Thursday, 15 December 2011

Akira Tozawa's Return to Dragon Gate By Shaun Nichols

Akira Tozawa left Dragon Gate after the May 2010 PPV event titled 'Dead or Alive' after losing a 'Loser Returns to the Dark Matches' match against Cyber Kong in a battle between two members of the Kamikaze stable. And to be honest Tozawa's departure wasn't a major loss for the group, he was certainly not a leading light in the promotion and was very much a midcarder. Infact despite the fact that he had been a part of Dragon Gate for a while he had never held any title.

He of course wasn't stuck working dark matches but went on working tour to the USA where he made quite the impression with two promotions in particular, these were DGUSA and even more spectacularly with PWG where he had a number of outstanding performances during his 11 month run with the company. His specific highlights were a breathtaking effort against Chris Hero at BOLA 2010 and arguably an even better performance spread over 3 different matches teaming with Kevin Steen at DDT4 event in March 2011 which was one of the best pro-wrestling shows of the year.

Tozawa was one of the most talked about wrestlers in the US independent scene during that period and was seen pretty much as a God to the good folks of Resada, California that witnessed PWG's latest shows. He had made a tremendous impression but it was time to head back home to Dragon Gate promotion. The Dragon Gate fans however more than likely didn't pay a great deal of notice to what was happening in DGUSA never mind what 400 PWG fans were raving about. When Tozawa made his return, he would need to convince the fans as to his talents that US fans had enjoyed in the last 12 months.

Tozawa made his return to Dragon Gate on the 8/6 show as a surprise addition to the heel Blood Warriors faction. He slated Shingo and YAMATO for their treatment of him during their days in Kamikaze and said that Maasaki Mochizuki was a 'laughable champion'. More to the point on a night when BxB Hulk also joined Blood Warriors the evening ended with a big 10 man tag which ended when Tozawa pinned Gamma with his package german suplex hold. He also found himself being challenged by YAMATO, it was quite the return. What the fans thought of this was still to be determined but it was clear to Tozawa was getting a major push and was going to be a big factor in the Blood Warriors faction.

This was not going to be that easy, from the Dragon Gate fanbase's point of view the last time they saw him he was sent away after losing a midcard fight on PPV against Cyber Kong and now they were being asked to see him as a major threat and a wrestler who was a major challenge to the company's babyface group of Junction Three. Tozawa in fitting with his triumphant return enjoyed a successful start winning the majority of his matches and where he did lose it was usually in the main event. Dragon Gate were obviously impressed with Tozawa and they were clear that he was going to be a part of the main event mix.

That's not to say that he wouldn't lose any big matches, infact he lost to YAMATO in the singles match that he had been challenged to in his return. However the booking was smart, YAMATO was an established Dragon Gate main eventer so a loss here didn't take away any of his momentum. In the aftermath of his match he showed he could pin YAMATO with his finisher when fellow Blood Warrior Kzy counted the mock pinfall.

Tozawa was booked against Shingo at the big Kobe show on 17/7, this show is the biggest show on the Dragon Gate calendar and is basically their version of Wrestlemania. Their encounter was one of the key matches of the show and Tozawa was to score his biggest victory to date with the group. This was not his only major success of the summer, he teamed with BxB Hulk for the annual tag league tournament. Although the 2011 version of the event wouldn't reach the highlights of previous years in terms of quality and general fan excitement there is no way to escape the fact that this was another step in Tozawa's elevation.

The Tozawa & Hulk team were victorious beating Mochizuki and YAMATO in the final and watching the highlights of the tournament it seems fairly evident that Tozawa is booked as the star of the team. It also is clear that the fans do take a while to get involved in his matches, they do not see him as on the level of CIMA or Mochizuki but they know he's above the level of a Naoki Tanazaki, Ricochet, KAGETORA or even Dragon Kid at this stage.

And that's where Dragon Gate should be applauded they have identified a wrestler that they want to push. They acknowledge that they have to present the wrestler and in this case it's Tozawa in a particular way. He is given major wins, if he does lose and over the last six months or so the prmotion as decided that everyone should lose sometimes. However they don't subscribe to the view that if you lose then you have to look like a complete geek. Tozawa isn't the only wrestler to benefit from this tactic, Yasushi Kanda benefitted greatly from a 20+ minute title challenge against the Open the Dream Gate champion Mochizuk in June.

Winning the tag league wasn't the end of Tozawa's success, on 16/9 he got his win back against YAMATO in a No Rope match which is seen a match that YAMATO specialises in and upto this match he had been undefeated. This match probably more than any other shows Dragon Gate's faith in Tozawa by booking him to go over YAMATO in this type of match. He received his first ever shot at the Open the Dream Gate challenging Mochizuki on 13/10 and enjoyed another excellent showing before being pinned by the champion after 22 minutes (if you want to see this match it's on Infinity 238). And although he didn't win Dragon Gate gold on that occasion it wouldn't be long before he did.

On the first independent Blood Warriors show, he teamed again BxB Hulk to challenge the tag champs the Spiked Mohicans (CIMA & Ricochet) on 30/11 and again they left disappointed. However the champs decided to vacate the titles prefering to concentrate themselves on singles titles. Ricochet currently hold the Brave Gate title after recently defeating PAC while CIMA is the next challenger for the Dream gate title. The Hulk & Akira team had another chance the following evening going against the Junction Three team of Susumu Yokosuka & KAGETORA with the stiplulation that should the Junction Three team than they would be re-named Jimi (which means simple, a Japanese insult). This time Tozawa was victorious and got pinfall over Yokosuka. The tag champs will face the challenge of Shingo and regular foe YAMATO at the Final Battle PPV on Christmas Day.

Considering that elevating Tozawa into the main event mix when he first arrived back in Dragon Gate was far from guaranteed, you have to give great credit to the promotion but especially to Akira Tozawa himself. Whatever confidence he took back to Japan after his tour of the US he has certainly built on and as solidified himself as one of the most entertaining wrestlers anywhere in 2011.

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