Long one of the fixtures of the English-language puroresu scene, Jae has been focused on Dragon Gate (and its predecessor Toryumon) like no other. Someone like myself, who visits Dragon Gate USA several times a week, comes to take it for granted. Let it not be so! It is time for YOU, gentle Pulsewrestling reader, to learn the ways of the Dragon. And to a lesser extent the Gate. PLUS, big results from All & New Japan!
Section 1- Results
All Japan: Suzuki beat Hayashi in an unlikely (to say the least) Champions Carnival final. Some relevant results from the tournament: Mutoh over Takayama, Kea over Suzuki, Kojima over Suwama, Kea over Kojima, Hama over Kea, Hayashi over Mutoh, Kojima over Suzuki, Suzuki over Suwama, Nishimura over Takayama. Hayashi over Kojima and Suzuki over Mutoh were the semifinals. Oh and I guess the â€œMutoh is out of the tournamentâ€ thing was incorrect somehow.
New Japan: They once again fell well short of a sellout at Sumo Hall. Tanahashi beat Angle, Nakamura beat Makabe (with help from Yano; more on that later), Iizuka beat Nagata, Shelley & Sabin retained the junior tag titles over Taguchi & Devitt, and Bernard & Anderson upset Omori & Nakanishi. Tiger Mask 4 beat Black Tiger 4, who revealed himself to be Rocky Romero. Then Black Tiger 5 (from the Tokyo Dome show) attacked, and this would be Takaiwa. GBH has apparently and confusingly broken up, with Makabe and Honma being abandoned and Nakamura leading an anti-Makabe movement. It seems like Nakamura has turned heel, but he hasnâ€™t explicitly joined GBH.
Section 2- News
All Japan: Suzuki is hinting at not wanting a shot at Takayama, despite winning the tournament. The upcoming tour will have a junior tag tournament with the main teams being Hayashi & Kondo, Minoru & Hijikata, and Fuchi & Samurai.
Dragon Gate: There will be an 8 team tournament this weekend, with the winners getting a title shot on May 5th. Also on the 5th will be Doi defending againstâ€¦â€¦.. Akebono. Oh and CIMA defending against Dragon Kid. There has been sniping between CIMA (representing the company) and ROH in regards to who screwed who regarding the ROH/Dragon Gate show in Japan last year. Safe to say that thereâ€™s a lot of bad blood and they wonâ€™t be working together any time soon.
New Japan: Omori will face Tanahashi in a non-title match on the 22nd. Also on that card will be Goto vs Nakanishi and Tiger Mask 4 vs Black Tiger 5. The day before will have a rematch of Omori & Nakanishi vs Bernard & Anderson. The big May 3rd show (with Tanahashi vs Goto on top) will feature the return of Tenzan, as he and Kojima will be in a #1 contenders match against Bernard & Anderson. Also on the 3rd is Tiger Mask & Kanemoto vs Liger & CIMA and a Nagata vs Iizuka rematch. May 5th will include Goto & Okada (a New Japan young lion) vs Sugiura & Aoki. The G-1 Climax schedule has been announced, and itâ€™s in line with recent years.
Section 2a- Meltzer news
All Japan: They drew only 1500 for the first night of the tournament, headlined by Takayama vs Mutoh along with two other sets of recent champions going at it (Kojima vs Suwama and Suzuki vs Kea). Mind you this was at Korakuen on a Sunday. Not a good sign.
Section 3- Shilling Dontaku 2009 Special
Phil says WWE bested New Japan on the 7th. Iâ€™d say itâ€™s not even a contest.
Is Jerry Lynn a good choice for ROH champ? Our crack staff (including yours truly) gives a resounding â€œmaybeâ€.
Section 4- Media Corner
Big Japan has managed to produce some nifty rookies this year! These matches arenâ€™t going to place in anyoneâ€™s top 5 at the end of the year but they are good first impressions. Former New Japan wrestler-turned-trainer Kotesu Yamamoto has apparently been helping out, another good sign for Big Japanâ€™s future.
Shinya Ishikawa is the first rookie, and right now Iâ€™d label him as the best rookie going (sorry Hama fans). At first I skipped this match because I figured it would be a total squash, since itâ€™s the tag champs against a rookie and the struggling Yoshihito. However thereâ€™s a strong all-out performance by young Ishikawa, Mammothâ€™s usual good stuff in the bully role, Sekimotoâ€™s usual 100% effort, and a return to good form from Yoshihito.
Mammoth got into a car wreck. Sekimoto managed to find an even more effective replacement, which is kinda unfair for the young lions. Okabayashi, early winner of the â€œleast chantable nameâ€ award, is the most muscular Japanese rookie ever. He could be a real force on the indy scene in the coming decade. He needs better wind but the most important elements are there.
Classic greatness: Kobashi vs Akiyama in 6-man form.
Ah the 6-man, something I view as a sign of a Japanese promotionâ€™s health. If the 6-mans are reliably good, the promotion is doing something right. All Japanâ€™s 6-man tags fell off in the â€˜90s when their NTV timeslot got shrunk and such things became an afterthought. Considering that early NOAH shows only aired on Samurai TV (which was also true for late â€˜90s All Japan), thereâ€™s no reason for that to have changed. Ah, but there was something: young talent being given a chance to shine (Rikio) and older talent getting a new purpose in a slightly smaller roster (Takayama, Kikuchi). This match is special because of Kikuchi, who got badly lost in the shuffle in the late â€˜90s and lost a lot of his motivation. Here he goes right at Akiyamaâ€™s team and does surprisingly well down the stretch. Rikio also looks fine considering his inexperience. Takayama was in the midst of a renaissance, and I think you might be familiar with messieurs Kobashi and Akiyama.
Section 5- Dragon Gate USA, part 1
Dragon Gate’s success at Sumo Hall and their remarkable ability to fend off the general decline of pro wrestling in Japan has been quite a surprise. With that in mind I figured it would be a good idea to call in an expert to discuss the company. Who better than Jae of Dragon Gate USA?
For almost a decade Jae has been the go-to person for news and results about Ultimo Dragon’s trainees. As usual I have some comments for clarification.
Q: How and when did you first discover Toryumon? What did you like about it?
A: I was just getting into the Japanese scene at the time (1999). I was recommended Michinoku Pro, since I had the exposure to Sasuke, TAKA, etc through their work over here. I ended up getting some of the current MPro in a random assortment of tapes I got. This was during the Sasuke Gumi/Nisemono Gundam time frame so Crazy MAX was featured prominently. The first Toryumon shows had happened around the same time (or a few months prior, something like that) so I picked those up. It had the atmosphere and charm that I was looking for.
Ultimo Dragon’s first class of students, including CIMA and Magnum Tokyo, started off in Mexico and WCW. Toryumon opened in early ’99, and at first the students spent a lot of time in Michinoku. As the roster grew and they gained experience they no longer had to rely on outside help and could do full tour schedules.
Q: What led you to start your site?
A: At the time there really was not a whole lot in terms of good coverage. There was basically Picksi and Zach Arnold. Picksi had the best Toryumon coverage, but only gave results, not angles or news (not to mention really unreliable). Zach was Zach, there was no real guarantee he was even going to get names right. My friends got tired of me complaining about the lack of coverage and told me that I couldn’t do better myself. Stuart had just started doing Wrestling Viewpoint, there was a really good Michinoku Pro fansite running, and in Japan there was a huge personal fanpage boom going on. So I basically stole and copied ideas from there and ran with it.I did the whole thing by hand, plain old HTML on a Sega Dreamcast web browser since I didn’t have a PC in my apartment. I had to hand translate results and news onto pen and paper, then type it out. No cut and pasting support. Thats why it was so awful in my first year or so. I don’t have an excuse for why it looks awful now. Now 9 years later, Stu and I are the only ones left. We’re so old. Nowadays information is so easy to get that there is almost no reason for us to still exist. Luckily people are lazy and Japanese is still hard to read, I guess.
Q: What are your favorite matches and angles from the Toryumon years?
A: The Japan vs. T2P angle. Not just that, but there was so much going on in mid-to-late 2002. You had CMAX leading the front vs. the ItaCon, but then you had the emergence of Darkness Dragon and his transformation into K-ness, Magnum becoming Mr. Egoist, the SUWA/Genki mini-feud that started Genkis’ H-A-G-E character, hearing about the new X guys in Mexico. The matches were all great too, so it was just such an exciting time. CMAX vs. M2K was a close second, but I think the match quality doesn’t age as well. Original M2K really was the perfect heel unit. I always had a soft spot for the Bicycle Brothers. If I had to pick a single match, probably the World 2002 main event. M2K vs. CMAX vs. Seikigun UWA trio title 3 way.
Having watched a lot of the older shows I have to agree about things from the first few years not holding up well. Thankfully it improved. The bicycle thing was primarily about Ryo Saito, who had a bike messenger gimmick at first.
Q: What’s your take on the split that led to Dragon Gate’s creation?
A: Business is business. I think the years since have proved that Ultimo Dragon is insane and an egomaniac, so it is good that he is gone from the radar. If the split never happened, Toryumon probably would have imploded on itself and faded into irrelevence. Sorta like Ultimo himself.
Q: Now that we’re several years out, how do you think Dragon Gate has differed from Toryumon?
A: Toryumon carried itself like an indy, whereas DG carries itself as a major (even if the indy vs. major debate is still open). Toryumon had that rebellious punk aspect, maybe it was just the TV intro segments that give me that feeling. Dragon Gate is professional. The in ring style changes probably would have happened anyway, as a natural evolution. Toryumon also was much more eccentric, in terms of gimmicks and such. Like I mentioned the Bicycle Brothers before, I don’t think there would be a year long angle revolving around a stolen bicycle in Dragon Gate. Some would see that as a reason why Toryumon was better or whatever, but it is personal taste I guess.
Q: ROH’s Dragon Gate Invasion show, with the first DG/ROH interaction, happened very close to where you live. Coincidence or fate?
A: What makes it even more wild is that the venue was a place I worked at for a few years. I guess having their first appearances here 10 minutes from my house was just pre-emptive karma in exchange for all the travel I have had to do since then.
I was at the show as well.
Q: What happened to Toryumon X?
A: In terms of why were they terrible, or where are they now? I just watched the Toryumon X shows again recently. They promised “The Next Evolution of Lucha Libre”, but really didn’t give anything different or unique when compared to Toryumon Japan or how different T2P was when they debuted. I think that was also around the time that Ultimo really started to lose his touch(mind), because you had things like Los Carros Exoticos which were just ….. there wasn’t much mileage in that gimmick especially after they took Berlinetta Boxer out of the team. Imagine that, the loss of Jet killing a team! The Sailor Boys just felt so forced and lame.
There was a lot of talent that were saddled with bad gimmicks, and it wasn’t until X ended that they started to show it. KAGETORA, El Blazer, and Okimoto being stuck as Mini MAX for example. Taiji didn’t have the ace presence when you compared him to CIMA, Magnum, or Milano. He was pushed too hard and he wasn’t ready for it. I do think X compares very favourably to T2P now, though. I sure as hell would rather watch 2009 Taiji than 2009 Milano, which I never would have said in 2004. Now that KAGETORA has come home, I will say that aside from Taiji or MAYBE Shinjitsu Nohashi, there is no one else from X that would have much to offer in Dragon Gate now. El Blazer was really outclassed in his run last year.
Toryumon X was the third ‘wave’ of trainees, following original Toryumon and the Toryumon 2000 Project (T2P). Toryumon started with a style much like Michinoku, then T2P focused at first on a lucha mat style called ‘llave’. Toryumon X was hyped as revolutionizing high-flying, but it didn’t have much of an impact and they largely stayed separate from what eventually became Dragon Gate. T2P had a much better first impression but many of its graduates have left full-time wrestling, while Toryumon X has more active wrestlers despite the initial flop. Toryumon X is currently a vital part of Michinoku Pro.
Q: What do you think about the DG/ROH cooperation that followed in 2006, 2007 and 2008?
A: It was meant to open eyes and expand markets and it did so. So it was very successful.
Q: What are your favorite matches and angles so far from Dragon Gate?
A: Original Blood Generation. Really anything from the first 8 months of 2005 was gold. I loved the Ryo push, even if it didn’t pay off in the end. Obviously I was a huge Tozawajuku fan. So much so that Mochizuki mentioned it on one of the Mugendai episodes. Matches …. Blood vs Do Fixer from World 05, the MO’z vs. NH vs. Typhoon 3 way 6 man from June 2007, Tozawa/Araken vs. Shingo/Hulk from May 2007.
More on Mochizuki referencing Jae’s love of Tozawa. Dragon Gate aired some footage of its matches in ROH, and in this case Mochizuki did commentary about his match with Richards. Jae spoke with Mochizuki at the show and was wearing a Tozawa shirt. The Dragon Gate guys had a very interesting reaction to this:
Q: You’ve been critical of Dragon Gate’s product in recent years. Why have you stuck with it?
A: Eh. Just recent years? The line that used to always get me in trouble on forums was “It’s never been good”. Sure, that is an exaggeration. A lot of people in this subsection of the internet, and this could be said about any promotion, will see the recommended or standout matches and expect it to be that way ALL the time. Particularly now with Share and PD making shows available online the same day, so people don’t have to pay $10 for a VHS tape. When you pay for it you are damn sure gonna watch the whole thing to get your value out of it. Now you can just download that one match you want to see. I am not sure what my opinion of Toryumon would have been if I didn’t have to watch the M2K vs. Daiyu Kawauchi/SAITO undercard matches that always ended in a no contest. I guess the point I am trying to make is that I don’t expect DG to be Blood Generation vs. Do FIXER all the time, and have no problem admitting when I don’t like something even if I am seen as “The Dragon Gate dude” or whatever. At this point in my life I am not really a wrestling fan anymore. Aside from skimming Indy no Oshigoto episodes every week I don’t watch anything non-DG related. I stick with it because I love it. I have invested a lot of time and emotion into it.
Jae has been quite consistent over the years, when it’s often easier to just go with the flow and avoid criticism.
Q: When CIMA got injured while still the champion it seemed that the company would likely struggle. Yet the last nine months have been one of remarkable success, culminating in them selling more tickets at Sumo Hall than heavyweight promotions usually do. Doi vs Kanemoto out-drew Tanahashi vs Kanemoto. To what would you credit this upswing? Do you think it can last?
A: Is it really an upswing though? I mean, I never doubted that they would sell out Sumo Hall. I think you can only be surprised by something so many times before you have to see it for what it is/accept it/however you want to say it. It isn’t like DDT jumping from Shin-Kiba to Sumo Hall. They have had years of big success in Tokyo in Korakuen, Ota-ku, and Yoyogi. Sumo Hall really had an exceptionally strong undercard though. CIMA vs. Yoshino main evented on a Tokyo big match one year prior. The fanbase is definitely unique. They are much more loyal and dedicated, and them continuing to come out while CIMA was on the shelf proves that. Compare that to the general pro wrestling fan that would go to a New Japan or NOAH show but only if the card is truly appealing, and you get the consistent success vs. the up and down that other promotions have experienced.
What’s funny about this is how many wrestlers and fans in Japan look down on Dragon Gate, yet the business model has worked more reliably than for any other ‘fight sports’ company in the country.
NEXT TIME: The interview continues!