Open The New Year Gate
January 13, 2022
Korakuen Hall – Tokyo Japan

Watch: Dragongate Network

Open The Twin Gate Championship
Dragon Dia & Yuki Yoshioka Def R.E.D (SB KENTo & HYO) © 

Yuki Yoshioka pins SB KENTo with a Frog Splash

R.E.D. falls in their first defense, Dragon Dia & Yuki Yoshioka are 56th Open the Twin Gate Champions.

With the landscape of Dragongate entering a stage of flux less than a day before, it would have been understandable to expect the company to lead off Korakuen with more unit drama and turns. Instead, we had a shorter, but well-worked, clean title change.

Yuki Yoshioka looked like a star immediately upon stepping through the curtain. After two years of a COVID excursion followed being kept under a full body suit and heavy rubber mask, my main question coming into this match was how Yoshioka would look and how the crowd responded to his first match since the apuestas in December. It turned out that physically Yoshioka was in the best shape of his career, the Korakuen Hall crowd bought into him. Yoshioka’s sound wrestling was his hallmark out of the Class of 2016, and everything he did in the match showed that he earned the Susumu Yokosuka future comp.

SB KENTo & HYO had easy chemistry and at points felt like a long-time Twin Gate Champion team, which was somewhat remarkable given that their title win was almost all HYO and that was their first real match of a team. R.E.D. remained in control of Dragon Dia for the vast majority of the match, getting Yoshioka the key hot tag and the finish. Dia & Yoshioka’s had some nice combinations.

Dragongate isn’t dipping their toes in the Unit Shuffle pond with some simmering and slow shake-ups. R.E.D. less than 24 hours ago had a moment where they held all four DG championships, and now KAI is their sole champion. The 2022 Unit Shuffle is a cannonball in the deep end, covering nearly the entire promotion in one dive. The work here was strong, I’m glad to see Dia and Yoshioka stick together and show a bit of longevity before their bigger feuds in the future. ***1/4

Kaito Ishida def. Takumi Hayakawa

Ishida submitted Hayakawa in 40 seconds with his Ankle Lock.

Kaito Ishida was accompanied by Eita, both still in R.E.D colors. He immediately leg lariated Hayakawa and made short work of the smallest member on the roster. This made two matches this week where Hayakawa got ran over. Where the remainder of the FUTURE class is having competitive matches against veterans or facing their inspirations, Hayakawa is fodder for established roster members to have an easy night. NR

Natural Vibes (U-T & Funky Jacky Kamei) def. Strong Machine J & Kenichiro Arai

Kamei pinned Arai with the Torbellino Crucifix

Strong Machine J is someone who I can’t get a handle on. The first second-generation wrestler in Dragon System history, SMJ was booked as an absolute monster as a rookie, but since has been snakebit by injuries and a lack of evolution. The Strong Machine J we saw in Korakuen was virtually the exact same as we saw in his debut three years ago.

He fits teaming with Kenichiro Arai, Jae and K-ness remarked on commentary about their complementary styles. However, when you have someone so trapped in cement on the opposite side of a Natural Vibes team brimming with life and excitement, slumming it with Araken brings these simmering issues to the surface. The work here was solid. JFK and U-T have had great matches since JFK’s elevation in November. Kamei got a rare finish with Yoshino’s move and SMJ remains exactly where he was yesterday, six months ago, and since his debut. **¾

High End (Dragon Kid, Ben-K, Keisuke Okuda & Kagetora) & Ultimo Dragon Def Masaaki Mochizuki, Don Fujii, Shuji Kondo, Yasushi Kanda & Gamma

Ben-K pinned Yasushi Kanda with the Spear.

For a lack of better words, Dragongate fills their undercards with a match for the sake of having everyone on the televised show. It’s a bigger roster, but the company doesn’t want a long-time native fan disappointed that they bought a ticket but didn’t get to see their favorite wrestler. There used to be match ones with teams of Kenichiro Arai, Punch Tominaga and Yosuke Santa Maria, but now these matches feel like everyone getting some exercise after a holiday meal.

I do not mean to come off as dismissive about this ten-man tag. No one really took the match off. High End and the veterans all did trademark offense and everything flowed. If there are matches in wrestling that are difficult watches for small detail work or huge backstories, then you need to have easy matches where the viewer can turn their brain off. That makes this good. ***

Natural Vibes (Big Boss Shimizu & Susumu Yokosuka) & Gurukun Mask Def Jason Lee, La Estrella & Takuma Fujiwara

Big Boss Shimizu pinned Takuma Fujiwara with the aided Big Boss Press.

The Big Boss teamed with the Big Boss of Okinawa and Shimizu continued his hot streak pinning the upstart Takuma Fujiwara. Although Shimizu doesn’t have a Dream Key yet, it feels pretty clear that he will be the next one up after Takashi Yoshida. I’d guess for Champion Gate or Memorial Gate.

Takuma Fujiwara has shown a lot of potential in his first two months as a professional wrestler. He was the giant question mark in the FUTURE Class, unlike the Iihashis who have history to build on, or Hayakawa’s lack of size, or Sato’s age, Fujiwara came in as a blank canvas. He has quickly improved, has the certain pluck one’d want to see in a Dragongate teenager, and he worked really well with Shimizu. 

The former Masquerade is in an interesting position because it’s not very clear what the road forward is with La Estrella. Jason and Minoura will end up fine, but Estrella is so young and without a clearly defined gimmick. That’ll make it difficult to find a landing spot for him in the Unit Shuffle. We also got Gurukun Mask doing the Party Anthem dance, so it was a fun time for all. *** ½ 

In the post-match, Susumu called out K-ness and GM Ryo Saito, who set up retirement celebrations for K-ness where he will be managing a reunited original M2K and the first ever Jimmyz revival in the lead up for his actual retirement in April.

Kzy & Iihashi Brothers (Riki Iihashi & Ishin Iihashi) Def YAMATO, Shoya Sato & Ryu Fuda

Kzy pinned Ryu Fuda after a Running Elbow Smash

If last night was the conclusion of the FUTURE class’ phase of being beaten up by the Veterans, then today was the start of them being integrated with the stars. The Iihashis, Sato and Fuda were more than up to the task and didn’t look out of place teaming with the ace of the company or one of the company’s biggest stars. I don’t know if it’s too soon to consider these six a part of the ongoing Unit Shuffle, but they wouldn’t look out of place.

Riki Iihashi and Fuda were highlights here. Riki took it to YAMATO in a prolonged chop battle and considering Fuda’s rough night against Okuda, he was incredibly comfortable with Kzy trading blows. 

This wasn’t as exceptional as the Veterans vs FUTURE match from the night before, but it was a success. As the generation shift and the Unit Shuffle continues, Dragongate needs the FUTURE Class to continue to take these steps. The fact that we’ve seen the burgeoning chemistry between them and the top line players only provides more evidence that Dragongate has the most prolific and best talent developmental program in all of pro wrestling. *** 1/4

Eita and Yosuke Santa Maria went to a No Contest

R.E.D. attacked Eita, Maria and Kaito Ishida as Eita was rearing up for the Imperial Uno.

Millennials history was put on display as Jae and Jason Lee on commentary tried to figure out what R.E.D. is now and if Masquerade still exists (Jason thinks it does still exist). The Former Super Shenlong III, Yosuke Watanabe (this is not a bit, that was Maria’s ring name then) became Yosuke Santa Maria when the Millennials returned from Mexico and she fell in love with Eita. 

So nine years later, Eita had a prolonged angle and beatdown of Maria. Eita and Ishida are insisting they are True R.E.D. and the rest are just imposters. Ishida did a box attack so they are clearly not turning face immediately. In the post-match, Maria came to Eita and Ishida’s defense, slapped down every member of R.E.D. and Eita and Ishida stormed off. As with the tone of these Korakuen shows, this came off more like a prolonged segment than an actual match. It was incredibly successful though! NR

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Naruki Doi, Takashi Yoshida & Kota Minoura Def R.E.D. (KAI, BXB Hulk & Shun Skywalker)

Takashi Yoshida pinned KAI with the Cyber Bomb

Outside of stellar matches, Dragongate is at its best when it can spin as many plates as possible. The main event of their first Tokyo doubleheader of 2022 did just that, interweaving the fallout of Shun Skywalker’s turn from yesterday, Naruki Doi’s desire to have Kota Minoura as the Head Boy in Naruki Doi’s International House of Hot Boys, and Takashi Yoshida’s march towards a Dream Key. That didn’t make for the most thrilling conclusion of the night, but viewers came away with an understanding on what the path Dragongate’s on to start their 2022.

Shun Skywalker and Kota Minoura picked up from where they left off at Final Gate and from yesterday. Skywalker shoving the Masquerade mask into Minoura’s face with his boot feels major. If there was any deliberation about Masquerade’s existence post-1/12/22, that clears up Shun’s attitude about his former partners. It is going to be a lot of fun to see the fallout with say Shun vs Jason Lee or La Estrella after this.

Naruki Doi spent his portion of the match doing everything in his power to convince Kota Minoura to become a Hot Boy with him. I find it remarkable how Doi should really be up there with Bobby Eaton and Alex Shelley as an all-time tag worker, as he put his credentials on display with effortless teamwork with Minoura. Although I thought his next great tag team would be with Dragon Dia, Kota Minoura could easily fill the bill.

Yoshida and KAI were aggressively fine in the ring with each other. We’ve seen them face off in matches enough over the last few years to get a sense of what this impending Dream Gate match will be. Yesterday KAI was mad that Yoshida caught him with a flash pin, today it was his true finishing move after Eita and Kaito Ishida came out to taunt KAI.

So there was a lot of plate spinning in this. Wrestling was fine, but most importantly, the plate remained spinning and the work upheld its end of the deal. *** ¼   

The post-match had Yoshida formally challenge, with GM Ryo Saito saying that was fine, let’s look at February for it, but my Big Opponent for KAI was Big Boss Shimizu. Naruki Doi was bothered that Yoshida was focused on the title and not getting Minoura to join Doi. Kota Minoura has had a lot of things go on so he needs more time before he decides.

Final Thoughts

Big things are afoot in Dragongate. What we thought was a lot of stalling is over: welcome to the 2022 Unit Shuffle Season. This show, a lot like yesterday’s, wasn’t a workrate show. It’s not supposed to be one. What it was an excellent time with big events and a great time for new viewers to jump into the promotion.