The most important one Dragon Gate has ever travelledâ€¦
There have been name changes, ownership changes, roster changes, retirements and expulsions for the promotion that has evolved from Toryumon Japan to itâ€™s current manifestation, Dragon Gate. However since the doors of the Ultimo Dragon Gym gym opened back in the mid-late 90â€™s, there has been one constant â€“ CIMA. The prize student of the original class, became the ace of Toryumon Japan and then not only the ace of Dragon Gate, but the man who pretty much does everything behind the scenes as well. Heâ€™s been the top heel, the top face, the champion, you name it.
Some may say that in the last year or so CIMA has become somewhat stale, but this has not been reflected in the business the company has done. Dragon Gate has been on fire in terms of both popularity and product. The top star is still beloved by the home fans and is clearly a big drawing card. This is a fact that CIMA is clearly well aware of because for the last 9 months, he has wrestled through a neck injury which is very very serious. This obviously shows that CIMA feels that it is absolutely necessary for him to be on every show if the company is to keep up its current momentum. Just as importantly, it shows that he may not have the trust in possible successors to be comfortable handing the company off to them.
Around about two months ago, CIMAâ€™s neck had become so bad that there was no longer a choice in the matter. He took time off with the idea that heâ€™s be back in a couple of week and be ready to go for the promotions biggest show of the year, July 27th at Kobe World Hall. â€œWorldâ€ is Dragon Gateâ€™s Wrestlemania and there was no way CIMA was going to miss it. That was the plan anyway. The reality has been that his neck has not recovered as he had hoped and it is still in extremely bad shape. Thus last week, the Open The Dream Gate title was vacated and the men who were battling for #1 contendership and a shot against CIMA at World will now wrestle each other for the vacant belt.
Those men are BxB Hulk and Shingo. Unquestionably the standouts of their 2004 graduating class, they have improved by leaps and bounds and are now two of the best and most popular performers in the company. But are they ready to carry the promotion in the way CIMA has for 10 years, and will the fans embrace them in that role? Time and time again in Japanese pro wrestling potential aces were not accepted at the top of the company because the fans didnâ€™t see them as being ready.
It will be months before these questions can be answered for sure, but World can certainly provide a great indication. The two things to look at will be:
1) What kind of attendance will the show draw? The 2006 and 2007 World shows did big numbers at the gate. If 2008 can do something similar that will be a big stamp of approval from the fans for Shingo and BxB.
2) How will the match turn out? Shingo and BxB have been involved in some classic matches this year, but for the most part they have been tags (the Dragon Gate specialty). Will they be able to produce a classic singles match with bigtime pressure on their shoulders? Personally I have a lot of faith that they will and I cannot wait to see it.
Dragon Gate is a promotion unlike any other in Japan. The macro environment in which they operate doesnâ€™t seem the effect their business. For example, right now the Japanese wrestling business is in a less than desirable state but Dragon Gate are thriving. Their fans are Dragon Gate fans, not pro wrestling fans. That is a key distinction, because it means that they have great loyalty to that one company and are willing to support it in every way possible. If they accept Shingo, BxB or both, as aces of the company, then the future will be very bright regardless of how CIMAâ€™s injury woes turn out. If they donâ€™t, then CIMA will probably rush himself back sooner than he should and may be more untrustworthy when it comes to handing over the reigns in the future.
July 27th will be a very important date for Dragon Gate, and I for one hope itâ€™s the start of a new era of prosperity.