MAY 11, 2022

Watch: Dragon Gate Network

There was a Dragongate FUTURE exhibition match between Kaito Nagano (black tights) and Masaharu Eto (green tights) before the opening match. Both men have been wrestling on the house show loop for a few months, but this is the first time either have made TV.


Madoka Kikuta, in his third match back after a year-long injury hiatus, reminded us all why we were so bullish on him upon his arrival in 2020. I thought the 22-year-old lacked fire in his return at Dead or Alive last week. He was injured in the biggest match of his life, a Dream Gate match on one of Dragongate’s biggest shows of the year. He came back and did not exude the qualities that I wanted to see from someone who should be hovering around the main event scene. Across the ring from one of his Class of 2020 peers in SB KENTo, a man whom he once shared a unit with, Kikuta not only got the win, but put forth a performance worth caring about. 

SBK slapped Kikuta across the face during what should’ve been a pre-match handshake which gave Kikuta the fire he needed to charge SBK at the bell. Unfortunately, despite being a year younger, SBK is wise beyond his years. He ripped the turnbuckle pad off of his corner, which sent Kikuta crashing chest-first into the post. Kikuta then narrowly avoided a series of flash pins. 

It was so great seeing SBK work a match with this level of intensity. He’s brilliant when it comes to building matches, whether it be the two classics against Jacky “Funky” Kamei last year or even the more recent Dragon Dia defense, but that’s a style that we know he’s capable of doing. This was a rare instance of SBK shining bright due to his in-ring work and not his overwhelming and unmatched charisma. He had his working boots on this evening. 

These two packed a lot into seven minutes, which was the perfect way to kick off the tournament. After a series of brutal slaps across the face, Kikuta bounced off the ropes and unloaded on SBK with his patented rolling lariat, dubbed The Hand of God by Open the Voice Gate co-host Mike Spears. It looked like he killed SBK. This was the exact finish that Kikuta needed. He came across like a killer, one who had finally snapped after working most of the match cool, calm, and collected. It put a bow on a beautifully executed opening contest. ***1/2 


This hodgepodge of an eight-man was better than it had any right to be. Not only was it a strong outing for High-End, who are always in desperate need of wins, but the unaffiliated foursome of underdogs all worked really hard. This was a big night for Keisuke Okuda, someone who I’ve been cold on for almost a full year now. He wowed me with two matches against U-T last May and then grappled his way into my heart with YAMATO in King of Gate, but after that encounter he has failed to move my needle. 

Miraculously, working with both Problem Dragon and Yosuke Santa Maria, Okuda showed the fire and grit that has been missing from his game lately. He was called out to the center of the ring by his first round King of Gate opponent Problem Dragon to start the match and ended the match by choking out Maria. He was working like someone who had something to prove, and he instilled a bit of confidence in me that he can return to the level of worker that he was in 2020 with this match. He will have a chance to do that in the first two rounds of King of Gate, assuming he gets by Dragon, as he’ll face either Kaito Ishida or Susumu Mochizuki in the next round. If he can’t deliver against those guys, then there’s going to be a real problem. ***1/4 


There was a beautiful moment in this match in which HYO tried to sunset flip Kenichiro Arai, which caused Arai to grab onto the shirt of Referee Yagi to stay upright. Yagi began to count to five and when he hit four, the veteran let go, giving HYO the leverage he needed to complete the move. Araken took a beautiful back bump that was so over the top and dramatic before kicking out at two and continuing the match. It was a really small moment, but it was the exact kind of theater that I like in my wrestling. 

Araken aside, this was a fun sprint that reintroduced Masaaki Mochizuki to the big picture. In 2022, he’s been far more intrical to NOAH’s big picture booking than he has Dragongate’s. The last time he did anything of note was in September when he failed to secure a Dream Gate challenge in a four-way match. After outsmarting Dragongate’s biggest brain, HYO, with a flash pin to win the match, he was attacked by Z-Brats on the floor. HYO went to strike him with a chair, but Dragongate FUTURE member Masaharu Eto, who wrestled in an exhibition match before the opening match, made the save and gave Mochizuki an opportunity to recover and then attack HYO. ***

The impending debut of Eto is a huge deal. I hate that this is the only way that I can describe it, but it is very similar to when Rob Trujillo joined Metallica. Eto is going to have to establish himself in front of a large audience with a beloved brand. Any slip up or obvious poor chemistry is going to be noticed immediately. If Eto can knock it out of the park, however, Dragongate will have yet another fresh tool in their toolbox as they continue reshaping their roster. 


This match ended in a no contest after interference from Kotaro Suzuki and NOSAWA Rongai, two-thirds of the current Open the Triangle Gate Champions. NR

Their interference brought out GM Ryo Saito, who demanded more decorum from Perros del Mal de Japon. Doi interjected, alongside Minorita, saying that they wanted a match right now. Saito agreed. 


One day Minorita is going to get revenge on NOSAWA and his gang of bandits and for that brief moment in time, all will be right in the world. Unfortunately, this show was not the time in which that happened. He managed to get NOSAWA to chase him around ringside, which once again exposed the abysmal cardio of one of wrestling’s biggest power players, but failed to escape the clutches of Kotaro Suzuki and his Blue Destiny. I like that the feud between Perros and Gold Class is seemingly continuing and I like that for the first time since their debut, we’re seeing shifts in Gold Class’ motivation. Their appearance on this show was not designed to get Kota Minoura over. He stepped aside and let his mini, and to some degree Doi, take the spotlight. **1/2 

After the match, Perros asked to know when their next show was. Saito had told them that he would let them know when the next Triangle Gate match was, but NOSAWA and Suzuki were determined to show the GM that they are committed to the company and that they would show up in Tajimi, a small town, on May 14. 


While the much discussed “summer of Eita” is not entirely out of the realm of possibility, it certainly became a much harder reality to imagine with Eita’s shocking first round exit in this year’s King of Gate tournament. 

These two wrestled on the biggest show of the year in 2020 in a match that was very good, but felt like it could’ve been better. This match was nothing like that. The drastic role changes that both men have undergone since November 2020 created a totally different environment than their Dream Gate match 18 months ago. Eita has been knocked down a peg. Skywalker assisted in outing Eita from his pride and joy, R.E.D., and has since become Dragongate’s most brooding character. In 2020, Skywalker’s victory was expected, but it was still an upset nonetheless. He was not on Eita’s level. He still might not have the star power that Eita does, but his approach was so much more dominant and violent than it was in Kobe. He humbled Eita in this match. 

I loved how deliberate everything was. This wasn’t a match with one million moves. Eita had his flurries of offense, but this was a match largely dictated by Skywalker’s new, maniacal approach to offense that I find to be far more engaging than what Eita was doing when he was the top heel. I like Eita best when he sells his ass off and that’s exactly what he did. I think it makes his offense more exciting because despite changes in appearance and energy, at Eita’s core, he’s a high-flying junior heavyweight and his offense reflects that. The Imperial Uno that he hit on Skywalker right before the finish was golden. It was desperate and flashy and representative of who I think Eita truly is. Skywalker countering that pin with a school boy and stealing the match is a perfect representation of who Skywalker is right now. 

These guys have had better matches in the past and will likely have better matches in the future, but I adored this match for what it was. This was two professionals who are locked into their work right now, executing fine character details in a way that is going to stick with me for a long time. I really liked what I saw from both of these men. ***3/4 


Don Fujii’s 25th anniversary match was a perfect representation of why he’s been so charming over the last two and a half decades. This match had comedy, intensity, and a uniqueness to Dragongate that makes this promotion truly different from any other. 

Fujii was a former sumo who worked behind the scenes and trained in Genichiro Tenryu’s WAR promotion before moving over to Ultimo Dragon’s school when it opened in 1997. Alongside CIMA and SUWA, he formed Crazy MAX, Toryumon’s flagship unit. When Crazy MAX ran their course at the end of 2004, Fujii was instrumental in the formation of Blood Generation, another all-time unit in the history of the Dragon System. Fujii became Dream Gate Champion for the only time in his career while repping the Blood Generation banner. His best work, however, came by way of his tag team with Masaaki Mochizuki. For over a decade, these two have brutalized the tag division of Dragongate with violence and aggression that only they can bring to the table. Fujii has developed a magical ability to work an undercard comedy match with Yosuke Santa Maria on one night, then bring the violence and ferocity that Genichiro Tenryu brought to the table the next. He is a one-of-a-kind wrestler who will forever be underrated. 

Without Don Fujii, the likes of Akira Tozawa, Masato Yoshino, and Milano Collection AT would be drastically different as they all did some of their best work against the wily veteran. In a promotion full of pretty boys, Fujii diligently plays the role of bringing toughness out of this roster. If you cannot hang with Don Fujii in the ring, you will not make it in Dragongate. All roads lead to him sooner rather than later. 

One look at his Twitter and it is very clear that Fujii is still deeply in love with the sport. He is, in so many ways, the Paulie Walnuts of Dragongate. He has never been a leader, but he has been a loyal follower since his debut. His versatility is the embodiment of what Dragongate is. No matter what he’s doing, he’s doing it to the most entertaining degree possible. He’s a brilliant wrestler who deserves all of the praise and more. Congratulations to Don Fujii on 25 years of amazing work. 

It helps that this match absolutely kicked ass. 

The third distinct incarnation of Natural Vibes got their true start here and they picked up right where Vibes 2.0 left off. Jason Lee is going to fit into this unit perfectly. His double team work with Jacky Funky Kamei was really exciting and I hope that DG decides to run with those two as a pair in the Twin Gate division going forward.

Kamei was able to bring out the best in Fujii in this match. After knocking the veteran off the apron, the youngster went on a flurry of offense that nearly scored him a win. Unfortunately, his next pinfall attempt was interrupted by Don Fujii launching a chair into the ring. Beautiful stuff. Fujii would later connect with his signature Nice German on Kamei. 

Kzy closed the match with his former partner, Genki Horiguchi. Instead of coming together for a flurry of moves like they used to, Kzy cleaned Horiguchi’s clock with a Running Uppercut to pick up the win for Vibes. 

I would call this match “aggressively Dragongate” and I mean that in the best way possible. **** 


It took us three years to get here, but my God it was worth it. Shuji Kondo returned to Dragongate after a 15 year absence in January 2019. He appeared for DG a handful of times that year before linking up with the Toryumon Generation in 2020. While it was never publicly announced, Open the Voice Gate was able to confirm that he was slated in the initial lineup for King of Gate 2020 before it was delayed due to COVID-19. Last year, a torn achilles took him out of the tournament before it began. In 2022, however, Shuji Kondo is in the goddamn King of Gate and he beat the Open the Dream Gate Champion in 39 seconds. 

He hit KAI with four total King Kong Lariats, including three in a row to finish off the nearly-unbeatable champion in under a minute. This was vintage King of Gate. I don’t think anyone saw this playing out the way it did, even if they expected Kondo to win. Marvelous job from everyone involved. ***3/4 


Over the years, I have been one of YAMATO’s harshest critics. He is someone who too often puts himself in a position to be boring or brilliant with no middle ground, and as he’s settled into the role of the company ace, more often than not he’s teetered on being boring. He superplexed Yuki Yoshioka towards the tail end of this match, and to the amazement of everyone in attendance, Yoshioka popped right back up. The camera panned to YAMATO who stood there frozen in a state of shock with a face so big and perplexed that not only did all 900 in Korakuen Hall register the importance of this spot, but had they been in a building that could hold 9,000, each and every person in the building would’ve been able to understand just how big this was. 

This was one of those evenings where YAMATO was nothing short of brilliant. 

I knew as soon as this match was announced that Yoshioka was going to win. I felt it in my soul. It was the perfect time to give someone teetering on the brink of stardom a big win and not only did Dragongate check off that box, but YAMATO spent 13 grueling minutes doing everything he could to help Yoshioka leave the match with better positioning on the card than he came in with. 

Normally YAMATO’s big matches clock in at twice the length of this one, but they managed to construct a bout that not only had the pacing of a Dream Gate epic, but more importantly, the drama and suspense of one. As he’s done countless times before, YAMATO lulled me into this match, slowly incorporating big move after big move until finally he and Yoshioka were standing in the middle of the ring, trading forearms that echoed throughout the mecca of pro wrestling. YAMATO, unable to win outright with strikes, turned to the Frankensteiner of the Almighty, a move that has netted him the Dream Gate belt and has aided him in beating Dragongate’s biggest names, but Yoshioka kicked out. 

Yoshioka was given a window of opportunity to connect with his big moves and that he did. He used his unique combination of speed and power to flatten YAMATO, first with a big brainbuster, then with a huge Darkness Buster. When that wasn’t enough, he climbed to the top, first connecting with a frog splash to a standing YAMATO, then landing a huge, traditional Frog Splash for the victory.

YAMATO looked dominant, but Yoshioka looked even better. 

I loved this. I loved everything about this. This is how you invest in the future. YAMATO loses nothing and Yoshioka gains a ton. You cannot lay out a match better than this. So often, I feel like YAMATO is going through the motions and quite frankly, he’s reached a point in his career where that’s okay. He’s done it all. He’s the only five-time Dream Gate Champion. He’s undoubtedly one of the most important faces to walk through the Dragon System doors since they opened 25 years ago in Naucalpan. He doesn’t have to always give it everything he’s got, but when he does he is truly transcendent. 

Go watch this match. ****1/4 

Final Thoughts

It’s been three years since King of Gate kicked off in Korakuen Hall. This show is routinely one of my favorite Dragongate shows of the year and 2022’s incarnation of it lived up to the hype. This show had the tone that you’ve come to expect from a great Dragongate show. The undercard matches were fun and breezy and the tournament matches were dramatic and engaging. Huge thumbs up for King of Gate 2022.

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