OPEN THE FREEDOM GATE
November 28, 2009
After successfully expanding into America as an actual promotion, rather than simply having CIMA and his friends working for ROH, PWG, etc. Dragon Gate USA makes their next logical step as an legit promotion, they’re crowning their first champion.
Jigsaw . . . not only wins his match, but also gets to look good while doing it.
Speed Muscle . . . channels the spirits of Beautiful Bobby and Sweet Stan, and they’re not even dead yet!
BxB Hulk . . . bumps like a fiend whenever possible, and Opens the Freedom Gate as a bonus.
GRAN AKUMA vs. JOHNNY GARGANO vs. HALLOWICKED vs. LINCE DORADO vs. NICK JACKSON vs. MATT JACKSON (Open the Freedom Gate Qualifying Match)
There aren’t much better ways to kick off a show than this, everyone has something to contribute, be it the flying from Lince and the Jacksons, Hallowicked’s high impact spots, or Akuma and Gargano’s sneakiness. The way this is structured is a bit predictable, it looks just like your usual three-way match, only instead of one person being conveniently out of the way, there are four. All six get their chances to shine, but there’s nothing as far as any real story to make anyone seem like a weak link or a clear cut favorite. There are a few nice teases of the Jacksons facing off, but first ‘Wicked and Lince interrupt that, and then a few minutes later Gargano and Akuma intervene. It finally happens after they hit ‘Wicked with More Bang for Your Buck, and both of them want to get the pin. The Jackson showdown actually the best part of the match, because their brief exchange of counters and reversals, showing how well they know each other, is the smoothest part of the match by a decent margin. The finish is the standard DG affair of the winner being in the right place at the right time, in this case it’s Akuma avoiding the Hertz Donut from Gargano, hitting an Exploder, and then quickly hitting a moonsault for the win, with the others being a split second too late to save, despite them all be poised on the floor and watching the whole thing. It was a fun enough to way to get Akuma to the finals.
BRIAN KENDRICK vs. BXB HULK (Open the Freedom Gate Qualifying Match)
Considering the participants, this seems a bit on the dull side. Kendrick’s heel charisma is welcome, but it doesn’t translate that well to his work at all, he spends quite a bit of time using chin locks and variations, and doing nothing to suggest he’s working toward something with it, despite having a finisher (Sliced Bread #2) that targets the neck area. Hulk isn’t much better, he doesn’t do anything to add to the idea that Kendrick’s holds are putting the hurt on his neck, nor does he bring much as far as offense goes until almost the end. Of course, the onus isn’t really on Hulk in that regard, since Kendrick controls most of the match.
They plod along and things don’t really even pick up until nearly the very end when Kendrick counters the EVO, and they have a nice little cradle exchange (where Kendrick, sadly, doesn’t even try to grab the tights or the ropes) before Hulk hits the EVO for a decent near fall. Kendrick tries for another cradle, but Hulk superkicks him and gets the pin with a cradle of his own. I guess the superkick is logical in the vein of stunning Kendrick, but, if that’s the case, why not use one of his other big moves for the win? A cradle suggests either a flash pin or the winner out wrestling the other.
CIMA vs. MIKE QUACKENBUSH vs. SUPER CRAZY vs. SKAYDE (Open the Freedom Gate Qualifying Match)
As nice as it was to pay tribute to Skayde, this would have been better off as a Quack/CIMA rematch from Germany. It’s worked virtually the same way as the opening six way, as more of an exhibition than anything with a life of its own. The only real storytelling element comes when Skayde takes a dropkick to the knee and sells like he’s seriously injured. Quack and CIMA (two of his prize pupils, if you believe the announcers) stop to check on him, while Crazy (who has lingering heat with Skayde for the loss of his mask) puts them out to work Skayde over. But, Crazy never gets around to actually working him over, by the time he finishes with CIMA and Quack, Skayde is ready to go. It’s too bad, this wasn’t especially long in the first place, so they could have tacked on two or three minutes to let Crazy attempt to get some heat and work over Skayde’s leg.
The work itself is fine, but nothing special. Quack and CIMA are the best pairing. Their work is by far the smoothest and most fluid. The only real weak parts are the Crazy/Skayde exchanges, they almost look like they’re being done in slow motion, either so Skayde could keep up or because age and injuries are catching up with Crazy. The finish is the standard affair of right place and right time, although CIMA at least knocks Quack off the apron before he superkicks Skayde and cradles him for the pin. The CIMA/Quack confrontation afterward will hopefully lead to a singles match down the line.
DAVEY RICHARDS vs. YAMATO (Open the Freedom Gate Qualifying Match)
The length and general physicality of this makes it pretty clear that the winner here won’t be winning the title. There some nice touches to this, but it never gets going to the point of really building up genuine momentum. The segments of Richards working the arm and YAMATO working the leg never went anywhere beyond giving each guy something to do while he was in control of things. Granted, Richards tried to win at one point via Kimura and YAMATO via ankle lock, but there’s nothing throughout the match to suggest that they were trying to really build to the point of the submissions, and both holds were done far into the match, long after Richards and YAMATO had moved away from limb work. There’s also a distinct lack of selling to be found, they’re both guilty, but YAMATO is far worse about it. Richards’ biggest offense is taking a big move for a near fall, kicking out, and acting like he’s about to make a fired up comeback, before YAMATO does something else. YAMATO takes big bumps from a superplex and a Richards enzuigiri and then pops back up and acts like nothing happened.
The big saving grace is that both of them throw in some nice little touches, but nothing even close to saving the match. Davey with a suicide dive that’s too awesome to be done justice in words, and his size makes it all the more impressive. YAMATO starts his targeting of the knee by outsmarting Richards and crawling underneath the ring and coming out the other side, and hitting a dropkick to the Davey’s knee. There’s another nice touch from YAMATO when Davey throws an enzuigiri, but YAMATO ducks it and goes to the ankle lock. The road to the finish is inoffensive for the most part, aside from the ridiculous premise of Richards nearly being choked out and then suddenly coming back, but it’s not like that’s totally exclusive to them as workers or anything. YAMATO starts rolling out the bombs and finally keeps Davey down with the Galleria. Between the smart little things and their overall intensity, there are clearly things to like about the match, but its disappointing that the only of the four qualifiers to get ample time winds up falling so short.
We’re treated to a video of the four winners preparing for the main event, with Akuma, Hulk, and CIMA, warming up, and YAMATO laying on the locker room floor looking exhausted.
JIGSAW vs. EDDIE KINGSTON
There’s just something that seems so right about Eddie Kingston in Dragon Gate. His attitude and brawling would make him a fine addition to the roster in the vein of SUWA, the brawler who could snap at any moment. This isn’t anything special if you’ve seen even a couple of matches from each of them, but it’s perfectly acceptable. The gist of the story is that Kingston doesn’t take Jigsaw seriously early on, and that winds up costing him the match. Kingston toys around for a bit, and then Jigsaw roars to life and starts rolling out offense to keep Kingston at bay for a bit, nothing really high impact, aside from his superkicks, but enough to keep Jigsaw out of trouble. Kingston really only gets in a few spots, but he makes them count and Jigsaw puts them over just fine, the buckle bomb, lariat, and Kingston’s trademark spinning backfist all look good enough to finish him off, but Kingston hadn’t done nearly enough to wear down Jigsaw enough to finish him. Kingston tries for too much with his back backdrop and eats a big superkick and Jigsaw finishes him off with the diving foot stomp. The best description that I can give this match as a whole is that it’s a more logically laid out version of Jigsaw’s 4/08 ROH match with Joey Matthews.
NARUKI DOI/MASATO YOSHINO vs. SHINGO TAKAGI/DRAGON KID
If there was one match that was going to make the crowd absolutely come unglued, it was going to be this one. Between the underlying Yoshino/DK feud and the propensity that Dragon Gate tag matches have for being fast paced, nail-biting affairs that are chock full of heat with oodles of near falls, there are several things to like here. This also has the bonus of looking original to a point, rather than falling into the trap of looking like the same cookie cutter layout that so many DG tags and trios wind up doing. It starts out as expected with DK and Yoshino showing that they’re the fastest wrestlers on the card with some quick mat work and arm drags, then Doi and Takagi have a bit of a power struggle, with Takagi winning easily. It’s right afterward when this match starts picking up its own identity, both teams get a chance to control the match, Shingo and DK only really have one double team move at their disposal, other than that one move, they do stuff like Shingo slams Doi and DK follows up with a knee drop and DK using Shingo’s boot as a turnbuckle. Doi and Yoshino, on the other hand, look for all the world like the Japanese reincarnation of the Midnight Express, rolling out double teams including, ironically enough, a diving foot stomp variation of the MX’s famous Veg-O-Matic finisher.
After Speed Muscle get to have their fun with DK, the match has a few more nice touches, the great one is when DK and Yoshino get simultaneous submissions on Doi and Shingo, and try to save their partner while keeping their hold applied, until DK realizes that Yoshino and Shingo are the two legal men and he releases Doi to save Shingo. There’s another good one when Doi avoids a 619 and then quickly ties up DK in the corner and hits a big shotgun dropkick to the chest, which shows just how quick the momentum can change.
As the match wears on it turns into the typical DG home stretch, tons of double teams and big spots, and unless you’ve read the spoilers already you’ll think each one is sure to be the end. The big weakness is also its strength, the fast-paced action impressive to watch, but it also means that there’s not any really strong selling. As soon as the spot is done and the near fall counted, it’s as if it never happened. Yoshino is the worst offender, only because he takes the bulk of the near falls, which makes sense since the storyline is that DK is 2-0 against Yoshino. The best spot/worst selling combo comes when DK gives Yoshino a super hurricanrana off of Shingo, who’s seated on the top. The near falls is as heated and dramatic as you’d expect, but as soon as Doi saves, Yoshino is on his feet and taking the fight to Shingo like nothing happened. Yoshino also nearly gets spiked by a high speed rana from DK and it has little consequence after the near fall. In fact, the only thing that really gets put over properly is DK’s selling of the Sol Naciente from Yoshino, and that should be a given since it was the finish. Despite the selling issues, this is still far and away the best match of the show so far, if only because none of the other matches could touch the pace that these four work at, and the drama behind their near falls. If the Freedom Gate decision match is able to top this, I’ll be very surprised. ***1/2
CIMA vs. YAMATO vs. GRAN AKUMA vs. BXB HULK (Open the Freedom Gate Decision Match)
And no, this doesn’t even sniff the previous tag match. Yes, everyone had already worked once before, and YAMATO in particular had a very long and very physical match, so it makes sense that this is on the short side, but it’s still rather predictable in terms of structure and the finish is so out of nowhere that the fans don’t even see it coming, which gives it next to no reaction. From the beginning until CIMA’s elimination, this is at least decent, it’s funny to watch CIMA’s allegiances shifting, Akuma and YAMATO agree to team, and CIMA offers to join them, and they promptly turn on him. So CIMA and Hulk band together, but CIMA drills Hulk with a superdrol at the first opportunity. Other than that, this is your average four-way, with them pairing off and one of the pairs always being conveniently out of the ring, so the other pairing can work, until an opening presents itself for the other pair to work. If nothing else, Hulk took some nice bumps, his bumps, the superdrol and YAMATO’s spear both looked great. The only logic snafu was when CIMA saved Hulk from the Galleria, sure, he was mad that YAMATO pushed him off the top before he could finish off Akuma, but you’d think CIMA would know that the belt is the important thing. The YAMATO/Akuma alliance goes up 1-0 when YAMATO distracts the ref and Akuma fouls CIMA and allows YAMATO to cradle him.
The second fall is more predictability, with Hulk being in a 2-on-1 handicap against the heels, it’s the closest this match comes to telling a genuine story, and it’s still on the disappointing side. YAMATO and Akuma have all of one spot to make things look hopeless for Hulk, a chinlock/half crab combo, which winds up as a crossface from YAMATO. Other than that, there’s nothing from the heels to really make Hulk looked doomed, no creative double teams like Speed Muscle used in their match, no real intensity or hate from them, it’s just a lot of casual kicking and punching, as well as some choking. There’s another good bump from Hulk, when an elbow from YAMATO causes him to do a full flip. Then, Akuma shockingly (yet, totally predictably) knocks YAMATO off the apron and Hulk finally makes his comeback. The reverse rana counter to the Rubix Cube was a nice spot, and Akuma’s sell job of death is how that spot should always be sold. It was the perfect way to make Akuma seem finished after he’d not been in much trouble at all in the match. YAMATO makes the save for Akuma, but Hulk quickly dispatches him and then finishes off Akuma for good with the FTX .
Hulk and YAMATO deserve some credit for at least trying to create some doubt as to the outcome, but not a lot because they weren’t too successful. YAMATO counters Hulk’s EVO and Hulk responds by countering YAMATO’s German suplex. Then they have a NOAH moment of sitting there and exchanging strikes, while not selling any effects and not getting the match anywhere in the process. There’s a smart moment when Hulk plays possum so YAMATO tries to go up top and then Hulk pops up and kicks him off, but that’s doesn’t lead anywhere, because they go right back into the strike exchanges. Hulk tries to make the finish a bit plausible, when YAMATO kicks out of EVO, he hits a couple of big kicks to the head and then modified the EVO a bit to really spike YAMATO and takes the title, but there’s next to no reaction to it until after Hulk gets the pin and the fans realize that Hulk won the title. They’d have been better off to spend the time they used on the strike exchanges by letting each of them hit a couple of biggish spots for near falls and try to get the fans thinking that the end was near.
Conclusion: This falls into the same category as the Open the Global Gate DVD: newer DG fans or fans not entirely familiar with the DG style will love this sixteen ways from Sunday, and with good reason. But, there’s not much here for the established fans beyond the Speed Muscle tag and the novelty of seeing the Chikara wrestlers against the DG wrestlers.