VerserK (Shingo Takagi, T-Hawk, & El Lindaman) vs MaxiMuM (Masato Yoshino, Naruki Doi, & Kotoka) vs Over Generation (CIMA, Dragon Kid, & Eita)
Three-Way Trios Elimination Match and 5 Unit Survival League Match
taped 09/05/2017, aired 09/15/2017
Korakuen Hall, Tokyo, Japan
(reviewed 09/16/2017) So, first up, a quick note about the stipulation here. Due to the circumstances of the 5 Unit Survival League, this isn’t so much a traditional elimination match as it is a two fall match in which one team leaves after winning the first fall. Individuals aren’t eliminated from the match one by one, nor, exactly, are teams as a whole. The first team to score a pinfall or a submission wins themselves a point in the 5 Unit Survival League and then gets to leave, having gotten theirs, which leaves the remaining teams to battle it out for the remaining available point. Think of it not as an elimination match but more like the wacky multi-man lucha libre cage matches that obviously inspired the Dead or Alive cage match, in which whoever scores a pinfall or submission wins and whoever remains loses.
But, as for this match itself? Real good. Reaaaal good. Reminds one of the classic Dragon Gate matches, and while this isn’t nearly so spotless as one of those all-timers from 2003 or 2005-2007 or 2012 or 2015, this is still probably the best match of its kind in Dragon Gate since Dangerous Gate 2015. There’s just so much quality wrestling here, highlighting the two great draws of Dragon Gate: big characterization and even bigger spots. Let’s tackle those two in order.
For a long time I’ve said that the real appeal in Dragon Gate is the colorful cast of characters that, whether they’re faces or heels, embody real space and come across not as outlandish buffoons parading around to entertain, but real people who, sometimes, are real outlandish and buffoonish. What I love about high end Dragon Gate matches, especially huge tag matches such as this, is seeing these characters interact and mess with each other and enact revenge on each other and speak to the long, interweaving, complicated relationships they have with each other. There’s tons of that here, as we’ve got things like CIMA continuing to play the trickster spirit to end all trickster spirits, Yoshino repeatedly punking out El Lindaman and carrying himself like the best thing to ever grace God’s green earth, Linda himself playing the “fall guy” (literally and figuratively) and stooging around for the face teams as the weakest member of the heel group, T-Hawk and Yoshino facing off in a big chop exchange as a call back to their Kobe World main event, Shingo being a huge dickhead in a million small ways by doing things like dropping Eita on his head repeatedly with a Tombstone on the floor and chucking a chair at Kotoka’s ankle as he goes for a Caldera and brushing off Kotoka as he’s beating CIMA down, etc etc. The match is populated by little things like this, little ways in which these individuals make themselves stand out and make themselves feel real and not just an assortment of catch phrases and poses. It’s what makes a match really thrive and be a joy to watch as opposed to being exciting but ultimately lifeless.
But hey, speaking of exciting, there’s a ton of great lucharesu action here. Again, not so crazy or not so polished as something like Verano Peligroso II, but it’s in the same ballpark. The real standouts, I think, are Yoshino and Dragon Kid, being that they’re two of the best highfliers ever, and when they’re working together hitting reversals of reversals of reversals, it’s magical. Breathtaking in a way that transcends concerns of choreography or believability, at least for this humble reviewer. Being that these are nine of the better guys in the promotion today and this is a big Korakuen show, everyone else is on top form here too, just ping ponging all over the place, sprinting through the most inventive and athletic spots possible. I tend to not enjoy the sorts of highspot-oriented wrestling from the likes of Kenny Omega or Will Ospreay or whoever that is so popular today among wrestling fans, because I find it to be unrealistic or emotionally empty. But here? The spots and sequences here? They’re so full of life, so undeniably exciting that I can’t not enjoy them, which is the way I hear people talk about those Omega, Ospreay, et al. matches. The thing is, spots those two do don’t make me feel the way that Yoshino hitting the Torbellino on Eita only to have it reversed immediately into a crucifix for the first pinfall makes me feel here, in no small way due to the fact that those matches don’t have nearly the same level of characterization as this match has. This match is the sort of frantic melding of breakneck highspot action and multi-faceted storytelling that only really works in DG and occasionally in lucha libre.
There are a few downers here, to be sure. After the stellar first pinfall from Eita to secure Over Generation a point and allow them to leave the match unscathed, the match slows down quite a bit as multi-man tag matches in DG tend to do when an entire team leaves at once. What’s more, the matches facilitates this down shifting of gears by focusing in on the story of Kotoka being the weak link and overcoming the odds, which we’ve seen a lot in recent months. Thankfully, even if it’s a story that’s beginning to feel old, there’s still enough kick left in it to form the crux of a great finishing stretch, and we certainly get one here with Kotoka surviving VerserK’s onslaught long enough to allow Speed Muscle to turn the tide and let Kotoka get the pin with the Caldera and send the heels packing with two losses in one match.
In the end, it boils down to one of three scenarios. If you’re already a fan of Dragon Gate, this probably feels like a high point or one of the high points of their recent return to form after a hell of a down turn from fall 2016 through summer 2017. If you’ve never seen Dragon Gate before, it might be exciting and enticing enough to warrant further viewing. If you hate Dragon Gate already, you’ll hate this. Me? I quite like it. Maybe you will too.