January 2008


Cyber Kong . . . ends up being the standout performer in a match where he does almost nothing, and by extension, doesn’t screw anything up.

Shingo Takagi . . . adds the GHC Jr. Tag Team Titles to his ever-growing list of championship accomplishments.

Dick Togo . . . gives everyone a reminder, or ten, of why he’s still one of the top junior heels in the business!



The work here is fine, but the highlights are the comedy bits with Ryo and Fujii trying to ape their respective partners and falling hopelessly short. It starts with Fujii trying to mimic Hulk’s agility to get out of Kong’s wristlock, and not being able to do the kip up. Later on, Kong gives Hulk a press slam and then he tags in Ryo who tries to do it, but he can’t get Hulk up for it. Once the match settles down into Ryo and Kong working over Hulk, it’s fine but it’s rather unspectacular. YAMATO’s interference backfiring was a creative way to give Hulk’s team the win, after Kong and Ryo had been controlling things, but it didn’t feel like Hulk was on the verge of making a huge comeback when YAMATO felt the need to interject himself.



If nothing else, this isn’t lacking in intensity. Watching this, you truly believe that YAMATO and Ryo want to kill each other, but that’s pretty much all there is to this. It seems like the match is going to go somewhere interesting, but it never gets there. It starts when YAMATO hits Ryo with a spear and Ryo’s selling is some of the best I’ve ever seen from him (and hell, some of the best from anyone in this promotion). YAMATO throws axhandle shots at his back to keep working the midsection, and it looks like he’s fleshed out a little bit of a story. Then they start brawling on the floor and into the crowd and it’s gone. They stack a bunch of chairs up and take turns trying to suplex each other onto the pile, with Ryo eventually winning out. But the bump winds up being wasted. YAMATO doesn’t sell it worth a damn after fifteen seconds, and he and Ryo are more concerned with brawling than anything else. Even when something happens that might get them back on track, like YAMATO surprising Ryo with the powerslam and then a Tiger driver, it doesn’t really phase him all that much. Ryo is down for a bit after the Tiger driver, but that’s more because of the back of his head hitting the mat rather than any impact on his midsection.


They really go off the deep end with YAMATO completely blowing off a release German suplex and giving Ryo a DVD (which Ryo at least tries to fight out of) and then YAMATO sees fit to sell after the kick out. They trade off more lariats and forearms leading to Ryo getting a near fall from his Dragon suplex, and then a second one keeps YAMATO down for good. Forget that there was nothing between the suplexes to suggest that YAMATO was ready to be finished off, it wasn’t like he was selling fatigue or pain or anything, but YAMATO couldn’t even be bothered to try kicking out. Ryo has never been someone that’s especially stood out to me, and his performance here was par for the course, but YAMATO was so much worse on pretty much every level.



You’d think that a match involving Aries and Arai would be at least good, but not when Kong manages to put on the best performance by simply staying out of the way. The little bit of arm work on Iwasa made for some watchable filler, but it doesn’t really go anywhere, and the actual work seems deliberately slow. Iwasa’s backdrop suplex counter was a good way to get Aries off his arm, but once he tags out, the match takes a nosedive. There’s a lot going on, and almost none of it looks all that good. Arai’s Tombstone to Aries and his double DDT to both Aries and Kong are both very ugly, and it’s beyond goofy to see Arai trying to work like he’s of equal size to Kong. It’s nice, to some extent, that Iwasa is able to take Aries and Kong’s big moves (brainbuster and pineapple bomber) and still score the winning pin, but everything that wears down Kong enough for Iwasa to hit the Noshigami happens in the last thirty seconds. As nice as it was for Iwasa to try to create doubt about his ability to pull off the move, between Kong’s size and his hurt arm, he negates his own effort when he starts his finishing run by hitting Kong with a running lariat and not selling the arm at all.



The highlights here are the interactions between CIMA and Gamma, especially CIMA taking every opportunity to cheap shot him. Genki leapfrogs over CIMA, and he continues charging through and knocks Gamma off the apron. A minute later CIMA ducks a lariat and suicide dives onto Gamma. There’s plenty of fouls too, and all except one are from CIMA; he fouls Gamma to get out of the corner, and then stomps him just for fun, and when Gamma brings in the cane, CIMA steals it and uses it on him. There’s only one foul from the other team, Genki fouls CIMA before doing his backslide, and CIMA just rolls through it so that DK can spring in with a rana. Honestly, that’s the only really disappointing thing about the match. Gamma’s foul to CIMA the month before had been cause for a referee stoppage, but Genki’s didn’t even slow him down. Seeing as DK’s rana was the finish, he could have still done the roll through and then put it over afterwards, it wouldn’t have been perfect, but it’s still not nearly as egregious at what YAMATO did with the German suplex.


Aside from the CIMA/Gamma stuff, this is the usual, overbooked, hell-on-wheels sort of affair that you might expect between these groups. They pull off some nice things, DK’s 619 to Genki’s back for instance, but it’s all go-go-go, without much in the way of story or structure. Genki and Gamma’s stablemates run in and CIMA and DK’s even the odds, and they do the practically mandatory corner charge sequence. It’s all a lot of fun to watch, especially the first time through, but it’s nothing that hasn’t been done hundreds upon hundreds of times before in this promotion, with most of these same guys grouped up differently. It seems like the match is going to come down to CIMA and Gamma, with Gamma kicking out of the Schwein and then CIMA kicking out of Gamma’s version, but Genki intervenes and DK springs in so they can work the finish and the CIMA/Gamma issue remains unresolved.



The fact that this isn’t another Muscle Outlaw’z match that’s laden with run-ins and prop shots shows that Dragon Gate has some degree of respect for NOAH, or at least for their titles. And honestly, this isn’t vastly different than what would have happened in a NOAH ring. Both teams work relatively well together, which shouldn’t be a big surprise, but there’s not much of a story. They also go a little crazy at the end with the big spots, not unlike what one might expect from NOAH. There was absolutely no reason for Doi to hit the Doi 555 off the second rope and follow it with his sliding kick if Shingo was just going to kick out. And the next sequence is Doi trying for his Muscular Bomb and Shingo countering into the Last Falconry for his own near fall, essentially making Doi’s ramped up trademark combo worthless. Before the home stretch, they had their share of big spots, but they were made to count for something. Shingo giving Doi the DVD on the apron freed him up to save Hulk from the Sol Naciente and opened the door to them working over Yoshino for a bit. Later on, Hulk takes a sick bump off a top rope German from Doi, and that puts him out so that Doi and Yoshino can work over Shingo.


Before Doi and Shingo go crazy at the end, this is actually pretty good. Yeah, it’s a bit spotty and there’s more emphasis on flashiness than substance, but they’re generally smart with their spots and a lot the stuff that looks flashy is rather simple. Shingo countering Doi’s running elbow into the uranage is a good example of this. It’s not an especially complicated sequence, but they pull it off so seamlessly that it looks more impressive than it really is. The same thing with Yoshino’s missile dropkick to Shingo that doubles as a senton bomb to Hulk. While the momentum shifts back and forth between both teams quite a bit, it’s usually predicated on each man using their best attribute to get there. Such as Shingo using his strength to block Yoshino’s Lighting Spiral, Hulk using his agility to backflip out of Doi’s German suplex, or Yoshino using his own agility to sunset flip himself out of Shingo’s powerbomb.


Once Shingo kicks out of the fives/kick combo, they go off the cliff and never make it back up, although the match doesn’t go very long past that point. Shingo hits a Falconry off the second rope that Doi kicks out of, so at least they’re equals as far as ramping up a big spot just for a throwaway near fall. Doi jumping to his feet after Shingo’s lariat is right out of the Kobashi handbook for goofiness. Shingo throws three lariats in a row, and they’re treated as follows: the first one is completely no sold by Doi, he counters the second into a cradle for a near fall, and Doi stays down after the third for another near fall, and Shingo follows that with another Last Falconry to win the titles for he and Hulk. There’s no good explanation for Doi suddenly being so hurt after the lariat, when the one right before that had so little effect on him. It would have been the perfect time for Shingo and Hulk to break out some sort of tandem spot to set up Doi for the kill, or for Doi and Yoshino to have a miscue to give Shingo the opening to hit the Falconry. If Shingo and Doi had followed through in the finish run and performed as consistently as they had been for the rest of the match, then this wouldn’t have been great, but it’d have been a nice change of pace from the sorts of matches that everyone had been seeing from the likes of Sugiura, Kanemaru, Mushiking Terry, etc. over the last few years.



And a decently fun TV show is capped off with a decently fun trios match. There’s no shortage of hate and intensity here, and even though Togo and Hidaka are somewhat bit players, they never hold back when it comes to bringing the work; Togo’s senton bomb to K-ness is the best near fall of the match, with the most credible looking ‘last second’ breaking up of the pin attempt. As far as layout goes, this isn’t anything that hasn’t been seen before. Each team gets a short control segment and then the match breaks down like a traditional southern tag, with brawling on the floor, big spots, and dives being used to explain why partners aren’t available to help out whomever is in danger of losing at that particular moment. The champs are the tecnicos here and would have been by default by virtue of being challenged by a team of outsiders, but all three have extensive experience as rudos and they try to let that out while they work over Sawa. Masaaki and especially Fujii are extra gruff and disdainful while they clobber Sawa with their chops and kicks. Sawa connects a lucky palm strike on Masaaki and tags out, and Hidaka and Togo teach him that it isn’t throwing stiff kicks with a sneer on his face that makes one a bad man. No, what makes them a bad man is *BEING* a bad man! And with a little help from their good friends chair, guardrail, and exposed turnbuckle Togo and Hidaka go about giving the demonstration, and what was already a lot of fun to watch gets a whole lot better.


The story of the match is the idea that Sawa is the weak link on his team. That’s not entirely a bad thing, after all, someone has to get beat and nobody believes that the almighty Togo is losing to anyone other than CIMA (the Dream Gate Champion at this time). Until the finish itself, which comes a little too easy for Masaaki, there are touches and hints throughout the match that Sawa isn’t as capable as his partners. One of the first instances is when Togo tags him in after he and Hidaka had worn down Masaaki. He tries to get on a juji-gatame, and Masaaki is able to block it. Only after Togo gives him an assist, along with Hidaka holding off Fujii and K-ness from intervening, can Sawa get the hold on, and Masaaki is still able to make the ropes. There’s another hint after the match breaks down, when Togo smoothly traps K-ness in the crossface, Hidaka gets Masaaki in the Shawn Capture, and Sawa gets Fujii in the standing Octopus. Fujii is the one that’s able to escape the hold and save his partners. The finishing stretch itself actually comes off pretty well, until the abrupt finish. Sawa blocks the twisting kick off the top and traps Masaaki in his Triangle choke and then transitions to a juji-gatame. Masaaki is able to linger in the hold until Fujii makes it into the ring to break it up. Masaaki connects a head kick and then sets up Sawa in the corner for a running knee strike and that’s enough to score the pinfall. Masaaki needed no further assistance from Fujii, and all that time spent in the armbar seemingly had no effect on him. After breaking the hold, Fujii could have leveled Sawa with a lariat or planted him with his Nodowa finisher and given Masaaki time to recover before ending the match. Masaaki still wins the match in a convincing fashion, and he does so without ignoring what Sawa was able to do only moments before. Despite the weak finish, this is still very much worth going out of your way to check out, between the intensity, pace, and the heat mongering abilities of Hidaka and Togo. ***1/4


Conclusion: Honestly, the only big negative is the (very short) Ryo/YAMATO match. Everything else is at least watchable, with the last three matches being boatloads of fun, even if they aren’t perfect.