DRAGON GATE
GATE OF DESTINY 2019
NOVEMBER 4, 2019
EDION ARENA OSAKA, OSAKA, JAPAN

Watch: Dragon Gate Network

YUKI YOSHIOKA, KEISUKE OKUDA, KOTA MINOURA DEF. BXB HULK, KAI, YOSUKE SANTA MARIA 

It’s great when Dragon Gate gives their openers time to breathe and develop. This felt like less a going-through-the-motions-opener and more like a match that will ultimately elevate Mochizuki Dojo in some hypothetical Dragon Gate power rankings. Everyone looked good coming out of this match. Hulk continues to look healthier with every appearance, Santa Maria is finally wrestling like she’s 100% healthy after her scary leg injury last year, and the Mochizuki Dojo kids speak for themselves. They continue to impress with every outing. It was Kota Minoura scoring the fall here over Santa Maria for the victory. ***1/4 

TEN MAN BATTLE ROYAL
DRAGON DIA DEF. KAGETORA, “HOLLYWOOD” STALKER ICHIKAWA, SHACHIHOKO BOY, “BROTHER” YASSHI, PUNCH TOMINAGA, PROBLEM DRAGON, OJI SHIIBA, KANJYOURO MATSUYAMA, JIMMY, & HO HO LUN

Kanjyouro Matsuyama was a last-minute replacement for “brother” YASSHI, who for unspecified reasons was unable to make the show. Matsuyama is an Osaka Pro regular and a trainee of Ultimo Dragon. 

I’m still in favor of Dragon Gate re-abolishing these pointless battle royals. I’m not sure why they came back into the fold *cough* Ultimo Dragon *cough*, but this was the most entertaining one in recent memory. Dragon Dia, who debuted nearly a year ago to the day, came out looking as good as he’s ever looked. Dia is a confusing case. He was ushered onto the scene with tons of hype, maybe even more than Strong Machine J who came out of the blocks like a prize-winning racehorse, but Dia could never stay healthy or build any sort of real momentum. With a few more wins, I certainly wouldn’t mind him challenging (and ultimately failing) for the Brave Gate title.

For battle royal standards, this was harmless and at times, slightly entertaining. I will break down the English commentary later on in this review, but I was particularly impressed with how they were able to drive a narrative home about this messy kind of match. Well done. **3/4  

SPECIAL TAG TEAM MATCH: TEAMS WILL BE DECIDED BY LOTTERY
KZY & YAMATO DEF. MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI & SHUN SKYWALKER 

I’m still not entirely sure why this match needed to be decided by lottery, but I’m all for this gimmick coming back on future shows. Kzy and YAMATO drew each other, meaning that the current Natural Vibes and Tribe Vanguard leaders (should also be noted that Kzy is a former Tribe Vanguard member) had to team against Mochizuki and his dojo turncoat, Shun Skywalker. 

Like every other Masaaki Mochizuki match in 2019, this was a beautiful display of explicit violence. He’s 49 years old. As Lenny Leonard pointed out on commentary, perhaps only Gran Hamada and Ric Flair have been able to wrestle at this high of a level as they approach their 50’s. He was an utter beast in this match. He and Shun Skywalker played up their tension a little bit, but the 49-year old feasted on the brewing dissension between his opponents, and for the longest time, it looked like it was going to pay off. 

In the end, however, YAMATO aided Kzy in his quest of dropping Shun Skywalker on his head, and the Natural Vibes-Tribe Vanguard super team was able to score the victory. Skywalker is winless in his last four singles matches (which includes a loss to Kzy) and is 1-2 in PPV matches this year. His post-Mochizuki Dojo career has been hindered by tough loss after tough loss, and despite Mochizuki giving him some encouragement after the match, the masked flyer has done nothing to put himself in a position for future success. 

I came away from this match very intrigued about what the future could hold for Kzy and YAMATO, and specifically their roles in their respective units. Natural Vibes is entering month 18 of existence and has proven to be a stable landing point for men whose careers were spiraling in different directions. Tribe Vanguard, somehow, has been around for three and a half years and has plateaued a lot of wrestler’s momentum. I would be fully on board with Kzy and YAMATO’s tension here leading to an extended Vibes vs. Vanguard feud that ultimately ends with Vanguard dissolving. 

In the meantime, at least we have this ridiculous workrate match that I can’t recommend enough. Mochizuki has transformed from a “sleeper” worker of the year contender to someone who needs to be in everyone’s mind when filling out year-end ballots, and Kzy and Skywalker aren’t that far behind him. ****1/2 

ULTIMO DRAGON, GENKI HORIGUCHI, SUPER SHISA, & K-NESS VS. TAKASHI YOSHIDA, KAZMA SAKAMOTO, H*Y*O, & DIAMANTE

My fears about Ultimo Dragon becoming a full-time roster member are slowly starting to turn true. I noticed that even after his first stop in each market, he was still getting an elaborate entrance while the rest of his partners were practically ushered out to the ring like young boys. The luster, at least to me, has worn off. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be rooting for in this legends vs. R.E.D. feud. On paper, it makes sense. There are clear cut good guys and bad guys, there’s a generational gap, and the characters (or at least Ultimo’s and the heel unit) are defined, but I have no motivation to root for either side. This feud plays out well on paper, but it merely exists in reality. 

I have issues with the ways that Ultimo’s booking influence has crept into the televised product, but that rant will come at another time, unfortunately, after things get much, much worse. What stuck out to me in this match was the way that Ultimo, who is being heralded as a reborn figure and a new man as he enters this second life, is still the same old Ultimo. Shitty, lazy Ultimo. 

His performance at Kobe World was brilliant. That match remains one of the best bouts I’ve seen all year. It was truly a joy to watch. It was closure. It was the end of a relationship that had been messy and complicated and unclear for over a decade. The closure was beautiful, but this faint love revival that we’re seeing now is sad. The fire is gone. The passion is nowhere to be found. This relationship is dead, but both parties are crazy enough to convince themselves that this will work. 

Ultimo Dragon refused to bump throughout this match. There’s a great moment when the match spills out onto the floor and Takashi Yoshida hits a double running lariat on Super Shisa and Ultimo. Shisa bumps like he just got shot in the chest, and Ultimo stumbles away sheepishly, kind of resting on a chair, but never hitting the floor. 

When Ultimo shares the ring with HYO, the fresh heel who seems destined for big things, the youngster gets eaten alive. Ultimo is stiff and clunky. It’s like he insisted he gets time in the match to make sure that he’s a level above HYO. It was hard to watch. 

Finally, after all of this, the match ends in a ridiculous disqualification. Textbook Ultimo Dragon booking straight out of 2003 Toryumon. So now that I think about it, I do have an issue with Ultimo Dragon’s booking habits. The battle royals that plagued the Toryumon era came back when Ultimo signed up with the company. The timing is too much of a coincidence to suspect anything but Ultimo’s influence. In his 23 matches since returning to the company, 8 of them have ended in a no contest or a countout. When these finishes were just happening on house shows, I could live with it. I knew it would annoy me if I saw it, but out of sight, out of mind. Well, these finishes bled into TV and now PPV’s and it’s bullshit. It’s awful. It’s lazy. 

It’s Ultimo. 

My patience is wearing thin. Realistically, this is not a DUD of a match, but this match brought to light all of my fears about the future of the company. In any other company, this would simply be a bad match. In Dragon Gate, when the working standard is this high and the booking quality is top-notch, this match was an atrocity. DUD 


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OPEN THE BRAVE GATE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
KAITO ISHIDA DEF. SUSUMU YOKOSUKA (C) 

Susumu Yokosuka falls in his fifth defense of the title. With this victory, Kaito Ishida wins the first title of his career and becomes the 38th Open the Brave Gate Champion. 

It’s taken me years to come up with a reasonable sports comparison for Susumu Yokosuka, but I think I’ve finally got it: Yokosuka is Tim Duncan. Yokosuka is always going to be surrounded by people more charismatic and flashy than him, much like Duncan was throughout his entire NBA career. Yokosuka, even while at the top of the mountain, is never going to feel like “the guy”. Duncan was a five-time NBA Champion who never reached superstar status the way some guys do who never even make a Finals do. Yokosuka, much like Duncan, has quietly put together an all-time great resume over two decades of work and no amount of “we don’t talk about Susumu Yokosuka” enough tweets are going to do him justice. Factually, he’s an all-time great, and I don’t know any other way to discuss it other than by declaring it. 

Yokosuka’s performance felt complete. He came in with a task, that being to put Ishida over in the strongest way possible, and he did just that. The way Yokosuka builds drama is unparalleled. As Lenny Leonard pointed out on the English commentary, often times Yokosuka needs multiple Jumbo no Kachi’s to put his opponent away. I can’t explain why his end-of-match-move-spamming works in his favor, but it does. It worked to perfection here. 

Then there’s the new champ. Ishida has been a blast to watch over the past 12 months. I really feared that injuries and the exit of Takehiro Yamamura would derail his potential, but Ishida has come through in seemingly every opportunity since finding a home in MaxiMuM. Ishida stuck to his game plan, nearly to a fault, but in the end it was played out properly. The Kick Boy did just that. He beat Yokosuka’s chest in with thudding blows to the midsection whenever he had the opportunity. Yokosuka, the veteran, did his best to immobilize his legs, of course. Ishida persisted. He continued kicking away at Yokosuka, even if it meant hurting himself in the process. 

In the end, Yokosuka, dazed and confused, wound up in position for Ishida’s Tiger Suplex, which he connected with for the win. The fact that Ishida was able to win this match using his style of offense is an enormous victory for the kid. He proved that his style and his generation can go toe-to-toe with the Dragon System veterans. Highly recommended match. ****1/4    

OPEN THE TRIANGLE GATE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
STRONG MACHINE ARMY (C) (STRONG MACHINE J, STRONG MACHINE F, & STRONG MACHINE G) DEF. MAXIMUM (NARUKI DOI, DRAGON KID, & JASON LEE)

Strong Machine Army completes their third successful defense with this victory. 

I’m unsure of what to do with Strong Machine Army. They were certainly more over here than they were at Kobe World, but any noise other than phony cricket sound effects would’ve been more of a reaction than what they received at World. Strong Machine J has been plagued with a shoulder injury since he debuted. That shoulder injury played into the match this time around as MaxiMuM looked to weaken the youngster through his known injury, but in the end, it was all for not as Strong Machine J connected with his signature suplex for the win. 

This felt very flat. Even when MaxiMuM attempted to send the tail-end of this match into a movez-frenzy, they were slowed down by the clunky Strong Machine Army. MaxiMuM trios matches always seem to deliver, but this time they could not clear the hurdle that has become the Strong Machine Army. 

For as ready as I am for them to drop the belts, I also have literally no idea what they could do next. Larry Dallas made reference to the 2007 New England Patriots on commentary, a team that went undefeated only to fall to the New York Giants in the Super Bowl. He spoke on the pressure of remaining undefeated and how each win gets harder and harder, but I couldn’t help but think about how the next season unfolded. Tom Brady was taken out with a season-ending injury in the first game of 2008. He was forced to reset, instead of trying to run things back. Somehow, someway, I feel like that’s what needed for Strong Machine J. Going undefeated will end up being more of a hindrance in the long run. ***

OPEN THE TWIN GATE CHAMPIONSHIP
EITA & BIG R SHIMIZU (C) DEF. RYO SAITO & YASUSHI KANDA

With this victory, Big R Shimizu & Eita have completed their third successful defense of the Open the Twin Gate Championships. 

I noted in my preview that this had a very high ceiling and a very low floor. Despite seemingly being rejuvenated by this tag team, Eita is not known for consistency. Even the best worker can struggle to reign in Eita on an off-night. The idea of him squaring off against Ryo Saito, who typically only straps on his workrate boots once or twice a year, and Kanda, who thanks to two decades of wear and tear is probably the worst wrestler on the roster, could have combined to create a disaster of enormous proportions. 

Somehow, the two teams split the difference and wound up having a pleasantly average match. Eita looks a million times better than he did at this time last year as he was wasting away in an endless Dragon Kid feud. His movements were so quick and sudden in this match. The fact that he was able to make Saito and Kanda’s offense look smooth and threatening is a real compliment to him, because, at their advanced age, there’s not much they can do outside of a brawling situation. 

Although I figured Eita & Shimizu would retain here, I couldn’t get the visual of Saito and Kanda holding up the Twin Gate titles in some sort of Ultimo-inspired final run out of my mind. I don’t think I would’ve hated that, either, as long as it was short and tasteful (if holding a wrestling title can be tasteful). That daydream did not come to be, which is for the best, as Eita lowblowed Kanda and rolled him up for the victory. The right man scored the pin, the right man took the pin. I just wish Eita would’ve finished him off in more convincing fashion, given what occurred earlier in the night with Ultimo and R.E.D. ***1/2 





OPEN THE DREAM GATE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
BEN-K (C) DEF. MASATO YOSHINO

Ben-K successfully retains the Open the Dream Gate Championship for the third time with this win. 

One year ago, I wrote,

Even in the loss, Ben-K established himself as a main event monster. It was so obvious watching his entrance, the match, and the way he’s now hung with Yoshino and Mochizuki in Dream Gate matches, that Ben-K is a future ace. He is a natural. I understand why he crumbled underneath the pressure of the Sol Naciente, but I can’t help but think about the future of the company revolving around Ben-K from here on out.”

This callback is now presented with a victory lap in mind, but rather a celebration of what Dragon Gate can do when they’re at their best. Ben-K was theirs to screw up. He’s the most obvious blue-chipper there’s been in wrestling this decade. As soon as I saw him wrestle for the first time, I knew he’d be a star, and little by little, that vision has become a reality. Last year when he fell to Yoshino at this very same show for the Dream Gate belt, a match that, at the time, it was suspected that he might go over, I knew that eventually, Ben-K would be back, he would be leading this company, and he would be defeating the man who helped carry Dragon Gate out of a very dark, post-CIMA period. 

Masato Yoshino was glorious in this match. The two trimmed the fat that normally plagues 28-30 minute Dream Gate matches, and instead put together a rock-solid 21 minute bout that featured a devastatingly brilliant closing stretch. 

From the opening bell, Yoshino was on his A-Game. He narrowly avoided Ben-K’s through-the-rope spear in the opening minutes and used that as his gateway to focus his attack on Ben-K’s arm in an attempt to lessen his strength advantage. This is the Yoshino that I like. The aggressive, offensive-minded Yoshino thrives in moments like this and in nearly three years after the fact, I’m still disappointed that we never got the heel Yoshino run that was so heavily rumored at the time. He’s been a face for a decade now, so it’s moments like this when he’s in control that I truly can appreciate Yoshino for how good he is. 

Speaking of appreciation, the English commentary crew shined once again on this show. Full disclosure, just like for Kobe World, myself and Mike Spears of the Open the Voice Gate podcast voluntarily provided notes for the commentary crew. 

That being said, I thought Lenny and Larry shined their brightest in this main event, which is not surprising given that Yoshino wrestled for Dragon Gate USA over 30 times (Lenny’s wheelhouse) and Ben-K is the future of a new Dragon Gate generation (Larry’s wheelhouse). Throughout the night, the two did a tremendous job of blending narrative with in-ring action in a way that most English commentators fail to do. I’ve said for years now, and my Wrestling Observer Newsletter Awards ballots back it up, that Lenny Leonard is the best commentator in the game. Whenever he gets the chance to call Dragon Gate action, I consider it essential viewing. Say what you will about Larry Dallas, but the man loves Dragon Gate, and for that, I respect the hell out of him. 

Speaking of Ben-K, that aforementioned generational superstar, he was once again sensational in the closing stretch of this match. He’s now developed three legitimate finishers, the Ben-K Bomb that beat PAC, the spear that took out Yoshino tonight, and the Ben-K Crush headbutt that knocked out Mochizuki earlier this month, as ways to finish off his opponent. That mystique keeps me invested on every single move during these incredible runs of “movez” that cap off these matches. In a strange way, Ben-K has developed a Zack Sabre Jr-like quality with the idea that the match can end at any time. 

As I said, though, it was the Spear that put Yoshino down for the count this time around. Ben-K, in his short reign, has knocked off the three winningest Dream Gate champions that remain in the company. YAMATO and Yoshino both held the title four times and he’s beaten them, and Mochizuki, who fell to Ben-K just last month, is a three-time champion. The only other four-time champion is Shingo Takagi, who now resides in New Japan, and the other three-time champ is CIMA, and although it’s not impossible for him to make a return anytime soon, it’s highly unlikely. 

This was a win on all fronts. Ben-K came away looking like a legitimate ace, Masato Yoshino fell gracefully, and Naruki Doi’s challenge at the end of the show sets up a worthy Final Gate main event. ****3/4 

FINAL THOUGHTS

If you can look past one major atrocity, Gate of Destiny is a major win for Dragon Gate. The main event, the Brave Gate bout, and the lottery tag match are all well worth your time and the English commentary makes the show accessible and an easy entry point into following the company. Thumbs up for Gate of Destiny.