Welcome to our preview of one of Dragon Gate’s biggest shows of the year. Depending on how you feel about DEAD OR ALIVE, Final Gate is typically DG’s second or third most important show, behind the annual Pro Wrestling Festival in Kobe. Big things have had a tendency to happen at this event, whether it was the Dream Gate battle of DG pillars CIMA & Masaaki Mochizuki in 2011, BxB Hulk finally defeating his generational rival Shingo Takagi in 2014, or the beginning of Naruki Doi’s epic Dream Gate reign in 2008. Final Gate also tends to be a hell of a show, with only a few notable exceptions (we’re looking at you, 2009), so when you combine its reputation for big happenings and great quality it’s easy to see why it’s become such a can’t-miss event on the DG calendar. With all that said, it’s time to take a look at this year’s card and see if it can live up to that considerable hype.

Before we do that though, I want to quickly introduce myself. My name is John, and I will be VOW’s regular Dragon Gate columnist from now on. Case does a wonderful job with his show reviews and will continue to do them, so I’ll be here about once or twice a week with previews of big events and upcoming tours, as well as more general pieces and historical features on DG’s rich past. I’ve been a fan of this wonderful promotion off-and-on since literally before it was even born, as I can trace my Dragon fandom all the way back to the Toryumon/T2P days (the first match I ever saw was Milano Collection AT vs. Ryo Saito in that six-sided T2P ring, and I was hooked almost immediately). I grew up with these guys, and Toryumon/DG has basically served as my wrestling “port in the storm”, so to speak; while many other promotions have risen and fallen in my interest level, DG has always been here. Simply put, you know what you are getting from Dragon Gate most of the time: wrestling quality that ranges from good-to-amazing (granted, if you like the style) and storylines, angles, and character progression that rewards long-time watchers. Of course, some periods of DG have been better than others. But if I had to come up with one word to describe the promotion, I could definitely do worse than “consistent”.

We’ll talk more in the future about what makes DG such a consistently great promotion, and especially what makes some periods better than others (I have strong thoughts on this!), but for now let’s get going with this Final Gate 2015 preview! Thank you to Jae at the excellent I Heart DG site for the card.

Dragon Gate
The Final Gate 2015
December 27,2015
Fukuoka, Fukuoka Kokusai Center

El Lindaman, Takehiro Yamamura, Kaito Ishida vs. Don Fujii, YosukeSanta Maria, Nosawa Rongai

Our opening contest sees three of OVER GENERATION’s youngsters taking on, uh, an eclectic trio. Lindaman has been one of my personal highlights of DG ever since his character change (back during the Zombie-Veterans-In-MAD-BLANKEY arc if you’ve forgotten), and the promotion pretty clearly sees big things in him as he’s been protected quite a bit since taking on that name. Yamamura & Ishida have carved out names for themselves faster than any DG rookies in a while, and in many ways the OG unit is based around them. All three of them have a ton of talent and have been showing for months that the future of Dragon Gate is in strong hands. Opposing them are the ultimate DG veteran Don Fuji, Yosuke, and indy garbage Nosawa Rongai. I absolutely despise Nosawa, who shows up every so often in DG presumably just to annoy me. At least he and his equally garbage partner MAZADA aren’t ruining VERSERK with their semi-membership and continued presence, like they arguably did to past heel units Muscle Outlawz & (especially) Real Hazard. Anyway, Nosawa should drag down what would otherwise be a great match. Maria is probably one of the most underrated wrestlers in the world today, with her comedy gimmick obscuring what a fantastic in-ring competitor she can be. She showed it off most recently in her singles match with Masaaki Mochizuki at the last Korakuen, more than holding her own with Mochi and producing a fantastic match. Anyway, this match is a little tough to predict because any one of Yamamura, Ishida, or Maria could easily take the fall, but I’ll go with Lindaman over Maria with his Locomotion Tiger Suplex, continuing his strong push from the end of the last Korakuen.

Jimmy Kness J.K.S., Jimmy Kanda vs. Kzy, U-T

Like many people, I was very sad to see K-ness’ awesome return to his heel roots with MAD BLANKEY come to such an abrupt end in favor of yet another K-nessuka reunion, but K-ness does fit in with the DO FIXER/M2K reunion vibe of the Jimmyz. These are his generational peers and having him in the unit has grown on me very quickly. His partner Kanda and especially their opponent Kzy are two more woefully underrated in-ring competitors; on the right day, you might get me to say the Kzy-Tozawa Brave Gate match is my match of the year. Kzy’s partner is poor forgotten man U-T, the only ex-Millenial other than Maria who has yet to find a new unit. They touched upon U-T’s forgotten status in a promo on one of the house shows recently, when U-T lost in his own hometown and Mochizuki basically pointed out to him that he had been surpassed by all the other youngsters in the promotion. It feels like we’re in for a few more months of U-T jobbing before we do anything else with him, so I’ll go with Kanda over U-T with Ryu’s as my prediction.

Coliseum 2015 – Unlimited 10 Minute Round Rules
X vs. Masakatsu Funaki

Ah yes, this is clearly where we all assumed we’d see Funaki next after he left Keiji Mutoh’s joke of a promotion, right? Actually I’m sure someone will tell me Funaki has been wrestling in Real Japan or something for months now, but I mean let’s be real: we’re talking about promotions people actually watch. So anyway, I’m not entirely sure who X will turn out to be, but I have a good guess. If it was Stalker Ichikawa they would just tell us that, unless it’s Stalker doing a character. We could easily be in for Funaki vs. Stalker Gracie, as I’ve seen others speculate. So uh, let’s just go ahead and give this win to Funaki right now, I guess.

Open the Brave Gate Championship Match
Kotoka vs. Eita

When VERSERK members say Kotoka embodies their unit, they aren’t kidding; just like the unit itself, Kotoka is despised by the DG fanbase in Japan (which is honestly a big improvement over MAD BLANKEY, who had way too many fans by the end for a heel unit). Not that he was particularly well-liked before his official heel turn anyway, but Kotoka has really reinvented himself into a thoroughly annoying and wonderfully punchable rudo. I mean, just look at the guy. His stupid face paint. His dumb red hair. When he starts leaning over and screaming bleh, you honestly do want to just punch him right in his face. These are all great qualities for a heel to have, but I’ve still yet to be impressed by his in-ring work. Eita, on the other hand, has made some great strides in 2015. He’s still a very unlikable character to me, but they’ve also toned him down since the formation of OVER GENERATION so he’s getting better in that category to go along with some leaps forward in his ring work. Personally I would book the title change here, but I’m not sure DG is ready to take the belt off of Kotoka so quickly while he remains easy heat as an undeserving champion. So let’s say Kotoka wins with the Momo Latch after some heavy VERSERK chicanery. Bleh, indeed.

Open the Twin Gate Championship Match
YAMATO, Naruki Doi vs. Gamma, Punch Tominaga

I’m worried about this one, you guys. Okay, so hear me out here: YAMADoi are clearly one of the best Twin Gate championship teams in Dragon Gate history, and that’s saying something because DG has had a lot of incredibly strong Twin Gate teams (really, the Twin Gate is up there with CHIKARA’s Campeones De Parejas for the most well-booked/protected tag team championships in modern wrestling). They just click on every single level, from promos to ring work to general charisma. And it sends your fair author’s heart into a flutter every single time YAMATO refers to Doi as “Doi-chan”, but that’s sidetracking things a little bit. Here’s why I’m worried, though: DG has had a weird penchant for jobbing dominant Twin Gate teams to random, thrown-together oppositions, often involving several of the members of this match! Consider a few examples: the excellent YAMAKong (YAMATO & Cyber Kong) team in late 2009 lost to the thrown-together team of Susumu Yokosuka & Gamma in what I believe was their first-ever match as a tag team (with the added stipulation that Gamma would have had to leave DG forever had they lost). That result helped establish the new WARRIORS-5 unit that Gamma & Susumu were founding members of. In 2010, legendary team K-nessuka were in the midst of their first (and, amazingly, to date only) Twin Gate reign, when they were beaten by the thrown-together team of….Naruki Doi & Gamma, in part to help establish the relatively new Team Doi heel unit. There are other examples too (MochiFuji lost their belts to….BxB Hulk & Uhaa Nation?!), but I think you get the drift at this point. So here we have another dominant team….against another totally thrown together opposition side…..representing a relatively new unit. Yeah. I don’t like where this is going. I hate doing this but I have to predict it’s Punch Tominaga getting the shock pin over Naruki Doi. Ugh. I really, really hope I’m wrong.

Open the Triangle Gate 4 Way Championship Match
Masato Yoshino, Akira Tozawa, T-Hawk vs. Masaaki Mochizuki, Dragon Kid, Big R Shimizu vs. Naoki Tanizaki, Cyber Kong, Mondai Ryu vs. Ryo “Jimmy “ Saito, Jimmy Susumu, Genki Horiguchi H.A.Gee.Mee!!

The three- and four-way six-man (yes, I know technically it’s 9- or 12-man but that’s what they always call it in Japan, it’s a “four-way six-man”) is one of the historic staples of Dragon Gate, in fact going all the way back to the Toryumon days. Matches with M2K/Do FIXER teams against CRAZY MAX, DG Sekigun/Shin M2K, and later the Italian Connection helped put the young promotion on the map. So it’s always welcome when the four-way six-man makes an appearance on a big show, and its placement second-from-the-top suggests it’s going to get a decent amount of time too (which is especially good considering it will be elimination rules; not as in literally every member of a team must be eliminated, but instead one pin eliminates an entire team instead of a single fall match).  It is really funny to see Mondai Ryu, of all people, on the semi-main of one of the biggest shows of the year though. For those who don’t follow DG, imagine Bo Dallas in the semi-main of SummerSlam and you’re not really that far off. Anyway, I think the easiest way to predict this is to go process of elimination. I think we can safely eliminate the VERSERK trio from the running immediately; this is one of the weakest trios the unit could possibly field, and on top of that we’ve been teasing dissension between longtime partners Kong & Ryu for the past little while now (the two have left separately on the past two Korakuens following communication issues). If something’s going to happen there it could easily happen in this prominent position, though I have no idea which of those two you would possibly want to turn babyface. But yeah, they’re probably not winning. I don’t think the Jimmyz trio is winning either due to the simple fact that so much focus there has has been on the K-nessuka reunion; it would be weird and random to have Susumu win a title without him right now. So that leaves us with the Dia Hearts and Monster Express teams. Mochi/DK/Shimizu were a pretty good championship trio that I thought could have had a longer run than they did, so it wouldn’t shock me to see them get the belts back here (especially if they have bigger plans upcoming for any of the current championship trio, which is certainly possible). But in the end I just think it’s way too soon for the Yoshino/Tozawa/Hawk trio to drop the belts, given the promise they have as a team. So I’m going with the Monster Express team to retain the titles in what really should be an outstanding match.

Open the Dream Gate Championship Match
Shingo Takagi vs. CIMA

I’ll tell you this right off the hop: this is another one of those “I hope I’m wrong” cases like the Twin Gate match, but I really do think CIMA is winning this, for a number of reasons. First of all, CIMA has talked a lot lately about how uncomfortable he is with the current direction of DG on top, and I don’t think that’s entirely a work. Before YAMATO’s recent two reigns while leading MAD BLANKEY (neither of which lasted very long at all), Dragon Gate had only had one real heel champion, Magnitude Kishiwada all the way back in 2005. Other heels who won the belt, ironically enough Shingo & CIMA, turned face basically as soon as they won the title (CIMA was a heel for like all of a month after before turning, Shingo turned in the post-match). It’s just not a common occurrence in Dragon Gate to have a heel champion, let alone one as strong as Shingo. I’ve really, really enjoyed Shingo’s reign so far, as it’s such an interesting change of pace to have a heel who is just unquestionably the strongest wrestler in the promotion (i.e. doesn’t need a ton of cheating or interference to win), but his clean win over Mochizuki in the main event of THE GATE OF DESTINY clearly made a lot of DG fans uncomfortable. CIMA himself said it was the most uncomfortable ending to a big show he could ever recall while he was on commentary. So I really, really do not see them ending another big show with Shingo beating a babyface pillar of the company cleanly and decisively. The question then becomes do they do some kind of screwjob finish (as they already did with Gamma at Korakuen Hall in what was kind of a disaster of a Dream Gate match) to end the year or is this just going to be the end of the Shingo experiment. Personally, I lean towards the latter, though the former is very possible. It would tie into past history, since Shingo was the one who ended CIMA’s last Dream Gate reign (his epic 18 month long reign, at that), and it would also be the mentor beating his renegade student. So, again regrettably, I’m going with CIMA to win the title with the Meteora. For many it will be a joyous occasion; for me personally it will be a downer ending to what should be a really great show.

So that’s all for my Final Gate preview. I would love to hear from you on what you’d like to hear about DG going forward- are you most interested in historical pieces, such as a ranking of all the heel units in Dragon Gate? Do you want profiles on individual wrestlers? Would something like a Dragon Gate 101 series for people new to the promotion have any interest (I’ve had a lot of people ask me how to get into the promotion so I would guess this might be a popular idea, but who knows)? Let me know either via e-mail (masudoreiidx at gmail) or Twitter (@toshanshuinla). Thanks and enjoy Final Gate!