AUGUST 2, 2020
WAKAYAMA PREFECTURAL GYM
Watch: Dragon Gate Network
The story goes that Eita almost never returned to Japan from his Mexico-based excursion in 2013. The Nagano-born prospect was so in love with the style of wrestling and the overall cultural experience that it took an army to get him to pack his bags and head back home.
With the help of T-Hawk and U-T, a new unit was formed, the Millennials, who set out to destroy anyone born before 1990 on the Dragon Gate roster. While Eita was firmly placed behind T-Hawk in the pecking order, even during their initial run as Open the Twin Gate Champions and then later as a trio with both U-T and Flamita for the Triangle Gate belts, it was clear that Eita had a bright future ahead of him.
The unit lasted just shy of two years as they were forced to disband after losing a three-way tag match on August 6, 2015. The Millennials experiment has produced questionable results five years after the fact in the Dragongate landscape, but across the wrestling world, this unit gave major platforms to not only Eita, but T-Hawk, El Lindaman, and Flamita, who later cashed in on success outside of Dragongate.
In a post-Millennials universe, Eita found himself latching onto the teachings of CIMA and Dragon Kid as a part of the Over Generation unit. Over Generation, as a concept, turned out to be a monumental flop, but the spring and summer of 2016 was a notable time for Eita. He fell short of capturing the Brave Gate title in December 2015, then failed to capture Twin Gate gold with Dragon Kid in May 2016, but those losses only motivated Eita. Starting with King of Gate 2016 and the May 9 Korakuen Hall show, just days after losing the Twin Gate title challenge, Eita wrestled Akira Tozawa to a 20-minute time limit draw in Korakuen Hall. His llave-inspired in-ring style began to shine through, and for the first time in his career, Eita was breaking out as a singles star.
He followed the time limit draw by beating CIMA in a non-televised singles match. At the next month’s Korakuen Hall, he destroyed Jimmy Susumu, who was coming off of a brief Dream Gate run. While Eita fell to Tozawa in a tiebreaker match to decide the block winner, his white-hot run did not end there.
New Japan Pro Wrestling announced that spring that they were hosting the sixth incarnation of the Super J Cup, and that not only would Eita be representing DG, but he would be wrestling Jushin Thunder Liger in Korakuen Hall in the opening round. Until Memorial Gate 2020, this was Eita’s best performance. He pushed the living legend to the limit. The 2016 Super J Cup was largely a disaster of disappointing matches and abysmal Taichi-induced booking decisions, with the sole bright spot being that Eita stepped into the ring with Liger and nearly came away with the victory. Given the fact that four days later Eita would win his first singles title at DG’s biggest show of the year by knocking off Yosuke Santa Maria for the Open the Brave Gate Championship, he looked like a force to be reckoned with for years to come.
— John. Tokyo Space Ranger ID #2438 (@DK1105) July 20, 2016
That didn’t happen.
His Brave Gate run was underwhelming. The most memorable thing about his reign was not his highly anticipated and ultimately underwhelming defense against Flamita, but rather a so-so match against El Lindaman that made news for its Title contra Cape stipulation that Eita won, forcing El Lindaman to ditch his trusty cape. The reign ended in controversy after a no-contest between he and Lindaman a few months later forced Eita to vacate the belt. He was then eliminated in the first round of the tournament to crown the new champion. His 2017 King of Gate was underwhelming and he was fed to Ben-K, Big R Shimizu, and Kotoka at Kobe World 2017 in the midst of a Triangle Gate tournament. Not only had that trio of prospects passed Eita by, but his own unit mate, Takehiro Yamamura, had blown past Eita. He was now midcard fodder.
That November, he turned on his mentor Dragon Kid at the Gate of Evolution Korakuen Hall. Fitting, as Eita finally decided to evolve. His plucky upstart demeanor had grown tired. He had failed too much, too often, and desperately needed a fresh coat of paint. The heel turn brought him back into partnership with T-Hawk, and the two quickly regained the Open the Twin Gate titles, just as they had done while teaming as the Millennials.
Right when it looked like Eita had secured some stability within the promotion, May 2018 happened. Seemingly in the blink of an eye, CIMA took off and left DG, and took with him T-Hawk, El Lindaman, and Takehiro Yamamura with him. The future looked bleak. DG had never existed without CIMA, and not only were they forced to fight without him now, CIMA had also taken three of their brightest prospects. The move looked damaging to the company as a whole, and optically, it felt like a death sentence for Eita. He had spent his entire career teaming with T-Hawk, wrestling against El Lindaman, and alongside Takehiro Yamamura, and CIMA chose those three instead of him. Whether Eita was offered a spot and turned it down is unknown, but at the time, when OWE looked like a goldmine and CIMA’s Midas touch was as strong as ever, the fact that Eita was left to fend for himself looked devastating.
— Roy (@narukiroy) December 26, 2017
Eita was forced to lead the floundering heel unit ANTIAS into uncharted territory. He engaged in a heated, year-long feud with Dragon Kid that at least to the Western eye never met expectations. Eita as the heel leader was a black spot on a company that was desperately trying to rebuild and reshape its image. Eita was drowning in a sea of missed opportunities until PAC returned and took over the #1 heel role.
Eita lived a comfortable life while PAC was around. The pressure was off of him. He advanced to the finals of King of Gate in 2019 before being gored to no return by Ben-K and at World, he and Big R Shimizu captured Twin Gate gold. With PAC gone, Eita had a strong backbone of Shimizu and Kaito Ishida to support him, but he still didn’t jump off of the screen like a top guy. We had been there and done that with Eita. His main event matches never clicked. He wasn’t charismatic enough to lead the charge. He was wrestling’s equivalent of Chris Webber. He could be great, but at no point was he considered to be the best in the world, and no one could count him in the biggest moments. He was a great second option and a worrisome first option.
Eita attacks Dragon Kid with the Open the Brave Gate Championship and then destroys the title belt. @Eita_Luchador #DragonGate #DragonGateNetwork #TheFinalGate2018 https://t.co/rUbQDMLmWf pic.twitter.com/qSZhuojVuy
— Dan Pierce (@DanIsAYeti) December 24, 2018
That didn’t stop Dragongate from going full bore with his push in the empty arena King of Gate this year. He rolled through Strong Machine J, Dragon Dia, and Ben-K, the current Triangle Gate title holders, and then knocked off the red-hot YAMATO, before cleaning house and defeating Naruki Doi in the finals. Despite the dominating results, he sputtered after his Dream Gate challenge was set for Memorial Gate. Naruki Doi decimated him in the build to this match, not only pinning Eita, but pinning him clean on televised shows. His future once again looked bleak.
Titles are not won and lost on the build-up, however. The beauty of competition is that it is vacuumed and that despite odds-on-favorites and pundit predictions, the contest must be acted out for the result to be decided. Eita not only won the match, becoming the third man in history to win the Dream Gate belt on his first challenge, following in the footsteps of Masaaki Mochizuki and YAMATO. He also joins Doi, Susumu, and Masato Yoshino as the only people to hold every title and win King of Gate and the Summer Adventure Tag League. Eita even has them beat as he’s a former King of Chop winner.
Eita’s win cements himself as more than just a footnote in the story of the Dragon System. Now that he’s captured the big one, history, no matter what will be much more favorable to him as the years go on. As it happened, Eita’s win seemed improbable, but the fact that he has been able to navigate so many career landmines is simply impossible.
Eita, finally, stands alone at the top of the mountain.
A match dissection of Eita vs. Doi will be offered later on in this review.
BEN-K, DRAGON DIA, & STRONG MACHINE J DEF. MASATO YOSHINO, RYO SAITO, & SUSUMU YOKOSUKA
Dragongate loaded up the opener of their biggest show since fans returned to the arenas with a heaping of star power. As I expected, Dragon Dia and Susumu Yokosuka were the ones who pulled focus in this opener. Yokosuka has had amazing chemistry with Dragon Kid for 20 years now, so it makes sense that the ageless Yokosuka can hang with the younger, agile, second coming of DK. Dia was not only electric against Yokosuka, but his interactions with Yoshino were eye-popping. He eventually lost the battle, but Dia being able to hang in there and look credible against Yoshino in an overhand chop battle is no small feat.
Dia continued his winning ways, this time scoring a fall over Saito with the Reptilian Rana in 13:13. The Triangle Gate champions came away looking great in this non-title match. ***1/4
KAGETORA & KENTO KOBUNE DEF. KAI & TAKETO KAMEI
As predicted, Kento Kobune and KAI gleefully threw bombs at one another. Going in, I liked the idea of this matchup on paper as both Kobune and KAI are heavy-hitters and Kagetora and Kamei are delightfully awkward, and what proceeded was a match that lived up to my expectations.
Kobune is naturally where everyone’s eyes go as he’s a star in the making, but Kamei was given a ton of time to showcase what he’s made of and it’s important to note that he’s no slouch. A lot of this match was him twisting around Kagetora with supreme athletic ability. It was nice to see him get the shine, especially against Kagetora, as that is likely his best career comparison available.
Kobune pinned Kamei with a beautiful Bridging German Suplex. ***1/2
KZY DEF. YASUSHI KANDA
As expected, Kzy made quick work of the aging Kanda. What is important to note here is that instead of going for the pinfall when he had the chance, Kzy instead wrapped Kanda up in a Ganjigarame, a modified cobra clutch that looked vicious. Given the result, I expect Kzy to finish 2020 in a big way. **3/4
— FoDG (@futureofdg) August 2, 2020
ULTIMO DRAGON & DON FUJII DEF. MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI & GAMMA
If Gamma was the wrestler of the year prior to the global shutdown, we need to start examining Don Fujii as the best worker in the limited capacity era. He brought the heat in a singles match against Sora Fujikawa in Osaka, then he and Kazma Sakamoto swung wildly at one another in Korakuen Hall, and now here in Wakayama, Don Fujii and his longtime partner Masaaki Mochizuki squared off in an AARP-approved slugfest.
The match started with Fujii and Gamma in the ring, but Gamma requested Ultimo Dragon begin with the Osaka Pro-import. Gamma and Ultimo’s portions of the match were serviceable, but the best parts of the match were when Mochizuki and Fujii were in the ring with one another. Sadly, the match was more so based around Gamma’s wants and desires and not Mochizuki and Fujii’s inevitable need to destroy.
Ultimo scored the pin, as expected, on Gamma, with the La Magistral. It should be noted that for a limited capacity venue, the crowd seemed very invested in this bout. ***1/4
3 STABLE WAR WAKAYAMA RULES TORNADO TAG MATCH
BIG R SHIMIZU, DIAMANTE, & KAITO ISHIDA DEF. DRAGON KID, GENKI HORIGUCHI, & SHUJI KONDO, KEISUKE OKUDA, YAMATO, & YOSUKE SANTA MARIA
The Rules, per Dragon Gate EN:
The three teams will participate in a Wakayama themed lottery before the match to determine order of entry (1st, 2nd, 3rd). The match will begin as a 3 way singles match. The next member of each team will enter at 1 minute intervals based in the order determined by the lottery. The match will proceed under tornado tag rules until all participants have entered. The match is single elimination. A team is eliminated when one member is defeated. It is possible for a team to be eliminated before all members have entered the match.
The rules are far more convoluted than the actual execution of the match. I enjoyed the staggered entry of the participants because it was something new, but the entries were done in such rapid succession that they ended up not making a real difference.
We once again saw Kaito Ishida attempt to recruit Keisuke Okuda to the evil ways of RED. Those two started the match with Genki Horiguchi and managed to score a tandem maneuver on Horiguchi, but Okuda resisted any sort of firm partnership.
Shuji Kondo was undoubtedly the MVP of this bout. He entered last and immediately began bouncing off of Big R Shimizu, the only man in this bout that matched him in beefy capabilities. Kondo didn’t so much as flinch when Santa Maria attempted the Neraiuchi, a Crucifix Driver, and moments later she was obliterated with the King Kong Lariat, ending the Dragongate Army’s hopes on this night.
Down to RED and Toryumon, Kondo continued his attack, hair-whipping Ishida up and over his own body and onto the chest of Big R Shimizu. No one could stop Kondo, but unfortunately for him, Genki Horiguchi was not as dominant. With Kondo immobilized on the outside, Diamante landed the Vuelta Finale and picked up a major win for the heel trio. ***3/4
OPEN THE TWIN GATE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
JASON LEE & KOTA MINOURA DEF. BXB HULK & KAZMA SAKAMOTO (C)
With this win, Jason Lee and Kota Minoura become the 49th Open the Twin Gate Champions, ending Hulk and Sakamoto’s reign on their second defense.
Just two years into his career, Kota Minoura is now a champion in Dragongate. His rise up the card was largely overshadowed by Shun Skywalker’s rapid elevation, Ben-K being cemented as a main eventer, and an influx of newer talent between Dragon Dia, Strong Machine J, and the 2020 debut class. Minoura has been good since day one, however, and has been destined for greatness since he got his clock cleaned by Masaaki Mochizuki in November 2018. The state of Minoura’s original 2020 plans are unknown. He was not supposed to be on the July 4 Kyoto show that saw fans return to ringside for the first time since March, but he subbed in for an injured Yosuke Santa Maria and began a month-long meteoric rise.
This match was bizarrely clunky at times. No one in this match was bad on their own, but as a cohesive unit, this match lacked the flow to take it to the next level. What is noticeable is how giving BxB Hulk has been to Kota Minoura. Minoura pinned Hulk in the main event of the 7/12 Osaka show, then knocked off Hulk and his partner Yoshida by pinning the latter on 7/19. Here, it was Hulk taking the fall to elevate Minoura to the next level.
Lee and Minoura break the cycle of Hulk-adjacent pairings that have ruled the division for the past two years. The new champions are worthy of their new titles, and I look forward to seeing what opportunities they are given with the belts. ***1/2
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OPEN THE DREAM GATE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
EITA DEF. NARUKI DOI (C)
With this win, Eita becomes the 31st Open the Dream Gate Champion as Doi falls in his third defense.
Why Eita’s win is important has already been discussed, but how Eita won needs to be looked at more in-depth. There’s a decent chunk of this match that is not exciting. The opening grappling did nothing for me. It’s a Dream Gate match, I expect it, but I still have to mention it. These weren’t exactly two titans of industry scraping together on the canvas. The early portions were a part of a larger feeling out process for a match that, as I soon realized, was laid out for a bigger and better stage. No disrespect to the fine people in Wakayama, but watching this match, it is clear that from the moment Naruki Doi hit the Doi 555 to Eita from the ring to the floor, that this was their Kobe World match.
Eita might not ever headline Dragongate’s biggest show, but he wrestled like he was on the biggest stage possible in this match. Only his performance against Jushin Thunder Liger can compare to this bout, and with all due respect to Liger and the Super J Cup, that was ultimately a midcard match in Korakuen Hall. This was the main event of a big show for the biggest title in the company that Eita calls home.
This match captured the big match feel in a way that has been absent from wrestling since March. The weight of the stakes in this match were evident. When Referee Yagi went down after a minor bump, I feared a R.E.D. train attack and a convoluted finish that would fail to get over in front of a muted crowd. Eita attempted a low blow but Doi countered. Yagi went down again. Doi once again countered a low blow. Finally, on the third attempt, Eita did what he has done to so many Dragongate top stars by kicking Doi low. The champion survived, however, forcing BxB Hulk to offer up a chair to his stablemate.
Eita looked at the chair, took the chair, and then threw the chair away. That is not how Eita wanted to win this match.
The limb work from the opening portions began to pay off. Eita had focused all of his efforts onto Doi’s arm, and shortly after throwing away the chair, Eita locked in Numero Uno and pushed Doi to the brink. The champion survived, but Eita had all of the momentum.
A second attempt at the Doi 555, this one taking place firmly in the ring, was landed but Doi’s attempt at the Bakatare Sliding Kick was met with Eita’s signature superkick. Doi recovered, and realizing he had exhausted all but one of his efforts, went for the dreaded Muscular Bomb. His first attempt was countered and produced a deep two count that the crowd bit into. His second attempt connected, garnering shrieks from a crowd that had been asked to stay silent due to COVID-19 protocol. The Muscular Bomb is that deadly of a move. It broke CIMA’s neck, it won him countless titles, but it wasn’t enough to put away Eita.
Eita, now a man possessed, battled back and clocked Doi with his superkick before locking in the Numero Uno once more, this time right after the half-hour mark, and this time, forcing Naruki Doi to submit.
This was the match of Eita’s life. ****3/4
— FoDG (@futureofdg) August 2, 2020
— FoDG (@futureofdg) August 2, 2020
— FoDG (@futureofdg) August 2, 2020
Memorial Gate in Wakayama marks Dragongate’s return to spectacle shows and more importantly, marks a new era as the company now trudges along with unproven champions holding their top title and their tag titles. DG hit the ground running when fans returned to the arenas in July and they have proven they have no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Thumbs up for Memorial Gate.