Dragon Gate USA becomes slightly misnamed in our next DVD review, as they make their Canadian debut in Windsor, Ontario with Open The Northern Gate. The company made a small tactical error in running this show on the Canadian side of the border (instead of Detroit, which is across the river) and it resulted in a smaller attendance that what they were hoping for, but that didn't stop them from putting forth one of their best showings to date in an already impressive string of terrific events.
The DVD opened with a backstage interview with Jimmy Jacobs, who says that even though he's often had a crowd around him, he's going to stand on his own and represent himself against Jon Moxley. We follow that with a video package looking at the history of Masato Yoshino and Dragon Kid in Dragon Gate USA, leading into their 2 out of 3 falls match later on this show. These two had been going at it for years, and their in-ring rivalry became some of the highlights of the early Dragon Gate six man tags on the ROH Wrestlemania weekend events. Their match later on was billed as their final encounter in Dragon Gate USA, and I'll believe that when I see it, but even separately from their feud in Japan, these two have had an intense rivalry that's been a major part of nearly every event that DGUSA has had so far, with each man getting their share of wins, and it's been a great build to their climactic final showdown tonight. We'd get these video packages throughout the DVD in between matches, and it really gave the match tonight that special, big match feel.
We then move on to our first match, as Kamikaze USA members Gran Akuma & Akira Tozawa took on Mike Quackenbush & Jigsaw of CHIKARA Sekigun. These two factions had been going at it for several events now, and this feud would eventually lead to a big blowoff match on the DGUSA First Anniversary Show a couple of months after this. Now, I know I complain a lot about the CHIKARA six man tags you see on a lot of DGUSA and EVOLVE shows, but the major complaint I have about them is that they're just there for the sake of being there and it's the same match over and over and it never goes anywhere. The difference here, and the reason I like watching Quackenbush and his guys in these situations, is that we've got an actual feud that built to a blowoff on a major show, and it gave the CHIKARA guys a sense of purpose that you don't usually get in the six mans. Even in terms of the actual wrestling, I much prefer seeing the CHIKARA guys work traditional tag matches than the six mans, which are all spot-spot-spot-spot-spot. One glaring mistake I saw them make, however, was that Jigsaw spent most of the match getting beat up by Kamikaze USA, but when he got the opportunity to make the hot tag, he instead went for a dive over the top rope, and I really don't like the mentality where it's more important to do spots than it is to tell the story of the match. As for the Kamikaze USA side, I only saw Tozawa for the first time about a week and a half ago when I went to the Fall River and Rahway shows, and the guy cracks me up. He's obviously one of the junior members of the team, but he's got a bizarre, comedic charisma that makes him a lot of fun to watch. Solid tag match that really picked up at the end when Jigsaw pinned Akuma to get the win, but then YAMATO and SHINGO ran in and attacked the CHIKARA guys. Jon Moxley came out after the beatdown to celebrate with his buddies, and then they all headed to the back while Quack and Jigsaw were left laying in the ring.
Moxley was back in the ring within minutes as he defended the FIP Title against Phil Atlas in Moxley's first title defense after winning it mere weeks earlier in Florida. This was basically just a showcase for Moxley and a chance to get FIP a little promotional love, and even though FIP has a pretty solid history in the state of Florida, they'd been running less shows for several years leading into this event, and in 2010 fell even further down the list of priorities for owner Sal Hamaoui as he became more deeply involved in the Dragon Gate USA and EVOLVE projects. It's too bad, because FIP was at one time one of the bigger independents in the country that had a unique, old school flavor to it that you don't get in many places anymore, as well as a place that gave several local Florida talents a stage that led to bigger opportunities elsewhere. Solid match, I was impressed with what I saw from Atlas, and of course anyone who's read my other DGUSA columns knows how much I like Moxley, and everything chugged along until Kamikaze USA came out and beat up Atlas on the floor, then threw him in the ring where Moxley caught him in the Crossface Chicken Wing for the tapout victory.
The next bout saw CIMA taking on Jimmy Jacobs, and I found this to be an interesting pairing because, while DGUSA has made more moves over the last few shows to integrate the Japanese and North American talent with stuff like the draft at the iPPV, they had previously been largely kept in their own separate universes, and other than a special appearance like Bryan Danielson or PAC, you really didn't see much interaction between Japanese and North American wrestlers. Jimmy's story coming in here is that he has played the faction game in the past, but is now out to prove that he can do it on his own, so to that end he wanted a match with the biggest singles star on the Dragon Gate roster. I'm kind of torn on that because I love Jimmy Jacobs' work, I think he has a tremendous mind for the business, pays attention to details, knows how to tell a story with his matches, and can cut a hell of a promo, and I think with everything he's given to the business over the last several years in terms of the damage he's done to his own body, he deserves something for it. But as much as I like him, I have to be fair and admit that it's hard to accept a guy his size as being able to compete physically with a guy like CIMA who, while not a giant in his own right, is a lot more athletically gifted than Jimmy. Jimmy is a lot like a Michael Hayes in that respect because, while Hayes sucked in the ring, he had every other gift you need to be successful in the business, and the Freebirds worked the best when Buddy and Terry did the wrestling and let Michael do the talking. It was kind of the same thing with Jimmy and Age Of The Fall, and while I do think that Jimmy's a lot better in the ring than Michael Hayes ever was, I still don't see champion written all over him.
That said, Jimmy's size works to his advantage when wrestling matches like this where the story is that he's the clear underdog, if for no other reason than the fact that CIMA is The Man in Dragon Gate, and Jimmy takes incredible amounts of physical abuse and killer move after killer move, but keeps coming back and keeps fighting well beyond the point where you'd expect him to be unable to continue. Jimmy had CIMA in trouble with the End Time in the middle of the ring, but CIMA got to the ropes and then hit Jimmy with a Perfect Driver, Jimmy kicks out. CIMA gives Jimmy a Perfect Driver off the top rope, Jimmy kicks out. CIMA hits the Schwein, Jimmy kicks out. Finally, CIMA gets a double kneedrop off the top rope right onto Jimmy's chest and that's finally enough to put Jimmy away. Jimmy looked awesome in defeat, and it was booked well as the first step on Jimmy's eventual road to a shot at the Open The Freedom Gate Title, as he gave it his best shot against the best wrestler in DGUSA, but he lost, and then he blew off CIMA's handshake and walked out because he was frustrated with himself for blowing it. You never believed that Jimmy had a chance of winning here, but it was a great match nonetheless and both guys busted their asses here.
Next up was Naruki Doi vs Masaaki Mochizuki and, other than Dragon Kid-Yoshino, this was the match I was most looking forward to because I love watching both guys, Doi because he's such an awesome, complete worker, and Mochizuki because it's just fun to watch him kick the crap out of people. Johnny Gargano came out before the match with gifts for both guys and offering his services for their respective stables, and it was a pretty funny segment where Gargano tried pawning off a bunch of crappy old movies on VHS on Mochizuki (apparently not realizing that the Japanese are probably seven video standards past Blu Ray by this point), and Doi thanked Gargano for the stuffed animal he received, then told Gargano to go home. Funny stuff, Gargano really cracks me up and in a lot of ways, I seem him channeling the spirit of Stevie Richards as a clueless putz. I love it.
But with that little interlude out of the way, we can now get down to business. Mochizuki spent the early part of the match working over Doi's knee with kicks and half crabs, and then as the match progressed started just destroying Doi with kicks. Doi's a small guy, but I didn't realize until he was in the ring with Mochizuki how much bigger Mochizuki is. Doi mounted a comeback late in the match, but Mochizuki regained control and just started KILLING Doi with running kicks in the corner, and then a series of spinkicks and an overhead kick knocked Doi out cold and allowed Mochizuki to cover him for the win. Mochizuki started building steam here that would eventually lead to him challenging for the Open The Freedom Gate Title at the First Anniversary Show. Awesome match.
Mike Quackenbush and Jigsaw cut a backstage promo telling Kamikaze USA that they're sick of them and their feud needs to come to an end, which would of course lead to the match at the First Anniversary Show that I mentioned earlier, and then we move on to a Maximum Pro Wrestling showcase match as John Bolen & Tyson Dux took on Xtremo & Brad Martin. In case you're wondering why Maximum Pro Wrestling would get a showcase match, or why Phil Atlas got a shot at the FIP Title earlier on the show, a lot of times what will happen is that when a company like DGUSA runs in a new market such as Canada, they'll need a local promoter to help them promote the show and/or use their promoter's license, and as part of the deal the local promoter will say "Okay, but you have to get some of my guys on the show." Sometimes this arrangement doesn't work out so well (as in the case of the stiffs who worked the preshow of the iPPV in Massachusetts), but in this case it did because these four guys had a really solid match with a ton of action and really put Maximum's best foot forward. Very stiff match too, nobody held back a bit here, at times it was like watching four Kevin Von Erichs out there with some of the shots they were laying in on each other. I also liked that all these guys looked like wrestlers and looked like they know what the inside of a gym looks like, and in particular I think Tyson Dux has a great look. You might remember Dux from some of his appearances on ROH shows over the last year or so, and you might be surprised to learn that he's been around for something like 15 years because he looks like a guy in his mid 20s. I was really impressed with Dux when I saw him on the ROH shows in Buffalo and Toronto back in June, I think he's a solid worker with a great look, reminiscent of a young Stunning Steve Austin, and I think he'd be a great addition to either the DGUSA/EVOLVE or ROH rosters if he's an easy guy to get ahold of. Dux and Bolen get the win when Bolen nails Martin from the floor and Dux rolls him up for the win. Awesome match, much better than what I usually expect when I see local guys on the lineup, and I enjoyed this match a lot.
Finally it's time for the feature match of the show (which, strangely, is not in the main event spot), as Masato Yoshino takes on Dragon Kid for the final time in Dragon Gate USA in a 2 out of 3 falls match. This was a big weekend for Yoshino, who would go on the following evening to challenge BxB Hulk for the Open The Freedom Gate Title regardless of what happened here. They split the first two falls, and then really kicked it into high gear for the third and final fall and threw everything they had at each other, including some insane stuff like a standing top rope Frankensteiner on Yoshino and a top rope Slingblade on Dragon Kid, until Yoshino finally made Dragon Kid submit to the Twisty Leg Choke Thing. After blowing each other off after every prior match in DGUSA, Yoshino and Dragon Kid finally shake hands out of respect after this last match in the feud. This was a big weekend for Yoshino, and now with the Dragon Kid feud finally behind him, he could concentrate completely on his title shot against BxB Hulk the next night. Like I said, I have to think these two will face off again in DGUSA, but even if it's not for a while, I thought this was a good ending to close the book on this feud, at least for now.
This all brings us to the main event of the evening, as Open The Freedom Gate Champion BxB Hulk and PAC take on Open The Dream Gate Champion YAMATO and SHINGO of Kamikaze USA. Yoshino and Dragon Kid really should have been the main event on this show, and I get that they want to save the guest star for last, but it's not like we're talking about Mitsuharu Misawa here, PAC really isn't that big a star that he has to be saved for last like somebody of a higher stature. Don't get me wrong, he's amazing to watch in the ring, he's just not really worthy of going on after a big blowoff to a long-running feud like Dragon Kid and Yoshino. That said though, I thought this was a better match than Yoshino-Dragon Kid in terms of the in-ring wrestling, and where Yoshino-Dragon Kid was both guys playing it straight because they wanted to prove that they were the better man, this was more of a fight because of the heat between both sides. The subplot here was that you had the two singles champions on opposite sides and, with their own history in DGUSA, both Hulk and YAMATO wanted to prove that they were the better champion. Hulk and PAC controlled the match early until it spilled out to the floor and turned into more of a fight, at that point the Kamikaze USA guys took over. Hulk and SHINGO had a good segment that foreshadowed the awesome match they had at the iPPV, and then finally it broke down into the usual finish where everybody just goes nuts throwing everything they have out there and destroying each other, and it came down to YAMATO killing Hulk with a string of high impact moves until finally finishing Hulk with a sitout piledriver for the win. Unbelievable match, and I think it was the right move to have YAMATO pin Hulk, because with YAMATO about to drop the OTDG Title shortly after this event, it sets up the YAMATO-Hulk OTFG Title rematch I've been hoping to see down the line.
The DVD closes with Masato Yoshino backstage asking Jimmy Jacobs to help World-1 against Kamikaze USA, but Jacobs turns him down saying he's tired and just wants to go. He walks outside and is attacked by Jon Moxley, who said that he keeps score, and this one's for Brian Kendrick, and tomorrow night will be for him.
Awesome show, I really liked this event a lot and it kept DGUSA's string of blowaway shows going. I would have flipped the last two matches and put Yoshino & Dragon Kid on last, but other than that one minor point this show was awesome. But wait, we're not done! Time to move on to...
As usual, this Dragon Gate USA event came with a bonus disc full of extra stuff, and the first match on the bonus disc came from FIP's Year Of The Dragon event on 2/17/06 as Bryan Danielson defended the FIP Title against Matt Sydal. I thought it was a great idea to put this match on here because it happened during the mysterious stretch of FIP during which none of the events were released on DVD, and this is a great way to get the important matches out without wasting time doing DVD production so we can see Jaison Moore vs Masked Fipper #673. It's also a great way to give something to the WWE fans who know Daniel Bryan and Evan Bourne, but might not know about their pre-WWE history or that they were once pushed commodities who had way better matches than what they're allowed to show in WWE. Interestingly, they worked a different style than what you might expect if they locked up since FIP had more of an old school NWA style in-ring product, but it was still a great match and a lot of the big moves like Sydal moonsaulting onto Danielson on the floor or Danielson giving Sydal a back suplex off the top rope look a lot more impressive when you're in a smaller venue like the building in Clearwater this show was in. That back suplex got the win for Danielson, who was making his first FIP Title defense in this match.
Next up was Dragon Kid & King Shisa taking on then-Open The Dream Gate Champion Susumu Yokosuka & Keni'chiro Arai at WrestleJAM on 7/10/06. This was a lot like most Dragon Gate tag matches you'll see, but the difference here is that the WrestleJAM concept has Dragon Gate bringing in outside talent from other countries, so for example you get a lucha guy like King Shisa who will come in and add a bit of an international flavor to it. Really fun match with the usual fast and furious finish with all four guys killing each other with big moves until Dragon Kid pinned Arai with the Mega Hurricanrana.
The final two matches on the bonus disc both took place as part of the Summer Adventure Tag League III tournament from 2009, and the first of these saw Masato Yoshino & BxB Hulk take on then-Open The Dream Gate Champion Naruki Doi & Naoki Tanazaki. Both teams were members of World-1, and the tournament just worked out as such that they ended up facing each other for the right to move on to the semifinals. Another top notch tag match with all four guys giving it their all, but I do have to mention there were some severe production issues with the video of this match. First, the video was very obviously sped up at points, I guess to accentuate how fast all these guys are (which is insane, because it cause Yoshino to move so fast I'm surprised he didn't catch fire), and also they apparently only had one cameraman. This wouldn't normally be so much of an issue except that he would keep letting the camera down as he moved around the ring to shoot from another side, so we'd see either the crowd or the floor as he ran around the ring. It was actually perversely amusing, but did take away a bit from an otherwise excellent match. Yoshino caught a surprise win on Doi with a fancy hammerlocked inside cradle to score the necessary points to advance in the tournament.
With that victory, Hulk and Yoshino went on three days later to face Masaaki Mochizuki & Katsuhiko Nakajima in the tournament semifinals. You may remember Nakajima from his terrific series of matches in ROH in 2008, as well as his insanely stiff kicks. Yeah, Nakajima and Mochizuki are not the team I would want to get into a kicking match with. By this point in the review, I've run out of different ways to describe how awesome these Dragon Gate tag matches are, so I'll just say this match kicked ass, Mochizuki and Nakajima did things with kick combos that looked like they would have knocked Atlas out cold, and Mochizuki pinned Hulk with a Dragon Suplex that Hulk almost kicked out of at the last moment. With that win, Mochizuki and Nakajima moved on to face SHINGO & YAMATO in the finals, and since that match is not on this DVD, a quick check on the Internet tells me that SHINGO and YAMATO beat Mochizuki and Nakajima to win the tournament when YAMATO beat Mochizuki via TKO.
Finally, we wrap up the bonus disc with a highlight package of the main Open The Northern Gate show, featuring some of the best stuff from the event. A lot of the shots on the highlight video were from different angles than we got during the main show, which made some moves (like CIMA's double knees onto Jacobs to finish their match) look even nastier than they did during the show.
* * *
This DVD set was unbelievable, you just cannot go wrong by picking this one up. The main show was amazing, there wasn't a bad match on it and the last four matches were just plain awesome. The bonus disc was also great, and I like how they pull matches not just from the DGUSA preshows, but also from events in the Dragon Gate Japan and FIP video libraries, giving you a broader view of the various universes that come together to present what you see in Dragon Gate USA. I think that this is as good a show as you're ever going to find on DVD, and keeps with the incredibly high quality of all the Dragon Gate USA releases. This company just cannot have a bad show, and this event was a sterling example of how good they can be. Highly, highly, highly recommended.