FINAL BURST OUT: K-NESS FOREVER
APRIL 7, 2022
Watch: Dragon Gate Network
The English commentary version of this show is unavailable on the Dragongate Network due to a technological malfunction that happened during the broadcast. On both a personal and professional level, I’m devastated for Jae Church, who spoke so insightfully and eloquently about his favorite wrestler, K-Ness, on a recent Open the Voice Gate episode.
D’COURAGE (DRAGON DIA & YUKI YOSHIOKA) DEF. NATURAL VIBES (JACKY “FUNKY” KAMEI & U-T)
Just as they did in February, these four kicked off the show on a great note. In the two months since this match kicked off the February Korakuen Hall show, D’Courage, the combination of Dia and Yoshioka, has transformed from a fun tag team experiment into a team that clearly seems to be paving the way for Dragongate’s bright future. It’s unfair to attach the idea of them being the next SpeedMuscle onto them, but watching this match, you can’t help but notice how buff Yoshioka is and how ungodly athletic Dia is. With the way they have been presented early on, it seems as if D’Courage will be given every opportunity to reach the lofty heights that SpeedMuscle once ascended to.
As we approach King of Gate season, I can’t help but carve out space in my mind to wonder what possible singles matches we could get in the tournament. U-T and Yoshioka, two men who had a great match earlier in their career, long before they were as developed as they are now, is one match that I’m praying that we get. The aforementioned bulkiness of Yoshioka works perfectly alongside the crafty, llave-approach that U-T brings to the table. These two pumped out greatness in 2019. Three years later, with both men leaps and bounds better than they were then, I’d love to see a rematch.
Luckily for U-T, he survived a Yoshioka onslaught and didn’t get pinned. Unfortunately for U-T, his Natural Vibes partner, Jacky “Funky” Kamei, was on the wrong end of Vampire Headscissors from Dia and a Darkness Buster from Yoshioka, two signature K-Ness moves, before Dia put him out of his misery with a Firebird Splash. ***1/4
EITA, RYU FUDA, & STRONG MACHINE J DEF. ISHIN IIHASHI, LA ESTRELLA, & TAKASHI YOSHIDA
The definition of Some Guys doing Some Stuff. Eita and Yoshida have gone months since being exiled from their units (although Eita has a clear direction for the future), Strong Machine J and La Estrella may have already passed their peak, and Fuda and Iihashi are in the midst of the FUTURE Class doldrums. Both men are proving to be solid hands, but it doesn’t appear that Dragongate has any immediate plans to elevate them in the near-future.
Fuda has been fascinating to evaluate on a near-weekly basis on Open the Voice Gate and monthly with these reviews. His debut was a heroic effort as he stood nose-to-nose with Masaaki Mochizuki and took a beautiful beating. He quickly developed a pattern of putting on hard-hitting matches that became less and less engaging as time went on. Lately, Fuda has put back some pep in his step, delivering on house show matches that have been uploaded to YouTube and bringing back the same intensity that he wrestled his first few matches with. He’s not doing anything different in terms of his in-ring approach; he’s still a hard-headed kickboxer who doesn’t bring a ton of personality to the table. That being said, he’s doing that with more confidence than ever before.
Fuda was on the winning side here, although he’s still yet to gain his first pinfall. Those honors went to SMJ, who planted Fuda’s contemporary, Ishin Iihashi, with the Machine Suplex. ***
Z-BRATS (BXB HULK & HYO) DEF. PROBLEM DRAGON & PUNCH TOMINAGA
This was quick and painless. HYO scored the fall with the Bamishiri no Wa, a modified version of the Hikari no Wa, the signature K-Ness pin, in two minutes. **
DIAMANTE DEF. TAKUMA FUJIWARA
I am out of hyperbole with Takuma Fujiwara. He is constantly putting me in a position to up my excessive adjectives because he continues to constantly up his game. He’s not even six months into his career and he looks like a seasoned pro who was every bit as good as Diamante, one of the most flawless wrestlers in the world.
This started with Fujiwara dropkicking Diamante off of the apron and then connecting with a huge springboard hurricanrana to the floor. It had the same impact of Wheeler Yuta starting off his match with Jon Moxley with a tope suicida. It was a needed shock to the system that made an already highly-anticipated match start off on the right foot. The Mexican import fought back quickly, however, as he got back into the ring and shot Fujiwara into the lights with a back body drop. This is the part about Fujiwara that I will continue to harp on. He’s made for Dragongate. He’s cute, he has a body, he has a great head of hair, and he’s so selfless as a wrestler. His offense is thrilling, the big dives that he’s adding to his arsenal are going to help him stand out, but the way that he takes offense is next-level. He’s seemingly fearless when it comes to taking any bump. He’s violent with his own body in a way that no one else really is. He bumps like Darby Allin but without the stunt show theatrics. Fujiwara takes just as big of a beating and he does it within the confines of an athletic pro wrestling contest.
His boyish appearances and his flashy offense never detract from the fact that Fujiwara always feels like he’s in a fight. He routinely hits the ropes with such intensity that it looks like he’s going to fall face-first from the whiplash of bouncing off the ropes. Diamante is the perfect opponent for Fujiwara at this stage and I hope they are attached at the hip like Diamante was with La Estrella last year. Diamante is such a perfect base for Fujiwara to experiment with. After a swanky tilt-a-whirl armdrag from Fujiwara sent Diamante to the floor, Fujiwara climbed the top rope, stepped onto the top of the ring post, and dove over the post and onto Diamante on the floor.
The finish of this match was built around Fujiwara constantly countering the Vuelta Finale and Diamante being forced to use his raw strength to outmatch the rookie. After a spine-altering powerbomb couldn’t get the job done, Diamante finally connected with his finisher and put the rookie away in 7 minutes. I have no notes on what they could’ve done better. This was perfect for what it was. I adore the fact that Diamante has quietly carved out his role as the best base and one of the most consistent wrestlers in the world and no one seems to notice. I adore the fact that Fujiwara, as I’ve said before, is one of the best rookies I have ever seen waltz into wrestling. I adored everything about this match. Essential viewing, full stop. Go watch it now. ****
This Diamante/Fujiwara match was pretty nuts pic.twitter.com/xWP72YWQB9
— Joe Gagne (@joegagne) April 7, 2022
This is the sixth Fujiwara match I’ve given four stars or higher this year, making him the clubhouse leader for great matches in Dragongate as we enter the second quarter of the year. He beats out Shun Skywalker and Jacky “Funky” Kamei, who have five, and Kota Minoura, who clocks in with four matches at four stars or higher.
Z-BRATS (KAI, SB KENTO, & SHUN SKYWALKER) DEF. BEN-K, BIG BOSS SHIMIZU, & JASON LEE
This match felt like two matches in one with Jason Lee vs. Shun Skywalker being the focus of one and KAI & SB KENTo vs. Ben-K & Big Boss Shimizu being the focus of the other. The continued descent into madness of Skywalker, which Jason Lee has become the focal point of, is the best storyline Dragongate has had in years. It has more depth than Kaito Ishida vs. Keisuke Okuda, has already delivered far more consistently than YAMATO vs. KAI, and fills a void of hatred arguably not seen since Dragon Kid vs. Eita. These guys are doing everything right.
Lee came into battle with his former MaxiMuM partners in Shimizu and Ben-K, now representing Natural Vibes and High-End respectively, but the Hong Kong import was quickly isolated and aggressively choked by Skywalker. The contrast between Skywalker’s in-ring and his promos is a fascinating thing to witness. After five years of being an energetic high-flyer who had one of the best comebacks in wrestling, Skywalker is now wrestling as a cold, plodding menace. It’s as if he was stalking Lee right out in the open. His moves are deliberately icy. This character would still be over if he was running through all of his signature moves that netted him the Dream Gate Championship, but his current approach is equally as entertaining. This isn’t to say that he’s not still wrestling to the best of his abilities, as the closing minutes of the match proved that Skywalker can still hang with anyone, but his commitment to this character has been incredible.
KAI was a complete afterthought, basically taking the night off and letting SBK handle the briefly-reunited Big Ben. Lacking the chemistry you’d develop teaming with one another on a regular basis, Big Ben got caught in friendly fire, opening the door for Z-Brats to pounce. With Shimizu out of the picture, it was up to Ben and Lee to fight off the heels. Ben went for a spear on Skywalker, who sidestepped him, leading to Lee getting caught with a violent spear. This paved the way for an SSW to Lee for the victory. ***1/4
The winning team earns the right to solicit Jason Lee to join their unit. pic.twitter.com/Du4GvVajbi
— Dragongate Japan Pro-Wrestling (Official English) (@DragonGateEN) April 8, 2022
GOLD CLASS (KAITO ISHIDA, KOTA MINOURA, & NARUKI DOI) (w/ MINORITA) DEF. HIGH-END (KAGETORA, KEISUKE OKUDA, & YAMATO)
Minorita is a winner. I will defend until my last dying breath if I have to. The question with Kota Minoura is not if he’ll win the Dream Gate title, but when, and the higher up the card he goes, the more questions trickle in about whether or not he’s ready for the big spot. When Ben-K was making his run towards the top prize, he wasn’t talking. They spun his weak promos into a gimmick in which he never spoke and in the short term, it worked out (long term is a different discussion). Minoura is stoic like Ben was. He’s a machine who was born to wrestle and four years into his career, that machine is showing no signs of wear and tear. But outside of his gorgeous hair and his flawless wrestling ability, Minoura is lacking the substance that a Dragongate headliner needs to hang at the top of the card. They have built a winning team around Minoura with Doi, an unparalleled charisma machine, and now Minorita, who acts as a hyperactive siamese twin-like figure for Minoura. Minorita’s incessant interference spots are winners in my book. He’s been used just right thus far, especially in this match as he targeted YAMATO, first stealing his taunt, then leading him on a chase all around the building.
I greatly enjoy these Gold Class vs. High-End matches as someone who has been so wildly unimpressed with High-End since their launch. Gold Class has hit from the jump. I know what their purpose is and I see natural progression points in this unit. High-End, since day one, has existed to exist.
Minoura pinned Okuda with the R-301 for the victory. ***
After the match, three Metal Warriors appeared and confronted Gold Class.
Metal Warrior pic.twitter.com/tmT8dHAlVe
— Dragongate Japan Pro-Wrestling (Official English) (@DragonGateEN) April 8, 2022
GENKI HORIGUCHI, KENICHIRO ARAI, KONOMAMA ICHIKAWA, ULTIMO DRAGON, & YASUSHI KANDA DEF. DON FUJII, MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI, SHACHIHOKO BOY, SHUJI KONDO, & SUPER SHISA
As I watched this match progress, I couldn’t help but wonder if Super Shisa, one of my favorite wrestlers of all-time, will be the next to hang up his boots. This was his first Tokyo appearance since February 2020 and one of his only non-battle royal appearances since 2020. There’s still a glimmer of llave-greatness deep inside of him, but he was clearly moving slower than the rest of the participants in this match. Ideally, he’d wrestle Ultimo in a maestros match at some point before he calls it quits, but I’m not sure that will happen. At least we have his clinic vs. U-T.
This was some light-hearted fun with guys that grew up wrestling K-Ness. It’s amazing given some of the names in this match like Fujii, Mochizuki, and Horiguchi that this match felt as out of place as it did, but that is just how effective the recent generational changes have been. These were guys that were wrestling in big spots just a few years ago. Now, in the 2022 landscape this was very clearly a nostalgia match with guys who no longer have purpose in the big picture.
The star of this match was easily Konomama Ichikawa, who helped score the victory for his team after he was accidentally unmasked by Shuji Kondo. The finish was glorious and the match was a ton of fun. This was a fitting tribute to the older generation.
As announced yesterday by GM Ryo Saito, the annual summer events from Kobe World Kinen Hall will once again take place over two days.
Dragongate Kobe World 2022 – “Ultimo Dragon 35th Anniversary Celebration”
— Dragongate Japan Pro-Wrestling (Official English) (@DragonGateEN) April 8, 2022
K-NESS RETIREMENT MATCH
DRAGON KID & KZY DEF. KNESUKA (K-NESS & SUSUMU YOKOSUKA)
When people tell you that Dragongate wrestlers are married to Dragongate, they are not kidding. From Kzy’s entrance to K-Ness’ eventual closing promo and exit, this match was held with the understanding that at any moment, everyone in the building could break down in tears. For some, including Kzy down the finishing stretch, they weren’t strong enough to hold the tears back. This was an emotional spectacle that no other wrestling company has the depth to pull off. In a way, it was the perfect representation of what this promotion actually is. It’s not the groundbreaking six-man tags or the epic Dream Gate defenses, it’s matches like this that live with emotions rarely seen in wrestling. This is the Dragongate way.
K-Ness hasn’t wrestled since last July. He’s been injury prone since his debut, but ever since his final days in Mad Blankey and sudden turn to The Jimmyz, his body has been in really poor shape. He wanted to retire sooner but Masato Yoshino came first. He wasn’t sure what he was going to be able to do in this match, which is why Dragon Kid, Kzy, and Susumu Yokosuka were the perfect men to have around him. Obviously, they play major roles in his career, with DK as the foil to Darkness Dragon, Kzy being inspired by K-Ness’ way of training and dieting which helped Kzy take the next step in his career, and Yokosuka, the longtime partner of K-Ness. K-Ness aside, if you need a good match, those are three of the first guys you’d want to have in the mix.
In an act of all things holy, not only did K-Ness’ body hold up, but we saw more of him than anyone else in the match. I thought he would do his signature spots early, tag out to Susumu, and then come back when it was time to eat a finisher. Instead, outside of a heated sequence with Dragon Kid that ended with the return of the World Liner, this was a K-Ness match. Sure, the Judah that he used to counter Dragon Kid’s Christo was slower than ever before, but K-Ness held up his end of the bargain in a way that I never could have imagined.
The last quarter of the match is between K-Ness and Kzy, exclusively. Once K-Ness nearly scored a win with the Hikari no Wa, this match transformed into something great. That was the moment that really made K-Ness feel like an active participant in this match, not just an old guy who was in there taking moves. The crowd reacted in kind to the near fall and Kzy reveled in that moment. The two began trading strikes with K-Ness landing some big shots on the Natural Vibes leader. Determined not to get shown up, Kzy fought back and began planting K-Ness with running uppercuts, each doing more damage than the last. The more strikes he landed, the more emotional Kzy became. Tears started flowing down his face as he took the masked man off of his feet with yet another full force Running Uppercut. K-Ness would hit the mat stiff and awkwardly, but continued to manage to kick out before 3.
As these strikes continued, an eerie silence fell over Korakuen. Even had this match not been held with COVID protocol in place, I can’t help but feel like this silence would have still been there. There’s something deeply compelling about watching a man crawl to his own death, and each time K-Ness stood up from an uppercut, he crawled closer and closer to his grave. He knew it was happening; he welcomed it.
The final strike of the match was delivered to K-Ness after he opened up his arms to the sky and accepted his fate. He sacrificed himself in the middle of the ring. Kzy, broken by the giving nature of his mentor, hit him, pinned him, and hugged him, seemingly all in one motion.
The selflessness of K-Ness during the finishing stretch of this match is the selflessness that all of Dragongate operates with. It’s why their five year plan looks as bright as it does. K-Ness gave everything he had to his family, and just as they have done with Masato Yoshino’s legacy living on through his signature moves, the same will be done for K-Ness.
I hope you don’t see a match as emotional as this for the rest of the year. The circumstances for something to top this will likely mean that a tragedy led us to that point. Yokosuka, Kzy, and the entire Toryumon Generation that was ringside for this match were all visibly moved. I noticed multiple women in the crowd crying as the match continued.
It’s unfair to compare the emotional depths of Masato Yoshino’s retirement to K-Ness’ retirement, but I may have preferred the K-Ness match more. In a company that is always bettering themselves, they are now somehow improving on the wrestling-through-tears retirement match.
They simply operate on another level.
I hope K-Ness hit his pillow that night knowing that he was every bit as captivating in his final match as he was during his peak matches against Dragon Kid and Masato Yoshino. For one more night, he was a master of his craft.
Kzy ended the career of K-Ness with a Running Elbow Smash in 22:56. ****1/2
— Sondre Bjørn #MeiForHighSpeed (@SondreBjorn) April 7, 2022
If you’ve ever wanted to cry for all of the right reasons during a wrestling show, this is the show for you. The entrances, match, and post-match ceremony for K-Ness’ final outing produced some genuinely beautiful moments that an industry this sleazy and broken do not deserve. No company on Earth can do what Dragongate does. Normally when I say that, I’m referring to their great wrestlers, the style they work, and the consistency in which they deliver. In this instance, no other company can do what they do, because no one cares the way they do. Every possible thing that they could’ve done for K-Ness, they did. Dragongate is a family, and that was never more obvious than it was on this show.