This was for John Boy’s Open the Freedom Gate Championship.
It’s hard to explain the significance that this match held at the time. For early DGUSA fans, the disappearance of Takagi from the roster was frustrating and seemingly inexplicable.
He was one of the most consistent performers for the company in its first 18 months of existence, and then he was just simply gone. It became almost a running joke to request him to DGUSA officials because it seemed he would never come back after it had literally been years.
Then he was announced for one of the biggest weekends in company history. He would get a first-time matchup. He would face the company’s champion who had held onto the belt for close to 18 months at that point. It was a rare big-time match on a US indie, and it carried large expectations as a result.
Thankfully, the great majority of the match truly lived up to the hype. They had a foolproof dynamic. Takagi was the bigger opponent who truly knew how to dominate his smaller opponents. He was also fantastic at doing that in a manner that screamed “I’m in complete control” without ever getting boring about it. It was performance from a master craftsman at his peak.
Gargano hung in there right with him though. He got to play the overwhelmed babyface very well. There probably could have been a greater sense of urgency or desperation to his work to really elevate it to the next level. What we got though was perfectly fine to say the least.
Everything was going exactly as planned. This big first-time matchup for the title on the biggest DGUSA show of the year was coming across beautifully. The fans were invested on a level rarely seen on the major independent platforms at the time. They just needed to take it home to seal the deal on a what would have been one of the best matches in company history.
Ref bump. Low blow. Rope-assisted choke-out. Unwanted heel turn.
I still remember this night like it was yesterday. It was my first and only Wrestlemania weekend. It was my first and only DGUSA show. It was my first and only time seeing Shingo Takagi (who was one my of favorite wrestlers at the time).
The whole show prior to this match I sat in the last row with a bunch of friends who I never get to see in person. I was having a blast all night.
For this match though, I wanted to experience every little moment of it. I stood up and moved to a corner of the guardrail that had no seats. I essentially had standing front row for the entire.
I was cheering for Takagi the whole time (even as I felt the guilt about supporting a performer who had committed heinous crimes against animals). The crowd was molten, and I was in the center of the action. It was an experience the likes of which one rarely gets to have.
Then that finish happened. I felt betrayed. It was not completely rational in the slightest. I had just gotten way more than my $25’s worth for that show. Top to bottom, it would still have to be considered one of the best big-time shows from a high profile indies in recent years. Everything about the main event except the finish delivered.
The ending though. It’s still so dumb. It’s still so unsatisfying.
It really does not matter now of course. It didn’t really lead to anything significant. Gargano would go on to admirably attempt being a heel champ for another year. Takagi would return to Japan and never come back to US after this weekend. The company would die a year later on a weekend without any Japanese talent from Dragon Gate. This was all but a footnote in the history of independent wrestling (if that).
Reliving this night though still got to me a little bit. I can’t entirely justify it, but I also cannot deny it.
This match existed. It was wonderful almost the entire time. It was stripped of its satisfying finish for reasons that were misguided then and do not really matter now. I should be able to ignore it when judging it. I should be able to. (I do not know).