Freedom Fight 2011
Dragon Gate USA
Reviewed by Joe Babinsack
Freedom Fight features YAMATO vs Johnny Gargano, a battle long in the making, and the culmination of a build that has been setting the foundation for creating a new star unlike anything else on the indie scene. It is the co-main event of this DVD, second to the top only because having a hardcore six-man match would be insane to follow. Add to that a high-flying spectacle between two of the indie scene’s best high flyers, and there’s no question that this DVD is a must see, must own, must talk about event.
In terms of the top of the card, there’s three top notch, stellar matches that blow away any comparisons with almost any DVD or PPV in the past year.
This is a DVD where the ECW references were aplenty (but not because of an overuse of legends of the Paul Heyman era) but more interestingly, if Joey Styles were announcing these matches, he’d be hoarse screaming “Oh, My God!” before we hit the mid-card.
By the way, is there a roster in existence, ever, that can have four men doing various variants of a standing shooting star press on the same card, to the point where if it weren’t such a spectacular move – each time – it would have to be called redundant?
What impresses me with Freedom Fight 2011 is that the styles on display, the creativity in the ring, the emergence of many personalities and the finishes on display are all off-the-charts.
There are few promotions I watch that get me excited about professional wrestling, but no other has this level of talent, workrate and understanding of how to make the moving parts of the product work.
This may not be a perfect DVD – the YAMATO/Gargano match was overcomplicated before and after the finish. There’s a sense of having too many guest commentators: I really like The Scene and appreciate their build-up, but two relative unknowns on commentary wasn’t helpful – I do appreciate having guys give commentary for various reasons and on various levels, but this is becoming an indie trend.
As always, the complexity and the speed of the product are not always easy for new viewers – which is more a positive than a negative in my mind – but then again, I’m a wrestling fan who enjoyed Mexican and Japanese products where I was lucky to identify the names of the guys in the match from the commentary, and relied on emailed match listings to learn to identify guys, and relied upon Dave Meltzer to explain the holds in the Observer.
Which to me should be a selling point, but I’m really unsure in this day and age, when the mainstream is dominated by one promotion and far too much of the audience is influenced by what happens there. The fanbase today is not the same as it was ten and twenty years ago, when having many promotions vie for attention was a given, and gravitating to the promotion that entertained was the best option.
What I do know is that Dragon Gate USA is hitting on all levels and it seems like this promotion is more about letting the talent do what they do best, and do it in the ring.
Let’s look at the matches in reverse order:
The last match is billed as “Extreme Warfare” and Gabe Sapolsky does color commentary on the match, wanting for a long time to talk up a Sabu match.
As always, Sabu shows that he is one of the most underrated talents around – while his reputation as a daredevil high flyer was always there, people have seemingly overlooked how Sabu works, how he sets up the high spots and how aware he is to the various aspects of professional wrestling.
Here, he’s not stealing the show, and he’s helping to shine the spotlight on AR Fox.
Sabu, AR Fox & Jon Davis vs Sami Callihan, Arik Cannon & Pinkie Sanchez is a masterpiece on various levels. In a promotion that is an American division of a Japanese company built on a super-fast, high workrate style, DG USA headlines with no Japanese veterans, one ECW stalwart and a completely built heel faction made up of cast-off indie heels.
What’s more, the main even makes more than just superficial sense. DUF – that heel faction name that includes the other profanity with an ‘f’ and a ‘k’ – isn’t just a one tricky pony. The punks here live the part, play the part and exude the sense of violence, presence and above all, talent, that will be a cornerstone of DGUSA for some time.
They have butted heads with AR Fox (more on him in a sec) and Jon Davis, and have taken umbrage at Sabu’s legendary status and appearances in DG USA.
So this is not just some cobbled together match, but one that has been established.
AR Fox is the featured performer in many ways, and this guy has talent, potential and is only lacking in one thing – experience. What DG USA is doing is giving him that experience, establishing him to the audience, and yet there’s an obvious awareness of establishing him the right way.
You just have to watch this match to be sure, but I’m sure he’s earning his way.
That’s where Sabu comes in. He’s doing all the important things to shine the spotlight on this young talent, and it’s apparent that Fox is learning. From the selling to the setting up of spots, from the presence that shines forth despite the craziness around the ring, AR Fox may not have gotten the finish, but he delivered in standing up to the heels, standing tall with a legend and a powerhouse.
While the venue and the lighting had some problems, it worked out well since the focus stayed in the ring. Sure, those live saw more, and this was truly an ECW (of that proper era) atmosphere, but in terms of nostalgia it brought about the right feeling. This wasn’t about Sabu, but it was about brining that level of violence, insanity and sense that things are going on all over – making the match multi-dimensional, making it feel that there was more to it than what was seen.
Of course, if anyone can orchestrate pure ECW, it would be Gabe Sapolsky, but the guys doing this out there kept it together and delivered.
What was the result?
DUF is over as the dominant heels. AR Fox showed once again that he has potential, but needs to take it up a notch. The guest star was important, but enhanced his teammates and opponents. And the finish was important in delivering it all.
YAMATO vs Johnny Gargano (Open the Freedom Gate Title Match)
Some of the levels didn’t play out as perfectly as I would have expected here – the whole Chucky Taylor stealing the belt was interesting, his run in was a turning point, but him giving the belt to Gargano in the end was a little underwhelming.
After the build up, the match was off the charts, but this wasn’t quite Davey Richards winning the ROH gold and basking in the emotion of the post match. Maybe that spoiled things to me. I got the emotion from Lenny Leonard’s call, and I saw it in Gargano verbally and in body language, but there was too much emphasis on RONIN struggling to stick together, and then the group hug sort of thing made the story of Taylor stealing the belt the previous night, and him accidentally clobbering Gargano during the match, and the tension that was there, has been there, will be playing out seem to dissapate.
I’m sure it will tie in, but winning the belt seemed to take second stage to all this other stuff, which was different from the last match in that the six man match played out perfectly, while this missed a few beats.
However, the in-ring here was again off-the-charts.
There’s something about Dragon Gate that screams that professional wrestling in the mainstream has lost it, and I’m always impressed by the counters, the reversals and the chain wrestling involved on a faster scale, the chain wrestling in a sense that plays into the high spots and the kicks and the misses and the avoidances that are all light-years ahead of anything you’re likely used to seeing.
It plays out here, and especially in the PAC/Ricochet match, but it has to be seen to be appreciated – fast paced counters, fast paced misses, fast paced creative spots that simply cannot be scripted.
YAMATO looks different without the hair, but Gargano looks like a guy who could be built around, if the roster is managed and if he’s allowed to shine.
The whole story of this kid getting a tryout on the first DG USA and rising to become Champion is a storyline well built, and well delivered…. It just didn’t need the RONIN angle immediately after the match, and would have been better in the locker room, or on the next card.
PAC vs Ricochet was different from the other two matches that would follow, and different from the CIMA/Masato Yoshino match that preceded it, and clearly establishes that DG USA features styles like no other promotion.
What I talked about in terms of creativity and high flying really took hold here.
These two guys can go, and while I shudder to think what can happen with PAC in the WWE, if that plays out badly, I do have expectations of him making an impact in the world of pro wrestling not so much unlike the Dynamite Kid did thirty years ago in Japan.
He’s that good.
But Ricochet? He’s that good as well. What’s awesome about DG USA is that they have four guys of stellar capability, and they’re not killing them with similar angles and storylines. AR Fox has his direction. Rich Swann is aligned with the American RONIN faction. Pac went with Junction Three (which isn’t played up big) and Ricochet went with the Blood Warriors.
Ricochet and PAC have been feuding. The other two have there things.
Ricochet gained the most by going heel, aligning with CIMA, and sporting that nifty Mohawk and being more aggressive, he stands out now, when he was mostly overlook-able.
Not any more, with this feud with PAC. While I’m not sure why this is billed as “Last One-on-One” other than PAC may be moving on, this feud has played up the absolute reality that these guys are the top of the high flyers in the sport.
There’s only so many “Oh my God” spots that can be touted before it becomes boring, but this match is full of those spots. They make full use of the venue and a hard-to-see stage area, but what also impresses is that this series has shown that high-flying with risk/reward can be kept short (and should be) and while the finishes with the kicks-to-the-head are becoming repetitive, I loved the finishing sequence here because it shows an evolution of the sense of a finish – not just bang, it’s over, and while there are some problems with hitting high impact holds and continuing, this did play out a sense of beating down a guy until the finish.
And it was sold well afterwards.
How I can downplay a CIMA vs Masato Yoshino match is a telling sign of how far the non-Japanese part of this roster has grown, and how well the styles and the expectations of DG USA has grown.
By all accounts, this match was typically spectacular in terms of the Dragon Gate style: fast, creative and fast and creative. CIMA may have lost a step, but he’s still three steps ahead of anyone else in the business in terms of putting together a match, and keeping up with someone like Yoshino.
Yoshino is lightning quick.
These two do things in the ring that cannot be kept up with. The way they set up moves, transition between them, counter each other, reverse each other and make it seem so seamless, it all makes the style so amazing that I wish SPIKE or some Cable TV station would give them a chance – the product is so different that it would blow away the mainstream stuff and could spark an up cycle faster than retooling with abandoned mainstream stars.
Chuck Taylor & Rich Swann vs Akira Tozawa & BxB Hulk is really the mid-card of the event, and yet features guys who are the future of this company and a guy who is a current and big part of the parent company. Which shows the capability of the promotion, and the strength of the factions. Any other promotion would stick with RONIN at the top, but here the DUF are getting a big push, and I’m sure having all these pieces in play is the big point.
It sets up an all-American feud, it sets up various combinations of factional feuds, and it’s again amazing how DG USA can bring in BxB Hulk (who has a darker look) and not feel like it has to feature him over others. If you’re counting, five guys on this card are Japanese and from the parent promotion. The point here is that there are guys that can come in and out from Japan, freshen up the card, challenge for the tag or top singles title, and not be seen for a while.
This is what makes DG USA so entertaining – the stips and the matchups are meaningful and fresh.
Next up, we have a tag match with The Scene vs UHAA Nation & John Silver. Loved the match as it features guys who are gaining experience and both have a power member and another guy who plays the smaller guy (faster or talented) to make the team gel.
Nation is a notable guy, with a look and unfortunately an injury that has kept him away for a while. Not sure about how his size would line up with the mainstream, but here he looks like a monster, and can go, and can fly.
I like The Scene and Larry Dallas (who’s not here, but not forgotten). Caleb Conley is a good worker and Scott Reed is a powerhouse (not quite UHAA Nation, but similar enough). These are all the level of guys that scream for the indie world to be more amenable to guys moving in and out of promotions – to get work, to get experience and to keep all the promotions fresher.
BJ Whitmer continues his comeback on this event, but running into the Big Rig, Brodie Lee, didn’t seem to be a good matchup. Well, in terms of results, definitely not, but Whitmer again proves that he is vastly talented and has much potential, and Lee shows why he might just be more than the average WWE trainee.
Dragon Gate USA is one of those promotions that are on my “must see” list. The negatives are minimal and the positives are off the charts. Sure, these guys are mainstream stars, but should be known to hardcore pro wrestling fans on two continents.
If you need to be positive about professional wrestling, watch this DVD and welcome back to the fold.