Dragon Gate USA
Reviewed by Joe Babinsack
Uprising 2011 is an interesting DVD from Dragon Gate USA.
There are no Title matches involved, but it is in no way a DVD to skip. Uprising 2011 sets a strong foundation for what Dragon Gate USA brings to the world of professional wrestling, and establishes the company as the place where high-flying doesn’t just exist, it excels.
In full force on the DVD is the generation of high-flyers that will raise the bar on dives, jumps, leaps, kicks, moonsaults, pescados, topes, planchas, twisting, soaring, OMG and Holy SH!t chants for years to come.
The feature match pits the Open the Brave Gate Champion, PAC, against two of the more colorful of the bunch, Ricochet and Rich Swann. PAC is the de facto leader of the generation, because he has the gold and he sets the standards.
But the others aren’t far behind.
Swann is the best promo of the bunch, and Ricochet still seems the most polished (his association with the Blood Warriors taking him to higher levels of working), and both are pushing PAC to raise the bar.
In the second-from-the-top match, the other member of this group (if we discount Pinkie Sanchez, Louis Lyndon and Flip Kendrick) puts on quite a show – AR Fox. Fox has the “look” and apparent size that makes him even more promising than the others, and he is working with the best of the best in the promotion to up his game.
What’s interesting about high flying in the business these days is how toned down it has become. Sure, the WWE has Mysterio and Bourne and Kingston, but the injury prone schedule of the mainstream, and the legacy of high flying + garbage wrestling seems to have relegated that aspect of working to a sideshow.
Which isn’t exactly fair, and isn’t exactly logical, but we know who dictates logic in this business.
Dragon Gate USA is carving out its own stamp on the indy scene with its high flyers. There is a definite focus on those talents, and this DVD is a highlight reel of the style.
Which brings up the 1.99 iPPV for 3/30, which may very well see much more of the same.
What impresses me with Dragon Gate USA is the various styles…There is that group of high flyers. There is the established Dragon Gate group that has pushed the envelope of speed and lucha fundamentals and in-ring action. There is a group of elite indy names (Chucky Taylor, Johnny Gargano and others). There are the hard-hitters: Arik Cannon, Sami Callihan, Brodie Lee.
And the booking of all these groups, the factions (ever changing, by the way) from the Japan home company, and the intermixing of veterans like Sabu, Fit Finlay and Austin Aries makes the promotion feel like nothing else out there.
Yeah, I know the decade old complaint of frustrated and foolish mainstream fans who won’t accept anyone who’s face hasn’t appeared on a top rated Cable Network, but that’s the same attitude that brings us the same names at the top of the WWE cards.
Ironic, isn’t it, that we move into WrestleMania with the elite of the indy scene as WWE Champions, and the long established WWE names in the top slots, and almost nothing of impact in between, because the fan reactions of far too many influential fans is such that new faces and new styles and newness of any kind is immediately dismissed?
But I digress.
Let’s hit the matches of the Uprising 2011 DVD , in reverse chronologic order :
Non Title Three Way Freestyle
PAC (Open the Brave Gate Champion) vs Ricochet vs Rich Swann
First thing to point out is that this is about a 12 minute match.
But anyone balking at that duration is beyond reproach. In that span, it is wall-to-wall action, and they pull out almost every conceivable high spot imaginable – and then a few more for good measure.
There’s one series of spots that sees PAC and Swann on the outside, and to top it off, Ricochet nails a picture perfect Space Flying Tiger Drop.
A mark-out moment of the match, if ever there is one.
I mean, I’m seeing this emerge, watching the guys outside, seeing Ricochet rev it up, and it’s like Space – Flying – Tiger – Drop as he hits the expected steps in the sequence, flies over that top rope, and delivers the spot flawlessly.
You don’t have to be hardcore to appreciate it, but just knowing that move from old clips, anticipating it, and seeing it delivered?
What makes this match isn’t just high spots. It’s the creativity and the delivery. There are drop-kicks into diving opponents that require timing beyond comprehension. There are sick tumbles and falls and just like Dragon Gate and ‘normal’ working, the speed and timing is beyond the expected.
Beyond just the basics, the match delivers by raising the bar of high-flying; educating fans that these matches are not going to be spot-fests or long, drawn-out battles; and establishing that this generation of high-flyers is clearly capable of main eventing.
In the Post match, the angles continue and development of characters and setting up of future matches ensues, further showing that Dragon Gate ‘gets it’ on so many levels.
Akira Tozawa vs AR Fox
This is a great battle between two future blue-chippers in the company. Tozawa is more the ground wrestler, but he’s not adverse to the air. Fox is developing into someone who can do more than just flashy moves. What made the match is two guys battling with different weapons, different styles and really, just a different approach.
Dragon Gate clearly isn’t a one-style-fits all promotion, and this match provides the example.
What it also delivers on is providing matches that are meaningful in both execution and as measuring sticks. This match is one where the back-and-forth nature is important, because it is at the top of the card, and it does feature two guys trying to earn spots at the top of the food chain.
And, these are two relatively new faces.
Non Title Match
Masaaki Mochizuki (Open the Dream Gate Champion) vs Arik Cannon
Ok, so no Titles on this DVD, which is very cool to me, because it shows that the promotion is not worried about having all these special matches to appeal to the fans, and in the end, it makes the Championships all the more important when they are in play.
This match was very much set up by Mochizuki battling Sami Callihan previously, and as a way to establish the D.U.F (yeah, I’m not spelling that out) as a mid/top level faction. The disrespectfulness of the D.U.F.er’s plays up so much better in a promotion where not everyone is playing that tune. (Even YAMATO has a different heel take).
I wouldn’t exactly call this a squash, but it had that feel, and to me, that’s a good thing now and again. Even if post match angles bring heat back.
Papadon vs Alex Reynolds
On one hand, the placement of these post-try out matches doesn’t do much for me. On the other, Dragon Gate USA has fully established that it is
A) Holding tryouts and giving guys opportunity
B) Bringing in new faces and can make them meaningful
C) Including this showcase kind of match on their DVDs
Now, for a while, this was the good old “911/Big Al” spot to come in and destroy to ‘nobodies’, but I definitely want to see guys given a chance in a promotion where chances can be earned, and also to see slots filled by fresh faces.
Dynamics with Gabe Sapolsky booking are always interesting. He knows the fans, knows the expectations and while it’s not always 100% predictable, there always seems to be a sense of turning certain expectations on their head, not all of them.
Gabe is the ANTIVINCE!
Papadon is a guy that John Laurinaitis would sign, and looks impressive. Alex Reynolds? Not so much.
But Reynolds is an indy fan’s wrestler, and he pulls off some good moves. The only part I had a problem with was the piledriver not finishing the match – there’s nothing fans consider a true finisher these days, and that’s not a good thing and keeps too many matches going too long.
(although this match didn’t exactly go too long)
Non-Title Four Way Freestyle
YAMATO (Open the Freedom Gate Champion) vs CIMA vs Masato Yoshino vs Johnny Gargano
The theme of non-titles continues. This one being the most traditional – where the Champ gets his next challenger.
Fast paced, then the typical four-way almost nonsensical, but works in this environment stuff. I like that Dragon Gate is keeping matches concentrated. While there was some questions about a four way and focusing on a few guys, there was definitely a sense of chasing YAMATO and his belt, and CIMA getting the nod while Gargano all but showed that he can hang with the best of the promotion.
Nice interlude with RONIN talking about what Gargano did in this past match, and Swann looking forward to the main event. Has any title change been slowly built as well as Gargano’s rise to the top?
Austin Aries vs Susumu Yokosuka
Old school feel here, with Aries headed to TNA, and putting him in with a guy who can use the rub. The call-out at the beginning only makes it more interesting, and I love the Blood Warriors being set up as the dominant faction…. or are they?
The opening promo by Aries was a rare time when the production of a Dragon Gate DVD really …. sucked. Not sure what was up there, but long winded speeches where the TV Viewer can’t hear anything is never a good thing.
Aries, once again, shows that he can tell a story and work to the expectations of the crowd, and work by building from his previous match. This guy is so much more than TNA will ever let him be, but at least he’s getting a bigger spotlight.
Amazing, here, how Aries is seamlessly working with Dragon Gate veteran despite coming from styles where fast action, timing and the such aren’t always at the top of anyone’s description.
Amazing also how solid booking elevates guys like Yokosuka.
Brodie Lee vs Tony Nese
Tony Nese really showed me more here than I thought he had.
Brodie Lee is the typical monster heel, that might be a little less dominant than he appears, but in the end, there is no Andre the Giant in the modern era, and Brodie Lee destroying every guy on the roster just isn’t going to work.
So Lee mixing it up with Nese showed some weakness, established the Blood Warrors as heels, and in the end showed off some talent of both guys.
An interview with Masaaki Mochizuki followed the opener…. There’s something very entertaining about a veteran, bad-ass, Champion saying that he will kill the annoying challenger with kicks.
Eight Way Freestyle
Sami Callihan vs Jon Davis vs Caleb Konley vs Pinkie Sanchez vs Scott Reed vs Flip Kendrick vs Louis Lyndon vs Alex Colon
Way too many guys in these things, but putting over someone in the midst of the madness is what it’s all about. I don’t know about having guys from the same faction in a Freestyle, but maybe Pinkie isn’t officially a D.U.F. at this point.
That Stretch Muffler variant here is a real finisher. Here’s hoping someone doesn’t counter it any time soon.
Uprising 2011 is one more awesome example of what Dragon Gate USA brings to the table. If this sounds interesting at all, check out their iPPV Friday. The Road to April Fool’s Day can travel through the indy professional wrestling world with vastly more wrestling and a lot less talk, especially if you start the weekend with PAC vs Low Ki and CIMA/Ricochet vs RONIN.