MARCH 1, 2020

Watch: Dragongate Network


This pre-show match was shaken up after Yosuke Santa Maria tested for a high fever and was taken off the show. Su’s officially out of “try out matches” and seems to be on shows going forward. It’s been really encouraging how much ring time Kobune and Kamei have received since their debuts in December: the Dragongate roster is full to the point of sink or swim and both have looked strong in their first three months meriting extra ring time.

This was a fairly standard pre-show match, especially one that has a rookie tag team and then a foreign tag team. Lun’s been quietly erasing folk’s memory of his short WWE tenure and played a solid vet here, and Su, Kobune, Kamei showed fight and improvement. After a chop battle and a couple of pin combinations, Kento Kobune scored his first pin against a non-rookie opponent via School Boy on Michael Su. **½ 


A really interesting match-up given the changes and the current Three Way Generational War. On the Dragongate generation side, you got one guy who is the mainstay of the lower card (Problem Dragon), the most underrated in-ring worker in the company (Jason Lee), someone who’s having to basically restart his career from step one after losing 18 months (Oji Shiiba), and the fastest rising star in the company fresh of his first title win (Dragon Dia). The other side is an assorted side of unaffiliated guys (Masaaki Mochizuki & 2020 WOTY Gamma), a Toryumon former champion (Ryo Saito), and the foreign wrestler having something to prove on a longer tour (Martin Kirby).

For a relatively low stakes opener, I thought this was a bunch of fun. One of the biggest strengths of Dragongate as a company is that you will get these matches with people that don’t have much going on at the moment. Very few companies have the depth of Dragongate where you’ll have six great wrestlers, a guy who isn’t too capable due to injuries, and a rookie, and give you a very compelling opener.

Highlights of this opener are Martin Kirby’s ability to get engagement out of a crowd that’s difficult and has their minds elsewhere for obvious reasons, the fun of the vets, Lee having a great exchange with Mochizuki, and Dia’s seemingly unstoppable potential where he had a great final stretch with Kirby that concluded with him getting the win after shrugging off Gamma’s cane attack with the Reptilian Rana. Really fun opener! ***¼ 

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Got a lot of Showa vibes to start off with Strong Machine J and Don Fujii to start. Really felt straight out the 80s which I don’t think was intended, but it was really cool. A credit to the commentary of Jae and Larry Dallas early talking about the history of Kzy and Akira Tozawa and how Kzy elected to pick up Tozawa’s High Energy/Charisma mantle for the roster after Tozawa graduated the roster. Dragongate (and the Dragon System) is a company with now almost 21 years of lore and history and it was nice of them to provide the context for new western viewers.

This was a bit of a preview for the future Triangle Gate match with Horiguchi and J and a bunch of Fujii and J interactions. As J seems to have gotten healthy, it was a bit of a joy to see these two have the beef-off as Don Fujii delighted in testing the 2019 Rookie of the Year. It was a nice respite when after these brutal portions we got Kzy and Genki Horiguchi tagged in. Their history through Natural Vibes was a nice thread where familiarity allowed Genki to not fall for Kzy’s misdirections, brainbuster, and Kzy Time.

I really enjoyed this tag match. With the unit resets and fresh teams, it was great to see combinations and chemistry develop throughout this match. It felt like both teams were fighting both to win the match, and potentially future Twin Gate aspirations. The Dragongate generation won this match after Kzy clocked Horiguchi with the diving uppercut and J hit the Devil Windmill Suplex. A lot of interaction after the match between SMJ showing some personality against the angry Toryumon Army team. Great stuff! ***½ 


The opening of this match (basically everything up until your mandatory R.E.D. crowd brawl) was really cool. You had the big power fighters of their armies, Ben-K and Yoshida, face off and collide into each other, and then have the two most pissed off people on the roster, Okuda and Ishida, decide to get into a soccer kick contest. It’s really nice how these sides have started to develop to the degree where each one has their specialists and it provided a nice angle to this match.

R.E.D. was able to isolate Okuda by taping Ben-K on the floor to the turnbuckle. In a company where one of the conceits are that the heel side will cheat relentlessly, this was a somewhat inventive fashion to cheat and endear Okuda to the Osaka crowd in his attempts to survive until Ben-K was able to get free. Pretty simple but well-done stuff.

Before this match, I was really stoked to see Ben-K and Okuda finally tag. The two are basically sworn brothers, with history dating back to high school and college competing against each other in amateur wrestling. And the two didn’t disappoint, showing obvious teamwork and chemistry that can only come from practically growing up with someone and then finding yourself in the same team. The two have a bit of an “anything you can do I can do better” dynamic and a really neat rising knee/back drop suplex combination.

The match totally broke down and there was a rare disqualification when Okuda ran Kaito Ishida into the referee Mr. Nakagawa, then stripping his MMA gloves to deliver strikes from Ishida’s guard. The most pissed off man in Dragongate snapped and it was another inventive thing in this match. I don’t know if Okuda can qualify for the Brave Gate title (with a weight restriction of 83 kilos), but this would have been a smart way of setting it up. You know what you are going to get with Takashi Yoshida in 2020, and this was an effective way of masking that and having a solid tag. ***


This started with a prolonged ringside attack as Eita continued his pursuit of ending Masato Yoshino’s career. An interesting note was the amount of crowd calls Eita got from this Osaka crowd, kind of remarkable considering his positioning over the last two years as the ultimate scumbag heel. 

This felt like somewhat of a cool down before the two title matches. It wasn’t bad at all, but if you reader thought in your mind “what would this match be in 2020?” then you’ve pretty much got the first ten or so minutes of this. R.E.D. beatdown, lots of work on Dragon Kid (Diamante looked strong in this), hope spots from the Toryumon Army, and more beatdowns.

The stretch of Yoshino and Eita and then Yoshino and Shimizu were a lot of fun, and one of the many things I’ll miss when Masato Yoshino retires this year. His interactions with everyone are special and always something that makes me maudlin about his retirement. The finish was Big R Shimizu’s first win of the year when he rolled through a hurricanrana that Kagetora used to avoid the Shotput Slam. Eita grabbed the mic and continued their drama stating that it was a weak win and he should, as a power fighter, win with power moves. This match was fine, if not inessential. **¾ 


This was much more of a grinding match than one would expect for a feud with this much stakes. Hulk was the Christmas Surprise because he was so furious about Tribe Vanguard taking in the guy that broke his neck. The whole first few months of this year was based around YAMATO and KAI’s desire to get their hands on the turncoat. But instead, we started this match with a bunch of holds and locks like this was just a normal Twin Gate challenge. I found that somewhat frustrating to start.

That’s when it became really clear to me what this Twin Gate match was: the probably set up for who’s going to be in the cage at Dead or Alive. We’re kind of at the point of the Dragongate schedule where things get planted and develop to the point. KAI, YAMATO and Hulk have obvious reasons to be in the cage at this point, and with retrospect, we could point to this as the starting point of that.

The match started to pick up when it broke down to KAI and KAZMA, which led to a relatively insane no-touch tope con giro from YAMATO. Hulk and KAI had a really cool sequence where KAI did a First Flash that felt special and really started to get Osaka behind them. The biggest moment was when YAMATO did an errant forearm attack then corner splash to Mr. Nakagawa, breaking this down to a complete gang warfare stretch. YAMATO had a clear visual pin with a Frankensteiner of the Almighty, then he got a bunch of chair shots and Yoshida’s big mist. After another attack from Eita led to another big breakdown with both sides in the ring, Mr. Nakagawa called for the No Contest.

This is sort of a hard match to evaluate on the star rating spectrum. It’s clear that this was a midpoint for Dragongate Army and R.E.D. GM Yagi got on the mic and said that there will be consequences. This could be the Dead or Alive match I mentioned earlier, or maybe we might start seeing some sort of high stakes tag like what happened during Blood Warriors and Junction Three (huge ten or twelve-man tags with stipulations like unit expulsion at stake). Overall, the match caught my interest and has me intrigued for where they go from here, but I can’t shake how much of it was tentative before that. ***


Naruki Doi made his second defense and christened the new version of the Open the Dream Gate belt with its second Dream Key of this reign.

This match was one that having the Dean of western Dragon System, Jae, on commentary was a brilliant move. He dropped a lot of great nuggets in the opening talking about Doi and Yokosuka’s history in the promotion and the context of Susumu coming into this match fresh off a pair of AJPW Junior title defenses while Doi could rest up. I think that sort of stuff is essential to provide context to the newer Dragongate fans who only recently started following the promotion with English coverage, so incredibly well-done stuff there.

Yokosuka started the match displaying how he earned the nickname of “Technic Master” in how he worked over the champion’s back. Some really smooth and inventive backbreakers including one that he held Doi across his knee and converting into a version of a cobra clutch was awesome. 

Through his first two defenses, we’ve really started to get an image of who Naruki Doi is in 2020 comparatively to his reign across 2009-10: He has learned all of the strengths and preferences of his challenges and does his best to negate them. With Kzy, it was brutal maneuvers like a new curb stomp or the Muscular Bomb to get a knockout blow. In this match of Susumu, it was targeting the Jumbo No Kachi-dominant arm of Susumu, and being so well versed in Yokosuka’s offense where he could avoid moves like the top rope exploder that Yokosuka is so prone to do. From a stylistic sense, a wrestler would want to take out the arm if that’s where the bulk of the opponent’s offense comes from. From a crowd engagement sense, this gave more of a reason to cheer on Susumu.

When Susumu had his shot, he took it. Desperation Jumbo No Kachis where he couldn’t pin Doi, or finally hitting the top rope exploder and not being able to use his dominant arm to grab the leg for the pin. Folks who watch Dragongate know that Susumu Yokosuka is one of the most outstanding in-ring wrestlers of the last two years, and this match was a testament to his ability.

This match hit the sprint gear after Doi made a Muscular Bomb attempt that Yokosuka escaped. Susumu visibly ramped up and tried to use adrenaline to shake off the effects of Doi’s arm work, but it was to no avail. After a few kickouts, Susumu realized that the Jumbo No Kachi wouldn’t be enough and started to stack lariats and other moves to get nearfalls.

Knowing that Susumu would continue to escape from the Muscular Bomb and kicking out of the Mugen package, Doi knew he had to go with something new. Scouting Yokosuka’s moveset, Doi created a new V9 Clutch variant, the 9199 (pronounced Quick), trapped one of the challenger’s arms during a Jumbo No Kachi attempt and got the defense with the flash pin.

If there’s ever a match that’s a testimony of someone, this was it for Susumu Yokosuka. Him and Naruki Doi put together an incredibly well thought out, and inventive match. Susumu’s been a remarkable wrestler for the majority of his twenty-year-old career, and when given the opportunity in bad circumstances, him and Doi knocked it out of the park. ****½


COVID-19 put Dragongate in an unenviable position. The vast majority of the Japanese wrestling industry (and Dragongate has since this show) shut down for the epidemic. Champion Gate is typically the big moment of the early part of their year; this show often begins the road to Kobe World in earnest. 

Given the circumstances and the epidemic, I think Dragongate handled this pair of shows as well as one as could hope. Attendance was naturally down, but the company put their best foot forward and had a fun show with a special main event that is worth checking out.