JULY 31, 2021

Watch: Dragon Gate Network


Dragongate’s annual biggest show of the year and first chapter of the company’s biggest weekend in history began with a standard affair six-man tag match. A lot of this match was built around HYO, Dragongate’s equivalent of the galaxy brain meme, attempting to outlast and outsmart the veteran army that had been placed against him. That proved to be a poor tactic. The tandem of 51-year-olds in Masaaki Mochizuki and Don Fujii led the charge in thwarting any of HYO’s antics. Mochizuki has been so deemphasized in the booking since May that it is easy to forget that he was a Twin Gate Champion earlier this year. His talent was readily on display as he launched himself over the top rope with a big dive onto Hulk and KAI, giving Fujii a chance to chokeslam HYO and Saito a chance to land the SaiRyo Rocket as a follow up for the eventual pinfall. **3/4 


Ben-K played the role of Lebron James this evening, dragging a team of unbearable scrubs across the finish line and securing the victory essentially by himself. He wrecked everyone in sight, easily tossing around the smaller Natural Vibes duo, deadlifting Takashi Yoshida in a way that only he can, and then eventually spearing Yosuke Santa Maria out of her boots for the pin. **1/4 


No match better represents The Full Eita Experience than what occurred between him and the white-hot Kota Minoura in this contest. There were times when I thought the match was clunky and there were times when I thought the match was elegant. There were times when I thought this match was heated and there were times when I thought this match was dull. There are times when I really liked what was happening in the ring and there were times in which I was incredibly uninterested in what was going on in the ring. It is the paradox that Eita suffers from. How can someone who is so clearly great be underwhelming this many times? 

This didn’t need to be the best match on the show. There is certainly a blueprint for a match of this caliber in this spot stealing the show as Kzy and Shun Skywalker did in 2019, but the show wasn’t going to be made or broken on the entertainment quality of this bout. Still, it is frustrating that this match was driven by RED interference and failed to truly find its flow until the finishing stretch. 

Minoura has been talked about at length in the past few months. He’s a phenom who quietly flew under the radar of most Western fans as he was sandwiched in between the illustrious class of 2016 (Skywalker, Ben-K) and the much-hyped debuts of people like Dragon Dia & Strong Machine J. He’s now 6-1 in singles matches this year, pinning the likes of BxB Hulk, Masaaki Mochizuki, & YAMATO before knocking off another former Open the Dream Gate Champion in Eita. I would be shocked if Minoura is not challenging the winner of the August 1 Dream Gate match. 

He’s proven himself to match Dragongate’s level of consistency as he’s ascended up the card. I have faith in him to put forth a quality effort in a big title match. The issue with Eita, as he’s demonstrated in the Dragon Kid feud and the brief Ultimo Dragon feud, is that you can’t count on him to deliver. This was an off-night for him. 

Minoura won with a questionable Gang in just over 11 minutes. ***1/4 


This is the Masquerade trio’s first successful defense of the Open the Triangle Gate Championships after winning them back in May. 

I noted on the most recent Open the Voice Gate podcast that I felt like people were sleeping on this match. On paper, the lineup gave everyone a chance to shine. Dragon Dia obviously could play off of Dia Inferno, La Estrella has seemingly permanently been paired with the bigger, super-base in Diamante, and Jason Lee and SB KENTo have been engaged in a heated Twitter feud over the past month. We rarely get straight 3 vs. 3 Triangle Gate matches on World and this felt like a big opportunity for the new era of Dragongate to shine brightly. 

I was correct in this assumption. 

Whereas the prior RED vs. Masquerade match between Eita and Minoura lacked an obvious flow, this match harkened back to what Dragongate is best known for: sleek, sexy six-man tags. Everyone brought it in this match. 

La Estrella, who came out of the gates hot in his debut last December before struggling greatly at Dead or Alive, killed it in this match. This was easily the best outing he’s had in his eight month career and it was all due to Diamante, who has proven to be a key component in Estrella’s success. Jason Lee and SB KENTo both wrestled like seasoned professionals despite both being younger than 30. Lee was flawless, executing his big moves on offense and providing great assistance when he teammates were in need, notably breaking up an SB Shooter on Dragon Dia that nearly ended the match. 

Speaking of Dragon Dia, his heated feud with his foil from the underworld was put on hold when he shattered his collarbone at the end of December 2020, but the Dragon Dia and Dia Inferno feud is back on and their chemistry has been honed in the last few months. I can’t get a read on how the general public feels about Inferno, but I’ve been into this gimmick since day one. The wrestling is vicious, the costume is eye-popping, and the execution is there. However this feud ends, and I assume we’ll get a mask vs. mask match sooner rather than later, will prove that this feud was a worthwhile foray into intense gimmickry and storytelling. 

After fighting off a series of headbutts from Inferno, Dragon Dia scored the pinfall with the Reptilian Rana to retain the titles for his team. This was the first great match of the weekend. ****1/4  


With this win, Genki Horiguchi ended the nine-month reign of Keisuke Okuda and the Open the Brave Gate Championship. Okuda had made five successful defenses before dropping the title here. 

It made sense that Okuda’s reign ended the way it did. He overpowered Kaito Ishida, he stomped HYO into the ground, and he proved to be too much to handle for U-T. It took the veteran presence of Genki Horiguchi, a man who has built his entire career off of outsmarting his opponents and catching them in his Backslide From Heaven flash pin, to end Okuda’s dominance. 

Unfortunately, I don’t believe Horiguchi and Okuda have good chemistry with one another. Last July, they wrestled in a singles match that felt uncharacteristically awkward for both men and the tag matches leading up to this encounter didn’t inspire confidence that things had been rectified. Horiguchi took a lot of punishment as this match went on, which is exactly what you’d want him to do if he were to beat someone with the Backslide, but when the eventual moment came, it still felt like it was poorly timed. It came across flat. Okuda didn’t look outsmarted as much as he did overpowered by an old man and his rollup. ***


Just as we all predicted, Kagetora pinned Masato Yoshino in his second-to-last match ever. 

Booking the finish to this match had to have been a nightmare. On one side, you have Yoshino and his Aagon Iisou combatants. Kondo, Owashi, & YASSHI are all challenging for the Triangle Gate belts on August 1, meaning they shouldn’t take the fall. Then there’s Sugawara, who is skipping out on Yoshino’s retirement show to wrestle Shinjiro Otani in Zero-One’s Fire Festival finals. That leaves Yoshino as the one on his team with the least amount of stakes in front of him as he’s retiring after 21 years in 24 hours. 

On the other side, Dragon Kid, Kagetora, and YAMATO are involved in title matches on August 1. That leaves Doi, who is teaming with Yoshino in his retirement match, and Ultimo Dragon, one of the most protected men in the industry. 

It looked like Ultimo was going to show the ultimate sign of respect to Yoshino and tap out to the Sol Naciente in this match. Ultimo struggled to keep fighting as Yoshino wrenched in the hold for what could have been the final time. Kagetora, of course, eventually broke up the submission. 

Every combination that you’d want from this match took place. Shuji Kondo squared off with Dragon Kid, YAMATO and Toru Owashi showed strangely great chemistry with one another, and the extended interactions between Doi and Yoshino had to have been worth the price of admission alone. Whereas the Triangle Gate match was flashy and other matches on this show could be described as brutal, this was a classy affair. There was a level of honor put forth in this encounter that is so rarely seen in wrestling. 

As I alluded to earlier, Kagetora pinned Yoshino after a series of flash pins, which came across as a complete shock to me. I didn’t expect Yoshino to take the fall here. Even had I expected him to, I would’ve put the odds of Kagetora pinning him at 0.1%. To be clear, this is not a dig at the finish. It was wildly entertaining. No one was hurt by it and realistically it gives Kagetora a boost heading into his Brave Gate match. It’s just hard to comprehend Yoshino’s farewell weekend being kicked off with a Kagetora pinfall. 

Wild finish aside, this match was the exact affair I was hoping it would be. Dragongate has proved to nail these nostalgia-driven tags between Akira Tozawa’s 2016 farewell, Ultimo’s 2019 debut at this event, and now Yoshino’s farewell here. This is essential viewing. **** 


The RED duo of Kaito Ishida and Kazma Sakamoto failed to make a successful defense of the Twin Gate belts after winning them in May. For Yokosuka, this is his seventh reign with the titles, the third most of all-time behind YAMATO and BxB Hulk. This is his fifth different partner, having won the gold with Kagetora, K-Ness, Gamma, and Ryo Saito in the past. For Shimizu, this is already his fifth reign with his fourth partner, having previously won with T-Hawk, Ben-K, and Eita. 

What else can be said about Susumu Yokosuka? I have referred to him for years now as wrestling’s Tim Duncan, which for those that don’t know, means that Yokosuka is so great that it is unspectacular. There are no holes in his game. Yokosuka, like Duncan, was a technical wizard whose fundamentals made him one of the most successful players in his sport. Duncan quietly won five NBA titles, three NBA Finals MVPs, and two regular MVPs while lesser players like Kobe Bryant played the game in a flashier way en route to making the headlines over the steady-hand of Duncan. It is hard to find a better, more consistent, and more enjoyable wrestler over the last 21 years than Susumu Yokosuka, yet he never comes up in conversations about who the best wrestler in the world is. When was the last time Yokosuka laid an egg in a big spot? It doesn’t happen. When was the last time this guy didn’t give it his all? It doesn’t happen. When was the last time he didn’t actively make his opponents better? It doesn’t happen.

Susumu Yokosuka is what every wrestler should strive to be. 

He was masterful in this heated Twin Gate encounter, bouncing off of the larger-framed Sakamoto and trading strikes with the younger, quicker Ishida. The 43-year-old never missed a beat. He drove this match home down the finishing stretch, actually, providing the spark that took this match from being borderline great to being the runaway match of the night up to this point. 

It wasn’t as if Yokosuka was doing it all alone, however. King Shimizu is an undoubted winner and anyone who doubted this gimmick change needs to hide those takes immediately. Five years ago, I considered Shimizu to be one of the most talented wrestlers in the world. With his compadres in Monster Express and MaxiMuM, Shimizu proved that he could hang with Dragongate’s big dogs when he was asked to. He then turned heel, embraced sleaze, and began openly citing Kevin Nash and Scott Hall as big influences in his wrestling style. He was still great, but the “wow factor” that Shimizu brought to the table was gone. 

After he bounced from RED last September, a cavalcade of comedy gimmicks followed with Bokultimo Dragon, the plus-sized Ultimo, being the one that stuck. Shimizu had the charisma to pull it off, but it seemed like a step down from someone that was competing for the Dream Gate belt three years prior. 

After being unmasked in April, Shimizu turned his allegiance towards Natural Vibes. He’s danced his way back up the card and now there’s no denying that he can rekindle the awe that he once produced. This was the best Shimizu performance in years. YEARS. He was so good in this match. He took big bumps, he moved around well, and all of his offense looked brutal. He was the perfect foil for Sakamoto and the perfect roadblock for Ishida. This is the Shimizu style that I have been missing for so long. 

I have no idea what will come of this reign. Shimizu and Yokosuka could drop the titles to Ben-K and Dragon Kid on August 1 and it wouldn’t shock me. They could also hold the titles for the next 10 months and I wouldn’t question it. I hope Dragongate rides these two as an unbeatable tandem, because their effort in this match was unbelievable. 

Oh, and Kaito Ishida and Kazma Sakamoto are also great at what they do. 

Shimizu survived a powder and box attack from RED’s ringside attendees before overpowering Sakamoto with a Shot-Put Slam and a King Splash for the win. This is why you wake up at 2:00am to watch Dragongate’s biggest show of the year as it happens. This is the good stuff. ****1/2 


With this win, Shun Skywalker has now successfully defended the Dream Gate belt five times. Kzy falls to 0-5 in career Dream Gate challenges. 

This is the right call. As much as it pains me to see Kzy lose another Dream Gate challenge, Shun Skywalker has more left in the tank. Perhaps his run as champion will come to an end when YAMATO defeats him on August 1, but it wouldn’t shock me at all if Skywalker runs the table this weekend. While his promo abilities are still a major hindrance to his overall success, there is no denying that between the bells, Shun Skywalker comes across like a major league world champion. This entire encounter, from the entrances to the closing show promo, felt major league. Outside of New Japan, I don’t believe there’s a promotion in Japan that provides this level of pageantry and intensity in their big matches. 

Kzy fought as hard as he could. He fought harder than he did against Mochizuki, PAC, Doi, and Eita. He felt like he was on the brink of greatness this entire match, but never managed to get over the hump. How is someone supposed to win the company’s top prize when they take a monkey flip off the apron, over the protective mat, and onto the concrete floor in the opening minutes of the match? Kzy needed to get beat this bad in order to lose. He needed to be abused, essentially. Anything short of total exhaustion and destruction would’ve been an indictment on Kzy’s skills as a wrestler. A loss in a lesser match would’ve proved that Kzy wasn’t the man to be at the top of the card. 

He now finds himself at the most pivotal moment of his career. He rose up the ranks of Dia Hearts and Tribe Vanguard, led his own unit with Natural Vibes, and then became a reliable combatant for the Dragongate Army. 2021 was going to be the next step of growth, the step that would lead Kzy to the promised land. Then, despite the fact the second incarnation of Natural Vibes is far more cohesive than the first, the unit relaunch with basically the same song, same colors, and same core members acted as a lateral step for the Hokkaido-native. Is there growth in surviving Shun Skywalker’s moonsault knee drop to the throat? Possibly. But that’s not enough. 

Perhaps it’s not meant to be for Kzy. As Jae astutely pointed out in a moment of comedy during intermission to his partner HoHo Lun, Kzy lost to Stalker Ichikawa at this very event. Twice.

Granted, a lot has changed in the following decade, but it’s not like YAMATO, Yoshino, or Skywalker have ever had to crawl out of depths so low. 

If Susumu Yokosuka is wrestling’s Tim Duncan, then perhaps Kzy is wrestling’s Allen Iverson. Mankind will remain their greatest obstacle until the end of time. The progress Kzy has made in his career is unthinkable. His career should’ve been written off as dead after the back-to-back losses to Ichikawa in the same way that Iverson’s off-court troubles should’ve prevented him from winning an MVP award in 2001. But there lies the issue. Kzy was arguably Dragongate’s 2020 MVP, but he still lost to Naruki Doi when the Dream Gate belt was on the line. In 2001, Iverson ran away with the MVP award, but his team still lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the finals. 

The athletic prowess of both men at their size, with the torture they’ve put their bodies through, is remarkable, but Iverson was never able to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy over his head and the reality of Kzy one day collecting keys and adding them to Dragongate’s top prize feels more and more improbable. 

This is as physical of a Dream Gate match as I can recall and this is a title that has been held by Don Fujii, Masaaki Mochizuki, and Shingo Takagi. It was such a contrast to the aura and abilities showcased in Masato Yoshino’s match. Kzy and Skywalker headlining this show once again demonstrate the shifting house style in this promotion that I have been screaming about for two and a half years now. This is not your father’s Dragongate. This is a promotion that has undergone a radical identity change since CIMA’s departure in May 2018 and Skywalker and Kzy are at the forefront of Dragongate’s constantly morphing image. 

Skywalker didn’t rely on technique as much as he did brute force down the closing stretch. He never tried to catch Kzy in a flash pin as an original Toryumon trainee like Genki Horiguchi did to his opponent earlier in the night. Skywalker wanted to emphatically stomp out Kzy’s Dream Gate hopes, which he did with a super-charged SSW just before the 25 minute mark. 

Despite a hindered atmosphere due to the COVID-19 imposed clap crowds, Kzy and Skywalker etched their name into the history books with one of the greatest Kobe World main events ever. This goes in the same pantheon as 2002’s three-way, nine-man UWA World Trios match, 2011’s BxB Hulk vs. Masaaki Mochizuki, and 2016’s Shingo Takagi vs. YAMATO as the best output in the biggest spot on Dragongate’s biggest show. 

Shun Skywalker reigns supreme at Kobe World 2021 – and it was absolutely the right decision. ****3/4 

Final Thoughts

The first show of Dragongate’s biggest weekend ever proved to be a can’t-miss endeavor. You will be hard-pressed to find a show with better major league presentation and world-class in-ring competition than what was on display during Dragongate’s biggest show of the year. This show has to be looked at as an undeniable success from a quality standpoint, with three of the four title matches being legitimately great and Masato Yoshino turning back the clock to produce a tremendous match just a day before his retirement. Kobe World Pro-Wrestling Festival 2021 is a must-watch show.