Open the Southern Gate
Dragon Gate USA
Reviewed by Joe Babinsack
Dragon Gate USA continues to develop its product: establishing the American side of the roster, improving on an already superlative style, and mixing in various names to raise interest in the brand.
There seems to be a sense that DG USA continues to fly under the radar, but the talent in the ring should not be unknown. From PAC to CIMA to Naruki Doi to Chuck Taylor, the promotion has shown that it has an international flavor and a sense of having top indy names in the primes of their career, plus the established, veteran Japanese wrestlers that are becoming integral to the promotion, but no longer dominating it.
Well, the Blood Warriors are definitely dominating the scene.
Strange how the CIMA led Warrior chant and double arm lift gesture has morphed into the “up yours” vulgar gesture, showing the shift from babyfaces to heels in the group. The Blood Warriors – CIMA, Naruki Doi, Brodie Lee, Ricochet, et al – are becoming THE dominant faction, but that leads to competition to oppose them, including Japanese factions and American upstarts.
But with RONIN as the group of potential greats, and a sense that Arik Cannon may be leading his own punk revolution, there’s opposition of note to the Blood Warriors, to be sure.
Open the Southern Gate continues a tradition of several themes for DG USA. It’s the Southern Gate mostly because the show emanates from the historic Mid Atlantic Sportatorium in Burlington, North Carolina. And the Main Event was certain to have a winner hailing from Kentucky, with Ricochet and the Gentleman known as Chucky T on opposite sides.
There were some local references, mostly with Jon Moxley cutting promos on the local girls, when talking down Reby Sky. And I’m not sure who I’m insulting if I put Jonny Fairplay in the Southern category.
Reby Sky & Jonny Fairplay are attempts to spice up and spike the attention of the promotion. I’m ambivalent to their inclusion. If Sky brings in Howard Stern fans, great. Fairplay was meaningless in his TNA appearances, so I’m not sure what he brings. (Then again, there’s no wrestling related celebrity that can escape the black hole that is TNA’s antithetical approach to promotion, so maybe it is an unfair comment to single out Fairplay.)
Beyond the Southern theme, there are a few themes to the matches.
The “Breakout Challenge” is a great way to bring out some names and elevate someone with a mini-tournament of sorts. This also plays out with the opener, where Jon Davis answers the Brodie Lee challenge.
By the way, if we can’t have three Lennies in the announce booth, why do we have three Jon’s on the roster?
The other theme to the DVD is a series of matches based on factions, in which the Blood Warriors mostly established their dominance, even if they used their numbers to do so.
What I loved about it all were the unifying themes, the introduction of new names and most especially the way Dragon Gate USA cleverly built matches to highlight both the talent and the wrestling skills, without burning through matchups or showing a tired set of matchups.
There is some criticism, however, as the Stable Shootouts had some guys who really weren’t established yet in factions, and the Main Event is really a ‘dream partner’ match of sorts, not entirely Factional based. But why nitpick? Well, because that’s how it works.
Like any great event, Open The Southern Gate builds to future matches, storylines and character development, so let’s hit the details of how the matches worked in terms of a top-notch professional wrestling product:
Brodie Lee vs Jon Davis
Brodie Lee is the “Big Rig” and the muscle of the Blood Warriors. Accompanied by the core of the group, he challenges anyone to fight him.
Out comes Jon Davis of the Dark City Fight Club.
Davis is just short of Lee, and a powerhouse who gets to display his strength with a guy who DG USA is pretty much putting in the role of the Al “911” Poling. Well, not quite fair, since Brodie Lee does a lot more wrestling than Big Al was expected to do, but the point is that Lee is a giant among this roster.
It was a solid opener, introducing Davis to the roster, showing his promise, but mainly showing that the Blood Warriors are a force to be reckoned with in Dragon Gate.
Breakout Challenge #1
Jimmy Rave vs Lince Dorado vs Sugar Dunkerton vs Kyle Matthews
I loved this match, because it’s a great way to establish an avenue for new faces on the roster, and done several times a year, it would provide opportunities to get good looks at lesser known names, give those guys some valuable experience (and a couple bucks), and most importantly, not burn out matchups with the core roster.
Interesting mix, as Jimmy Rave (looking more clean cut on his return) is a veteran of many circles, and Lince Dorado and Sugar Dunkerton are CHIKARA guys. Dorado is part of the vaunted BDK, and Dunkerton is a vastly entertaining member of the Throw Backs.
Kyle Matthews is a high flyer from Marietta, Georgia, and works mostly out of Rampage Wrestling.
What makes the match is the tangible reason for winning it, and the use of DG USA’s established tradition of multiple man matches. Sure, it’s a lot of spots, but there’s nothing wrong with that with the right positioning, like here.
Does the Rave – the “Fave” of Jonny Fairplay – get the nod, or does it go to a lesser name in the mix?
Stable Shootout #1
Rich Swann vs Sami Callihan
Ok, technically, I’m not sure if the “D.U.F” faction exists as of this match, but the establishment of the punkers is something that Gabe Sapolsky is working on, and working on quite nicely. Of course, guys like Callihan and Cannon are primed for their spots, with physicality on display visually and through their actions.
Rich Swann is, ironically, a breakout star on this DVD, with that intro skit with RONIN, and his rapping introductions of his RONIN crew.
Swann is a high risk, high flyer. Taking on the muscular and crazed Callihan, it’s a clash of styles that brings out the best in both.
Breakout Challenge #2
AR Fox vs Arik Cannon vs Façade vs Shiima Xion
Another batch of guys mostly new to DG USA, though both Cannon and Fox are definitely known to Dragon Gate fans at this point. Fox is a taller version of the Swann/Ricochet high flyer template. I can see why the promotion is high on him. Cannon has an Old School heel body and look, wrapped by an anarchistic flair that makes CM Punk look like the corporate stooge the WWE made him into.
Façade and Xion are both mostly Ohio based guys, with Xion going to TNA.
Façade is a high flyer, a risk taker, and with his blond dreads and Sabu inspired work, is a guy who has a ton of potential with his unique look. Shiima Xion, by any name, is a chiseled guy with a flair to be a heel, and a very strong work ethic.
I loved how, in a ring of guys who can fly, the most grounded guy gets over.
Stable Shootout #2
Naruki Doi vs Jon Moxley
The peculiar thing here is how the dominant heel group gets heat beating down the most hated guy on the roster. Moxley getting sympathy? Kinda hard to run with, but it did work.
Moxley’s post match antics with Reby Sky, and this insanely devious concept of trashing Sky while touting the accomplishments of Trina Michaels has to be heard to be believed. Moxley deserves that FCW contract on his acting there alone. I guess he’s on the same career path as Tyler Black.
Seriously, anyone who looks at Moxley’s work and has The Miz on the roster, and cannot connect the dots simply cannot fathom what professional wrestling is all about.
The physical comparison between Doi and Moxley made the beat down necessary, and necessary. Beyond that, it was an interesting match to watch.
Stable Shootout #3
CIMA vs Johnny Gargano
If anyone would try to convince a relatively knowledgeable pro wrestling fan that Johnny Gargano is on par with CIMA, it might be hard to do.
But if you want to convince any pro wrestling fan that Gargano is on par with CIMA – one of the cornerstones of Dragon Gate, one of the innovators in Japan, one of the most skilled workers in the world – have them watch this match.
It’s all about selling, working, creativity in the ring. It’s all about having that passion, having the physical tools, and having the chance to learn with the best.
That’s what Dragon Gate USA is doing, and that’s where the accomplishment of raising the ‘home grown roster’ to the levels established by the original roster is becoming apparent.
Breakout Challenge Final
? vs ?
If you want decisions and spoilers, there are places to find those.
The storylines here are well put together:
Jonny Fairplay and his arguable inclusion, claiming to sign the winner, and having his favorit.
The guys involved, both having proved their inclusion after winning their initial four-way.
The match itself, which I would criticize for having guys kick out of finishers, turns out to be a well worked one, and while I’d sooner see a dominant decision rather than a back-and-forth battle, it did accomplish the obvious intent.
In the end, Dragon Gate has a new player on the roster. And anyone who stomps on Fairplay get’s my appreciation.
Stable Shootout #4
PAC & Ricochet vs Akira Tozawa & Chuck Taylor
If you’re looking for a match to revive your appreciation of working a match, here it is.
Telling stories in the ring is a lost artform, but you wouldn’t know it here. The mix and match partners worked because they made it work. Taylor & RONIN, lead by Rich Swann, are trying to bring Akira Tozawa into the fold. (By the way, that mullet that looks almost like an afro, and that beard of Tozawa, are unique, to say the least).
But on the other side, PAC (formerly of the group that is now Blood Warriors, Warriors International) and Ricochet (of Blood Warriors) are completely on the wrong page. They constantly try to one-up the other, they stumble into each other, they aren’t there to win, just to show-off, and even the mistaken hits are well played out.
Does teamwork overcome talent?
That’s an interesting question, and not satisfactorily answered here, but the story to the finish tells how great wrestling is accomplished.
Open the Southern Gate. A unique approach to having a Japanese originated company pay homage to the Southern USA style of the industry, albeit not so much in following traditions of the South, but in terms of putting forward some pretty spectacular aspects of professional wrestling.
Then again, heel factions, nuance, physicality and passionate wrestling are all staples of the Southern style of wrestling, aren’t they?