Dragon Gate
The Final Gate 2016
December 25, 2016
Fukuoka, Fukuoka Kokusai Center

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Meet our previewers:

  • Case Lowe: Voices of Wrestling’s official young boy. Almost a legal adult. Current duties include cooking meals for other writers, mopping the floor, and reviewing Dragon Gate major events. Find him on the Open the Voice Gate podcast or on Twitter @_InYourCase
  • Michael Spears: Co-host of Open the Voice Gate and former host of Inside the Gate. You can find him at @fujiiheya where he has been working on a multi-year project that’s a retrospective on the career of CIMA that’ll be released in 2017, he promises.
  • John Carroll: The person who came up with this whole Open the Voice Gate idea if you would like to aim your tomatoes their way. This is their one year anniversary at VOW, because they debuted doing a solo preview of Final Gate last year! Holy crap does time ever fly. Find them on Twitter @toshanshuinla if you like tweets about kanji readings and struggling to write hiragana.

Gamma, Punch Tominaga, Shachihoko BOY vs. Jimmy K-ness J.K.S., “Hollywood” Stalker Ichikawa, Yosuke♡Santa Maria

Case Lowe: This might be the worst possible match Dragon Gate can put on paper. Even my boy K-Ness can’t make this salvageable. Gamma is mediocre, Punch stinks, Shachi is Shachi, Maria is very good, and Ichikawa is…you know, just sort of doing his own thing. I’m going to have to side with the Over Generation duo (plus Shachi) simply because there’s some unit affiliation there. Seeing as how this is in Fukuoka and they are notoriously a dead crowd, I expect to be able to hear pens drop. Prediction: Gamma, Punch Tominaga, & Shachihoko BOY

Michael Spears: Oh boy. This match will either be an absolute comedy match, which might get a reaction out of a notoriously frigid Nagoya crowd. Or it’ll die a death. I totally get why you find places for some of these people on this show, Gamma, K-ness and Stalker are decade-long Dragon System mainstays, Shachi is often there to eat a fall, and Maria’s still a front-line player with how small Tribe Vanguard is. But Punch? This the show last year where Punch had his second ever relevant match, so nostalgia? Would have rather seen someway to get Hyou Watanabe and Shun Skywalker on the main card. Prediction: Gamma, Punch Tominaga & Shachihoko BOY in a two match Stalker special

John Carroll: Yeah, I don’t know why this match exists either. Maybe they think Fukuoka needs a sacrifice to be appeased, but this sure as hell isn’t the way to fire up a notoriously dead crowd. Can you believe Gamma & Punch were actually challenging for the Twin Gate titles last year? Against YAMATO and Doi, of all teams? I actually thought they were going to win that match just to fit DG’s proud tradition of amazing Twin Gate champions losing to totally thrown together teams (hell, Gamma himself was involved in that twice; first when he & Susumu beat the awesome YAMAKong team in 2009 to kick off WARRIORS-5, and then when he & Doi beat K-nessuka in late 2010 during the weird pre-Blood Warriors “Team Doi” run), but instead they got completely squashed. In hindsight, that sure as hell set the stage for their 2016, huh? Prediction: Gamma, Punch Tominaga & Shachihoko BOY

Masaaki Mochizuki, Don Fujii vs. Takehiro Yamamura, Kaito Ishida

Case Lowe: Now we’re talking! Mochizuki ripped Yamamura a new one on the 12/18 Aichi show, saying that he’s becoming a failure. Ishida has progressed faster than Yamamura, but even then, if you look at the brand new kids, they are lapping the 2nd year Over Generation youngsters. I expect Fujii & Mochizuki to bring the hurt and bring lots of it. Yamamura will eat a handful of kicks from Mochizuki and then a chokeslam from Fujii. Rest in peace, youngsters. Prediction: Masaaki Mochizuki & Don Fujii

Michael Spears: One of the minor storylines in Dragon Gate right now is the awesome Class of 2016 vs Veterans and the backlash of that has reached the Over Generation Class of 2015. As Case said, Mochizuki, rightfully, called out Yamamura earlier this month and it’s put up or shut up time with these two. It was pretty stark, in my opinion, the difference of reactions Shun Skywalker and Ben-K got at the 12/20 Korakuen versus the OG Kids. I welcome the elder on young adult violence and hopefully this will get their act together. Prediction: Masaaki Mochizuki & Don Fujii

John Carroll: The others are beating around the bush here, but let’s just come out and say it: Yamamura & Ishida had an incredibly disappointing 2016. Yeah, they weren’t booked to do much, but at the same time whose fault is their complete lack of personality? Hyou Watanabe hasn’t been booked to do much more than lose and say he wants to maybe win the Brave Gate someday, but I feel like I know a ton more about him after a few months than I know about either one of these kids after two years. Ishida is a little more interesting than Yamamura, but they both just come across as “The young guys in Over Generation with sparkly pants”. Obviously they are going to lose this but hopefully they start showing something here, because they’re getting overshadowed badly by their younger peers. Prediction: Masaaki Mochizuki & Don Fujii

BxB Hulk, Kzy vs. Jimmy Susumu, Big R Shimizu

Case Lowe: Ah, North Tribe. What could have been, right? Kzy & Hulk make for a great team, but sadly, there’s no way they can win after the smashing success Jimmy Susumu has had as of late. Shimizu has great chemistry with Hulk and Susumu has great chemistry with everyone. Don’t sleep on this match from a quality perspective, and keep an eye out for Susumu, who is ascending up the card again. Prediction: Jimmy Susumu & Big R Shimizu

Michael Spears: This could be one of those matches on the undercard that people sleep on before the show and then walk away going “Oh snap that was a ton of fun.” I’ve been really enjoying Big R Shimizu lately (not his weird unaffiliated singlet, mind you). He’s been a big ol’ lad throwing around folks willy-nilly and I expect he’s going to make a lawn dart out of poor Kzy. I’m as much as a fan of North Tribe as most people, but I can’t expect them walking out of Nagoya with a win. Prediction: Jimmy Susumu & Big R Shimizu

John Carroll: I too would like to see the North Tribe make waves in 2017 in the Twin division, and I actually do think there’s a decent chance it happens (especially if there’s a Twin Gate title change and it’s an opportunity to get a little Shingo-Hulk rivalry action going; yes, I guess I just spoiled my pick for later, oops). I’m gonna be bold here and predict them for the upset win, keeping in mind that Shimizu is, like many big men in DG, very susceptible to flash pins and Kzy happens to have a signature flash pin in his arsenal. Prediction: BxB Hulk & Kzy

Open the Brave Gate Championship Match
Eita vs. Jimmy Kagetora

Case Lowe: Okay, Jimmy Kagetora is getting his Brave Gate shot – BE HAPPY, DRAGON GATE FANS. Kagetora is finally getting another Brave Gate opportunity so shut up and enjoy it. There’s no way this match won’t be great. These two had a ridiculous match nearly two years ago (January 21, 2015), and I expect more of the same. Kagetora has immense technical skill, Eita has adopted the llave style. Throw the Dragon Gate stereotype out the window. This will be peak matwork. I don’t see Kagetora winning, but WHO CARES HE’S GETTING A SHOT so please stop complaining about Kagetora’s spot on the card. Enjoy the match. Prediction: Eita

Michael Spears: And here we have, the jewel in the crown in Eita’s comeback year. We cannot overstate how much of a turnaround his 2016 was; if more eyes were on Dragon Gate, he would be the prohibitive Most Improved of 2016 candidate. I kind of went on about how Eita needs a strong Brave Gate defense to solidify his reign in the Gate of Destiny preview, and boy if that Flamita match wasn’t that, this sure as heck is that. At the same time, this is one of the most difficult matches to predict (the other being the Dream Gate match). I’m kind of seeing Yokosuka Ichoume going their separate paths for a bit. How else to solidify it with Kagetora’s first ever DG singles title win? Prediction: Kagetora

John Carroll: Of all the matches on this card, I really have no idea which way this is going. On one hand, all the talk about Kagetora’s EIGHT failed Brave Gate challenges (really, he’s 0-8 going for this title!) makes you think it’s setting up him finally breaking through and winning the belt. On the other hand, Eita was DG’s top young wrestler in 2016 and one of the overall highlights of the promotion, so it seems a little early to take the Brave Gate off of him at this point. I lean very, very slightly toward Eita retaining, but either way I’m expecting a fantastic match. Prediction: Eita

Listen to our Dragon Gate-exclusive “Open the Voice Gate”

Open the Triangle Gate Championship 3 Way Match
Jimmy Susumu, Ryo “Jimmy” Saito, Jimmy Kanda vs. Masato Yoshino, Kotoka, Ben-K vs. Cyber Kong, Mondai Ryu, El Lindaman

Case Lowe: Genki Horiguchi was originally supposed to be in this match, but Jimmy Susumu is now going to pull double duty as Horiguchi has broken ribs thanks to the hands of Ben-K. That’s where this match gets interesting. Ben-K is a rookie; a baby in the landscape of the professional wrestling. With that in mind, however, he’s as good as it gets. Ben-K is the best. No one excites me quite like him. He’s in trouble now, though. VerserK is obviously going to gun for him, and now The Jimmyz have a personal interest in him. Ben-K could have an awful Christmas. That being said, I think his trio has the best shot of winning this match. Mondai Ryu can’t hold a title, Susumu appears to be going after better things, and although Ben-K is young, Dragon Gate knows how talented he is. The unaffiliated team has a real shot of grabbing the gold here. Prediction: Masato Yoshino, Kotoka, & Ben-K

Michael Spears: Poor Genki was the first one to face the unbridled strength of Dragon Gate’s budding rookie supernova, Ben-K. Before Horiguchi was removed from this match, I was leaning towards the Jimmyz retaining, but now I’m obviously not. If anyone else other than Mondai Ryu, the loss post, was a member of the VerserK team, I’d go for them. It’d be a perfect time for El Lindaman to win the title and Cyber Kong is aces in Twin and Triangle Gate teams. But they are saddled with the Problem Child of the Kimata Family so let’s nope on that. We are now deep in the Unit Shuffle, and I honestly believe that only the Jimmyz and maybe VerserK are safe. How better to start a new unit but with a shiny new Triangle Gate reign? Prediction: Masato Yoshino, Kotoka & Ben-K

John Carroll: I can’t complain about these Triangle Gate three-ways anymore after the last one at Gate of Destiny was so good, so let’s just roll with it for now. Like the others I’m betting on the unaffiliated team picking up the win and the gold as they roll into a new unit, which would be the second title for Kotoka in a calendar year! That’s actually kind of incredible if you think about his ranking pre-VerserK (he was basically above Stalker only, and even then there were probably times during the Team Veteran Returns run when Stalker could realistically have been ranked higher!). Prediction: Masato Yoshino, Kotoka & Ben-K

Open the Twin Gate Championship Match
CIMA, Dragon Kid vs. Shingo Takagi, T-Hawk

Case Lowe: I love this CIMA & Dragon Kid team. They mesh together well, and it’s nice to see an uber babyface team hold gold. Shingo & T-Hawk are the exact opposite. The face/heel dynamic here is so strong that maybe even the Fukuoka crowd will react to it. The CIMA/DK team is just getting started, and I can’t help but feel like either Shingo, T-Hawk, or both, will be getting a Dream Gate shot soon enough. Prediction: CIMA & Dragon Kid

Michael Spears: I never saw CK-1 as a long term Twin Gate champion team. They seemed good as transition champs, like Big T were earlier this year. But I just don’t think the Twin Gate titles are the right titles for either Takagi, which it’d be a step back after dominating the Dream Gate picture in 2015-16, or T-Hawk, who is still in the middle of his reclamation process and just had a Twin and Triangle reign. This should be a whole lot of fun with what old Toryumon fans would call “Hot Fighting” and the two teams meshed well earlier this week at Korakuen. Give me CK-1, but look for them to drop the belts either before or at Champion Gate this March. Prediction: CIMA & Dragon Kid

John Carroll: Have to disagree with my colleagues here, I think it’s pretty clear that Shingo & T-Hawk are taking these belts. VerserK needs something heading into 2017, because clearly right now they’re just kinda there (even if they do still win a lot of multi-man tags, enraging Kay/Milo in the process), and I think the Twin Gate belts are going to be it. I never saw CK-1 as much more than transitional champions and god knows neither of them need belts to be over, but VerserK just feels like their momentum has stalled since Shingo dropped the Dream Gate. This will help them get that momentum going again for sure, and I’m just really into the idea of these two big bully heels running over the tag division for a while. Prediction: Shingo Takagi & T-Hawk

Open the Dream Gate Championship Match
YAMATO vs. Naruki Doi

Case Lowe: This is it for YAMATO, gang. His peak was Kobe World. He beat Shingo Takagi in the middle of the ring and it was beautiful. Since then, he has only defended his title once in a lackluster match with Akira Tozawa in September. That was three months ago. YAMATO’s reign has been a bummer, Tribe Vanguard is a failure, and face it, Naruki Doi has the momentum. He’s now a babyface and while he doesn’t have a unit just yet, seems to be gathering pieces with longtime friend (and foe) Masato Yoshino. It makes sense for Doi to win here. I understand that YAMATO is a big star and that he’d look weak if his reign ended right here, but Doi is the one with the momentum. Dragon Gate is red hot, but the main event scene is suffering badly with YAMATO on top. Doi is money. Prediction: Naruki Doi

Michael Spears: I feel like I’m going to be the contrarian of the panel with this match. YAMATO’s been hamstrung in every sense of the word since he won the title at Kobe World. Oh so you just won the title? Sorry no defense until September due to Summer Adventure Tag League! Your first defense, you say? Well it’s going to be against a massive fan favorite who is likely on his way out, and it’s not going to reach the heights it could. So Gate of Destiny, your next defense, right? Well that guy is actually leaving so we are going to do a huge farewell tour and his final match is that night, so no second defense. That’s been the hand that The Almighty was dealt in his fourth Dream Gate reign, and that’s not to mention that Tribe Vanguard has been the weakest new unit since Deep Drunkers.

On the other hand, you have Naruki Doi, a man whose last Dream Gate reign was, in retrospect, regarded as a miss. He’s turned it around and has added some of his more rudo mannerisms into his current face run. Frankly, the last half of 2016 have been more about him and Akira Tozawa than has it been about the Dream Gate champion. If they want to give the title to the hot hand, you have it in Doi. He’s likely going to be forming a new unit in January and that’s often how they start units in Dragon Gate. At the same time, this would be the third straight Open the Dream Gate reign that would not get past the second defense, and the fourth out of the last five. I feel like I’m waffling in my prediction, but I just have the feeling that it’s going to be YAMATO. If not, you might as put Tribe Vanguard down and do a full unit rebuild. Prediction: YAMATO

John Carroll: Look, I’m not at all unbiased here: Naruki Doi is my favorite guy right now in DG, and one of my all-time favorites as well. I even enjoyed that 2009 Dream Gate run that, as Michael mentioned, is not necessarily all that well regarded by the fanbase; I think that opinion completely ignores some really cool matches he had during that run in favor of remembering the couple of clunkers that were in there (cough cough Akebono and Kanemoto cough cough), but look who he was up against. Who on the entire DG roster was going to have a good singles match with Ake-friggin’-bono? God bless the guy, but he never worked in Dragon Gate. Anyway. Doi has not been Dream Gate champion since he dropped that belt to- yup- YAMATO in March of 2010, so we’re at about 6 years and 9 months since his last reign. Doi and YAMATO just have so much history between them, first as rivals, then as quite likely the greatest tag team in Dragon system history, and now as rivals again, that this was always the natural match to go with for FINAL GATE. I really have no idea who is going to win this for all of the reasons Michael & Case so ably covered; my heart says Doi, my head says YAMATO, and since this is asking me for a prediction (not who I want to win), I’ll have to go with my head. Trust me, I hope I’m wrong. Prediction: YAMATO