OPEN THE NEW YEAR GATE
JANUARY 12, 2021
KORAKUEN HALL – TOKYO, JAPAN
Watch: Dragon Gate Network
BOKULTIMO DRAGON & RYO SAITO DEF. DON FUJII & KENICHIRO ARAI
It is with great pleasure that I announce that Bokultimo Dragon has won the first Dragongate match in Korakuen Hall this year. Decades from now when these results are being poured over for SB Kento’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame case, they will see that the 250-pounder dressed as Ultimo Dragon secured a victory by countering Fujii’s Gedo Clutch and scoring a pin with the La Magistral. This is what dreams are made of.
This was the Team Boku special. Fujii, who worked his ass off in Osaka (I highly recommend checking out his match from 1/10) got the night off, essentially, doing lighthearted comedy with his pal Araken and his opponents representing Team Boku. Perfectly inoffensive opener. **3/4
EITA, HIP HOP KIKUTA, HYO, & KAITO ISHIDA DEF. GAMMA, MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI, ULTIMO DRAGON, & YASUSHI KANDA
Masaaki Mochizuki will turn 51 on January 17. Remember that as you watch him lay into the thick (or is it thicc?) thighs of Hip Hop Kikuta in this bout. Those two were largely separated from one another during Kikuta’s rookie year. They wrestled in a four-way tag match at the Gate of Origin show in Sendai and that was it before the calendar flipped to 2021. They tangled in an excellent match on the 1/10 Osaka show and then went at it again here. I would love to see some prolonged interactions between the two as we go throughout this year. Mochizuki’s offense is as sharp and as crisp as ever before. Of the new class of rookies, Kikuta is the one that hits the hardest. If their interactions in this match were any indication, they could tear it up all year long.
A lot of this match was built around Gamma selling, which isn’t the most exciting thing in the world, even when done well. He was able to make a hot tag to Ultimo, who led the old men brigade. They fell short, however, as HYO low blowed Kanda not once, but twice, and then rolled up the former M2K standout. HYO, as Jae pointed out on English commentary, has won three matches already in 2021. ***
KEISUKE OKUDA DEF. PUNCH TOMINAGA
Words can’t do this justice. Oh my God, I loved this so much. For whatever reason, Tominaga decided to take issue with Okuda upon his arrival. This really escalated after the Hokkaido triple shot last month when Tominaga tried to dip into his limited MMA skillset. Tominaga jumped Okuda during his entrance in a panicked effort to give himself the upperhand. It looked good for the Team Boku flunky early on, as Okuda went for a KO High Kick on the floor and missed, connecting only with the ring post. Tomianga rolled back in the ring, hoping to score a countout victory, but Okuda survived.
This is where the match turned in Okuda’s favor. After kicking out of a flash pin attempt, Okuda just about kicked his opponent’s head off with a sharp high kick. Okuda demanded the referee start a 10 count. Tominaga made it back to his feet, only to be kicked in the head one final time. Okuda scored the KO in 3:00. The star rating won’t do this justice. This was so much fun. ***
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DRAGON KID, LA ESTRELLA, & SHUN SKYWALKER VS. KAGETORA, SHUJI KONDO, & YAMATO
The strides that La Estrella has made in just over a month cannot be understated. When he debuted against Susumu Yokosuka last month, he looked like a high spot machine that lacked substance in the “in-between”. Since that match, he’s started to put it all together. While I wouldn’t trust him to have a tremendous, 20-minute singles match at this point, he wrestles like someone who’s been under this gimmick for a year, not a month. He looks so comfortable hitting his signature spots. I also think it’s important to note that his timing, for the most part, has been really strong. He was where he needed to be every time one of his opponents turned to him in this match. That will be a huge factor for him as he continues his career.
The Masquerade combination of Estrella and Skywalker were joined by Dragon Kid in this bout, who by no means is an official member yet (although I predict that’s where he’ll end up as Dragon Kid is an established name but won’t steal the spotlight from Skywalker), proved to be an entertaining trio. Towards the closing moments of the match, Dragon Kid executed a Colmillo, one of Masato Yoshino’s signature moves. After the match, he noted that Yoshino wanted to give the move to La Estrella, who may or may not understand Japanese. There will be more to come with that, I’m sure.
As I anticipated, the Shuji Kondo/La Estrella interactions were incredibly fun, although I should note that Kondo is barely taller than Estrella, who looks like a mini in certain camera angles. It’s amazing what being labeled a power junior early in your career can do for you.
Masquerade laid a beating on Kagetora to close out the match. He ate Estrella’s no hands triangle moonsault to the floor, then his rope-running dropkick before being planted by Skywalker’s SSW for the win. This was a step below some of the outstanding Kondo multi-man matches we got in the summer of last year, but a month into their run as a unit, Masquerade has done everything right. The look and feel of the unit is top notch and the in-ring is superb. ***1/2
GENKI HORIGUCHI, KZY, & SUSUMU YOKOSUKA DEF. KAZMA SAKAMOTO, SB KENTO, & TAKASHI YOSHIDA
Natural Vibes give me bad vibes. This unit was one of the few bright spots in the summer and fall of 2018 into the rebuilding phase of 2019. When I see them, however, I think about the post-CIMA, pre-PAC days of the company. That bleak summer when no one really knew what the future of the promotion was going to look like going forward. We knew we could rely on Kzy to produce great matches and on Yokosuka and Horiguchi to be painfully consistent, but whenever I see the yellow, red, and green brigade I think about dry undercards with Hiroshi Yamato appearances. I really feel like this revamped unit, although I still think it’s a long term ruse set in place by Kzy, is a step in the wrong direction. Dragongate evolved so much in 2020 and R.E.D. vs. Natural Vibes matches reek of 2018.
These two teams will wrestle one another tomorrow with the Triangle Gate belts being defended in that match. I hope that match features a lot more SBK and Sakamoto and less Yoshida character building. Yoshida stripped a corner of turnbuckles of their padding in this match, only for SBK to be sent into them after a countered Irish Whip. The finish saw SBK accidentally connect with a forearm to Yoshida, giving Horiguchi the chance to roll him up with the Backslide From Heaven. The work in this match was strong, but the story surrounding it bogged things down too much for my liking. ***1/4
OPEN THE TWIN GATE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
BXB HULK & KAI DEF. JASON LEE & KOTA MINOURA
This marks the third successful defense for Hulk & KAI, who won these belts at Kobe World against Minoura and YAMATO. This match was originally set to take place on that show, but Lee was forced to pull out for precautionary health reasons.
Jason Lee is so good. He’s not just good, he’s great. I really think he could waltz into any juniors division in the world outside of New Japan and he would immediately be the best worker in the division. Really, the gap between him and New Japan’s top juniors isn’t that large. Who would you rather watch, BUSHI or Jason Lee?
My point exactly.
Lee put on a selling clinic against essentially two animatronic monsters. That’s not a dig at KAI and Hulk (KAI, in particular, was awesome down the finishing stretch), but the brutes draped in R.E.D. apparel were given a gift from God by way of Lee’s bumping and selling. I spent so much of the back half of 2020 praising Kota Minoura and in a sick way, I feel he dragged down this match. By no means was he bad, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of Lee, who spent a large portion of this match selling prone on the floor. I was so concerned with Lee getting his revenge that Minoura’s offense lacked impact.
Lee, who was dumped head-first onto the apron (and then immediately powerbombed on the hardest part of the ring) early in the match, showed so much soul and determination down the closing stretch. After a trio of German Suplexes from Minoura to KAI that resulted in a devastatingly close nearfall, Lee scaled to the top rope looking to put the match away with the Hong Kong Tornado. HYO hopped up on the apron, distracting Lee and preventing the move from taking place.
The Hong Kong-native was put through the ringer by Hulk, eating one signature move after another. Lee kicked out of the rarely seen FTX as a tremendous final hope spot before he was put into the ground with a Meteo Impact from KAI and a deadly First Flash from Hulk. They had to kill Jason Lee to beat him.
This was a rather pedestrian Korakuen outing before this match, but make no mistake, this main event delivered. All four men played their parts to perfection.
When Lee won the Twin Gate titles last year, I said this would undoubtedly be his peak. I stand by that, unfortunately. He’ll never win the Dream Gate title, nor do I really think he’ll ever challenge for it, but that is not a knock on his talent by any means. He’s a world-class wrestler who just happens to be wrestling on the deepest roster in all of wrestling. He was brilliant this evening. ****1/2
This show clocked in at exactly two hours. No intermission, no nonsense, just two hours of really strong pro wrestling. I can’t recommend the main event enough as it gave us our first great Dragongate match of 2021. Open the New Year Gate marks a change in direction for Dragongate, but the quality remains the same.