CHAMPION GATE 2022 IN OSAKA Night Two
MARCH 6, 2022
EDION ARENA OSAKA #2
Watch: Dragon Gate Network
KAITO ISHIDA, KOTA MINOURA, & NARUKI DOI (w/ MINORITA) DEF. BXB HULK, DIAMANTE, & SHUN SKYWALKER
Kota Minoura’s mini, the former Takumi Hayakawa, is no longer considered to be a full human. He’s half a member of Gold Class, according to Doi and the powers that be. Perhaps this act will overstay its welcome and six months from now I’ll be begging for the end of Minorita because he’s hindering Minoura’s possible main event status, but right now, I am so wildly entertained by this act. This was already a very good six-man tag without him, but watching Minorita run interference, first with Shun Skywalker who chased him to the backstage area and then back ringside, then later on in the contest when he unleashed a hurricanrana onto Diamante before once more fleeing to the floor. I haven’t loved Dragongate’s history with minis, first with the failed Toryumon X class and then later with Kotoka dawning the CIBA character, but so far, Minorita has been a winner.
Gold Class feels like the biggest thing in the promotion at the moment. They are all firing on all cylinders after being put in a position that shows off their biggest strengths. Ishida has an edge, Doi has promo material for days, and Minoura has not a single thought in his head. He does, however, have great chemistry with his former Masquerade battering mate in Shun Skywalker. They killed it here and I fully expect them to have bigger and more important interactions with one another as the year progresses.
Minoura submitted BxB Hulk with the Engranaje, continuing the trend of Hulk being incredibly giving towards Minoura. When his elevation began in summer 2020, Hulk was one of the first big names that Minoura was able to defeat. Nearly two years later, now that Minoura has established himself as a top dog, he still reigns supreme over the former Dream Gate Champion. ***1/4
Minorita in action! pic.twitter.com/jHn6lGrrWc
— Tribe 🍷Wine-Guard 🍷 (@Mad_Blankeyy) March 6, 2022
HO HO LUN & MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI DEF. RYU FUDA & SHUJI KONDO
At the start of the match, Ryu Fuda motioned towards Masaaki Mochizuki to make it clear that he wanted whatever smoke Mochizuki could bring his way. The thing about Mochizuki is that if you ask for it, he will give it to you. A lot of this match was built around Fuda trying to kick away at the legend, only for Mochiuzki to school him with his brutal strikes. I loved the story they told with Fuda constantly throwing two kicks at Mocchy to try to get the upper hand, but Mochizuki only needing one to establish dominance. It’s a small thing that shows the difference between a young boy and someone established like Mocchy.
Ho Ho and Kondo were a lot of fun with one another as well. This entire thing was short, sweet, and to the point, with Mochizuki once again pinning the rookie, this time with a Twister in 7 minutes. ***
GURUKUN MASK, STRONG MACHINE J, & TAKASHI YOSHIDA DEF. CHURAUMI SAVER, DON FUJII, & GAMMA
Gurukun Mask has wrestled six matches in Dragongate this year and he’s been on the winning side in all six of his matches. We’ve seen KAI lose, we’ve seen YAMATO lose, we’ve seen Minoura lose, and we’ve seen everyone on the roster not named Gurukun Mask take a loss. It really makes you think about who the top dog in the promotion is. The Don of Okinawa is as dominant as anyone in Dragongate this year.
This was guys being dudes. The wrestling was inoffensive but largely unspectacular. My only takeaway here is the continued deemphasizing of Gamma. He’s worked a reduced schedule since the start of COVID, but he’s only wrestled 8 times this year, 2 of which were this weekend in Osaka. He fell victim to a beautiful pinning combination by Gurukun Mask to put a bow on these festivities after 8 minutes of wrestling. **3/4
BEN-K VS. JASON LEE WENT TO A NO CONTEST
Jason Lee remains unaffiliated, but that didn’t stop Shun Skywalker and a handful of Z-Brats compadres from insisting on being Lee’s second in this match. That level of delusion, the fact that Skywalker came out to ringside after Lee had already made his entrance, is such a terrific thing to see. I’m so impressed with the way Skywalker has pivoted to a new, interesting role after losing the Dream Gate belt. We saw Ben-K lose the belt to Naruki Doi and Ben has failed to come up with an interesting second chapter ever since. Skywalker has reinvented his entire approach by gaslighting his Masquerade partners and then joining Z-Brats. Outside of CM Punk and MJF, I fully believe Skywalker is doing the best character work in all of wrestling right now. No one is executing at the level that he is.
Of course, Skywalker got involved in the finish. Ben speared Lee out of his boots after a fun back-and-forth series, but before he could secure the pinfall, Skywalker ran in and broke up the pin, queuing the rest of Z-Brats to run roughshod on everyone in the ring.
When the dust settled, Skywalker grabbed the mic and told Lee that he was nothing without him. This brought out High-End, who also has a ton of investment in where Lee ends up. Before YAMATO could speak, Natural Vibes rushed the ring and reminded everyone that they are also involved in the Jason Lee Sweepstakes. The three units began literally pulling Lee by his limbs in an effort to get him into their corner. This was all deranged and wildly entertaining. NR
JACKY “FUNKY” KAMEI, KZY, SUSUMU YOKOSUKA, & U-T DEF. DRAGON KID, KAGETORA, KEISUKE OKUDA, & YAMATO
I haven’t always had the nicest things to say about High-End, but I’ll be damned if this wasn’t some unexpected hot fighting to close out the first portion of Champion Gate Night Two. Sometimes, you just need eight guys to go out there and work really hard. Everyone understood the assignment and busted their ass to put forth a really compelling, albeit no-stakes multi-man match.
The future of High-End is very intriguing to me. Outside of YAMATO vs. KAI, which has officially run its course, this is a unit that has existed for a year without any strong rivalries. You could also point to Dragon Kid vs. SB KENTo, but their issues were wrapped up in May of last year. They have a unit of all-stars but none of them are doing anything of relevance. Seeing Gold Class come in, a unit that stole their colorway and forced High-End to move to red gear instead of gold gear, is so startling given who is in High-End. Gold Class even has their packaging of all-stars down better than High-End ever has. As a trio, Doi, Ishida, and Minoura with Minorita are coming across like mega stars. Outside of headlining Speed Star Final in August, YAMATO and the rest of his gang have not felt like that since the inception of this unit. They spent 2021 being outworked by Masquerade, being less charismatic than Natural Vibes, and being less interesting than RED. Do I think this match is going to turn it around? No. But it was nice to see them step up to the plate in a big spot and hit the ball as hard as they did.
On the flip side, it’s so interesting looking at where Natural Vibes is at this time compared to last year. We all suspected that Kzy was rebooting Natural Vibes as a way to swerve and turn heel, but they dug their heels in and went forward with Natural Vibes 2.0. U-T was a clear loss post, Kamei was injured, and Shimizu was out of the picture, which left the reliable albeit stale trio of Kzy, Horiguchi, and Yokosuka to do the heavy lifting. They headlined the first night of this show last year in a match that was solid but ultimately unmemorable. This year, U-T has elevated his status to a shocking degree, Kamei is crushing it, and Kzy no longer feels like he’s treading water, and their headlining trios performance last night is to this point in the year the best thing that I’ve seen in Japan.
For two units going in such opposite directions, they went out here and killed it. This was mindless fun that I always support seeing on big shows like this. Kzy cleaned Kagetora’s clock with a Running Elbow Smash for the win. ***3/4
OPEN THE TWIN GATE CHAMPIONSHIP
DRAGON DIA & YUKI YOSHIOKA © DEF. EITA & YOSUKE SANTA MARIA, HYO & SB KENTO
This marks the second successful defense of the Open the Twin Gate Championships for Dragon Dia and Yuki Yoshioka, also known as D’Courage.
I’ve written a lot about Eita and his time as the leader of RED. A lot. I watched him as Dragongate’s top heel for four years, often unsatisfied with his output because I believed there was a better version of Eita out there that we were being shielded from. His summer of 2016, beginning with a MOTYC against Akira Tozawa, into the Super J-Cup against Jushin Thunder Liger, before finally capturing the Open the Brave Gate belt from Yosuke Santa Maria at Dragongate’s biggest show of the year, was the best run of his life. He was a cocky, yet lovable underdog who rallied the entire fanbase behind him. I thought his heel run played into his worst instincts. He brawled too much. He ditched his flashy grappling. He delved too deep into character work and abandoned the wrestling instincts that I loved about him.
This Eita run, now that he’s comfortable in his own skin and a proven draw and a top dog, could very easily be the best work that he’s ever done. I didn’t expect a ton coming into this match. I thought it would be filled with plunder and lean into the in-ring style that HYO and SBK have honed over the last year. I was sorely mistaken. This was a wild, flashy sprint that played into the aspects of Eita’s in-ring approach and reminded us of just how good Peak Maria can be.
I’m blown away at how this match managed to play off of the continued Eita/Maria relationship, the ongoing feud between SBK & HYO and Dia & Yoshioka, and the splintered relationship of Eita and SBK & HYO. They accomplished so much storytelling in 16:27. Everyone came out looking better than when they came in.
The heels went out first, with SBK and Maria putting on a ridiculous finishing stretch that ended with Maria countering an SB Shooter and rolling up the prodigy. Matches like this are huge for SBK. He carries himself like a star, but he doesn’t always wrestle like one. He and Maria were lockstep with one another, perfectly executing a convoluted Dragongate back-and-forth series that demonstrated a high level of wrestling that few can execute as well as they did.
With the heels gone, I was convinced that Eita & Maria were winning. Eita managed to counter a Reptilian Rana with a powerbomb and it looked like that was going to pave his path to victory. Yoshioka thwarted that, however, and after a series of reversals, Yoshioka scored a flash pin on Eita to retain the tag belts.
Few matches this year will be able to hit the emotional highs that this match hit. Dragon Dia & Yuki Yoshioka are honing their chemistry as the babyface tag team of the future, SBK & HYO are continuing their brilliant heel dominance, and the saga of Eita & Maria is one of the most compelling stories in all of wrestling. Go out of your way to see this. ****1/2
OPEN THE DREAM GATE CHAMPIONSHIP
KAI © DEF. BIG BOSS SHIMIZU
With this victory, KAI has now made his second successful defense of the Open the Dream Gate Championship. Shimizu is now 0-2 in career Dream Gate challenges.
I really thought Shimizu was going to do it.
This is why, ultimately, KAI is a worthy Dream Gate Champion. He’s so good at making you want to see him be defeated. After a slow start that teetered on losing me entirely, these two ramped it up at just the right moment and proceeded to have an undeniable belter of a main event. Shimizu had been nearly unbeaten since August, never taking falls and constantly leading his team to victory. I felt like if he was ever going to become the top guy, it would be now, in his hometown in the building that he debuted in against a champion that is constantly on the brink of losing his title. For the first half of the match, KAI constantly halted Shimizu’s attempts to string together big moves. Shimizu would connect with offense, but was never able to build any sort of momentum. It wasn’t until a double knockdown spot that Shimizu saw the opening he needed.
He kicked out of a powerbomb, then the Meteor Impact, then rolled through a Meteor Impact KAI and nearly beat the champion with a La Magistral, which he had done in the build to this match. Shimizu went for his dreaded Big Boss Press, but KAI shoved Referee Yagi into the ropes, forcing the challenger to crotch himself.
Not to be deterred, Shimizu would fire back, not only hitting a Samoan Drop off the middle rope, but then connecting with a Big Boss Press that nearly won him the company’s top prize. The two plastered each other with more strikes. Each time Shimizu went for his death blow, the dreaded Shot-Put Slam, KAI managed to fight his way free, the second time quickly transitioning into the Authorized Gannosuke Clutch to win the match, the same move that he beat Takashi Yoshida with in February.
Shimizu is truly an underappreciated master of his craft and someone who I’ve been screaming about since 2016 when the topic of the best wrestlers in the world are brought up. During the first few years of his career, he was able to portray a brilliantly stupid, more-guts-than-brains meathead who always seemed to bounce back from a vicious ass kicking and launch opponents into the sky with his Shot-Put Slam. When he turned heel, he embraced the presentation change, becoming a sleazy Scott Hall impersonator who helped mold the rest of RED around him. When he was ousted from the group, not only was his initial babyface turn brilliant, but he became an incredible comedy figure that served as a much-needed break to rehab his image and get him back to this spot. When Natural Vibes came calling last year, Shimizu proved the haters and losers wrong, people that were too distracted by a few measly dance moves during a beloved entrance to see that he was slowly morphing back into the killer that used to stand toe-to-toe with Shingo Takagi.
He is truly a gifted performer who has been able to take little opportunities and make the most of them. I think he has enough talent to hold the Dream Gate belt around his waist one day. Outside of the No Ropes Match with YAMATO last July, this was easily the best singles match that KAI has had in Dragongate. It takes two to tango and KAI was great in his role, but the emotional gravitas of this match was carried on the back of Shimizu. ****1/4
Dragongate closed out their marquee weekend in Osaka with two more tremendous, must-watch title matches. Last year, Dragongate was cursed with the issue of delivering on smaller shows but failing to deliver when the most eyeballs were on them. This year’s Champion Gate outing was an attempt to rewrite that narrative, as on both nights the roster put their best foot forward and delivered a product that both first-time viewers and longtime fans can enjoy. Thumbs up for Champion Gate in Osaka Night Two.