DRAGON GATE
DEAD OR ALIVE 2019
MAY 6, 2019
AICHI PREFECTURAL GYM, AICHI, JAPAN

TRANSLATIONS: IHeartDG.comWatch: Dragon Gate Network

YUKI YOSHIOKA, DRAGON DIA, JASON LEE, & KEISUKE OKUDA DEF. GENKI HORIGUCHI, PUNCH TOMINAGA, “BROTHER” YASSHI, & PROBLEM DRAGON

This opener worked on a lot of levels. For one, I think everyone, Punch Tominaga included, was on their game tonight. Everything from the transitions on the mat to the flips in the air looked crisp. On top of that, both of Dragon Gate’s fresh faces, Dragon Dia and freelancer Keisuke Okuda, showed tons of potential in this match. Dia has been in the System since November but has battled injuries and the flu, and Okuda has been wrestling in DDT for a few years now, but at least for the month of May, is spending his time here. He’s been best friends with Ben-K since high school.

The star of this match was Yuki Yoshioka, who scored the pinfall. He’s been a middle of the pack guy for Dragon Gate’s freshman class, but his in-ring work his rock solid. It just feels like Dragon Gate is about to do something with him. It’s not if, but when. Fun opener. ***

RYO SAITO & K-NESS DEF. “HOLLYWOOD” STALKER ICHIKAWA & SHACHIHOKO BOY

One thing that struck me as I was rewatching some 2016 Dragon Gate earlier this year was how over Shachihoko BOY was at one point. Towards the tail end of the Monster Express unit, Shachihoko was an integral part in storylines. He really mattered to Dragon Gate’s overall story arc.

That is no longer the case.

He was positioned as lower than Stalker in this match, which is really saying something. He was also technically involved in the fall, as he moonsaulted onto his partner, thinking it was K-Ness. K-Ness and Ryo Saito quite literally jumped on Shachihoko and forced him into pinning his partner. Very funny finish. NR



MASATO YOSHINO & KAITO ISHIDA DEF. EITA & BEN-K

I sat through a lot of really boring house shows and smaller events for Dragon Gate in April and early May. Ever since departing Korakuen Hall on April 10, they put on a string of shows with no matches that were really worth watching. Crowds were dead, matches were boring, and at times, storytelling was either muddled or mistimed. I bring this up because I don’t know if I enjoyed a single match on the 4/24 Kobe Sambo Hall show, the 4/28 Fukuoka show, or either of the Kyoto shows at the start of May more than I enjoyed this undercard tag.

The tensions that became apparent on 4/28 when Eita cost Big Ben the Open the Twin Gate titles (in a match I did not enjoy at all) were pushed to their limit in this match. After a hot start from the R.E.D. duo, Eita and Ben-K began sabotaging one another. Both of them wanted to appear more dominant than their partner, and in the process, that gave Ishida and Yoshino all the time they needed to recover and eventually win.

Kaito Ishida was marvelous in this match. I’ve seen very few wrestlers go from “not getting it” to “getting it” in such a short time. He’s had a truly remarkable year of consistency and high output. It should also be noted that Yoshino and Eita square off in Korakuen Hall on May 9 for the first round of the King of Gate tournament. On this night, Yoshino was able to Lightning Spiral Eita into oblivion after Ben-K speared him in half. With Eita’s future in R.E.D. undecided as of this match, it’ll be very interesting to see what comes of that match. ***3/4

STRONG MACHINE J, STRONG MACHINE F, & STRONG MACHINE G DEF. KAGETORA, KAI, & YOSUKE SANTA MARIA

As expected, the super-push for the Strong Machines continues. This is the second time they’ve run through this trio from Tribe Vanguard, and for those wondering, this was better than their encounter on 5/3.

Surely this push ends with the Strong Machines winning the Triangle Gate belts. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen Dragon Gate be so on board with a legitimate rookie from the start of his career like this. The problem with Strong Machine J and his pals, however, is that now that the shock of Strong Machine J’s debut is out of the way, I’m starting to wear thin on this group and they’ve only been around for a month.

I love the twin magic spots they’re doing and the look is great, but other than their debut, their matches have fallen a little flat for me. I like the idea of them, but I’m already starting to worry about their execution. I hope they prove me wrong, because I’m rooting for a group that feels so fresh and different in Dragon Gate. It’s as if the matches feel the same because no opponent knows how to react to them. They don’t fit the Dragon Gate mold or style, to a point that no one was even be able to disrupt their flow. Perhaps that happens soon, but for now it’s Strong Machine dominance. ***1/4

OPEN THE BRAVE GATE CHAMPIONSHIP
SUSUMU YOKOSUKA (C) DEF. U-T

For the first time in his life, U-T challenged for a singles title in Dragon Gate. He briefly held the Open the Triangle Gate title with T-Hawk and Eita five years ago, and since then, U-T has been without gold. He’s spent tons of time on the shelf with injuries, has attempted multiple haircuts, and has even adopted a new in-ring style in this five year stretch, but even after falling to Yokosuka in this match, it became clear to everyone that U-T has the talent to hold a title in Dragon Gate one day.

I was so excited for this match coming in because not only does Susumu always seem to deliver in big matches on big shows, but after years of being one of my least favorite wrestlers on the roster, U-T has become my actual favorite wrestler in 2019 Dragon Gate. He ditched the goofy hair, he adopted a llave-influenced style, similar to what was taught in the Toryumon 2000 Project, and he’s been able to stay healthy now for over a year. U-T has done it all right this year, he just wasn’t good enough on this night to dethrone Yokosuka.

Early on in the match as the two were brawling on the outside, Yokosuka attempted to lariat U-T, which would’ve sandwiched the challenger in between Susumu’s arm and a metal post that was there for the cage match later in the evening. Instead, U-T ducked, and Susumu’s arm collided with the post, setting up the rest of the match.

U-T focused his efforts on that arm. It was brilliant. He lured Yokosuka into an attacking position, ducked when the champion wasn’t expecting him to, and then continued his offensive onslaught of submissions and fast-paced grappling from there. The more U-T locked in his Beinllave submission, the greater I thought his chances were of winning the belt. I really thought he was going to grind Susumu into the ground with that submission until he had nothing yet, because with U-T, it’s not the knockout punch that you have to worry about, it’s the fact that U-T could go round-after-round, all night long.

Yokosuka eventually crawled out of his last Beinllave, walloped a bloody U-T with Jumbo no Kachi’s, and then planted him with the Yokosuka Cutter. An emphatic victory that raised Yokosuka’s profile, as well as U-T’s. Everything about this match worked. I loved it to death. It’s rare that a match meets your lofty expectations, yet that’s exactly what this match did. ****1/4





OPEN THE TRIANGLE GATE CHAMPIONSHIP
KAZMA SAKAMOTO, TAKASHI YOSHIDA, & YASUSHI KANDA (C) DEF. HYO WATANABE, KOTA MINOURA, & MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI

Despite all of the progress they’ve made this calendar year, Mochizuki Dojo still has a long way to go. Hyo Watanabe and Kota Minoura did their damndest to upset the dominant R.E.D. trio, but there efforts were all for not. If it wasn’t for Masaaki Mochizuki, this match would’ve been even shorter. Still, for such a short title match, they managed to pack in tons of action with plenty of heat. It just so happens that Hyo Watanabe is incapable of kicking out of Kazma Sakamoto’s Package Piledriver, and understandably so.

Watanabe has struggled for years to get to this position. His peers like Ben-K and Shun Skywalker have blown by him in terms of progression and success, and now he’s struggling to stay afloat with guys like Yuki Yoshioka and his partner in crime tonight, Kota Minoura, delivering the goods on a regular basis. Watanabe has had a lot of false starts in his career. There have been many nights when it seems like Watanabe has finally put it together, and his push is going to happen, only for him to reset and slink back down the card.

This match was the best he’s ever looked. I don’t think Watanabe is ever going to fully avoid occasional opening match status, but he has a chance to escape the aura of an opening match guy after this. He took a huge beating from R.E.D., or really rather Yoshida and Sakamoto, as I have absolutely no recollection of Yasushi Kanda even being in this match. Watanabe was eventually able to muster the strength to get Mochizuki in with a hot tag, and from there, for a brief period, Mochizuki Dojo looked like a well-oiled unit.

Their machine faltered, however. Even after managing to get Yoshida off of his feet a few times, the kids lacked the power to do any real damage. They spent so much energy attempting moves on Yoshida, that they wore themselves down. This all led to Sakamoto’s Package Piledriver, which was all she wrote for the Mochizuki-led trios team. ***3/4

OPEN THE DREAM GATE CHAMPIONSHIP
PAC (C) DEF. DRAGON KID

There has been an undeniable greatness about PAC’s Open the Dream Gate run.Whereas some wrestlers seem to thrive on a week-to-week basis like a great, Sopranos-esque TV show, PAC’s work away from Dragon Gate on the UK indies has been panned by fans and critics alike. It is his work in Dragon Gate, his big matches, that feel like feature films. PAC isn’t into delivering week-to-week like he did on 205 Live. He’s become a big picture wrestler, and everything from his disdain of Japan and England’s National Anthems being played before the bell to his calculated, psychotic reactions after the bell are, in the true sense, epic. PAC is creating epics for the first time in his long and impressive career.

It was PAC’s high-impact moves that gave him the edge. Early on, it was the Piledriver onto the apron that gave PAC the advantage. Throughout this tour, PAC has exclusively used a jumping Tombstone as his finish. No Black Arrow, no rollups. He’s made his mark using a sickening Piledriver. Delivering one onto the apron so early in the match set the tone that PAC wasn’t going to let his former mentor off easy. He didn’t come here to impress anyone, he made the hike to Aichi with destruction on his mind.

Kid, in front of his hometown crowd, played the hits. He hit the moves you’d expect him to, and PAC kicked out of the big ones as you’d expect him to. If I were to track moves like a shot tracking system in basketball, I think it’d be fair to say that Dragon Kid actually got in more offense than PAC in this match. A lot of this match was built off of Dragon Kid nailing hurricanranas, catching PAC with kicks, and scoring nearfalls off of moves that were good, but not good enough.

PAC’s moves were bigger. He was more powerful. It wasn’t the Tombstone on the apron that put away Dragon Kid, nor was it the death-defying Avalanche Falcon Arrow that turned into more of a brainbuster, but those two big moves did more for PAC than any of DK’s usual tactics. It was, however, the Super Tombstone, the same one that was used on Kzy in February, followed by the Black Arrow, that put the challenger away for good. PAC is dominant right now. Granted, I’m writing this part of the review before I watch the cage match, so I’m unsure of how the unit turns are going to play out, but no one feels like they’re on PAC’s level right now. Surely Ben-K could get hot or Kzy could be heated back up, but PAC is far and away the most dominant wrestler on the roster right now. It’s a marvelous thing to watch. ****

“BONDS” STEEL CAGE SURVIVAL 5 WAY MATCH
KZY (NATURAL VIBES) VS. YAMATO (TRIBE VANGUARD) VS. SHUN SKYWALKER (DOJO MOCHIZUKI) VS. NARUKI DOI (MAXIMUM) DEF. 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.

Words will ultimately fail to do any Dead or Alive cage match justice, but in the past month as I’ve watched the build to this match, I’ve started approaching the way that I view this match differently than I did in previous years. For instance, the 2016 Dead or Alive cage match is one of the greatest things I’ve ever watched. Dragon Gate was at its peak when it came to storytelling and execution, and it was represented perfectly in that cage match. I insisted on not putting a star rating on it, however, because I felt like the details were too nuanced for someone to simply see a high star rating (arguably ****3/4 or even ***** for that match) and then parachute in and enjoy it.

Since 2016, however, Dragon Gate has changed in ways that are hard to believe. The company, in one year, went from its creative peak, to arguably its lowest point in Dragon System history. The 2017 show was a mixed bag and I dreaded watching Dead or Alive 2018, even though the show ended up being okay. The point is that I’ve seen Dragon Gate change, and I’ve seen Western viewers plummet. Even with PAC coming back to the company and being pushed as the top guy, only a miniscule bubble seems to care.

I take the work that I do here seriously and I like the fact that for almost four years now, I’ve been able to review almost every major Dragon Gate show that has happened. I’m recording history. Despite the fact that they’ve been the #2 promotion in Japan for nearly a decade, Dragon Gate is too often glossed over by the media in Japan and in America. I take it as a sense of pride that I’ve covered this company for so long,  and I’m especially happy with myself for continuing to cover the company through the dark and dreary period in 2017 and 2018.

The point is, the Dragon Gate cage match is what makes this company great. It’s confusing, it’s different, and it’s weird, but that’s what this entire company is about. This year’s cage match wasn’t as good as the one in 2016 or the one in 2011, but I thought there was some brilliant stuff in this match that no other company is going to be able to duplicate.

Whether that be Kzy escaping the cage after firing a bazooka into his opponent’s face, Yosuke Santa Maria stunning Shun Skywalker with a kiss (and Hyosuke Santa Maria stunning YAMATO with a kiss), BxB Hulk returning to action as Dark Hulk, or Naruki Doi powering through a picture perfect mist attack from Takashi Yoshida to grab the final flag and escape. This was all horribly confusing and terribly great.

I’m forcing myself to put a star rating on this match because now I hope that people parachute in and watch it. This kind of storytelling, the kind that is goofy, yet meaningful, deserves to be seen. Everything in this match had stakes. There was comedy there, “variety show booking” if you will, but it never drifted into irony bullshit. This was a great wrestling match, even if the confetti and bazookas lead you to believe otherwise. I loved everything about this. ****1/2

Skywalker announced he was going to use his rights.Dojo Mochizuki isn’t really a unit, but as soon as he became their representative he knew was he had to do. The person he was kicking out of Dojo Mochizuki was himself and abiding by the special rule stipulated for them, he will never be able to rejoin. It was time for him to strike out on his own and make his own path. On Thursday on the first day of King of Gate 2019, he will be facing his former Dojo Master. He told Mochizuki to be ready to bring it….and thanked him for everything he did for him.

Tribe Vanguard was also safe. YAMATO said the entire unit must stay together until the day that BxB Hulk is able to return. He also announced Flamita would be returning next month.

Next up was MaxiMuM. Coming into the match, the guy who was mostly like to be out of their unit by the end was almost certainly Dragon Kid. He also lost his Dream Gate challenge earlier. Still, Doi was moved by his & the other MaxiMuM members efforts to help him escape. There would be no one kicked out. He was still annoyed by all the trash Kid talked earlier in the year, but he now realizes that was just how he tries to motivate. He gave a hell of an effort vs. PAC today. After that, he wasn’t sure if he would be able to come out and be at ringside, but he eventually came when Doi needed him the most and it got Doi out. He also praised Ishida for his non-stop effort but told him not to get too carried away or he might find himself kicked out. Jokes. All jokes. MaxiMuM is 5 members and they are the best. 

As the loser of the match, Shimizu was required to select someone. He was tired and wanted to sit down. He asked Ben-K to bring him a chair. He called the Eita half of R・E・D, as they were not at ringside for the match. This was all their fault anyway. He lamented the state of his face. Covered in blood, powder, and residual mist. The rules are the rules, he has to do it, ya know? The time has come. For him to do the thing that must be done by him. He asked Takashi & Ben for advice. Would it be Eita? Or maybe PAC? What about Kanda or KAZMA? The person he was kicking out was…..Ben-K!…Ben struggled to his feet. He picked up the microphone, but dropped it and started to leave. He returned and picked it up again. R・E・D & Shimizu were going to pay for what they did today. He won’t ask the fans to suddenly cheer for him. Just watch what he does to them. Listen to his heart and listen to his spirit. His name is Ben-K!

Final Thoughts:

Last year’s Dead or Alive show was lifeless. We would find out merely days later that CIMA, T-Hawk, El Lindaman, and Takehiro Yamamura were jumping ship. T-Hawk bogged down a Twin Gate match, the undercard, which included a Kagetora vs. Takashi Yoshida singles match, was boring and dull, and while the cage match had its moments, it featured Kanda, Tominaga, and Ryo Saito, all of whom I had go-away heat with at the time.

This year, it was the opposite. The first four matches flew by. Each of them served a purpose, but none of them overstayed their welcome. Once the business end of the card started with Yokosuka vs. U-T, every match delivered. All of the title matches were, at worst, very good, and the cage match delivered the way it does every year. Dead or Alive represented what Dragon Gate is capable of, and how the rest of the wrestling world should be taking notes.