KOTOKA: ROAD TO FINAL
FEBRUARY 7, 2018
KORAKUEN HALL – TOKYO, JAPAN
KAITO ISHIDA & MONDAIRYU DEF. YUKI YOSHIOKA & HYO WATANABE
Another solid match zero from the lowest members of Dragon Gate’s roster. This Over Generation team has kind of become the mainstay of the openers, but it’s time for Ishida to solidify his position on the cards. He was hurt by injuries in 2017, but with more and more debuts on the horizon, he needs to become more than Yamamura’s former tag team partner. Both Yoshioka and Watanabe looked good and have shown development from where they were last year. Nice fire from Yoshioka down the stretch made this better than the useless pre-show matches we had all last year. **1/2
The show proper began with the contract signing for the Dream Gate main event. President Okamura made another rare Tokyo appearance to officiate. Both Masaaki Mochizuki and Kzy vowed to win the championship, and Kzy got some crowd calls and chants to end the signing.
SUSUMU YOKOSUKA, GENKI HORIGUCHI & JASON LEE DEF. KAGETORA, BANDIDO & ZACHARY WENTZ
This was billed as the “6 Man International Tag Team Match,” highlighting wrestlers from four countries. The team of KAGETORA, Bandido and Wentz came out to Wentz’s theme and all try to imitate his head-banging, but KAGETORA pointed out he didn’t have enough hair to do it properly. This was a fun opener with everything getting their moments to shine.
As I saw this on the NicoVideo live stream, we had only the moving hard cam and zero commentary, which I completely understand why people dislike it, but it was good to hear the crowd get into it and their calls for wrestlers. I say this, because Zachary Wentz has done a tremendous job so far to ingratiate himself to the DG audience. He was on the opposite side of Jason Lee’s trademark prayer fake-out, and he audibly shouted that he didn’t know what to do with this, which got a good laugh as Wentz picked up on DG’s style of comedy.
The action in this match highlighted everyone’s offense and the roster along with the outsiders are getting to know each other better which made this match a lot smoother than January’s shows in Osaka and Korakuen. Bandido flashed some lucha submissions, which probably made everyone who was a fan of T2P pretty happy, and Wentz was willing to take some rather brutal looking spots like Susumu’s corner exploder. Susumu broke out the Yokosuka Cutter, something that usually only gets the finish on house shows which made since: him and Genki are getting the next Twin Gate shot so they needed to look strong. Again, it was a fun opener. ***1/4
TAKASHI YOSHIDA DEF. BIG R SHIMIZU
This match up of the largest men of the promotions had the two slam into each other out of the gates like bulls out of the paddock, but then ended really abruptly with Yoshida pinning Shimizu after three Pineapple Bombers, two in opposing corners and the other off the ropes. Without commentary, one could hear the crowd get into each wrestler’s power moves which was nice.
Shimizu has been on a losing streak, dating back to last year. He’s taken the fall in nearly every contest he’s been in after being booked rather strongly in the dying days of YAMATO’s title reign. In Dragon Gate, streaks like this scream out to you: if you get wins like Kzy did, then you’re likely to get a Dream Key, but if you lose like Shimizu has, something’s up and you might be turning or leaving your unit soon. **3/4
Yoshida said Shimizu was pathetic. He has fallen so far behind Ben-K. Isn’t he ashamed? Doesn’t he feel degraded? He obviously knows nothing about pro wrestling. Maybe he should start over, with Yoshida as his teacher. All he has to do is say “Mr. Yoshida! Please teach me how to wrestle!”. He admitted that though he never bothered to learn how to wrestle himself so he doesn’t know how to teach it.
DON FUJII, YOSUKE SANTA MARIA & U-T DEF. KOTOKA, GAMMA & K-NESS
The road to Kotoka’s retirement next month in Tokyo kicked off in earnest as he teamed with two of the oldest members of the roster against Don Fujii and the lowest members of Tribe Vanguard. Korakuen was showing their support for Kotoka as the six had a pretty lighthearted tag. Don Fujii and Gamma had a war of water bottles, which was good for a laugh. Fujii, the older bully of the roster, wasn’t going to let Kotoka ride off into the sunset with getting one more chop bottle. Maria got the pin on Kotoka with the kiss into Neraluchi. That makes a lot of sense given that she won on 2/11 in Hakata and made a Triangle Gate challenge for Champion Gate. This was another fun undercard match that didn’t outstay its welcome and Tokyo was into it. ***
RYO SAITO & PUNCH TOMINAGA DEF. SHINGO TAKAGI & YASUSHI KANDA
I am well on record, both on this website and on Open the Voice Gate, as someone with a very low opinion of Punch Tominaga. He stinks. It’s not hyperbole to say he’s the worst wrestler to come out of the Dragon System. He’s had maybe two good matches his entire career: A Twin Gate challenge with Gamma that was an elevated squash match, and the Doi Darts Triangle Gate match he had in 2011 as his seventh match of his entire career. I can tolerate him on the pre-show when it’s five minutes. However, this was a ten minute match that felt like thirty, and it completely brought down the other three good to excellent wrestlers.
On top of that, this ongoing feud between Ryo Saito and Shingo Takagi is boring and outlived its welcome. Shingo Takagi is clearly being cycled down in Dragon Gate, both so that Young Antias can be the focal point of the unit, and as he does more outsider appearances. There has to be a better way of cycling down wrestlers than this.
It was a brawl. I like that Shingo has zero chill about wrestlers like Tominaga and Shachihoko BOY, but that wasn’t going to save this. Punch won with a flash pin on Kanda. Since the comedy team won, they made challenges. Punch gets what will be probably a real bad Brave Gate challenge against Kanda at Champion Gate. Takagi is forced into challenging Saito for the Owarai Gate next month at Korakuen. Which would actually be funny if he won and was forced into carrying that belt around during Champion Carnival. Whatever. This was bad. *1/4
3-WAY 6-MAN TAG MATCH
T-HAWK, EITA & EL LINDAMAN DEF. NARUKI DOI, MASATO YOSHINO & BEN-K, YAMATO, BXB HULK & FLAMITA
It’s sort of weird to think that this was the first multi-team match in six months. After a long time where Dragon Gate really drove the multi-team matches into the ground, backed up a dump truck and then put more dirt on its corpse, I’m glad they’ve used their trademark match type sparingly. It keeps it special and allowed this to feel like a showcase of the three relevant units in the company.
This match also showed the downside of Dragon Gate’s current streaming situation. Only having a hard camera, albeit one that can pan around versus being fixed on the ring, made it very hard to follow brawls into the crowd. Luckily there wasn’t a lot of this, but I can see someone seeing this with full production having a better opinion of this match than I do.
That being said, after the opening brawl and slower first seven or so minutes, this ended up being a very good multi-man match. I love how they’ve made rudo El Lindaman into this petulant dipshit that everyone loves beating up on, and boy did they take advantage of that in this context. Yoshino and Flamita had a bunch of fun interactions. It’s kind of wild that Flamita has been in Dragon Gate off and on for four years, and there’s only been one singles match between the two (untaped in Kyoto in 2014).
This really got hot in the last eight minutes. They were real careful about how much Ben-K was in the match. Combined, he might have been in the match for four minutes. But, Ben-K came in and had one of the hottest stretches in recent memory where he completely destroyed Tribe Vanguard and eliminated them. I’ve been somewhat critical of where he is at now a full year into his career, but he’s tremendous in these hot stretches. It’s going to be real interesting to see how he’s going to be in the main event in Champion Gate, now that he has a Dream Key. Dragon Gate definitely knows what they have in him, and given the age of their stars, why not give him a shot now?
The finish of the match was Antias hijinks enabling T-Hawk to hit Cerberus and pin Masato Yoshino. This is one of those things that a casual Dragon Gate might not pick up on, but is a really huge development. Yoshino is one of the most protected guys in Dragon Gate, dating back to the T2P days when more often or not Milano Collection AT would take the fall in ItaCon matches versus YOSSINO. The fact that he lost versus Ben-K really foreshadowed Ben-K’s upcoming Dream Gate challenge. And it’s a big thing for T-Hawk, who traditionally has been stymied by Yoshino at every opportunity.
This started off pretty slow, but finished strong. Not an all-timer, but definitely worth a watch. ****
OPEN THE DREAM GATE CHAMPIONSHIP
MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI (C) DEF. KZY
Dragon Gate has a pretty odd schedule in comparison to other promotions.
Instead of having big events across the year, Dragon Gate bunches up their five (six if you include the new Memorial Gate in Sendai), and runs their two annual tournaments between them. That means that from January until May, it’s a quieter promotion with only really Champion Gate going on. In 2017, that meant the Winter and Spring was stalling to see how bad Masato Yoshino’s injury was, and not doing anything about the formation of MaxiMuM until he came back.
2018 is different.
It can still be called slow from an unit standpoint: Shingo Takagi’s specter looms over Antias, almost all of the former Jimmyz are unaffiliated, Over Generation is down to three veterans and two younger wrestlers with long and involved injury histories, and three former rookies are ready for placement in units. What Dragon Gate has been focusing on is preparing for the future. Masaaki Mochizuki is 48. CIMA is 40. The youngest member of the Big Five is Shingo Takagi and he’s 35. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that the majority of the original Toryumon Japan guys will be retired, or part-time in five years. The last younger wrestler they tried to elevate was T-Hawk, and it never took. Now steps up Kzy. As Milo expertly explained Kzy’s career, Kzy was at most a third of a Triangle Gate team with a very short Brave Gate reign.
But dating back to last year, Kzy started winning and he wouldn’t stop. First it was in tags, and then in trios matches. It went from getting flash pins to establishing his European uppercut as a legitimate finisher. He got two direct wins over Mochizuki, the first on January’s Korakuen with the uppercut, the second in Kobe with his Skayde Schoolboy. The crowd was behind him the entire way. This is how you elevate someone to being a player in 2018 Dragon Gate. Now let us get into the match.
The wonderful thing about Mochizuki’s third title reign is how different all the matches have been. He beat YAMATO for the title having one of YAMATO’s matches: slow mat-work leading to a move spammy finish. Mocchy’s defense against Susumu was reminiscent of King’s Road style and will go down as one of the best Dream Gate matches in history. Versus Ryo Saito, it was a fast paced version of the standard Dream Gate formula. Mochizuki won his third Dream Key in a match that was a style of its own.
The first portion of this match was Mochizuki bullying and punishing Kzy. “How dare Kzy try to rise above his station? He’s not at the Dream Gate level!” was clearly going through his mind. Countless punches and kicks to Kzy’s stomach. A brutal looking double stomp driving all the air out of his challenger’s lungs. Mochizuki was determined to squash Kzy like an annoying mosquito that already bit him too much, but Kzy was there to prove his toughness.
An advantage of not having commentary is that you can hear the crowd crystal clear. And they were firmly behind Kzy. Cheering for every kickout. Calling out for him to get him to come back into the match. Then Kzy did and took it to Mochizuki. Elbow smashes versus kicks with uppercuts thrown in for good measure. A huge Mission Impossible tope con giro. One of the coolest spots of this match was a rather painful looking running apron running neckbreaker on Mochizuki that Kzy hit from the floor.
The kickouts were huge. The crowd completely bought into Kzy shrugging of Mochizuki’s kick combos and thought he may have had the match won with the Impact going into the Kzy time. Kzy had answers to Mocchy’s big moves. Mochizuki was hanging in there by the skin of his teeth, getting out of the Skayde Schoolboy right before three. Then Mochizuki showed he had flash pins of his own, and caught Kzy in a crucifix hold for the win.
After the match, Kzy announced he was leaving Tribe Vanguard. In order to become a member of the Big Five, he had to fight members of the Big Five. That meant BxB Hulk and YAMATO.
Kzy was devastated. He never expected he would lose like that. Never saw it coming. “Flash pins are vital”. That is why he uses and will continue to use them. He really wanted that title. He wanted to stand right where he is standing now and say “I AM THE CHAMPION”. He wanted to put all of those memories of the noisy weakling Kzy to rest for good. He lost today, but he has to find a way to keep moving forward. He thinks he knows the best way to do it. Pick a fight with his own generation. To do that he has to stand across from a certain duo, not next to them. He announced he was leaving Tribe Vanguard. YAMATO assumed he had just hit his head really hard and wasn’t thinking clearly. It happens in matches like that. He tried to ferry him backstage so he could cool off. Kzy pushed YAMATO away. He was thinking crystal clear. When they started Tribe Vanguard, YAMATO told him it was time to become serious. Today, right here and now, he was as serious as he ever would be. He can’t think of them as big brothers any longer. He has to think of them as his generation rivals. Obstacles to his success. Hulk was crestfallen. He cried out Kzy’s name with pain in his voice. He didn’t realize Kzy felt this way. Kzy Ohhhh Kzy he wailed. He understood what Kzy was trying to do. He would look forward to battling with him, but warned him that he won’t be as friendly as he is now. YAMATO was going to say the same thing he said when Kzy left Mad Blankey. It was time to pay up on his bar tab. Kzy wasn’t amused. YAMATO got serious. There are 5 or 6 wrestlers considered the “current generation”. Every day they are under a massive amount of pressure to perform and carry the company forward. If Kzy wants to be a part of that elite few, he can meet YAMATO in the ring and show him what he is made of.
This brought out Antias, whom have been trying to recruit Kzy all year. He said no every time and no was his answer again. Kzy got beat down by Anitas and Susumu and Genki made the save setting up a trios match for Korakuen on March 6th.
This might just be one person effusing praise on a match they loved, but this match “made” Kzy in my eyes. The crowd was behind him all the way and he gained tons from this defeat. He showed heart, guts, and all of those cliche things people love to say. After a career where he was often a hanger-on and just a charismatic part of a unit, he can be a focal point on his own. And it’s time to drop the “over 45” part of “Masaaki Mochizuki is one of the best in world over 45.” This was the fourth incredible match in a title reign that has reinvigorated Dragon Gate’s top championship. It’s become a title reign I don’t want to end. ****1/2
Outside of the Anitas vs Saito/Tominaga match, this was an incredibly easy to watch Korakuen with two matches worth going out of your way to see being the multi-team match and the Dream Gate championship. Things are in full motion for Dragon Gate in 2018 leading into their first larger event of the year in Osaka for Champion Gate. The Dream Gate match is another feather in Mochizuki’s cap and might have made a much needed new star in Kzy. Skip the aforementioned tag match, and check out the rest.