Content warning: This column touches on abuse as portrayed in wrestling storylines.
On March 4 2023, DRAGONGATE wrestler Jason Lee finally won his first singles title.
After a high-speed, break-neck competition with the promotion’s tiniest and fastest talent, Minorita, he was awarded the Open the Brave Gate Championship. A title made for the younger and smaller wrestlers of the company, fashioned in white so they could paint it in their own colours.
That may not mean much to some, DRAGONGATE is still generally considered a rather niche promotion among western fans, after all. But it meant something to me and it meant something to the man himself Jason Lee, a wrestler well worth your time.
The first Jason Lee match I ever saw was a midcard tag match on a minor show in April 2022.
I had decided to check out this unfamiliar promotion after seeing fan photographs of a very unusual storyline happening in DRAGONGATE, and this match would be my first look at it.
It certainly made a strong impression.
Even without knowing much about the background, it was immediately clear that something was off. A larger, masked wrestler, who I learned was called Shun Skywalker, was acting unsettlingly warm and familiar towards his partner, an apparently deeply uncomfortable young man with an anime-esque hairstyle; Jason Lee. Skywalker kept cheerfully chatting away, constantly suggesting teamwork and giving instructions, which his unfortunate companion slowly and begrudgingly followed along with.
Eventually, the two began to get into a flow. With what looked like well-practiced synergy they gained the upper hand and Lee got the pin on the much smaller of their opponents. Seemingly in some kind of shock, he held that position until he was physically pulled away. Once the trance was broken, he sank in on himself and buried his head in his hands. Shun Skywalker gently embraced him from behind and eventually led him out.
After it was over, I could not help but feel a slight sense of sickness, creeping dread.
This was the moment that got me genuinely hooked on DRAGONGATE.
For the first time since I had originally gotten into wrestling via the work of Kenny Omega, I felt that same kind of awe again. Here it was. I had finally found someone else who actually utilised this artform to its full creative capacities.
Within the next three days, I had tracked down every part of the tale that I could get my hands on. And indeed, it was something quite extraordinary.
The story of Shun Skywalker and Jason Lee was, at its core, a story of abuse. They had been close once, but over time Skywalker’s feelings had changed from fondness to obsession. He’d done a lot of harm to their mutual friends and instead of letting Jason leave him behind over this, he had turned to stalking, harassing, and eventually outright kidnapping him. The course of the story saw Lee slowly break down in his position of isolation and helplessness, to the point of even lashing out at those trying to help him.
But, it did have a happy ending. About a week after I had started watching, Jason would manage to lull Shun into complacency, kick him in the head and tell him once and for all “I am not yours”, before finally joining up with a faction who genuinely supported him. It was one of the most cathartic moments I had ever experienced in wrestling.
This was not the first time that themes of abuse have come up in a wrestling storyline, there have been plenty of tales about some despicable heel mistreating his girlfriend and some valiant babyface standing up to him. One could even argue that the popular tale of The Elite touches upon similar issues in the context of a larger friend group. But it was the first time that I had seen a story discuss these exact themes so concisely, so compellingly and so focused on the victim’s journey.
The tale of Jason Lee fighting to free himself and find new joy in his live resonated with me so much more than anything else did.
And the beauty of wrestling is that it did not end there.
Life Goes On
In its entirety, Jason Lee’s story in DRAGONGATE is in many ways a story about moving forward through the hardships of life. Long before his relationship with Skywalker turned sour, he experienced betrayals at the hands of close friends, the dissolution of his first faction in the promotion and quite a few disappointments in the title scene.
But no matter how much he failed, no matter how much he suffered, he never lost the courage to continue, to try again another day. And he never lost his kindness towards those around him, his willingness to support them and to accept their help in turn.
Because of that, while there was much grief in his story, there was much joy as well. He managed to capture both the tag and trios titles, becoming highly sought after as a stablemate for his ability to adapt to pretty much any partner. Fans came to value him for his consistently impressive skill. And along the way he found many wonderful friends.
Even those miserable two months could not rob him of that.
After taking fate into his own hands once more, Jason quickly became a pillar of popular babyface faction Natural Vibes, the calm centre of their wildly energetic cadre. He formed a tag team with the fiery but inexperienced Jacky “Funky” Kamei and together they even got some sweet revenge on Skywalker. In what would later be voted as DRAGONGATE’s best match of 2022, they took the tag titles off him at Kobe Pro Wrestling Festival, standing tall on the biggest stage the promotion had to offer.
Although, not everything went well. Shun has never overcome his obtuse obsession and still becomes a problem on occasion. Kamei and Lee lost the tag titles in their first defence. When Lee tried to find success in the singles division, first through the King of Gate tournament and then another challenge to the Brave Gate, things did not work out.
But still, he kept going. One day, his time would come.
Dreams and Bravery
Both of the singles titles in DRAGONGATE hold their names for a reason.
The Dream Gate is the highest honour of the promotion, the title everyone is striving for. The holder of the Dream Gate is the person powerful enough to have made those dreams into reality.
The Brave Gate, meanwhile, represents the courage of the smaller competitors. Those who fight on no matter what, who overcome adversity with the strength of their heart, are its most worthy champions.
Having started to watch DRAGONGATE when I did, there were always two particular names that seemed to fit those concepts especially well.
In January 2023, Shun Skywalker captured the Dream Gate for the second time. Only fitting for the man whose eyes are entirely clouded by fantasy.
But, what I was equally invested in was Jason Lee getting the Brave Gate.
Over all these years, from his early matches on the Chinese indies to his later bouts at some of Japan’s most famous wrestling venues, he has always worked his hardest. For all that he has changed over the years, he has never lost that distinct drive and courage.
And yet, he had never gotten to paint the Brave Gate in his colour.
One year after the beginning of his worst nightmare, one week before his first return to Hong Kong since the start of the pandemic, his efforts finally paid off. After an incredibly hard-fought battle, he was able to raise the Open the Brave Gate Championship up high, surrounded by his dear friends.
There is nobody who deserves this more.
I don’t know how long his reign will last. I don’t know what heights he will be able to reach from here. He might always stay an underdog to some extent.
But what I do know is that every time Jason Lee gets up again from another setback, every time he reaches for the top once more, every time he gets another hard-earned success, I will cheer for him.
And I hope that everyone else will, too.