Monday 8 April 2013

Open the Ultimate Gate 2013 review

I’ve never written about Dragon Gate before. I’m slightly more familiar with the setup than I was with EVOLVE yesterday grab a link here), but it’s still not a promotion I’m intimately familiar with. I knew the main players and the general concept of the promotion and that was about it. Pleasingly it was another card that was very new viewer friendly.

That’s strange when you think about it: the weekend is big for indy wrestling because of WrestleMania, which is probably the least accessible WWE event of the year, and the indy feds produce their most accessible shows of the years to encourage new viewers. Anyway...
The show opened with Rich Swann singing his way to the ring to the strains of Lionel Richie. I assume this is modern pro wrestling, specifically Dragon Gate USA's, answer to Sandman entering to Enter Sandman. I think I prefer the ECW version. It’s more manly. His opponent was Brian Kendrick. I am familiar with his work.

Swann was revealed to be pretty over with the crowd once he’d stopped singing. The two men worked a fast pace that was slowed down at various points by Kendrick, playing the veteran who knows that a slower approach suited him against Swann. Kendrick survived a Lethal injection, a frog splash and a standing shooting star press but eventually went down to a spinning jump kick after a failed Sliced Bread Number Two.

Chuck Taylor, the living shoe, joined the defeated Spanky in the ring. Fans briefly chanted for him but started booing as he told Kendrick that the Gentlemen’s Club are better than him. He noted that Kendrick had everything he could have wanted from wrestling and threw it all away, so he’s in no position to lecture anyone. I assume this referred to his spot in WWE rather than his more recent stint with TNA.

Spanky said they'd find out who was better on the next evening’s show. He threw the mic in Taylor's face as he left. Whadda bad boy! Chucky T stayed in the ring for his scheduled six way match. Shane Strickland, Fire Ant, Anthony Nese, Jigsaw, and Arik Cannon came out to join him. The entrances took an age, peculiar when you consider the intimate (read small) size of the venue.

This was what you'd expect. Everyone got to go on offence and do a spot of selling, and there was the obligatory series of dives to the outside (which promoted a "Dragon Gate" chant). Strickland earned the ire of the fans when he botched the momentum of his dive. I'm sure he felt foolish.

Anthony 'Don't Call Me Tony' Nese won. Cannon dropped Strickland on his head and 'The Premier Athlete' followed up with a 450 splash. The match was excellent and did a very good job of firing up the audience.

Scott Reed of The Scene and the nondescript Derek Ryze had the difficult task of following that. Sadly, only Larry Dallas was with Reed. I wasn't interested in seeing Caleb Konley but it would've been nice if Trina Michaels had been out there. Dallas screeched into a microphone before the match but I couldn't make out a word he said. I doubt I missed much, although it may have provided a reason for the post match developments.

Reed won a pretty basic match with a swinging inverted DDT. Afterwards Konley appeared in the ring, called Dallas a greaseball and told him to shut up. He informed him that he and Reed were better than The Scene and that they were quitting the stable. They went to leave but Reed swerve turned on Konley. The segment ended up with Marti Belle and Konley laying out Dallas. The point of this, beyond a random face turn for Caleb Konley, eluded me.

Jon Davis was out next to the same half-hearted heat that he'd received at the previous evening's show. Trent?, formerly Trent Barreta of WWE, was his opponent for the evening. Yep, he’s spelling it with a question mark on the end. I'm sure someone, somewhere was excited by this debut. It wasn't me. I'm not happy Barreta got released but I can understand why it happened. He was never going to be a big star in WWE. A spot in Dragon Gate probably isn't going to make him as much money but it will be more creatively rewarding.

Well, it will be if he's given something worthwhile to do. His debut saw him pick up a win via disqualification after receiving a series of headbutts from Davis while slumped in a corner. After that Davis floored the referee with a clothesline and hit Three Seconds Around the World on Trent?. Davis cut another promo saying that he'll make everyone in the promotion miserable because he's miserable.

An open challenge was issued, Davis encouraging fans to chant for their heroes. Cries for Super Dragon and Hulk Hogan (yes, Hulk Hogan) filled the arena. Nobody answered. Not even ‘The Hulkster’, brother.

A more interesting debut was next. Newcomer Tomahawk TT teamed with EITA to take on the Super Smash Brothers. I hadn't heard of either of the Japanese guys but I'm a fan of SSB so I assumed the match would be good. It was.

It was a mixture of comedy spots and solid tag team wrestling. A big deal was made of Tomahawk's stiff chops, with both Players selling them as the most devastating they'd ever felt. Tomahawk kicked out of a 450 splash in what was a convincing false finish. He also scored the win for his team with a version of the Michinoku Driver on Dos after EITA had wiped out Uno with a dive. Fans chanted "That was awesome!" and "Please come back!" afterwards. I agree with the sentiment. Handshakes and hugs ended the star-making segment.

The idea was that TT, who had been billed as CIMA's secret weapon, was being built up for the following evening's six man headliner. I think the mission was achieved handily. Tomahawk TT left looking like a star. That's what a good debut can do for a newcomer. Just ask Fandango.

Match number six was one of the reasons I bought the show. It pitted celebrated high-flyer Ricochet against the fantastic and hilarious Akira Tozawa. The latter is one of my favourite guys on the Dragon Gate roster. Check him out on YouTube or, better yet, buy this event.

Tozawa, who got the streamer treatment when he entered, was accompanied by Christina Von Eerie. That explained the altercation after Ricochet's match at EVOLVE 19. Lenny Leonard did a poor job of explaining that at the time and, indeed, here.

Highlights included: a springboard shooting star press to the outside from Ricochet; a trio of suicide dives from Tozawa; a series of chops from Tozawa that saw him speed up and slow down (which was pretty amusing); a high angle Regalplex from Ricochet, something I hadn't expected to see; a German suplex on the apron from Tozawa to Ricochet; and the match-winning backslide driver-630 senton combo. The two men had a great match and showed why they're a focal point of Dragon Gate USA.

After the match Tozawa spat his mouth guard in Ricochet's face. Bizarrely, Ricochet just accepted that, putting the guard into his own mouth before leaving.

During intermission we were treated to some ads and a video about Uhaa Nation's nine months of physiotherapy. The latter did a pretty good job of emphasising the importance of Nation's return to the ring. The music tried a bit too hard to be tear jerking though. It ended up verging on the humorous.

That return to the ring opened the second half. Uhaa Nation, Goldberg-esque entrance music and all, wrestled Sami Callihan. 'The New Horror' heard plenty of boos as he entered the arena. That was surprising considering his babyface actions following the losing effort he'd entered in the previous evening's main event.

What followed was a pretty even match that was perfectly decent but that I had trouble getting into. I think part if my problem was a slight disinterest in Uhaa Nation. The returnee got the win with a Gorilla press, followed by a standing moonsault and a standing shooting star. Leonard referenced the Uhaa Combination. If that’s the name of this regular series of moves it's very impressive. Callihan limped backstage leaving Uhaa to flex himself silly in the ring.

Second to last for the evening was the Open the United Gate match. Challengers the Young Bucks faced champions CIMA and AR Fox. All four men got very strong reactions when they entered. Sadly Fox wasn't wearing his shiny new EVOLVE belt. I would have liked to see that.

The audience was split in the opening portion of the match but gradually got behind the champions. The reason? Probably something to do with the Bucks' unbridled arrogance. Constant crotch chops and air guitar are apparently very effective ways of turning fans against you.

Fox eventually got cut off from CIMA. The tag out after this sequence was less hot and more luke warm. The champs should've milked the moment far more. I suppose it doesn't matter: moments later ‘The Whole Foxin’ Show’ had forgotten all about selling and was sailing over the top rope to ringside. Indy psychology again.

From there the already fast pace quickened and we were treated to some pretty dazzling double team moves from the champs, most notably an Iconoclasm followed by a Swanton and a surfboard-450 splash combo. Not to be outdone the Bucks hit a double superkick, a buckle bomb-enziguri combo, and a springboard spike Tombstone piledriver. The resultant two count came across as a botched finished after CIMA was late making the save. Ultimately it was the Bucks who won having hit a second double superkick and More Bang for Your Buck on AR Fox.

AR Fox came out to gloat about the 'The Whole Foxin' Show' having lost his tag belt. Meanwhile Nick and Matt left playing air guitar with their new straps. CIMA and Fox he braced in the ring and got a standing ovation from fans. The tag title bout was a great display. A rematch would be good, partly to see if this display can be topped.

Lenny Leonard risked getting blown up by doing the introductions for the main event in the ring. For a guy whose job it is to talk he has a worrying tendency to lose his breath.

The headline bout saw Open the Freedom Gate champion Johnny Gargano defending his title (or is that Gate?) against Shingo. It was Shingo's first Dragon Gate USA appearance in two years and the fans were pleased to see him. Big deal, is he?

Open the Ultimate Poster
This was another great match in a weekend full of them. It featured a bit of everything: fast paced exchanges, submission holds, wacky crowd brawling, dives (from Gargano), a blistering closing sequence, and, of course, stiff chops. It was a fitting and enjoyable end to a very strong card.

The story was Shingo's power versus Gargano's speed and, more importantly, need to prove himself. Here Lenny Leonard did a great job (making up for the iffy performances I've mentioned elsewhere), telling of Gargano's start in DG USA and desperation to prove himself the equal of his Japanese heroes. Of course Shingo and Gargano did a solid job of telling this story in the ring too, but Leonard’s additions helped to sell the story. That's what a good wrestling commentator should do.

As the match wore on ‘The Whole Shebang’ stood up to more and more punishment, building to a fantastic exchange which saw both men pelting each other with clotheslines and kicks, bouncing up as soon as they were downed. The story reached its dramatic conclusion when Gargano kicked out of Shingo’s Made in Japan and Pumping Bomber finishers and then, realising he couldn’t beat the man from Japan clean, choked him out with some chord yanked from his trunks.

Having pinned his foe, the presumably-newly-heel Johnny Gargano pinned Shingo to retain his Open the Freedom Gate championship. Fans did not react kindly to the finish. Moments before the pinfall they’d been chanting “Match of the year!” I wouldn’t quite go that far yet, but it was shaping up to be pretty good. The finish dropped it in my estimations. It was still one of the top two matches of the weekend though, along with CM Punk versus Undertaker.

Gargano cut a promo telling the fans to thank themselves and saying that their support was appreciated by everyone in the locker room and their cheers were the greatest accomplishment of his career. I liked that. It’s the sort of promo babyfaces usually cut at the ends of these sorts of events. Ending the broadcast with Gargano expressing this sentiment nicely underlined his turn to the dark side.

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