Saturday 8 March 2014

DG USA Way of the Ronin 2014 review

When writing about REVOLT! 2014 (read that here) I said that some of the matches could have had some time trimmed and that the show as a whole would have benefited from being a little shorter. Clocking in at over three hours, without the intermission, Way of the Ronin was actually longer than REVOLT! was. But it didn't feel it. A better selection of matches, a more aesthetically pleasing (though only slightly) venue, the presence of Chris Hero and Roderick Strong, and a livelier crowd (though the gang the night before had been perfectly fine) combined to make a superior show.

Tim Donst found himself in the opener for the second evening in a row. He was opposite perennial DG USA undercarder Caleb Konley. Konley won a spirited affair with the Au Face submission hold. Although he lost Donst was the more popular of the two. The fans booed the decision and chanted for Donst as he left.

Jay Freddie v Blake Edward Belakus was match two. It was another battle of the newcomers, part of the overhyped New Talent Initiative. Why overhyped? Because while it's a nice idea it didn't produce any stunning performances either on this show or at REVOLT! and none of the competitors seemed to have any buzz behind them. This was typified during the commentary for this bout when Lenny Leonard stated he didn't know much about Belakus and went on to mention that he was wearing "black tights and all black gear." Would it really have been that hard for him to speak to each newcomer to get some basics about each of them to use on commentary? You know, how long they've been wrestling, their influences, and their preferred in-ring styles? Apparently it was.

I thought the match was better than the opener. Belakus, who reminded me of comedian Joe Wilkinson, struck me as someone worth bringing back. He won after a Burning Hammer.

After the match Larry Dallas appeared. He told the two wrestlers that they belonged in Dragon Gate USA and told them the only way they'd get to the top would be joining up with him, as he had with Tim Donst and Chris Dickinson the previous evening. Jay Freddie walked off immediately. Belakus gave it a moment's thought but then followed suit. The crowd chanted "No one likes you!" as LD left.

There was more New Talent Initiative fun in match three as Yosuke Santa Maria took on Ethan Page (no relation to Adam). YSM was given flowers as he walked around the ring and an "Equal rights!" chant broke out before the bell sounded. The match they had was a comedy affair, as you'd expect. Yosuke does a better job than most of mixing humour with actual wrestling. He won with a crucifix bomb.

After that things got serious: a grudge match between Jigsaw and Fire Ant. They started out brawling into the crowd before returning to the ring to exchange dives, kicks and double stomps. Jigsaw took control with a bicycle kick and a Gory special. A double stomp on Fire Ant across the second rope got him two. ‘The Energetic Insectoid Grappler’ came back with a running knee, a bicycle kick of his own and a Burning Down the House.

Jigsaw regained control with a suplex, another double stomp and a dive to the outside. Back in the ring Jigsaw used a super kick and a brainbuster to get a two count. Fire Ant came off the second rope with a swinging DDT and a roundhouse kick, then recklessly dropped 'saw on his head with a Beach Break to gain a two count. Jigsaw performed a torture rack into a power bomb off the top rope. When that only got a two the crowd broke out in a "This is awesome!" chant.

Fire Ant dropped Jigsaw with a Beach Break on the apron, sending the wrestling puzzle piece sprawling to the concrete. Fire Ant scooped his foe up and rolled him back into the ring but got caught with a small package, giving Jigsaw the win in a fast-paced, spirited, and enjoyable effort. Afterwards he proclaimed himself the greatest wrestler in the world. That prompted a very brief CM Punk chant. I think it stopped after a couple of repeats because the fans got self-conscious. Bless 'em.

The first half's main event saw The Premier Athlete Brand take on Shane Strickland and Rich Swann. The Brand had Su Yung and Mr A with them. Swann and Strickland had Ivelisse. Presumably she was there to counter Su Yung more than Mr A. There was a lot of dancing before the match. The audience loved it. Who can blame them though? They're slick dancers are Swann and Strickland. The four men put on one of the best bouts of the weekend, a very nicely constructed tag encounter that drew the crowd in and made everyone involved look good and built to a red hot finishing sequence packed with signature moves, double teams and near falls.

It was The Premier Athlete Brand that got the win. They wiped out Swann with a top rope German suplex, then Barreta dropped Strickland with a running knee and Nese pinned him with a 450 splash.

After the match Nese talked up his plan to turn Mr A into the best big man in Dragon Gate history and Su Yung said they would be extending their brand. Swann was told he wasn't good enough for membership. His response was to sing about spending a night with Su Yung. That made her scream and Barreta and Nese flip out. Classic heel response.

The second half opened with the Bravado Brothers and two random wrestlers walking to the ring. For the second night in a row Harlem talked about his grandmother getting The Young Bucks suspended and Lance nearly getting paralysed at EVOLVE 27. Oh, and their zero tolerance policy on rule breaking.

They then brought out Moose, 'The Offensive Lineman of the Bravado Bandwagon' and had him job out the two randoms, who were identified as Earl Cooter and Xavier Fate. The fans chanted "Goldberg!" and "Feed me more!" as Moose obliterated both men in under two minutes. Strangely no mention was made of the New Talent Initiative even though none of the three were regulars.

The Gentlemen's Club, minus Orange Cassidy, hit the ring after the match and went face to face with the champions. They got jumped by the champions but made a comeback and had an even, back and forth match. The Bravados won via shenanigans. Lance distracted the referee, allowing Moose to spear Gulak. The brothers then followed up with a Gentlemen's Agreement. The match and the finish got the champions plenty of boos. The excessive outside interference team Sapolsky always seems to like to have on the books is something the Bravados would be well suited to. Stick another couple of guys with them and see what happens.

Chris Hero entered through the crowd wearing a balaclava for his EVOLVE championship match. There was no clear reason for this. Perhaps he just thought it would look and-or be cool. There were loud cheers for him. The same couldn't be said for AR Fox. His entrance was met with indifference. His in-ring announcement got a split reaction that eventually gave way to a chant for him. He had to work for his cheers in Brooklyn.

They started out with some slow technical wrestling, slipping in and out of the ring with holds applied. The holds gave when to moves when Hero booted Fox as he jumped up for a leapfrog. Not to be outdone ‘The Whole Foxin’ Show’ hit a springboard drop kick and a moonsault. Outside the ring he tried a ring post assisted shooting star press but Hero avoided it and smacked him with a boot to the face.

Back in the ring Hero slowed the pace, dropping knees on Fox and winding him with kicks. Unwindable, Fox clotheslined and drop kicked 'The Knockout Artist' in a corner and attempted a running shooting star press, but Hero lamped him with a rolling elbow for a two count. A yakuza kick moments later only scored a one count. Hero pummelled the champion with chops and kicks but couldn't keep him down.

Fox managed to mount a comeback with an enziguri, a drop kick on the apron, a pair of suicide dives and a top rope dive. That only got him a two count and a split chant back in the ring. Hero tried a rolling elbow but Fox ducked and dropped him with a springboard Ace Crusher. A Lo Mein Pain attempt was countered with a crisp big boot, and followed up with a dragon sleeper. When his power bomb attempt was blocked Hero cracked Fox in the mouth with an elbow. That stunned the champ and allowed Hero to perform a Ricola bomb (a nice nod to Hero's former tag partner Claudio 'Cesaro' Castsgnoli).

Champ and challenger traded blows, culminating in a Hero Death Blow for a convincing false finish. Fox made a comeback and dropped Hero with Lo Mein Pain. The crowd cheered loudly when the challenger kicked out. A 450 splash was avoided and turned into a cravat suplex, followed up by a yet another big boot and a second Death Blow rolling elbow. Finally Hero slapped on a modified dragon sleeper for the tap out win and the championship. That was a surprise, and one that went down very well with the New York fans. Lenny Leonard's claim that the match would be talked about for years to come was ridiculous but it was a very strong effort.

Fox handed the new champion his title after the match and the two hugged to "Yes!" chants. Trent Barreta turned up (on a gantry) and told Hero that Claudio was main eventing for WWE while he was back on the indies. Which seemed a weird putdown because Trent got released too (and it didn’t do much for the prestige of the Hero’s newly won EVOLVE championship). Trent laid into Hero's diet and conditioning and called him a failure (again, the title’s standing wasn’t helped here).

Anthony Nese and Mr A snuck into the ring and clobbered Hero. Fox came back to make the save but Caleb Konley was seconds behind him to put a stop to that. He was, it turned out, the newest member of The Premier Athlete Brand. Mr A tried hitting a top rope splash on AR Fox but, somehow, managed to botch it and ended up falling on his face instead. Nese got things back on track with a 450 on Hero. The heel squad then posed and talked smack to end a very good segment. Hero and Fox versus The Premier Athlete Brand has a number of singles matches that could be interesting.

The evening ended with ROH regular Roderick Strong challenging Johnny Gargano for the Open the Freedom Gate championship. This was Strong's debut for DG USA after his EVOLVE debut in January had to be postponed due to injury. For the record he wore a Camp Strong T-short to the ring. Decade merch isn't going to be appearing in DG USA anytime soon.

As with the EVOLVE title match Strong and Gargano started off exchanging holds and doing some mat wrestling. And performing chops. They would recur throughout the match. Because Roddy loves a chop. Gargano gained control with a well-timed boot and a slingshot spear. Several minutes later Rich Swann went to ringside and encouraged the fans to surround the ring and pound on the mat in support of Roddy.

That was the signal for Strong and Gargano to kick things up a gear. Strong took control with a suplex onto the top rope with a suplex and a back breaker. Running knees and an Angle slam didn't get the win for him. A slingshot DDT by Gargano didn't end things either. Strong hit a back breaker on the apron and applied the Stronghold. Gargano came back with the Gargano Escape. 'The Whole Shebang' hit a super kick and a lawn dart, then reapplied the submission hold. Strong escaped to the ropes. A Hurts Donut got a two for Gargano. A slingshot spear from 'The Bees' Knees' was turned into a butterfly back breaker by Strong, and was immediately followed by a half Nelson back breaker. Gargano survived the rolling elbow, a gut buster and the sick kick and then applied the Gargano escape for the third time to earn a victory by submission.

The Freedom Gate champ took a microphone and called himself a one man elimination chamber. I don't know what that's supposed to mean either, beyond being a terribly forced reference to the WWE show that occurred the same evening. As he blustered about being a hero to children (even going so far as to say his title belt is a cure for cancer) Rich Swann got into the ring and snatched the mic from him. He was there to hype the New Orleans shows and the defence Gargano will make against Ricochet. He did that and ensured that the card ended with cheers and the fans went home happy.

Way of the Ronin ended up being better than REVOLT! by a significant margin. But that was the plan of course. It was always intended to be the bigger event, with Roderick Strong and Chris Hero competing on it. Had CIMA been there for his scheduled match with Trent Barreta it would have been even better, but that was beyond Dragon Gate’s control and, as I said in the REVOLT! write up, they did a good job making last minute changes that resulted in worthwhile cards.

As well as they coped here let’s hope they don’t have to pull the same trick during WrestleMania weekend. Those shows are ones that have had a significant amount of work put into them as well as shows that are being relied on to entice new viewers into the fold. DG USA needs them to be big. Hopefully the Japanese parent company will recognise this and send over some big names. If they do I think New Orleans will see some hot DG action.

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