On May 9th Dragon Gate began the 2017 edition of their annual King of Gate tournament. Quietly placed between the tournament’s singles matches was a fairly innocuous tag team match that saw Dragon Kid and Gamma, representing Over Generation, face Jimmy K-ness J.K.S. and Jimmy Susumu, or if you prefer their more traditional names, K-ness and Susumu Yokosuka. Whatever you call them, they’re one of the promotion’s most formidable tag teams. The match was nothing to write home about, an entertaining ten minutes or so that won’t linger in the memory for too long, existing more to break up the tournament action. However, within these ten minutes there was a lot of interaction between two of the participants that really stood out. They’re two of Dragon Gate’s longest-tenured roster members, having been part of the “Dragon System” when said system was barely a thing. Those two wrestlers are Dragon Kid and K-ness and they have some history.
The idea of a dark counterpart is certainly not a new thing, in wrestling or any other kind of fiction. The fledgling Toryumon promotion, with its roster almost entirely consisting of Ultimo Dragon trainees, had been assigned Dragon Kid as its centrepiece. The hero of the story. The “ace”. The introduction of Dragon Kid’s dark counterpart only seemed to make sense. The man they chose for the role, Makoto Saito, had only had a a nomadic independent career for the years prior to his debut in Toryumon after completing his training with Michinoku Pro. A stint as the vampire MAKOTO got his foot in the door; three months after that character was banished from the promotion, a new persona was born. That persona was Darkness Dragon.
If Dragon Kid was the pure, energetic, fan friendly face of Toryumon Japan, Darkness Dragon was designed to be the polar opposite. He aligned with M2K, one of the feature heel factions of the time, and made Kid’s life a living hell. Kid was short and fast, Darkness was taller and far more powerful. Kid was clad in white, Darkness donned an entirely black attire. Kid was presented as the heir to Ultimo Dragon’s legacy, the next generation of junior heavyweight superstar, whereas Darkness and his M2K allies attempted to ruin Toryumon before it had even got going, becoming notorious for intentionally ending their matches via count out. Darkness would frequently go for Kid’s mask and even developed precise counters to Kid’s signature holds, such as the “Judah”, employed exclusively whenever Kid attempted to lock on his “Christo” headscissors armbar.
Their feud lasted approximately two years, concluding at Toryumon’s biggest show up to that point. On a show significant for introducing the next generation of Toryumon stars, the “Toryumon 2000 Project” (or T2P), this was a fitting way to end one of the promotion’s most significant storylines up to that point. The match was a best of three falls mask vs. mask contest, not a surprising stipulation considering Toryumon’s lucha libre origins. Headlining the event titled “Absolutamente” at the Ariake Coliseum in Tokyo, the finale to their feud featured all of the expected shenanigans that came with M2K but saw the underdog persevere. Darkness Dragon was unmasked, the two men embraced, and their paths finally began to diverge.
As is the Toryumon way, the Dragon Gate way, the wrestling way, over the years their paths would cross frequently, both as friend and foe. Darkness Dragon would don his mask once again and rename himself to his most familiar moniker: K-ness. They would both go on to find new dance partners with similarly spectacular results. K-ness would form another legendary rivalry with Masato Yoshino (known as YOSSINO at the time), while Kid would go back and forth with K-ness’s regular tag team partner Susumu Yokosuka, highlighted by a 2006 battle for the Dream Gate. They’d even hold the Open the Twin Gate titles together for a brief stint in 2013 as part of the “We Are Team Veteran” old boy army, appropriately dropping those belts to the up and coming Millennials unit a short time later.
The world is very different in 2017. Dragon Gate has moved on. Dragon Kid was never the ace he was built up to be in the early part of the previous decade, never presented with the keys to the kingdom he was seemingly destined to inherit. K-ness never returned to that main event position, a career marred by severe injuries for the past decade and a bit that prevented him from ever advancing back to the upper echelons of the card. In many ways these two men had their greatest individual successes against one another, their greater moments since then often being shared with tag team partners or stablemates.
That didn’t matter on May 9th, nor any time these two have wrestled since their original feud. Dragon Gate is a promotion that tries to make it easy for newer fans; the heel and face divide is quite clear, units are coded by colour schemes and the style is aesthetically pleasing. It’s a promotion that can be enjoyed without a lot of background knowledge. However, if you do have that background knowledge they’ll reward you for it. Nothing is forgotten, even years down the line. Dragon Gate is a promotion that is very future-focused with some of the best young wrestlers in the world but they recognise the value of their veterans and aren’t afraid to evoke this nostalgia when the situation calls for it.
These two wrestlers meet one more time in a singles contest on June 8th, having been placed in the same King of Gate block. This match won’t air on television. Chances are it will only be remembered by the people who see it live, if they remember it at all. These are no longer two of Dragon Gate’s main singles stars and neither threatens to do much of note in this year’s tournament. The days of the Ariake Coliseum are but a distant memory. But that’s okay. They’ll meet again.