Ultimo Dragon: A Cult Tribute
As you probably could've guessed by now, I'm a pretty big lucha libre fan. I know, the Lucha Underground columns totally didn't give it away! While that promotion is a big reason for my fandom these days, the thing that drew me to lucha libre, or drew me back I suppose, was the fact that I grew up with it to some degree while watching WCW. For those who didn't watch WCW back in the 90's, one of the most innovative things Eric Bischoff and company did was introduce the world to stars from Mexico and Japan, creating the most exciting midcard in wrestling history. Granted, those stars never rose above that status and ultimately watched as the company crumbled around them, but hey, details right? Anyways, what's the point of this? Well, tonight (or this morning if you're an early bird), I want to tell you the story of one of the best international stars to step foot in WCW, and one of the best wrestlers I've ever seen. I'd say more, but nothing more needs to be said to that. So let's get started. This my friends is a Cult Tribute to Japanese legend, lucha libre legend and just flat out wrestling legend, the one and only Ultimo Dragon.
What You Already Know
Hey, someone the American readers will know for once. Ultimo Dragon was a mainstay for American audiences for years in the mid 90's/early 00's, wrestling for both WCW and WWE. Though his WWE stint was greeted with much fanfare and the promise of a big push, Dragon's biggest success came in WCW, where his colorful ring attire, super rad theme music and immense skill in lucha libre and puro style made him a fan favorite. Over the course of his two years working for Turner, Dragon won two Cruiserweight Championships and two Television Titles, and was considered to be one of the best workers WCW had on the entire roster. Most notably however, you'll know him as the wrestler holding ten championship belts in one of the most famous wrestling memes on the internet. That's right, the Dragon at one point held the WCW Cruiserweight Championship, CMLL's NWA World Middleweight Championship and all eight major Junior Championships in Japan, making him the most decorated wrestler...ever. No wonder WCW initially called him the Ultimate Dragon.
What You Didn't Know
Let's be clear here; Ultimo Dragon is Japanese. I know that shouldn't be a massive headline here, but considering how tied he is to both Mexico and Japan, I figured there should be some clarifying. Truthfully, Dragon's connection with Mexico largely happened due to chance. He had originally trained in the New Japan dojo with the intent of wrestling in Japan full time, only to find himself stuck in the midcard. Hoping to better his fortunes, he went down to Mexico and quickly became a star for the Universal Wrestling Association, winning their World Welterweight Championship in 1988. His success in Mexico allowed him to come back to Japan as a proven commodity, as well as giving him work for both CMLL and AAA in the early 90's. It was during his run in CMLL where Dragon developed the Ultimo Dragon persona, after having spent the first part of his year wrestling under his real name, Yoshihiro Asai.
One of the most impressive aspects of Dragon's career is the amount of moves he ultimately innovated. Over the course of his near 30 year career, Dragon is known for creating at least four popular moves. His most notable innovation has been the Asai Moonsault, a springboard moonsault to the outside of the ring that is used in some variation by numerous wrestlers today. Other moves Dragon is responsible for creating are the Dragonsteiner (a mega top rope hurricanrana), the Asai DDT (a standing shiranui) and the Dragon Bomb (a running sitout powerbomb). It should also be noted that, while he didn't invent the move, Dragon was responsible for popularizing the Dragon Sleeper submission in the United States during his WCW run. A damn shame that move isn't used more these days, as it's one of the best submissions when used properly.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Dragon has given back to wrestling by also acting as a promoter and trainer. In 1997, he opened up Toryumon, a wrestling promotion stationed both in Japan (Asai sold Toryumon Japan in 2004, leading to it becoming the now popular Dragon Gate promotion) and Mexico (the Mexican version called, shockingly, Toryumon Mexico). Dragon created the promotions to give his trainees a chance to wrestle in front of crowds once they graduated, and after suffering an arm injury in mid 1998 (it was believed at the time his career was over due to nerve damage from a botched surgery), he moved into training full time till his WWE run. Over the years, Dragon has produced several talents who have wrestled in Japan, Mexico and even the United States from his gym. His most notable trainees have been former WCW star Tokyo Magnum (the third dancing fool after Disco Inferno and Alex Wright), top New Japan star and former two time IWPG Heavyweight Champion Kazuchika Okada, and (get ready for this one) Angelico! That's right, Lucha Underground's hottest star trained with Ultimo Dragon in 2009 and then proceed to work with Toryumon Mexico afterwards, winning the 2010 Young Dragons Cup and the 2010 and 2012 Yamaha Cup with El Hijo del Fantasma (LU's King Cuerno) and Dragon himself. Now you all know why he's so good! I should've known Ultimo had a hand in his development.
Ultimo Dragon vs. Dean Malenko, Starrcade 1996. Not only was this an absolutely outstanding contest (it's Dragon and Dean Malenko people. The mention of their names makes this a four star match), but because this match is where Dragon officially became the first wrestler ever to hold ten championships at once. Yup, this is the one. You could say it's a history making bout. And while Dragon had many, many other great matches in this day, I don't think anything beats unifying ten belts in one night at one of the most underrated WCW PPV's ever. You'll thank me tomorrow.
To say Ultimo Dragon is the coolest would be the understatement of the evening. As far as I'm concerned, the dude is gold. Forget his great success in regards to titles and just look at the impact he's had on the business overall . He's been a major influence in both Japanese wrestling and lucha libre over his near thirty year career. He's given back to the business by training numerous young talent over the past eighteen years, including two of the best wrestlers in the world right now. Even today at the age of 48, he continues to wrestle in both Japan and Mexico, performing better than kids twenty years younger than him. That's an outstanding career overall if you ask me. And that doesn't include how he was one of the top stars of the second most prestigious division in American wrestling during the Monday Night War (and make no mistake, WCW's Cruiserweight Division was white hot), a fact that I don't think he gets nearly enough credit for when compared to the Mysterio's, Jericho's, Malenko's and Guerrero's of the world. Oh well, he's appreciated here. When you're done with this column, go find some Ultimo Dragon to watch. He's an all time talent, a future Hall of Famer in Japan and Mexico, and maybe even a WWE Hall of Famer some day as well. Hey, if they can honor wrestlers for their contributions outside of the states, Dragon is certainly worthy.
That's it guys, hope you enjoyed! I'll be back tomorrow to preview (at the last minute) the Champions League Final! Till then, how about that sweet Ultimo theme music?!