DEAD OR ALIVE 2019
MAY 6, 2019
AICHI PREFECTURAL GYM, AICHI, JAPAN
Watch: Dragon Gate Network
MEET OUR PREVIEWERS:
- Case Lowe (@_InYourCase): Voices of Wrestling’s official young boy for almost four years now. Desperately looking for summer employment because Lord knows Kraetsch isn’t paying me enough to keep the lights on. I review Dragon Gate shows and cover OWE’s Strong Hearts for this website.
- Taylor Maimbourg: (@tamaimbo): A jack of all trades for Voices of Wrestling, Taylor most recently appeared in the Avengers Endgame-esque WrestleMania audio preview and will be making another appearance on Wrestling Omakase next week to discuss a wide variety of shows.
- Mike Spears: (@fujiiheya): New OTVG is coming soon after a hectic spring reviewing DoA and previewing King of Gate. I also am a co-host and the producer of Everything Elite, so I clog up the VOW podcast feed a lot.
GENKI HORIGUCHI, PUNCH TOMINAGA, “BROTHER” YASSHI, & PROBLEM DRAGON VS. JASON LEE, YUKI YOSHIOKA, DRAGON DIA, & KEISUKE OKUDA [FREELANCE]
Case: Keisuke Okuda has spent most of the past year residing in Japan’s #3 promotion, DDT, but he’s moving up a rung on the food chain as he begins what sounds like a somewhat lengthy stay with Dragon Gate. Okuda, for what it’s worth, met Ben-K when they were wrestling in high school, and have developed an incredibly close friendship ever since. I have my eyes on Okuda here. The opposing side has three possible loss posts between Tominaga, YASSHI, and Dragon, so I expect Okuda’s side to get the win, either thanks to him, Yoshioka, or Jason Lee. Prediction: Jason Lee, Yuki Yoshioka, Dragon Dia, & Keisuke Okuda
Taylor: I really dug the glimpses of Okuda I got in DDT, and I was pretty bummed when they announced he was going freelance. But, in good news for me, he’s now showing up in Dragon Gate, and I’m interested to see how he fits in. He doesn’t immediately strike me as someone in line with the Dragon Gate style, but I’ve certainly been proven wrong in the past. Even though it’s the opener, I hope he can come out and show a bit of what he can do. Prediction: Jason Lee, Yuki Yoshioka, Dragon Dia, & Keisuke Okuda
Mike: Okuda going freelance and doing some DG dates was somewhat of an open secret. As mentioned by Case, he’s a teenage friend of Ben-K, and even teamed with him last year twice on Don Fujii’s homecoming show in Okuda’s native Mie. I’m a bit down on this match, but that’s more because I’m more interested in him facing off against his team rather than the reality of Punch, YASSHI and Dragon. It’ll be nice to see if he develops any chemistry with Yoshioka or Lee as it could give some indication on who he might be teaming with in the future (what am I saying, he’s definitely going to be doing stuff with Ben-K, but here’s to hoping!) Prediction: Jason Lee, Yuki Yoshioka, Dragon Dia, & Keisuke Okuda
RYO SAITO & K-NESS VS. “HOLLYWOOD” STALKER ICHIKAWA & SHACHIHOKO BOY
Case: Make it quick. Please God, make it quick. Prediction: Ryo Saito & K-Ness
Taylor: I’ll never turn down an opportunity to watch a Stalker match, but that doesn’t mean I have much to say about this. It will be a Stalker match. If you like that, you’ll probably enjoy this. If you don’t, then this one won’t be any different. Prediction: Ryo Saito & K-Ness
Mike: It’s the required Stalker comedy match and Shachi appearance. There’s so much on this show that I don’t think this will go long. Prediction: Ryo Saito & K-Ness
MASATO YOSHINO & KAITO ISHIDA VS. EITA & BEN-K
Case: If this match was headlining a show at Kobe Sambo Hall, I’d be ready to slap four stars on it from the opening bell. Seriously, this match looks so great, and it’s just sitting here as an unassuming match on a loaded PPV. I really hope Kaito Ishida comes out swinging and tries to show up Eita and Ben-K. He’ll likely lead the charge in this match, as Yoshino isn’t exactly known to give it all he’s got on the undercard. I expect Ishida to take the fall, due to how I think the main event is going to play out. R.E.D. is going to need to come out of this match looking strong, as when things are all said and done, either Eita or Ben-K could be unitless. Very excited for this match. Prediction: Eita & Ben-K
Taylor: At this spot on the card, it feels like this match might emphasize a little bit of story over a blow-away match. You have two people who will be nervous heading into the cage match in Yoshino and Eita and one person who probably should be nervous but might not be (Ben-K). I have a feeling that the result of this one will bleed into what happens in the main event, as the winner of this match is probably winning to give them a boost for when they get the boot from their unit. I think Ben-K pins Yoshino to make him overconfident heading into a shock expulsion and make Yoshino really panic watching Doi in the cage. Prediction: Eita & Ben-K
Mike: I feel like the business end of the show starts here. The strong potential of being the sleeper match of the night, while also playing into the stakes in the main event. I’ll get into my main event philosophy later, but you have Eita who “accidentally” caused Big Ben to lose their Twin Gate titles and Yoshino being terrified of being backstabbed by Doi for the third time. All in All, this match will come down to how much Yoshino wants to work this night and if Eita gets any inspiration. I don’t think the result of this matters, so for pure obstinacy’s sake, I’m coming down on the other side of the other previewers. Prediction: Masato Yoshino & Kaito Ishida
STRONG MACHINE J, STRONG MACHINE F, & STRONG MACHINE G VS. KAGETORA, KAI, & YOSUKE SANTA MARIA
Case: I’m super pumped that Strong Machine J is getting a shot on this big stage. Strong Machine J, the son NJPW’s Super Strong Machine, debuted at the April Korakuen show and blew me away. He’s a legitimate rookie and he has footwork far advanced for his stage in wrestling. I expect Strong Machine G & F to goof off with Maria, while Strong Machine is given a legitimate shot to wow the crowd against KAI and Kagetora. This match could be sneaky good. Really excited to see how it plays out. Prediction: Strong Machine J, Strong Machine F, & Strong Machine G
Taylor: Dragon Gate clearly sees something in Strong Machine J, and that faith was rewarded in his very first match, as he impressed on the fairly major stage of Korakuen Hall. Now he gets an opportunity to shine on the even bigger stage of Dead or Alive, and I am looking forward to see what he brings. The stakes aren’t too high, but another impressive showing could have SMJ heading up the card in short order. Like a few other matches on this undercard, although the stakes are low, this card has some pretty interesting undercurrents that should make this one fun to watch. Prediction: Strong Machine J, Strong Machine F, & Strong Machine G
Mike: So far, Strong Machine J’s been given the strongest rookie push since Ben-K’s debut. I dig it a lot. J’s much more sure of himself as a wrestler than anyone else since that debut and Dragon Gate’s capitalized on his father’s cache and it’s nice. Tribe’s in a better place with KAI being a somewhat permanent member, but the Machine Army is getting pushed and they’re facing him and Tribe Vanguard’s two loss posts. Prediction: Strong Machine J, Strong Machine F, & Strong Machine G
OPEN THE BRAVE GATE CHAMPIONSHIP
SUSUMU YOKOSUKA (C) VS. U-T
Case: This match feels eerily similar to the Susumu vs. Flamita match that happened at this same event, five years ago. U-T has had an incredible string of matches over the past seven or eight months and this is his highest profile match of this run. Whereas Flamita was able to outlast Susumu thanks to his speed and his aerial ability, U-T has a chance to outsmart Susumu with his incredible technical wit. In a world without Zack Sabre Jr, U-T would be the best technical wrestler in the world. His llave-based attack should mesh great with Susumu’s basing and all-around style. I really think this could be the match of the night, and it could ultimately be the biggest win of U-T’s career. Prediction: U-T
Taylor: A few years back, it appeared that Dragon Gate had one of the best young roster in all of pro wrestling. Rookies like Takehiro Yamamura and Shun Skywalker were showing potentials and youngsters like Eita, El Lindaman and T-Hawk seemed capable of a true breakout at any moment. Then, quickly it all seemed to go wrong. Yamamura got injured, Skywalker got stuck with gear that made him look like a radioactive frog, and the promising youngsters all seemed to falter in one way or another. The roster that had seemed so deep suddenly looked pretty thin, and it didn’t get much better when CIMA took off for China. Dragon Gate went into a lull, but that lull may have been a blessing in disguise.
With the pressure off (and with the help of some better gear), Shun Skywalker broke out, reaching the potential many thought he had when he debuted in the company. His ascendency seem to goad the rest of his class into better performances, and once again Dragon Gate seemed like a company with a good young crop of wrestlers. To add to their good fortune, U-T returned and added yet another strong young wrestler to the roster. Not only was he another young star, but his technical wrestling prowess brought variety amongst the Dragon Gate youth, contrasting well with guys like Skywalker who impressed with a variety of aerial techniques.
U-T’s impressive return is now rewarded with his first ever singles title match. He goes up against Susumu Yokosuka, who took the title off of Dragon Kid back in March. I was pretty happy to see the title change, as the belt had seemed to stagnant on DK, as he got stuck in an endless feud with Eita that never grabbed me (or anyone else by the reaction for some of the matches). But Dragon Kid’s reign was just the most recent disappointment with a championship that has seemed to underwhelm for a while now. The Brave Gate title matches have lived in the world of *** ½ on this big shows for a while now, but I’m hopeful that Yokosuka brings some life to the title. He is certainly capable, and after seeming checked out of Natural Vibes at times, I’m hoping that a title to defend will give him some extra pep in his step. U-T certainly has a chance in this match, but I’d like to see what Susumu can do with the title for a little longer. Prediction: Susumu Yokosuka
Mike: I didn’t think that eighteen months ago that I’d view U-T as the most compelling person in Dragon Gate, but that’s the world we live in now. He rethought his ring style to become a llave/maestro specialist, much like the method of the Toryumon 2000 Project students that came before him. I thought he was the most interesting person in the Rookie Ranking Tournament, where he turned in some bangers with Ishida and Yoshioka and tried to put his juniors in their place. U-T even had Takeshi Yoshida’s best singles match in YEARS!
And he’s challenging Susumu Yokosuka in Yokosuka’s first defense of the Brave Gate title he won from Dragon Kid at Memorial Gate. Yokosuka’s in a really odd spot, in my opinion. With Horiguchi being cycled down, and YASSHI and PT not coming close to being full time, what could DG do with him if Kzy’s doing top guy stuff? Well we might as well put the Brave Gate on him. Sure that works.
Now this is a match where on paper, I’m really stoked for it. I already mentioned how high I view U-T this year, and Susumu is one of the best guys in the company on a pure work rate (it’s real) standpoint. But, the Brave Gate has been the home of nothing living up to expectations over the last few years, and I refused to be tricked by this again. I’m watching this expecting to be underwhelmed and slapping a Gentleman’s Three on this, but the back of my mind is going to be itching for something with some teeth to it. I don’t know what DG has in mind with either guy going forward or into Kobe World, so it’s a coin flip and I’m going with the champion. Prediction: Susumu Yokosuka
OPEN THE TRIANGLE GATE CHAMPIONSHIP
KAZMA SAKAMOTO, TAKASHI YOSHIDA, & YASUSHI KANDA (C) VS. HYO WATANABE, KOTA MINOURA, & MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI
Case: A few things of note. First of all, Kazma Sakamoto is good. He’s not Actually Good, because I don’t think there’s enough people actively shitting on him for me to get passionate about it. I think a lot of people simply see Sakamoto’s name and become uninterested, which is a shame, because he’s put in very strong work in every Dragon Gate outing he’s had. He’s actually the best worker in his group, which brings me to my second point. I have no use for Yasushi Kanda in any context, as he feel he’s the weakest wrestler on the roster, and I’m not super interested in seeing Takashi Yoshida in any context, although he might work in this match for reasons I will explain in my third point.
The Dojo Mochizuki kids are slowly transitioning from fun, undercard workers to solid, well-rounded wrestlers. Kota Minoura, who debuted less than a year ago, has shown great strides in 2019 and I can’t help but feel like if his team does get the win, it’s going to be because of him. I think Dragon Gate has much more faith in Minoura than they do in Watanabe. Finally, Masaaki Mochizuki, one of the 10 greatest wrestlers ever, has bizarrely good chemistry with Kazma Sakamoto. Every time they wrestler, I’m oddly captivated by it. I hope they get some extended interaction.
Despite the fact that I’m leaning towards U-T in the Brave Gate match, I’m siding with Mochizuki and his youngsters here. I think Dragon Gate is going to push their young kids to the moon, starting now. Prediction: Hyo Watanabe, Kota Minoura, & Masaaki Mochizuki
Taylor: Well, Case took most of the words out of my mouth (or from my fingers I guess). I’ve really enjoyed Kazma in Dragon Gate. He brings a different energy than most of the other guys in the company, and he has been a good fit with R.E.D, who seems to be leaning heavily into being scummy assholes. He’s not the greatest wrestler in the world, but he fits his role well and can slot into a variety of matches. Unfortunately, he’s been strapped with Yoshida and Kanda, who both don’t interest me much, especially in high profile title matches on big shows. Yoshida is Yoshida, but Kanda has not looked good recently. Turning him heel after the Jimmyz disband seemed like an interesting idea, but he hasn’t brought it in the ring in any sense and he is quickly approaching ‘skip’ territory for me.
On the other side of the match is Mochizuki Dojo, and if there is anything that gives me hopes that this match will bring the goods, it is Watanabe, Minoura and Mochizuki himself. Minoura is a rung below the top rookies like Skywalker, Ishida and U-T, but has shown flashes of big potential and could certainly join the upper tier in short order. Watanabe has seemed a step behind, and although it’s early in his career, I’m not sure he’s destined for the top like some of his contemporaries are. And Mochizuki is Mochizuki. He will bring it, and will probably deliver the best moments of the match as he always does. Jushin Thunder Liger retires in January of 2020, which is the same month that Mochizuki turns 50 years old. With Liger gone, I think Mochizuki will take over the crown of best wrestler 50 or older. He delivers every time out.
My predictions for this match and the Brave Gate are dependent on what happens in the main event. I could see MD losing here to set up a swerve in the cage, but I’m not certain that happens. Prediction: Hyo Watanabe, Kota Minoura, & Masaaki Mochizuki
Mike: Hyo Watanabe’s been “my guy” since he debuted in 2016. Initially, it felt like he had the potential to be a mini CIMA with his charisma and “nearly avoiding a car wreck” offense. That was almost 3 years ago. Since then, he’s dealt with being taken off cards, lapped by nearly everyone in his rookie class, and weight problems that he’s finally got under control. He’s starting to show some growth, but it might be too late to keep him out of openers. It’s a statement of how they think of him as he’s only getting his first ever title shot now, when classmates Ben-K and Shun Skywalker have both had Dream Keys and Yuki Yoshioka had his first title shot almost a year ago. Kota Minoura is putting it together. He’s still a true rookie, but we’ve started to see more of who he is in the ring, so it’s appropriate he’s getting a bigger chance here. Masaaki Mochizuki is 49-years-old and the best wrestler in the world that could qualify for the PGA Seniors’ Tour next year.
Case and Taylor already stressed how good KAZMA’s been in Dragon Gate, so I won’t jackhammer that point home. His teammates are Yasushi Kanda, who is completely washed at his age and physical ability, and Takashi Yoshida, who is the former Cyber Kong, no further explanation needed. It’s a Triangle Gate team that’s a far cry from the great Natural Vibes team that they won the belts from last year.
I have very low expectations for this outside of KAZMA/Mochizuki chemistry and some fired up moments from the kids. That’s nothing against four people in this match, if they are going to keep Yoshida and Kanda around, they’ve gotta be doing something. Sadly, I think R.E.D. retains, but my justification will also come later when I talk about the cage match. Prediction: KAZMA Sakamoto, Takeshi Yoshida & Yasushi Kanda
OPEN THE DREAM GATE CHAMPIONSHIP
PAC (C) VS. DRAGON KID
Case: Dragon Kid is 4-8 all-time at Dragon Gate’s Dead or Alive event. In those twelve matches, he’s had ten title matches and has lost seven of them. Dragon Gate loves beating their beloved masked man in his hometown of Aichi. I expect PAC to help contribute to another L in his win-loss column when things are all said and done.
While CIMA has racked up a number of prodigies over the years like Matt Sydal and Ricochet, PAC, during his first run with the company, took a liking to Dragon Kid. Without DK’s influence on the current Open the Dream Gate Champion, he’d be titleless, and probably searching for work in a different profession. The emotional stake of this match must be very high for both men. The Kzy match was a bubble-breaking epic, yet I feel like this match has a chance to hit the same levels, if not surpass it. There’s a very, very high ceiling for PAC vs. DK, even if the result feels somewhat obvious. Prediction: PAC
Taylor: It seems fairly obvious now looking back that when PAC returned to Dragon Gate, he had some ring rust to shake off. He had been in another company and more importantly, had spent quite a while not wrestling at all. He wasn’t bad by any stretch, but he wasn’t meeting the lofty expectations that many had set for him. However, any fears that the old PAC would never return were quelled with an amazing performance against Kzy that currently ranks at the very upper echelon of 2019 wrestling matches. Now he heads into a match with Dragon Kid that has a chance to meet or even surpass the Kzy title match.
If anything will hurt the match, it is that the outcome for this one is hardly in doubt. PAC will retain and will await the winner of the upcoming King of Gate tournament. I full expected Kzy to emerge victorious in his title match, so my prognosticating ability is a bit cloudy on what happens with the Dream Gate, but I think this one is a gimme. Prediction: PAC
Mike: There are few certainties in the Dragon System. Doi Darts is usually the funniest thing of the year. Heel units rarely lose disbands matches. And Dragon Gate loves to beat Dragon Kid in his hometown.
PAC’s history in Dragon Gate is forever linked to Dragon Kid. DK wasn’t his mentor, per se, but PAC was basically attached to him for almost all of his initial stint in the company. The two held the Twin Gate together as the criminally underrated PK-1 team. They have some great chemistry and this match could be yet another MOTYC contender of this title reign.
But the result shouldn’t be in doubt. Dragon Gate doesn’t do golden watch title reigns. The time for Dragon Kid’s Dream Gate reign was over a decade ago. The company is gearing up for their 20th-anniversary show. And PAC’s going to likely walk into it with the Dream Gate belt over his shoulder. Prediction: PAC
“BONDS” STEEL CAGE SURVIVAL 5 WAY MATCH
KZY (NATURAL VIBES) VS. YAMATO (TRIBE VANGUARD) VS. SHUN SKYWALKER (DOJO MOCHIZUKI) VS. NARUKI DOI (MAXIMUM) VS. BIG R SHIMIZU (R.E.D.)
The Rules: This year it will not be hair or masks, but units bonds on the line.
R・E・D, MaxiMuM, Natural Vibes, Tribe Vanguard, & Dojo Mochizuki will each field one member as their representative. There will be the usual set of flags set at the top of the cage. The fighter that doesn’t capture a flag will be forced to choose a member of their unit to kick out. That is not all. Each escaped representative will also gain the optional right to choose a member to kick out. Whether they use this privilege is entirely up to their discretion. Units are encouraged to strengthen their bonds to ensure their representative doesn’t exercise this option.
Case: This is one of those matches where I’m more focused about the loser than the four possible winners. YAMATO is safe. He’ll grab a flag and I don’t think he’ll kick anyone out of Tribe Vanguard, as they’re working on getting stronger after injuries killed their momentum in 2018. Kzy is safe as well. Natural Vibes feel like too strong of a unit to break up at this point. Shun Skywalker doesn’t feel important enough to be one of the final two participants, as I feel like he’d be drifting between upper midcard and main event if this were TEW ratings. That leaves Naruki Doi and Big R Shimizu, two bonafide top guys that have been at odds with their unit. I think Doi grabs the final flag and elects not to kick out Dragon Kid. Their tension will prove to be nothing more than a tease.
That leaves Shimizu trapped alone in the cage, and my gut is telling me that they’re going to try to make babyface Eita a thing again. Three years ago, we all thought Eita was going to finally live up to his potential when he stormed through King of Gate as a loveable, plucky babyface. The timeline makes too much sense here. Eita is leaving R.E.D. and heading for greener pastures. I’m cool with babyface Eita as long as he doesn’t team up with Dragon Kid. Eita and Dragon Kid never need to share the ring again, but I digress. Prediction: Big R Shimizu
Taylor: For two years running, my Dead or Alive cage match predictions have been wildly off base, and I think it’s pretty clear that I am terrible at predicting what is going to go on in the match. With that being said, and at the risk of making a fool of myself again, I think that this year is a little bit more clear than in year’s past. I think that Kzy and YAMATO both make it out of the cage and keep their units intact. I’m not even sure who the candidate for Natural Vibes would be, and after predicting for years that Tribe Vanguard would be shaken up, I’m changing my tune and predicting they’ll also stick together.
The three question marks for me are Skywalker, Doi and Big R. I’m leaning heavily towards Doi letting Dragon Kid stay in Maximum after weeks of teasing that he can’t wait to boot him. It’s a fairly well-worn Dragon Gate tradition to tease tension and then not make any big moves and Doi kicking out DK or (in a swerve) Yoshino seems a bit too obvious.
On the other end, I’m leaning heavily towards Big R kicking someone out of R.E.D. The question is who gets the boot. Again, there’s an obvious choice of Eita, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Ben-K ends up on the outside looking in. Big Ben lost the tag titles less than a week ago, and Big R kicking his tag partner out of R.E.D because of that loss is a pretty tidy story. There would be a question of where Ben-K ends up after that, but I think regardless of whether it happens here or not, I think Ben-K’s future is as a babyface and not a heel.
That leaves Skywalker and Mochizuki Dojo. I could see the MD team losing the Triangle Gate match and kicking Mochizuki out of his titular unit in frustration and going off to do their own thing. They would probably need to add someone else (Ben-K?) to give the unit a little bit more juice, but it feels that young guys are ready for something more than an unofficial unit. This one seems the most out there, but I think there has to be at least one voluntary expulsion to take advantage of the stipulation. Prediction: Big R Shimizu
Mike: My favorite match of the year! I can’t wait for the hijinks. I’m only sad that we won’t see the hijinks that Don Fujii and Gamma usually bring into this match since they disappeared or something. That’s a bummer. This is actually the least complicated cage match they’ve run in YEARS. And I think because of that, we have more overarching storylines than the usual “YAMATO wants to beat all his previous challengers again” or “VerserK implodes!” There’s a lot of spice here and I’m here for it.
Okay, let’s get into my crazy logic that I poorly foreshadowed this entire preview. First, I’m with Case and Taylor on a couple of flags and decisions. YAMATO, Kzy and Doi won’t kick anyone out. Tribe’s long in the tooth and forever in a precarious situation where I think they should take it out back and put it down, but not now with YAMATO and KAI being Twin Gate champions. Natural Vibes just got Punch back, and they are far more likely to add someone than eject someone. Doi’s MaxiMuM angst is a ruse and he’ll be okay with Yoshino and DK and does nothing.
Now the juicy parts. As I’m writing this, I can’t choose between Shimizu and Skywalker in who will lose this match, but I think both of them will eject someone. Big Ben dropping the Twin Gate titles screams SOMETHING’S GOING TO HAPPEN. I think Shimizu and RED will turn on Ben-K and eject him. At the same time, Mochizuki Dojo served its purpose. It has given the four junior roster members they desperately needed. Although it’s currently my favorite unit, I think it’s time for some change. Alright I made my decision. Shimizu grabs the last flag and Skywalker loses his first cage match. And Skywalker ejects Mochizuki. And also Shimizu ejects Ben-K. Ben-K turns face, wins King of Gate, and takes the Dream Gate from PAC at Kobe World. And then him, Okuda, and the four former members of Mochizuki dojo form a New Generation unit.
I’m probably incredibly wrong, but just the idea of this excites me, and I will lord it over everyone if I’m right. Prediction: Shun Skywalker