Tribe Vanguard (YAMATO & BxB Hulk) vs VerserK (Shingo Takagi & T-Hawk)
Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan
(reviewed 09/16/2017) In a lot of ways, this match is quite good. There’s a neat storytelling thing where, excluding Yoshino, these four men represent the last four years of Kobe World main events from 2014 through 2017, squaring off here in the final TV taping before the big show. What’s more, it’s the two top heels in the promotion taking on what were essentially the two top faces of the promotion up until Yoshino return and MaxiMuM began in earnest. On top of those thematic undertones, most of the actual wrestling here is great. This features some of the best Shingo/Hulk stuff I’ve seen in a long time as well as some great heel work from the VerserK boys. Even Hulk is on top of his game here, working way tighter and grittier than usual.
The elephant in the room is the person I’m not mentioning and his actions and performance here really spell out why this is a frustrating match and how it represents where Dragon Gate is as a whole right now.
At this point that I’m reviewing this in September 2017, we’re more than a year into YAMATO’s latest face run, and without a moment of hesitation I’d call it a failed run. The initial turn at Dead or Alive 2016 was great, a real shining DG moment. The title switch with Shingo at Kobe World a few months later was ok but signaled a change that we felt was much needed after VerserK began losing steam. The Tozawa defense was nice and a worthy final big singles match for him before he left. But since then, since August of last year, there’s been nothing much of value from YAMATO’s huge reign. Currently (as of this date in September) the third-longest Dream Gate reign ever, tied for fourth-most defenses, with only one of them being any good. 450 days of nearly total mediocrity with a guy who is sort of over and was completely outshone as the top babyface by a tag team reuniting for like the fourth time. By this point, he’s a soulless vacuum on top of the promotion, dragging it down further in the middle of what is not an insignificant down turn.
So there’s that, the fact that YAMATO is horrible as Dream Gate champ. On top of that, we have the issue of new guys not getting sufficiently over in Dragon Gate, which is widely attributed to the established stars smothering them. You can see it both ways, I think, but with T-Hawk in particular I feel that they’ve yanked him around so many times in the main event scene, never actually committing to him in the long term, that it puts 2015-2016 Roman Reigns to shame. The knowledge of what happens to him at Kobe World a few weeks after this surely hangs over my head as I watch this match, but the real kicker is what goes down here specifically. There’s this moment where T-Hawk’s got YAMATO backed up into the corner and he’s laying in a number of his chops, which are gruesome and some of the best in the world bar none. And YAMATO’s just brushing them off, egging T-Hawk on, too cool for school. T-Hawk continues to lay into these chops to no avail, tries choking YAMATO briefly before that gets even less of a reaction from the champ than the chops did, and eventually after the fifth or sixth chop YAMATO starts to feel it and begins selling. There’s a moment a little while later where the two find themselves in the same position, this time with T-Hawk throwing these weak-looking punches into YAMATO’s neck in the corner. The champ just sort of slides down the turnbuckle, slouching down as these lame punches are thrown his way, and when referee Takayuki Yagi comes over to back T-Hawk off for attacking the man in the corner and throwing closed fists, Shingo dashes over and lays in a number of his own punches to the neck. They’re hardly any better, still pretty lame punches in the grand scheme of things, but Shingo’s fire and personality make them feel way bigger than they actually are.
In both of these situations T-Hawk, in complete juxtaposition to Shingo, is flustered and silent, rigid and wide-eyed. He doesn’t have the killer instinct necessary to overcome a moment like that where a veteran is giving him nothing to work with. Granted, these sort of sink or swim moments are what separate the men from the boys as it were, are what turn good wrestlers into great wrestlers, are what make solid midcarders into worthy main eventers, but to undercut the number two heel in the promotion like this, to undercut the guy who is going into your biggest show of the year as the main event heel is just embarrassingly inept and is a mentality rooted to the very core of DG’s booking these days. It’s hard to really get into a match that so clearly lays out the fatal flaw of the promotion, and it’s not like there’s not a lot of quality wrestling here when YAMATO’s not being focused on too much as I think this might be the best two-on-two tag in 2017 DG so far, but those brief moments leave such a bad taste in my mouth.