KING OF GATE
JUNE 3, 2021
KORAKUEN HALL – TOKYO, JAPAN
Watch: Dragon Gate Network
On November 3, 2016, the Dragongate roster stood in the middle of the ring in Osaka and reminiscenced about Akira Tozawa’s best moments. Tozawa, with tears streaming down his face, was WWE-bound. His graduation ceremony was an emotional one. For years, he had not only been Dragongate’s lifeline to their international fanbase thanks to his extraordinary work in PWG and DGUSA, but he had represented an eternal underdog status within his home promotion. Even as a dominant heel in Blood Warriors and Mad Blankey, he could never fully get over the hump. He could never bring home the promotion’s top prize, the Open the Dream Gate Championship. When he shed his devilish persona and taken up arms alongside Monster Express, he had cemented himself as the beating heart of Dragongate.
Yasushi Kanda noted in the farewell ceremony that Tozawa was a pest as a young boy. He constantly got under the skin of the older members of the roster. When CIMA brought Tozawa to North America for a pair of DGUSA shows in Canada, Tozawa packed enough luggage for a week-long stay. CIMA, unbeknownst to Tozawa, changed his ticket to a six-month excursion. Tozawa needed to learn to be prepared for anything. Even the youngest members of the roster at the time, Futa Nakamura (Ben-K), Kaito Ishida, and Takehiro Yamamura remarked about their days in the dojo and their struggles keeping up with Tozawa’s cardio exercises.
It was Kzy, however, who was looking towards the future. He promised to take up Tozawa’s role in “making sure everyone is happy and has a good time.”
In the nearly five years that have passed since Tozawa exited the promotion, Kzy has not only established himself as this generation’s Tozawa with his infectious spirit, he has cemented himself as Dragongate’s permanent underdog.
— Dan (@GolazoDan) May 12, 2017
For a moment in time, Kzy was lovingly referred to as Mr. February by the Open the Voice Gate podcast for his unbridled consistency in the second month of the year. In February 2018, Kzy’s midsection was rearranged in his first ever Dream Gate challenge against Masaaki Mochizuki. Despite coming up short in the biggest match of his career, Kzy “proved his toughness”, hanging with the ironman of professional wrestling far better than anyone thought he could. A year later, this time in the final match in the history of Hakata Star Lanes, Kzy reaffirmed PAC’s status as one of the most talented wrestlers on Earth in a historically great Dream Gate challenge. Given PAC’s status as an internationally known commodity, this put Kzy on the map with an entirely new set of eyeballs. A year later, back in Tokyo, a month before COVID-19 drastically derailed the world, Kzy once again put up the fight of his life in an ultimately failed effort against Naruki Doi.
Tozawa had been beaten like a drum in his five career Dream Gate challenges. During the hottest run of his career, he failed to beat Mochizuki. He fell to CIMA twice, once in the main event of Kobe World 2012, then again the following May at Dead or Alive. In the late stages of his Dragongate career, he came up short against his closest contemporary in BxB Hulk, then again in his final singles match in the promotion against YAMATO.
Kzy now sits at 0-4 all-time in Dream Gate challenges, failing three years in a row in February, then once more last November against Eita.
— Roy 🌱 (@narukiroy) March 19, 2019
The fact that Kzy has had 4 Dream Gate challenges to this point is nothing short of a miracle, however. After finding his footing as mcKZ in the infamous WORLD-1 unit, Kzy tossed his good-standing character away in favor of a lifestyle of debauchery. From Real Hazard to Deep Drunkers, Blood Warriors, and Mad Blankey, Kzy embraced the sleazier side of the promotion. He was a total non-entity, winning the Triangle Gate belts once for a meager 8 days with Deep Drunkers, then for a brief time under both the Blood Warriors and Mad Blankey banners where Kzy was relegated to being the designated loss post. He did undercard comedy, wore colorful jumpsuits with even more colorful hair, and brawled with Atsushi Onita in one of the worst matches in Dragongate history.
He didn’t change his ways until tension between him and Mondai Ryu began brewing in Mad Blankey. That’s how low on the totem pole Kzy was. His spark to leave the heel unit was inspired by in-fighting with the Problem Dragon. He returned to the promotion under the Dr. Muscle mask in 2015, storming the Open the Brave Gate Championship Tournament and securing the first singles title of his career. He ditched Mad Blankey for the BxB Hulk-led Dia.Hearts and quickly became a bigger focus in the big picture of Dragongate.
He rode with Dia.Hearts until the very end, losing the deciding fall in a three-way unit disbands match in February 2016. He began suiting up for battle with the YAMATO-fronted Tribe Vanguard shortly after, where he would remain the unit’s spark plug until his exit after he failed to defeat Mochizuki for the Dream Gate in 2018, citing that in order to be one of the top dogs of his generation, he couldn’t team with them, creating a conflict between himself and BxB Hulk and YAMATO.
With Tribe Vanguard in the rearview, he formed Natural Vibes, a unit that found immediate success with Kzy as its leader. For the first time in his career, he no longer had a cloud of “if” hanging over his head. He was now having to answer the question of “when”.
— Dan (@GolazoDan) June 7, 2019
During the Generational War of 2020, Kzy found himself placed solely behind YAMATO in the Dragongate Generation. He lost to him in King of Gate 2020. That loss gave Kzy renewed motivation, however. He knew he still had much further to climb to reach the top of Dragongate. He rattled off singles wins against Yasushi Kanda, Genki Horiguchi, and Naruki Doi before being halted by Eita’s reign of terror.
To kick off the new year, Kzy did something that no one in Dragongate had ever done before. He brought back his old unit. There have been times in the past where units have been given a fresh coat of paint, whether it be WORLD-1 resuming status as WORLD-1 International or the various Veteran Units (We Are Team Veteran, Team Veteran Returns), but no one had ever kept the core members, keynote colors, and mantra after being broken up for a period of time. I thought this would be a grave mistake for Kzy. I assumed it would halt his progress as he was now representing a unit of a past era and one that I don’t think fondly of. Instead, it’s been the best thing that’s ever happened to him.
Alongside returning members Genki Horiguchi and Susumu Yokosuka and new members Funky Jacky Kamei, U-T, and now King Shimizu, Natural Vibes has become the most cohesive unit in all of wrestling. I buy that these guys are all friends, that they all enjoy being around one another, and that they all enjoy wrestling with one another. Despite teaming with certified legends in Horiguchi and Yokosuka, Kzy comes across as the undeniable frontman of this well-oiled machine.
NATURAL VIBES 2021 pic.twitter.com/l1hgX0HsYJ
— 👑 KING AHROOMEE (@AHROOMEE) January 17, 2021
Five years ago, the idea of Kzy being in the finals of King of Gate was pure imagination. His flash pin win over Shingo Takagi in 2016 could’ve easily been the biggest win of his career. Instead, as roadblocks have been put up to halt his journey time after time, Kzy has smashed every obstacle in his way. He’s now dancing his way into the main event of Kobe World 2021.
KING OF GATE 2021 SEMI-FINALS
KOTA MINOURA DEF. YAMATO
Don’t be fooled by the chaos surrounding the A Block during this tournament. Despite Ben-K testing positive for COVID-19 and Naruki Doi being forced to pull out as a precautionary measure, this was the spot that Kota Minoura was going to end up in no matter what. He fought valiantly to get to this point, knocking out BxB Hulk, Diamante, and Takashi Yoshida on his way to an asterisk-plagued undefeated record in block play.
In less than three years, Minoura has established himself as one of Dragongate’s most valuable commodities. As I mentioned in my King of Gate preview, Minoura is this generation’s Ryo Saito, acting as the bridge between the class of 2016 with Ben-K, HYO, and Shun Skywalker, and the class of 2020 with SB KENTo, Funky Jacky Kamei, and Hip Hop Kikuta, among others, just as Saito was the bridge between the original Toryumon class and the Toryumon 2000 Project. Because Minoura’s entry was sandwiched in between two outstanding classes, he has been perpetually underrated. I knew he was a special talent when he had developed signature gear just two months into his career, but I never would have imagined that he would be in this spot, knocking YAMATO out of King of Gate, notably with his finishing maneuver and not a flash pin, so soon after his debut.
Minoura is grossly proficient at technical wrestling. He and YAMATO went through a series of intricate counters in this match, especially as the finish grew closer and closer, and the youngster remained in lock-step with the ace of the promotion the entire time. YAMATO evading Minoura’s dreaded Gang finisher with the Sleeper Hold of the Almighty was a tremendous counter, but Minoura one-upped him later, slipping out of the Galleria and finally connecting with the Gang for the win.
This victory was not an uphill battle for Minoura. He acted as if he was on the same level as YAMATO when he entered the match and his performance certainly backed up that motif. At 22-years-old, Minoura scored a victory over a man that most men fail to ever defeat. Minorua’s biggest singles match performances prior to this were a pair of time limit draws with Big R Shimizu and Susumu Yokosuka last July. Just as he’s done since his debut, Minoura stepped up to the plate and delivered the goods when he was asked to do. ***3/4
After the match, KAI challenged YAMATO to one more singles match, this time with a No Ropes Lumberjack stipulation. For a five year period, YAMATO excelled at the No Ropes match. The last time it was used was in 2014 when YAMATO was victorious over T-Hawk.
KING OF GATE 2021 SEMI-FINALS
KZY DEF. SB KENTO
Four days prior to this bout, SB KENTo defeated Kzy to secure the B Block victory and relegating Kzy to the last chance battle royal. For a moment, it looked like SBK was going to double down and defeat Kzy twice in one week as he quickly managed to lock in a SB Shooter that sent Kzy clawing for the ropes. With experience on his side, Kzy quickly recovered, battled back, and when SBK went for his patented submission again, Kzy rolled through and pinned him to secure his place in the finals. This felt like an appropriate follow-up to their clash in Fukuyama. Kzy learned from his mistakes and used that edge to defeat Dragongate’s hottest prospect. ***
— FoDG (@futureofdg) June 3, 2021
FUNKY JACKY KAMEI & GAMMA DEF. KENICHIRO ARAI & RYO SAITO
Props to Dragongate’s wartime correspondent Ho Ho Lun, who immediately identified that Kenichiro Arai was indeed carrying a HEAT-UP belt to the ring after Dragongate Jae questioned it. I’d like to think that when Ho Ho is not pondering life’s biggest questions, he’s off on his laptop scouring the Internet for Occupation of the Indies DVDs.
Funky Jacky Kamei has had better nights. Actually, I think every night he’s had has been better than this night. His Korakuen Hall character debut did not go the way that I’m sure he wanted it to. A rather uneventful match was made worse by Kamei and Saito fumbling over a pinning sequence towards the finish. Kamei, letting his inexperience show, looked like he began to rush through moves and as a result, none of them looked right. He finally scored the fall on Saito 8 minutes in. This is the first blemish on Kamei’s resume. This match was not good. **
DRAGON DIA, JASON LEE, & SHUN SKYWALKER DEF. BXB HULK, DIA INFERNO, & KAITO ISHIDA
This match ended in disqualification after Dia Inferno reignited his rivalry with Dragon Dia via a vicious box attack.
Prior to the disqualification, this match served as a great reminder of how immensely talented Dragon Dia is. I really think a large part of Dragongate’s awkward start to the new year was in part due to Dia being injured and off the cards. He’s as graceful of a flyer as there is in wrestling right now and his interactions with Inferno in this match, their first interactions of 2021, proved to be worthwhile. The promotion has become comfortable with non-finishes in Korakuen Hall and on other big shows, which is a trend that I admittedly don’t love, but I tolerate. It makes sense that Dia Inferno would snap and cost Dragon Dia this match, but coming off of a few months of murky finishes in the main event thanks to KAI, YAMATO, Dragon Kid, and SBK, I don’t love seeing it return here, even on the midcard. The ending emotion could’ve been reached with Inferno pinning Jason Lee. NR
SPEED STAR FINAL COUNTDOWN IN TOKYO
DON FUJII, MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI, MASATO YOSHINO, NARUKI DOI, & ULTIMO DRAGON DEF. DIAMANTE, EITA, HYO, KAI, & KAZMA SAKAMOTO
HYO, the biggest brain in Dragongate, is now doing roast comedy. He’s basically DG’s Jeff Ross. He insulted every member of the veteran side before the match, claiming that they all have 0 skills in wrestling. They all bowed to him in a tremendous moment of comedy.
This was my favorite Yoshino countdown match so far. It’s wild to think that if everything goes to plan, this will be his second-to-last match in Tokyo before retiring. Of course, with COVID still being so unstable in Japan, the company’s schedule could change next month and this could be it for him. If it is, he went out with a really fun affair in a building that has treated him so well over the years.
The differentiation between this match and Yoshino’s prior bouts this year was entirely made by HYO and his new double countout gimmick. It’s tremendous stuff. He and Yoshino brawled to the back and out of sight, only to make a dramatic return a second before the 20 count. The fact that Yoshino was able to have a match that felt like it was taking place in Dragongate canon and not in this strange, alternate universe with no stakes was a huge help.
Factor in Ultimo and Diamante tearing it up with sequences that we’ve seen before but are still as impressive as ever and this turned into a very enjoyable affair. Doi rendered Dragongate’s resident comedian useless after a Bakatare Sliding Kick for the win. ***1/2
— FoDG (@futureofdg) June 3, 2021
GENKI HORIGUCHI, KING SHIMIZU, SUSUMU YOKOSUKA, & U-T DEF. BEN-K, DRAGON KID, KAGETORA, & KEISUKE OKUDA
Both teams came into this match with three members announced and a mysterious “X” waiting in the wings. For HIGH-END, Kagetora came out from behind the curtain and announced that after sampling each unit, he was going to be teaming with HIGH-END going forward. His new white and red trunks make him look eerily similar to NOAH-era Tsuyoshi Kikuchi. Hopefully his in-ring can mirror that era of Kikuchi as well.
As for Natural Vibes, they introduced the newly dubbed King Shimizu. The artist formerly known as Big R Shimizu has joined Natural Vibes with ring attire similar to what Rikishi wore in the WWE. This is such a win. This act is going to be huge. Korakuen died with laughter when he made his entrance. He gives Natural Vibes some much-needed size and muscle. Their biggest members, Kzy and Yokosuka, aren’t exactly heavyweights outside of the DG landscape.
King Shimizu looked tremendous in his Natural Vibes debut. He blocked Ben-K’s spear with sheer strength and eventually pinned him with a Superfly Splash in just under 10 minutes. The King Shimizu entrance is mandatory viewing. ***1/4
— FoDG (@futureofdg) June 3, 2021
— FoDG (@futureofdg) June 3, 2021
KING OF GATE 2021 FINALS
KZY DEF. KOTA MINOURA
After six failed attempts to become King of Gate, Kzy proved that seven is his lucky number.
Dragongate’s perpetual underdog is no more. He outmatched Minoura, handing him his only loss in this year’s tournament in what will subsequently go down as one of the best Dragongate matches this year. Kzy, in many ways, was the forebearer in Dragongate’s shifting house style, one that features a greater emphasis on submissions and technique rather than speed and power. He and Minoura had a match that would’ve looked foreign in the context of the promotion during Kzy’s first run in this tournament in 2012, when his Natural Vibes partner Genki Horiguchi upset Akira Tozawa in the finals.
The chemistry these two possessed in their first-ever singles match was remarkable. Kzy began grinding away at Minoura’s neck early on in the match in an attempt to loosen him up for either the Impact or the Spider Twist. Minoura was nearly put out of commission minutes into the match when Kzy attempted an Impact on the apron, but Minoura evaded the move and landed a Waterwheel Suplex on the hardest part of the ring.
Right when Minoura looked like he was on his way to becoming the youngest King of Gate winner ever, Kzy escaped a fireman’s carry position with his Spider Twist submission. Zack Sabre Jr will clean up the Best Technical Wrestler Award every year until he turns to dust, but Kzy should really be given consideration for it. Very few wrestlers can do what he does.
From that counter, Kzy rode a wave of momentum into a KZ Time attempt, but Minoura got the knees up and landed back-to-back devastating German Suplexes. He locked Kzy in the Engranaje submission, but the Natural Vibes leader was able to reach the ropes.
This is when the match became a war. Both men did a tremendous job of selling, putting over their exhaustion, and showing off their in-ring IQ. The counters they pulled off in this match were absurd.
Minoura had opportunities to win this match but he couldn’t pull the trigger. He connected with the Gang, but fell away from Kzy and failed to make a timely cover. He trapped Kzy in the Bevel Gang, his devastating flash pin, but Kzy kicked out. He had Kzy in his signature submission throughout the match but failed to make him tap. That gave Kzy the slim opening that he needed. After escaping the Bevel Gang, he landed an Impact on Minoura. When the youngster kicked out, Kzy didn’t miss a beat, quickly maneuvering into the Spider Twist and getting the 22-year-old to tap.
This was the biggest win of Kzy’s career. ****1/2
— DarbyGargano (@darbygargano) June 3, 2021
Afterwards, it was made official that Kzy will challenge Shun Skywalker for the Open the Dream Gate Championship at Kobe World 2021. This will be a rematch from two years prior, when they had a tremendous encounter at the same event.
Dragongate’s June outing in Korakuen Hall provided the platform for one of their hallmark stars to get the biggest win of his career. There is no denying that this show was a success because of that. Despite a rocky middle portion of the show with Kamei underwhelming and a non-finish between Masquerade and R.E.D., this show provided everything you would want from Dragongate. A great match, tremendous booking, and memorable characters highlighted the 2021 King of Gate finale.