THE FINAL GATE 2019
DECEMBER 15, 2019
FUKUOKA KOKUSAI CENTER
Watch: Dragon Gate Network
MEET OUR PREVIEWERS:
- Case Lowe (@_InYourCase): Voices of Wrestling’ official Young Boy. Co-host of Open the Voice Gate and covering Dragon Gate, Strong Hearts, and AAW for this terrific website.
- Mike Spears: (@fujiiheya): Co-Host of both Open the Voice Gate and Everything Elite. Check out https://www.patreon.com/everythingelite to see EE’s recently-launched Patreon putting out 3 to 4 shows each week!
- Ricardo Gallegos: (@TheUnderwally): Lucha reviewer for VOW that is grumpy thanks to Ultimo Dragon’s involvement in Dragon Gate. Besides my work for this beautiful site, I write about film and wrestling for Pólvora (in spanish).
KAI & KAGETORA VS. YUKI YOSHIOKA & KEISUKE OKUDA
Case: Very strange match to open the show with, but I like all of these names on paper. I think Okuda and KAI have a chance to have terrific chemistry. KAI is a bigger body that is going to make Okuda’s offense look that much better. The hope here is that Yuki Yoshioka continues to rise up the card, and a win over Kagetora here could lead to elevation at the start of the new year. Prediction: Yuki Yoshioka & Keisuke Okuda
Mike: This is a match where I’m more excited about the people apart of it versus the actual storylines (there really isn’t a story here!) KAI and Kagetora really don’t have anything going on right now, which is typically the story for Kagetora, but KAI’s been cycled down after being the Twin Gate conversation through Kobe World. Yoshioka and Okuda, and Mochizuki Dojo at large, have been an afterthought after H*Y*O’s turn and match with Mochizuki. This should be fun but I think it’s just that.Prediction: KAI & Kagetora
Ricardo: Sounds like a fun match to start the show and give the Mochizuki Dojo boys something cool to do. Kagetora always delivers, Yoshioka has improved quite a lot this year and I have a feeling KAI and Okuda will have some interesting chemistry against each other. I’m going with the MochiDojo win prediction because I think DG will want Yoshioka to close strong the year. Prediction: Yoshioka & Okuda.
10 MAN BATTLE ROYAL
SUPER SHISA, K-NESS., SHACHIHOKO BOY, PUNCH TOMINAGA, “BROTHER” YASSHI, KOTA MINOURA, PROBLEM DRAGON, OJI SHIIBA, JIMMY
Case: Ugh, more battle royals. This is the lowest tier on the roster being thrown into one match, which is fine, although in prior years this would’ve been a 10-man, digestible tag team match, but now it’s a clunky battle royal. I have no idea who will win, but I really hope it’s Super Shisa. Prediction: Super Shisa
Mike: Insert every complaint I’ve had about these battle royals. For newcomers, these are a recent addition which are basically a vestige of Ultimo era Toryumon, they stink and have zero point. OKAY. So it’s probably not even worth forecasting this, but Oji and Jimmy have had a bit of a thing but Jimmy’s ending his tour next week. Jimmy’s been a lot of fun and clearly progressed over his excursion. I hope he comes back soon. Prediction: Punch Tominaga
Ricardo: I hate whenever I read the words ‘battle royal’ in a DG card, but I have to confess I’ve enjoyed some of them, mainly due to the winners having cool performances (see Dragon Dia’s victory in Gate of Destiny). However, only a couple of names here inspire any type of confidence, so I’m expecting this to be just a generic battle royal. I’m picking Minoura to get the win just because I have a feeling DG might want to give a small push to their young, promising wrestlers to start 2020 with a bang. Prediction: Kota Minoura
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KAZMA SAKAMOTO VS. DRAGON DIA
Case: Dragon Dia’s rise has been a joy to watch. Dragon Gate invested a lot into him a year ago when he debuted, and it seemed like they lost faith in the youngster very quickly due to injuries and illness. Suddenly, last month, as Dia approached his one year anniversary, he started finding himself. He scored a big battle royal win at the last PPV and then picked up a huge victory in Korakuen Hall last month. Out of nowhere, Dia has a ton of momentum and is back to being an exciting prospect on the roster. This match against Sakamoto is going to tell a very simple story, the result is very obvious, and I’m very much okay with that. Sakamoto is bigger and stronger than Dia, but Dia is going to do everything he can to survive and he’ll eventually overcome the odds. This could be excellent. Prediction: Dragon Dia
Mike: Dia’s starting to put it together. His 2019 was basically a wash due to illness and injury, but after winning the last Battle Royale and getting recruited by Mochizuki Dojo. I was the low person on Dia, but I am an honest person, dear reader, and will admit that I’ve been impressed with his recent run and his improvement in his sophomore year.
KAZMA being booked here is weird. He’s been the glue of every trios and eight-man tag that RED has been apart of and now he’s the odd man out and in the singles match. I wonder with the eventual reveal of the last masked demon that there might not be a place in the company for him. I hope not. He’s been a positive surprise.
All in all, pretty stoked for this. This is arguably one of the biggest matches in Dia’s career, and having him face off against KAZMA, one of the low-key best bases in the company is setting him up for success. Prediction: KAZMA Sakamoto
Ricardo: Dragon Dia’s push has been sublime and as a result I’m now completely invested in his development as the promising prospect he was touted to be one year ago. KAZMA is a weird pick for this singles match, but having him involved only added to my interest of it: he’s been one of 2019 most improved wrestlers and besides Big E, the only RED member I enjoy watching: I’m fascinated to see how will he help Dragon in this very important match for him. Prediction: Dragon Dia
DRAGON GATE 20TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION SERIES EXTRA VOLUME
“HOLLYWOOD” STALKER ICHIKAWA VS. NAOMICHI MARUFUJI (PRO WRESTLING NOAH)
Case: God bless this mess. Prediction: Naomichi Marufuji
Mike: Time for your old pal’s history lesson for this article. One of the funnier things the Dragon System has done was the Stalker Ichikawa famous wrestlers series. It always ended with Stalker getting the piss knocked out of him, but it was genuinely amusing to see legends like Akira Hokuto deal with the Best Comedy Wrestler of All Time.
I won’t pretend that I watch Pro Wrestling NOAH. People tell me that Maru is either completely washed or is only great in certain matchups. That’s fine. This match isn’t about stars. This match is about having a good time and great v i b e s. Prediction: Naomichi Marufuji
Ricardo: Yes. YES. We know this will rule, and I only want to add this to the excitement: Marufuji is pretty selfless and recently worked hard to help Impact in their AXS TV debut shows, so we know he’s going to go out of his way to give us a beautiful match with comedy legend Stalker Ichikawa. Prediction: Naomichi Marufuji
ULTIMO DRAGON, RYO SAITO & YASUSHI KANDA VS. MASATO YOSHINO, DRAGON KID & MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI
Case: Two-thirds of this match were involved in the truly great Kobe World. That will ultimately be the peak of Ultimo Dragon in Dragon Gate, although he won’t be going anywhere anytime soon…Living in a post-peak-Ultimo universe means that the only thing I can hope for is a fun match and a clean finish. Given the teams in this match, Ultimo’s Toryumon friends vs. a hodgepodge of babyface legends, there’s no reason that this match should end in anything but a pinfall or submission.
My guess is that this leads to an angle to hook fans into the Toryumon reunion show at the end of January. Why we need a Toryumon reunion show, I’m not sure, but what Ultimo wants, Ultimo gets! Prediction: Ultimo Dragon, Ryo Saito, & Yasushi Kanda
Mike: We’ve now seen variations of this match over the last five months and I feel like that all of us have expended enough brain cells on Ultimo trios matches. This could be a good time. This could just be an Ultimo show where he takes three bumps, teases the Asai Moonsault and then pins (pulls up a random number generator) Dragon Kid with the La Magistral.
The expectation of this match now is very minimal five months since Ultimo’s return. This will probably end up being between **½ to ***¼ wth maybe a slim chance of being incredibly bad, or incredibly good. Who knows. I’m ready for 2020 and see what they will do with Ultimo being around because this stuff is old hat and I want something new. Prediction: Ultimo Dragon, Ryo Saito & Yasushi Kanda
Ricardo: MochiGod is here, so we can expect quality out of this thing, but I’ve had it. I don’t want to see Ultimo Dragon, I don’t care about his involvement in the company, and I certainly don’t care about ANOTHER DUMB 6-MAN TAG. Ultimo Dragon can get in the bin. Prediction: Ultimo Dragon, Ryo Saito & Yasushi Kanda.
OPEN THE BRAVE GATE CHAMPIONSHIP
KAITO ISHIDA (C) VS JASON LEE
Case: Kaito Ishida revealed himself to be a true dickhead (and the Green Demon) at the Korakuen Hall show earlier this month. His Brave Gate win in November was a feel-good moment for the company and the fact that he turned his back on his unit and the fans so quickly is actually a great idea. I’m very into the idea of Ishida being in R.E.D., although the unit is starting to feel a little bloated.
Jason Lee had a Brave Gate shot earlier in the year, but it was on a smaller show that most people didn’t see. Lee has been such a pleasant addition to the roster since he came into the company and this is by far the biggest match of his career. This could very easily be the match of the night. I’m so excited to see what these former partners can do against one another. Prediction: Kaito Ishida
Mike: The reveal of the Green Demon as Kaito Ishida was a huge shakeup in the complexion of the promotion. MaxiMuM went from a small unit with some current success, to one that’s immediately on life support with only four members and no one with belts. R.E.D. goes from the Twin Gate champs and their goon squad to now the most successful unit with a ton of younger talent. That’s why these sudden heel turns are so important. Dragon Gate’s a promotion where power and control can change with one person making a decision.
Anyways, this match should own. Ishida as a heel is such an obviously great move: he’s been an aloof dick before turning heel and now he can just be a complete jerk. Jason Lee’s probably the answer to DG’s Most Underrated in 2019. After two years of just kinda being a filler and the last member of a challenging team, this is a huge opportunity on one of the biggest stages in the promotion. Kaito’s reign is still young. This year is starting to feel like the end of 2011 where the heel unit was in complete control of the promotion and I think that begins with Kaito Ishida retaining. Prediction: Kaito Ishida
Ricardo: This should be an exciting look on what the future of Dragon Gate has to offer. Ishida has been a standout in Dragon Gate throughout 2019 and there’s nothing I want more than him having a memorable Open the Brave Gate title reign. His alignment with R.E.D. gave life to the faction and made him an immediate standout heel. We know he can deliver in the ring and I can’t wait to see the influence this turn has in his wrestling style: I want even more savage kicks from this man.
This is also a huge opportunity for the always underrated Jason Lee to prove to the DG overlords that he should be a pushed entity in 2020. I’m completely confident that he will grab this match by the throat and give us an outstanding performance. Prediction: Kaito Ishida
OPEN THE TRIANGLE GATE CHAMPIONSHIP – 3-WAY 6-MAN MATCH
STRONG MACHINE ARMY (C) (STRONG MACHINE J, F & G) VS. H*Y*O, TAKASHI YOSHIDA & DIAMANTE VS. KZY, SUSUMU YOKOSUKA & GENKI HORIGUCHI
Case: Lots of names in this match. Should be very interesting to see how the Tokyo Sports Rookie of the Year, Strong Machine J, adapts to this sort of cluster. If this match would’ve happened three months ago, I would’ve feared for Diamante’s safety (and everyone that was in the ring with him), but Diamante has proven that anyone who spends time in Dragon Gate will automatically get better because he has gone from “pretty bad” to “he’s not that bad!” which is a remarkable transition.
I think the belts finally get taken off of Strong Machine Army in an indirect way here. Kzy, Susumu, and Horiguchi have all had mild success this year, and I think they’re going to end the year with gold around their waists by pinning R.E.D. Prediction: Kzy, Genki Horiguchi, & Susumu Yokosuka
Mike: It took eight months, but we are finally getting the Strong Machine Army in the Dragon System’s specialty match. I have no desire to explain the obvious reasoning behind it, but Strong Machine J was the Tokyo Sports Rookie of the Year and looks like he could end his year with an undefeated record. I don’t think that’s going to happen here or at the Korakuen that’s a few days later against Ben-K.
The Natural Vibes team is the same champion team that dropped these belts at this exact show last year. Since then, Kzy had a Dream and Twin Gate challenge and Susumu had a legendary Brave Gate reign. Genki in 2019 is the exact same as Genki in 2018 except he had a surprising blood feud with Big E for the Twin Gate this fall that was incredibly exciting. I don’t see DG pushing reset in Fukuoka.
This RED team is pretty interesting and what I kind of see as the fulcrum of the match. As I mentioned in the Brave Gate preview, I get the vibe where we are going to have a night where the heel unit looks like they are in control of the company. The problem with that is that this RED team would need to win. This would be H*Y*O’s first title and he’d beat his former Mochizuki Dojo compatriots to the punch if he wins. Yoshida’s a safe choice for a Triangle Gate team where you can hide his massive deficiencies. That leaves us with Diamante.
Diamante has been the most puzzling gaijin over the last few years. Clearly close to Ultimo, he’s not bad per say, just very boring. Jimmy’s six months in Dragon Gate are coming to a close, and that leads me to wonder if Diamante’s trip is over soon as well. I have more confidence that we will see Diamante back if that’s the case, but it’s something you gotta consider if you think RED can win. I think they still will. Prediction: H*Y*O, Yoshida & Diamante
Ricardo: KZY, Genki and Susumu’s chemistry is a thing of beauty (their title reign last year was awesome) so I want them to help the Strong Machines to have the best match of their run. Unfortunately there’s a pesky R.E.D. trio in the way.
Diamante does nothing for me and the sight of him makes me want to stop watching wrestling; something similar happens when Yoshida comes on screen because he SUCKS. Sorry, there’s no way around it. HYO’s involvement with R.E.D. has been disappointing so far but a victory here would do wonders to his character development: HYO left MochiDojo because he never won titles and felt like a loser, so I think strapping him would be a step in the right direction and would also give power to the R.E.D. domination narrative that has been building for some weeks now.
Despite Diamante and Yoshida’s involvement, I have faith in this match that could surprise us all. Prediction: H*Y*O, Yoshida & Diamante
OPEN THE TWIN GATE CHAMPIONSHIP
EITA & BIG R SHIMIZU (C) VS. YAMATO & BXB HULK
Case: YAMAHulk was in the midst of a great Twin Gate run last year when injuries halted BxB Hulk and nearly put him on the sidelines for good. Hulks’ return to the ring in 2019 started very slow and for months, he looked like a shell of his former self, but over the past two months, Hulk has dropped a lot of weight and is moving around better than he has in years. I have no doubt that he and YAMATO are going to be able to pick up right where they left off.
Eita and Shimizu, henceforth known as Big E, have been unsurprisingly great. I’ve said throughout this reign that Eita’s place is in a tag team and that there’s nothing wrong with that. I weirdly already buy Ishida and HYO as singles stars more than I do Eita, but in a tag team? Forget it. That’s Eita’s bread and butter. I’m not ready for this reign to end. I want more Big E goodness in the new year. Prediction: Big E
Mike: Now that I look at the card in its entirety, this Final Gate card has a bunch of runbacks and references to Final Gates of 2018 and early. That’s not bad, just interesting. The Twin Gate match last year was supposed to be Big Ben vs YAMAHulk, but Hulk’s broken neck meant that it was vacated and turned into a four-way decision match.
YAMAHulk was an incredibly fun Twin Gate team that had both guys compliment each other and eliminated most of their worst tendencies. No need for aimless grappling for YAMATO when his partner was there and Hulk could do his high notes without needing to do a long epic match solo. I’ll give BXB Hulk a ton of a credit: I thought he was destined for openers given the severity of his injury, his age, and the state of his health, but he’s been dedicated towards his recovery and seems to have turned back the years.
Big E is a great heel team consisted of two of the best tag team wrestlers in this era of Dragon Gate. It actually reminds me a lot of the GOAT YAMADoi team that bridged the gap between Mad Blankey and VerserK. They’re a lot more sleaze than the James Bond supervillians that YAMATO and Doi were, but both are leading their heel units in their own image, have immaculate chemistry, and their matches are often the best on the show.
It’d be a really fun thing for Tribe Vanguard to have literally any reason for its existence if YAMAHulk regained the titles. They’re over three and a half years old for godsakes. But I think with the theme of the night, it’s gotta be Big E. Prediction: Eita & Big R Shimizu
Ricardo: I yelled in excitement when I read that this match was happening. Big E is a Tag Team of the Year contender and another great match could position them in the top of that list, at least for me. They are so much fun to watch and I don’t think they will drop the belts, so my happiness resides in them being paired up against YAMAHulk. BxB Hulk has improved tremendously since his return from injury and having him partner with YAMATO again sounds like the best decision for him to regain confidence. Last year’s sudden end to the YAMAHulk run was disappointing and I’m glad that 12 months later, they try to pick up from where they left. Prediction: Eita & Big R Shimizu
OPEN THE DREAM GATE CHAMPIONSHIP
BEN-K (C) VS. NARUKI DOI
Case: Ben-K is not losing to Naruki Doi for the Open the Dream Gate Championship. If Ben-K loses, something has gone horribly wrong. A company that has largely existed and thrived on making smart, sound booking decisions would be making one of the biggest mistakes of their 15 year history. Ben-K has no business losing this match. That being said – I’m going to love every tease that these two produce. Doi is the perfect guy to have in this spot. It’s the match I feel most confident in Ben-K winning since his reign began, but no one can provide false-hope quite like Naruki Doi.
Doi doesn’t have a lot of high-profile singles matches anymore. He hardly wrestles singles matches outside of King of Gate (his Dream Gate challenge vs. Yoshino last fall being the main exception). In fact, Doi has only had ten televised singles matches in the past two years. I’m very excited to see what these two can come up with. In the end, however, the result is obvious. This is Ben-K’s night. Prediction: Ben-K
Mike: Ben-K’s run of defenses against prominent former Dream Gate champions leads us to Naruki Doi, whose 449 day reign started at Final Gate 2018 and ended at Dragon Gate’s last show at Sumo Hall. Since that day, Doi’s had a giant 0-fer in Dream Gate matches, including a title reign that never happened (2014 Dragon Gate was WILD).
Ben-K’s title reign has fulfilled all of its lofty expectations to date. The only big bout of weirdness that surrounds it is that he’s been their most notable lone wolf champion in the company’s history. That’s neither here nor there in regards to this title match, but is something that’s worth keeping in mind if he gets his fourth Dream Key and moves into 2020 as Dragon Gate’s top dog.
I don’t really have a good feel for the chemistry of these two in the ring. They’ve faced off in Twin Gate scenarios and I always viewed them as fine, but not blow away awesome. This is probably the first Dream defense for Ben-K since his match with YAMATO where I can see the result being in doubt. Doi fans will scream if he loses the title yet again, and a title win could get MaxiMuM off life support. Ben-K could lose here and his title reign would still be a success, albeit one that could have been more successful. I have the feeling that big warfare is on the horizon for Dragon Gate in 2020, and that makes me think Ben-K retains, MaxiMuM (and probably other units too) will dissolve, and the company will have interesting times ahead. Prediction: Ben-K
Ricardo: I’m not sure what else to add. Ben-K’s title defenses have been fantastic (I’m the high man on the YAMATO match) and each of them has shown us how much of a confident, strong and badass champion he is. As Case mentioned, lately Doi hasn’t been in many singles matches, therefore I expect him to go all out for this title match.
I can’t see Ben-K dropping the belt, but that doesn’t mean this match won’t be an exciting roller coaster: I will probably be jumping on my couch with the high-speed and drama these two men have prepared for us. My expectations are high for this one. Prediction: Ben-K