It remains to be seen if it made much of a splash with mainstream wrestling fans, but Dragon Gate USA’s debut pay-per-view show gave people looking for something different than the usual WWE and TNA fare reason to smile when it beamed its way onto cable systems across North America for the first time Friday night.
Fittingly entitled Enter The Dragon, the card packed five matches, all very good to outstanding, into a tight package that ran just under two hours. The show was taped in August at a venue with a long history in pro wrestling (The Arena in Philadelphia, formerly the ECW Arena) and featured more than a few trappings from Ring of Honor, where Dragon Gate USA Vice President Gabe Sapolsky previously served as head booker.
Despite a roster heavy on wrestlers from Japan, the fans in attendance sounded well-acquainted with the talent on display. Several segments between matches served to get PPV viewers up to speed on the rivals and factions from the parent Dragon Gate promotion.
The main event showcased one of those rivalries, as Shingo took on Open the Dream Gate champion and Dragon Gate ace Naruki Doi. Though Doi’s title was not on the line – Dragon Gate USA will crown its first Open the Freedom Gate champion during its third show this November – the match had the feel of a high stakes championship bout for all of its 20-plus minutes.
Shingo showed off his power in the opening minutes, shoving Doi down, shrugging off several shoulderblocks and nailing an Ace crusher. He hit a fist drop and a scoop slam but missed a double knee off the middle rope, allowing Doi to go to work on his left leg.
The fans chanted for both men as a sliding dropkick and a shinbreaker gave Doi an opening to lock on a Figure Four. Shingo flipped it over and showed off with some pushups, only to see the hold reversed again and making him scramble to the bottom rope.
Fighting through more damage to his leg, Shingo caught Doi attempting a cannonball into the corner and stood up to deliver a power bomb. An exchange of chops broke out with Doi on the losing end, and he was quickly sent right back down by a running lariat.
Shingo lifted his foe into the vertical suplex position and held him up for a 30-count by the fans before dropping him to the mat. More chops followed, and Shingo’s MANRIKI submission hold forced Doi to get to the ropes for a break.
The champ finally rallied by trapping Shingo in the ropes and hitting him with a flipping senton. It turned out to be short-lived, as Doi found himself kicking out after a middle rope knee drop and a Blood Fall.
Doi mounted another short burst of offense that was cut short by the Original Falconry and a running clothesline. He staggered around as he got peppered by forearm shots and was forced to kick out again.
Shingo fell victim to the Doi 555, then managed to use a reversal to score with his Made in Japan. After a battle of forearm strikes, Doi unleashed a flurry of slaps, a back elbow, a Bakatare Sliding Kick and a tiger suplex only to look on incredulously as the ref told him Shingo beat the count.
Despite a show of bravado from Shingo, two more Bakatare kicks softened him up for Doi’s Muscular Bomb, which finally got the pin and brought the show to a close.
Dragon Gate USA’s next pay-per-view is Untouchable, filming on September 6, 2009 and airing in November 2009.
The show opens abruptly with Dawn Marie announcing the first match. She’s definitely not the best ring announcer ever, or even very good for that matter. The production values are very reminiscent of old ECW shows, with perhaps slightly better lighting, a few extra video screens and a fancier entranceway. Lenny Leonard and Chikarason are our announcers for the evening.
Match 1 – BxB Hulk vs. Yamato
It’s clear very early on that the fans in attendance know these guys well. Hulk has a showy entrance complete with dancing girls. His dropkicks are equally impressive. The announcers sell Yamato’s MMA training, and he makes them look good by utilizing stiff kicks and various submission holds. I’m especially fond of the CBV, a variation of the crossface. The crowd chants “please don’t tap” for Hulk. Yamato is in trouble after getting nailed by an EVO, but he manages to roll away from a Phoenix Splash. Hulk kicks out of a brainbuster and a release German suplex, but Yamato connects with Gallaria and puts him away. As openers go, that was pretty darn good. Now someone who understands Japanese just has to explain to me what the deal is with the BxB.
Winner… Yamato at 15 minutes and 19 seconds.
Match Rating: 8.5/10
Right after the match, a highlight package is shown. That’s a nice little touch for bouts with as many crazy moves and nice spots as these have. We also go into the locker rooms of Naruki Doi and Shingo. The announcers go over the background of Dragon Gate, sell Shingo’s past as a bodybuilder and reveal that he was the very first graduate from Dragon Gate’s training program.
Match 2 – Amasis, Icarus, Gran Akuma and Hallowicked vs. Mike Quackenbush, Jigsaw, and The Colony (Soldier Ant and Fire Ant)
The fans are really showing these guys some love, as they work for Philly’s own Chikara promotion. Leonard explains why Hallowicked is teaming with the heels and that Quackenbush trained everyone else in the match. There’s no point in me recapping all the high-flying moves in this one. A lot of them flow directly into pinning attempts or submissions, which you don’t often see in the bigger promotions. As you might expect, there’s a sequence right before the finish where just about everyone unleashes some kind of aerial move. Akuma has a cool spot where he hits an Exploder off the top rope but pulls himself back up and follows with a moonsault. After all the bodies are done hurtling around, Jigsaw pins Icarus with his finisher, the Jig and Tonic.
Winner… Quackenbush, Jigsaw and The Colony at 17 minutes and 25 seconds.
Match Rating: 7.5/10
Quackenbush asks the fans rhetorically if Dragon Gate and Chikara make a splendid combination. He says they are really part of the same extended family because of the training they’ve received from Jorge Rivera. Some clips are shown of Rivera that are sped up for some reason. Mike says he feels like there’s a bit of sibling rivalry in the locker room and issues a challenge for anyone from Dragon Gate to take on any one of his guys. Yamato appears to answer the challenge… or at least I think that’s what he’s doing as I don’t speak Japanese. I do understand the universal language of violence, so I get it when he punks Quackenbush. Jigsaw quickly flies back into the ring followed by Akuma, but he turns on his Chikara brethren and helps Yamato instead. The Colony finally clears the ring but it seems Yamato and Gran Akuma are new BFFs.
Match 3 – Masato Yoshino (w/ Naruki Doi) vs. Dragon Kid (w/ Shingo)
Leonard tells us these two have a longstanding rivalry, though Yoshino has won the last three times they’ve faced off. One thing that’s apparent right off the bat is that both men are super fast, though Yoshino also can slow it down with some ground-based moves. Dragon Kid shows off some cool moves like the Déjà vu (a headscissors takedown where he spins around his opponent multiple times) and the Bermuda Triangle (a springboard moonsault from the middle turnbuckle in the ring out to the floor). Yoshino is no slouch either, using several maneuvers that lead right into submissions. Dragon Kid eventually wins with a Dragonrana.
Winner… Dragon Kid at 13 minutes and 24 seconds.
Match Rating: 8/10
Kid offer his foe a handshake and is shoved down for his trouble. Doi and Shingo have a brief staredown. Oh, and throwing streamers is definitely another ROH custom that has made its way over to Dragon Gate USA.
Match 4 – The Young Bucks (Nick and Matt Jackson) vs. Cima and Susumu Yokosuka
This match probably sets the pro wrestling record for most fringes on the participants’ boots and trunks. Also, though it’s been said elsewhere, Matt Jackson looks exactly like a miniature Matt Hardy. The Young Bucks show great teamwork, and Quackenbush joins the announcers to deliver the understatement of the year when he says that tag team wrestling has become a lost art in North America. Cima and Yokosuka are the heels, and they slow the pace and bend the rules as necessary. The Bucks do some stuff I’ve never seen, like when Matt does a swinging kick between the ropes and skins the cat while Nick dives over the top of him to the floor. The ending sequence begins when the Jackson hit a move called the Worst Case Scenario. Cima comes in with a huge clothesline and a Perfect Driver, but Matt kicks out. He soon finds himself stuck in a corner so Cima can hit a coast-to-coast dropkick. The heels hit a double team move off the top rope and Nick comes flying out of nowhere to make the save. A Cima superkick catches his partner by mistake, setting up a move the Jacksons call More Bang for Your Buck: a 450 Splash by Nick followed by a moonsault by Matt. That proves to be the winner, and the fans show their appreciation by chanting for everyone involved.
Winners… The Young Bucks at 17 minutes and 32 seconds.
Match Rating: 9/10
Back to the locker rooms again, as we see Shingo and Doi preparing for their match. Leonard talks up their rivalry but also says this is a whole new ballgame here in the U.S.
Main Event – Shingo vs. Naruki Doi
Winner… Naruki Doi at 20 minutes and 39 seconds.
Match Rating: 8.5/10
Total event time: one hour and 58 minutes
Event Rating: 8.5/10