Speed Star Final
August 1, 2021
Kobe World Kinen Hall
Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan

Watch: dragongate.live

The once-in-a-lifetime show is upon us. The cornerstone of the Dragon System, Masato Yoshino, is retiring after a near 21-year career. That alone makes Speed Star Final a rarity in today’s wrestling landscape. For the first time in over a year and a half a show feels like a moment and an event. That alone makes this one of the most important shows in the history of Toryumon & Dragongate, but all the titles are on the line as each champion tries to win two championship matches in two days.

R.E.D. (Kaito Ishida, SB KENTo & Dia Inferno) def. Kzy, Keisuke Okuda & Kota Minoura

SB KENTo submitted Keisuke Okuda with the SB Shooter to win for R.E.D.

Somewhat of a consolation match given the results of Kobe Pro Wrestling Festival 2021, save Minoura being the sole winner in this group. Although this match had a distinct 2020 Dragongate Generation vs R.E.D. vibe, this felt somewhat like the DG equivalent of an All-Star Game. Everyone had their time in the match and some performances were great (Kzy & SB KENTo, specifically), but understandably the wrestlers weren’t going 110 percent in an under ten minute opener.

The damage that Kzy took during the Dream Gate match the night before was the early focus of this match with R.E.D. breaking a box lid across it during the opening brawl. The rest of the opener was playing the hits. R.E.D. stood tall over the babyfaces, laying them out on their way to the back. ** ¾

Cleanpa!! Battle Royal
U-T def. Shisa, Arai, Lun, Yoshida, Ichikawa, Kanda, Gamma, BOY, Problem Dragon

U-T eliminated Takashi Yoshida with the Passion to win the Battle Royal.

Cleanpaa!! are toilet cleaning wipes brought to us by the Lec Corporation, who sponsored this entire weekend. Kota Minoura won a year’s supply of them last night.

This was essentially an accelerated Royal Sanbo, a hometown specific match for Dragongate’s Kobe Sanbo Hall shows. Nothing overstays its welcome. We got a couple of convoluted rollups. Ho Ho Lun sprinted to the English broadcast immediately after being eliminated and the most sincere broadcaster was bummed out that he lost the match and didn’t receive a year’s supply of wipes. He immediately wanted to challenge U-T for all the toilet supplies and was stopped by Anthony W. Mori, retired wrestler turned Dragongate Front Office manager. This is a man who is obsessed with having a clean bathroom.

I can’t believe I’m writing all of this in a review for Masato Yoshino’s retirement show. I loved it even if it was a way to get everyone on the show and this was as low-stakes as it gets. **

R.E.D. (KAI, Diamante, Kazma Sakamoto & H*Y*O) def. Ultimo Dragon, Masaaki Mochizuki, Don Fujii & Ryo Saito 

Diamante unmasked Ultimo and hit a lariat before rolling him up for the pin. The rowdiest AARP members in wrestling faced off against the sleaziest part of R.E.D. in this lighthearted undercard match.

Diamante returned to his hatred of Ultimo Dragon. He opened the match trying to take off Ultimo’s mask, but since it’s one of his new masks that also covers his nose and mouth, there were difficulties. H*Y*O danced a jig while this was happening. Ultimo repaid the favor by almost tearing Diamante’s off and risking disqualification. This was something they were working towards pre-COVID, and likely going to have a mask vs mask match by the year’s end.

Showing some continuity from yesterday, the veterans tried the exactly same combination they beat H*Y*O with, but H*Y*O got his knees up on the SaiRyo Rocket. The match itself was fine. ** 1/2

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Open The Brave Gate Championship
Kagetora def. Genki Horiguchi (c) 

Kagetora becomes the 41st Open the Brave Gate Champion with a Stardust Press. It is his second Brave Gate reign. Genki Horiguchi fails in his first defense.

It’s really poetic that Genki Horiguchi won the Brave Gate the night before Masato Yoshino’s retirement. Horiguchi was beginning to wind things down, pre-pandemic, and was considered a somewhat part-time wrestler. If Yoshino was the King of the Brave Gate Division, then Horiguchi is likely the Grand Duke or Marquess of the division as both laid down its foundation.

This Brave Gate match felt like a traditional Brave Gate match from the onset, the opposite of how Keisuke Okuda’s title reign was. Horiguchi and Kagetora have always had excellent chemistry and it was put on display. Kagetora laser focused on Horiguchi’s arm in order to prevent the Backslide from Heaven. When it was clear that the arm-related offense was not going to stop Genki Horiguchi from calling to the gods, Kage pulled out the big guns, and Genki still managed to kick out of the Gurumakakari and Ikkitousen. Kagetora pulled out something new as he did his first ever Stardust Press to end Horiguchi’s reign at under a day.

I was excited at the prospects of a Horiguchi “last ride” Brave Gate reign as an overall reset of the division, so I am mildly disappointed with the result. Kagetora has upped his momentum since joining High End, and given the possible opponents, I think we will still get a nice reset reign. Ended up enjoying this a good deal more than the Brave Gate match at Kobe World yesterday. *** 1/2

Open The Triangle Gate Championship
Masquerade (Dragon Dia, Jason Lee & La Estrella) (c) def. Aagan Issou (Shuji Kondo, Toru Owashi & “brother” YASSHI)

Masquerade makes their second successful defense with Dragon Dia pinning Shuji Kondo after the Reptilian. 

Heat check time for Masquerade as one of the smaller Triangle Gate champion teams defended against Aagan Issou, one of the biggest greatest evil forces in the history of the Dragon System. Shuji Kondo made his bones trying to decapitate Dragon Kid, and he was more willing to do the same to DK’s protege Dia. Estrella, someone who has been incredibly protected and avoided the Dragongate tendency of having their rookies face the rougher vets, got to be thrown around by the power fighters Kondo & Toru Owashi.

Masquerade is such a cohesive act as Triangle Gate champions: Jason Lee can do everything and would be the worldwide Most Outstanding Wrestler of 2021 if wrestling journalism was just. Dragon Dia is one of the most natural and exciting babyfaces of this generation. La Estrella, who is still under a year of experience, has started to put it together after a rough spring.

Aagan Issou held up their end of the bargain as well. Kondo doesn’t look like that partial torn achilles bothers him at all. Owashi got to throw around people much smaller than him. YASSHI kept things moving and was a highlight with his tag team offense with Kondo. This match was a sleeper match of the weekend, but insanely over delivered. Readers should make time for this. Yes, YASSHI and Owashi aren’t wrestlers that get anyone’s motor running in 2021, but they were excellent in this. **** 1/4

Open The Twin Gate Championship
Natural Vibes (Susumu Yokosuka & King Shimizu) (c) vs. HIGH-END (Dragon Kid & Ben-K)

Natural Vibes makes their first successful defense as Susumu pinned Dragon Kid with the World Liner.

Former Twin Gate partners explode as Big Ben collided in the opening of the match as well as the generation long feud between Susumu Yokosuka and Dragon Kid getting revisited. Both of these teams were somewhat impromptu, but the immediate chemistry of the Natural Vibes and HIGH-END was palatable.

Everything in this match was constant and all out. At the five minute call, Jae and Ho Ho Lun remarked “Wow feels like it’s more like ten minutes.” The teams worked this as a high impact version of the traditional Dragon System sprint, Susumu clobbering DK at every opportunity as Big and King tried to one up each other in feats of strength. Dragongate has found a way in making the most simple stuff looking like the most brutal things possible. Shun Skywalker’s apron monkey flip yesterday to Kzy has a little brother as Susumu doing an avalanche Death Valley Driver on Dragon Kid was the most brutal thing I’ve seen in months, non deathmatch division. 

There is a tendency of non-native Dragongate fans to write people off quickly or to bemoan someone being downcycled or changing a gimmick in a way that appeals to the native fan but doesn’t fit their paradigm of who the person believes the wrestler “should be.” Critics of Ben-K’s 2020 and 2021 along with Shimizu’s wilderness wandering and Natural Vibes dancing take note. Ben-K is here. Shimizu is perhaps better than he ever has been. All four brought it in what should be considered a Kobe World Kinen Hall classic. **** 1/2 

Open The Dream Gate Championship
YAMATO def. Shun Skywalker (c) 

YAMATO defeats Shun Skywalker with the Ragnarok. Shun Skywalker fails in his sixth defense. YAMATO is the 33rd Open the Dream Gate champion, starting his fifth record-breaking reign.

Sometimes a title match takes you by absolute surprise. I did not expect this match the begin with very little grappling and instead fighting out on the Dragongate big show elevated ramp and doing brainbusters and exploders. It serves as a strong contrast to YAMATO’s preferred opening of tight grappling. Instead much like last night with Kzy, to fight for the Dream Gate is to put one’s body on the line for Dragongate’s ultimate prize and Shun Skywalker is the master of this. Case and I have talked about this constantly, but it bears repeating for those in the back not paying attention: This isn’t the old Dragon Gate. The Ring of Honor six-man could get a driver’s permit. This is now Dragongate, a company with a twenty-five year old champion with zero off switch and a challenger going for his record breaking title reign doing what it must take to survive.

And YAMATO was more than willing to play along with Skywalker’s destruction party. For most of this summer, I’ve been more enthused by YAMATO’s in-ring than I have been for five years. It appeared like he was turning the clock back to the young MMA serial killer who would dismantle opponents limbs with hyper focus. Instead we got a YAMATO who had that focus, visited the textbook offense from the Almighty and combined it with a murderous intensity and willingness to take high risks.

It was the perfect contrast to Shun Skywalker, who attempted to go 3 and 0 in Kobe World Kinen Hall Dream Gate matches. A man without an off switch. A steamroller. The best world champion today outside of another Dragon System student.

Each time that Shun Skywalker went for the finishing blow,  either the SSW or the BT Bomb, YAMATO found a way out with his Doujime Sleeper. When Skywalker finally landed the SSW, he accumulated so much damage throughout the match YAMATO kicked out. Two Gallerias from YAMATO wasn’t enough either.

This war of generations took both Shun Skywalker and YAMATO to their brink. For Shun, he attempted to put the young generation at the forefront by defeating the leader of the current generation. YAMATO called for his “Great Reset,” all of the years away from the Dream Gate to be forgotten and his near two year war with BxB Hulk and KAI to be an afterthought.

At the beginning of this year, I said that the eventual Kobe World main event would be this match. It just made too much sense to me with YAMATO’s age and Yoshino’s pending retirement. Well it happened a day later. I will still probably question for a while putting this match, and this big title change, as the semi main event for on Masato Yoshino’s retirement show, a show that was practically sold out when YAMATO made his challenge in early July. This felt like something that would have sold out World Kinen Hall, Yoshino’s retirement or not. Really today that doesn’t really matter. What truly matters is how excellent this match was, the title reign that Shun Skywalker had, and what the future for Dragongate looks like with the steady hand back at the wheel. **** 3/4 

Masato Yoshino Retirement Match
Eita & BxB Hulk def Masato Yoshino & Naruki Doi

Eita pins Masato Yoshino after two Imperial Unos.

After nearly 21 years wrestling, becoming a double grand slam winner, previously holding the record of Dream Gate title reigns, and the only two-time King of Gate, Masato Yoshino has ended his career. This is a match where basically nothing in-ring should matter. It’s Speed Star’s final match. I wrote at the top that tonight felt like an event we haven’t had in a long time. Some of that is COVID, clap-crowds, and the general hell world we inhabit. Most of that is because exactly who Masato Yoshino is for the Dragon System. The closest comparison I can make was Jushin “Thunder” Liger’s retirement in 2020, and that’s not fair to either Yoshino or Liger because they had their own unique role in the last thirty years of professional wrestling.

What we got was Masato Yoshino having a great match to go out on. So many matches for him since his cervical hernia left him in excruciating pain to the extent he had to lay in a bath in order to get any sleep. Textbook DoiYoshi offense that fans have seen for the last fourteen years. A final Orihara Moonsault where Naruki Doi held up the entirety of R.E.D. to catch Yoshino, but Masato Yoshino, so beautiful of a wrestlers, such an unique and special entity, managed to skip off the heads and shoulders of everyone and landed on his feet. And he’s supposed to retire?

Eita, Doi and Hulk were excellent as the secondary members in this match. They knew what the match had to be. They knew what kind of condition Yoshino has been in over the last four years. BxB Hulk, the other major member of World-1, the stable that launched the three into international superstardom had to be here. Eita, the leader of the bridge generation between the trueborns and this current young generation, achieved his stated goal of “retiring” Yoshino. We even got Naruki Doi teasing a final betrayal in Yoshino’s retirement match! Masato Yoshino, one of the greatest kick out artists of our time, even gave us a bunch of last moment, gasping for air, on death’s door kickouts.

At the end, that was it. Over a half hour of effort and classic Dragongate DoiYoshi magic, R.E.D. isolated Yoshino, delivered a series of First Flashes and Imperial Unos, and ended the career of Masato Yoshino, the greatest ever Dragogate wrestler. Star ratings for this match really don’t serve a purpose. Yoshino could have gone out playing his greatest hits, but he’s the Speed Star, so he couldn’t. Masato Yoshino’s retirement match was something beautiful. **** 1/2

As they are one to do, Dragongate had one of their touching and hyper-emotional ceremonies. First, Yoshino beckoned over BxB Hulk and Eita, and they gave begrudging handshakes to the man they spent the last two years trying to eliminate. Afterwards, R.E.D. left and the rest of the roster came to ringside for video messages for Yoshino. Dignitaries of the entertainment and baseball world came together to wish Yoshino well. Afterwards, Alex Shelley, Flamita, Milano Collection AT and Shingo Takagi all sent in their thoughts (Shingo buried Punch Tominaga in his clip, which perfectly describes their relationship). Then came the gifts and bouquets. Countless NPB baseball players and other officials giving their thanks. Then Doi threatened to go a full hour in his speech and decided to riff on that DoiYoshi has to still exist so he’s going to want to team with Takashi Yoshida. Ultimo Dragon then addressed his top pupil and told him to lead the rest of his life as the Speed Star.

Finally, Masato Yoshino addressed the crowd for the final time. He spoke on how he first met Naruki Doi as a middle schooler playing baseball, but didn’t realize until they were wrestling that they shared that experience. Yoshino reminded the crowd that this wasn’t it, and told the roster to keep it up or he’ll come back and force them to improve. After that, we got the ten count and the career of Masato Yoshino ended and this era of Dragongate ended.

Final Thoughts

Speed Star Final is a once-in-a-lifetime show. On top of Masato Yoshino’s retirement, all of the title matches delivered to such an extent that I don’t remember the last time I had three four star title matches on one card. For a long time, I’ve said that 2002’s Toryumon Absolutamente show was my favorite show of all time. Today that changed and it’s now replaced by Speed Star Final. Required viewing.