refuses a handshake and gets a ‘Spirit Squad’ chant…which degenerates into ‘where’s your pom poms?’ Lots of stalling in the opening minutes before they move to some basic wristlocks. Five minutes in and the highlight has been a nice counter into an armdrag from 2 Cold. Doane responds by clinging to a deep side headlock and refusing to break. Dropkick, then a superkick from Scorpio send Kenn to the floor for more stalling. Back in and Doane manages to counter a crossbody by driving knees into Scorpio’s stomach. Shotgun dropkick to the gut next, before Kenny shoots a leg and slingshots into a forearm smash to the back of the head for 2. Overhead belly to belly suplex follows that as 2 Cold tries to mount a comeback with a few back fists. Bridging German gets 2. He works a chinlock for the next few minutes, really making Scorpio work to free himself…and when he finally does Doane applies a sleeper hold instead. Scorpio looks gassed by the way, looking incredibly weary as the two men sluggishly trade forearms and big boots in the centre of the ring. He still has enough in the tank to land an Arabian press for 2. Spinebuster from Doane…but the Sky High leg drop misses. Scorpio upstairs instead…moonsault INTO the knees. He goes to the top again, MOONSAULT LEG DROP. Scorpio picks up the win at 16:34.
Rating – ** – This felt very slow, and looked unbelievably lethargic coming after the energetic performance that BxB Hulk and YAMATO provided moments earlier. I really liked Doane in OVW and was looking forward to seeing him get a shot here. He looks like he has some potential, but seems to wrestle in quite a sanitised, almost WWE-ised manner. That’s not a bad thing necessarily, but probably won’t help get you over on the indies. Credit to Scorpio as well, who definitely isn’t a spring chicken but can still hit some sweet flying moves. He did look VERY tired at the end though, and it’s hard to see what he offers on a roster packed with the unbelievably agile and athletic talent of the Dragon Gate guys. Bring back Doane, but I’ll pass on Scorpio at this point in his career.
In the back Naruki Doi, Open The Dream Gate Champion in Japan, is getting ready for the main event. Elsewhere Shingo is doing the same thing. There’s a terrific voiceover giving you an insight into the background and recent history of the two men.
Gran Akuma/Icarus/Amasis/Hallowicked vs Mike Quackenbush/Jigsaw/Soldier Ant/Fire Ant
This is a Chikara showcase match, only one fall is needed. I’m familiar with the majority of these guys, although I don’t follow Chikara at all so I don’t know any of the history between them. Quack is the owner of the Chikara school, and one of the most respected and admired workers on the independent circuit – his style is a perfect fit for Dragon Gate. Akuma, Jigsaw and Hallowicked, all his students, all have experience in the likes of ROH, and frequently wind up booked on the same shows as Quack. Icarus I haven’t seen for years, whilst I’ve only ever seen Amasis team with Ophidian as the Osirian Portal. This would be my first viewing of the Ants. I’ve got a couple of contacts who watch Chikara and have given me positive reviews though so I’m keen to see them in action. Apparently Ophidian was originally scheduled to be part of this but is out injured. Hallowicked’s name was drawn at random to complete that team, the heels (‘rudos’) in this match. He doesn’t get on with them so there may be some dissension to play out between that team at some point.
Dawn Marie’s ring announcing is just embarrassing. Quack gets the biggest ovation of the night. I’m really not kidding when I say that. Everyone gets loud chants though, clearly lots of Chikara fans in the house tonight. Amasis starts with Fire Ant but seems more interested in dancing. Quack dumps him on his face and sends him out. Icarus, who has a terrible back tattoo, comes in and is roundly boo’d by the Chikara-following crowd. Quackenbush shows off how good he is with some frankly ridiculous counters on Hallowicked. Akuma and Soldier in, although a Saluting headscissors sends Akuma straight back to the floor. Rydien Bomb on Soldier by Wicked gets 2. The rudo team isolate Soldier Ant in the ring for a period of abuse. Eventually he does get to his partners, with Jigsaw enzi kicking Icarus into a small package from Quack for 2. Jig sends Wicked to the floor with a lucha armdrag…but Akuma stops him hitting a dive with a nice kick as Jigsaw looks to take flight. 10 minutes and once again the rudos are in charge, with Jigsaw the man stuck in the ring and cut from the other tecnicos in his corner. Akuma powerbombs Icarus into a back senton for another nearfall. Of course, eventually Jig manages to position his opponents on the floor to land a RUNNING MOONSAULT! Fire Ant in to DDT Akuma then join his Colony opponent to land a double dropkick in the corner on Hallowicked, followed by a double mafia kick and the Ants Marching on Amasis for 2. RUNNING TURNBUCKLE DVD BY ICARUS! Go 2 Sleepy Hollow from Wicked to Soldier for 2. SALUTING HEADBUTT nailed in response but Amasis breaks the following pin in desperate fashion. QUACKENDRIVER III! Jigsaw is stopped from hitting a top rope move by Akuma so the tecnicos don’t finish though. Beautiful moonault from Akuma gets 2. Icarus goes after Jig’s mask but winds up eating a double biel out of the corner from The Colony. TRIO OF DIVES by Quack and the Ants. JIG’N’TONIC ON ICARUS! Jigsaw wins it for his team at 17:25.
Rating – *** – If you’re a fan of the Chikara style you probably liked it a lot more than I did. I know you’re probably thinking that the Chikara and Dragon Gate styles aren’t that much different (and you’re right, they’re definitely very comparable bed fellows). But I prefer the harder-hitting, Japanese approach to the spotfest multi-man tag than the Chikara one, which draws a far more overt foundation from Lucha Libre. It doesn’t help that I find it hard to identify with an endless procession of skinny guys in masks which make every Chikara wrestler seem the same, or that I only ever really see Chikara exhibition tags in other promotions like this – meaning I don’t ever have much of a grasp on the different characters and nuances on all the talent involved. It’s an exciting match, a terrific introduction to the Chikara crew and I’ve seen lots of higher ratings than this. Personally, I’m just not the biggest fan of exhibition-style, Americanised lucha. It has no emotional resonance with me. I will say that even though he barely featured, Mike Quackenbush looked SO good out there. I hope he sticks around in DGUSA long enough for them to really get behind him and make him a top star in the promotion.
The Philadelphia crowd give that one a standing ovation. Mike Quackenbush gets on the mic to put over Chikara and Dragon Gate joining forces. He then shows a video package dedicated to Jorge ‘Skayde’ Rivera who trained Quack and CIMA, as well as taking basically everyone else on both promotion’s rosters through some training at some point over the years. He lays down a challenge for the next show…anyone from Dragon Gate versus anyone from Chikara. YAMATO comes out to disrespect Quack, Chikara and Skayde (there’s translations on the bottom of the screen) before attacking Quackenbush. Jigsaw and Gran Akuma…but Akuma turns on the Chikara guys and joins forces with YAMATO.
Masato Yoshino vs Dragon Kid
These two have been major rivals in Dragon Gate for a while, so this is an opportunity for them to show what they can do as opponents to the international market. This one will be impossibly quick. Naruki Doi and Shingo, opponents in the main event tonight, are both at ringside with Doi seconding Yoshino and Shingo in Kid’s corner.
Fast opening mat exchange between the two, as Lenny Leonard runs through some of their recent history with each other. Dragon sends Yoshino out of the ring with a mega fast headscissors. Gourdbuster from Yoshino levels the match up. He starts to work Kid’s arm, setting up for some of his signature holds and using that approach to keep the high-flying masked man totally grounded. To make that point, Kid goes for a springboard off the apron, but is a little sluggish and is hauled back down by the World 1 representative Masato Yoshino. Déjà vu headscissors out of nowhere from Dragon, then a SPRINGBOARD MOONSAULT to the floor. Yoshino hits back with a running neckbreaker for 2. He tries a sunset flip bomb out of the corner, but Dragon counters into a rana into the ropes. 619 nailed, but Kid goes for ANOTHER hurricanrana and this time is powerbombed. Yoshino throws DK away as he locks in the Cristo. DOUBLE SPRINGBOARD ARABIAN PRESS INTO YOSHINO’S KNEES! Crazy hangtime missile dropkick gets Yoshino another nearfall. Lightning Spiral blocked and Kid scores with a swinging DDT. They fight on the turnbuckles…TOP ROPE SPRINGBOARD RANA BY DRAGON KID! Ultra Rana blocked through and Yoshino hits a back suplex then the Torbelino. Sol Naciente…countered to a pin by DK for 2. ULTRA HURRICANRANA! Dragon wins at 13:27
Rating – **** – Balls to the wall effort from those two. The scary part is, that one doesn’t even scratch the surface of what these two men can do as opponents. They know each other so well, and have fought so many times that they can probably autopilot their way to matches like this. If you’ve never seen these two wrestle before it will blow your mind how fast they are.
Yoshino refuses a handshake and shoves Dragon Kid away…leading to a staredown between Shingo and Naruki Doi. 2 Cold Scorpio comes back out and compares the DK/Yoshino rivalry to great ECW Arena matches of the past like Guerrero/Malenko, Mysterio/Psicosis or even Scorpio/Sabu. He wants a rematch between them in the future…and they appear to agree.
Young Bucks vs CIMA/Susumu Yokosuka
This is another match that received lots of praise back in 2009. The Bucks are Nick and Matt Jackson, yet more guys to have been given their chance to shine in California with PWG. They are now a very popular act across a number of independents including PWG and Ring Of Honor. Their performances would seem them snapped by TNA and given national TV exposure soon enough. Think modern day Hardy Boyz if you’ve never seen them. CIMA and Yokosuka are two of the top guys in Dragon Gate, both having held the top prize of the Open The Dream Gate Championship.
Mike Quackenbush joins the commentary team at the start of this one. Matt Jackson starts with Yokosuka, and gets a little annoyed with the casual attitude of Susumu so back flips into a nice headscissors. Nick in and does similar to CIMA before the Bucks combine to backflip into a stereo basement dropkick. Gutbuster/neckbreaker combo on Yokosuka for 2. Two examples there of how the Jacksons can use their ability to hit combo moves and double teams to gain the advantage over their more experienced opponents. CIMA sneakily leans in and drags Nick into their corner to enable Yoko to make a tag. But once again the Bucks combine, this time Matt leapfrogs Nick into a dropkick on CIMA for 2. The Dragon Gate team realise they need to isolate a member of the American team, keeping them apart if they are to be successful in that match. It’s Matt that ends up stuck in the ring, eating a double team gutbuster for 2. Yoko hangs Nick over the guardrail…CIMA COMES FROM THE BARRIER WITH A DOUBLE STOMP! That leaves Matt in the ring and his partner totally incapacitated on the floor after that devastating move. Matt hits a SLICED BREAD #2 off CIMA on Yokosuka and finally does get to make the crucial tag to Nick. CORKSCREW SUICIDE DIVE TO THE FLOOR! Back in with the Bucks hitting a springboard splash/standing moonsault combo on CIMA for 2. CIMA DOUBLE STOMPS NICK’S FACE! Both Bucks get hung up in the corner. DOUBLE LUNGBLOWER out of the corner by CIMA. He hits a tope suicida to the floor to wipe out Nick, leaving Yokosuka alone with Matt. EXPLODER SUPERPLEX for 2, only for Matt to fire right back with a springboard blockbuster. VENUS STRIKE! ICONOCLASM! MAD SPLASH BUT MATT GETS THE KNEES UP! Worst Case Scenario on Yokosuka for 2. He hits back with a big lariat, and CIMA returns to the ring to level Matt with a PERFECT DRIVER for 2. VAN CIMA-NATOR! Matt evades the Yokosuka Cutter…MORE BANG FOR YOUR BUCK! THE YOUNG BUCKS WIN! Huge win for the young American team at 17:30
Rating – ****1/2 – You really ought to check this match out. You don’t always expect great psychology when it comes to these mental Dragon Gate spot-fests. You know you’ll be excited, you know you’ll see guys flying all over the place. But I liked this one because it had all of that, and a terrific element of story-telling that you don’t always see. Throughout the match, whenever the Bucks managed to get into the ring together, they were on top. Even when it broke down at the end, if the Jacksons were in the ring at the same time, more often than not they had the mass of crazy double teams in their arsenal to overcome the experience of their opponents. CIMA and Yokosuka realised very quickly they had to divide and conquer, but ultimately despite their experience, clever manipulation of the rules and devastating finishing moves, the Young Bucks proved too resourceful and resilient…thus pulling out a shock win.
Standing ovation and big chants for all four men as they exchange handshakes and hugs. Matt declares that this match sees them shake off their ‘tag team of the future’ reputation and bring them well and truly into the present.
In the back Naruki Doi and Shingo go through final preparations before their big match…
Shingo vs Naruki Doi
This is your main event. As the backstage vignettes have told us, there is quite the history between these two men. Shingo was the first graduate of the Dragon Gate wrestling school (don’t confuse that with the Toryumon school) and was positioned as the ace of the company. However, after having a massive breakout year in 2008, which he ended as Open The Dream Gate Champion, that was a moniker Doi would end up stealing from Shingo. Naruki is still OTDG Champion at this point, however, the belt is not on the line. Whilst affiliated, DGUSA is a separate promotion so if Doi and Shingo want to keep their spot at the top of the cards they have to earn it just as they had to in Japan.
Doi brings the Open The Dream Gate belt (which has seen better days) to ringside with him. The opening exchanges are highly skilled and largely respectful between the two rivals. They are clearly very evenly matched competitors. First blood to Shingo as he scores with a TKO. He misses a second rope knee drop, which is a major mistake as Doi attacks the legs immediately. A dragon screw is executed within seconds and, as the clock ticks past 5 minutes, Shingo is already having problems regaining a vertical base. Shinbreaker into a Figure 4 from the OTDG Champion. I wonder if he appreciates the irony of Ric Flair references in the ECW Arena. Doi goes for the cannonball senton in the corner, but Shingo knows it’s coming and CATCHES him for a powerbomb! Amusingly Shingo follows that with a knee drop which leaves him in as much pain as Naruki. Thirty second suplex gets 2 for Takagi as the feeling looks like it’s starting to come back to the bad wheel. He looks for his version of the Anaconda Vice (Manriki) but Doi is too close to the ropes. Doi kicks at the leg again then hangs Shingo in the ropes to hit a dropkick then a somersault senton from the top. But once again Doi goes for some kind of charging move in the corner and gets caught. This time Shingo scores with an urinage suplex. Knee drop from the second rope…but again that hurts him as much as it would have hurt Doi. Blood Fall blocked…Baketori Sliding Kick misses! LAST FALCONRY for 2! Shingo Lariato blocked and Naruki gets 2 with a Rydien bomb. Shingo goes for a superplex only for Doi to walk away and SLAP HIM IN THE FACE! TREE OF WOE CANNONBALL SENTON! NECK DROP BACK SUPERPLEX FOR 2! SHINGO LARIATOOOOO! Doi kicks out and both men are down in a heap. LAST FALCONRY AGAIN! 2 AGAIN! DOI 555! BAKETORI SLIDING KICK! SHINGO IN THE ROPES! Muscular Bomb blocked and Shingo muscles Doi into another Falconry. BAKETORI SLIDING KICK AGAIN! TIGER SUPLEX! Sliding Kick for a third time, but this time Shingo shakes it off. FOURTH TIME for the Baketori Kick, but once more it’s only good for 2. MUSCULAR BOMB! Naruki Doi wins the first DGUSA main event in 20:48
Rating – **** – Superb main event to round off a wonderful debut event for the new promotion. I’ve seen lots of people call this an MOTYC but I don’t quite score it that highly. It was wonderfully exciting and I really enjoyed it, but if I were to be ultra-critical my main focus would be on the fact that there was no real transition between the first half of the match with lots of evenly matched stuff then Doi working the leg…to the second half which was essentially just multiple false finishers. Both parts were great so I’ve rated it accordingly, but I’d have liked to see a little more to link this together.
Tape Rating – **** – Very strong debut show for Dragon Gate USA. If you’re looking to get into this promotion, there really isn’t a better place to start than show one. Top to bottom it’s a good card. Admittedly it slightly weakens in the middle with the mediocre Doane/Scorpio bout, followed by the Chikara 8-man which most people enjoyed more than me anyway. Luckily the travelling Japanese wrestlers are in terrific form in front of a great crowd. You’ve got a well-worked opening match, Dragon Kid and Yoshino wrestling at 100mph, a hard-hitting main event and the show-stealing tag bout which establishes Young Bucks as top domestic stars in the promotion at this stage. There are lots of other positives too. The camera work is excellent, the entrance set is really good, miles above the level that most promotions who run the ECW Arena have. On commentary Lenny Leonard (ably supported by Chikarason and Quackenbush) does a phenomenal job. It’s a tough job introducing a new promotion to new fans in a new market…WHILST having masses of history and storylines that you have to respect and reference coming from Japan. He came across as passionate about the product, knowledgeable and enthusiastic. I always rated his work in ROH very highly (and don’t find it surprising at all that the amount of people complaining about Dave Prazak has shot up since he left) so I’m glad he’ll still get to do his thing after he was VERY badly treated on his way out of Ring Of Honor. Good job with the book by Gabe too. Top notch show, with nothing going longer than 21 minutes. A big ‘f you’ to everyone who said he couldn’t book short shows. No doubt the DGUSA project is an ambitious and expensive one. I hope it’s a success as nobody in the world wrestles the way the Dragon Gate roster does. I enjoyed my first experience and look forward to returning soon with my Open The Untouchable Gate review, featuring DGUSA debuts for Bryan Danielson and Davey Richards. Dawn Marie best not be back though. She was truly terrible!
Top 3 Matches
3 YAMATO vs BxB Hulk (****)
2) Naruki Doi vs Shingo (****)
1) Young Bucks vs CIMA/Susumu Yokosuka (****1/2)