AUGUST 24, 2019

Watch: Dragon Gate Network


Jimmy goes out on top as he says goodbye to Dragon Gate. He had his brief moment to shine, much like other foreigner Martin Kirby, but the main focus of this match was gifted to Yosuke Santa Maria. She has had a strange year. She got hurt last November and was out the first four months of the year. She hung out at the bottom of the card for most of the year, then got shipped off to All Japan with Kagetora for their junior tag team tournament. From all reports I’ve heard, they killed it there, and now it appears Maria might be rewarded back in her home company as a result. She secured the victory with Neraiuchi. **3/4 


The Toryumon OG crew won via DQ after Super Shisa’s mask was ripped off by Takashi Yoshida and he was sprayed with mist. 

I had very low expectations for this match. I expected Shisa and K-Ness to have to dumb down their grappling to match the pace of Yoshida or Kanda. Saito is rarely ever bad, but if he was going to be bad, it was going to be against arguably the four weakest wrestlers on the roster. Then there is Diamante, and who knows what the hell he’s doing. Perhaps this match was so surprisingly good because Diamante stayed the hell away from the bulk of the action. 

What we got instead of plodding, bad faux-grappling was an aggressively paced undercard that pushed Shisa, K-Ness, Yoshida, and Kanda mainly to up their game and put forth an effort greater than what we’d typically get in a second match on the card. Shisa was excellent, as always, and was moments away from hitting the Yoshi Tonic for the victory when Yoshida came in and exposed him. Very cool finish for a very fun match. I wouldn’t mind seeing Shisa, K-Ness, and Arai somehow to the chance to square off against the R.E.D. A Team in the future. ***


The Strong Machine Army makes their first successful defense of the Open the Triangle Gate Championships with this win. 

Since being ushered into the company in April, there has been a strange sterileness that has plagued the Strong Machine Army. I talked last month after Kobe World about how the Strong Machine Formula had finally been broken, which was desperately needed after their first three months of matches were identical to one another. Here, they finally seemed to break the sterile, almost museum exhibit-feel that their matches had. They finally felt like they had been integrated into the Dragon System and that was mainly thanks to the work of Hyo Watanabe. 

Watanabe transitioned from “waited potential” to “finally hitting his potential” earlier in the year and is now on the path to shed the “finally hitting his potential” skin into simply being a star. Watanabe was phenomenal in his efforts against the Strong Machines. He started the match by ambushing Strong Machine J on the apron and forcing him to show some fight and fire for once in his young career. He then provoked the elder statesmen of the Strong Machine Army to do the same. He wanted all the smoke. 

Watanabe is billed at five foot four inches. Even if he was billed an inch taller, I’d be calling BS. I can’t help but think of Minor Threat’s Small Man, Big Mouth when Watanabe rolls down to the ring. This is who Watanabe has become. He now has three years under his belt and instead of standing in the back, waiting for an opportunity to show his worth, he’s pushing himself to the front and taking what he thinks should be his. He was simply brilliant in this match, and for most chunks of the bout, the only thing that the crowd cared about. 

Even with new gear and a new style of match, the Strong Machine Army is just not over. If Don Fujii and Gamma were trotted out there with a black tights young boy and they were winning all of these matches, that would be a more over act than the Strong Machine Army. Dragon Gate is trying something here and I applaud them for stepping outside of their comfort zone and then sticking to it, but up until Hyo Watanabe orchestrated a superb closing stretch, the crowd did not care about this match whatsoever. After the match, when Watanabe ate a Devil Windmill Suplex, the crowd was back to sitting on their hands. 

Regardless of the crowd noise, this was a step in the right direction for the Strong Machine Army and a star-making performance for Hyo Watanabe. ***1/2 


On the most recent episode of Open the Voice Gate, I ran down Masaaki Mochizuki’s August schedule. On top of working the full time Dragon Gate schedule, he’s competing in Pro Wrestling NOAH’s N1 Victory tour which includes singles matches against Katsuhiko Nakajima, Kenoh, and Shuhei Tanaguchi. Mochizuki, who is only a handful of months away from turning 50, could have phoned it in tonight to rest up for his singles match against Kenoh in a few days. Instead, Mochizuki put forth his usual effort, which is twice as intense as most people’s best effort. He’s a gift to professional wrestling and the business of wrestling will suffer when he decides to call it quits. 

However, for as great as the Ironman of Professional Wrestling was, this match belonged to Keisuke Okuda, who should be an obvious choice for Most Improved when the Observer Awards come around in December. Whereas the Strong Machine Army has felt like they’ve been competing in their own universe for months on end, Okuda dive-bombed into the Dragon Gate universe with his aggressive MMA style and has completely changed the ecosystem within the company. He is a feared man who got in a healthy amount of offense against one of its most protected stars, Naruki Doi, who is always made to look strong at the Ota Ward Gymnasium. 

Okuda has been a breath of fresh air in the summer months. He’s added a new spark to the Mochizuki Dojo and I hope that he and Mochizuki continue to team as a result of their success. Just like I had hoped, Dragon Gate has altered Okuda’s moveset and has now assigned Okuda’s Avalanche Triangle Choke to be his finishing maneuver. With a minor assist from Mochizuki, Okuda choked out Ishida and secured the victory for his team. 

I don’t want a card full of matches like this, I simply want Okuda to be featured on every card so he can work like this. After the match, Ishida jumped him and the two had to be pulled apart by their much older and calmer partners. Give Okuda a belt, or a trophy, or a ribbon at the very least. He’s spectacular and deserves to be honored for it, as does this match. The first bit of greatness we’ve seen on this card. Well worth your time. ****


The luster of seeing Ultimo Dragon has just about worn off. It will return at Gate of Origin when he’s in the same ring as Great Sasuke and Jinsei Shinzaki, but this match showed that at least in the Tokyo area, the mega powers relationship between Ultimo and Dragon Gate is heading down the backstretch and nearing the end of the course. 

Other than the early Dragon Kid and Ultimo Dragon interactions, nothing seemed to light the crowd up. I find it amazing that this was the first time that Ultimo and DK had ever squared off against one another. They were 4-0 as a tag team in Toryumon and 7-0 when you throw in multi-man matches (with last month’s Kobe being included). It was clear after watching this that they are much better suited as a team than opponents. Ultimo struggled to keep up with DK, and the once-in-a-lifetime moment suffered as a result. 

This match wasn’t bad, just unspectacular. It lacked the sheer emotion of the Kobe World match and the in-ring talent of the Korakuen match. Unfortunately, the true highlight of this match was KAI landing straight on his neck after taking an Ultra Hurricanrana from Dragon Kid. It was Jason Lee who suffered the defeat by way of Ultimo’s La Magistral, capping off Ultimo’s weakest match yet in Dragon Gate. ***1/4

Ultimo Dragon was offered the opportunity to return to Dragon Gate as an affiliated roster member. He needs time to think and will deliver his answer on September 11th in Tokyo. – Dragon Gate English Facebook Page 


One of Shun Skywalker’s greatest assets is that he’s able to make even the smallest matches feel like they’re bouts with great stakes. He crafts his finishing stretches in a way that makes everything he does feel very life or death. The flash pins, the heroic dives, and the high-impact offense all come together to create a moment of ferocity and desperation that very few wrestlers are able to accomplish. He put that magic to work here in a match that was more plodding than I expected it to be, although by no means does that mean this was a bad match. 

Instead, Skywalker worked down to Yokosuka’s pace until the very end of the match when a double-knee moonsault to the chest triggered the start of the closing stretch. With Skywalker flying around so much, Yokosuka kept his offense simple, as his main source of attack was trying to knock Skywalker’s head off of his body with the Jumbo no Kachi lariat. Skywalker survived multiple rounds of those, however, forcing Yokosuka to put him away with the Mugen. 

This was a great match, just not the match that most people would have expected. This never came close to hitting the gears that Skywalker and Kzy hit at Kobe World. This was a methodical match with a few well-timed, big-impact moves that drove the match into another level. ****

Afterwards, Yosuke Santa Maria came out and planted a kiss on Yokosuka, letting him know that she wanted a shot at the Brave Gate belt. 


I don’t know what this match was. There were moments when I did not enjoy this match. While the idea was clever, the isolation of Genki Horiguchi and the nuanced, Marty Scurll-inspired limb work dragged on for too long. When Kzy was finally freed from the barrage of R.E.D. cheapshots and began to make his comeback, I was not loving it and the crowd in Tokyo seemed to be in agreement. Typically, weapon spots in Dragon Gate look lame. It doesn’t fit the feel of the promotion and I often think they die a painful death when DG tries to get “extreme”. Somehow, this match ended up working out, and it was largely due to the weapon spots. 

The match started with R.E.D. and the Natural Vibes pairing brawling in the entrance way. A rare, heated crowd brawl ensued with R.E.D. coming out ahead by keeping Kzy away from most of the action. Horiguchi took a ton of offense from R.E.D., to a point that I was losing interest in the match despite Horiguchi’s excellent, albeit exaggerated facial expressions. I can’t knock it because it fit the rage that Horiguchi had been displaying throughout the month of August. 

As I noted earlier, Kzy’s initial comeback didn’t knock my socks off. It wasn’t until he started violently swinging chairs at Eita and Shimizu that my attention was back on the match. Right when the Natural Vibes duo looked like they had gained the upper hand, the rest of the heel flunkies ran in and halted the momentum that Kzy and Horiguchi had gained. It was then that Yokosuka, YASSHI, and Tominaga, all of whom had been watching on the outside, ran in to even the odds. This portion of the match came across so well. It was beautifully paced and executed to perfection. 

Natural Vibes cleaning house could only do so much. Shimizu and Eita regained control and by the end of the match, had brought things full circle as Shimizu began to climb one of the ladders that he brought to the ring. With Kzy placed on a table below, Shimizu belly flopped from the top rung of the ladder, crashing through the table and Kzy in the process. I’ve never seen a spot like this. It looked absolutely devastating and put Kzy out of commission of the rest of the match. 

Horiguchi had one last hope spot, but Eita broke the splintered table across his skull and then Shimizu planted him with a Shot-Put Slam for the victory. 

For the first time all night, the Tokyo crowd was awake and on the edge of their seat for what was going to come next in this match. I know this won’t be for everyone. A lot of people won’t be able to look past the extended heat segment on Horiguchi. However, I was so sucked into the latter portion of this match that I can’t help but feel like it was a truly great match. They accomplished what they set out to accomplish, which was a truly hardcore match in a company that rarely ever crosses that line. Shimizu diving off the ladder is going to be etched into my memory for an eternity, as well. That spot put this match over the top for me. I didn’t like this match at times, but I loved it by the end. ****1/2 


It had to happen. At some point we were going to get YAMATO vs. Ben-K for the biggest belt in the company. Had it not happened here, the idea of it would’ve been looming over Ben-K’s title reign until it finally happened. Dragon Gate ripped the band-aid off and got straight to the action, pitting the future ace against this current generation’s standout superstar. Much like the rest of this show, this match had a lot of good, some bad, and ultimately left me confused. 

Going into this match, I was hoping that YAMATO was going to attempt to sweat Ben-K out. I wanted a half hour of hellacious striking and pinning in an attempt to wear down the bigger, less agile Ben-K. Instead, YAMATO decided to take the former prized amateur wrestler to the canvas and put back on display his lethargic form of grappling. 

I don’t buy YAMATO on the mat against Ben-K. It’s not where YAMATO shines. It’s made worse when he decides to use the Crossbone Vanguard (a sort of inverted Chicken Wing submission) as his primary form of attack, given as how the move looks ridiculous. The crowd seemed far more invested in his sleeper hold, a move he’s established for years, but YAMATO relied on the CBV for a good portion of the match. 

Any excitement had to be injected by Ben-K, who escaped a mid-match submission hold by simply tossing YAMATO over the top rope to the floor, then minutes later, spearing YAMATO off the apron, sending both men back to the floor. Both spots were brutal and shocking and welcome in a match that was struggling to find its footing. 

Even the finish of this match was bizarre. Ben-K was nailing spear after spear, but was unable to put away the four-time Dream Gate Champion. It makes sense that Ben-K won with the Ben-K Bomb, but the final blow was so random and out of whack that it had no impact on me. It was just a move that happened to end the match just shy of the half hour mark. 

This was not a bad match, but it certainly was disappointing given the direction that I thought this match was headed, based on their interactions at the August Korakuen Hall. Instead of a heated match built on striking and flash pins, we got YAMATO grappling and things ground to a halt. Unfortunately, I can’t say this is essential viewing. It was just a match. ***1/2 


Dangerous Gate was an inauthentic Dragon Gate experience. That’s not a bad thing – any show with three spreadsheet-quality matches and a strong gate (3,394 super no vacancy, up from last year’s 3,177), but something about this show was very strange. In storyline, R.E.D. was hellbent on living up to the name of the show. They insisted on having a No DQ match and that’s what they got. Throughout DG’s history, hardcore matches have always been used as an undercard, sideshow attraction, with the main exception being Kobe World 2006 when CIMA wrestled Magnitute Kishiwada in a lackluster No Ropes Match. Here, the show peaked with the weapons and plunder in a way that I’ve never seen a Dragon Gate show do before. 

In the middle of the card, we saw a shooter win via choking his opponent out. The Shun Skywalker showcase was a great match, but was more methodical and careful than his pedal-to-the-metal classic against Kzy last month. The only thing that felt familiar was YAMATO having a good, but not great main event, which reminded me of a bygone era of the company. This show was just strange. 

Dragon Gate puts on some shows throughout each year that feel like appropriate jumping on points for new fans. Last month’s Kobe World was the perfect jumping on point for new fans. This was not the show for that. This is a hard show to recommend to people that aren’t already following the promotion in some capacity. If you disliked something on this show, the good news is that it’s not the norm for a promotion that is deadly consistent. The bad news is that if you really enjoyed this show, you’re probably never going to get another one like it. Luckily for me, I follow the promotion and I enjoyed this show, even if it didn’t meet my lofty expectations. At the end of the day, this is still a thumbs up show, even if it felt like for one night, Dragon Gate entered a bizarro-verse.