For me, Dragon Gate Kobe World Pro Wrestling Festival 2016 is Christmas morning. This is Dragon Gate’s biggest show of the year in front of their home crowd in a beautiful building. Seeing as how it’s a big Dragon Gate show, I know I’m in for pageantry and payoffs and in the world of wrestling, that’s about all I can ask for. If you’re looking for background on any of these matches, check out the Kobe World preview that the Open the Voice Gate crew did. That will get you caught up to speed.

JULY 24, 2016

Cyber Kong, Naoki Tanizaki, & Mondai Ryu def. Gamma, Takehiro Yamamura, & Kaito Ishida

A perfectly acceptable opener on Dragon Gate’s biggest show of the year. The real intrigue here was seeing how Yamamura and Ishida would do in their World debuts, and just like every other outing they’ve had since they debuted, they looked very good. They took it to the VerserK trio for as long as they could before Cyber Kong outpowered the Over Generation lads and put Yamamura with the Cyber Bomb. **1/2

Big R Shimizu, Shachihoko BOY, U-T, & Stalker Ichikawa def. Genki Horiguchi, Ryo Saito, Jimmy Kness J.K.S., & Futa Nakamura

The hodgepodge foursome of Shimizu and Shachihoko of Monster Express and the unaffiliated U-T and Ichikawa worked together in an efficient way to knock off The Jimmyz and the youngster, Futa Nakamura. I talk a lot about the future of Dragon Gate in my reviews and with El Lindaman, Kaito Ishida, and Takehiro Yamamura, the future looks very bright, but no future looks brighter than Mr. Nakamura’s. Less than 15 minutes of his career have made tape at this point and he is already very good. He didn’t eat a pin here; Kness did. He put power moves on his opponents and in the end, he was the star of the match. I can’t wait to see where this kid goes. Keep your eyes on him. Don’t skip this match if you haven’t seen Nakamura before. You’ll be seeing lots more of him in the Summer Adventure Tag League as he teams with Masaaki Mochizuki, but this is the perfect primer for those new to Nakamura. He’s the next version of Shingo Takagi, who just so happens to be main eventing this show. ***

El Lindaman def. Jimmy Kanda

A murderer’s row of young talent continues the show as following Ishida, Yamamura, and Nakamura is El Lindaman, who continues to be one of my favorite wrestlers on the planet, and now, he’s accompanied by the lovely Yosuke Santa Maria as they continue their adorable love story. I can’t get enough of those two crazy kids. As for the in-ring, this is exactly what it should have been. Kanda got in a few moves, but this was Linda’s show. Expect bigger and better things for Linda at World from here on out. He squashed the veteran here, and in the process, continues to make my heart flutter. I love this kid. **1/4

Masaaki Mochizuki & Yoshiaki Fujiwara def. Don Fujii & Masakatsu Funaki

If you remember back in November, Yoshiaki Fujiwara teamed with Yoshihiro Takayama to battle Minoru Suzuki & Kazunari Murakami at Genichiro Tenryu’s Retirement Show in what ended up being a shockingly good match. Since then, Fujiwara turned 67 (SIXTY-SEVEN) and now he’s on Dragon Gate’s biggest stage of the year and once again, for a 67 year old, he was amazing. While Mochizuki and Funaki spent their time in the ring kicking the snot out of one another, Fujii took Fujiwara to the crowd and brawled with him all over Kobe World Hall! Fujiwara at one point stole a lad’s shoe and attacked Fujii with it. This was wacky, but this was a lot of fun. Fujii and Mochizuki looked like they were having a blast in there as they got to team up with two stars of yesteryear. This wasn’t a match of the year contender by any means, but I enjoyed the hell out of this. I will never tell anyone to skip a Mochizuki match. For what it was, it was great, and it worked for me. ***1/2

Open the Brave Gate Championship
Eita def. Yosuke Santa Maria (c)

Yosuke Santa Maria has had one hell of a career revitalization and subsequently, an amazing run as Open the Brave Gate Champion. Eita has finally put all of the pieces together and is having the best year of his career with a successful King of Gate tournament and a valiant fight against Jushin Thunder Liger in the first round of the Super J Cup. These two put on a magnificent sprint that clocked in at just under at just under 12 minutes. Eita dominated a large portion of the match, targeting the arm of Maria so he could eventually lock in his dreaded Numero Uno submission. When Maria was on offense, she was lightning quick. She had a handful of flash pins that caught me off guard and I jumped at the false finishes. Eita, however, had a fire lit under him. He needed this win, to prove to the fans, the company, and himself that he was worthy of being champion. He and T-Hawk found success together as a tag team, but Eita needed a defining moment as a singles competitor. He couldn’t beat Tozawa or Kotoka for the Brave Gate, he couldn’t beat Liger, but the ducks fell in a row this evening as he submitted Maria and captured the title that has alluded him for over a year now. This was one hell of a match. ***3/4

Open the Twin Gate Championship
Jimmy Susumu & Jimmy Kagetora (c) def. Naruki Doi & “brother” YASSHI

I’m really conflicted with this match, because by the end, it was almost like two matches took place in between bells. The first was a “brother” YASSHI-dominated heat, or lack thereof, portion on The Jimmyz duo and it seemed to go on for an eternity. YASSHI at his best is someone that I can deal with, but not someone who I will go out of my way to see, and when he’s not on his A game, like tonight for example, he’s someone that I really don’t care for. As I said on a prior episode of Open the Voice Gate, the novelty of him coming back for one night was great, but now I don’t really care for him in Dragon Gate. Once he faded away and Doi did his work with Susumu and Kagetora, especially, this become one hell of a match. The final five or so minutes of this match was an example of the Dragon Gate style that I love dearly. Thankfully Susumu and Kagetora retained after a handful of lariats that may or may not have results in death for Doi. I would’ve been upset had the VerserK team walked away with the titles here. This was great at times, and really bad when it wasn’t. Let’s meet in the middle and call it ***1/2

Open the Triangle Gate Championship
Akira Tozawa, Masato Yoshino, & T-Hawk (c) def. CIMA, Dragon Kid, & Peter Kassa; BxB Hulk, Kzy, & Flamita

This is the first Triangle Gate match in a long time that has felt important and that has a lot to do with the additions of both Peter Kassa and Flamita into the title picture. It’s hard to get excited about a Triangle Gate match when a random trio of Jimmyz is challenging (again) or a lame duck VerserK team. Kassa and Flamita added a jolt to this match and in return we got the hottest Triangle Gate match of the year and to be honest, I don’t remember the last time I enjoyed a Triangle Gate match as much as this one.

The two standouts here, as expected, were Kassa and Flamita. Flamita has a real case for being the best flyer in wrestling. No one is more innovative or buzzworthy than Will Ospreay right now in that division, but no one comes close to doing things as crisp as Flamita when he decides to take flight. It’s a thing of beauty. He tore it up here as he continues his incredibly great, yet under the radar year.

Peter Kassa is not that graceful.

Peter Kassa is an animal, perhaps made in CIMA’s laboratory, and on top of that, he’s a very good wrestler. He looks like he’s had the time of his life on his inaugural Dragon Gate tour and this was the perfect way to cap it off. He looked like a million bucks here. I hope he comes back for many, many more tours.

The other seven in this match did their job. They were wacky at times, but even the wackiness was down compared to what I’m used to. This felt like a very important match and the finish, with Dragon Kid fighting with all of his will to break the clutches of Akira Tozawa’s deadly German Suplex, only to come up short, backs that up. This was a Dragon Gate match if I’ve ever seen one, and a beauty at that. ****1/2

Open the Dream Gate Championship
YAMATO def. Shingo Takagi (c)

There are special moments in wrestling. People win and lose, torches are passed, and stars are created. YAMATO, since 2008, has been an elite talent. He’s fought for good and he’s fought for evil, but no matter what his drive was, it has been clear that he is a step above the average wrestler in the world, and tonight, he took his rightful place atop Dragon Gate’s kingdom. When he’s on, there are few wrestlers that even come within the same ballpark as him when it comes to evoking emotion. As a longtime viewer of Dragon Gate, I have seen YAMATO embarrassed and humiliated. I have seen his head shaved in front of a stunned Osaka crowd and I have seen tears fall from his eyes down to the canvas. I’ve seen him craft opportunities and show that there is brains to his beauty – upsetting Shingo Takagi, his opponent tonight, in Korakuen Hall on a warm August evening and kickstarting his second Dream Gate reign comes to mind.

Takagi has dominated the wrestling world for over a decade now. He’s coming up on his 12th anniversary in the wrestling world and since he stepped foot into the squared circle in October 2004, he’s been a special talent. He’s been granted a lot of wonderful opportunities. He represents an era of Dragon Gate and Dragon Gate only. He has no ties to Ultimo Dragon and Toryumon. He is Dragon Gate, pure. It runs in his blood. He’s done amazing things in Dragon Gate USA and Dragon Gate UK. He was the man that ended CIMA’s historic reign as Open the Dream Gate Champion at this event three years ago. And tonight, in front of a packed Kobe World Hall, he passed the torch to YAMATO. His asinine 11 month run which featured quality bout after quality bout is over. Take a seat, Shingo. This is YAMATO’s time.

This matched Okada vs. Tanahashi from January in terms of drama. I was emotionally tied to this match before the bell even rang, and as the match went on, I found myself sucked into my computer screen. I couldn’t hide my eyes from the brutality that was taking place in front of me. These two graduates of the Dragon Gate dojo made the company proud tonight.

YAMATO had so many tricks up his sleeve. He took away Takagi’s arm by working it over religiously and at times, forcing the crowd to lunge onto the edge of their seats as he locked in the Cross Armbreaker – the move that won him the King of Gate tournament. He had the dreaded Sleeper Hold to halt Takagi’s momentum at times. He had the Frankensteiner of the Almighty when he needed to catch Takagi off guard. He had the Galleria when he needed to put the nail in the coffin. Takagi was great, but YAMATO was better. YAMATO had him scouted. He was in better condition. He survived, Takagi didn’t.

This was the second time that two pure Dragon Gate dojo graduates headlined World, with the first being BxB Hulk and Takagi in 2008 when they squared off for a vacant Open the Dream Gate Championship due to a CIMA injury. This time around, this was the plan. The opening matches marked the future of the company – guys like El Lindaman and Futa Nakamura, they will eventually be in this spot. Takagi and YAMATO represent the now. They are professional wrestling. YAMATO is the ace and the new Open the Dream Gate Champion. ****3/4

Final Thoughts:

This is not a Show of the Year Contender, but it featured two of the best matches of the year and one that will surely finish on my Match of the Year ballot. For a four hour show, this blew by. Nothing was bad. I enjoyed every match and adored the second half of the show. Seeing the likes of Futa Nakamura, Yoshiaki Fujiwara, and YAMATO do their thing on the same show is pretty special. Two thumbs up.