GATE OF PASSION
APRIL 9, 2021
KORAKUEN HALL – TOKYO, JAPAN
Watch: Dragon Gate Network
JASON LEE & SHUN SKYWALKER DEF. SUSUMU YOKOSUKA & U-T
Having reviewed nearly every major Dragongate event for the past six years, sometimes things can blend together. Notably, every Dragongate Korakuen Hall opener ever. I have nearly run out of words to describe the standard DG opener. The guys work hard, they know their role, and they heat up the crowd for what’s to come. Rarely does anything blow me away and rarely does anything disappoint. The safest bet in wrestling is me giving a Korakuen Hall opening match three stars.
This time, things are different. DG opened with a straight tag match between four of the best in-ring performers they have to offer. Once this card was announced (and especially once Hip Hop Kikuta was pulled from the show due to contract tracing), this became my most anticipated match of the night. I was right to have high expectations for this encounter because these four delivered everything that I was hoping for.
Natural Vibes attempted to immobilize Jason Lee early, targeting his knee. There’s a lot to like with Natural Vibes right now, but specifically this two-man pairing of Yokosuka and U-T is something really strong that should be revisited more often, if possible. If the Summer Adventure Tag League ever became a thing again, I would want these two to rip through their block. Their attack on Lee was vicious and their bumping for the champion was appropriately big. Skywalker somehow became the fourth man in this tag match, but his performance was excellent. It just happened to get lost in the shuffle by the brilliant tag team work of Yokosuka and U-T and the incredible babyface fire that Jason Lee demonstrates.
With Skywalker out on the floor after getting hit with a torpedoing suicide dive from U-T, Lee was left alone with Yokosuka in what certainly felt like a one-sided affair. Yokosuka clobbered Lee with the Jumbo no Kachi, but Lee managed to throw a shoulder up and survive. The two-time Dream Gate Champion looked to finish Lee off with the Yokosuka Cutter, but Lee countered and landed the Game of Death which put Yokosuka away for the three.
English commentary noted that Dragon Dia is back in the dojo, so with Lee pinning one-third of the current Triangle Gate Champions, we can only hope that Lee, Kota Minoura, and Dragon Dia will be in line for a title shot if Dia can get healthy quick enough.
This was such a breath of fresh air in terms of the way Dragongate paces their shows. Had this gone on later in the card, it might not have made that big of an impression on me, but as an opener this was so incredibly different. This was also a tremendous representation of the shifting house-style in DG. This is free on YouTube. Go watch it. ***3/4
The English commentary between Jae & Ho Ho Lun was insightful and hilarious as always. Their chemistry remains incredibly charming.
PUNCH TOMINAGA & RYO SAITO DEF. KENICHIRO ARAI & ULTIMO DRAGON
Ultimo Dragon getting called out by Ryo Saito and then the English commentary team for wearing gear with the same color scheme as UberEats was not only the highlight of this match, but arguably the highlight for Dragongate this year.
I enjoyed this more than I thought I would. It was nice having Araken and Tominaga bringing an element of ruggedness into the fray. They brought a different aura to the match than what we would normally get with Ultimo and SaiRyo. This was by no means bad. They got in, accomplished the task of putting Tominaga over as he prepares for his Brave Gate challenge on 4/22, and then got out. Did Tomianga and Araken almost die when they attempted a submission after diving from the middle rope? Of course they did. But that’s the life and times of Punch Tominaga, baby. He tapped Araken shortly after. **3/4
BXB HULK, HYO, KAITO ISHIDA, & KAZMA SAKAMOTO DEF. DON FUJII, GAMMA, MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI, & TAKASHI YOSHIDA
There are few people in wrestling that work to their character better than HYO. Since winning a battle royal at last year’s Kobe World that granted him any in-ring opportunity that he wanted (a stipulation that he would turn into the famed RED vs. Toryumon match from last year’s Final Gate), HYO has become the perfect realization of Dragongate’s ultimate opportunist. He is on the lowest rung of the roster when it comes to technical ability, but there are few men in this promotion more dangerous than he is. In this match, Don Fujii felt the brunt of HYO’s wrath. Fujii has made a living off of tormenting younger, smaller opponents, and while he was able to get a few licks in on HYO, he was outmatched by the evil wit that RED possessed.
This was another match that was way more fun than I expected it to be. Babyface Yoshida continues to be a delight and the pairing of Mochizuki & Fujii against the heavy-hitters of Kaito Ishida and Kazma Sakamoto did a lot for me. The finish saw Fujii attempt to big boot HYO off of the apron, but that was countered and Fujii stumbled into a Kaito Ishida ankle lock. Incredibly, Fujii was able to chokeslam HYO while being tortured with the ankle lock, but he was unable to escape the hold and soon tapped out. Creative finish, very fun match. ***1/2
— FoDG (@futureofdg) April 9, 2021
DANCE HASHIMOTO, GENKI HORIGUCHI, & KZY DEF. BEN-K, KEISUKE OKUDA, & YASUSHI KANDA
Dance Hashimoto is Kagetora, who came to the ring dressed like a member of 4 Non Blondes and did the Natural Vibes dance to the best of his ability. He was offered a spot in the unit after the match, but declined, saying he’d like a trial run with every unit before making a decision.
The pre-match dancing was the highlight of this relatively pedestrian affair. Ben-K and Okuda, who have terrific chemistry together, didn’t seem to mesh well with Kanda while Kagetora looked like a proper fit with the Natural Vibes side. The strong point of the bout was Kzy teeing off on Okuda and vice versa. Their series of strikes down the stretch did a lot to help this match. This progressed the story of Natural Vibes looking for a new member (remember, Taketo Kamei will return to the ring for them on 4/22 with a new name) so it accomplished a goal, but there were much better matches on the show. Kagetora pinned Kanda with a rollup after countering the John Woo. ***1/4
— FoDG (@futureofdg) April 9, 2021
King of Gate 2020 was announced. Three blocks with six wrestlers per block. The tournament will begin next month in Korakuen Hall on May 7 and will conclude the following month in the same building on June 3. A losers battle royal will be held on May 30 to determine the fourth semi-finalist, just like last year.
- BxB Hulk
- Kota Minoura
- Naruki Doi
- Takashi Yoshida
- Dragon Kid
- Jason Lee
- SB KENTo
- Susumu Yokosuka
- Hip Hop Kikuta
- Kaito Ishida
- Keisuke Okuda
- Shun Skywalker
Ben-K vs. Naruki Doi, SB KENTo vs. Dragon Kid, and Shun Skywalker vs. YAMATO will kick off the tournament.
Ryo Saito came to the ring to plug the third volume of Dragongate’s Amazon Prime series (available only with Amazon Prime Japan). Masahiro Chono came out to help Saito plug the show, as Chono, much like Riki Choshu in the past, is providing guest commentary on the series. Choshu noted how Dragongate attracts a lot of female fans, per Jae and Ho Ho Lun’s translations.
— ARRUM • doiyama lives in my profile (@AHROOMEE) April 9, 2021
MASCARA CONTRA MASCARA
DIAMANTE DEF. BOKULTIMO DRAGON
I have never flip-flopped on a wrestling character the way I have with Bokultimo Dragon. The character’s introduction was hilarious, not only to me, but to the Dragongate roster who visibly cracked up at the giant man hitting Ultimo Dragon’s signature spots. The character remained largely an opening match fixture and avoided overstepping into the business end of the card. The act never wore out its welcome, but also grew to be stale. The build to this mask vs. mask match, the first straight mask vs. mask match in Dragongate since 2002 with the famed Dragon Kid vs. Darkness Dragon encounter, was confusing as there were times they used comedy to build the match and times things got deadly serious. I had no idea what this match was going to look like or what tone it was going to have.
Luckily, Diamante and the former Big R Shimizu went out and had as serious of a wrestling match as they possibly could. I thought this was terrific and the first time in a long time that Shimizu looked like a beast in the ring. Before he was a masked comedy character and before he was taking on a Kevin Nash-like role in R.E.D., Shimizu was someone who was capable of milking drama better than most wrestlers in the world. This harkened back to the days of singlet-wearing, mohawk-sporting Shimizu. He was outstanding in this match.
Diamante more than held his own in his first singles match of any substance in Dragongate. Despite advancing to the third round in last year’s King of Gate tournament, none of those matches had any drama behind them. There was a small part of me deep down that thought that Diamante could lose his mask after the outstanding back-and-forth display between these two.
With such a loaded stipulation, it didn’t surprise me to see Dragongate dip into their bag of tricks and pull out plenty of heel interference spots. Shimizu was attacked with the patented box attack numerous times. The interference even bled into the ring, as not only did R.E.D. run a lariat train on Shimizu, but they assisted Diamante in landing a Back Body Drop 450 Splash. The biggest interference spot came down the stretch as Shimizu was rapidly wearing down the luchador. He connected with a Shot-Put Slam but failed to cover Diamante immediately, leading to a kick out. He tied Diamante up in a La Magistral but failed to score the fall. In an attempt to restore justice, Ryo Saito attempted to hit Diamante with a box attack, but he ducked and the box went careening into the skull of Shimizu. He bounced off the ropes and caught Diamante with a second La Magistral, this one more effective than the first. Diamante would’ve not kicked out had BxB Hulk not distracted Referee Yagi. The spot was perfectly timed.
That was Shimizu’s last hope.
Diamante rebounded, threw Shimizu off the ropes, and pinned him after a Vuelta Finale. This was a classic car-crash-style presentation from the promotion that does it best. I was completely sucked in by the finish. Tremendous work from everyone involved. ****
— FoDG (@futureofdg) April 9, 2021
— FoDG (@futureofdg) April 9, 2021
DRAGON KID, NARUKI DOI, & YAMATO DEF. EITA, KAI, & SB KENTO
This is the second time in 2021 that a Dragongate main event first ended in controversy as minutes into the main event, both teams were counted out. At the count of 19, KAI attempted to get back in the ring, but SB KENTo pulled him out of the ring. Although they are in the same unit, they have been bickering on the road to Dead or Alive. The match was restarted and after three minutes of battle, Naruki Doi plastered KAI with a Bakatare Sliding Kick to secure the victory in his first match since December 27.
We may have an SB KENTo problem. The uncrowned Rookie of 2020 has headlined three of the five Korakuen Hall shows this year and he’s been in the semi-main event of the other two. All of his matches have ended in some sort of controversy, whether they be friendly-fire, countouts, disqualifications, or simply heavy cheating. It is beginning to weigh down these Korakuen Hall shows. I have enough faith in the Dragongate booking process that this story will eventually pay off and when it does, it will be worth it (likely with SBK losing his hair at Dead or Alive), but there’s something off putting about this many Korakuen Hall main events ending in controversy. If this were any other promotion, I would’ve handwaved these segments by now, but no promotion has earned my trust quite like Dragongate.
The in-ring times of the last three Korakuen Hall main events have been a little over three minutes in February if you combine the DQ finish with the restart, a seven minute YAMATO vs. KAI singles match, and now a six minute trios match if you combine the times of the countout and the restart. Do this shit in Sambo Hall. When I sit down and watch a Dragongate Korakuen Hall show, I think it really matters that the main event is excellent. The only time that has happened this year is the one main event that SBK wasn’t a factor in. I want this to work out, but my patience is wearing thin.
I also didn’t enjoy Naruki Doi getting the win in his first match back, but I will choose to believe that the original plan was Hip Hop Kikuta pinning Doi in his return prior to Kikuta getting pulled from this show. To make matters worse, after the match, HIGH-END offered Doi a spot in their unit, but Doi noted that until Masato Yoshino retires this summer, he will remain without a unit.
In any other promotion, that would be fine. In Dragongate, I am such a believer in the unit concept that Doi working unaffiliated tags throughout the spring and summer is going to create messy matches that lack the heat and drama that they would otherwise have if Doi had an established team.
There’s a lot to like in Dragongate right now, but the Korakuen Hall main events have shown off the worst side of the promotion this year. **
— FoDG (@futureofdg) April 9, 2021
Gate of Passion simultaneously represented the best and worst of what Dragongate has to offer. Parts of this show were full of life with strong in-ring action and angle progression, other parts were dull and played out. After a 2020 that connected with me on such an emotional level, this promotion has yet to find their groove after the hard reset at the start of the year. The new generation of guys like Skywalker, Ishida, Okuda, and Ben-K feel like they’re wrestling in a different promotion than Doi, YAMATO, Dragon Kid, and Eita. Some shows are driven by the youngsters, others are dominated by veteran hands. There isn’t a defining through-line in the promotion and it’s hurting the product as a result. I leave a lot of these shows enjoying what I just watched, but not being sure if any of it mattered. Granted, injuries have torn this roster apart. Dragon Dia, Masato Yoshino, Naruki Doi, Sora Fujikawa, Strong Machine J, and Taketo Kamei haven’t been factors this year at all and the loss of Shuji Kondo really hurts the talent on the undercards of these shows.
I still feel like the dissolution of last year’s generational warfare was a mistake. After the perfect conclusion between R.E.D. and Toryumon, I was disappointed with the way that the Dragongate guys just closed shop. They lost all of the momentum they had built up in 2020 at the start of this year. Injuries have been a huge part of that, but the spark that was there last year hasn’t been present outside of a few main events this year. This is likely a thrilling promotion to cherry pick at this point in time if you’re a fan of Shun Skywalker, U-T, or whoever else, but as a whole, this promotion is strangely exhausting. I keep on waiting for them to kick these new units into high gear but it hasn’t happened yet. The disappointing Korakuen main events is a real issue and something that will hopefully be rectified with King of Gate starting next month.
Top to bottom, I still think this is the most complete roster in the world with the best storylines in wrestling, but after such an incredible 2020, it’s disappointing to see them not being able to build off of everything that was accomplished last year.