DECEMBER 15, 2021
Watch: Dragon Gate Network
Two weeks removed from one of the most dramatic matches in Dragongate history, things are not going well for Shun Skywalker. While no one has seen Dragon Dia since his mask was taken from him, the rest of Masquerade have quite literally turned their backs on the former Dream Gate Champion. He began this show with a microphone, pleading his case to Jason Lee, Kota Minoura, and La Estrella. While Minoura noted that he had been in contact with Dia, who instructed the rest of Masquerade not to come looking for him, Skywalker told his three stablemates that he had failed them as a leader but he was looking for forgiveness. This brought out RED. HYO began provoking Masquerade, which led to Shun urging HYO to put their Triangle Gate belts on the line. After a brief intervention from GM Ryo Saito and subsequent audience approval, the opening match was turned into a title match.
OPEN THE TRIANGLE GATE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
JASON LEE, KOTA MINOURA, & SHUN SKYWALKER VS. EITA, HYO, & KAITO ISHIDA
The RED trio of Eita, HYO, & Kaito Ishida fall in their third defense of their Triangle Gate belts. This marks the first time that both Kota Minoura and Shun Skywalker have been Triangle Gate Champions.
Despite the fact that tensions have never been higher, Masquerade celebrated their first-year-anniversary by capturing trios gold in a thrilling opening contest. The match was highlighted by the growing animosity between Minoura and Skywalker, both of whom accidentally caught the other with friendly fire as the match progressed. This has become a recurring issue for the unit after issues flared up in both Hokkaido and Kyoto on shows since the last Korakuen Hall outing. At one point I labeled Masquerade as the unit with the most in-ring chemistry in at least a decade. This has now seeped into their dissension, as both Lee and Minoura handwaved the usual Masquerade group-dropkick, leaving Skywalker unassisted in his offense.
After accidentally landing a boot to the face of Minoura, Skywalker was left in the ring with a man who wrestled him in a Match of the Year Contender in March, Kaito Ishida. Ishida nearly caught Skywalker with a school boy, then his patented ankle lock, but the masked man was able to escape both. He tried a school boy of his own, but Ishida escaped and went to knock out the challenger with a roundhouse kick. Skywalker ducked, however, leading to the SSW and the pinfall. ***3/4
After the match, Skywalker hugged La Estrella and convinced Jason Lee to shake his hand, but was blown off when attempting to shake Kota Minoura’s hand. My biggest knock on Skywalker during his Dream Gate run was that he isn’t a great talker, thus it was an uphill battle for him to truly be considered the top guy in Dragongate. This angle, however, has brought out a new side of Skywalker’s charisma that was unseen in the first five years of his career. He’s desperate and neurotic and it is far and away the best character work he’s ever done. All of Masquerade has crushed it over the last few weeks in the aftermath of Dia’s unmasking. After some back-and-forth, Skywalker and Minoura agreed to a singles match at Final Gate. If Minoura wins, Skywalker is out of Masquerade and the belts are vacated. If Skywalker wins, Masquerade must go back to normal.
【#TheFinalGate2021 Card Update】
🏟Fukuoka Kokusai Center
— Dragongate Japan Pro-Wrestling (Official English) (@DragonGateEN) December 15, 2021
KENICHIRO ARAI & SHACHIHOKO BOY DEF. PROBLEM DRAGON & YOSUKE SANTA MARIA
For those keeping track, Kenichiro Arai is no longer the King of Sleaze. Over the summer, he was proudly walking down to the ring with the lowest of low level indie titles draped over his shoulder. He was the top man in HEAT UP and Pro Wrestling Live and a tag champion in the rebooted Tenryu Project. Now, he has no gold. How the mighty have fallen.
This was nothing more than an exhibition, a match that probably belonged as the pre-show match instead of the second match on the main card. Shachihoko BOY, just days before his 20th Anniversary Singles Match against Masaaki Mochizuki in his hometown of Okayama, picked up the win over Maria in 5 minutes. **
GENKI HORIGUCHI, JACKY “FUNKY” KAMEI, KZY, & SUSUMU YOKOSUKA DEF. DRAGON KID, KONOMAMA ICHIKAWA, STRONG MACHINE J, & ULTIMO DRAGON
We might not have gotten Doi Darts this year, but we got a remarkable Christmas present in Shachihoko BOY joining Jae at the English commentary table during this match. Does Shachihoko BOY speak decent English? No. Would I welcome him back to the table in a heartbeat? Absolutely. Hearing Jae and Shachi, who notoriously has fried vocal chords, call this match was nothing but an utter delight. On shows without Ho Ho Lun, I would love more native wrestlers to join Jae at the table.
This was one of the longer Ichikawa matches of the year, clocking in at just over 11 minutes. He and Yokosuka battled for nearly the entire match with Ichikawa largely taking a beating, but evading Yokosuka’s big moves long enough to stay alive. The unaffiliated side gained momentum after an Ultimo Dragon hot tag, leading to Ultimo and Ichikawa locking in stereo submissions on Horiguchi and Yokosuka respectively. Unfortunately, as soon as Ichikawa trapped Yokosuka in a figure four, the former Dream Gate Champion countered the hold, rolled over, and forced Ichikawa to tap immediately.
I never stole my parents car as a kid, so watching this match is the closest I’ve come to a proverbial joy ride. I had no idea where it was going, I had no idea how it was going to end, but people were yelling and I was wildly entertained. This was comedy wrestling done right. ***
LA ESTRELLA DEF. PUNCH TOMINAGA
Yosuke Santa Maria joined Jae on commentary for this match. The first thing she said was that she “doesn’t speak English”, which turned out to be very true as we learned over the course of this brief match.
One year ago, La Estrella debuted by defeating Susumu Yokosuka in a singles match. Estrella was pushed hard out of the gate, beating one of the most consistent wrestlers on the planet in that contest. I truly believe I could have a decent match against Susumu Yokosuka. He’s the Tim Duncan of wrestling. He makes everyone around him better, and he’s quietly one of the greatest to ever do it. Estrella looked good enough in his debut and it has led him to having an undeniably successful rookie year.
Wrestling Punch Tominaga is a different story.
Tominaga is clumsy, unathletic, and trying to hide a rapidly receding hairline. He’s the opposite of Yokosuka, who still has boyish, thick hair at age 43. Instead of possibly exposing Estrella in a drawn-out singles match, they decided to have him make quick work of Tominaga, beating him in only 50 seconds with an Imploding 450.
The finish was the perfect representation of where Estrella is at, as he came down feet-first onto Tominaga’s ribs. In 50 seconds, Estrella was able to show how spectacular he can be while showing that he’s still a work in progress. Nevertheless, a win is a win, and Estrella made quick work of Tominaga here. NR
DON FUJII, MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI, SHUJI KONDO, & YASUSHI KANDA DEF. RYU FUDA, SHOYA SATO, TAKUMA FUJIWARA, & TAKUMI HAYAKAWA
Sticking with the theme of anniversaries in this review, we just passed the five year anniversary of one of the most important Dragongate matches in history – and one of my personal favorites. 12/1/16 is a date well-known by Dragongate hardcores. The 5 on 5 rookies vs. veterans tag is one of the most violent and all-around entertaining matches the company has ever produced, and with the benefit of hindsight, it acted as a clear launching point for Ben-K, Shun Skywalker, and Yuki Yoshioka.
The class of 2021 was now forced to experience trial by fire as they squared off with the four of the oldest and toughest wrestlers this promotion has to offer. As you’d expect, the formula of this match was very simple. The veterans hit hard, the rookies fought back, and then the veterans taught them a lesson for fighting back. This is going to be a winning formula 10/10 times.
If you’re a casual fan, or someone who hasn’t had a chance to see these rookies in action yet (all of whom will be eligible for the WON Rookie of the Year award in 2022), I cannot recommend the English commentary for this match enough. Jae did such a tremendous job explaining who everyone was, what their background is, and why the class of 2021 is no ordinary Dragongate class. He mixed in so many useful facts while keeping up with this no-frills, fast-paced match.
Shoya Sato is the crown jewel of these rookies. He’s 29, far older than the rest of his counterparts (and even some experienced members of the roster) and is one of the most decorated judo players to ever enter pro wrestling. He’s someone with a ton of size and strength, meaning he’ll look credible in the ring with anyone from Big Boss Shimizu to YAMATO, and his martial arts pedigree makes him a threat to anyone, despite being less than a month into his pro wrestling career. Every time Sato was graced with a strike, which more often than not was a slap across the face from Don Fujii, he was ready, willing, and able to fire a forearm back in their direction.
If I could loop the lariat train, followed by a Sato judo throw, Fuda middle kick, and Fujiwara standing moonsault onto Masaaki Mochizuki and play it until the end of time, I would. That 15 second sequence represented the next decade of this promotion. It’s all happening right now. You can choose to ignore it and have your finger off the pulse, you can choose to be late and miss out on the next batch of main eventers, or you can focus up and start paying attention now. Dragongate debuted six wrestlers this year, all of whom have been able to show that they belong on the most elite roster on the planet in a short period of time.
I loved the grittiness of this match. Early on, Hayakawa went for a springboard crossbody onto Yasushi Kanda. He connected with the move, but not before slipping and nearly blowing the spot. It’s that kind of stuff, while not intentional, that makes these matches so much fun. These are children. They are far from a finished product. If a main eventer was slipping on a basic move, it would bother me, but we are quite literally seeing these kids develop in front of our eyes. It adds a certain level of emotional gravitas to the violence that the veteran team unleashed on them, as well.
I remain incredibly bullish on Ryu Fuda, the kickboxer, who once again was able to trade strikes with Masaaki Mochizuki. Fuda is my personal favorite of this class so far, but I am falling in love with Takuma Fujiwara at a rapid rate.
This will be an odd comparison to make, but Fujiwara reminds me of a young Will Ospreay. Not because of the flashiness that Ospreay brought to the scene in his early years, but in the way that Ospreay, whether he is working in York Hall in front of a few hundred fans, or working at the Tokyo Dome in front of tens of thousands, is one of the most giving wrestlers there is. Will Ospreay constantly wants to make stars. He sacrifices his body for everyone. Fujiwara, from the little bit we’ve seen of him, is a reckless bumper. He’s not afraid to throw his body around the ring and he’s not afraid to launch himself into orbit. He’s only 19, meaning that his body is nowhere near being a finished product. He’s so lanky and awkward now, which is going to lead to him being an incredibly sympathetic babyface. Once he’s able to bulk up, he’s going to become a dynamic and credible wrestler who’s capable of pulling people up the card with him. I have a basic idea of what Fuda, Hayakawa, and Sato bring to the table, but Fujiwara is an absolute mystery. His progression is going to be fascinating to watch.
The 5’1” Hayakawa nearly stole a win from Yasushi Kanda with a headlock takeover, but Kanda muscled out and quickly put the youngster in his place, connecting with a Diving Elbow Drop at the nine minute mark to secure the victory. ***3/4
After the match, the veterans embraced the rookies. However, when Don Fujii extended his hand to Shoya Sato, Sato slapped his hand away. Rookie mistake.
I cannot stress enough how essential this match will be to Dragongate going forward. Watch it. Pick a rookie. Fall in love with them and watch their career grow. It’s that easy.
KAGETORA & KEISUKE OKUDA DEF. ISHIN IIHASHI & RIKI IIHASHI
Keisuke Okuda has had a rough go of things lately. He was sidelined with an injury, then lost two MMA fights in RIZIN, and then came back to pro wrestling and hasn’t exactly been red-hot in his return. All of that bad luck was channeled into anger, and all of that anger was taken out on the face of Riki Iihashi in this match. I loved – I repeat – LOVED – the chemistry that Okuda shared with Riki Iihashi here. While I’m fully prepared for the Iihashi Brothers to be a team for an extended period of time, I can’t wait to see what Riki can do on his own. He’s already shown that he can put on a show against Masaaki Mochizuki, Naruki Doi, and now Keisuke Okuda. While I love the beef that Ishin brings to the table, Riki continues to be the standout brother for me.
Riki nearly got him and his brother their first direct win with a school boy on Kagetora, but it was all for not. Kagetora kicked out at the last moment and then planted Riki with a brainbuster for the win. Super fun, super quick, and super heated. ***1/2
NARUKI DOI & TAKASHI YOSHIDA VS. BIG BOSS SHIMIZU & U-T VS. HYO & SB KENTO
This was turning into a very hot three-team tag match until the finish, which saw RED run-in, destroy the Natural Vibes pairing, and cause this match to end in a no contest.
The finish rendered most of this match inconsequential, with the only thing noteworthy being that after Doi and Yoshida connected with the Bakatare Sliding Kick and the Pumping Bomber on SBK, U-T ran in and pinned the champion to build to their 12/19 Brave Gate match in Nagoya, a match that will headline their joint homecoming show. NR
After the match, however, things picked up as Naruki Doi grabbed the microphone and said that while he had no interest in doing Doi Darts this year, he had interest in creating a new unit. He referenced the recent article that was published that commented on the rise of female wrestling fans in Japan, while noting that Dragongate has always been strong in the female demographic. Doi said that he looked out in the crowd and wanted the crowd to be 90% women, which is why he wants to create a new unit based on good looks. He called out the man who he claimed to be the best looking on the roster, Kota Minoura. Minoura was flattered by the offer, but turned him down.
The clear end result here is that the unmasked Dragon Dia will be the focal point of Doi’s new unit, given the rumored good looks that have been hiding under that mask for three years. I love the direction these guys are headed.
BEN-K & YAMATO DEF. BXB HULK & KAI
Rarely does Dragongate miss this badly in their main events, but this was a disaster. Continuing the theme YAMATO has brought to the table since his Dream Gate win at the end of the summer, the build to each of his title matches has been atrocious. Of course, each defense he’s had has been a great match, so I expect the same from him and KAI in Fukuoka, but this match certainly didn’t raise my expectations. These four worked at half-speed, failing to get me hooked on anything they did throughout the match.
I know HIGH-END is supposed to be the super-face unit, but none of these guys feel over right now. I know we’re still dealing with COVID restrictions, but there are guys on the roster like SBK, Big Boss Shimizu, and the Iihashi Brothers that feel hot right now. No one in HIGH-END does and it’s concerning.
Hulk and KAI botched a dueling First Flash on YAMATO, and that somehow gave YAMATO the opening to catch Hulk with the Frankensteiner of the Almighty for the win. This was terrible. **
Dragongate remains a promotion full of youth, energy, and excitement outside of the main event scene. The rookies continue to show ungodly amounts of potential while under-30 names like Kota Minoura, SBK, Shun Skywalker, & U-T lead the charge in terms of great in-ring and character work. If you skip the main event, everything else on Fantastic Gate is well worth your time.
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