:: 2013 DVD Reviews
DG:UK Festival of Fire : Night 1 DVD, Review by Ben Corrigan
Friday February 22nd 2013
Broxborune Civic Hall, Hertford, UK
Purchase DVD : Trailer :
As has become the norm, the main 2-hour presentation starts with a sweet video package showing highlights of what went down on the last tour. It shouldn’t come as a shock by now on these things, but it catches me out every time: the picture quality is outstanding, far better than anything else I’ve ever seen produced in the DVD format.
Before we get started, I’ll set the scene. At the time of the previous tour, the entire Dragon Gate roster found themselves falling into either the heroic Junction Three stable or the heinous Blood Warriors, who were at war with each other. Given that a year-and-a-half has passed since then (and this is Dragon Gate after all), you’d expect that things have altered somewhat. And you’d be right: Blood Warriors came out on top of the feud and forced Junction Three to disband. Akira Tozawa then seized command of the Warriors, kicking out former leader CIMA and Naruki Doi, and has renamed the team ‘Mad Blankey’. They are still the top antagonists in the promotion. The former Junction Three members are now split amongst new factions World-1 International (led by Doi and Masato Yoshino), Team Veteran Army Returns (led by CIMA), -akatsuki- (with Shingo Takagi and YAMATO leading the way) and The Jimmyz (including Susumu Yokosuka, Ryo Saito and Genki Horiguchu). .
Before we get started, I’ll set the scene. At the time of the previous tour, the entire Dragon Gate roster found themselves falling into either the heroic Junction Three stable or the heinous Blood Warriors, who were at war with each other. Given that a year-and-a-half has passed since then (and this is Dragon Gate after all), you’d expect that things have altered somewhat. And you’d be right: Blood Warriors came out on top of the feud and forced Junction Three to disband. Akira Tozawa then seized command of the Warriors, kicking out former leader CIMA and Naruki Doi, and has renamed the team ‘Mad Blankey’. They are still the top antagonists in the promotion. The former Junction Three members are now split amongst new factions World-1 International (led by Doi and Masato Yoshino), Team Veteran Army Returns (led by CIMA), -akatsuki- (with Shingo Takagi and YAMATO leading the way) and The Jimmyz (including Susumu Yokosuka, Ryo Saito and Genki Horiguchu).
The show gets underway with Team UK’s The Lion Kid going up against Naruki Doi. If you want to hear the commentary, by the way, you have to switch to the secondary audio track, as it is not the default setting as per the previous releases. When I work this out several minutes in, ‘Irish’ $tew Allen and ‘Twisted Genius’ Dean Ayass are explaining Lion Kid’s quest to battle the complete former Blood Warriors stables in singles matches. Kid, by the way, is met with the ‘RRAAAAARRRRRRRRRR!!!’s from the audience that really started to get over by the last tour. A few minutes in, Doi discovers he can get a big reaction by pulling bits of Lion’s mane out, so repeats it several times to a chant of “Animal Cruelty (clap clap clapclapclap)”. Doi takes over, dominating Kid, hitting two of his cannonball variations and displaying some of the rough, disrespectful rudo tendencies that were his signature when part of the Blood Warriors. Doi hits a third cannonball (this time the ‘Dai Bassou’ version into the corner), as I hear myself trying to start a “LION KID” chant. Kid shows signs of a brief comeback, but the Japanese puts him down with the Doi555 sit-down F5 and the follow-up Bakatari Sliding Kick to seemingly bring things to an end. To the surprise of virtually everyone, the brave Lion kicks out, then as a stunned Doi goes back to the mask, Kid catches him in a cradle for a shock upset win! Afterwards, a thoroughly pissed-off Doi smashes The Lion with another cannonball then actually rips Kid’s mask off and walks away. Hey, dude, chill. A simple-but-effective match to get the weekend going. **3/4.
Ayr’s Noam Dar makes his DGUK main show debut next, here for the first part of his 5-match Trial Series. This is a staple of Japanese promotions, where a young newcomer is granted a series of singles matches against established names in order to prove their worth. His first opponent is massive DGUK favourite Susumu Yokosuka or, to be more accurate, “Jimmy Susumu”, given his new allegiance. “Jimmy”, by the way, is seen as meaning “plain/boring” in Japan, and the Jimmyz are a silly nerdy stable. Some of that “Jimmyness” is seen in the early going when Susumu tries to pin referee Chris Roberts as they roll on the mat, then walks into the lighting support while taking a break on the floor. Oh, the south-east fans are doing the PROGRESS “count one ahead of the referee” thing. How could I have forgot that... In a strategy that will be familiar to UK fans, Dar goes to work on his opponent’s leg, even managing to get a sneaky bite in behind the ref’s back. Telling us “Ah’m gonnae break his leg!”, Noam heads to the top rope for a double-stomp to the knee, but Susumu gets out of the way and fires back with a huge Exploder suplex into the turnbuckles. He is unable to sustain an advantage, though, as Dar catches the Jimmy in the Deep-Fried Knee-Bar for a near-submission, forcing Yokosuka to the ropes. Dar gets a 2-count from a fisherman-brainbuster then does manage to hit his leg-bound double-stomp from the top. The knee-bar is locked on again, but Susumu desperately scrambles to the ropes. The pair exchange of strikes in the middle of the ring, ending when Jimmy puts Dar on his arse with a big clothesline and an even bigger Jumbo No Kachi lariat. When that trademark move only yields a 2-count, Susumu follows-up with the Mugen (double-underhook head-drop) for the win. I don’t think a single person watching ever thought that Dar was going to win, but the match did what it was supposed to in making him look competitive and strong against the DGUK benchmark. The crowd was quiet for the most part, but this was a really good showing. ***.
UK vs. Dragon Gate is the theme of a third consecutive match next, with four-way action pitting CIMA, BxB Hulk, Marty Scurll and Mark Haskins against each other. You know something extremely cool that I’ve just noticed during the introductions for this contest? As ring announcer Andy Quildan introduces each wrestler, the on-screen graphics this time not only tell us their name, their measurements and their DGUK Win-Loss record, but there is also a little scrolling banner telling us FACTS about them too, like their background, previous title reigns, etc. I now know, for instance, that BxB Hulk was a ranger in the Japanese Defence Force. How have I just noticed this? I’m going to have to go back and read at the graphics in the first two matches... The Win-Loss record concept that DGUK operates is really at the fore here, and is the entire story upon which the match is founded. As I’ve mentioned in these reviews before (and is helpfully recapped and explained by the commentators at the start), anyone who gains a +5 win/loss difference will be rewarded with a match of their choosing (which, they’ve hinted, could even be the creation of a dedicated DGUK title...) whereas anyone slipping to -5 is eliminated from the promotion altogether. This four-corners bout is decided by first pinfall (i.e. rather than elimination), with the winner obviously gaining a Win for their record but ALL THREE others recording a Loss. As Marty comes in with a record of 1-5, he is in a situation where he simply MUST win this match to avoid being excluded from DGUK.
Things start with everyone ganging up on the villainous Mad Blankey member BxB Hulk for a moment, before the Team UK guys turn on CIMA, who ably fights them both off at once. There’s excitement right away, as Scurll converts an Irish Whip from Hulk into a tope on CIMA on the floor, leaving Hulk and Haskins to fight alone in the ring. From here, the bout effectively turns into a standard tag affair, as Team UK stand together against the two Japanese. Despite representing two rival factions, CIMA and Hulk realise it is in their best interests to work together. It doesn’t always go smoothly, though, such as Hulk deciding kick CIMA who was playing nice by holding Haskins for him. Allen and Ayass explain that this was originally supposed to be a tag match with Team UK facing the Blood Warriors of Hulk and CIMA, however with Blood Warriros dispanding, this became a 4-way, was a much better idea. Anyway, CIMA and Hulk work over Haskins for a while, before the hot tag is made to Marty who knocks BxB on his head with a scary-looking clothesline. As this point, it starts to become apparent that Haskins (with a “SAFE” 4-2 record of his own) is trying to let Scurll be the one that picks up the win so that his Team UK ally saves his place in DGUK. They hit double team moves, then Haskins acts as the ‘guard’ to prevent the pin being broken up. His logic is immediately and obviously flawed, though, since if his sole aim was to give Scurll the win he could have just lay down and let Scurll pin him, surely? He’s going to get a loss anyway? CIMA has given up on the idea of “Team Japan” at this stage, hitting the Iconclasm on Scurll in such a way that he lands directly onto Hulk. Haskins puts CIMA down the a Falcon Arrow, then calls Marty into the ring to make the cover. They go for a double team again, but Haskins accidentally wipes his partner out with a superkick. It’s all-out fast-paced moves and action now, as Hulk spits wine in CIMA’s face then lands a running shooting star on Haskins for a near-fall. Mark takes BxB out with a tope dive through the ropes, then the pair fight up on the stage to leave CIMA and Marty in the ring alone to fight it out for the win. CIMA lands a Perfect Driver but when that only earns him a 2-count, goes upstairs for the Meteora double knee-drop. Scurll moves, hits Party’s Over (torture-rack into double-knee back-breaker, a bit like All The Landslides Birds Will Ever See) and then a tombstone piledriver for the career-saving 3-count. I remember I wasn’t a big fan of this match live, but it was certainly a lot better watching it back all this time later. It would probably have been better as an all-out ‘real’ four-way, particularly since the closing stretch with all the hot moves was really exciting. The Win-Loss story did add an extra layer of intrigue and interest, but I can’t help feeling it made me think Scurll looks weak since he needed help to keep his job, while Haskins was left looking like an idiot for going along with it. ***1/4.
After what was the interval in the live event (and, as it happens, almost exactly half-way through the DVD running time), Genki Horiguchi H-A-Gee-Mee of the Jimmyz returns to DGUK for the first time since the 2009 debut event to take on Akira Tozawa. Like with the 2011 shows, Tozawa represents Dragon Gate’s lead heel unit but is met with a rapturous reception from the British fans who he won over with his tour-stealing charismatic performances on the last tour. It starts with some signature comedy based on Genki’s hair extensions, and it’s a fast start as each man is only able to hit a single move before a reversal and a move back. Tozawa is the first to step things up, hitting his double consecutive tope dives to the outside then climbing up into a sea of familiar UKFF faces in the tiered seating to celebrate his accomplishment. It goes without saying that the audience loves this little dickhead, totally into every single little thing he does. Tozawa gives the fans even more to cheer when he does the machinegun chops in the corner, finished with a cheeky punch to H-A-Gee-Mee’s face. Genki does get back into it with a tornado DDT and a brainbuster, before Tozawa returns a shining wizard knee strike and a brainbuster of his own. Horiguchi is repeatedly going for his trademark backslide finish at this point, getting a desperately close count when he does manage to lock it in. Akira gets a split-second near-fall of his own with the slow-bridging German suplex, before putting Genki away for good with the arm-captured version of the same move. A short little match, but a splendid showcase for Akira Tozawa, whose personality and charisma make him absolutely adored. ***.
The co-main event brings –akatsuki-‘s YAMATO and the Veteran Army’s Masaaki Mochizuki, both with 0-2 records, back to the UK for the first time since the 2010 Hoddesdon/St. Ives tour. No, not that St. Ives... They start out right away by trading chops and kicks, before Mochi gains the upper hand by ramming YAMATO’s arm into the ring apron and then starting to work over the limb. YAMATO adopts a similar strategy when he is granted an opening, targeting Mochizuki’s leg. What we get here is very typical of a Dragon Gate singles match, slowly developing through arm and leg holds, each taking turns to control the other, as the moves start to get bigger and the near-falls start to register. Arm-scissors and arm-bars from Mochi; figure-fours and ankle-locks from YAMATO, with the veteran also throwing a tremendous variety of kicks. YAMATO blasts his foe with a perfect dropkick in the corner and goes for Gallaria, but Masaaki is right back at him with more kicks, a running knee to a cornered-YAMATO and a spinning brainbuster for a near-fall. Yep, this is starting to get pretty damn great. No sooner than I type that, though, Mochi hits his jumping kick out of the corner, scores the win, and that’s that. It could probably have had another 5 minutes and another gear to reach ‘that’ level, but this was still a really good match, and the best seen so far tonight. ***1/2.
The last night one ‘Festival of Fire’ contest sees the debut of Ricochet, famed for his appearance in US indies like PWG, Chikara and DGUSA, but also part of the World-1 International team in Dragon Gate Japan. He is thrown straight into the mix, though, facing Shingo Takagi in a mouth-watering main event bout. As has always been the case in DGUK, Takagi goes by his US moniker of simply SHINGO. The on-screen graphic information tells me that SHINGO is “Fiercely Patriotic”. Well, yes. Someone once told me that in the reserved country of Japan, his act would be seen as borderline ‘national front’ and people would likely have a slight discomfort at that. Not that it matters a jiffy here, as SHINGO is very much the main man in DGUK, coming off victory in his awesome trilogy with Susumu Yokozuka which, to this point, are still the best bouts DGUK has ever put on. Will anything have surpassed them by the end of this weekend? We’ll have to wait and see. Ricochet? Well, he’s brilliant. It would be easy to dismiss him as a high-spot-centric flyer, but that description would be entirely inaccurate. His smoothness in execution and motion, his timing, his facial expressions and reactions are all tremendous. I said on returning from these shows live that you don’t fully appreciate Ricochet when watching him on DVD/screen, since he has all these subtle looks, expressions and interactions that really sell what he is doing and add depth. Well, there’s an advert if you need any to head along to the 2014 shows later this month, since he’s coming back.
This match starts out with SHINGO overpowering Ricochet, including running right through him with a shoulderblock that absolutely flattens the American. ‘Ochet’s counter to his opponent’s strength advantage is, unsurprisingly, his speed and agility, which comes to the fore when he dodges several SHINGO moves and hits a Space Flying Tiger Drop to the floor of the Civic Hall. From there, that is very much the story of this contest, as SHINGO clubbers, pounds and slams Ricochet with his power, while Ricochet comes at him with spectacular high-flying offence the likes of which others simply cannot do. Indeed, often Ricochet is bouncing all over the place trying to keep on top, but then SHINGO will ground him with some harsh move that looks like the flyer has been well and truly killed (which Ricochet sells fantastically). A highlight sees Ricochet almost launched into orbit off a huuuuge SHINGO back body drop. The –akatsuki- leader invites his opponent to come at him with strikes , leading to Ricochet putting SHINGO down with a springboard elbow. It is at this point that you can hear ‘the American guy’ in the crowd, who plenty had something to say about afterwards, started making a tit of himself and being rightfully booed down by the rest of the audience every time he tries to act up. Back in the ring, things are heating up and a terrific sequence sees Ricochet try to come off the top, SHINGO catch him on his shoulders and go for Blood Fall, Ricochet land on his feet, miss a kick and try a standing moonsault, only for SHINGO to get his knees up then finally blast Ricochet with a strong DDT. SHINGO hits a Sliding-D-style running low lariat on a second attempt then goes with Made In Japan (pumphandle package driver) for a fantastic near-fall. A Diamond Cutter and a standing shooting star press earn ‘The Future of Flight’ a 2-count of his own, then a battle on the top leads to Ricochet hitting a spectacular 630. A massive Pumping Bomber lariat from SHINGO turns Ricochet inside out and looks to have things sorted, but Ricochet kicks out to a massive reaction from, well, everyone. With the audience stamping its feet along with the action (to the point the shot from the hard camera is actually SHAKING), SHINGO deadlifts Ricochet up onto his shoulders and blasts him with the Last Falconry to wrap up a superb match. ****1/4.
As with the 2011 DVDs, there are no bonus features on the disc, so the pre-show ‘dark match’ remains precisely that. I can’t complain with the decision, since it is by stripping content down that they are able to get such high picture quality onto the presentation, which is really a strong selling point of these releases. As for the show itself, well all of the matches are of a consistently high standard that most wrestling promotions in the world would be proud of. However, this is Dragon Gate UK, a group that has set lofty standards for itself with show after show of superb action. As such, this one doesn’t place towards the top of DGUK’s output, but does remain highly recommended, if only for the awesome SHINGO vs. Ricochet bout which is one of the best they have ever hosted.
Up next: The ‘Festival of Fire’ continues with a second night in the Broxbourne Civic Hall, with SHINGO vs. Akira Tozawa and YAMATO vs. Jimmy Susumu being the key bouts on offer...
DG:UK Festival of Fire : Night 2 DVD, Review by Ben Corrigan
Saturday February 23rd 2013
Broxborune Civic Hall, Hertford, UK
Purchase DVD : Trailer :
The second of back-to-back nights in the Broxbourne Civic Hall in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire. First of all, apologies for the lack of pictures as usual during this review, I’m hoping to go back and add them later. For this one, the exemplary DVD box art work focusses on the two key all-Dragon Gate singles matches on offer, with SHINGO vs. Akira Tozawa taking centre stage.
After snazzy video packages recap last night’s happenings and preview the contests on offer tonight, the action gets underway with the second instalment of Noam Dar’s 5-match Trial Series. After a good showing last night against Jimmy Susumu, the young Scot tests himself tonight against veteran Masaaki Mochizuki. A reminder, once again, that you have to manually select the secondary audio track if you want to hear the wise words of commentary duo ‘Irish’ $tew Allen and ‘Twisted Genius’ Dean Ayass. The early going sees Dar try to trade kicks with Mochi, including a moment when Mochizuki and then Dar both accidentally kick the ring post. Ouchy. Back inside, the Japanese takes over, dominating the Brit with stretches and holds, and killing any comeback attempt with a typically nasty kick. Dar does manage to hit a suicide dive to the floor, then later a fisherman brainbuster turns the tide. A double-foot-stomp onto his opponent’s leg and a dragon screw leg-whip set up Dar’s signature knee-bar, but Mochi gets the ropes and starts killing Noam with a series of simply vicious kicks and knees. Finally, the falling kick out of the corner is enough to seal the win for the Veteran Army member. As with his match the previous night, you never got the feeling Dar could ever win, and he didn’t look as competitive with Mochizuki as he did with Susumu, but this was a fine contest to get things going. **3/4.
Echoing the previous night, Team UK continue their series against former Blood Warriors members as Mark Haskins and The Lion Kid take on Mad Blankey’s BxB Hulk and World-1 International’s Naruki Doi in a 4-way match. Haskins and Hulk, of course, also competed in the 4-way on Night One, while Lion and Doi also fought each other. The Japanese duo jumps the Englishmen at the bell and beat them down until Haskins fires back with a tope dive to Hulk on the outside. The commentators remind us that all 3 wrestlers that don’t win will have the loss against their record, not just the one who loses the fall. As with yesterday’s, 4-way, the former Blood Warriors work together, which is odd since they now representing bitter rival factions, and seemingly display none of the dissention that CIMA and Hulk engaged in last night. As such, the bout plays out effectively as a straight-up tag match, with Doi and Hulk isolating The Lion Kid for an extended period and hitting all manner of cool double-team spots. Kid RRAAAAAAAAs-up and gets the hot tag, and Haskins comes in with a sweet move where he gave Hulk a Diamond Cutter from the ropes while simultaneously drop-kicking Doi. Team UK then start to hit double-teams of their own, including a back-breaker/top-rope leg-drop combo, but just when Lion sets up Hulk for Haskins’ shooting star press, the masked youngster KICKS HASKINS IN THE FACE. You weasel. I know, I know: 4-way. Kid takes Haskins down onto Hulk with a headscissors then hits a shooting star press of his own. No such dissention from ‘Team Japan’, though, as they continue to work as a bizarre pair. By this point, we now have a breakneck, exciting pace, big moves and near-falls. Hulk rolls through Mark’s Canadian Destroyer attempt and hits axe kicks on both Brits, then Hulk and Doi finally get into it with each other. Doi reverses an E.V.O. attempt into a sick reverse-DDT, then launches himself off the downed Hulk into his Dai Bassou cannonball on The Kid. The Bakatari Sliding Kick on Kid only earns Doi a 2-count before Haskins continues to take on both native Dragon Gate stars at once. Hulk sprays his wine into Naruki’s face then gets a taste of his own medicine as Haskins takes a swig and spits it out at him. Athlete. With Haskins and Hulk alone in the ring, the ‘Star Attraction’ hits a back-breaker/lariat combo then Hasta La Vista, Baby to take his winning record to 5-3. Much like the other 4-way, I wasn’t really a fan of it when watching live at the time. However, and again like last night, watching it back now it was better than I remembered. It comes off as really odd that Hulk and Doi just work together the entire match without any bickering, gesturing or distrust until right at the end, but in terms of pure action this probably surpassed the previous night’s effort. All-in-all, I’ll put them level: ***1/4.
A hilarious moment caught on camera post-match is some guy running down from the stands and pulling a big cheesy grin as his mate takes his photo next to the ring while Haskins celebrates!
Genki Horiguchi H-A-Gee-Mee is out next for his bout with World-1 International’s Ricochet, proudly producing a bag from his back pocket and placing it in his corner. Ricochet is all happy-go-lucky fun early on, dancing to the fans’ chants, laughing at South Park ‘JIMMY!!’ calls (and then trying to explain to Genki why it is funny), doing multiple back-flips after a tease of a suicide dive and, of course, ‘working over’ Horiguchi’s hair. The American stretches his opponent in a crucifix-like backbreaker rack, and walks over to the corner while still holding the manoeuvre to teasingly bash Genki’s head into the turnbuckles multiple times. The Jimmy hip-tosses his way out of a hair-pulling abdominal stretch, proclaiming “GET OFF MY HAIR. I AM ANGRY”, deciding it’s time to go for the bag. Again proudly, Genki displays the bags’ contents: a large elastic band. Oh my. ‘Ochet disarms Horiguchi and calls over his World-1 stablemate Naruki Doi, who grabs the other end of the band and goes on a tour of the Broxbourne Civic Hall, seeing how far it’ll stretch. The answer? A long way. Doi manages to make it to the very back row of the tiered seats with his end, while Ricochet holds the other against Genki’s head. Referee Chris Roberts has seen enough, so starts his count: “1....2….3….4…”. Yep, Doi lets go and the band hilariously snaps back across half of the entire room straight into H-A-Gee-Mee’s head. Oh, Genki. Egged on by the crowd’s calls of “ONE MORE TIME!”, they do it again, this time Doi going right up onto the stage and through the entrance curtain before letting rip. Brilliant. Even if you knew it was coming, it was just a terrific spot. Horiguchi takes Rico over with a headscissors and checks his teeth! Ha!
H-A-Gee-Mee slows the pace and deliberately works over his opponent, again stating “I AM ANGRY”. This prompts a chant of “He is angry (clap clap clapclapclap)” which ceases when Ricochet lands a jaw-dropping twisting plancha to the floor. From here, Ric’ laughs off one fan’s call for “ONE MORE TIME!” but starts to take things aerial, hitting a beautiful springboard clothesline and a standing corkscrew moonsault. His execution is flawless; he makes it all look so effortless. Horiguchi hangs in there with a tornado DDT, but Beach Break is countered by a Diamond Cutter as Ricochet chases him into the ropes. Not done, Genki gets his knees up on a standing shooting star press effort, and follows with a crazy reverse Frankensteiner and quick brainbuster for a fantastic near-fall. The audience is now accompanying each and every move with an “OOOOHHHHHH!!!”. Genki’s quick backslide only manages to get another 2-count, which proves to be his last as Ricochet knocks him off the ropes into perfect position for the match-winning 630 senton. A great match, seamlessly evolving from early comedy to red-hot all-out action. I remember enjoying this one live, but had forgotten what a little gem it was nestled in the undercard. ***1/2.
The second half starts with DGUK favourite Jimmy Susumu Yokosuka taking on –akatsuki-‘s YAMATO. Now, I’ve been looking forward to watching this one back. This was many people’s choice for best match of the entire weekend, though at the time I personally thought that, yeah, it was pretty good, but there were others that surpassed it. Still, many talk about it as one of DGUK’s best ever so it is well worth a second look. After a stalemate on the mat, Susumu proposes a handshake, but both men have the same idea and pull out on the other at the same time. Typical evenly matched start, until Susumu levels YAMATO with a lariat and starts to methodically pick away at him with a slow, controlled pace. He slaps YAMATO on the back and acts on the “ONE MORE TIME!” chants to do it again before YAMATO protects himself in the ropes, not liking that one bit. More control by Yokosuka. The crowd is quiet, but you can tell that they are intently watching everything that happens. YAMATO finally gains a foothold in the contest when he reverses a powerbomb attempt into a backdrop, then blasts Susumu with a rolling elbow and a huge spear. A double-down (accompanied by the crowd reprising the PROGRESS count-ahead) sees both men sit up at 9-and-three-quarters then a long, harsh, painful chop battle ensues. The chops turn into elbows as they go toe-to-toe; Susumu playing up to the “ONE MORE TIME!” chants that have now become ‘a thing’ in this one. It is the Jimmy that comes out on top, hitting a big lariat and then an exploder suplex as the crowd tells, well, I’m not sure quite who, that “THIS IS AWESOME (clap clap clapclapclap)”. A further lariat to YAMATO in the corner leads to more “ONE MORE TIME!” chants, leading to TWO more lariats as Susumu obliges. This man has the crowd in his hands. Jimmy sets YAMATO up on the top tope with a straightforward headbutt, allowing him to land an exploder off the ropes. “ONE MORE TIME!”. Ha. YAMATO does fire back with a dropkick in the corner and then does it ONE MORE TIME. Crowd hugely into this now, and with good reason – it’s tremendous. A series of reversals sees Susumu gain the advantage and smack YAMATO with a maaaassssiiivvveeee Jumbo No Kachi for an awesome false finish. Both men show signs of the battle as they just about struggle to their feet and engage in another showdown of strikes. Once again, the hard camera is ROCKING as the fans cheer on the action. Susumu hits a series of clotheslines against the ropes, but when he looks to follow up with a running Jumbo No Kachi version YAMATO leaps up and catches him in a hurricanrana for the winning pinfall. Big standing ovation. Both men get up a tease a handshake, before again faking each other out at the same time. Don’t know what was wrong with me the first time around – that match was awesome. ****1/4.
Having to follow that in some way is CIMA vs. Marty Scurll. Now, these two have become rivals over the past few tours, especially given the fact they have both floated around that unwanted -5 win/loss aggregate and have had to scrap to avoid expulsion from DGUK. That remains the story here, as both come in with 2-5 records, meaning one of them will definitely be fighting for survival again on the final night of the tour tomorrow. Things are heated from the start as Marty kicks CIMA in the head as he tries a fancy forward-flip pose. Scurll tries a suicide dive through the ropes but CIMA pulls Marty’s Team UK cornerman Martin Kirby into his flight path and the Yorkshireman is wiped out. They fight up the stairs of the Civic Hall, exchanging chops and Scurll, erm, smashing plastic cups into the Team Veteran leader’s head. Back inside, CIMA tries to control Marty with leg locks, but Marty comes back with an impressive Cesaro/Michael Elgin-style deadlift superplex up and over the ropes then traps CIMA in the ring apron on a baseball slide to take over. Scurll ‘hits’ a series of the single worst knee-drops I’ve ever seen (which draws audible laughs and boos from the audience) then targets the Japanese man’s arm in a sustained assault. It’s obvious at this point that much of the crowd has turned on their countryman and is supporting CIMA. CIMA does come back with a flipping senton and a Vaderbomb in the corner, but an Iconoclasm attempt is blocked as Scurll rakes the eyes, obviously turning to desperation tactics in an effort to keep his job. Scurll frantically tries a series of various cradles but only comes up with 2-counts on all, before CIMA plants him with Superdrol backstabbler for a near-fall of his own. Again feeling desperate, Scurll tries to use CIMA’s own tactics against him, hitting a Schwein and going for Meteora, then getting a convincing near-fall off a Death Valley Driver. All the finishers are coming out now, as Scurll hits Party’s Over and CIMA lands the Perfect Driver, but it is a double knee-drop from the top rope that brings it to an end and gives CIMA the win. Of course, this means Scurll moves to 2-6 and is put in a simple MUST WIN situation again tomorrow, when he is scheduled to wrestle his partner Mark Haskins in an all-UK affair. While this was no classic, it was a decent match, again much better than I remember from the live show, and told a good story of Scurll’s increasing desperation. ***.
The main event matches up two the most popular members of DGUK, with two of the best win-loss records on the roster: SHINGO and Akira Tozawa. SHINGO’s introduction is met with an attempted chant of “FEED ME MORE” from some dude in the crowd, who is booed down. That’s ones pretty funny, actually. These days, SHINGO and Tozawa are actually tag partners and members of Monster Express, but here in February 2013 they are the group leaders of –akatsuki- and Mad Blankey respectively and start the match with an intense battle of chops, punches and should blocks. When SHINGO puts him down with a double-sledge, Akira takes a seat near to Goldberg Jacket Guy in the front row to catch his breath. Back in the ring SHINGO starts to take Tozawa apart with his usual blunt and brute offence, but the smaller man catches him out with a leg trip, sends SHINGO to the floor with a running knee and keeps him outside with THREE consecutive tope suicidas. “ONE MORE TIME” indeed. Tozawa keeps the advantage, unleashing a running bicycle kick and brainbuster as the crowd support appears to be split 50/50. Great atmosphere. Tozawa turns to the crowd and twice asks “YOU WANT CHOPS, RIGHT?” before firing away with the machinegun chops. He is one charismatic little bugger, isn’t he? As Tozawa comes off the ropes, though, Takagi LAUNCHES him into the air, catching him on the way down with a fabulous Death Valley Driver. SHINGO listens to the crowd’s chant of “WE WANT CHOPS” and then hurls a barrage of chops and fists at a trapped Akira in the corner. Ask and ye shall receive. Things are starting to get a little crazy now, as Tozawa just hoys his opponent over his head in a back suplex and runs to the top rope to use a huge suicideplex. A running knee earns Tozawa a 2-count, then a series of counters on the mat leads to him hitting another. They battle on the ring apron, where things switch SHINGO’s way dramatically with an insane DVD out there. Tozawa comes back with a release German suplex but SHINGO stands right back up to land a giant lariat. TWO consecutive Made In Japan pumphandle drivers only gain a count of 2. There’s an unbelievable near fall for Tozawa too, as he chains a bicycle kick, release German suplex and deadlift German combo. He goes for the arm-in version he has used to earn most of his DGUK wins but SHINGO struggles free, fights through another bicycle kick and smashes Tozawa with the Pumping Bomber lariat for another heart-stopping near-fall. Tozawa throws punches, but SHINGO catches the last one and uses it for the catalyst to muscle Tozawa up for the Last Falconry and the decisive pinfall. Utterly fantastic match which, for me, sticks with my original live thoughts and does indeed still beat Susumu vs. YAMATO from earlier on. Epic, dramatic and exciting with a red-hot audience totally engrossed in their every move, this was the match of the weekend so far and equal to the first two of the SHINGO vs. Yokosuka classic trilogy. ****1/2.
A consistently good undercard capped off with two tremendous singles matches – this should be an essential purchase.
Up next: the 2013 tour draws to a close when DGUK heads the furthest north yet, rolling into Castleford in West Yorkshire for an all-star tag match featuring representatives from 4 different Japanese factions, with a nod to Dragon Gate history around the world. I’m eager to see that one back, since from a live perspective I had it up there with the two SHINGO main events from Nights One and Two…
Part Nine – Festival of Fire - Finale
24 February 2013 (Civic Centre; Castleford, West Yorkshire)
Welcome to Castleford – a little town near Leeds that has literally nothing happening. Unless you count Dragon Gate UK rocking up with the final night of its tour, of course. The elevation of the hard camera in this venue is really, really low, even lower than the top rope of the ring, and so doesn’t offer the best view as an on-screen experience and gives a shot mostly filled with people’s heads. Issues on the live show with the radio microphones also mean ring announcer Andy Quildan is forced to simply bellow his introductions during the early part of the card. You actually don’t really notice this as a home viewer, since his voice comes over really well.
Up first is the all-UK singles offering of Marty Scurll vs. Mark Haskins. Scurll, on a win/loss record of -4, must win to avoid slipping to the dreaded -5 and losing his place in the promotion. With it being the last night of the tour, you absolutely believe that Marty could realistically be gone and not feature next time. Scurll is met with a chorus of boos from this Castleford crowd, probably being a combination of hardcore fans that saw him last night in Broxbourne and northern fans who see him as a soft southern poser from ITV’s Take Me Out. An even-steven start shows that both men are familiar with each other and know the other’s key moves. After taking Scurll outside the ring with a headscissors, Haskins first fakes him out on a dive but then catches him on the other side with a tope suicida. Even this doesn’t lead to any serious advantage, as Haskins’ attempt to follow-up with a baseball slide sees Scurll trap him in the ring skirt and hit a kick. “BOOOOO”. From here, Scurll starts to grind away at Haskins, not yet showing any signs of desperation in his approach. Haskins’ comeback consists of a climbing knee strike against the ropes and a Falcon Arrow for a 2-count, as commentator ‘Irish’ $tew does a great job of selling the importance of every close count for Scurll. ‘Party’ Marty fights off a Haskins superkick to catch him with a tornado DDT, now starting to exhibit his frustration at his failure to put Haskins away. Marty does a fantastically wacky jumping/rolling cradle from the ropes for a near-fall, then things get crazy with the two team-mates exchange variations on powerbombs, kicks and knees. They are just rushing through this like a TNA television match. Both fail to land tombstone piledrivers, leading into Mark locking Scurll in a half-crab for a convincing near-submission. As Marty escapes from that hold, though, Haskins is accidentally knocked into referee ‘Welsh’ Chris Roberts. Taking advantage of the momentary distraction, desperate opportunist Scurll hits a lucha libre-esque iFOUL! right to Haskins’ nads, setting up the match-winning, job-saving pinfall. Showered in more boos, Scurll shows no remorse, obviously thinking he did what needed to be done. This match was fine, but they just rushed through all these moves and nothing left much of an impression other than the finish. These developments should, however, make Marty’s appearances on the next tour rather interesting. **3/4.
The Noam Dar Trial Series continues next against YAMATO. Dar is impressed with the early singing of “N-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-naaaa, Noam Noam Dar, Noam Dar, Noo-am Noam Dar” and “No no, No no no no, no no no no, no no No-am Da-ar!” from some creative genius in the audience. No idea who that could be. Ahem. Oh, how people didn’t know that would be the start of ‘Dar’ songs around the country… The early going sees the grapplers battle over arm locks, then Dar befuddles YAMATO with some World of Sport trickery. After a breather, the –akatsuki- standout takes Noam down with a spear and begins to work him over. Dar does try to get some shots in, but YAMATO tosses a Dar kick into the referee, allowing each wrestler to take it in turns to low-blow the other. All 3 men roll on the floor holding their junk as Chris Roberts has missed low-blows for the second consecutive match. Dammit Roberts. The two appear evenly matched as Dar uses a Perfectplex and YAMATO comes back with a T-bone suplex. Dar momentarily catches the Deep-Fried Knee-Bar, which the crowd recognises as his big finish, then pulls out an airplane spin. The frequent back-and-forth advantage shifts continue as the pace quickens and the moves get bigger. Dar comes off the top rope with the stomp to YAMATO’s leg, then locks on the knee-bar again in perfect position in the middle of the ring. The audience reacts as though Dar is about to get his big win at the end of the weekend, but YAMATO makes the ropes. YAMATO turns another knee-bar attempt into a cradle, then the pair stand and exchange big strikes in the middle of the ring. This is great. A series of reversed cradles only results in a batch of 2-counts, before YAMATO kicks Noam in the head and uses a brainbuster for an awesome near-fall. Having enough of playing silly beggars, YAMATO busts out the Galleria piledriver-like move for the win. A terrific match, here, and one that somehow I’d mostly forgotten from the live experience. By far the best of Dar’s 3 ‘trial’ bouts this weekend; ***1/2.
The entrances of The Lion Kid and Akira Tozawa are marred by live venue audio-level problems that they sort-of manage to rescue in post-production for the DVD, but the big RRRRRAAAAAAAAAAAs of the crowd to Lion Kid and incredible outward adoration to Tozawa more than make up for it. Tozawa is funny during the introductions and opening moments as he mocks all of Kid’s RRRAARRing. I’m not sure there is anyone better at working a live, mid-sized-venue audience than Tozawa, with all of his little looks, shouts and acknowledgements. He brings them up, he calms them down, and makes sure they are interested in absolutely everything he does. They do some lucha that ends with Lion sending Akira outside and running for cover at the back of the room. Kid continues to get the better of the going back inside, but that comes to an abrupt end when Tozawa BICYCLE KICKS HIM IN THE FACE as he tries a headstand in the corner, then instantly follows with his signature dive sequence to the floor. The Mad Blankey man celebrates in the front row as the audience showers him in passionate approval. This guy! Kid’s furry mane must be just too tempting for Japanese wrestlers, as Tozawa follows Naruki Doi’s lead from earlier in this series of shows by taking delight is ripping bits of fur out and gleefully tossing them in the air. His control over the crowd is masterful, and the fans are clearly loving being along for the ride. Palm of his hand. Tozawa does the machinegun chops in the corner, and such is Tozawa’s support with this audience that the Brit is BOOED when he starts to fire back with elbows and a Final Cut for a near-fall. Kid earns a couple more 2-counts as he starts to get creative with his pinfall attempts, and hits a sweet springboard Sliced Bread #2 for another. Tozawa avoids a shooting star press, though, and starts hitting his German suplexes and running kicks, culminating in the arm-in German for the 1-2-3. Akira teases a handshake for the masked youngster after, but instead just goes “RAA” and spits in his face. Lion Kid was absolutely fine here, but this audience just didn’t see him as the same level as Tozawa. The match itself was much like Akira’s bout with Genki Horiguchi from Night 1 of the Fire Festival, in that it was a great showcase for Tozawa, interspersed with some decent action along the way. ***.
The second half of the show is all inter-faction native Dragon Gate contests, starting with BxB Hulk of Mad Blankey taking on Genki Horiguchi H-A-Gee-Mee of The Jimmys. The devious Hulk jumps the goofy Genki at the bell and it’s straight into full-on action. Given that the Castleford Civic Centre has no tiered seats in the same way as a Broxbourne Civic Hall, the hard camera shot is now even more obscured by those in the back rows standing up to get a better view. H-A-Gee-Mee goes for the elastic band that back-fired on him on the previous show, and his luck doesn’t change as Hulk immediately takes possession of the band and his Mad Blankey cornerman Akira Tozawa is given the job of stretching it right to the very back of the entrance stage. Once again, the referee makes his count… “1….2….3….4….”, at which point Tozawa lets go and it snaps back into Genki’s face. THIS WILL NEVER STOP BEING FUNNY. Tozawa looks right into the handheld camera and says “IT’S AWESOME. IT’S AWESOME”. This man is not wrong. Of course, they do it again from the other side, this time stretching it out to the very back of the room near the merchandise tables and over the entire block of punters. Unfortunately, the camera misses this one, but does catch Tozawa again proclaiming “IT’S AWESOME”. Back to the serious business, and Genki fights off Hulk’s submission holds but receives an axe kick to the top his head. Typical of the Dragon Gate style, no man is afforded any domination of any significant length and the momentum shifts back and forth almost on a move-for-move basis as the pace quickens. Horiguchi uses a flying headscissors and a tornado DDT, shouting “I LOVE YOU ENGLAND!” in broken English, while Hulk unleashes swift combinations of kicks. Both men go for their respective finishers, but both are countered. The interference of Tozawa distracts the referee to allow BxB to spit wine in H-A-Gee-Mee’s face (DAMMIT ROBERTS), but the subsequent E.V.O. surprisingly only earns a count of 2. Strong support for Genki from this crowd now, who avoids more Hulk kicks and catches him in the Backslide From Heaven for the upset win! Yesss! Not up there with the top DGUK matches in the action stakes, but it wasn’t supposed to be and instead successfully delivered a fine slice of enjoyable fun **3/4.
World-1 International versus Team Veteran Returns next, as Naruki Doi battles Masaaki Mochizuki. From a live perspective, I think burn-out was starting to set in after 3 days of hot shows, drinking and travelling, since I remember absolutely nothing of this one. I can’t imagine this being anything but really good, so I’m looking forward to seeing it again here. “(clapclapclap) MO-CHI!” sing about, erm, 2 fans in time with his entrance music. Doi initially tries to trade strikes with Mochizuki, but struggles to cope with the veteran’s signature kicks. Mochi accidentally kicking the ring post gives Naruki an in, so he gets busy on his opponent’s now-compromised leg. Mochizuki cuts-off an attempted Doi dive with a big kick, then it’s his turn to take control, picking away at Naruki and grounding him with submissions. Doi does manage to trap Mochi in the ropes and hit a dropkick and then a cannonball off the top, but the Doi555 is reversed and Mochizuki lays into him with running kicks and a twisting brainbuster. The switches keep coming as Doi avoids a Sankakugeri corner kick, leaving Masaaki in place to receive the Dai Bassou! Cannonball. Doi lands his Doi555-Bakatari Sliding Kick combo, but when that only results in a 2. Mochi fires back with his kicks, though, hitting a running knee in the corner (Ikkakugeri. Ooo – get me) and then finally the Sankakugeri for the decisive pinfall. This one never reached that top gear to put it at ‘that’ level, but there is no doubt that this was a really good match that never hit a low and kept the action coming. ***1/2.
The main event is billed as an ‘all-star tag team match’. All 4 men are leading members of 4 different rival factions in native Dragon Gate, proudly representing their own stable. Added intrigue comes when you consider SHINGO is teamed with Jimmy Susumu, the man with whom he stole the first 3 DGUK tours with their awesome trilogy, while CIMA is paired with Ricochet, his former regular ‘Spiked Mohicans’ tag partner in Dragon Gate Japan and American offshoot DGUSA, holding doubles titles in both. They even wear their old Blood Warriors gear here tonight. Opponents SHINGO and Ricochet contested a cracking match 2 nights earlier in Hoddesdon, and CIMA has been both stablemates and enemies with both SHINGO and Susumu throughout Dragon Gate history. ‘Commentary $tew’ mentions the ‘big fight’ atmosphere here and he isn’t wrong – you get a great sense of anticipation during Andy Quildan’s big, pronounced extended introductions and during the tentative, evenly-balanced early exchanges as each individual is introduced to the match. The all-action Dragon Gate tag sprint is a signature of the promotion and featured prominently on the 2009, 2010 and 2011 tours, but has yet to appear on the 2013 series, so this already stands out as something special to get excited about. The audience doesn’t really appear to be behind one individual or team, instead taking in all the action and cheering it on.
The former Blood Warriors combo are the first to see any sustained advantage; the heat on Susumu as CIMA and Ricochet hitting their old double team moves on Susumu. SHINGO comes in and basically KICKS ARSE with intense ferocity, and the –akatsuki-/Jimmys duo takes over with the heat on ‘Ochet. Echoing their Night One bout, SHINGO launches the American skywards with TWO gigantic back body drops, then continuing to pound away. An RKO on Jimmy allows Ricochet to make the hot tag and CIMA comes in with all these moves taking out both opponents at once. Ric’ flips up and over the ropes with a fantastic Space Flying Tiger Drop on SHINGO, while CIMA locks Susumu in a wacky lucha submission in the ring. After both miss several attempts to land sentons on the other, Susumu intercepts CIMA as he climbs the ropes to hit an Exploder from up top. It’s complete all-out frantic breakneck action now, as it was always going to be, with all four men coming in to land all these crazy big moves. Whether you do or you don’t like this type of wrestling (and chances are that if you don’t, you won’t be watching this DVD), there cannot be any doubt that Dragon Gate absolutely excels at it far beyond all others. You probably can’t take in absolutely everything that they do, but it’s so well-paced and rhythmic it becomes about which team has the momentum and is closest to winning. It’s almost hypnotic, and it’s super exciting. A big spot sees Jimmy struggle to take Ricochet over with an Exploder suplex, but SHINGO on hand to assist by suplexing his own partner in order to take their opponent over. Continuing the theme, SHINGO and Susumu work together to plant successive big elbow strikes on CIMA’s head, but the Team Veteran leader ducks a follow-up and the former big DGUK rivals momentarily get into it all over again after they accidentally clothesline each other. They get back on the same page to work on Ricochet, but then the Spiked Mohicans use teamwork of their own as CIMA Iconoclasms SHINGO into position for a spectacular inch-perfect shooting star press from his partner. After that shockingly only earns a 2-count, they repeat the trick again as CIMA plants SHINGO with the Perfect Driver and Ricochet comes off the top again, this time with the 630 senton. Wow! Susumu saves, and the crowd erupts in a “This is Awesome (clap clap clapclapclap)” chant. More joined-up team-work as CIMA and Ricochet both land the Meteora top-rope double-knee drop on Susumu, but this time it’s SHINGO in for the split-second save. ‘Ochet teases the double-rotation moonsault, but his struggle for balance allows his opponents to seize momentum. A Mugen/Made In Japan combo only gets a 2 on Ricochet, so SHINGO hoists him up for the Last Falconry (that he beat him with on Friday) from the top rope to finally seal the win. A dazzling corker of a match, packed with all the breath-taking excitement you would expect but with all the charisma and personality the star-power creates. I’d put this one ahead of both of the six man tags on the first two tours, right up there with the best matches DGUK has ever presented. ****1/2.
The show ends with all 4 showing each other respect (they do represent the law-abiding Dragon Gate stables after all), and $tew Allen reminding us that SHINGO is now the first man to reach the +5 win/loss standard, speculating what that might now mean….
You couldn’t call this the strongest undercard DGUK has ever produced, but what you get is still consistently and typically good, and Akira Tozawa’s performance in his match with Lion Kid really should be seen. Like ‘Night Two’, though, the main event is exceptional by any standard and worthy of checking this DVD out for on its own. There was always going to be a question of how DGUK moved on after the Shingo Takagi vs. Susumu Yokosuka trilogy was finished, but the main event matches from the latest 3 offerings prove that there should be absolutely no worries and that this promotion will continue knocking out top level world class contests which no other European-based outfit can rival. We might only see them once every 18 months or so, but as long as DGUK is around we can consider ourselves very fortunate indeed.
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