DRAGON GATE
OPEN THE NEW YEAR GATE
JANUARY 15, 2020
KORAKUEN HALL – TOKYO, JAPAN

Watch: Dragon Gate Network

YOSUKE SANTA MARIA, MARTIN KIRBY, PROBLEM DRAGON, & PUNCH TOMINAGA DEF. DON FUJII, KENICHIRO ARAI, YASUSHI KANDA, & KO NO MAMA ICHIKAWA 

There is a moment in this match when Ko no Mama Ichikawa, the former Stalker, connects with a bridging German Suplex and for two and a half seconds, it looks like he’s going to get the win. In the background, you can see Genki Horiguchi smiling from ear-to-ear. It was so wholesome. 

It’s great to have Martin Kirby back, even if he’s wrestling in mostly uneventful openers. His team got the win after Yosuke Santa Maria nailed Kanda with a Neraiuchi. **1/2 

OPEN THE TWIN GATE TOURNAMENT SEMI-FINAL MATCH
BXB HULK & KAZMA SAKAMOTO DEF. DRAGON DIA & KZY 

This never hit the level that I was hoping it would. Over the past three months, Dragon Dia has become somewhat of a miracle worker in Korakuen Hall. They’ve booked him similarly to how they were booking Takehiro Yamamura during the hottest point in his career. Although the result of Sakamoto and Hulk winning felt obvious, I was really hoping Dia would get an extended hope spot against Sakamoto, but during no point in this match did I buy that Dia and Kzy were going to win. Minus one clunky spot between Hulk and Dia, this was well worked, it just wasn’t too exciting. **3/4 

OPEN THE TWIN GATE TOURNAMENT SEMI-FINAL MATCH
BEN-K & YAMATO DEF. MASATO YOSHINO & SUSUMU YOKOSUKA 

To me, the most interesting part of the Twin Gate tournament was that Dragon Gate stacked these two teams. These four are protected more than just about anyone else in the company, so I knew they’d make it far, but when it was time for either team to lose, the fall post was not clear which added a nice layer of intrigue. The finish saw Yoshino succumbing to a Galleria from YAMATO. Dragon Gate continues to lean into Yoshino’s injured neck as he continues down the road to retirement. 

This match had a special atmosphere to it. The Korakuen crowd seemed to notice the fact that this was an all-star tag match and the fact that it was only third on the card made it seem even more special. Of course, being the third match on the card means that it’s not going to hit the levels it would if it was a main event. This was a fine contest right in the ballpark of “very good” but far away from “great”. The continued neck-targeting on Yoshino is terrific. Those tactics will not get old anytime soon. ***1/2 

KEISUKE OKUDA, YUKI YOSHIOKA, JASON LEE, & KOTA MINOURA DEF. MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI, GAMMA, KENTO KOBUNE, & TAKETO KAMAI  

Kento Kobune and Taketo Kamai debuted on 12/22 in a tag match featuring YAMATO and Naruki Doi. You can watch that match here

This was by no means on the same level as the infamous 12/1/16 match in which a bunch of rookies stole the show in Korakuen Hall, but it should be noted that in their Korakuen Hall debut, Kobune and Kamai stepped up to the plate, helped produce a great match, and looked incredibly comfortable in the process. 

Kobune has a bright future ahead of him. There’s an undeniable poise that he wrestles with. He portrays a shocking amount of confidence for someone so young in their career. Given what I’ve seen, which is very little, I think the aptest comparison for him right now is Naruki Doi. Yes, that’s a loaded statement given the fact that Doi is the current Open the Dream Gate champion, but this current title reign will not defy Doi’s legacy. Doi is a guy that is always in the hunt, always doing something important, and always making his presence felt, and I can very easily see Kobune, who is framed in a similar fashion and wrestles a simplified version of Doi’s style, fitting that mold. 

Kamai, on the other hand, is a bit of a wild card. He’s tiny. GAORA lists him at 163cm, which is essentially 5’3”. Kotoka was taller than that. If he’s going to succeed in any company, it’s going to be Dragon Gate, but he’s going to have to take a beating in the process. Keisuke Okuda took great joy in kicking the crap out of Kamai in this match and if I were on the roster, I would look forward to doing the same. Ultimately, Kotoka became a success story before he was forced to retire due to injury. Akira Tozawa was undersized and undervalued until he forced himself into the main event. Kamai has the blueprints to success, he just has to execute the plan properly. 

An unfortunate loss due to generational warfare is the end of Mochizuki Dojo, who was pound-for-pound one of the greatest in-ring units in Dragon System history. If we can get more Yoshioka/Lee/Okuda pairings this year, though, my spreadsheet will be just as full as it was last year. Minoura had an uneventful match, but he’s proven he can deliver as well. 

Oh, and for those keeping track, the now-fifty-year-old (he’ll be fifty when you all read this) Masaaki Mochizuki has been involved in three great matches and we’re not out of January. It shouldn’t shock me that Gamma is having his best matches since he teamed with CIMA now that he’s aligned with Mochizuki. God, he’s so good. Watch this match. You’re getting a showcase of what the future of the company will be. 

Somehow this match only lasted five minutes. I thought it was double that length with the amount of action they fit into this match. Alas, Okuda ended things with the Lights Out at 5:41. ***3/4 

DRAGON KID & RYO SAITO, STRONG MACHINE J & KAI DEF. HYO & TAKASHI YOSHIDA 

Ryo Saito and Strong Machine J scored a double pin on HYO after J landed the Devil’s Windmill Suplex and Saito jumped in for the fall. 

Despite being with the company for over a year, and for the most part fitting in well, it’s very disorienting seeing KAI doing traditional Dragon Gate triple threat spots. He does them well. He fit in with the much quicker HYO and Dragon Kid and the much more experienced Saito and Yoshida. He’s also a strangely good partner for Strong Machine J. KAI is really doing well, but it’s all so weird to watch. 

HYO continues to takes falls for R.E.D. which is disappointing. I thought he’d hit the ground running with his heel turn, and instead, he’s taken fall after fall. Hopefully, he can turn things around relatively soon, perhaps with Yosuke Santa Maria in his sights. This match is rather skippable, even if it’s not bad. ***

Strong Machine J & Ryo Saito both laid claim to the Open the Triangle Gate championships after they shared a pinfall over champion team member H・Y・O. For the Dragon Gate team, KAI declined so he could focus on gaining revenge on BxB Hulk. In his stead, Yosuke♡Santa Maria & Keisuke Okuda stepped up to join Machine J. The Toryumon team will be Ryo Saito, Dragon Kid, & in his first Dragon Gate title match in many many years, Kenichiro Arai. The 47 year old Arai told R・E・D that their surprises were old news and he would be the one making them happen now. – Dragon Gate English Facebook 

NARUKI DOI, GENKI HORIGUCHI, & KAGETORA DEF. BIG R SHIMIZU, EITA, & KAITO ISHIDA 

This is one of those Dragon Gate matches that will go under the radar because for Dragon Gate it’s just another match, but if a match of this level took place in literally any other company in the world, it would create buzz within the circles of fandom. This is not because Dragon Gate gets slighted by critics, but simply because the house style is worked at such a high level that matches like this simply occur and then the world moves on. 

This match was worked at such an incredible pace. Doi, Horiguchi, and Kagetora is a rare trio given the fact that Doi has rarely been in the same unit as those two. A great thing about the generational warfare angle is that not only are young guys getting to team up with veterans for the first time, but we see veterans, even guys that have been in the same company for 15 years, teaming together for the first time. Doi’s cannonball-infused style works well with the breakneck precision of Kagetora and the frantic-style of Horiguchi. I hope to see these three team more in the future. 

R.E.D’s biggest stars continue to shine when they’re together. The viciousness of Ishida plays well with the sleaziness of Eita and Shimizu. Because Ishida is so great, I want him to continue working in the Brave Gate scene, but at some point I’d love to see an all-star Triangle Gate run with these three. 

This match will ultimately go under the radar, but it was really, really great. Six pros working at the top of their game. In the end, Doi plastered Shimizu with a Bakatare Sliding Kick for the win. ****

Anxious to make his first Open the Dream Gate title defense, Naruki Doi laid out an open challenge to anyone to come and face him. It was Kzy who answered the call. Doi saw no reason to refuse, but warned his new challenger that he had every intention of spending his entire 20th anniversary year as champion. – Dragon Gate English Facebook 

OPEN THE TWIN GATE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
BXB HULK & KAZMA SAKAMOTO DEF. BEN-K & YAMATO (c)

BxB Hulk & Kazma Sakamoto become the 48th Open the Twin Gate champions. This is Hulk’s seventh reign with the title and Sakamoto’s first. 

As soon as the brackets were announced for the Twin Gate tournament, I recognized this was the obvious finale. Hulk is freshly heel and has a dominant partner alongside him. YAMATO and Ben-K are an all-star, elite-tier team that feels like Dragon Gate’s version of Kobashi and Misawa teaming. There was no way they were losing in the first round. On top of that, YAMATO and Hulk were the champions before the belts were vacated, so it makes perfect sense that they’re squaring off for the titles now that Hulk has turned. 

This match worked seamlessly. Every chapter of this match, from the early Ben-K beatdown to the unit brawl on the floor to the finish with Hulk and YAMATO worked as a coherent story. I had a story in my mind when the bell rang for what I wanted this match to be, and they far surpassed what I was hoping. 

As noted earlier, the first third of this match was spent with Ben-K selling. I was concerned at first that the prodigy who lost unexpectedly at Final Gate was looking too weak, but by the end of the match my worries had subsided. He looked like a wounded animal while selling, only to come back as a rabid beast when he made his eventual comeback. That comeback would come after a brawl on the floor in which both R.E.D. and Dragon Gate true borns began going at it. 

The unit brawl gave Ben-K and YAMATO the momentum they needed to make a comeback, but unfortunately, Ben-K’s flurry of offense was thwarted by a ref bump that was caused by the heels. With no referee, Ben-K’s closing stretch offense was rendered useless. After another series of moves, YAMATO planted Hulk with the Ragnarok, but the original referee was still down. Referee Yagi sprinted to the ring, but Hulk escaped right before the count of three. 

The good luck for the DG true borns ended there. Ben-K missed a spear and went straight into the ring post, taking him out of the match for good. YAMATO was simply not strong enough for the two-on-one attack. He survived a dual First Flash from Sakamoto and Hulk, but a second kick to the grill from Hulk ended the contest. Hulk and Sakamoto left victorious. 

I am a little shocked that Hulk and Sakamoto left with the gold. Dragon Gate has had a real knack for cutting their heel units balls off too early in their history. Yes, R.E.D. has been around for over a year now and the red/black/yellow aesthetic has been active for nearly five years now, but given the new generational warfare that Dragon Gate is experiencing, this felt like a rebirth of sorts. 

This match is well worth your time. Storytelling at its finest. A major win for R.E.D. and for the company as a whole. ****1/2 

After the tournament finals, YAMATO attempted to get an immediate rematch with KAI as his partner. New champion BxB Hulk declined since he had just pinned YAMATO moments earlier. Despite claims from YAMATO that he had forgotten about losing, the challenge was ultimately rejected. If YAMATO & KAI wanted a shot at Hulk, he would bring along Eita as his partner. Masato Yoshino, looking for payback from an R・E・D attack earlier in the night, put himself into the mix. His partner would be another member of the Toryumon Generation; Shuji Kondo! – Dragon Gate English Facebook

Final Thoughts:

Dragon Gate begins the decade with a home run in Korakuen Hall. Their new, unit-wide angle continues to intrigue me. It’s very obvious to me that this angle is going to dominate the company for the entire year. They are slowly rolling out mini-angles within the big one and I assume we’ll be seeing that until this time next year. The young boys eight-man, semi-main, and main event are all well worth your time. Dragon Gate continues their hot streak with Open the New Year Gate.

February 7th, 2020
Tokyo, Korakuen Hall

Toryumon vs. Dragon Gate vs. R・E・D 3 Way Tag Team Match
(Toryumon) Masato Yoshino & Shuji Kondo vs. (Dragon Gate) YAMATO & KAI vs. (R・E・D) Eita & BxB Hulk

Open the Triangle Gate 3 Way Championship Match
Takashi Yoshida & Diamante & H・Y・O vs. Strong Machine J & Yosuke♡Santa Maria & Keisuke Okuda

Open the Dream Gate Championship Match
Naruki Doi vs. Kzy