It’s a miracle that Shun Skywalker is the Open the Dream Gate Champion.
Two years ago, Skywalker walked into Osaka and challenged PAC for the Open the Dream Gate Championship. There was no chance he’d win. The native audience knew that, the western audience knew that, and I wrote about it. Skywalker was on a white-hot run, the Dragongate equivalent of the Miami Heat racking up 27 straight wins in the 2013 season. Skywalker ran through the Rookie Ranking Tournament, defeating Dragon Dia and Yuki Yoshioka before outlasting Kaito Ishida in the finals of the tournament. Not content with those victories, Skywalker would return to Korakuen Hall a month after defeating Ishida for an encore performance, this time defeating Ben-K in a singles match.
Skywalker had no other choice but to challenge PAC after that win.
He and PAC packed Osaka’s EDION Arena #2 for one of the most engaging matches of recent memory. Despite the result never being in doubt, Skywalker briefly looked on the same level as PAC. It was a huge step forward in the masked man’s progression.
In storyline, standing toe-to-toe with PAC would be Skywalker’s last hurrah of 2019. He gained the confidence to split from Mochizuki Dojo and fight on his own, but fighting on his own proved to be a tough task. He dropped singles matches to Kzy, Genki Horiguchi, Susumu Yokosuka, and Masato Yoshino, then teamed up with Ben-K in defeat against SpeedMuscle. This led Skywalker to a singles match with Ben-K in December 2019, ten months after Skywalker’s biggest win of his career in the same building against the same opponent. Skywalker lost yet another singles match, then split for Mexico.
The next time we saw him in Japan, he was standing nose-to-nose with then-Dream Gate Champion Eita. Two weeks later, Skywalker defeated him for the title.
— FoDG (@futureofdg) November 15, 2020
In just over 100 days as Open the Dream Gate Champion, Shun Skywalker has been faced with pressure he’s never faced before in his career. Skywalker debuted alongside Ben-K, whose look projected a star quality that would’ve fit in with any promotion in any era of wrestling. Skywalker stood out in a different way. He debuted as the inconspicuous Shun Watanabe before changing his look and donning a mask shortly after his debut. I wrote after his first match with the new gimmick,
“Very rarely does Dragon Gate swing and miss, but this Shun Skywalker getup is a strong thumbs down. It’s a complete disaster. He’s wearing two different shades of green and the attire doesn’t fit him properly. I hope this was a rough draft, because the name, while being dorky, works with the promotion. This outfit, however, works for no one.”
The Gifu-born star was constantly compared to fun, gimmicky acts of Michinoku Pro’s glory years by western fans. It seemed like he was destined to be the Gran Naniwa of the class of 2016 and that perhaps the Brave Gate title or a solid run with the Twin Gate belts would be his apex.
At the start of 2019 with a sudden influx of rookie talent, Dragongate formed the Rookie Ranking Tournament, a seven-man extravaganza to crown the best young wrestler in the promotion. Skywalker’s aforementioned win over Ishida in the finals was the first time it looked like Skywalker could be a main event player. I wrote in my review,
“This match put both of these men on another level (although one could argue that Ishida vs. U-T from the 13th was the better match). Skywalker is poised for a huge 2019. Ishida will need to prove that he’s on the same level. This match reaffirmed my stance that the future is bright for Dragon Gate.”
Ishida flies at Skywalker but Shun, using the other rookies at ringside to keep his balance, catches him and hits the Ashla on the floor! #dragongate
— Dan (@GolazoDan) January 19, 2019
That match can be watched here.
Skywalker rose to the top of the card by narrowly avoiding catastrophe in all of his big matches. Whereas wrestlers like Will Ospreay, PAC, and Dragon Lee have made a name for themselves by gracefully flying through the air, Skywalker was seemingly always a half-inch away from catastrophe in his first-year years. His contemporary, Ben-K, took the direct path to the main event, while Skywalker took a scenic route to the top of the card by teaming with Masaaki Mochizuki in All Japan’s 2018 Junior Tag Battle of Glory and then showing up at Giant Baba’s 20th Anniversary Show, before spending the first few months of the pandemic tucked away in Mexico working wherever anyone would accept him.
Skywalker was finally given the chance to be the proverbial main character upon his return. He dethroned Eita before focusing on his generational peer in Ben-K.
This current Dream Gate run likely looks a lot different if the finish of Final Gate 2020 goes as planned. In the finishing stretch of what was shaping up to be a belter of a main event (which had to follow an all-time great unit disbands match), Ben-K was knocked out cold by an errant strike from the champion. The referee awkwardly stopped himself from counting the pinfall before the match was scheduled to end, which led to an embarrassing conclusion of the match.
The focus afterward immediately shifted to the health and safety of Ben-K (as it should’ve) and away from the fact that Skywalker had made his first successful defense of the title.
Even in victory, Skywalker can’t get out of Ben-K’s shadow.
Heading into the new year with a fresh, aesthetically pleasing unit in Masquerade, Skywalker now bears the brunt of Dragongate’s hardships. The upcoming defense against Kaito Ishida will go a long way in establishing Skywalker as a frontline star if he delivers. If he fails, not only will he soon be relegated back to bridesmaid territory, but it will be a pivotal blow in Dragongate’s unprecedented youth movement.
The current Dream Gate champion will not turn 25 until the end of May. ROH’s Rush and WWE’s Roman Reigns are the youngest major league champions in America and they are both well into their 30s. In Japan, DDT and NOAH are relying on legends Jun Akiyama and Keiji Mutoh (who was already a two-time IWGP Heavyweight Champion before either Ishida or Skywalker were born) to carry the promotion while New Japan has put all of their stock in Kota Ibushi. Despite the fact that he seems ageless, he is a mortal 38 years old.
That means that Ishida, the challenger, comes into this match as the elder statesmen having turned 25 at the end of December. His road to the title has been just as difficult as Skywalker’s has been.
— Dan (@GolazoDan) September 9, 2017
Ishida debuted alongside Takehiro Yamamura, a blue-chip prospect from his first moments in the company. He was looked at as the future of the promotion while Ishida was merely considered to be a bit player. The two found tag team success towards the tail end of 2016, but a neck injury derailed Ishida’s start to 2017. In the meantime, his peer Yamamura was thrust into the spotlight and became the DG flavor of the month while Ishida sat on the sidelines. Their time together would only briefly overlap once more as Ishida returned in June, but Yamamura suffered the first of his debilitating injuries in October.
2018 became a dark time for Dragongate as CIMA split in May, taking T-Hawk, El Lindaman, and Yamamura with him. The promotion lacked stars at the top and depth at the bottom. This left Ishida, who had become a fun undercard wrestler, directionless. It wouldn’t be until that September when he and Dragon Kid joined the super-babyface unit, MaxiMuM, that Ishida truly began to take off.
For the first time since his debut, Ishida felt like an active force within the promotion. His only title win with MaxiMuM was short-lived, as he turned his back on the people that made him only a month after becoming the Open the Brave Gate Champion.
— FoDG (@futureofdg) December 4, 2019
Pissed off with the old folks home that Dragongate had become thanks to the emergence of Ultimo Dragon, Ishida turned to the dark side and joined R.E.D. where he quickly received a charisma transplant. As a face, he was a plucky underdog. As a heel, Ishida became a shoulder-checking bully who wasn’t afraid to kick the faces off of anyone in the promotion.
His 2020 saw him squaring off with Keisuke Okuda for nearly the entire year in perhaps the single best Brave Gate program in company history. For two wrestlers that lean into an MMA-style, they did a remarkable job of milking the story with old-school angles throughout the year. It was around this time that I knew Kaito Ishida would one day be a main eventer.
He took the ball and ran with it. He made the most of his opportunities. While Eita, his unit leader, was scoring falls in preparation for the biggest match of his career, I was fixated on Ishida terrorizing the midcard. A 14th place finish on the FSM 50 in 2020 was well deserved.
After 365 days as champion, he finally dropped the title to Okuda at the start of November, paving the path for where Ishida is now.
If Kaito Ishida beats Shun Skywalker for the Open the Dream Gate Championship on March 7, he will be just the sixth person to win the Dream Gate belt in their first challenge. Masaaki Mochizuki, Magnitude Kishiwada, and Jushin Thunder Liger all accomplished this task while the title was in its infancy. YAMATO and Eita would do so in 2010 and 2020, respectively.
A win for the challenger would come as a shock as the champion is certainly the betting odds favorite. Ishida’s career has been full of surprises, though. The fact that he’s in a Dream Gate match is a shock to many who saw him debut in 2015. He already scored a title upset in his career, taking the Brave Gate belt away from Susumu Yokosuka in his first-ever Brave Gate title match.
If Skywalker were to lose, he would tie Magnitude Kishiwada’s reign as 112 days, putting him in the bottom third for shortest Dream Gate runs ever. A loss for Skywalker would be a deathblow to Masquerade who has dominated the cards from an in-ring perspective, but without a strong mouthpiece, have faltered in front of the native fans.
Coming into this match, Skywalker has the highest winning percentage of anyone in Dragongate in 2021, going 19-8 in Dragongate through March 3, giving him a .703 winning percentage in his total matches. He’s 1-0 in singles matches with a DQ win over HYO and has yet to be pinned in tags and trios matches this year. At press time, a loss to Ishida at Champion Gate would be the first time Skywalker has been pinned in a Dragongate ring since December 4, 2019, the same day that Ishida turned heel and began to take his true form.
Ishida is amazingly under .500 on the year, going 11-15 with a .407 winning percentage in his total matches. He’s taken one fall this year, that coming by way of YAMATO in an untelevised six-man tag on January 19. Since that loss, Ishida ramped up the intensity and began dominating Masquerade on televised shows, beating them in multi-man matches in Fukuoka, Tokyo (Korakuen Hall), and Kyoto. Despite a lackluster winning percentage, Ishida has established himself as a threat in my eyes heading into this bout.
Thank you to Chris Samsa at sportofprowrestling.com for providing these statistics.
On a week that features Stardom’s biggest show ever, an appearance of Shaquille O’Neal on AEW’s Dynamite, and an exploding barbed wire deathmatch on US soil thanks to Kenny Omega and Jon Moxley, it is going to be easy for Dragongate’s two Champion Gate shows to get lost in the shuffle. While it might not steal the headlines going into the week, there is a very good chance that the best match from the first week of March will end up being Kaito Ishida vs. Shun Skywalker.
The winner of this match is largely irrelevant in the big picture of Dragongate’s booking. It is a testament to the promotion that their booking, which was widely considered to be the best-booked promotion of 2020 to those with a clue, that two men well under the age of 30 can credibly headline one of the company’s marquee events of the year. While the winner of this match is in doubt, there is no denying that Dragongate’s youth brigade has made their mark on the wrestling world.
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