MARCH 27, 2021

Watch: Dragongate Network


  • Mike Spears (@fujiiheya): Co-Host for both Open The Voice Gate and Everything Elite. Incredibly excited to see people eat sour umeboshis and to see the return of the Wakayama Tornado Winning match!
  • Jon Hernandez (@OldJonHernandez): I don’t know anything about umeboshis, but I do know, Mike and Andrew, that u-my-broskis. So, there’s that. 
  • Andrew Rich (@AndrewTRich): Host of the Music of the Mat podcast. Taking part in his first DG preview for the site, makes no promises that he won’t bust out a Fozzie Bear reference.

Natural Vibes (Kzy, Susumu Yokosuka, Genki Horiguchi & U-T) vs Gurukun Mask (Ryukyu Dragon Pro Wrestling), Shachihoko Boy, Punch Tominaga & Ho Ho Lun 

Mike: Natural Vibes gets to open the show with the dance and probably an opening address. The other side is “we gotta get everyone else on the show and Gurukun Mask, who is the don of the Ryukyu Islands and Okinawa.” So the result here isn’t in question. Natural Vibes will win this match in about nine to twelve minutes, and it’s probably either Kzy or U-T getting the fall on Ho Ho Lun or Shachihoko Boy. Shachi doesn’t come around as often as he used to (he was really fun on the Kobe Sambo Hall go home show), Ho Ho Lun returned this month and Punch is somehow the number one contender to the Brave Gate. Prediction: Natural Vibes

Jon: For an opening match designed to get folks on the card, this one’s a hoot. The new Natural Vibes, having swapped out Punch Tominaga and Yasshi for U-T and Taketo Kamei, is a straight up all-star squad. On the opposite end, a Gurukun Mask appearance is a fun mixup and Shachihoko Boy’s shown in rare appearances that he can still go (in his entrance, at least). I imagine U-T scores the pin. It seems like they’re ready to put some faith back into that fragile scamp after a singles win on 3/13 and nabbing the winning pin in the 3/19 main event. What I’m most excited for is Ho Ho Lun being expelled from the ring in defeat, straight to the English commentary desk to breathlessly ask Jae what’s happening for the next two hours. Welcome back pal, we missed you. Prediction: Natural Vibes

Andrew: As far as predictions go, this isn’t exactly a nailbiter. Natural Vibes is the star unit here, and Triangle Gate Champions to boot, while their opponents are a random assortment of lovable undercard goons. It’s pretty much a lock that Natural Vibes will win, and given U-T’s recent string of pinfall victories, there’s a very good chance that he’ll score the fall. This should be a fun, harmless opener, with perhaps some comedic callbacks to Punch Tominaga being a former member of NV. To be honest though, I’m just happy Ho Ho Lun is back so he can reunite the dream team commentary pairing with Jae. Prediction: Natural Vibes

Ultimo Dragon, Bokutimo Dragon & Bokukagetora vs R.E.D. (BXB Hulk, Kaito Ishida & Diamante)

Originally this match had Ryo Saito teaming with Ultimo Dragon and Bokutimo Dragon. On Friday morning, Eastern Daylight time, Ryo Saito tested for a slight fever and was pulled from Memorial Gate. Kagetora, as Bokukagetora, will replace him. Some of these previews were done before that announcement. Given that this is match two, and no other matches were affected by Saito’s fever, we are leaving our previews as is. -Mike

Mike: I feel like this match will try to accomplish two things at once. First, there’s usually a match on these larger shows that’s designated as the comedy match. Even though the opener has confirmed yucksters like Horiguchi and Punch, this one feels more obvious with Bokutimo and SaiRyo. Secondly, Bokutimo and Diamante are in a collision course for the April Korakuen where they will have an apuestas match. It’s going to be hard to parse the hijinks with SaiRyo and Bokutimo slowly reverting to being Big R after he Shot Put slammed Diamante in Kobe. We haven’t really had mask rips in this feud yet, so I’m expecting to see one here getting R.E.D. DQed. Prediction: Ultimo/Bokutimo/SaiRyo

Jon: This match primarily serves as a pit stop on the road toward Bokutimo and Diamante’s mascara contra mascara match at Korakuen. Team Boku’s appearance on a card usually signals ten minutes of gags, but the Bokutimo/Diamante feud adds a fresh set of wrinkles. Bokutimo’s Ultimo Dragon tribute routine, while extremely well-done, is a one note bit that’s been losing steam. Diamante’s brought an aggression to each encounter that’s forced Bokutimo out of the comedy routine. Bit by bit, he’s been forced to eschew the old act and dig into the old moveset to match Diamante’s hostility. That’s the beauty of the feud: Diamante is literally beating the delusions out of Big R Shimizu, culminating with the Shot Put Slam on 3/19 that sent gasps through Kobe Sambo Hall. The mask is next. I’ll choose R.E.D. here for Diamante to get his pin back, but the winner of this match doesn’t matter, just the exchanges between Bokutimo and Diamante.  Prediction: R.E.D.

Andrew: The focus of this match will be the feud between Bokutimo and Diamante, building up to their mascara contra mascara match. Strange how originally it was thought that Diamante’s appearances in DG were leading to an apuestas match against Ultimo Dragon, but now it’s going to be against the guy doing an Ultimo Dragon comedy tribute act. Such is the way in Dragongate. Like Dale Cooper emerging from the haze of Dougie Jones to stop an attack from Ike the Spike (Mike will get that reference), Bokutimo briefly reverted to his old self by busting out the classic Shot Put Slam to pin Diamante in Kobe. We could see more that of here as the aggression between Bokutimo and Diamante continues to ramp up. Prediction: R.E.D.

Ben-K vs Hiphop Kikuta

Mike: It’s a big boy battle. Both Ben-K and Kikuta have been in rather weird spots in 2021 so far. Ben-K sat out the first tour of 2021 recovering from the concussion he got against Shun Skywalker at Final Gate. Since then, he joined HIGH-END, and just sort of existed. The remainder of HIGH-END feels like a fleshed out and cohesive unit, but Ben’s got gear that doesn’t look like theirs, he’s doing another bulk (lets see if he breaks 250 lbs this time), and feels someone irrelevant in the greater context of Dragongate.

Hiphop Kikuta hasn’t done much either since Final Gate where he scored only non-SB KENTo fall in the R.E.D. vs Toryumon Disbands match. He’s still in his rookie year, which in context puts him in a decent place, but it feels like he’s just there, much like Ben-K. He was in the Triangle Gate match at Champion Gate, but it was the real C team of R.E.D. which never had any chance to unseat Natural Vibes. 

Unlike Ben-K, this will be the biggest match of Kikuta’s career. It’s a relatively big spot for a rookie: Neither Ben nor Shun were put into a bigger show singles match before their first anniversary, let alone anyone outside of the initial DG trueborns. Their styles will mesh pretty well as Ben-K should have the power advantage but Kikuta will have the size. I expect this to be a fierce fighting match where Ben-K puts down the rookie authoritatively and starts on the road to regain his previous station. Prediction: Ben-K

Jon: The combination of Ben’s 2019 title run and his ungodly ability to add mass has cemented his status in my mind. It doesn’t matter that to this point he’s been a background player in HIGH-END, he’s established himself as Dragongate’s walking weapon. When he enters a ring, I gotta see what happens next. I was beginning to feel similarly about Madoka Kikuta a few months ago—  a long, athletic wrestler whose size and array of strikes (and likeness to Matthew Lillard) instantly stood out on this roster. Since adopting the moniker of HipHop Kikuta, some of the edge has been taken off his offense, in favor of hip attacks that highlight his considerable ass. I’m not mad at it. Still, we haven’t really seen him in a spot like this. Like Ben-K, Kikuta’s been languishing as a background player, much of his shine taken by his classmate SBKENTo. All this match really is, is an opportunity for two (relative to this roster) big boys to go do (relative to this roster) big boy stuff. I could see this being a very brief and memorable car crash. Prediction: Hip Hop Kikuta

Andrew: As Mike and Jon said, these are two guys who don’t really have a direct focus right now compared to their closest allies, especially Ben-K. In HIGH-END, you’ve got YAMATO and Dragon Kid in a heated feud against KAI and SB KENTo, while Keisuke Okuda reigns as Brave Gate Champion. In R.E.D., besides KAI and KENTo, you’ve got Diamante in an apuestas feud with Bokutimo Dragon and Kazma Sakamoto wrestling for the Dream Gate. So while Kikuta isn’t the only R.E.D. member who is just kinda there right now, he and Ben-K are still in the same boat. That said, I’m still looking forward to this one. Ben-K is one of my beefy favorites in DG, and Kikuta (and his incredible ghetto booty that I cannot stop staring at when he wrestles) has impressed the hell out of me and many others during his rookie year. This should be a very good battle of thick vs. thicc that will see Ben-K get the win. Prediction: Ben-K

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Wakayama Tornado Winning Match
Masquerade (Kota Minoura, Jason Lee & La Estrella) vs HIGH-END (YAMATO, Dragon Kid & Keisuke Okuda) vs R.E.D. (Eita, KAI & SB KENTo)

From https://www.facebook.com/DragonGateEN/: A lottery  utilizing local delicacy Umeboshi will be held to determine order of entry. Starting as a 1:1:1 3 Way match, a new participant will enter every 60 seconds. The match will proceed until tornado rules until all members have entered. Teams are eliminated when any member is defeated. If any team member is defeated during the tornado portion, their team is eliminated and their remaining member(s) will be unable to join the match. The last team remaining wins the match. 

Mike: I really like when Dragongate offers a building its own match. When Dead or Alive was cancelled because of COVID, the Nagoya DG fans were agitated that they lost “their” cage match. Bringing back the Wakayama Tornado match makes this Memorial Gate show feel more important than previous ones (with the exception of last year’s with Eita winning the Dream Gate), and makes its mark on the greater Dragongate calendar.

Masquerade and R.E.D. have had an excellent rivalry since Shun Skywalker formed his unit late last year. Nearly any combination of the two units facing off against each other has an incredible high floor and the potential to be a match of the year contender. HIGH-END, since its foundation has shown its chemistry with R.E.D as well. There really hasn’t been much interaction between the two face units.

Looking at the three groups, HIGH-END is ascendant, Masquerade already kind of exists only four months after their foundation, and R.E.D. is likely coming to the end of their existence/the evolution into the next heel unit. Beyond that, outside of a mask rip, I don’t see anyone on HIGH-END who would take a fall where Minoura and Lee can take falls for Masquerade and they’ve been having SBK lose a lot of matches lately to YAMATO’s Frankensteiner of the Almighty. It’s the smart move to have your new Super Face unit win this match and gain more momentum moving into April and the road to Dead or Alive. Prediction: HIGH-END

Jon: This match takes shapes around the growing tensions between HIGH-END and R.E.D., centered on the coming YAMATO/KAI/Dragon Kid/SBK cagematch at Dead or Alive. Taking command of HIGH-END has made YAMATO interesting again— he was cookin’ in his brief match with KAI at Korakuen, and the exchanges between him and SBKENTo since then have been equally exciting. Of course, if you’re here you’ve likely heard or contributed to the hype around Masquerade in matches like this and that hype is justified. Jason Lee and Kota Minoura are still the best active duo in the company and La Estrella is liable at any moment to come flying out of your periphery into the fold. 

That’s all without mentioning the inclusion of Eita and the Brave Gate champion Keisuke Okuda. The selling point of this match is nine of the company’s best, with no weak links, tossed into the type of multi-man matchup that no one in the world does like Dragongate, with just enough storyline implication to make it more than just an exhibition. The Wakayama Tornado ruleset adds a fun, new touch to the proceedings; this could be a match everyone’s talking about the next day. Prediction: R.E.D.

Andrew: *Jae saying there’s a tornado warning when Jason Lee goes up for the Hong Kong Tornado voice* We’ve got a tornado warning in Wakayama! Two, actually, since Jason is in the match! I remember the first Wakayama Tornado match last year and being quite bemused at the way they determined the order of entry, so I’m glad to see it return. But putting aside the sour Umeboshi and timed entry rules, the lineup of this match on paper just rocks. There’s so much awesome talent here of various ages and generations that I would be stunned if it wasn’t at minimum pretty good.

Similar to the earlier six-man tag, there are a bunch of guys in this match, but the core of it focuses on two heated blood feuds between members of HIGH-END and R.E.D. YAMATO and KAI have been feuding for months on end after KAI turned on YAMATO to join R.E.D. at last year’s Dangerous Gate, while Dragon Kid has been looking for revenge against SB KENTo after SBK made DK tap out at last year’s Final Gate to disband the Toryumon Generation unit. This match is just a stop on the road towards their climactic tag team cage match at this year’s Dangerous Gate. As for Masquerade, they’ve been feuding with R.E.D. since their formation at the end of last year, so while they may not have the personal stakes in this particular match that the YAMATO-DK-KAI-SBK quartet do, their presence is neither unwarranted or unwelcome. With the number of wrestlers involved, this is sure to be a wild one. Prediction: HIGH-END

Open The Twin Gate Championship
Masaaki Mochizuki & Takashi Yoshida (c) vs Yasushi Kanda & Kenichiro Arai

Mike: If you need any indication of where Dragongate considers Wakayama in their schedule, this being a semi-main should help you along the way. The “Buddy Cop” tag team has accomplished the impossible in making Takashi Yoshida an incredibly likeable babyface. Seriously, check out his YouTube channel, it’s incredible. There’s always going to be hesitation around Yoshida when he’s not a heel (I’ve been through several of these “IS CYBER KONG GOING TO BE A GOOD GUY?” phases), but this is a very comfortable place for him and has given him signs of life he hasn’t had in the greater part of a decade. Masaaki Mochizuki remains the greatest wrestler wrestling today with an AARP card, and his bemusement towards his “student” makes this Twin Gate team worth it.

Kenichiro Arai was a part of my favorite Twin Gate team in Dragongate history along with the retired Taku Iwasa. They weren’t incredibly flashy but they had superb teamwork and carved out a niche as one of the defining teams of the early years of the Twin Gate division. That was twelve and thirteen years ago. Iwasa retired for good in 2012. Since then, Araken basically floated between being only in Korakuen openers, or out of Dragongate for years at a time. Yasushi Kanda is still Yasushi Kanda, but hasn’t been around as much since COVID hit. Their team got the title match by getting a flash pin on Yoshida which immediately infuriated him.

So the question in this match will be if another flash pin will catch Yoshida, who did not like when it was pointed out that they won the belts with a flash pin. I don’t think the result is in doubt, but the length of a face turn is always in doubt when we talk about Takashi Yoshida. Prediction: Mochizuki & Yoshida

Jon: I often turn to the Twin Gate belts for the evening’s show-stealing bout, but I’m not so sure that’ll be the case here. I’m hesitant to say this while sharing a preview with professed Araken stan Mike Spears, but the only time I can recall Kenichiro Arai making a memorable impression with me in the last three or four years was with a vintage Firebird Splash to win the Triangle Gate belts early last year. That same splash broke his collarbone, forcing his team to drop the belts immediately. On the bright side, he’ll be teaming with a Yasushi Kanda who’s continued to show positive signs of life since leaving R.E.D. 

While Takashi Yoshida certainly isn’t for everyone, you have to admit it’s been fun to watch his rebuild effort under the tutelage of Masaaki Mochizuki. The big lug’s even started a YouTube channel where, from what I can tell, he makes noodle dishes and smiles a lot. It’s a far cry from the guy who’d Sharpie on his abs and scream his way through the worst bout of the night. If anything, we should credit this storyline for its relatability— we all see Masaaki Mochizuki as our senpai, don’t we? Prediction: Mochizuki & Yoshida

Andrew: If there’s any proof that Masaaki Mochizuki is one of the greatest wrestlers of all time, he’s gotten me to like Takashi Yoshida. If that doesn’t cement his legacy, I don’t know what will. In all seriousness, Yoshida has grown on me since he got kicked out of R.E.D., turned face, and teamed up with Mochizuki. Their senpai-kohai relationship is quite charming and a welcome change after years of Yoshida treading the same old ground as a screaming heel. Them winning the Twin Gate belts was inevitable.

As for their first challengers… well, they’re no Speed Muscle, that’s for sure. Kanda and Arai are as grimy a veteran pair as you can get in both look and form, craftily using their wits to score a roll-up win over Yoshida in Korakuen Hall a few weeks back to earn this title shot. While I don’t see lightning striking twice, I wouldn’t be shocked at a few more false flash pins to get the ol’ ticker racing before Mochizuki and Yoshida get the win and keep their Young Frankenstein-like double act rolling on. Prediction: Masaaki Mochizuki & Takashi Yoshida

Open The Dream Gate Championship
Shun Skywalker (c) vs Kazma Sakamoto

Mike: As I mentioned in my column about this match, Kazma Sakamoto is a really fascinating Dream Gate challenger, and there’s a lot more to this match than just being an easy defense on a B-Tier Big Show. I think that’s what makes this Dream Gate match so fascinating to me. Shun has delivered as an in-ring champion and as a secondary unit’s leader, but he is lacking in the particular way Dragongate is reliant on their champion: He’s a pretty terrible promo and doesn’t light the native fans’ heart on fire. Upon his return from Mexico last November, Shun Skywalker went from being “Just a guy” into being “A Guy,” but he didn’t transcend and become “The Guy” as some western fans hoped.

For all intents and purposes, this Memorial Gate main event should continue Skywalker’s trend of being one of the best in-ring champions in Japan. If it weren’t for Ben-K’s unfortunate concussion in the finishing stretch of the Final Gate title defense, Shun Skywalker would be on route to his third straight four and a half stars or better title defense. Him and and Sakamoto have shown strong chemistry in all of the outposts and Memorial Gate preview matches. This will be another match where Shun Skywalker and his challenger will throw bombs and the winner will be the one who threw the last biggest bomb.

During the lead up to this Dream Gate match, it’s not inaccurate to say that Kazma Sakamoto has eaten Shun Skywalker alive in all of the mic back and forths and has left the champion laying in the ring most of the time. Sakamoto believes that Skywalker is a soft champion, and that he’s too sweet and naive to understand what pro wrestling is all about. Skywalker, with his anxious and sometimes uncomfortable responses where he has just stammered, prove Sakamoto’s point. Shun Skywalker isn’t going to be this charismatic figure in the ways that Naruki Doi, Masato Yoshino or YAMATO are, and until he and the company find a way to fix that, he will have a ceiling of a main event worker, but not your future ace. The question of “When will they take the belt off of him in the lead up towards the two night Kobe World this summer?” will hang over his head until he loses the Dream Gate. A Dragongate with Kazma Sakamoto as Open the Dream Gate champion is hard to consider and is a giant question mark, but I cannot dismiss the possibility of that happening. Even with that ounce of doubt, this a B-Tier Big Show and a freelance guy as the Dream Key holder, and barring injury, I think it’s clear who is walking out of Wakayama the the Dream Gate champion. Prediction: Shun Skywalker

Jon: Shun Skywalker returned from Mexico as a completely different dude. No longer the fearless but clutzy baby deer, captivating audiences who weren’t sure if he was going to incapacitate himself or his opponent first, Skywalker reappeared as a wrecking ball, capable of single-handedly dispatching entire heel units. He’s swapped out some of his breathtaking leaps for feats of formidable strength and maestro-like abilities to tangle up opponent’s anatomies. His indisputable banger against Kaito Ishida at Memorial Gate showed he’s more than prepared for the main event slot.

That said, my favorite work of his has still come as the heavy-handed closer in Masquerade’s must-watch multiman tag affairs. I prefer my Shun pushing the pace, and that’s part of what I love about this matchup. As a challenger, Kazma Sakamoto presents an opportunity for fireworks. There’s no gaudy changing-of-the-guard story like against Eita, there’s no generational-rivalry-groundwork to lay like with Ishida. Sakamoto is simply a big, mean son of a bitch for Shun to trade bombs with. But he’s also one who’s proven in the last few years to be a tremendously underrated asset in the ring. Erase your negative notions about “filler defenses,” there’s a lot of fun to be had in a this-dude-doesn’t-stand-a-fucking-chance title match. If you don’t believe me, go back and watch Shun Skywalker himself get served up like a ritual sacrifice to PAC at Champions Gate ‘19.  Prediction: Shun Skywalker

Andrew: Many years ago, I tuned into an episode of Monday Night Raw to see the infamous Lord Tensai make his (re)debut in WWE. Accompanying the former A-Train was a Japanese lackey by the name of Sakamoto. I didn’t think much of Sakamoto at the time, and for years afterwards when he got released from WWE and returned to Japan, I still didn’t think much of him. He was just another dude on the roster, filling up cards in either DG or NOAH or wherever he laced up the boots. But in recent months, his intense attitude and nasty offense (including a knee strike against the ropes that looks like it decapitates his opponent) have made me take notice. I like the guy now. “I have grown accustomed to his face,” as Professor Henry Higgins would say. And now, for the first time in his career, Kazma Sakamoto challenges for the Open the Dream Gate Title.

He’s not gonna win, mind you. With all due respect, the star-making reign of Shun Skywalker as Dream Gate Champion will not come to an end at the hands of Kazma Sakamoto. This reign, and Skywalker’s return to DG last November, has been all about establishing him as a key player in the company, as a guy who has advanced in his strength and submission game alongside his typical high-flying abilities, and as someone worthy of being a main event champion. If he’s going to lose, it’ll be to someone on his level or above, not to Kazma. Still, this match should be a heavy-hitting banger between two dudes throwing bombs until one of them can’t stand. How can you not get excited about that? Prediction: Shun Skywalker