Superstar Spotlight: Dragon Kid
Dragon Kid is one of WWE’s biggest missed opportunities. Back when WWE was looking for more international stars – especially for the cruiserweight division – they had many skilled wrestlers but omitted one particularly impressive wrestler. The one they forgot to sign was a cruiserweight who’s so skilled, so fast, so unimaginably talented that, one could make a compelling argument that he is, in fact, Rey Mysterio’s long-lost cousin.
That wrestler is Dragon Kid, a wrestler whose career we’ll be looking at today.
Dragon Kid debuted in 1994 with the goal of becoming a pro wrestling, but this didn’t happen right away. The first company he worked for was Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling (FMW), which was run by AJPW alumnus Atsushi Onita. It was Onita that tried to discourage the man later known as Dragon Kid from becoming a wrestler at first and made him a referee while he trained in FMW.
The reason for Onita’s decision was because he wrestled in AJPW’s fledgeling junior heavyweight division, which was rife with injuries. Thus, AJPW booker Giant Baba put less of an emphasis in junior heavyweight wrestling, focusing instead on the heavyweights because they were less likely to injure themselves as the junior heavyweights were.
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It’s possible that this reasoning still exists today with many promoters (especially Vince McMahon), who are more reluctant to push smaller wrestlers into the limelight because their bodies can’t take as much punishment on a regular basis as that of a heavyweight.
But Nobuyoshi Nakamura (Dragon Kid’s real name, and no relation to a certain other Nakamura) was undeterred and kept looking for a way to get into pro wrestling as an actual wrestler. His saving grace came in the form of Yoshihiro Asai, better known as Ultimo Dragon, who encouraged him to train in his Ultimo Dragon Gym, which later became known as Toryumon.
Rise to superstardom
Dragon Kid spent several years wrestling in small promotions in Mexico and Japan, and even made a one-time appearance on WCW Monday Nitro, wrestling under the name ‘Little Dragon’. He has since spent the majority of his career in both Toryumon and its successor promotion, Dragon Gate.
Dragon Gate is a promotion that focuses exclusively on a cruiserweight wrestling style. This means that the matches focus on technical wrestling, high-flying moves and submission wrestling. The goal here is for wrestlers to look as versatile and technically-savvy as possible while also being as ‘flashy’ as possible.
Dragon Kid succeeded in all of these areas, making him one of the poster children of Dragon Gate.
From about 1999 to about 2010, Dragon Kid was quite possibly the premier cruiserweight wrestler in the world. In terms of speed, agility and technique, the only wrestlers that could match him were Rey Mysterio, A.J. Styles (when he was lighter), and Kota Ibushi.
Dragon Kid could do things in the ring that few other wrestlers could do. His speed and technique were so far ahead of those of his fellow cruiserweights that, despite stiff competition from so many other wrestlers, Dragon Kid was named the Wrestling Observer’s ‘Best Flying Wrestler’ in 2001, and is one of only four wrestlers to win the Observer’s Best Finishing Maneuver award twice in a row (the others being Jushin ‘Thunder’ Liger, Scott Steiner, Ricochet and Kazuchika Okada).
So what did Dragon Kid do to obtain these distinctions? He defied gravity on a regular basis.
Dragon Kid could execute a Hurricanrana with multiple revolutions, and it wouldn’t get old. He could transition from this Hurricanrana into one of many moves (an Octopus Stretch, a Stunner, a DDT, an armbar, a figure-4 neck lock, just to name a few).
He could perform springboard moves and do flips without any effort whatsoever. He could run across the top rope with perfect balance. These things made him a wildly popular wrestler that dazzled audiences on a regular basis. After all, who else could do such things? Not even his mentor Ultimo Dragon could do something like this.
Then there’s his go-to finisher, a move that’s so impressive that, if it were to be used in a WWE ring today, it would get an instant roar of approval: the Dragonrana, 450° splash into a Hurricanrana from the top rope. This is one of the most difficult moves in all of wrestling to pull off, yet he did so without any difficulty. That’s how good of a wrestler he was during his peak.
Influence on the wrestling industry
Dragon Kid reached his peak during the 2000s, a decade that marked a major shift in attitudes in wrestling throughout the world. During this decade, there was a shift towards smaller, more agile wrestlers as the most exciting wrestlers, as opposed to the giants and less-athletic monsters of yesteryear.
When it comes to cruiserweight wrestlers setting the standard for athleticism, Dragon Kid surpassed it in virtually every way. No cruiserweight wrestler could match him in terms of his gravity-defying skills during his peak, which led to him setting new standards and expectations for what cruiserweight wrestlers could do.
Nowadays, there’s an expectation that top wrestlers perform some kind of aerial move or showcase some unusual athleticism to show that they’re more dynamic than the heavyweights of the past. Dragon Kid played a role in this mentality by showing just how much crazy athleticism could be found in a small guy.
If a 5’4, 150lbs. Luchadore could defy gravity as Dragon Kid does, then someone 100lbs bigger shouldn’t have any trouble pulling off a basic suicide dive.
In a way, Dragon Kid pushing the boundaries of cruiserweight wrestling led to more heavyweight wrestlers pushing boundaries of their own by becoming more dynamic and comfortable with aerial moves.
This is why guys like Seth Rollins and A.J. Styles are among WWE’s most popular wrestlers, and why even Roman Reigns does aerial moves (remember his over-the-top-rope suicide dive? That’s still pretty cool). The standard for a wrestler’s dynamism and versatility has been raised thanks to the efforts of smaller guys like Dragon Kid showing what wrestling without limitations really looks like.
2-time Dragon Gate Open the Dream Gate Champion (their version of a world title)
7-time Dragon Gate Open the Triangle Gate Champion (6-man tag title)
3-time Dragon Gate Open the Twin Gate Champion (standard tag title)
1-time NWA World Welterweight Champion
Took part in a 5-star 6-man tag team match (composed entirely of cruiserweights), which was also 2006’s Match of the Year, according to the Wrestling Observer
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