JULY 15, 2020
Watch: Dragon Gate Network
For the first time since February, Dragongate is back in the Tokyo-area and Korakuen Hall specifically. While numerous promotions have run Shin-Kaba 1st Ring and other Tokyo-based venues, Dragongate is the third promotion to return to Korakuen Hall with fans, following Big Japan who ran a doubleheader on July 12 and the joshi promotion SEAdLINNNG, who followed with a single show a day later.
DG sold out the limited capacity Korakuen Hall with 485 patrons, all of whom were members of the DG Fan Club. The crowd appeared to be filling every third seat, both on the benches and in the chairs on the floor. The set up was similar to the Kyoto shows in the sense that you could tell the venue was operating at limited capacity, but the crowd still felt lively. The Osaka outing on July 12 remains the best a limited capacity show has looked up to this point.
GENKI HORIGUCHI DEF. PUNCH TOMINAGA
The former Natural Vibes partners competed in the dark match to kick off the Korakuen Hall festivities. This was the most aggressively fine match I’ve ever seen. Nothing was bad, but I would simply be telling a lie if I said anything jumped out to me in this bout. Horiguchi won with the Backslide From Heaven. **1/2
KOTA MINOURA, KZY, & JASON LEE DEF. GAMMA, MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI, & YASUSHI KANDA
After two hard-fought time limit draws in Kyoto, Kota Minoura rolled into the main event of the July 12 Osaka show with more momentum than he had ever possessed in his young career. Minoura not only held his own in a main event that featured the current Open the Twin Gate Champions, but he won, pinning BxB Hulk with his signature Package Tiger Driver, otherwise known as Gang. Minoura found himself on the opposite end of the card in Korakuen, but his performance in this bout was every bit as energetic as it was in Osaka.
The heavy lifting in this match was done by Minoura and his former mentor, Masaaki Mochizuki. The fifty-year-old delivered his signature charging kick as Minoura sat with his back against the ropes on the apron, but instead falling to the floor like every man before him, Minoura rose to his feet and stood nose-to-nose with Mochizuki, fearless. He would not only survive the abuse by the hands of Mochizuki, he outlasted a kendo stick blast from Gamma, and led his team to victory by planting Kanda with the Gang.
Minoura and Jason Lee continue riding their wave of momentum as they head into a Twin Gate challenge on August 2 at Memorial Gate in Wakayama.
BIG R SHIMIZU DEF. YOSUKE SANTA MARIA
This match was planned for July 4 but a training injury forced Maria to pull out of the match. Kota Minoura filled in for Maria and jump started his career. The fact that DG went back to the well and rescheduled this match made me think that something big might be planned for Maria, but instead, after countering multiple attempts at Shimizu’s dreaded Shot-Put Slam, she finally ran out of energy and succumb to one of the most protected moves in all of wrestling. This was quick, and in the case of Shimizu, rather painless. A much needed win for the meathead of R.E.D. **3/4
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DIAMANTE, KAZMA SAKAMOTO, & TAKASHI YOSHIDA DEF. DON FUJII, KAGETORA, & ULTIMO DRAGON
Before the Suzuki-Gun invasion of Pro Wrestling NOAH in 2015, a lot of the discourse surrounding Minoru Suzuki was speculation on what a true main event run in a hot promotion might look like for him. Suzuki, alongside Hiroshi Tanahahsi, helped form New Japan’s 2010s boom period with their match at King of Pro-Wrestling 2012. Suzuki was booked in a position in which he was either having MOTY-level bouts against Kazuchika Okada, AJ Styles, or Hiroshi Tanahashi, or he was undercard fodder against Toru Yano. There seemed to be very little in between. When Suzuki migrated to NOAH and the angle largely flopped outside of a few decent houses, the conversation halted.
Don Fujii is one of the most under-appreciated wrestlers of this generation, and it is in large part due to a similar booking fate. Fujii ripped apart rookie Sora Fujikawa on the July 12 Osaka show in a match that was so aggressive that it reminded me why I love Don Fujii. For all of the delightful comedy we get from him, he is truly at his best when he’s a violent grump whose prime motivation for winning is that he wants to end the match so he can go out drinking. The closest we’ll get to this is Fujii’s 2005 when he played a pivotal role in Blood Generation. The first half of the year saw him challenge Masaaki Mochizuki for the Dream Gate title and assume the valuable role as the group’s muscle. When Magnitude Kishiwada was brought into the company, Fujii was phased down the group’s pecking order, and he once again resumed balancing comedy with serious competition. Coming off of that Fujikawa match, I was expecting a more jovial Fujii, but what we got in return was he and Kazma Sakamoto absolutely laying into one another with chops that would make Kenta Kobashi proud.
The other four members applied their craft respectfully, even if Ultimo was a step or two behind the pace that the others wanted to be at. The factors that made this match enjoyable, however, were the stone hands of Fujii and Sakamoto. I hope we see more of them together very soon. ***1/4
DRAGON DIA & KEISUKE OKUDA DEF. HYO & KAITO ISHIDA
I do not feel like it’s hyperbolic to say that currently, Dragon Dia is the most exciting wrestler on Earth. When he’s in the ring, I cannot take my eyes off of him because he could do something that I’ve never seen before. He is electric, he is different, and he is thrilling. As Mike Spears noted in a recent Hustlers and Heatseekers piece, “His ceiling as an in-ring worker seems to be only limited by the restraints of physics.” He didn’t defy the laws of physics in this bout, nor did he change the way we see wrestling, but Dia, and specifically his interactions with Kaito Ishida, represented what the future main event scene can and should look like.
Dia’s partner in this bout, Keisuke Okuda, is too blinded by rage to look beyond the sound of the bell. His feud with Kaito Ishida has easily been the best-built story in all of wrestling this year. Okuda and Ishida’s interactions feel like they should be settled in Ken Shamrock’s Lion’s Den judging by how stiff and intense every strike is. Okuda’s already failed at one Brave Gate bid, but my gut says when he gets his rematch, he’ll make Ishida pay. The current champion escaped major agony tonight, but HYO, his counterpart, unfortunately, cannot say the same thing. HYO was aggressively choked out after a quick low blow/flash pin combination failed to score him the victory. Okuda refused to let go of the choke until Dragon Dia pulled him off the already-defeated man. ***3/4
NARUKI DOI & RYO SAITO DEF. BXB HULK & EITA
I spent weeks bragging on Open the Voice Gate that the mysterious “X” on the Kyoto shows would be Shuji Kondo, and that although I’m not a betting man, I’ve never felt so comfortable speculating on anything before. I was right, obviously, and feeling like I had the hot hand, I was ready to put money down on Ryo Saito losing this bout in devastating fashion to the dominance of Eita. This is why you don’t gamble. To the shock of everyone, Saito, who spent most of the match trying to coerce Doi into doing signature SpeedMuscle spots with him, survived the R.E.D. onslaught long enough for Naruki Doi to kick Eita into next week with the Bakatare Sliding Kick.
Miscommunication has been a problem for R.E.D. as of late. BxB Hulk swung wildly and connected with a kick to Eita instead of his Toryumon Generation foes. Hulk was wiped out moments later and Eita, still stunned, was put in position to be finished off.
After winning King of Gate in an empty arena setting and securing a Dream Gate challenge on 8/2 in Wakayama, Eita has lost every match since crowds resumed in early July. He’s lost to three different Naruki Doi-led teams and one trio of Dragongate Army representatives. The prevailing theory during King of Gate, before it was announced that Kobe World was postponed but will occur this year, is that perhaps at an empty arena World, Eita can challenge for the Dream Gate without the pressure of having to deliver at the box office. His challenge is moved to Wakayama, a venue that under limited capacity should be filled, but I now fear that DG either runs the risk of embarrassing Eita to the point of extinction in the main event scene, which isn’t entirely bad except for the fact that PAC isn’t walking through the doors to save them anytime soon, or, worse, Eita shocks the crowd and wins the Dream Gate. Dragongate doesn’t need that after such a rocky year. The world doesn’t need that after such a rocky year.
A lot will be decided about Eita’s future within the next month. He has a lot of fascinating obstacles ahead of him. He’s been given many opportunities to thrive in the past and has never entirely met expectations. A homerun soon could propel him to new heights. If he fails, it could be the end of this era of Eita. ***1/4
BEN-K, YAMATO, KAI, & STRONG MACHINE J DEF. MASATO YOSHINO, DRAGON KID, SHUJI KONDO, & SUSUMU YOKOSUKA
The first quarter of this match is not exciting. It’s just not. We get the pairings you’d expect to start the match. The aces, YAMATO and Masato Yoshino faced off, they tagged out to Strong Machine J and Dragon Kid who tangled until it was time for KAI and Susumu Yokosuka to slug it out, and once they finished, it was in the hands of Ben-K and Shuji Kondo to bring the excitement. The Kondo and Ben-K interactions, both here and on the 7/5 Kyoto show, have been surreal. Now that he’s back, it seems simply dumb that Kondo spent close to two decades away from Dragongate. This is his company. This is where he thrives. He and Ben-K are the pairing you’d hope they’d be.
After a lengthy heat segment, the match evolved into its peak form when Kondo returned to the ring and cleared house. The manner in which he threw around YAMATO was simply violent. Ben-K is more explosive than Kondo as he’s younger and lighter on his feet. Other DG muscles, Big R Shimizu and Takashi Yoshida, are two clumsy to exude the power that Kondo does. The former Aagon Iisou stalwart is simply violent in a way that no one else on the roster is.
Kondo’s actions failed to lead his team to victory, though, as KAI and Yoshino became the final men with gas left in the tank, and it was KAI after a powerbomb and the Meteo Impact that put Yoshino away. Yes, KAI pinned Masato Yoshino in the middle of the ring in Korakuen Hall. It’d be inaccurate to say “who cares”, but honestly, KAI has earned this spot. He’s been so awesome lately and he wears the Dragongate Generation merchandise proudly. More power to him.
Essential viewing. Other than the AEW eight-man tag from July 8, this is the best match I’ve seen since shows shut down in February and March. The finishing stretch is brilliant, and only something that Dragongate is capable of doing. ****1/4
Dragongate has had four shows with fans that have aired since they began welcoming fans back on July 4. Dragongate’s first Korakuen Hall outing since February continues a string of engaging and exciting events. Hopeful Gate from Korakuen delivers a string of quality matches, engaging storylines, and a bright look at the company’s future.