When Dragongate stopped in Kumamoto in October 2013, all eyes were on Genki Horiguchi.
The second wave Toryumon student was celebrating his 15th anniversary in pro wrestling in his hometown at an untelevised event. He would headline the show, scoring the winning pinfall in an eight-man tag match that is beyond irrelevant in the history of the promotion. The opening contest on that show featured Mike Sydal, the import from St. Louis and brother to Dragongate alumni Matt Sydal, teaming with Masato Yoshino. Yoshino was exactly seven days away from challenging and subsequently winning the Open the Dream Gate Championship for the second time in his career. Sydal, on his first tour of Japan, ate the pinfall against then-rising stars T-Hawk & Eita. When he got to the back, Yoshino confronted Sydal saying, “You fucked up.” Sydal, playing it off, noted, “Yes, I did, but the crowd didn’t know so it was okay.”
This was not the answer Masato Yoshino was looking for. He fired back, “But I know you fucked up. You watch me, I never fuck up. You must never fuck up.”
This relentless pursuit of perfection is what Masato Yoshino has used to become one of the most accomplished Japanese wrestlers of the 21st century. No wrestler has been able to combine breakneck speed with ungodly precision in the way that Yoshino has. He’s wrestling’s version of a hacker. If one thing goes wrong, the entire thing goes wrong. Over his two decade career, however, Masato Yoshino has only put the right foot forward.
His determination is unparalleled. He fought his way up the card, fought back from injuries, and fought to preserve the legacy of the Dragongate brand in his time as an active competitor. He is without a doubt, the greatest representation of what the Dragon System has to offer, and on August 1, 2021, after 20 illustrious years as a wrestler, the Speed Star will finally burn out.
Born in Higashiosaka, an Osaka suburb, Masato Yoshino spent his formative years on a baseball diamond. Despite intense Google searching, no record of his baseball career turned up on the Internet outside of some ceremonial pitches. The thought of Masato Yoshino on a baseball field in his athletic prime, however, remains a tantalizing visual.
His father was a wrestling fan, but Yoshino wasn’t hooked on what would later become his career until Antonio Inoki squared off against Big Van Vader in the Tokyo Dome in 1996. His eyes were opened to what wrestling could be after that encounter, and soon, Yoshino was swept up in nWo fever by way of Masahiro Chono.
Given his size and frame, he was a perfect fit for Ultimo Dragon’s Toryumon promotion that launched in 1999. A year later, Yoshino was shipped off to Mexico with a handful of students representing Ultimo’s Toryumon 2000 Project (T2P) and on September 2, 2000, Yoshino made his professional debut against the man now known as Toru Owashi.
When asked about Yoshino’s time in Mexico, lucha libre historian Rob Bahari remarked, “…all the Japanese guys tended to blend together. They would be booked as a group and since they were just learning to work nobody was particularly told to stand out in any way. Yoshino would travel the arenas with Naruki Doi, [Mototsugu] Shimizu, & [Yasushi] Tsujimoto for the most part, working six man tags involving Skayde & his prized students Turbo & Neo. The idea being two-fold: one, obviously to learn by working. Skayde had his marching orders and would work the llaveo style with them. Two, by having the Mexicans in the match you didn’t throw the Japanese kids to the wolves whether it be a disinterested crowd or working with substandard opponents.”
Little of Yoshino’s time in Mexico exists on tape, but it should be noted that he defeated T2P’s biggest prospect, Milano Collection AT in a 2/3 Falls Match shortly before returning to Japan.
Whatever lack of fanfare that Yoshino dealt with in Mexico was non-existent when he returned to his home country. Dawning a “sexy Tarzan” look, Yoshino played a pivotal role in the T2P Japan landing.
It is hard to find a more unique event in the history of pro wrestling than the first T2P show. November 13, 2001, remains a unique entity that not even the promotion itself could ever follow up on. After successfully landing the original Toryumon class in Japan two years prior, Ultimo upped his game and shifted his vision from the original class, gifting the T2P class with a six-sided ring and putting a greater emphasis on tricked-out grappling instead of furious high-flying. It turned out to be an immediate success.
— Dan (@GolazoDan) November 13, 2017
While the show is best remembered for Milano Collection AT tying Ryo Saito up and embarrassing him, the undoubted best match on the show saw Yoshino and the newly dubbed Stevie Tsujimoto battle KENtaro Mori & Takamichi Iwasa. Gran Akuma, who worked alongside Masato Yoshino in Dragon Gate USA, was a T2P fan from the first show. He stated, “He [Yoshino] was a standout in a company that was completely different from everything else on the scene.” Bahari echoed that same opinion, “The show stealer was definitely the tag match with Yoshino. The holds, the speed of which everything was occuring, the creativity… it was just magical to watch. I’m not overblowing it when I say it was watching wrestling from the future. Even now, almost 20 years later, I don’t think we’ve caught up to the stuff they were doing back then. It’s a style that is so difficult to replicate & you would need a core group of guys who stick together to make it work.”
Luckily, for the sake of progression and innovation, that core group stuck together. In early 2002, Milano Collection AT assembled the Italian Connection, a standout unit in the Dragon System that remains unmatched in terms of overall aesthetic and charisma. While the unit certainly fit the vision of the Italian supermodel, Yoshino (dubbed YOSSINO as a member of the unit), played a pivotal role in the success of the unit.
In the Italian Connection, success came easy for the Osaka-born prospect. He scored two reigns as UWA World Trios Champion with Milano Collection AT (first with YASSINI, then with Condotti Shuji), found success in Pro Wrestling NOAH, teaming with Ultimo Dragon and winning the interpromotional Differ Cup in 2003, and then claiming his first singles title that same year, defeating Genki Horiguchi and winning the NWA World Welterweight Championship.
Yoshino’s time as World Welterweight Champion raised his profile tremendously. As Milano Collection AT continued to be Torymon’s bridesmaid in the eyes of the Toryumon Cerebus in CIMA, Magnum TOKYO, and Masaaki Mochizuki, Yoshino was carving out a path of destruction in the promotion’s midcard. Notably, it is at this time that he began a career-long rivalry with K-Ness.
Their match at Torymon’s 4th Anniversary Show in the summer of 2003 showcased how talented Yoshino had become in his two years in Japan. It is easy to get bogged down by the speed of Yoshino and to write him off as a gimmick, but the K-Ness feud brought out a viciousness in the champion that he needed. He had to showcase a complete array of skills in order to keep his belt, which he did, not only against K-Ness, but against every challenger that stepped in his path. Yoshino never lost the NWA World Welterweight Championship. It remained his until the exodus that led to the formation of Dragongate in 2004.
He would go undefeated in his next title reign as well, this one alongside Milano Collection AT and Anthony W. Mori as the first ever Open the Triangle Gate Champions. The trio successfully defended the belts twice before Milano split from Dragongate, leaving Yoshino at a crossroads. He told Sponichi Annex in a June 2021 interview, “if I had continued to work with Milano Collection A.T., I would have been in a lower position than him, so I cut my hair with youth and vigor and changed it back to my real name…You can’t move forward by thinking backwards like, ‘What if this fails?’ If you just do it and it doesn’t work out, it’s your own fault. I thought it would be better to do it and regret it than to not do it and regret it.”
Yoshino turned his back on the Italian Connection and the goodwill that he had built up with the fanbase for the past four years. Back under his real name, he joined the exercised-crazed, muscle-loving outlaws known as Blood Generation. They led Dragongate into a glory period in 2005, with seemingly both the booking and in-ring output reaching an apex. The buzz surrounding the promotion would lead to Dragongate crossing borders and partnering with Ring of Honor, first with CIMA and Shingo Takagi stopping by in late 2005, then with a larger contingent of talent returning the following spring.
Ring of Honor faced the daunting task of running three shows on the same weekend as WrestleMania in March 2006, something that Paul Heyman, the mentor of then-ROH booker Gabe Sapolsky had always warned him not to do. With a record-setting crowd of 1,100 in attendance at the Frontier Fieldhouse in Chicago, Illinois, Masato Yoshino stepped into battle with his Blood Generation brethren CIMA and Naruki Doi to square off against the Do Fixer trio of Dragon Kid, Genki Horiguchi, & Ryo Saito.
What followed was 20 minutes of unfiltered, unapologetic professional wrestling bliss. On a weekend that featured ruthless violence from Colt Cabana and Homicide, a 56-minute technical display from Bryan Danielson and Roderick Strong, and Lance Storm’s return to wrestling after a 10-month absence, it was the Dragongate six-man that stole the show and got the wrestling world buzzing. It was likely the first time that co-host of the Open the Voice Gate podcast Mike Spears saw Yoshino wrestle, “Seeing Masato Yoshino for the first time breaks your brain. He shouldn’t be this fast. Wrestlers can’t be that fast running ropes. You think Yoshino with his size would be some high flyer or spotty junior, but instead he does this Lucha Libre-based technician offense? Even his ring gear isn’t what it should be.”
Nothing about the initial six-man in ROH should’ve made sense, but the six Japanese imports made it work, garnering near-universal critical acclaim, being awarded five stars by Dave Meltzer, and scoring Match of the Year in the 2006 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Awards.
Thanks to his affiliation with ROH in the mid-2000s and then Dragon Gate USA at the start of a new decade, Lenny Leonard became the de facto voice of Yoshino, calling more of his matches than anyone else outside of Japan. Leonard was blown away by the speed and precision of Yoshino in the Blood Generation vs. Do Fixer six-man, as were his colleagues behind the scenes, “I will always remember Gabe [Sapolsky] and [Dave] Prazak and I talking after that weekend and Gabe said, “The DG guys are 5 years ahead of everyone in this country in terms of style and psychology” and he was right.”
Three years after the show stealer in Chicago Ridge, Sapolsky would embark on a new venture with Dragongate wrestlers as the focal point. Dragon Gate USA launched on July 25, 2009 and Yoshino once again found himself as the center of attention. Yoshino wrestled his career-long rival Dragon Kid on the debut show, sparking a rivalry that led to a rematch in Chicago, a highly publicized bout on the debut Dragon Gate UK show, and finally an electric 2/3 Falls Match in Windsor, Ontario, Canada just before DGUSA hit the one year mark.
Once he got past Dragon Kid, Yoshino was attached at the hip to Naruki Doi, whether that be with or against him. Yoshino’s legacy in the west will likely be best remembered for his work teaming with Naruki Doi. On top of some stellar matches in Ring of Honor and Dragon Gate USA, Doi and Yoshino waltzed into the Impact Zone in 2008 and put forth a jaw-dropping performance in front of a mainstream American crowd.
— IMPACT (@IMPACTWRESTLING) November 9, 2018
Alan4L of the Pro Wrestling Torch is one of the biggest proponents of the Dragongate style. When asked about his favorite era of Yoshino’s career, he replied, “From Summer 2007 until Naruki Doi won the Dream Gate over a year later, Speed Muscle (or DoiYoshi as I called them for ages) was absolutely one of my favourite things in wrestling. The matches with New Hazard, AraIwa, and RyoSuka were all incredible. Some of the best tags I had ever seen at the time, and they remain in that category to this day. Of course, there is the famous sprint with MCMG in TNA that may be the greatest match ever of its length. Speed Muscle were redefining tag team wrestling for me during that period.”
The DoiYoshi tandem truly began to take form while both men were representing the heel unit Muscle Outlawz, but their best work took place under the silver and gold babyface aesthetic of World-1. The unit was an overwhelming success, not only for Doi and Yoshino, but for their unit mates BxB Hulk, Naoki Tanizaki, and PAC.
Doi turned on Yoshino in 2010 which slowly led to the infamous Blood Warriors vs. Junction Three feud in 2011. The rivalry divided the company into two units, with CIMA, Akira Tozawa, and Naruki Doi leading the charge for Blood Generation while Masaaki Mochizuki, YAMATO, and Yoshino held the line for Junction Three.
When the promotion was dealing with the fallout of the two-sided feud in the early stages of 2012, Doi was turned on by Akira Tozawa and BxB Hulk who reformed Blood Warriors and turned them into Mad Blankey. Doi, needing to find an army, rejoined forces with Masato Yoshino, this time rebranding World-1 into World-1 International. The group featured Doi, Yoshino, PAC, Ricochet, Rich Swann, and Yoshino’s pal Shachihoko BOY. It was a stellar lineup on paper and for their brief, year-long existence, they consistently became the highlight of nearly every Dragongate show. Larry Dallas, who started with Dragon Gate USA managing The Scene, latched onto the heel group Mad Blankey and earned himself a tour in 2012. Years later, he became the English voice of the promotion alongside Dragongate Jae. Dallas looks back fondly at the work that World-1 International accomplished, “Anytime you got the combination of Doi, Yoshino, & PAC together or just Speed Muscle in general, I love it. I truly think Speed Muscle is probably the most under-appreciated tag team in the history of pro wrestling. If there was an AEW all these years instead of a TNA, we’d be talking about a guy who can be a Hall of Famer as a single and as a tag team with Doi.”
Yoshino’s time in Dragon Gate USA lasted long enough to see both iterations of World-1 highlighted. On 32 of the promotion’s first 33 shows, Yoshino was featured prominently. With his longtime partner PAC, they became the first-ever Open the United Gate Champions. While his time spent in DGUSA was brief, the story of Yoshino can’t be told without it. He primarily worked against fellow Dragongate stalwarts, but as Gran Akuma pointed out, he was quick to adapt with an unfamiliar opponent, “I didn’t get to do much with Yoshino, but he was a master when it comes to match structure. In many ways Dragongate exists in a bubble, but in spite of that he had an incredible ability to take what the people he was working with did and put all of those things in the right places. He didn’t try to change the notes you played, but he got you to play them in an order that made a better song.”
After seeing Naruki Doi become Open the Dream Gate Champion at the end of 2008, Yoshino found himself in an unfamiliar position: no man’s land. He had done the best work of his career as a tag team wrestler, but his partner had moved onto bigger and better things. He had demonstrated the ability to be a credible singles competitor, but to this point in his career, he had been capped at Brave Gate level.
In 2007, in the first of his six eventual Open the Brave Gate Championship runs, Yoshino squared off against Matt Sydal, who said, “I remember feeling so much pressure that night. He never said anything to me about it, but Yoshino also seemed nervous too. In addition to the pressure we put on ourselves to steal the show, we could feel the pressure of the locker room filled with high expectations. The event was at a small venue in Kobe, and the fans were packed in as close to the ring as we could jam them. Because of this, we were instructed not to talk to each other during the match. Perfection was our only goal. Kobe is the hometown of Dragongate which means the fans there have seen a lot of DG action and we had to work hard to impress them, too.”
Over a decade later, Larry Dallas put on the headset for what would become Yoshino’s final Dream Gate challenge. By this point, he had eclipsed the Brave Gate scene, far surpassing what anyone’s expectations could have possibly been for him. In the time between the Sydal match and the Ben-K match, Yoshino had honed his instincts as a leader. He had spent two decades surpassing locker room pressures and expectations. By 2019, it was his promotion, and someone like Ben-K needed the seal of approval of Yoshino to stick around in the main event scene. In a stark contrast to Sydal’s earlier comments, Dallas had this to say about the Ben-K match, “I can say watching him prepare for a big match is a treat. Just sitting down in the seats of an empty arena watching an all timer get ready is certainly different. Just watching his mind work as he puts together his plan for the night and then having the benefit of hours later watching it all come together as I call it. That’s how you truly can tell how great someone is.”
Should be illegal to hit this nice of a moonsault pic.twitter.com/ZBewKv4Oaj
— Kayden/ケイデン🌸🌺 (@KVR216) April 21, 2021
Whenever Masato Yoshino is in the Dream Gate picture, the belt suddenly becomes much more than just a belt. Yoshino’s reigns have actively defined periods of the promotion. He capped off an incredible hot streak in the middle of 2010 by defeating YAMATO for the belt at Kobe World 2010. This was Yoshino’s first time securing the top prize in Dragongate in a match that now acts as the Chris Jericho vs. Triple H to The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan, or in this case, the hair vs. hair match between BxB Hulk and Shingo Takagi.
His win made him the fourth member of Dragongate’s Big Six—Akira Tozawa, BxB Hulk, Masato Yoshino, Naruki Doi, Shingo Takagi, & YAMATO—to win the top prize in the promotion. Despite being lost in history due to what preceded it, the match was a success. Yoshino, after years of becoming a fan-favorite on the international stage, proved worthy of leading his home promotion into a new decade. By the end of the decade, no one would be more synonymous with Dragongate than him.
The Dream Gate belt would bounce from Yoshino to Masaaki Mochizuki in the spring of 2011, and then from Mochizuki to CIMA at the end of the year. He would go on to hold the title for an astonishing 574 days (defeating Yoshino twice in the process) before dropping it to Shingo Takagi at Kobe World 2013. Dragongate had positioned Takagi to drive the promotion into a new era. It was Takagi’s time to take the throne. Then, Takagi lost in his first defense thanks to heel trickery by way of YAMATO, who then would get past Ryo Saito before losing in his second defense to Masato Yoshino. After 574 days of Dream Gate dominance by one man, the top prize in Dragongate changed hands three times in 81 days.
Luckily, it landed with Yoshino, who provided much-needed stabilization atop the card.
If his first reign with the belt was him trying to keep his head above water, his second reign was nothing but smooth sailing. He knocked off challengers from all generations including the young upstart T-Hawk, his generational foe in Naruki Doi, and the veteran Masaaki Mochizuki in a match described by Alan4L as, “an epic candidate for greatest DG singles match ever.”
He passed the baton to Ricochet, just as he had done with Matt Sydal seven years prior. Both the first ever American born Brave Gate and Dream Gate winners defeated Yoshino to claim their prize, and both times, they were undoubtedly put in positions to succeed.
A year later when BxB Hulk’s time as Dream Gate Champion was ending, Dragongate made the move, which seemed surprising at the time, to put the belt back on Yoshino a month before Kobe World to set up Yoshino vs. T-Hawk. His third reign was one of responsibility, if nothing else, as Alan4L hypothesized that T-Hawk still needed to be carried to accomplish greatness, and that is just not something that BxB Hulk could be relied on. Yoshino, on the other hand, is built for tasks like that. Time after time, Yoshino has stepped up to the plate and not only has he taken big cuts, but he’s consistently knocked the ball out of the park.
Yoshino finally is able to put T-Hawk out. A fantastic main event to a great show. Recommended. pic.twitter.com/cVv3AIyWTq
— Daisuke Sekigoto (@RespectSuwama) June 18, 2021
Those cuts were nearly put to an end permanently at the start of 2017. In a match against Shingo Takagi & Cyber Kong, Yoshino partnered up with Ben-K in what many thought at the time could be the last match of his career.
He exited the match with a herniated disc and three fractured vertebrae. It was expected that he’d take at least a year off to recover, and that was if he could handle the rehab. This is someone who had already dealt with a severe neck injury in the past. As time went on, however, it became foolish to have doubts about his recovery.
A year off turned into three months. How Masato Yoshino did this remains a mystery, a testament to the human spirit and determination. He not only returned to the ring quicker than anyone ever imagined, but quickly joined forces with Ben-K, Kotoka, and Naruki Doi once more to create MaxiMuM, a unit that immediately became Dragongate’s top in-ring unit.
As Dragongate was falling out of favor with western fans due to a dip in in-ring and creative quality, MaxiMuM became the unit that fans could point to and say, “This is what you all are missing.” When Yoshino resumed a full time schedule in May, he was noticeably hitting the ropes slower. He was abstaining from big bumps. His fellow competitors were taking care of him. By the end of the year, he was back in full force, miraculously shedding whatever skin had hindered him earlier in the year.
The 12 month journey that Yoshino went on in 2017, from injury to rehab to rebirth, is as impressive of a run as there ever has been given the circumstances he was dealing with. It culminated in Fukuoka on an icy December night, with Yoshino tagging alongside not only Doi, but Hong Kong import Jason Lee, who he helped recruit to the company. The MaxiMuM trio took on a murderer’s row of BxB Hulk, Kzy, and YAMATO in one of the truly great Open the Triangle Gate Championship matches of all-time. For Jason Lee, this was no ordinary night, “I remember I was so nervous before the match. I was like, ‘I just came to Dragongate 3 months ago, now I’m challenging for a belt?’’ Lee continued, “Doi and Yoshino both gave me advice before the match. [They told me], ‘I know it’s a big match and a title match, but just be yourself and feel it.’”
Yoshino violently lariating BxB Hulk and then throwing his arms up in the air as if to say, “I’m alive” remains a powerful visual. We were so close to losing Yoshino then, and in the years that have followed, he has wrestled with a burning desire to make the most of every opportunity.
— Case (@_InYourCase) December 29, 2017
Dallas has seen Yoshino grow into the promotion’s most reliable force. When they first met, Yoshino was still lurking in the shadows of the original Toryumon class, but that wouldn’t be the case for long. “In the time from when DGUSA ended to my return in 2019, Yoshino has become a leader. He’s the guy who might speak before a big show, and the guy who shows up at the dojo occasionally – then I know it’s an important visit,” said Dallas, “The roles change with the talent as their stock goes up behind the scenes. I see that in Yoshino…I view Yoshino as the locker room leader currently.”
A locker room leader had been desperately needed after CIMA, the longtime face and icon of Dragongate, announced on May 7, 2018, that he was shipping out to Shanghai and taking El Lindaman, T-Hawk, and Takehiro Yamamura with him. Despite Yoshino’s earnest efforts to make T-Hawk into A Guy in both 2013 and 2015, those efforts had fallen short. He needed greener pastures. El Lindaman and Yamamura represented foundational pillars of youth that the promotion wanted to build on in the future. At the end of 2016, it looked like Dragongate was firing on all cylinders when it came to preparing tomorrow’s stars. Then, T-Hawk flopped, Eita got lazy, U-T, Yamamura, and Kaito Ishida all battled injuries, and the class of 2016, mainly Ben-K and Shun Skywalker, weren’t ready to permanently step up to the main event scene.
The 2018 split sent Dragongate into a tailspin not seen since they split from Ultimo’s umbrella in 2004. The promotion felt damaged. They had lost their luster for seemingly the first time in 19 years. Briefly, it looked like CIMA and his companions were going to come out on the better end of the deal, jet setting around the world and training an army of wrestlers with kung fu backgrounds in Shanghai. They had all of the momentum immediately after the fallout.
In June, Dragongate concluded their King of Gate tournament to determine the promotion’s best singles wrestler and for the second time in his career, Yoshino was victorious. He outlasted Takashi Yoshida in the semifinals before firmly positioning himself ahead of YAMATO in the finals, rolling him up en route to a successful Dream Gate challenge against Masaaki Mochizuki the next day.
He became the third person ever to hold the Dream Gate belt four times, following in the footsteps of Shingo Takagi and YAMATO. His reign was desperately needed. Dragongate needed someone that they could rely on. Someone that embodied the promotion, both the history behind it and the need for success going forward. Yoshino was that guy, and although his match quality in other reigns was superior to his fourth go-around with the title, no title run in his career was more important than what he did with the Dream Gate belt in 2018. Outlasting Shingo, Doi, and Ben-K, among others, in their quest for gold, Yoshino proved to be the bridge between the old mentality that was abandoned when CIMA split and the new mentality that began to be realized when Yoshino’s former confidant, PAC, returned to the promotion in late 2018 and defeated Yoshino for the title.
The reign solidified Yoshino as a legend. There was no doubting whether or not he belonged on Dragongate’s hypothetical Mount Rushmore. Now the only debate was if anyone deserved a spot more.
⚡️𝕷𝖎𝖌𝖍𝖙𝖓𝖎𝖓𝖌 𝕾𝖕𝖎𝖗𝖆𝖑⚡️ pic.twitter.com/yhELiRO6Hl
— Kayden/ケイデン🌸🌺 (@KVR216) July 17, 2021
Yoshino’s impact is felt from the top of the company on down. Mike Sydal lived in the dojo during his stints in Dragongate and saw a rotating cast of wrestlers lead training sessions, “[Yoshino’s training days] would start with a run (usually about 5k), then go inside for weight training and in-ring drills. Sometimes he would time us to see how fast we could run the ropes.”
During his farewell tour, Dragongate created a storyline in which Yoshino gifts his signature moves to younger wrestlers on the roster. Perhaps in another promotion or with another wrestler, this would come across as a grandiose display of ego. With Yoshino, it is an act that feels genuine and an act that is appreciated by the younger generation, “He is a very nice guy outside or inside the ring… I am very happy he gave me his move to me. That actually means a lot to me,” remarked Jason Lee.
Dragongate works at times as a glorified co-op and Yoshino has done everything he can over the last year of his career to give to future generations. As Lenny Leonard said, “If the kids in the dojo don’t want a career like the one Yoshino has had, then I don’t know what they would want, because he has done it all.”
With the Stronghearts crew out of the picture in 2019, Yoshino led the charge to pay homage to Dragongate’s roots at the 20th-anniversary show. He personally invited Ultimo Dragon to show up, and after some deliberation (in the form of Toru Owashi dressing up like Ultimo Dragon), Toryumon’s trainer was back in the fold starting in July 2019.
Yoshino’s character has never been called into question, both by those that have worked with him and by those that were simply near him, as Gran Akuma explained, “Dragongate takes a great deal of care in how they treat their fans, and Yoshino took that responsibility very seriously. My wife attended DGUSA Enter The Dragon 2010, and brought a friend from Canada with her to watch the show. Yoshino had just won the Dream Gate title, and before the show started he saw my wife (not knowing who she was) talking to her friend. From her body language, he realized that she was explaining how the Dream Gate belt opened up, and that challengers won a key to challenge and such. Because this blew his mind, and because it was ungodly hot in the building, he took hand fans over to them and let her hold the belt while he talked with them for a few minutes. My wife still glows talking about this, and she’ll love Yoshino until the end of time because of it.” He continued, “Dragongate isn’t just cutting edge wrestling, it’s an incredibly strong bond between the wrestlers and the fans. Yoshino was able to forge that bond as well as anyone I’ve seen.”
With a generation war between Dragongate, Toryumon, and R.E.D. brewing at the end of 2019, Yoshino decided to make an announcement that would drastically change the promotion going forward. He said on December 26 that he would be retiring in 2020 due to complications from his neck injury a few years prior.
The date of which he would’ve originally retired is unknown, as the COVID-19 pandemic halted his initial farewell tour. Once touring resumed, outside of a cage match stipulation that put his career in immediate danger, Yoshino’s actual retirement date remained largely a mystery until November 15 when the promotion announced that Speed Star Final would take place in Kobe World Memorial Hall at the beginning of August.
He pushed himself hard in 2020, working as regular of a schedule as COVID would allow. He worked title matches, engaged in a lengthy feud with Eita, and closed the year playing a key role in one of the greatest Dragongate matches ever. On December 20, Yoshino, alongside Dragon Kid, Genki Horiguchi, Naruki Doi, & Susumu Yokosuka took the Toryumon Generation into battle against five RED members, none of whom were above the age of 30.
The Toryumon side came up short with Yoshino being the first from his side eliminated. He took a rolling lariat from HipHop Kikuta, a man who wasn’t even born before the first Toryumon show, and eliminated Yoshino from the contest. It was as much a selfless act as it was a sign of the times. The new generation was ready to take over. Yoshino needed to retire.
— FoDG (@futureofdg) December 20, 2020
His second farewell tour failed to launch properly, as a week after the legendary Final Gate match, Yoshino reaggravated his neck injuries in a tag match. In his recent Sponichi Annex interview, he revealed, “I couldn’t even hold chopsticks because of the numbness and pain, I couldn’t lie on my back or face down, and I couldn’t lie down, so I couldn’t even get into a sleeping position…when I tried to sleep sitting up, I couldn’t sleep because of the numbness and pain, and I could only sleep for about an hour to an hour and a half a day.”
Yoshino’s retirement marks unfamiliar territory for the promotion, however. Yoshino is the biggest star in the 22 years of Toryumon and Dragongate to call it quits.
What the promotion will look like without Yoshino in the ring remains a mystery. Mike Spears speculated that perhaps, this is not the end of Yoshino’s time as an on-screen character, “Maybe in a year or so he’s taking over GM Yagi’s role as on-screen matchmaker. Perhaps he is the next company president when Toru Kido’s term ends and he becomes the captain of this ship.”
What is known is that the void Yoshino is leaving is irreplaceable. He became a recognizable face in Dragongate’s international expansion, a calming presence back home during times of turbulence, and a motivating force for younger generations attempting to climb up the card. Matt Sydal looks at Yoshino as an inspiration as he gets older, noting, “For as brutal and hard-hitting as he is in the ring, Yoshino remained good-hearted, kind and soft spoken. No bitter veteran syndrome for him.”
CIMA left. Masaaki Mochizuki isn’t homegrown. Shingo graduated. History will show that Masato Yoshino is Dragongate through and through, an immediate success story in the Toryumon 2000 Project, a dynamic player in Toryumon, and then a legend within Dragongate, winning every title and becoming a two-time winner in both the Summer Adventure Tag League and King of Gate, but no amount of titles, tournament victories, or awards from publications can accurately define how impactful of a performer Yoshino has been.
It is best left to Larry Dallas, a man never never short for words, to describe Yoshino’s legacy, “Yoshino has been like Eli Manning to me…he was always the guy you’d want on your team, and a guy who leads your team. Eli retired saying ‘Once a Giant, always a giant. And today, Only a Giant.’’ Dallas continued, “Tozawa went to WWE. Shingo went to New Japan. Others went up and down the card, others have left on not great terms. But Yoshino only [wore] that one jersey. To me he is the stabilizing force of Dragongate, and the one guy who truly won’t have an asterisk next to his name when you run down their career. What does he mean to Dragongate? He is Dragongate.”
The Speed Star will burn out on August 1, 2021.
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