Mercury Rising (2012)
Dragon Gate USA
Reviewed by Joe Babinsack
Nothing but positive on this review, so I’ll minimize the following: griping about The Scene; not explaining the anticipated, potential irony of PAC and Low Ki in the main event; and the annoyance that the future of professional wrestling is here, has been here, but no one in decision making positions seems to care.
The superlative talent of Dragon Gate USA is on display, as is the exuberant crowd, the awesome commentating skill of Lenny Leonard and the masterful booking of Mr. Gabe Sapolsky.
But where Dragon Gate ultimately excels is in reinventing itself.
Whether with factions, with the transformation of BxB Hulk or the ongoing mix of top notch talent, and especially in creating new stars, Dragon Gate may have the same light-speed action, but never seems to show the same approach from DVD to DVD.
Ultimately the promotion takes its lead from its Japanese parent company, but even so, there’s little doubt that Dragon Gate USA runs wild with new approaches to main event mentality, never settling for the same thing, always capable of putting a six-man, a heated rivalry, a tag team or a well deserved Championship defense in the top spot.
What’s insane is that Mercury Rising features two matches, each with six guys on (and mostly above) the squared canvas, that had no weak links. That’s a dozen top notch talents on display, in front of a rabid, well-educated but often unforgiving crowd, and there was no doubt how it was all appreciated.
And it didn’t take Low Ki’s passionate speech to put an exclamation point on it, but well, he did, and then he did even more in the “bonus material”.
From the opener with powerhouse Jon Davis taking on Bobby Fish, through six more raucous bouts, there’s a distinct approach to the sport that makes it all meaningful again.
Meaningful because the action on display is cannot be scripted.
Meaningful because this talent is elite.
Meaningful because a guy named Johnny Gargano seems to be the total package, even if he’s not exactly destined to be a superstar in the current mindset of today’s mainstream promotions.
Meaningful because, from the top of the card to the bottom, this promotion has intermixed the angles, the battles and a seamless effort, and has grown its own American roster that rivals the Japanese veterans.
For this jaded, long time wrestling fan, all it takes is watching a DVD like this and realize why I love the sport, despite all the insanity, all the negativity, all the frustrations and all the cynicism that this industry spews.
Yeah, there are a few spots of cringing, but who am I to complain about Sabu bleeding?
Because in Dragon Gate USA, Sabu in 2012 isn’t the feature performer, he’s a guy who is leading Sami Callihan into relevance.
Meanwhile, Dragon Gate USA features AR Fox, who’s rise to stardom has been as well-paced as anyone can imagine. Fox has proved his worth in every match, and has developed his potential into reality without losing the appreciation of the fans. That’s a hard thing to imagine these days, but battling against heels like D.U.F. and Arik Cannon has made it possible.
Meanwhile, that opener with Fish vs Davis put on a MMA approach that is sorely lacking in the business.
Meanwhile, Dragon Gate USA is putting out a DVD with seven matches, and it looks and feels like that is the best approach for a great card.
In the middle of the card is a bit of entertainment, a bit of a swerve, and a shifting from the “PAC Invitational” to the “Kentucky Gentleman Invitational”. We go from the very best of the modern crop of high-flyers to a guy who could be the heel of the future.
Whether with or without his boots on, Chuck Taylor has an attitude that makes him a heel, even in an era where cool heels are commonplace and being a bad guy gets too many cheers, often despite the intent.
But Taylor wraps a hardcore wrestling audience around his finger, and makes them hate him.
How is that possible? With Taylor, it’s about paying attention to the details, establishing the atmosphere and being dastardly – without appealing for approval or milking the situation. There’s an art to being a bad guy, in the Old School tradition.
There’s also an important need for that role.
What’s amazing is that Chuck Taylor becomes a force on this DVD, because of his talk, his actions and his attack on Gargano after a great match, and while run-ins done the right way are a rare spectacle, I could see how this one did what it was intended to do.
Especially after that long, awesome battle with Masato Yoshino… especially after the tension and the “sportsmanship” chant by that crowd.
That’s the kind of thing that stokes emotions.
So this card has two six man matches that resonate against each other, and yet aren’t exactly the same.
One is a “Fray” style match, playing off of Chuck Taylor, debuting El Generico, and featuring CIMA and the underrated Lince Dorado and the interesting visual of Samuray Del Sol. This match is all about the high-flying, and it is interesting that you have Taylor playing the role of the antagonist, while a lot of guys are jumping around him. Not that Chucky-T can’t fly, but he’s no Rich Swann.
Is there irony that El Generico is featured, and is now in the WWE pipeline?
Better for fans to watch the likes of El Generico, PAC, Low Ki and Del Sol in Dragon Gate USA than elsewhere, in my opinion.
The Main Event is another six man match, but here a six man tag. Low Ki is the odd man in, teaming with the Mad Blankey faction of BxB Hulk & AKIRA Tozawa. They take on two of the best high-flyers in PAC (who inserted himself in this match earlier in the show) and Ricochet, with their partner, the veteran kick-artist Masaaki Mochizuki.
This match is what Dragon Gate is all about – the insanely fast pacing and the interactions and the action that couldn’t be called by anyone but Lenny Leondard.
What’s more is the characters and the wrestling styles, the best example being BxB Hulk. Here’s a talent that had a gimmick that screamed babyface, but who lost a Championship and went to the dark side. Sure, he’s still rolling out the Mouse and some of his staples, but BxB Hulk is a heel with a crazed, dark faction and from the “jump the opponents at the bell” through the storytelling in the ring, to the finish, there’s a depth beyond the ultra-modern technicality that bespeaks traditional wrestling concepts.
Speaking of which, Open the Freedom Gate Champion Johnny Gargano wrestles a Title defense like few others, taking on Masato Yoshino – the fastest man in the ring. Gargano just has it. He acts the Champion, wrestles like a Champion, and talks like a Champion.
And the video packages enhance it further.
Dragon Gate action is impossibly hard to describe, and sometimes the lucha libre foundation doesn’t flow so well to Americanized understandings, but the atmosphere it creates trumps ROH and the sheer difference in approach would make any fan a fan, just watching one match with, I dunno, anyone on the card would suffice.