I love Shuji Kondo. I’ve gone through a lot of phases of enjoying different wrestlers and different styles over the years but he’s been one of my favourites for a long time. There’s a reason I like Shuji Kondo and it’s this: his style has, at numerous points in his career, been seemingly at odds with the wrestlers he’s been matched with. This was what made him so great in his early career as part of the T2P Toryumon class, and has continued throughout his career (watching him wrestle Taiji Ishimori was one of life’s greatest gifts). He was the power fighter in the land of the somersaulting submission lads. That’s not to say he couldn’t do a lot of the same things as those guys, he just brought something brand new to the table and did a lot of it. It should be no surprise that Shingo Takagi, one of my favourite current Dragon Gate wrestlers, wrestles a similar style. It’s human nature to love a flip (that’s just science) but it’s somewhat cathartic to see the tumblin’ midgets brought back down to earth. And that’s exactly what happened here.
Dragon Kid was for a long time considered one of the main faces of Toryumon, the pupil of Ultimo Dragon and leader of the promotion’s home army. By 2004 this hype had started to wane and newer stars from the second Toryumon class were rising up, lead in part by Kondo’s group, Aagon Issou. The group, initially known as Hagure Gundam, had splintered from Milano Collection A.T.’s Italian Connection in late 2003, somewhat replacing Crazy MAX as the promotion’s lead heel faction and effectively turning Crazy MAX face. This basically meant that they had assumed control of the evil plastic boxes and weren’t afraid to assault anyone with them. Kondo had assumed leadership of the group after ousting Masaaki Mochizuki, making him the promotion’s enemy number one at this point in time because nobody does that to Papa Mochi and gets away with it. This match was part of a tournament for the Ultimo Dragon Gym title that had been vacated by SUWA, who’d suffered a shoulder injury in a defence against, funnily enough, Dragon Kid.
The match started as you’d expect, with Kid using his speed and comparative veteran nous to stay one step ahead of Kondo, who was just trying to grab the little bastard and make him pay, either with stern words or a hideous thrashing. This worked for a time. And by a time I mean literally seconds. Kid avoided an attempted sneak attack by connecting with a springboard dropkick and a tope but he made the mistake of leaving Kondo unattended for a moment. Kondo popped up and delivered one of the most ridiculous spears I’ve ever seen, grabbing Kid like a small child, charging up the ramp and driving him down into the floor. He then dragged his dead opponent back to the ring for a further beating. Never before has a wrestler earned the moniker Big Dog as much as Shuji Kondo did in this moment, an utter big brothering if ever I’ve seen one. Somehow the match continued, and it continued as it began, with Kondo generally ragdolling Kid around, occasionally getting help from “brother” YASSHI and Shogo Takagi on the outside. Kondo was, and still is, one of the best bases in pro wrestling, and not only was he there for all of Kid’s cool stuff, he countered it with his own appropriately interesting offence. That’s what made these matches so fun. You’d go from the best of one style to the best of another in seconds, and it was all cool as fuck.
Kid went to slip through Kondo’s legs but Kondo grabbed him like a horror movie monster, bieled him up into the air and dropped him right on his head. That was a wildly dangerous move but holy fuck, it fit the dynamic of this one. Kid got the magic spray for that one though so he was alright. YASSHI ran in and Kondo tried to use him as a prop to battering ram Kid but Kid dropkicked his knees, causing YASSHI to take a powerslam. This is the most efficient use of “brother” YASSHI in a wrestling match. This was the opportunity that Dragon Kid needed, as he rallied with the Deja Vu headscissors and a springboard huracanrana to the floor. Looked awesome. Kondo regained control with more variations of the spear (including one that hit Kid from behind and dropped him on his face) only for outside interference to backfire on him once again. Kid evaded the busy hands of YASSHI (and God knows where those hands have been) and went for a West Coast Pop, only for Kondo to slip out of it, hit a torture rack slam and a big King Kong Lariat for the pin. Kondo unmasked Kid after the match and gave him another lariat just to be a massive cock about it. I was as shocked as anyone to find out that beneath that mask Dragon Kid possessed not the face of a man, but a disgusting lizard face. Kondo was doing him a favour by kicking his head in, I say.
This match exemplified a lot of the early stuff I liked watching in Dragon Gate. This was a wonderful style battle, something I don’t think Dragon Gate gets enough credit for to this day, and it reminded me of the first true great Dragon Gate match I ever saw, BxB Hulk vs. Shingo Takagi from late 2005. I really enjoyed how Kondo dominated the majority of this match but you never really felt like Kid was being “squashed” for the lack of a better term; he was just waiting for his moments, and when he got them he was pretty efficient in chopping Kondo down like a big old tree. However, the win was very decisive for Kondo; the outside interference seemed to hinder him rather than help him, and it was his own power and strength that inevitably overwhelmed his more experienced opponent. This was also a nice display of why Dragon Kid was so good back in the day (although he’s still good). He never quite had the charisma of Rey Mysterio Jr. that would have made him connect to an ace level but his entire style was an interesting mishmash of Rey and Ultimo that I’ve always got a kick out of. He bumped like crazy here, whether he wanted to or not, and Kondo looked like a real killer.