BANKIE'S HOT TAKE #4 - Matt Sydal: Open the Brave Gate Champion in 2007
The other day, I sat down and decided to watch one of my favorite time periods in pro wrestling: 2007 Ring of Honor.
2007 was a year of turn-over for ROH. With the company going to pay-per-view in May, a lot of performers were leaving the company to go to either WWE or full-time with Total Nonstop Action. It forced booker Gabe Sapolsky, owner Cary Silkin, and others involved in the office to help generate the next era of the promotion.
The beginning of the year was a love letter to the original days of the promotion, culminating with the Fifth Year Festival, a 6-show saga in three weeks designed to honor the five year anniversary of the company, ending in a two show spectacle in England. Coincidentally, this also coincided with former ROH World and Pure champion Samoa Joe’s farewell tour as a full-time roster member. It truly would be an emotional series.
With the start of the Festival starting on February 16, 2007 at the Manhattan Center in Midtown Manhattan, New York City, the new directions were underway. The beginning of Faction Warfare, the rise of emo badass Jimmy Jacobs, the dominance of the Briscoes in the tag team ranks, and the start of Pro Wrestling NOAH heavyweight Takeshi Morishima’s reign as ROH World champion.
So when I popped in the Fifth Year Festival: Dayton from February 23, 2007, I was stunned to see a random championship match for Austin Aries in the middle of the card. However, it was not an ROH title bout.. Aries would be facing Matt Sydal for the Dragon Gate Open the Brave Gate championship.
Dragon Gate represented in Ring of Honor? IN DAYTON, OHIO??
How did this come to be?
ROH has always been open to having other companies be represented within their walls, literally from the beginning. At “The Era of Honor Begins” on February 23, 2002, Eddie Guerrero and Super Crazy fought over the IWA Intercontinental championship, which was based out of Puerto Rico.
With that standard set, over the next five years, championships ranging from the NWA World's Heavyweight and TNA X-Division gold to the Shimmer Women’s and GHC Junior Heavyweight titles would have sanctioned defenses on ROH cards. Hell, even Full Impact Pro, the sister promotion of ROH, had the FIP Heavyweight championship as a defacto secondary title at one point.
Meanwhile, Matt Sydal was at his peak during his initial run in ROH. Starting in 2004 at “Reborn: Stage One”, he worked his way into a permanent roster spot, joining Generation Next in the Summer of 2005. He then formed a tag team with AJ Styles in January 2006 to go for the ROH Tag Team titles, subsequently feuding with his stablemates for the first half of the year. After falling just short of his goal, Sydal took a golden opportunity and made his first tour of Japan as a part of Dragon Gate.
Sydal instantly made an impact, joining Blood Generation with his GeNext partner Jack Evans and Dragon Gate legend CIMA. Making three tours within 2006 alone, he was primed for a strong 2007.
Already winning ½ of the ROH Tag Team titles alongside Christopher Daniels at “Dethroned” in Edison, NJ in November 2006, Sydal was craving more gold. Coming back at the end of January, he didn’t waste any time. On February 12, in Kobe, Hyogo, Japan, Sydal pinned Masato Yoshino to win the Open the Brave Gate championship, becoming the first American to win this belt.
For those wondering, the Open the Brave Gate title is Dragon Gate’s secondary title, right behind the Open the Dream Gate championship. Many considered it to be along the lines of a Light Heavyweight or Cruiserweight type of belt. Until Sydal’s win, only three men held the title: Naruki Doi, Dragon Kid, and the aforementioned Yoshino.
It just so happened that ROH and Dragon Gate had a pretty healthy working relationship with one another. Beginning in 2005 with the “Dragon Gate Invasion” event in Buffalo, NY in August, DG and ROH worked together the following WrestleMania Weekend in Detroit and Chicago with a triple-shot of shows, most notably remembered for a five-star six man tag spectacular with CIMA, Yoshino, and Doi falling to Ryo Saito, Genki Horiguchi, and Dragon Kid. With another good showing during Final Battle 2006 weekend in December, as well as ROH being the host for Shingo’s excursion to America from the Fall of 2006 to Spring 2007, the relationship was strong.
Seeing Dayton, OH needed a little more “oomph” for their portion of the Festival, ROH managed to get Dragon Gate to sanction an Open the Brave Gate title match on 2/23/07 between Sydal and Aries.
The match took place right before intermission and was more of a methodical battle instead of a standard Matt Sydal high-flying affair. Being in Generation Next with each other helped both men prepare for what was coming offensively. The ever-more-cocksure Sydal persevered early on from Aries’ intense onslaught and surprisingly slowed down the pace. After working on Aries’ ankle, Sydal tried to fly with his Cannonball leg drop, but was thwarted by the former ROH World champion. After a good back-and-forth, Aries nailed the soccer kick to the head and dropped Sydal on his head with a brainbuster. But as he went for his 450 splash, Sydal popped up and delivered a Frankensteiner off the top and followed it with the legendary “Here It Is” driver. One Shooting Star Press later, and Matt Sydal shocked EVERYONE with a clean pinfall victory over his former Generation Next leader.
What makes this even more intriguing was that NOT ONLY was this Sydal’s only successful defense of the Open the Brave Gate title, but it was the first time that championship was defended on American soil.
Ultimately, Sydal lost the championship on his fifth tour of Dragon Gate on March 25, 2007 to Genki Horiguchi in Tsu, Japan. However, it was Sydal’s crown jewel, as by the end of 2007, thanks with “help” from his agent “Sweet and Sour” Larry Sweeney, he ended up under WWE contract and became two-time former WWE Tag Team champion Evan Bourne. But that is another story for another day.
Although to many, this would just be a “throwaway” during the Fifth Year Festival, there is a lot more to this. It, once again, showcased ROH’s respect and, no pun intended, honor towards other wrestling promotions, strengthened further its relationship with Dragon Gate, en route to two more WrestleMania weekends for 2007 and 2008, and helped establish Matt Sydal as a trendsetter and legitimate star within professional wrestling.
It’s nice to see a piece of history, no matter the magnitude, transpire in wrestling under one of my favorite time periods in wrestling.
Another Hot Take in the books? #BANKONIT.