MEMORIAL GATE IN WAKAYAMA
FEBRUARY 23, 2022
WAKAYAMA PREFECTURAL GYMNASIUM – WAKAYAMA, JAPAN
Watch: Dragon Gate Network
BIG BOSS SHIMIZU, SUSUMU YOKOSUKA, & U-T VS. BXB HULK, KAI, & SHUN SKYWALKER
KAI is set to make his second defense of the Open the Dream Gate Championship on March 6 against Shimizu to cap off what should be a loaded Champion Gate in Osaka weekend. To fill in the gaps between KAI’s defense vs. Takashi Yoshida and the upcoming Shimizu match, the leader of Z-Brats has been attempting to rattle the cage of Shimizu by pulling out a number of heel-minded tricks. He’s stalled like Zybysko, he’s cheated like Guerrero, and he even ran interference in Shimizu’s singles match against Jason Lee on 2/20 in Fukuoka, which led to Lee picking up a lame duck victory over the #1 contender for Dragongate’s top prize.
This time around, Shimizu and his Natural Vibes cohorts outlasted whatever Z-Brats threw at them as they reached the rarely seen 15 minute time limit draw in the opening bout. A lot of this match was KAI and Shimizu going after each other, clobbering their fellow man with heavy-handed strikes, only to end up without a clear advantage. KAI and Shimizu looked to be on even-footing for a lot of this match, which strengthens my theory that Shimizu will be winning gold in Osaka.
It’s rare to see an opening match with such star power, given that KAI is the current Dream Gate Champion, Shimizu is his #1 contender, U-T is one-third of the Triangle Gate Champions, and Hulk, Skywalker, and Yokosuka are all former Dream Gate Champions. Had this match been positioned later on the card, I would’ve expected much more from it. As an opener, it did its job. ***1/4
HO HO LUN & TAKASHI YOSHIDA DEF. SHACHIHOKO BOY & STRONG MACHINE J
It is with great sadness that I remind you that we are closing in on two full years of COVID-restricted crowds in Japan. Because of that, we have not heard the pop for the team of Ho Ho Lun & Takashi Yoshida, otherwise known as Roll Up or Shut Up, that they so desperately deserve. In fact, once Japan ends their restrictions, I hope this team comes out and we’re forced to rename the “Road Warrior Pop” the “Roll Up or Shut Up Pop”.
I always enjoy any match with Ho Ho and/or Shachihoko BOY. This was quick and fun. BOY was pinned with a Takashi Yoshida powerbomb, otherwise known as putting the “shut up” in team “Roll Up or Shut Up”. **1/4
DIAMANTE & SB KENTO DEF. PUNCH TOMINAGA & YOSUKE SANTA MARIA
SBK submitted Maria in 34 seconds using the SB Shooter. This was very strange. I understand wanting to have Z-Brats get some heat on Maria, given what would come later in the show, but the execution here was off. This felt like filler when it should’ve felt like a key piece of an important angle. Putting it right after an undercard tag match with no stakes didn’t help either. NR
BEN-K, DRAGON KID, KAGETORA, KEISUKE OKUDA, & YAMATO DEF. DON FUJII, MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI, SHUJI KONDO, ULTIMO DRAGON, & YASUSHI KANDA
Ben-K and Shuji Kondo gave this show the spark that it so desperately needed after seemingly an eternity went by between the opening match and this.
Kondo hasn’t wrestled a ton in 2022, but he’s having a sneaky great year. In Dragongate, outside of this ten-man, he’s been paired off with the FUTURE class. If there’s one thing Kondo can do well, it’s beat up on some rookies. The good news is that Kondo not only does that one thing well, he also does a bunch of stuff at a high-level. Alongside DDT’s Kazuki Hirata, they’ve torn up DDT’s Ultimate Tag League this year. Despite his age and the fact that he suffered a partially torn achilles last year, Kondo has shown early and often this year that he can still go at a high level.
Watching HIGH-END currently is such a fascinating proposition. They are all very good wrestlers. Ben-K had the perfect foils in this match, Dragon Kid is ageless, Kagetora can always deliver when he wants to, Keisuke Okuda has his “thing” that he does very well, and YAMATO is YAMATO. This was indeed a very good match with an incredible finishing stretch. Yet, whether it’s here against unaffiliated legends or against a unit that is an integral part of the promotion, HIGH-END matches feel so hollow. Natural Vibes, Z-Brats, Naruki Doi’s International House of Hot Boys, Dragon Dia & Yuki Yoshioka, and even the FUTURE class all feel like they’re pushing Dragongate forward. HIGH-END feels stuck in the mud.
Despite whatever booking qualms continue to render this unit largely useless, this match was a ton of fun with all 10 guys coming alive at the end to put forth a worthwhile effort. Kagetora caught Kanda with the Kagenui for the win. ***1/2
OPEN THE BRAVE GATE #1 CONTENDERSHIP 5 WAY MATCH
TAKUMA FUJIWARA DEF. ISHIN IIHASHI, RIKI IIHASHI, RYU FUDA, & TAKUMI HAYAKAWA
This feels like it’s going to be a divisive match between the people that thought it was fine for what it was, and the people that loved it for what it was. I fall into the latter side of the argument. Dragongate is just so smart. They’ve had these kids, the Iihashi Brothers since September, Hayakwa since October, and Fujiwara and Fuda since the last days of November, and all they’ve done is lose because despite their immense talent, they’re still rookies. As a motivator of sorts, GM Ryo Saito gave them this match with the winner wrestling Dragon Dia for the Brave Gate belt on the 3/5 Champion Gate in Osaka show.
Fujiwara has clearly become the standout of the class, even leaping past the much-hyped Shoya Sato (who was not in this match due to exceeding the Brave Gate weight limit), but instead of having Fujiwara steamroll through his contemporaries, he merely survived, using the over the top rope elimination rule to his advantage before finally scoring a pinfall, the first of his career, on Ishin Iihashi.
Hayakawa went by the wayside first via the Iihashi Brothers knocking him to the floor, then Fuda and Riki followed by way of Fujiwara and his in-ring IQ. That left Fujiwara and Ishin, who sprinted to the finish line. A sunset flip was all that Fujiwara needed to advance to a monumental place on the card, the semi-main event of one of the biggest weekends of the year. He just turned 20. TWENTY! And he’s wrestling for the Brave Gate belt at Champion Gate in Osaka.
The scariest part of all is that he’s more than ready for the opportunity.
This was brilliantly laid out. Fujiwara maintained his youngster status while clearly propelling himself past his peers. He has continuously delivered as he keeps being put in bigger spots. This show was no different, and I expect the same from his Brave Gate match against Dragon Dia. ***1/2
KAITO ISHIDA, KOTA MINOURA, & NARUKI DOI DEF. FUNKY “JACKY” KAMEI, GENKI HORIGUCHI, & KZY
Jacky “Funky” Kamei is coming off of the biggest weekend of his life as he captured the first title of his career in the Open the Triangle Gate tournament in Fukuoka. Unfortunately for him, he ran into a trio that looks rather unbeatable right now. Worse for him, he’s going to have to defend the belts against this trio at Champion Gate.
The faction of Ishida, Minoura, and Doi is hitting all of the right notes with me currently. Minoura, as a “head empty, no thoughts” pretty boy is crushing it in his role. Doi and Ishida are the perfect muscle to put behind him. I am on record saying that Minoura will leave Kobe World as the Open the Dream Gate Champion this year – the only question is whether or not he will enter the show as champion, or if the 22-year-old phenom will be crowned top dog on the biggest show of the year.
This was a rare case in which Minoura was not the show stealer, however. It was his much grumpier teammate, Kaito Ishida, who I honed in on. Specifically, his chemistry with Kzy. These two have only had two singles matches in the past, once in an untelevised dark match, and once on a NEX show. It’s time Dragongate rips the bandaid off because these two need to go at it. Their chemistry is what carried this match from start to finish. For as good as guys like JFK and Minoura usually are, they took a backseat to what Kzy and Ishida had to offer this evening.
A Gang from Minoura to Horiguchi ended the match just short of the 10 minute mark. ***1/4
HYO DEF. EITA
Eita is just living the life, isn’t he? This guy busted his ass for four straight years as the lead heel in the promotion. He went through tables, got cut up by barbed wire, and was put in every big match position that this promotion offers. Now that he’s away from the heel unit (although certainly not embracing traditional babyface values), Eita is showing up, kicking Yosuke Santa Maria (who has a longstanding infatuation with Eita, much to his dismay) in the groin, and then leaving.
Here, despite taking a wicked Irish Whip bump through a row of chairs, Eita took it easy once again, opting to walk-and-brawl like he was Doug Gilbert defending the USWA’s top crown. He’s earned a little reprieve from killing himself for a while.
I actually really enjoyed this match for what it was. HYO jumped Eita on the ramp during his entrance, they brawled around the ring for a long time, and right when Eita needed help the most, Yosuke Santa Maria came down to the ring to aid him in his battle against Z-Brats. Unfortunately for Maria, Eita bodied her off the apron, giving HYO the opportunity he needed to roll up Eita with his feet on the ropes for the three. ***
OPEN THE TWIN GATE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
DRAGON DIA & YUKI YOSHIOKA (C) DEF. JASON LEE & LA ESTRELLA
This win marks the first successful defense for Dragon Dia & Yuki Yoshioka as Twin Gate Champions.
The scraps of Masquerade in Dragon Dia, Jason Lee, & La Estrella came together to put forth a compelling match to officially end Masquerade’s story in Dragongate. Lee and Estrella are largely directionless after the dissolution of their unit, whereas Dia, alongside Yoshioka, has never looked stronger. This was a chance for Lee and Estrella to jumpstart their 2022 with an upset win, but it just wasn’t in the cards for them. They worked it with the urgency of a team that desperately needed a win, but just didn’t have the chemistry to get it done, which is exactly what you’d hope for given these pairings.
The contrast between Dia and Estrella is very intriguing to examine now that they are on opposite sides of one another. Despite the rumored insanity that Dragon Dia is capable of (Open the Voice Gate listeners will remember a story about Genki Horiguchi being unimpressed with El Hijo del Vikingo because according to him, Dia can do everything he does), Estrella is still a much flashier high-flyer. Yet, Dia always comes across looking better, given how crisp his moves are. It seems he takes half the risks and is rewarded with moves that look twice as good. I fear Estrella, now that he’s been shaken out of the safety nest that was Masquerade, will fall to the wayside like Strong Machine J has. He was good in this match, don’t get me wrong, but he was surrounded by three wrestlers who are unquestionably great.
As you’d expect, the DiaYuki duo and Jason Lee delivered in spades. Lee, who I’ve already touted as the best junior heavyweight in Japan, is a sneaky great tag team wrestler who always contributes mightily in heated finishing stretches. Outside of a flubbed Code Red between Dia and Lee, they were spotless in this match.
The combination of a Dia 450 and a Yoshioka frog splash put Estrella away for the pinfall. Had this match gone another five minutes, we would’ve been presented with something truly great. As it stands, this match was still easily the best thing on the show. ***3/4
Was Memorial Gate a particularly good show? No. But they didn’t do anything monumentally stupid, which is now a rarity in Japanese wrestling. Over the past few years, this show has been treated like one of the most important shows on the DG calendar. This year, it acted as a Road to Champion Gate show. It wasn’t bad, but I would not deem anything essential. A firm thumbs in the middle for Memorial Gate in Wakayama 2022.
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