JULY 21, 2019

Watch: Dragon Gate Network

January 31, 1999, Toryumon Japan landed. Korakuen Hall played host to the first show of a promotion made up of Ultimo Dragon’s young and talented students. The main event of the first show, a 45-minute elimination six-man tag bout, laid the groundwork for 20 years of prosperity, innovation, and excellence. 

There are too many points to plot on the timeline between that fateful January night and what occurred on July, 21 2019. Too many big names, big matches, and big moments have filtered in and out of the Dragon System in that time. What matters is that we find ourselves at this point in the timeline. Toryumon became Dragon Gate, and Dragon Gate became the second biggest promotion in Japan by doing the exact opposite of what every “traditional” puroresu company has been doing. 5,365 fans packed Kobe World Hall for a show that properly paid tribute to the past while pushing the present and the future to the forefront. 

This was a major league production that only New Japan and possibly Dramatic Dream Team (on their best day) could pull off. Kzy’s epic entrance, Ultimo Dragon’s debut in the company that formed in spite of him and the subsequent tears that flowed from the eyes of Genki Horiguchi at the commentary desk, well wishes from alumni Akira Tozawa and Shingo Takagi, and the superb English commentary from Larry Dallas and Rich Bocchini put this show on another level. From start to finish, Dragon Gate’s 20th Anniversary show was executed on a level that most wrestling companies can only dream of. 


The 20th Anniversary Show officially kicked off with 10-man action that was perhaps more fitting of a variety show than a pro wrestling show. In one match, you had kung-fu expert Jason Lee, trained luchadores in Jimmy and Draztick Boy, technical masters in Super Shisa and K-Ness, a wrestler with MMA influence in Keisuke Okuda, and a handful of Dragon Gate true-borns that fit right in with the fast-paced, undercard style of the promotion. 

As expected, the DTU standouts were given a big platform in this match. In his first tour with the company, Jimmy rose to the occasion in every opportunity was given. I don’t think he even wrestled on the latter half of a show, but he fulfilled his role of fun opening match wrestler each time he was given the platform. His Asai Moonsault to the floor was an early highlight. 

Keisuke Okuda matched the luchadores in entertainment while working the antithesis of their style. The Dragon Gate roster has adapted to Okuda’s style so quickly and every time he wrestles, it seems like his opponents are bringing out his positives and hiding his weaknesses. His Triangle Choke off the top rope excites me every time I see it. 

In the end, it was a veteran stealing the win from the exciting youngsters. K-Ness spun Dragon Dia around with the Hikari no Wa for the victory. K-Ness, wrestling under his MAKOTO persona, scored a fall on the very first Kobe World show in 1999. 20 years later, he’s still finding success. Incredibly fun opener. ***


BxB Hulk is officially back after a seven-month absence. He worked a handful of exhibition matches as Darkside Hulk in preparation for this bout and even competed in the Rainbow Gate Korakuen Hall main event under the same persona, but BxB Hulk, the dance-loving, positive-minded babyface was back. Around this time last year when he and YAMATO became Open the Twin Gate Champions, I couldn’t help but notice the weight that BxB Hulk has put on. It makes sense. He’s been battling serious injuries on-and-off since the end of 2014 and although my mind wants to always think of BxB Hulk as a fresh-faced youngster, he’s rapidly approaching 40. 

At this point, I can’t imagine what a high profile BxB Hulk singles match would even look like. Fundamentally, he’s still very strong, but he’s more than a step behind his peak form. He did his team’s opening spot and then popped his head back in for a few more moves as the match progressed, but the heavy lifting of this bout was left to the Mochizuki Dojo youngsters and Hulk’s younger Tribe Vanguard partners. The Natural Vibes C Team was not much of a factor. 

Despite a heavy slew of offense from Kagetora and Maria planting “the big smooch” on her opponents, as Bocchini referred to it, the victory on this evening belonged to Mochizuki Dojo by way of Hyo Watanabe and a Dick Togo-esque diving senton. To my knowledge, this is the first time Watanabe has won with this move. His victory at this event will not be lost on his fellow dojo partners. Watanabe has expressed his unhappiness and he could perhaps use this victory as a springboard to split, much like Shun Skywalker did earlier this year. **3/4 


Stalker Ichikawa is one of the seven men wrestling on this show that also wrestled on the original Kobe World show in 1999. His history on this show vastly differs from, say, Susumu Yokosuka, who kicked off the 1999 show with a hot singles match against Genki Horiguchi, co-headlined the show in 2006 against Dragon Kid, and is seemingly in a title match at every single World show. Ichikawa has faced a laundry list of legends at this show like Yuji Nagata, Abdullah the Butcher, and The Great Sasuke at World, but never seems to find any success against them. 

His partnership with Ryo Saito was all for not this year as they were no match for the 7’2” Choi Hong-Man. This bizarre collection of talent produced a genuinely funny comedy match, which has been Stalker’s bread and butter for 20 years now. This match peaked when Saito finally grounded the Korean giant and tried to set him up in the Cycling Yahoo, only to realize that he was far too big to receive the maneuver. Really fun stuff. NR 


I talked with Mike Sydal, who spent time with Dragon Gate in 2013 and 2015, a few weeks ago about Ben-K (you can read what he had to say here). During our chat, we got into the possible misconceptions that some fans might have about Dragon Gate’s in-ring style because I figured if anyone would have fresh insight on the way these wrestlers worked, it would be a guy who wrestled the big names and trained in the dojo. Sydal said something to me that wasn’t surprising, but he said it in a way that perfectly encapsulated what I had been trying to say for years, “One thing I learned about Dragon Gate from being there is that these guys are totally committed to an elite standard of excellence on every level.  They live and breathe Dragon Gate.” 

This elite standard of excellence was on display in this match. 

I have spent this entire week racking my brain for a comparison to this match and have yet to think of a Dragon Gate singles match between two high profile roster members that happened just because. Dragon Gate does not give away singles matches like this. The fact that we got this, on such a big show, between the two best workers in the company in 2019, was truly special. 

I rattled off some names that Stalker Ichikawa has wrestled on this show earlier; Kzy’s list of names is equally as impressive as he’s someone wrestled Atsushi Onita, Mark Haskins, and Yoshihiro Takayama in this very building. This was not his first singles match at World, but he was scratching his way up the card in his prior World singles matches. Shun Skywalker has been given platforms in multi-man matches to shine at prior World’s, but this was his first singles match at the event. 

I’m simply blown away at how snug these two worked. Every strike, slam, and suicida was done with the highest possible impact. It was truly excellent watching two pro’s like this compete at such a high level. This truly felt like a competition. Both men lost Dream Gate matches to PAC earlier in the year and are now trying to find footing atop the card, so in the truest sense, this was a battle between two men who are even. They wrestled it like they were on one another’s level. 

Skywalker began to get desperate the longer this match progressed. He survived a brutal wave of suplexes and a KZ Time frog splash from the leader of Natural Vibes, but by that point, he was weakened in a major way. His last gasp of hope involved rolling Kzy up multiple times and eventually slamming him down with an Anthony Nese-like deadlift powerbomb. Kzy ate a pair of Kneesaults to the chest. A lesser roster member would’ve been dead in the water there, but this is Kzy. He’s in the best shape of his life on the best run of his career. Skywalker went to connect with a Skywalker moonsault and Kzy got the knees up. Skywalker had the wind knocked out of him, literally and metaphorically. That was shot. 

Moments later, Skywalker was sent head-first into the canvas by way of Kzy’s Impact. This was a perfectly executed wrestling match. From Kzy’s opening dance number to the severity of every strike on display, this was Dragon Gate committing to excellence on every possible level. ****1/2 


The R.E.D. trio falls in their fourth defense of the Open the Triangle Gate Championships. The Strong Machine Army are the 66th champions. 

Strong Machine J had one of the greatest debuts in pro wrestling history and then quickly plateaued. His antics were incredible in April when they were fresh and exciting, but that match gave birth to the Strong Machine Formula that overtook every one of their matches for the next three months. Every Strong Machine match was the same and the novelty quickly wore off. 

That formula consisted of a lot of suplexes and gimmicky spots and I knew that wouldn’t mesh well with this particular R.E.D. trio. I was horribly afraid of how this match was going to turn out. If the R.E.D. trio was “off” during this match, we’d be in for a disaster of epic proportions. 

Instead, the Strong Machines adapted and survived. This wasn’t a classic, it never sniffed the idea of being “great”, but this match was tons of fun. Strong Machine J busted out some much needed new offense, mainly a dive to the floor, and proved that he can survive without the Strong Machine Formula. He showed a ton of charisma in this match which is impressive on two levels, one being that he’s only been wrestling for four months, the other that he’s wearing a mask that completely covers his eyes and mouth. He still found a way to emote, though. Better yet, he found a way to win, as he planted Kanda with the Devil Windmill Suplex for the win. 

The ensuing promo suggested that maybe the Machines are not as over as Dragon Gate would like them to be. Shogun KY Wakamatsu is a cool, nostalgic addition, but I’m not sure he actually adds anything of substance. It’s not like Kobe was hanging on the edge of their seat for every word he had to say after the match. In fact, his promo was the quietest the building was all night. ***1/4 


This was Yokosuka’s third successful defense of the Open the Brave Gate Championship since winning it in March 2019. 

The last time these two wrestled in a singles match, Ryotsu Shimizu wrestled Chihiro Tominaga in a dark match. Because Flamita is always hovering around the Open the Brave Gate scene and Susumu has built an entire career off of literally being great all the time, it may not seem like that much has changed since the last time these two squared off. Flamtia vs. Susumu sounds like a match that Dragon Gate could have thrown onto any card over the past five years, but they didn’t. Flamita, who was only 19 at the time of their first encounter, owes everything to that match. He became a star in one night and has been riding that momentum ever since. 

Flamita has undergone a body transformation since they last squared off by adding tons of muscle and size. Unfortunately, he also came into this match at less than 100% after injuring his ankle in a tag against Yokosuka a few weeks ago. Of course, Susumu immediately targeted the injured ankle of Flamita. The masked man jumped Yokosuka at the bell with a dropkick in an effort to work through his handicap. Yokosuka was too crafty, however. He sensed his weakness and made him pay. 

Flamita’s selling in this match was strange. I think he took Yokosuka’s offense very well. His selling on that front was strong. I have no complaints. I don’t even have an issue with the way that Flamita was running and diving around the ring because on those types of moves, Flamita would always circle back to the fact that he was injured. He wasn’t forced to limp around the ring, but he also wasn’t as confident and stable as he has been in the past. My gripe comes in with Flamita’s power moves. I love that Flamita has bulked up and added new moves to an arsenal that had begun feeling stale awhile ago. 

However, it seemed like Flamita insisted on slamming Yokosuka onto his knees. Suplexes were transformed into backbreakers and slams to the mat were interrupted and modified into slams into the knees. It just felt odd. I think I wanted more from Flamita in that instance. If he’s going to be stubborn and stick to his gameplan, sell it. Flamita has had a relatively easy path to success in his career. He was a prodigy. It would make sense that he refused to adapt because of an injury, but I was left in no man’s land. I couldn’t tell if that’s what they were going for or not, which ultimately results in a minor blemish on the match. 

When Flamita wasn’t throwing body weight onto his knees, though, he was very, very good, and Yokosuka never has bad matches. Yokosuka rarely clocks in and does work that isn’t considered “great”. He’s a machine who busted out a Canadian Destroyer for the first time in his career in this match. He assaulted Flamita with Jumbo no Kachi’s throughout the match, but it was the power moves that eventually put the luchador away. At 13:34, the Mugen was connected with, and Flamita’s hopes of capturing the Brave Gate title yet again concluded. ****


Dragon Gate didn’t waste any time. Ultimo Dragon started this match, squaring off against the Iron Man of Pro Wrestling, Masaaki Mochizuki. I thought for sure they would hold off on Ultimo and give him a hot tag and a chance to shine, but the crowd was salivating for Ultimo. Anything done prior to Ultimo’s first chance to wrestle would have been forgotten immediately. For the first five minutes, it was the Ultimo showcase, and that’s exactly what it should have been. 

It is 2019, however, and Ultimo Dragon hasn’t been a super worker, well, since about 1996. The brunt of the action was carried by Dragon Kid, Masato Yoshino, Shuji Kondo, and Masaaki Mochizuki, as it should have been. Dragon Kid and Kondo are all too familiar with each other in this building. 15 years ago, Kondo just about killed DK in one of the most glorious spots in wrestling history. They teased that spot immediately in this match and although I don’t think it registered with most of the audience, I was losing my mind. That ruled so much. 

Elsewhere, Masato Yoshino was working at approximately one million miles an hour in an effort to drive this from fun, nostalgia match to legitimately great pro wrestling contest. Yoshino is a legend, and there’s no other way to describe him. Something shifted around 2011 and since then he has become one of the most reliable workers in wrestling. He embodies Dragon Gate – the passion, professionalism, and greatness that is put forth are not only the qualities that not only make Masato Yoshino special, but they are what make this company what it is. 

With Yoshino and DK clearing house and upping the ante, Ultimo was given the opportunity to coast back in the ring and roll up Mochizuki for the La Magistral Cradle. I would’ve bet the house on Sugawara taking the fall. Instead, he ruined Ultimo’s shot of hitting an Asai Moonsault and other than that, stayed the hell out of the way. Mochizuki doing the job here is an important gesture. Mochizuki doesn’t take a lot of falls. He ate a clean fall to a legend and a mentor, however, and Mochizuki seemed glad to do it. 

I knew this match would be special. I had no idea it would be great. It earned an automatic recommendation based on the fact that it was Ultimo Dragon wrestling in a Dragon Gate ring, but now it needs to be vaulted up your watchlist because this match was simply incredible. ****


YAMATO & KAI fall in their second defense of the titles. Big R Shimizu and Eita are the 46 Open the Twin Gate Champions. 

The safest bet in wrestling is that the Open the Twin Gate Championship match at Kobe World is going to be a banger. In 2011, Ricochet, CIMA, Dragon Kid, and PAC put on one of the greatest tag matches ever. Two years later, it was time for Ricochet, Naruki Doi, BxB Hulk, and Akira Tozawa to steal the show. Even last year, a broken and beaten down BxB Hulk rallied with YAMATO to create an epic against Shimizu and Ben-K. These matches ALWAYS work, and they’re ALWAYS incredible. 

This match followed that trend. Perhaps a curmudgeon will think this match was excessive or that the moves they did were meaningless, but this is the type of wrestling that gets me out of bed in the morning. The fact that six guys were able to keep up such a high level of intensity for nearly a half-hour really blows my mind. 

I thought for sure this would be built around Kaito Ishida overcoming the odds and capturing Twin Gate gold with his pal, Naruki Doi. Ishida had a sweet, new robe and for a good chunk of this match, took tons of offense from both R.E.D. and Tribe Vanguard. It was all set up for Ishida to fire up, kick some dudes in the head, and win some belts. He got close, most notably when he caught YAMATO square in the mouth with a Roundhouse Kick, but his luck ran out after he ate a Shot-Put Slam from Big R Shimizu. 

YAMATO carried the workload for the rest of the way. He’s known for being cool, calm, and collected, but YAMATO wrestled with reckless abandonment in this match that is normally reserved for someone like Shun Skywalker. YAMATO was simply throwing his body at the heel duo towards the end of this match, hoping whatever kick-and-slam combo he landed would be enough to retain the titles. A successful Galleria attempt didn’t lead to a successful pinfall attempt, however, and YAMATO soon found himself out of options. KAI was taken out with a superkick/Shot-Put Slam and a minute later, YAMATO was twisting and crashing down to the mat thanks to Eita’s Salamander. That was it. YAMATO’s reign was done. R.E.D. had once again captured a title. 

They did it this time in the best match of the night, based simply off of the sheer insanity that occurred. “Car crash” comes to mind when I think about this match. Dangerous spots piled up one after another. YAMATO, especially, came away from this match with a few new bumps and bruises. 

No superlative I throw at this match is going to do it justice. The fact is, no other company on Earth can have a match like this. This is what makes Dragon Gate so special. ****3/4 


PAC falls in his fourth defense of the Open the Dream Gate Championship. With this win, Ben-K becomes the 29th Dream Gate Champion history. 

This all worked. The moment the hype packages started, any uneasiness that I had about this match faded away. PAC is a wrestler truly at the top of his game right now. Ten months ago, PAC returned home to the promotion that helped him discover the tools needed to take his career to the next level. Since his return, he’s put this company on his back and has carried Dragon Gate every step of the way. I was still very uneasy about the future of the company and the directions DG might be headed in October. The summer months brought us strong booking decisions up and down the card, but Shingo Takagi was on his way out and I was unfamiliar with what the Dragon Gate landscape would look like without him. In a way, I never had to find out, because PAC laced up the gym class bully shoes that Takagi had occupied for so many years prior. 

My early thoughts on Ben-K still hold true to this day – even now that he’s an Open the Dream Gate Champion and won the belt on the biggest show in company history, he still has a ton of untapped potential. Ben-K was hyped up as possibly the next Shingo Takagi, but I firmly believe his ceiling is the next CIMA. Ben-K powerbombing PAC straight down into the canvas is a clip we’re going to see hundreds of times over the next decade. Ben-K’s rise to the top has been meteoric, but there’s still more climbing left to be done. 

This match was fascinating. No one puts together a big match quite like PAC. In February, he went all-out on his way to victory against Kzy. The next month, when Shun Skywalker squared off against him with tons of momentum, PAC used his veteran prowess to outsmart the youngster. Against Dragon Kid, his former mentor, PAC was violent. Victory didn’t seem to satisfy The Man That Gravity Forgot; he wanted more out of his defenses. Ben-K was that something more. 

This match never clicked into the highest gear possible. Other than Ben-K’s jaw-dropping spear through the ropes, I can’t even say there were spots in this match that happened at a high speed. Instead, these two made every single move count. PAC would hit a dropkick that would take Ben-K down and keep him on the mat. He would tombstone Ben-K on the apron to slow down his momentum. He stacked chairs on top of the giant and then connected with a Shooting Star Press from the apron. PAC’s attack was relentless and calculated. 

Somewhere along the line, Ben-K was cut open below the eye. A rare dent in his armor. That seemed to wake up the beast inside of him, however. Whether he knew it or not, I couldn’t help but think about T-Hawk as Ben-K began firing back. T-Hawk headlined this show twice, once as a hotshot youngster in 2015, and then once more two years later as a laboring booking project that was dragging down the main event scene. T-Hawk never had this fire. T-Hawk never looked so ready for the top spot. T-Hawk, in Dragon Gate, was never meant to be the guy. Ben-K is. Ben-K looked ready. This was his moment and he had to make the most of it. 

The last time he looked weak was when he ate a sharp kick that blocked his spear attempt. He recovered, survived inadvertent contact with the referee, outsmarted R.E.D. and their gang warfare tactics, and then hit PAC with two Ben-K Bombs for the victory. He’s now The Guy. 

Ben-K is no longer the future that we’ve been promised, he’s now the pulse of the company. This world revolves around him, and if he plays his cards right, he can launch Dragon Gate into another stratosphere. ****1/4 

Final Thoughts:

This is the best show I’ve seen this year. It’s one of the best Dragon Gate shows I’ve ever seen. Nothing more needs to be said.