Dragon Gate Wrestling, a wrestling promotion begun in Tokyo in 2004 by legendary luchador Ultimo Dragon, is the perfect subject for Contactmusic's first detailed coverage of a live wrestling event as it makes its return to the UK, being as it is the most exciting independent promotion currently operating. Its focus lies far from the hyper-violence and extremity of the now defunct ECW, and provides much greater spontaneity and entertainment than the studious in-ring storytelling of Ring Of Honor. Whilst having a unique style from top-to-bottom there are obvious roots in the Mexican style of Lucha Libre, which at times resembles gymnastics as much as wrestling, with an instillation of the superhuman spirit of Pro Wrestling NOAH at its peak.
To get a better feeling of what to expect before the two shows, filled with a roster containing the cream of Dragon Gate's now global roster, Contactmusic.com spoke to the shows promoter Mark Sloan, a cornerstone of the British independent wrestling scene as the spearhead of A-merchandise.co.uk and a respected fighter in his own right:
Contactmusic: For those who have never have been to a wrestling event, what can they expect? What is the atmosphere like in comparison to the live music event?
Mark Sloan: Well, the Dragon Gate events are designed to be non-stop high octane events, you have a rabid crowd of the most enthusiastic non-stereotypical fans. Like any well educated audience for a band which isn't quite commercial but prides itself in being cutting edge, state of the art and an incredible experience for hardened fans and first timers alike.
There is no long drawn out interviews or complex (and in some cases nonsensical) segments. It is an all-angled live action movie taking place right in front of you in true 3D. I used to say to people you enjoy watching all the stunts and the acrobatics, well these amazing athletes do it live and with one take. It's like a Jackie Chan movie but contested in multiple men bouts like only the Dragon Gate style can.
Contactmusic: For those whose only experience of wrestling is WWE, what are they likely to see that they haven't before?
Mark: Well, American wrestling has traditionally been a story of two huge men doing battle with a theme as to why they are fighting, but in more recent years you have seen the landscape change, largely thanks to the UFC, to the smaller, faster more acrobatic style. More athletic fighters have been gradually integrated into the action, with names like Shawn Michaels, Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho and more recently Evan Bourne. They all bring a quicker, more high octane approach. Times this multiple times over and you have some sort of grasp as to what you are likely to see this October. More athleticism, more flying, more action and a seamless event that just about everybody can appreciate. You have to experience it live to fully appreciate it in my opinion.
Contactmusic: How does Dragon Gate differentiate from other independent wrestling promotions?
Mark: Well at a risk of repeating myself, they are like the best of the best but the real story of Dragon Gate's success is that the matches (or bouts) transcend just wrestling fans. In their homeland they are considered a form of entertainment as well as a wrestling organisation. Colourful characters, incredible action and great audience participation. The level these guys perform at really has to be seen. My family don't watch wrestling but they can't help but enjoy watching the shows; they have won critical acclaim and having been around the wrestling business for nearly 2 decades I can hand on heart say there hasn't been many shows that have had the kind of complete (almost universal) praise, and that covers a lot of ground.
Contactmusic: A-Merchandise has worked with another Japanese promotion who have had successful UK shows, Pro Wrestling NOAH, previously. What do you think is attractive about these promotions to the western audience?
Mark: I think the fact that they get to see their favourite stars live which they have only managed to see via bootlegging or online, so to get to see them live is a treat in itself, but add to that our company works very hard to create an authentic feel like they would see on their own shows. We try and take that to the next level but gearing the venues to look like popular venues in Japan and how they have it set up. Pro Wrestling Noah use a green themed ring, have crowd barriers and grand entrance-ways, whereas Dragon Gate don't have barriers and use a white based ring and have specific videos, music and themes throughout the show to make it their own unique event. We try to replicate these down to the smallest details, have everything custom made to look exactly how you would see it if you were on the other side of the world and the fans really respect the detail that goes into making these authentic events.
Contactmusic: At the moment there are only a couple of Dragon Gate shows per year in the UK. Could you see this expanding to a more regular series of shows?
Mark: I wouldn't have thought so, I think it'll stay an annual thing. We have incredible fans that travel from all over the country (And some from the US, Europe etc) to attend these EVENTS, and I highlight 'events' because to them it is an event, something they look forward to for months on end and they can go see a show anywhere the country on just about any given day, but these are in the highlight of the year bracket. If you were only going to go to a couple of shows per year then these would be them.
Contactmusic: What was the reason for the choice of Nottingham and Broxbourne as the cities to host the events?
Mark: Broxbourne is one of the most well known venues wrestling wise in terms of how to get there easily, what transport to take etc. It's just outside London and really easy to get to by car, train and coach. Nottingham was somewhere we had seen before and truthfully we weren't sure if they would entertain a wrestling event and with the timing right we managed to get a deal done and that is now the main venue for this tour. The Albert Hall is an incredible venue, in fact it looks like a mini arena but being a reasonable size. Once we managed to get the go ahead to work with this venue then there were no other thoughts as to where we would hold this event. Nottingham too has great transport links, some of the best fans in country and I don't think we could be much happier with the two venues we have chosen.
Contactmusic: Any other business?
Mark: Not specifically, I hope people get to see the trailers for the previous events, they're on Dragongateuk.com - they give a decent taster of what the events entail, obviously it's impossible to squeeze the atmosphere and the whole experience into a short trailer but please feel free to check out our company, Amerchandise.co.uk. We are a multi-platform company and work in many fields, maybe one day we'll branch out in the music sector and elsewhere as we've produced some lighting for various gigs and clubs.
For avid wrestling fans and people who are perfectly socially adjusted alike Dragon Gate promises to present one of the most exciting brands of entertainment around today.