JUNE 7, 2020

Watch: Dragon Gate Network

The finals of this year’s King of Gate tournament mark yet another stark difference in the history of the tournament. The Dragongate lineage of the tournament can be traced back to 2005 as a single-elimination tournament took place at the end of the year, culminating in an epic final between Ryo Saito and Susumu Yokosuka in Korakuen Hall. Saito would ride the wave of momentum into a title match against then-Dream Gate champion Magnitude Kishiwada, who Saito would defeat for the title. Saito became the first of six King of Gate winners to fulfil their destiny and win the Open the Dream Gate championship as a result of their tournament successes. After Saito, Naruki Doi accomplished this in 2008, followed by Masato Yoshino in 2015, YAMATO in 2016, Yoshino again in 2018, and Ben-K in 2019. 

The tournament has taken on many incarnations since its inception. Every year the tournament ran from 2005-2015 featured a simple single-elimination format with the number of participants varying for certain years. 2016 saw block play ushered in. It remained that way through this year, as due to the given circumstances of COVID-19, Dragongate reverted back to a three block, single-elimination style tournament with a loser’s revival battle royal to determine the fourth semi-finalist, something that had not been seen since Toryumon’s El Numero Uno tournament. 

The empty arena setting has drastically altered the state of King of Gate. This is normally the one time of the year that Dragongate can be counted on to produce a plethora of great, spreadsheet-worthy singles matches. That has not been the case this year. There have been a handful of very good matches, but nothing that has jumped out to me as truly great. That being said, the tournament has been worthwhile. We’ve seen subtle Kaito Ishida elevation, a rebirth in YAMATO’s in-ring attitude, and debuts from Madoka Kikuta and Sora Fujikawa. The tenth show of King of Gate features only one match, the finals of the tournament between the loser of last year’s finals, Eita, and the 2008 winner of the tournament, Naruki Doi. 


Eita, after years of toiling away in the void between the midcard and the main event, has finally captured the coveted King of Gate tournament win. Eita’s lineage in the tournament goes back to 2012, before his excursion and subsequent rebirth in Mexico, but his first signs of success in King of Gate came in 2016 as thanks to the newly introduced block play, G1-like format, Eita produced back-to-back Korakuen Hall MOTYC’s, first in May against Akira Tozawa, then a month later against Susumu Yokosuka. Those two matches (and a subsequent rematch against Tozawa), along with his star-making sprint against Jushin Thunder Liger in the 2016 Super J Cup, put Eita’s stock at an all-time high. Days later he won the Open the Brave Gate Championship at Kobe World and followed that up by winning the Summer Adventure Tag League with his former mentor, Dragon Kid. He was gaining traction in his homeland and was becoming the most popular roster member among Western fans. 

In November 2017, Eita turned against Dragon Kid after a year that featured him losing his Brave Gate belt, coming up short to his former partner T-Hawk in the King of Gate semi-finals, and being a focal point of the Over Generation unit that was treading water. Eita’s heel turn ushered in a new era of the red, black, and yellow heel unit. VerserK was rebranded to ANTIAS, who’s time atop Dragongate can only be looked at as a failure. ANTIAS is on the level of a Deep Drunkers or a Shin M2K, a poor effort from start to finish and something that only hurt the people involved. It’s a low point in the careers of Shingo Takagi, T-Hawk, and El Lindaman, all of whom would eventually split from the company. With their exits, Eita was positioned as the leader of the top heel unit despite never challenging for the Open the Dream Gate title. He cracked under the pressure. 

Eita’s 2018 feud with Dragon Kid was endless and unpleasurable. Eita didn’t feel like he belonged in the feature feud of the company, and Dragon Kid, for as talented as he is, has never been a true main eventer. Even when Dragon Kid challenged Susumu Yokosuka for the Open the Dream Gate belt at Kobe World 2006, it was the semi-main event to a no-rope cluster between CIMA and Magnitude Kishiwada. Neither were top guys, and as the company continued to struggle at the box office and creatively, they were put in a position that they ultimately failed in. 

Eita became much more palatable in 2019 with the reemergence of PAC, who captured the Open the Dream Gate championship in December 2018 and ushered in a new era as champion. He boastfully led the red, black, and yellow heel group after their third rebranding, this time into R.E.D., and provided stabilization and star power at the top of the card that was desperately needed. Eita took a backseat to PAC’s dominance, and the role fit him. Eita has proven over time that he is not a leading man, he’s an entertaining sidekick who is best used sparingly. 

Of course, sidekicks don’t win King of Gate. Leading men do. The optics around what Kobe World will be this year are unclear. It could happen in front of a limited capacity audience at Kobe World Hall, the home for the event since its inception in 1999, it could be shifted to the smaller Kobe Sambo Hall, or it could be an empty arena Kobe Lapis Hall show, just like these King of Gate shows. That information is unclear at press time. We do know that Eita vs. Naruki Doi, this time for the Dream Gate title, appears to be the direction, and that Eita, no matter how many people are in the building for his title challenge, will be granted the biggest opportunity of his career when he gets his title match. 

Eita is not a consistent wrestler. I never know what I’m getting when he steps into the ring. If the eventual rematch between Doi and Eita looks anything like this, I’ll be able to live with that. Eita gained control early by working the champion’s arm. He had won the rest of his tournament matches with the Imperial Uno superkick, but the constant arm work led me to believe that if Eita was going to win this match, it was going to be with the Numero Uno, Eita’s dreaded arm submission that has forced some of Dragongate’s biggest stars to tap. Indeed, Naruki Doi would eventually succumb to the Numero Uno, tapping at the 18-minute mark. 

I was engaged the entire time, partially because it felt like the result of this match could go anyway. Either man could’ve won and it wouldn’t have surprised me. Limb work can be boring in front of the hottest crowd and it can die a painful death in an empty arena, but Eita and Doi made it pay off here. I found the fact that Doi was simply surviving at times, and hardly ever thriving, to be fascinating. Eita controlled most of this match and the results were largely positive. 

Eita’s first attempt at the Numero Uno was countered into a pinning predicament, but minutes later as he went for it again, after Doi had eaten some brutal superkicks, Eita had no problem locking it in and wrenching back. Doi taps. Eita, a year after falling short in the finals, finally gets the biggest accolade of his career up to this point. A very good affair, in line with the rest of the matches that I’ve deemed “very good” throughout this entire tournament. ***3/4 


The biggest moment of Eita’s career, to this point, occurred on this show. Normally that would scare me, but I promise you this match is worth your time.