DEAD OR ALIVE 2021
MAY 5, 2021
AICHI PREFECTURAL GYMNASIUM
Watch: Dragon Gate Network
BEN-K, BOKULTIMO DRAGON, & HO HO LUN DEF. DIAMANTE, DIA INFERNO, & HYO
Dragongate’s war-time correspondent Ho Ho Lun tagged along in what will likely be a short-lived Big Ben reunion. With Ben-K firmly locked into High-End and Shimizu (Bokultimo) not fitting the pristine image that High-End brings to the table, I highly doubt that we’ll see much of them teaming in the near future. Luckily for us, we saw them hit their patented Pop-Up Spear on HYO, a move that looked as deadly as ever. This was a perfectly fine way to kick off the show. **3/4
ULTIMO DRAGON & DON FUJII DEF. KONOMAMA ICHIKAWA & PROBLEM DRAGON
This bout marks Ultimo Dragon’s first appearance at a Dragongate Dead or Alive event. He was still two months away from making his debut with the promotion during the 2019 incarnation of the event, and last year, due to COVID-19, there was no Dead or Alive. He’s not a stranger to the Aichi Prefectural Gymnasium, luckily, as he’s wrestled the likes of Tatsuhito Takaiwa, Hirooki Goto, and Negro Casas in this building before. He can now add the legend, Konomama Ichikawa, to that list.
As far as Ichikawa antics go, this was a pretty pedestrian appearance. He nearly pinned Don Fujii with a La Magistral cradle at one point, but Fujii powered out and then later overpowered Ichikawa when he attempted the move again. This freed up Ultimo, once again sporting his UberEats-colored gear, to hit a La Magistral of his own on Problem Dragon. Inoffensive fun. **1/2
OPEN THE BRAVE GATE CHAMPIONSHIP
KEISUKE OKUDA (c) DEF. U-T
With this defense, Keisuke Okuda has made his fifth successful defense of the Open the Brave Gate Championship.
This was the most complete performance we’ve ever seen from Keisuke Okuda.
The Tsu City-native slummed away in Inoki’s IGF, DDT undercards, and even an FMW reboot show before landing in Dragongate full time two years ago. Okuda’s presence was welcomed, but eyebrow-raising when he began appearing on tours. I knew he was best friends with Ben-K, but I didn’t see how a rough-and-tough brawler with a shoot background was going to fit into the promotion.
Throughout wrestling, we’ve seen so many people enter promotions at the wrong time period. Paul London was a decade ahead of his time. WWE was not ready for a goofy, ironic, junior heavyweight to capture the audience’s attention the way he did. He most certainly would have fared better in 2016 WWE than 2006 WWE. Even a Dragongate alum, Peter Kaasa, struggled finding footing in an EVOLVE promotion that was rapidly transitioning into Peak Grapplefuck. Kaasa was a powerhouse junior who needed bodies to dive onto, not trade key locks with.
In the case of Keisuke Okuda, he is a rare talent in wrestling who landed in the right place at exactly the right time. Okuda has become a key component in the ever-shifting house style with the likes of Kaito Ishida, Shun Skywalker, and Hip Hop Kikuta in their bantamweight-like approach to pro wrestling. At first, Okuda was sequestered away into strategic settings. The first program he worked was against veteran striker Masaaki Mochizuki. He won Mochizuki’s respect and then began teaming with the men in Mochizuki Dojo that are now in the process of reshaping the company. It was obvious that Okuda could hang with the toughest strikers on the roster, but he’s spread his wings and has become a widely adaptable player capable of meshing with anyone on the roster.
His five Brave Gate defenses have been against different styles of wrestlers from different generations and he’s adapted seamlessly to all of them. Despite having a series of matches with Kaito Ishida last year in what I thought was the runaway Feud of the Year, I found this performance against U-T to be Okuda’s most complete outing yet. This was the performance of a total pro. Someone that is locked in, confident in their abilities, and constantly surpassing expectations.
The evolution of Okuda’s presence from this match (starts at 7:16) with Katsuhiko Nakajima in 2018 to now is startling. The Nakajima match is a great match, but it’s one-dimensional. It’s a strong style sprint that plays to both men’s strengths. Okuda showcased that he could bring this style to DG in his first year in the promotion.
Early on in this U-T match, Okuda high-kicked the ring post. The story was clear from that moment on; Okuda was going to have to overcome a bad wheel. For the rest of the bout, nearly 10 minutes of action, Okuda inflicted as much damage as he could to the challenger without doing too much damage to himself. He showed more guts, more heart, and more fire than he had in any of his prior defenses. He had to chip away at the everresiliant U-T, because time after time U-T fought back and nearly captured his first singles title by way of flash pins or submissions.
Chaos ensued in the closing stretch as U-T flexed his ground game in an effort to win in front of his hometown. Okuda, bigger and stronger than his foe, evaded one attempt after another and attempted to lock down the squirrely challenger for an extended period of time. I saw others knock the finishing stretch as sloppy. I do not know what match they were watching. This was outstanding grappling from two of the best wrestlers on the mat. In the end, Okuda prevailed with a rear naked choke.
Keisuke Okuda has become one of the most consistently entertaining wrestlers in the world. ****1/4
— FoDG (@futureofdg) May 5, 2021
KAGETORA, KOTA MINOURA, RYO SAITO, & YASUSHI KANDA DEF. BXB HULK, EITA, MASATO YOSHINO, & NARUKI DOI
The final hit of Ken Griffey Jr’s baseball career was a walkoff line drive at home in Seattle where Griffey began his playing career. Two weeks later, without any fanfare, press conference, or warning, Griffey stepped away from the game of baseball. His final season had been a rocky one. One of the greatest hitters of all time was batting .184 and had gotten heat in the clubhouse for allegedly napping during a game.
Masato Yoshino’s road to retirement is not over just yet, but I can’t help but feel like I’m watching Griffey step up to the plate for his final at-bats when Yoshino is in the ring. If Yoshino’s final hit is his participation in the Unit Disbands match from last December, then he should be able to find solace in the fact that he played a key role in one of the greatest matches ever.
He aggravated his already-serious neck injury in his final match of 2020 and in his two matches this calendar year, he’s struggled to move around the ring. Now, a barely mobile Masato Yoshino is still a better wrestler than most wrestlers, but this is not how I want to remember the Speed Star.
Outside of Yoshino, I found the action to be fairly average. Kagetora and Minoura worked hard and the rest played their part. I did greatly enjoy the finish, as Hulk and Eita turned on Doi and Yoshino, leading to a stacked pin with Minoura and Eita covering the limp Yoshino. ***
— FoDG (@futureofdg) May 5, 2021
OPEN THE TWIN GATE CHAMPIONSHIP
KAITO ISHIDA & KAZMA SAKAMOTO DEF. MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI & TAKASHI YOSHIDA (c)
Masaaki Mochizuki & Takashi Yoshida fall in their second defense of the Open the Twin Gate Championships. This is Kaito Ishida’s first reign with the titles and Kazma Sakamoto’s second, having held the titles with BxB Hulk briefly in 2020.
After years of being the roster’s weakest member, particularly during this very event, Takashi Yoshida has finally found something that works for him. I’m stunned at how enjoyable the Mochizuki and Yoshida tandem has been, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t massively entertained yet again by Yoshida’s hot tag.
Going into this show, I thought this had a chance to be really great. Ishida and Sakamoto have been workhorses this year, not only delivering big in their Dream Gate matches, but constantly providing effort on smaller shows. While they’ve both been involved in better matches this year, I thought this was an incredibly solid way of kicking off what could be a very long and prosperous title run. They have no initial challengers lined up and with 80% of Masquerade holding titles, Natural Vibes having new members that could disrupt the established Horiguchi and Susumu pairing, and High-End seemingly setting their sights elsewhere, there’s a chance that the new champions hold these titles well into the summer, if not beyond.
If this is the last time we see Mochizuki and Yoshida in a straight 2 vs. 2 tag (I’m hoping they join arms with Don Fujii and form a unit, personally), then this act gave Takashi Yoshida his freshest material since his New Hazard days. This was a massive win and the act never overstayed its welcome. They came, they saw, and they were eventually conquered by Kaito Ishida and his ankle lock, just as God intended. ***1/2
OPEN THE TRIANGLE GATE CHAMPIONSHIP
DRAGON DIA, JASON LEE, & LA ESTRELLA DEF. GENKI HORIGUCHI, KZY, & SUSUMU YOKOSUKA (c)
Natural Vibes fall in their second defense of the Open the Triangle Gate Championships. With this win, Dragon Dia is now a two-time Triangle Gate Champion, while Jason Lee and La Estrella are now holding the belts for the first times in their career.
Let’s get the bad out of the way first. La Estrella has had better nights. And by better nights, I mean literally any other night. He’s struggled executing the Sasuke Special before, but the match has always managed to recover quickly after his error. For whatever reason in this match, the botched Sasuke Special drove things to a halt. It happened at exactly the wrong time. Had he been able to nail a spectacular dive, this match would’ve been able to shift into high gear as they moved into the closing stretch. Instead, Estrella, who is still only six months into his career, got caught up in the ropes and was forced to awkwardly try again. It killed whatever chance this match had to be great.
I blame myself, partially, for coming into this match with Match of the Year expectations. I really thought it could’ve been that good. It was not.
Luckily, the match was still very good. In his first match in 2021, Dragon Dia reminded the fans why he’s one of the most exciting bell-to-bell wrestlers in the world. He’s capable of doing anything he wants to do with his body. Wrestling this match in tribute to his father who passed away in January (both Jae and Ho Ho Lun did a tremendous job of driving this point home), Dia put forth a wrestling clinic, not only showing off his flying ability, but after kicking out of all of Susumu Yokosuka’s big moves, Dia showed a toughness that he has rarely shown before.
Yokosuka headbutted the challenger, but that only fired up Dia. He screamed, hit the ropes, and landed the Reptilian Rana on the champion for the three count. ***1/2
OPEN THE DREAM GATE CHAMPIONSHIP
SHUN SKYWALKER (c) DEF. HIP HOP KIKUTA
With this defense, Shun Skywalker has now made four successful defenses of the Open the Dream Gate Championship.
There have only been seven Open the Dream Gate matches in history to go under 20 minutes. Shingo Takagi vs. TAKA Michinoku from 9/28/08 (19:50), YAMATO vs. Cyber Kong from 3/5/17 (19:28), Shun Skywalker vs. Kazma Sakamoto from 3/27/21 (19:18), Masaaki Mochizuki vs. Don Fujii from 5/11/05 (15:42), Naruki Doi vs. Akebono from 5/5/09 (15:24), BxB Hulk vs. Cyber Kong from 5/5/15 (8:00), and now Shun Skywalker vs. Hip Hop Kikuta, which clocked in at 4:33 after the towel was thrown in for Kikuta due to an arm injury he suffered in the first spot of the match.
This was already a history-making Dream Gate bout as it was the youngest Dream Gate match on record with these men forming a combined age of 45, but it will now go down as the shortest Dream Gate match ever. Watching it live was uncomfortable. Jae, on commentary, had just noted that Kikuta’s parents were in the crowd when he hit the ropes, received a drop toe hold, and then immediately rolled out of the ring, clutching his shoulder. Skywalker was halfway into the next spot when he realized that Kikuta was no longer in the ring. The referee began counting and Shun shuffled over to Masquerade in his corner. Kikuta never got up, and fearing a countout, the referee stopped counting momentarily. He resumed the count, Kikuta rolled back in, and Skywalker, the veteran in this situation, immediately applied a submission to the injured shoulder.
My guess here – and this is purely speculation – is that Kikuta wanted to keep wrestling to some degree, so he put his foot over the bottom rope. Skywalker dragged him away from the rope, applied the same submission, and then Eita threw in a towel from the R.E.D. corner to stop the match. They immediately ran in and wrapped up Kikuta’s shoulder. Skywalker, frustrated with the situation, briefly celebrated and then stormed off.
Exiting this bizarre encounter, there are two things worth noting. One, Skywalker’s last 18 months have been cursed. He fled from Japan at the end of 2019 in an effort to reinvent himself on the global stage only for a pandemic to thwart his plans. He returned to the promotion after nearly a year away, won the title, and then his first defense not only had to follow the infamous R.E.D. vs. Toryumon Unit Disbands match, but the match ended after Ben-K was knocked out cold by an errant elbow, meaning the discourse that followed was not about the match, but about the injury.
Skywalker’s reign recovered with epic defenses over Kaito Ishida and Kazma Sakamoto, but right when he was gaining momentum, this happened.
The good news is that there’s no promotion I trust more than Dragongate to make good out of this situation. This was only Kikuta’s third singles match and two of them have been against Skywalker. He lost an untelevised match last November in 4:31 and then this bout in 4:33. He and Skywalker could have eternal beef from here on out.
Naruki Doi’s singles career largely lives off of the fact that he nearly crippled CIMA 14 years ago in Ota Ward City Gymnasium. That was the night that Mr. Ota Ward was born, and ever since then, he’s become an immense threat in that building. I expect Dragongate to respond in a similar fashion with this situation. NR
Hip Hop Kikuta injury moment#dragongate pic.twitter.com/ojCLjexwqp
— FoDG (@futureofdg) May 5, 2021
MASCARA CONTRA CABELLERA STEEL CAGE SURVIVAL TAG TEAM MATCH
KAI & YAMATO DEF. DRAGON KID & SB KENTO; DRAGON KID DEF. SB KENTO
3 flags will be placed atop the cage. The first team to pull 2 flags will win the match. The losing team will then immediately face each other in a singles match, with the loser having to share their head or remove their mask.
Due to the overwhelming numbers advantage that R・E・D has over HIGH-END, on 4/29 in Kanazawa Dragon Kid sought to enlist the help of Natural Vibes & Masquerade. Both units agreed, so a lottery was held to determine which team each unit will provide support for.
・Masquerade: Dragon Kid & SB KENTo
・Natural Vibes: YAMATO & KAI
Rules provided by Dragongate English Facebook
KAI, Dragon Kid, and YAMATO escaped the cage in that order, leaving Dragon Kid and SB KENTo to fight it out in a mask vs. hair singles match that Dragon Kid ended up winning via submission.
People are going to come into this match expecting one thing and they’re going to get another. Don’t let that expectation cloud your judgement of this match. The storytelling in this cage match was superb. YAMATO and KAI progressed their story, YAMATO and Dragon Kid teased tension, KAI and SBK paid off their tension, and SBK and Dragon Kid closed out a definitive chapter in their longstanding feud.
This cage match lacked a lot of the usual bells and whistles that you get from a DG cage match, like the one from last September, but that is because this match called for a more serious approach. At Dangerous Gate 2020, Masato Yoshino’s career and Eita’s R.E.D. allegiance may have been on the line, guys like YAMATO and BxB Hulk were fighting over whether or not they would have to wear a bathrobe to the ring or if they could continue to protect their real name. The stakes were high, but there was a layer of comedy that eased the tension.
There was nothing to ease the tension in this bout. This feud had been brewing for six months and something explosive needed to happen. I liked that this was such a change in pace, or rather tone, from the normal cage matches we get.
It was also a vehicle to once again show the poise, talent, and potential of SBK. I said it when he walked into the company; he could be the next YAMATO. On one of Dragongate’s marquee shows in one of their marquee matches, SBK stood across the ring from YAMATO and felt like he was on the level of the ace of the promotion. SBK isn’t good for his age, he’s just fucking good. There’s no other way to describe it.
I found YAMATO’s exit from the cage to be particularly compelling. With KAI and Dragon Kid already on the floor, SBK let YAMATO walk up and take the flag. He wanted Dragon Kid in the ring so he could finish what he started when he unmasked and submitted him at Final Gate. That’s exactly what he got.
The Aichi crowd disappointed me as this hit the finishing stretch. I found the work between Dragon Kid and SBK to be really compelling, from the multiple piledrivers through the table to the excessive amounts of powder being thrown on Dragon Kid to the wild cage bumps SBK was taking. It didn’t seem like Aichi was there with them. This was the first big DG show of the COVID era that was weakened by the atmosphere, and the cage match took the biggest hit of all.
Dragon Kid survived the pair of piledrivers through the table. He then evaded a guitar shot from SBK before grabbing the six-string and blasting it over the youngster’s head with a disgusting amount of force. That was the knockout blow Dragon Kid needed. Soon after, he applied the Christo and SBK tapped, getting Dragon Kid his revenge for the atrocities that took place in December.
After the match, SBK took the clippers himself and shaved off a portion of his hair. The rest was done later by R.E.D. via Instagram Live.
This was not the eye-popping extravaganza that the cage match normally is. This was something deeper, something meaner. After months of being frustrated with the pit stops that DG took on the way here, it all became worth it in the end when Dragon Kid forced SBK to tap out. ****
— FoDG (@futureofdg) May 5, 2021
— FoDG (@futureofdg) May 5, 2021
Dragongate’s 2021 incarnation of Dead or Alive is a show like no other before it. It failed to live up to Show of the Year expectations, but through a proper lens, this show demonstrates the undeniably deep roster, top-notch storytelling, and world-class in-ring talent that only Dragongate can provide. It’s undoubtedly a show with flaws, but the peaks are well worth investing time and energy into. Thumbs in the middle for Dead or Alive.
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