July 3, 2021 and August 1, 2021 will be regarded as one of, if not the, biggest weekend in the now 22-year existence of the Dragon System. Not only is Dragongate having their annual Kobe Pro Wrestling Festival, the largest show in the company’s calendar year, but for the first time in history they will be following it up with Speed Star Final, the Masato Yoshino retirement show. It would be given the tagline “Never Before, Never Again” if it were a boxing or MMA show. Dragon System history will be forever delineated as “before 8/1/21” and “after Yoshino.”
The retirement of the cornerstone of the Dragon System isn’t the only thing on offer this weekend, as Dragongate has placed an incredible task in front of all of their champions.
Everyone who holds a title belt in Dragongate will have to make two defenses in two days. It’s an onerous task that will push each champion to their limit. All of these matches are direct challenges; there’s no traditional multi-team match for the Twin or Triangle Gates, just one challenge, and less than 24 hours, another. The Brave Gate has reigning champion Keisuke Okuda set up against two former Brave Gate champions in Genki Horiguchi and fellow HIGH-END member Kagetora. Masquerade will defend their Triangle Gate against their year-long rivals R.E.D. at Kobe World, and the winners get a returning Aagan Issou, the unit that was so disruptive in the ring and out that they were all fired at the end of 2004. R.E.D’s Kaito Ishida and Kazma Sakamoto perhaps have the easiest path out of all the champions: they will defend the Twin Gate against impromptu Natural Vibes team Susumu Yokosuka & King Shimizu on 7/31 and the winners have another newer team in HIGH-END’s Dragon Kid & Ben-K the next night.
The Open the Dream Gate Championship was not absent from this dangerous proposition as the reigning champion Shun Skywalker has to defend it for a fifth time against the 2021 King of Gate Kzy at Kobe World. Then less than a full day later, the winner of that gets the current ace of Dragongate, YAMATO at Speed Star Final. Three different paths and four possible outcomes are at play as the three will fight to see who will lead Dragongate in the post-Yoshino era.
The 32nd Open The Dream Gate Champion, Shun Skywalker
Shun Skywalker, with no fault of his own, has had a cursed Dream Gate run.
Skywalker returned from excursion in the post-Dream Gate match brawl between then Dream Gate champion Eita and R.E.D against the Dragongate Generation. The lights went out in Edion Arena Osaka, and when they came up he was standing in the entranceway to the loudest eruption heard in Japan in this COVID era. From there, his title win at Kobe World 2020 was a very good performance, but didn’t feel transcendent. His first defense against Ben-K at Final Gate was trending to be a Match of the Year Contender and set his maiden title reign on the right course.
That was until Ben-K suffered a concussion and was knocked out on his big “gets a knee to the face as he goes for the spear” spot that was in the match’s final stretch. The match would audible in the immediate aftermath and the crowd in the notorious frigid Fukuoka crowd went silent. That wouldn’t be the first time a Dream Gate defense for Skywalker would end in an inauspicious fashion.
Shun Skywalker and his unit Masquerade would end up being the feud for the first half of 2021 and his Dream Gate defenses would highlight this feud. At Champion Gate in Osaka, Skywalker defended the belt against first-time challenger Kaito Ishida in what many think is Dragongate’s clubhouse Match of the Year. Later in March, he defended it against Kazma Sakamoto to similar acclaim. The problem was, however, that these matches were so applauded, but they were on non-major shows. Only the true DG hardcores caught it, and it feels like the matches will be forgotten to the passage of time.
What will be remembered, sadly, was the Dream Gate defense that wasn’t.
At Dead or Alive 2021, Shun Skywalker made a defense against R.E.D.’s HipHop Kikuta, who was also getting his first Dream Key less than a year into his career at a big show. During the opening moments of the match, after the initial tie-up, Kikuta hit the mat hard on a simple leg trip. Wincing in pain, the rookie rolled to the floor trying to recover. After a broken 20 count, Kikuta rolled back into the ring, Skywalker immediately put him into a shoulder submission and R.E.D. threw in the towel. It later came out that HipHop Kikuta had recurring shoulder injuries, it happened again during the leg trip, and he’s been on the injury list since getting that shoulder fixed.
Four Dream Gate defenses, two injuries that either caused a stoppage or should have caused a stoppage, and two great matches forgotten. This is not how anyone wanted this Dream Gate run to go for Shun’s big return. At Kobe World and Speed Star Final, Shun Skywalker can rewrite the story of his first Open the Dream Gate Championship reign. Defeating someone who beat him in this venue two years before in Kzy, and becoming the first Dream Gate champion to turn back a King of Gate since 2017, would do a lot to lift his profile in the overall generational pecking order that’s omnipresent in Dragongate. Almost all of Shun’s defenses have been against his contemporaries, save Kazma, but defeating someone of the DG NEX era, a senior like Kzy, would place Shun as a leader of this next era. Following that up with defeating the ace in YAMATO at Speed Star Final? You become not just the standard bearer of the company in a post-Yoshino world, but Shun Skywalker would be at the mountain top. The Ben-K and Kikuta injuries would become mere footnotes in now a historical title reign.
The future of Dragongate could be bright if Skywalker goes 3-0 in Kobe World Dream Gate matches. He hasn’t faced an insurgent Kota Minoura yet in a Masquerade vs Masquerade Dream Gate match that appears to be on the horizon. Front line players of the Toryumon Generation still haven’t had a crack at Dream Gate Shun, so mainstays like Naruki Doi, Masaaki Mochizuki and Susumu Yokosuka could fill out his fight card for the rest of 2021. It took me a few weeks to come to this conclusion, but I believe the Shun Skywalker Clean Sweep is the most intriguing possibility in Kobe for the aforementioned reasons.
The 2021 King of Gate, Kzy
When Kzy won the 2021 King of Gate, it was a triumphant occasion for the Kzy fans. After his losses Kzy improved and learned from his experiences. He went from being out of his depth against Mochizuki in 2018 to giving Eita all he could take in 2020. This time would be different and he’d get over the hump in 2021. After four failed Dream Keys, it’s Kzy Time. In recent memory, if you win King of Gate, you win the Dream Gate title at Kobe World. All the years of seeing him come so close and fall short, Kzy would certainly be the guy to unseat Shun Skywalker. The surest bet in the Dragon System outside of Don Fujii’s willingness to throw a chair against YAMATO was Kzy winning in the main event at Kobe Pro Wrestling Festival 2021.
As soon as YAMATO put out the challenge for Speed Star Final, the tidy and clean weekend ahead of was thrown out of the window. Those questions and dreams went from hopes that seemed like they were about to be realized to “wow it might not happen ever now.” When appearing on this week’s Open the Voice Gate Jae, the English voice of Dragongate, brought up that for native fans, this could be the tipping point weekend where hope could finally be dashed for Kzy.
We talked a lot on OTVG when YAMATO got added into the title scene about how much this felt like a problem of their own making, so I don’t think it’s really worth revisiting here too much, save one point. Everything was set up perfectly and beat-by-beat how they like making someone a Dream Gate Champion at Kobe World and YAMATO’s injection completely destroyed these perfectly made Dragongate fan plans.
Now if Kzy wants his moment, he’s going to have to go through his generational peer YAMATO to do so. Kzy has never defeated YAMATO in a singles match, he’s 0 and 5 including three straight King of Gate league losses. For the entirety of his career, Kzy has firmly been behind YAMATO in the pecking order. YAMATO came into the promotion with a very short rookie phase and was a legitimate threat by the time of his first anniversary. Kzy debuted five months after YAMATO in 2006, and was a career loss post up until his face turn in 2015 when Kzy returned from injury as Dr. Muscle and won the Brave Gate and joined Dia.Hearts. Even with that accolade, he was just the plucky guy in the group, and YAMATO was already a three-time Dream Gate champion. The distance was getting closer, but he still was crawling up the mountain and was nowhere close. It took later when Kzy declared he was going to take up Akira Tozawa’s role as Dragon Gate’s mood maker for his fortunes to truly turn and his momentum leading to his first-ever Dream Gate challenge against Masaaki Mochizuki where he decided to take himself out of YAMATO’s shadow and try to be a main line player on his own.
Kzy can overcome all of that by first defeating Shun Skywalker for the Dream Gate belt and then making his first defense against YAMATO the next day. He would no longer be the person with the second most failed Dream Gate attempts (Takashi Yoshida will probably wear that forever). He would overcome the man who has had his number since day one. All family business could be settled at Kobe Pro Wrestling Festival and Speed Star Final.
That’s not to mention the appetizing potential matches Kzy could have as Dream Gate champion. Sadly, he can’t try to clean up his Dream Gate record completely as PAC isn’t going to be available, but the matches he could have with Mochizuki, Naruki Doi and Eita would be in front of him. Someone like Kaito Ishida seems like an ideal stylistic matchup along with Keisuke Okuda or Kazma Sakamoto. The new era of Dragongate could be very comfortable with Kzy on top, Kzy is a strong talker and could easily close many shows in riffing with Natural Vibes. In a lot of ways he has transcended his goal of being the next Tozawa and is distinctly his own person. His never-say-die demeanor crosses language barriers and he’d be a very compelling champion.
Having a first time Dream Gate champion, and one who spent over a decade as either a loss post or low member of units, leading into the post-Yoshino era might be a bit too uncertain for Dragongate. It’s near impossible to surmise who is drawing 18 months into COVID, but when things get questionable, Dragongate goes with the tried and true. The Big Six weren’t knocking them dead in 2008-10? How about some long title reigns with CIMA and Mochizuki to bring up the Big Six to their level. Stronghearts has left the company in 2018 and Shingo’s on the way out the door? Strap up Yoshino until you’re in a position to plan for the future. There is no better “comfort pick” Dream Gate champion than the four time champion and company ace YAMATO as we enter the next era of the Dragon System.
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The Ace of Dragongate, YAMATO
Speed Star Final will be YAMATO’s first Dream Key since being Ben-K’s first title defense at Dangerous Gate 2019. The last time he held the belt was his mammoth run from Kobe World 2016 until Dangerous Gate 2017, the third-longest in the history of the promotion. Outside of the Ben-K challenge, YAMATO really hasn’t sniffed the Dream Gate scene, which is another common Dragongate booking tendency: after you have a run, and especially if it’s a longer title reign, you will get downcycled for a significant period of time. With the Dream Gate off the table, YAMATO spent his time mainly in the Twin Gate division and his life revolved around BxB Hulk and KAI.
As the leader and the number two guy in Tribe Vanguard, respectively, YAMATO and Hulk ended up overdelivering in 2018 as Twin Gate champions, winning the belts at Kobe World 2018. It was a really smart pairing, YAMATO has excelled as a tag team wrestler, and BxB Hulk’s health was at a point where he really couldn’t be a big Dream Gate challenger. YAMAHulk built on each other’s strengths and had some of Hulk’s best matches since he nearly destroyed his body against Shingo Takagi. The title run seemed to have no end in sight until during 2018’s Doi Darts match a Meteo Impact from KAI broke Hulk’s neck. Hulk was sidelined until the next May, and how did YAMATO treat his injured partner? Well he decided it was a bright idea to have KAI join Tribe Vanguard as KAI felt bad about the injury and liked teaming with them. This worked out near immediately as YAMATO and KAI won the Twin Gates in April of 2019 and held them until Kobe World 2019. Hulk returned by then and everything seemed fine with the three of them as teammates. YAMAHulk even regained the belts at Final Gate 2019, things were great!
Unbeknownst to YAMATO, things were indeed Not Great. Eita began teasing new members of R.E.D. under demon masks. The first ended up being Kaito Ishida, who grew frustrated with MaxiMuM fawning over the returning Ultimo Dragon. The second demon mask, as Eita’s end of the year surprise, attacked YAMATO at the year end’s Korkauen Hall show and unmasked as BxB Hulk. Hulk couldn’t believe YAMATO would invite the guy who injured Hulk into their unit and then decided to team with him. The Twin Gate got vacated and 2020 turned into the three way generational war with Hulk on R.E.D. and KAI joining YAMATO in the Dragongate Generation. The two got placed into the Cage Risk match at Dangerous Gate 2020 with a load of insane stipulations. KAI promised going into the cage that the two were as close as brothers and he’d make sure to help YAMATO get a flag before him. That was key, as one of the stipulations of the match was that if KAI escaped first, he’d be forced into joining R.E.D, leaving YAMATO partnerless.
Everything seemed to go to plan as KAI waited for YAMATO to enter (this year had staggered entry), and KAI even helped him scale the cage. When the former Twin Gate champions got to the top, KAI took a moment, grabbed the conveniently placed tub and slammed it on YAMATO and escaped the cage. Less than a year after his first Twin Gate partner turned on him, his other one joined R.E.D. Later KAI stated that he grew tired of dealing with how annoying of a person YAMATO was when they went out on the town. Since Dangerous Gate 2020, Hulk and KAI have devoted every waking moment to making the ace’s life a living hell.
Matches were no contests. YAMATO couldn’t get a moment of relief. KAI and Hulk took pleasure in ruining YAMATO’s 2020 and 2021. The situation grew untenable and for the 2021 Dead or Alive Cage Risk match KAI and YAMATO were forced to team in a Parejas Incredible Revelos Suicidas Cage Risk match where the losing team would immediately have an apuestas match. Somehow the two were able to stay on the same page in Nagoya, but there was no resolution in this feud.
After King of Gate 2021, YAMATO had enough and challenged KAI to his trademark match in July, the first No Ropes match in Dragongate since 2014. Upon winning the war, YAMATO immediately grabbed a microphone and made the Speed Star Final challenge. It’s been almost four years since the ace held the top belt. To put the exclamation point on his return to the main event, YAMATO gave his Almighty catchphrase in the promo: “Aren’t I the coolest?”
YAMATO winning the Open the Dream Gate at Speed Star Final would put him in a league of his own. He is currently tied with Shingo Takagi and Masaaki Mochizuki with four Dream reigns and a fifth would set him apart. If this Dream run goes past a first defense, he will move into third place all-time in combined days as champion. The era of the Big Six may be coming to its close, but with YAMATO on top, it’s still “his” company.
I believe the most likely outcome from this weekend is YAMATO walking out of Kobe World Kinen Hall as champion. It’s not the most interesting scenario, in my opinion, but as I said earlier, whenever Dragongate enters uncertain times they like to go with the tried and true. There are two different ways for YAMATO to become champion according to whoever won the previous night.
A YAMATO victory against Shun Skywalker would state that sure, Masato Yoshino is retiring and the Big Six is now a Big Three, but it’s not the New Generation’s time yet. YAMATO is the big boss and it is going to be that way into the foreseeable future. Maybe Shun Skywalker is close, but two Dream Gate matches in two nights is a mammoth undertaking and the Almighty is there to capitalize on it.
If YAMATO beats Kzy, then the natural order of Dragongate has won out. Sure Kzy finally wins the big one, but he’s not YAMATO, someone Kzy hasn’t beat in a singles match his entire career. Taking out Shun Skywalker is one thing, but the guy who has had your number for fifteen years is another. That’s another mountain for Kzy to climb another time.
The new era of the Dragon System begins on August 2nd, the day after the cornerstone of the System Masato Yoshino retires. Dragongate is in a unique position, their future is completely uncharted and they have three potential paths ahead of them.
Either Shun Skywalker, Kzy or YAMATO will be Open the Dream Gate champion coming out of Dragongate’s first-ever doubleheader at Kobe World Kinen Hall, and as champion they will lead the company on this new path in a post-Yoshino world.