Since I just got ahold of the DVDs for the Open The Freedom Gate and Fearless events from Dragon Gate USA, I thought that this past weekend would be a good time to try and catch up on my DGUSA viewing and share my thoughts with you in review form. DGUSA is a great promotion, and I like the way they've managed to fuse the core Japanese Dragon Gate product with a North American indy influence that, even though the Japanese guys are obviously the focus, it is done in such a way that it doesn't blatantly overshadow the Americans. Mixing two products that are separated by a language and culture barrier isn't an easy task, but DGUSA has managed to do so pretty successfully by my estimation.
So with that in mind, let's move on to the review...
Open The Freedom Gate - 11/28/09
After two successful events, this third show centered around a tournament to crown the first Open The Freedom Gate Champion, which would essentially be the DGUSA Title. There would be four opening round matches, with the winners moving on to a final, four way elimination match to crown the first champion. Each of the first round matches had a fancy name attached to it that was in some way descriptive of the participants. There were also two non-tournament matches that would bridge the gap between the first and second rounds. This happened to be the first DGUSA show I was able to attend live, and I enjoyed myself but was interested to see how the DVD would compare to my live experience. On top of the Japanese Dragon Gate guys, I was also exposed to a lot of indy guys I had little to no familiarity with, but would come to know pretty well over the next several months between DGUSA and EVOLVE.
The opening match of the tournament was a six way match that included Gran Akuma, the Young Bucks, Lince Dorado, Johnny Gargano, and Hallowicked, and was entitled Generation New to reflect the fact that most of the guys in the match were still relatively young in the business. If DGUSA wanted to get this show off to a good start with as much action as humanly possible, they succeeded with this match as the action literally did not stop the entire match. Even though this was fast paced and had six guys flying around, this didn't come off as quite the straight spotfest that you usually get when the CHIKARA guys are involved, I actually liked this one quite a lot because there wasn't so much going on that everything blended together, and there weren't the usual problems with people no-selling big moves, because it would take someone else running in to break up the fall instead of guys kicking out of moves that would have crippled Hercules. A major part of the story to this match was that the Young Bucks were in there together and spent most of the match working as a team, but when it came down to it they even duked it out with one another because they both wanted to advance in the tournament. I thought that made sense and was a great bit of realism because the point of being in there is to win and become the champion, and that's something that I think is lost on some people sometimes. Gran Akuma got the win after hitting a moonsault on Gargano to end what was probably one of the best openers I've seen in the last year.
The second match was subtitled Redemption, and featured Brian Kendrick taking on BxB Hulk. Hulk did not have the dancers with him for those keeping score. The idea behind the title of the match was that Kendrick was trying to redeem himself after his WWE run, and I have to be honest, I really wanted to get behind Kendrick upon his return to the indies, but he just hasn't seemed to have his heart in what he was doing, and he's finally seemed to start to get some of that back in WWE, and granted, I haven't seen everything he did on the indies in between, but from what I saw he just seemed like he had been mentally beaten down by the business and it showed in his work. He then went on to cut this long, rambling promo after the match where he basically lashed out over his situation, and I get that the idea was to pair him with Moxley to help elevate him, but Moxley kind of rambled too and then they just randomely started beating up the security guys, and I get where they were going but it just didn't work for me. The good news is that the match itself was pretty good and did what it was designed to do: it gave Hulk a big win over a well established American indy star to give him momentum going into the finals. Hulk was really on fire here and it was kind of played up like Kendrick was this veteran who came in all smug and ended up getting beat by a guy he didn't take too seriously, though I would have gone with Hulk getting a more decisive win than with a rolling cradle.
Match #3 was the Salute To Skayde, named for one of the participants in the match, Jorge "Skayde" Rivera, who had a hand in training all three of the other participants: CIMA, Mike Quackenbush, and Super Crazy. The first thing I will say is that I saw this Skayde guy come out looking like he'd been around since the Paleolithic Era, but then blowing me away with what he could do in the ring. And it wasn't like he just tagged in once and did a few spots and then camped out on the apron for the rest of the match, he was in it the whole time and really impressed me. The other thing I have to say about this is that if anyone thought for a second that CIMA wasn't going to the finals, you just haven't been paying attention, so that did take a little bit of the intrigue out of it for me, but it was still a fantastic match. Super Crazy was over like mad because of his history in that building, and he visibly had packed on a lot of weight since we last saw him, but he hasn't slowed down a bit. I like seeing Quackenbush in a setting like this where he's out there by himself instead of doing the usual six man matches because those become so repetitive after a while, so it's nice to see him getting a chance to go out there and work singles with higher caliber guys like the other folks in this match. The one thing I didn't like about this match was something that's so typical of lucha, and that was when Skayde injured his knee to the point where it basically stopped the match for a minute or two, but then after that he no-sold the injury and kept going like nothing happened. Stuff like that drives me up the wall, but other than that there was a ton of action in this one between three name guys. CIMA got the win by pinning Skayde, and then got in a shoving match with Quackenbush after the match, with Quack telling CIMA that he wants him to win the title so he can take it from him.
We move on to the final first round match, subtitled Next Level, as Davey Richards took on YAMATO. Obviously things have changed since this event, but at the time, Davey was the guy that DGUSA and EVOLVE were both looking to be built around, and he was already the FIP Champion, so I was a little surprised to see him go down in the first round, because even if he didn't get the title, I would have expected him to have been one of the last guys standing. However, seeing what a major player YAMATO has become in DGUSA since November, I guess it's just as well. I remember watching this match live and just being blown away by this more than any other match on the show, and it definitely held up on a second viewing. I think part of the reason I enjoyed it so much was because I honestly expected Davey to cakewalk past YAMATO, and then my reaction went from "Wow, this is taking longer than I thought it would" to "Wow, this is a pretty competive match" to "Damn, this is an awesome match!" to "No way, YAMATO won?!?!" It wasn't an unexpected result in the sense of me thinking that what we got was worse than what I expected, it was that it was such an awesome match that I didn't really care about the result, and that's the best way to do things because when a match is so good that you don't care who wins, everybody wins.
So for those following along at home, we've now got Gran Akuma, BxB Hulk, CIMA, and YAMATO in the finals. I do think I would have preferred to have at least one more name American guy in the finals because, with all due respect to Gran Akuma, I don't think anyone expected him to win, so it would have been nice to have somebody American in there that at least had a halfway decent chance. At this point, I pretty much expected Hulk or CIMA to win, leaning toward CIMA.
So now with the finals set, we move on to the first of two non-tournament matches tonight, as Eddie Kingston took on Jigsaw. Anybody who's familiar with me knows that I am no Eddie Kingston fan, I think he's talentless and completely overrated, and don't think he really belongs in any kind of featured position. Jigsaw, on the other hand, is never going to be a main eventer, but he's got a lot more going for him than Kingston does. To me, this was here to fill time and they did a decent job for what it was.
Then we move on to the first of two main events, as Naruki Doi and Masato Yoshino took on SHINGO and Dragon Kid. I said before that when I was there live I thought Davey-YAMATO was the best match on the show, but on second viewing this match was even better. It's so funny because the first time I saw SHINGO on June 3, 2006 I was not at all impressed, he seemed like a slow, boring power wrestler, but since then he has turned into such a great worker it's scary. The story behind this one was that Dragon Kid had beaten Yoshino in singles matches on both of the first two DGUSA shows, and Yoshino had refused to shake hands with him after both matches, leading to a backstage scuffle that set this match up. This totally blew me away, and it wasn't like they just went out there and went nuts from the start, they started slow and then gradually built the match more and more until they had the crowd on their feet by the end. There was one spot I really liked where Dragon Kid had Doi in an Octopus while Yoshino had SHINGO in an Octopus, and Dragon Kid and Yoshino hate each other so much that they were smacking each other while they had the hold on their other opponent. It was just nuts. Yoshino finally got his win over Dragon Kid by putting him away with some kind of weird leg choke, and then mockingly stuck his hand out at Kid. Shoving match ensues and SHINGO and Dragon Kid leave, prompting the Young Bucks to come out and challenge Doi and Yoshino to a tag match.
Before the main event, we got a really good promo from Jon Moxley, who talked about how he hasn't allowed himself to be programmed like everyone else and he knows who and what he is, and everybody else calls him trouble and a waste of talent, but he's going to show everyone what he's all about and he doesn't want to hurt anyone, he just wants what's his. I really liked the promo, and Moxley grows on me more and more each time I see him. The first time you look at him you think he's some scrubby indy guy, but he cuts a hell of a promo and I can almost see him becoming, if not quite on the same level, the same kind of holier than thou, cult leader type character.
And with that, we move on to the finals of the tournament for the Open The Freedom Gate Title, and in case you're just joining us, our participants are Gran Akuma, BxB Hulk, CIMA, and YAMATO. The story of this match was that Akuma and YAMATO were working together, but CIMA and Hulk both opted to go out for themselves instead of working together against Akuma and YAMATO. There were a couple of things that surprised me about this match, the first was that it only went about 15 minutes, because I'm one of those people that hates it when a match that includes three falls is squeezed into the amount of time it takes for a normal, single fall match to finish. I think guys end up taking falls way more quickly that they normally would, and I know in this case you can say "Well, they're all tired because they already wrestled once", but I still think 15 minutes is too short, I wouldn't have done it in less than 25. The second thing that surprised me was that CIMA was the first guy eliminated, going down in about 5 minutes. It just caught me off guard, I'd never seen the guy do a pinfall job before this match and he's THE guy in Dragon Gate, so I at least expected him to be one of the final two. Once CIMA was gone, Akuma and YAMATO kept working Hulk over and Hulk had to throw everything but the kitchen sink at Akuma to get rid of him, and then it came down to he and YAMATO, who already held a victory over him on a previous DGUSA show. Hulk finally got the win, and then Davey Richards came out to challenge Hulk and, together with YAMATO, beat the new champion down, but Dragon Kid ran out to make the save and hand the belt to Hulk, who it was already announced that he would be challenging at the next DGUSA event.
While I wouldn't say this show was quite as good as the first two DGUSA events in terms of the in-ring wrestling, it was still very good, featured two awesome matches in Davey-YAMATO and Dragon Kid/SHINGO-Doi/Yoshino, and the main event crowned the first DUGSA Champion, and I always love tournament format shows. Plus, it set up some good stuff in the future with Young Bucks-Doi/Yoshino, Hulk-Dragon Kid, and seeing where we would go with the Davey Richards/YAMATO and Brian Kendrick/Jon Moxley alliances. Overall, thumbs up for this one and it made me want to see more.
But that's not all, because this show comes with a bonus DVD with several matches that weren't on the PPV portion of the show and a boatload of other stuff. The first two matches were on the bonus card prior to the PPV taping portion of the evening, and the first of those featured Kyle O'Reilly taking on Adam Cole. This was pretty much a showcase for O'Reilly, who was trained by Tony Kozina and Davey Richards and has tons of potential. He's only been around a few years, but he's really solid and works a similar sort of stiff, believable style to what Richards does. He's still got a ways to go, but he's got potential written all over him. O'Reilly put Cole away with a brainbuster after a series of butterfly suplexes.
Speaking of potential, the second bonus match pitted B-Boy against Jon Moxley. B-Boy is a guy that I think had a lot of potential to do more than he did, but for some reason he never got there. He was always a top guy in the indies he was a regular in like PWG, CZW, and JAPW, but for whatever reason he never got a shot to move up from there, and it could be that he's not a great promo, but I enjoy watching him wrestle because everything he does looks like it kills his opponent, even though it obviously doesn't. I guess that's a mystery we'll just never know the answer to, but I feel like his window has unfortunately closed. I've already mentioned that I like Moxley, and these two had a really good, really hard hitting match. In the world of professional wrestling, no matter what does or does not work, two guys just beating the starch out of each other will ALWAYS get over, and that's what we got here. There was one point where Moxley went to do something off the top rope and slipped and tumbled off the top rope, and the crowd started getting on his case about it and he just got this big smile and laughed it off, and I thought that was a great reaction. Too often I see guys lose their step and blow some move and they get this panicked look on their face like they're getting pulled over or something, and I think if the wrestlers act like it doesn't matter, it'll quickly shut down the fans that ride them about it. Moxley got the tapout win with an armbar.
From there we go to a match from FIP's Third Anniversary Show, which saw YAMATO and BxB Hulk take on then-FIP World Champion Roderick Strong and then-FIP Tag Team Champion Jay Briscoe. Hey, I'm all for cross promotion, it makes everyone stronger, and since the same management is basically in charge of both companies, it's fine with me, especially since FIP could use a new outlet for some exposure. It's a bit ironic watching Hulk and YAMATO team up here since these guys have been bitter opponents since DGUSA started. I've seen this match before on the FIP, but I'm still kind of surprised that Hulk and YAMATO got the clean win. I found it interesting that some of the Florida fans, most of whom probably had no idea who Hulk or YAMATO were, started cheering for them before the end of the match. Hulk pinned Briscoe with a Here It Is Driver.
Next up we get a highlight video of the PPV portion of the show, featuring a lot of the more amazing and/or cringe inducing spots from different angles and, often, in slow motion. It really drove home how physical the DGUSA style is. That was followed by a 15 minute or so preview for Freedom Fight, which was the name of the PPV of this show. It featured a lot of short promos with the participants in the tournament and I liked that we got to hear them talk because it's always important to get into the heads of the wrestlers, but the one thing I have to say is that I don't like that they have different names for the DVD and PPV versions of the same show. I get that they're trying to present them differently and to different audiences, but it creates confusion, especially if you're a casual wrestling fan who's watching the Freedom Fight PPV and goes to the DGUSA website looking for the DVD, and you can't find it because the DVD has a different name. I'd just pick one name and stick with it.
Next we go to a match held in Dragon Gate back in Japan for the Open The Triangle Gate Title, which is their six man title. It was BxB Hulk, PAC, and Masato Yoshino taking on Don Fujii, Masaaki Mochizuki, and Akebono, who you may remember from Wrestlemania 21 when he wrestled Big Show in the sumo match. He was pretty much the star of the show, and he no-sold everything anyone did to him, which makes sense because he really is an enormous dude, he was quoted as being about 6'8" but I think he's gotta be bigger than that, and he's built like a tank. I have no idea if he wrestles professionally when he's not doing sumo, but he did seem to know what he was doing in there. The whole match revolved around Yoshino's team doing okay when Fujii or Mochizuki were in there, but were screwed when Akebono came in. In particular, a substory of the match had Yoshino literally trying everything he could to put a dent in Akebono to no avail, at least until late in the match. We also got a nice preview of the Hulk-Mochizuki match we're going to see at the First Anniversary Celebration. I liked that they included this, it was a great match that told a good story and I think it would be a good idea to include more Dragon Gate matches from Japan in future releases to build an interest in the North American fanbase and get them buying DVDs of the Japanese product as well.
We wrap things up with a FRAY! from the second night of the Jeff Peterson Memorial Cup 2009, and it wass a Royal Rumble style match where eliminations happen via pinfall instead of over the top. It included the eight guys who lost in the first round of the tournament, and even though I now wish I'd watched the Peterson Cup before watching this (since I now know the results of the first round), it was still a fun match. There were some interesting characters in there, such as Marion Fontaine, but I pretty much knew that Drake Younger was going to win because I didn't really see anyone at his level in here. This was like two matches, the first half was the Royal Rumble-style section, and then the second half was an extended segment with Younger and Scotty Vortekz, and even though Vortekz got in some hope spots and kicked out of some nasty stuff, you knew Younger was going over. This tournament was held in FIP by the way, so I would think that if they want people to buy FIP DVDs, they ought to start producing them since other than the Peterson Cup, they haven't released a new DVD since the end of 2008.
It's funny, I know the draw of this DVD set was the PPV disc, but the bonus stuff was strong enough that I think it could have stood as a separate DVD in its own right. Moxley-B-Boy, Hulk/YAMATO-Strong/Briscoe, and the six man from Japan were all really good, and the other matches serve as a solid undercard to them, with the PPV preview adding some storytelling and promos we didn't get on the main disc.
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Overall, you can't go wrong with this release. The PPV on its own was good, and when you throw in some quality bonus material it makes this an easy thumbs up. I enjoyed the show live, and liked it better on a second viewing. Big thumbs up from me, and if you want to find this or any other Dragon Gate USA release, go to www.dgusa.tv. I'll be back later in the week with a review of their next event, Fearless. Until then, thanks for reading and take care!