Dragon Gate USA
Reviewed by Joe Babinsack
To start, I like what Dragon Gate USA is doing with the packaging – making it different, making things stand out, moving from a brand to personalities, making certain matches meaningful.
Dragon Gate has the best approach in the business these days, with distinct styles, distinct faces/heels (albeit they are controlled back in Japan and that adds complexity all around), and a distinctive set of titles (the “Open the … Gate” is distinctly unique).
Of all promotions these days, DG USA has that feel of watching something different, of quickly realizing that there is a new dictionary of moves and holds and dynamics in play. For those watching the same old, same old, watching DG USA is going to be jarring, is going to be challenging going to be hard to follow.
But there are a lot of wrestling fans who like that.
I know there was a time where I watched Video in Japanese and Spanish, barely comprehending anything, but enjoying the action in the ring. These days, DG USA provides the awesome, interesting action but with English speaking announcers – while I don’t like the feel that Lenny Leonard is being relegated to ring announcer while younger, shoutier types are getting more air time, there is a definite enhancement by having announcers know their stuff and tell the backstories and such in the ring.
(yeah, I know, I know ... keep on point)
So while the edgiest thing about Untouchable 2011 is the gun in the Menu screen (yeah, it’s all about Chicago, gangster references and such, but Chicago does happen to hit the news too frequently for gun violence), the enjoyment factor is all about the wrestling in the ring and the growing reality that Dragon Gate’s American branch is evolving into something much better than the bulk of the indy promotions around.
Case in point?
The Main Event of CIMA versus YAMATO, a battle of one-name wonders and long time veterans of Dragon Gate, battling for YAMATO’s Open the Freedom Gate Championship.
Get your score cards out for this one.
Column one: YAMATO is a face now. CIMA, despite having that awesome fan-participation gesturing in Warriors 5, is now a heel in Blood Warriors, morphing (hey, the evolve thing can’t play out repeatedly) into an obscene gesture instead of a double arm extension.
(Watch for the WWE to give this to a mid-card heel faction in 2017, or sooner if some creative dweeb watches DG USA sooner. (Re: BxB Hulk’s grand entrance cribbed by that hulking giant these days.)
Column two: Jot down Galleria, CBV, Meteora, Schweinn, Perfect Driver, various unnamed and named submission holds, action too fast to fathom for most of my younger wrestling fan friends.
(Watch for those holds to appear in the distant future of the WWE as well, much like it took the Choke-Slam five years to move from Japan to mainstream America.)
Column three: watch in amazement as two veterans work a great match without ten tons of steel, without having sat out for a year, without having talked up a match for a year, and without the last minute ‘match enhancement’ of a heel matchmaker telling the guys to wrestle.
Logic, worked wrestling in the ring, fast action and a strong finish. I like the Dragon Gate sense of beating an opponent down, then pulling out the finisher, and making that logical leap in avoiding the ongoing near falls and moving to a more believable approach.
Nice also, how they play up the alliances and how CIMA Announces that BxB Hulk is coming. Not so keen on an immediate No Rope, No DQ stip, but I’m sure that plays into history and current happenings in the parent promotion.
Ok, so I rail against stips and now complain about two.
The Freestyle is a Dragon Gate staple, and now it’s mixed into the top of the card. I like that. The “Winner books a future match” aspect is a little shaky to me, as this promotion doesn’t need that kind of gimmickry.
What this match provided was an interesting array of stories.
Naruki Doi vs. Masato Yoshino vs. Chuck Taylor vs. Sami Callihan provides a lot of connections. Doi & Yoshino were once known as Speed Muscle, and it was cool to see how they moved in and out of fighting with each other to pulling out a few tag spots together.
On the other side, Taylor and Callihan are American, newly rising stars.
So there’s a sense of veteran versus interlopers, some semblance of connections between those two sides, but not enough to create any feel of a tag match. Which is important, because there’s a few too many Freestyles that have established teams and that never seems logical.
Fast paced action and Freestyle and Dragon Gate are three ways of saying the same thing, so let’s stop at the third one. One level to this had the Doi/Yoshino work and that was excellent. Another had spotlighting of Taylor and of Callihan as guys who can more than just hang with the veterans.
In the end, an Awful Waffle?
(Quick! check those score-cards).
Post match promos and interesting factional allegiances develop. Brodie Lee makes an appearance, and Taylor/Yoshino clear him out. Swann is part of the American “Ronin” branch, but allies with Yoshino in Japan. That makes a Tag Team Title challenge that Taylor demands for his partners a little more interesting than it would be.
Johnny Gargano is a guy that is going places.
That much can be seen with the Video packages, which is one aspect of DG USA DVDS that they do a lot better than most. The fast action and preview/review clips are great, but the build up of guys like Gargano are even more important.
That build leads to Johnny Gargano vs. Akira Tozawa, two of Dragon Gate USA’s other rising stars, and perhaps two that the promotion will build around. Gargano seems the safer choice than Chucky T for that spot, and while I see the “potential” of the Kentucky Gentleman at world class level, Gargano seems to be the more polished guy at this time (and, a guy more like Low Ki than Jon Moxley, if you get my drift).
Tozawa is a bit bigger, a bit more refined, and yet another workhorse type who definitely melds into the Dragon Gate Style, even though he’s more Shingo than Naruki Doi.
(Which, by the way, leads me to realize that Shingo’s not been around in a while…. Intended or not, that’s a good thing to move guys in and out, and El Generico coming in is another example).
Here we have a display of rising talents and a less speed oriented Dragon Gate match. Trading strikes, suplex and kicks, these two are vastly more All Japan than Junior Heavyweights. More scorecarding with the Hurts Donut and various unnamed but impressive maneuvering.
This is the sort of match that may be revisited six months from now, and no one will complain.
From the future to the past, and back again, we now get AR Fox & Sabu vs. Arik Cannon & Pinkie Sanchez. This was very nicely segued from the previous match (which, since I’m going in reverse order, vastly overcomplicates things).
Nice little ECW homage there, but what should we expect with Sabu, Gabe Sapolsky and the utterly ECW-iffic team of Cannon and Sanchez???
I really like the positioning of Fox. He’s not being pushed to the moon, and he’s getting those slots where he can shine, get a rub, and get valuable experience all at the same time. It’s awesome how – with booking and positioning and the basics – we see Dragon Gate USA making things happen with their talent, instead of over-relying on aging stars.
No disrespect to Sabu, who always shows how to work and knows how to pick his spots.
From the high-flying to the ECW-like action, this was a neat change-up, but most importantly, it set up the ongoing positioning of Mr. Fox, and the positioning of the heel faction D.U.F. And, of course, the way to mix in and use ‘older’ talent to elevate them all.
High-flying is the specialty of Dragon Gate USA, and two of the best in the business are featured in PAC vs Ricochet. I love the less than subtle, but ongoing effort to keep high-flying, high-risk matches believably shorter. There’s no reason for guys to work 20 minute matches and endanger themselves late in the match with ‘top this’ spot fests.
The creativity and fast action and education of the fans make this match. The talent on display is definitely beyond anything else seen in other promotions, and I look forward to how DG USA plays out their air power superiority.
A series of run-ins ensues after the match, and this was really fun. While it stoked the fires, it was a great way to bring in and highlight Sabu, and also to show one crazy dive after another – including Pinkie Sanchez getting suplexed by his D.U.F. partners because he took too many rope-runs.
Before that was a match with Jon Davis vs. Rich Swann, featuring two distinctive styles, and that’s another evolution of the promotion, and a welcome one -- Dragon Gate is the prime example of a current promotion where styles are distinct and wrestlers are working various styles – not just a bastardized house style that makes everyone and everything look the same.
Here, Davis is getting a gradual push as a Strong Man, and he is impressive.
Swann is playing out a split allegiance that should be good to watch. Ronin in DG USA, Junction Three in Japan, and as the DVD plays out, this plays out. It’s the attention to detail that makes whatever happens down the line work, instead of just ignoring things and surprising the fans.
Great interlude preceded this, where Brodie Lee plays big bully, we get a cameo by Gregory Iron, and then the impressive Uhaa Nation appears and sends the giant Brodie Lee scurrying… well, talk about mixed metaphors!
Opener was a Tag Match, which is always a pleasant surprise.
The Scene (Caleb Konley & Scott Reed) vs. Kentucky Buffet (Matt Cage & Alex Castle) was a throw-back kind of match. Larry Dallas is a manager who is growing into the role, and I’ve always been a fan of fashioning tag teams to get the best out of the talent. The Buffet is one of the oddest names I’ve heard, but funny and clever…. At least they know their roles!
No complaint here about this match, and I liked the backing off heels not taking on the charging giant that followed the match.
Untouchable 2011 was a great DVD in terms of building stories, introducing new faces, and the slow builds of a roster filled with exceptional talent. There was no hint of staleness, no sense of meaningless matches, and all the while, the talent in the ring was on display, and most importantly, there was no typical indy sense of overdoing things. The styles are well distinguished and the action fast and furious when it needed to be, in the great tradition of Dragon Gate.
If you’re unfamiliar with DG USA, this is a good one to watch, and if you’re familiar with the promotion, it’s a great one to get into as it sets up future storylines and matches and continues to establish the promotion as one to watch.
Joe Babinsack can be reached at
. Yes, yes, YES! I’ll be reviewing the Best of American Dragon DVD very soon. WSU and some shocking developments next week….