JULY 7, 2022
KORAKUEN HALL – TOKYO, JAPAN
Watch: Dragon Gate Network
MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI, MOCHIZUKI JUNIOR, SUSUMU MOCHIZUKI, & YASUSHI KANDA DEF. GENKI HORIGUCHI, KONOMAMA ICHIKWAWA, KENICHIRO ARAI, & SHACHIHOKO BOY
Dragongate ran a version of this match four days prior with Punch Tominaga and Takashi Yoshida in place of Kenichiro Arai and Shachihoko BOY. Had I not just seen a saga between Mochizuki Junior and Konomama Ichikawa, I would’ve gotten more out of this match. I enjoyed the story they told in Kobe earlier in the week with Mochizuki Junior nearly getting caught by the weakest member of the roster, only to get saved by his father moments before defeat. This was more of the same. In fact, Mochizuki Junior won the match by getting caught in Ichikawa’s Figure Four Leglock, only for Masaaki Mochizuki to save him and roll the hold over, forcing Ichikawa to immediately tap.
M3K is in a very interesting position as we near the biggest shows of the year. With the way Mochizuki Junior’s debut was treated last month, it seemed like they would waltz into Kobe World and exit with the Triangle Gate belts. Then Mochizuki Junior missed a few weeks with a back injury. Since his return, he’s been slotted against undercard wrestlers and the importance of M3K – while still there – has waned. I’m all for pushing this kid and this unit to the moon. I hope they leave Kobe World with gold around their waist. **3/4
BXB HULK, DIAMANTE, & SB KENTO DEF. PUNCH TOMINAGA, TAKASHI YOSHIDA, & YOSUKE SANTA MARIA
Diamante and Yosuke Santa Maria are capable of having such a good match if they are ever given the chance to. This was a nothing match with the only notable highlights being the English commentary reminding us of the underlying story regarding SB KENTo and the slump he has been in for most of this year, and Diamante and Maria crushing it when they were given the opportunity to. Diamante scored a victory over Tominaga in 10:47. **1/4
KAGETORA DEF. EITA
These two men have been pimped as “the most underrated wrestler on Earth” in certain circles at various times in their careers. Given that they both reside in a company that seems to value consistency over someone’s peak, I have always had issues with these two guys. You can easily tell when either man is motivated to do great work because when they are, their greatness is so obvious. Unfortunately, this leads to them being easily exposed when their working boots aren’t on. Their match here, in an attempt to build to their Open the Triangle Gate Championship match on the 7/21 NOAH show, was an example of one of those nights where neither guy has it.
It’s not that either wrestler was deliberately dragging their feet, but there was no fire to this match. Eita reverted back to his lethargic, heel approach that I have long since grown tired of, while Kagetora was a babyface in peril who didn’t seem hellbent on escaping the precarious situation.
Eita distracted the referee and connected with a low blow and a pin attempt on Kagetora, Kagetora escaped and trapped Eita with a pin of his own, winning the match and giving High-End momentum as they head into their title challenge.
There are years in these wrestler’s careers that would’ve resulted in this being a great match. Lazy Perros Eita vs. High-End Kagetora is not a winning formula, however. This was a major disappointment. **3/4
KOTA MINOURA, MINORITA, & NARUKI DOI DEF. ISHIN IIHASHI, MADOKA KIKUTA, & YUKI YOSHIOKA
Ishin Iihashi is a man unto himself.
Six months ago, he was accompanied in the ring by his brother, Riki, and protected by his contemporaries Ryu Fuda, Shoya Sato, Takuma Fujiwara, and Takumi Hayakawa. Less than a year into his professional career, his brother has retired along with Sato, Fuda has been sidelined with a long term injury, Fujiwara is in Mexico, and Hayakawa, now dubbed Minorita, is a permanent fixture alongside one of the most pushed acts in the company. Ishin was once a part of an army of youth who seemed poised to take over the company. Given the definite change that Fujiwara will experience in Mexico and subsequently when he returns back home, Ishin is now the last vestige of the much-hyped Class of 2021. Minorita has assimilated and Fujiwara will ascend, but what will Ishin Iihashi do?
In the immediate future, Ishin will continue to do what he’s done since he debuted last September: work his ass off. He’s a regular highlight in multi-man matches. He was excellent in this match, taking a ton of offense from the well-oiled Gold Class machine before nearly stealing a victory and scoring the first fall of his career over Kota Minoura. As is the trend, though, Minoura escaped and quickly made the rookie pay for his crimes. The match ended with Minoura yet again connecting with the R-301.
This never kicked into high gear, but it was worked with far more energy than anything else on the show up to this point. ***
SKATEBOARD VS. CABALLERA
DRAGON DIA DEF. DON FUJII
Wrestling hardly ever feels as satisfying as it did with this match. By no means was this a technical classic. From a purely in-ring standpoint, the match prior was a better affair. This was a Dragongate Match for the Dragongate Fan. For 20 years, Don Fujii has engaged in kleptomaniac tendencies and Dragon Dia was fortunate enough – or unfortunate, depending on how you look at it – to join the likes of Genki Horiguchi, Milano Collection AT, and Ryo Saito as a victim of Fujii’s theft.
Dia went without his skateboard for a month after Fujii jacked him in June. Since then, Fujii has taken the board around the Dragongate loop (and to a Tenryu Project show) but has failed to garner any sort of skill on a skateboard. It’s been phenomenal to watch. This match somehow balanced the stakes of Dragon Dia having his hair on the line with the absurdity of Don Fujii wanting to protect this skateboard more than life itself. The nearfalls felt genuinely dramatic. GM Ryo Saito, who joined the fray as the guest referee in this bout, was terrific in aiding Dia to victory after the continued torment of Fujii.
This match even served a greater purpose as halfway through, HYO came out and briefly choked out Dragon Dia, who defeated HYO to retain the Brave Gate belt in HYO’s hometown a few weeks ago. This appears to be setting up a rematch for the belt at Kobe World.
I just loved what this match stood for. Fujii beat up a pretty boy, the pretty boy fought back, and in the end, with the help of Ryo Saito, the young star won back the rights to his property. This will finish on no MOTY lists, nor should it, but it was a thrill ride from start to finish. ***1/4
Afterwards, Dia and Fujii agreed to team at a later date. Get your GIF machines ready.
HYO & SHUN SKYWALKER DEF. JACKY “FUNKY” KAMEI & JASON LEE
To the surprise of many, myself included, HYO rolled up Jacky “Funky” Kamei with the Black Panther Clutch to win the match for Z-Brats. My knee jerk reaction was to criticize this finish. Why should HYO pin someone who is getting a title shot at the biggest show of the year? Then I realized that no matter how many wins Kamei and Lee rack up before Kobe at the end of the month, they are still going to come in as wild underdogs in contrast to the Bi-Continental Wrecking Crew that is Diamante and Shun Skywalker. The match is already booked. A win over HYO does nothing. A win for HYO, however, helps continue to establish him as a threat for Dragon Dia’s Brave Gate title. The loss doesn’t hurt Natural Vibes, it only helps HYO and Z-Brats.
Outside of Will Ospreay, I don’t believe anyone in wrestling is on Shun Skywalker’s level right now. The opportunities they’ve been granted this year have been widely different. Ospreay is a touring champion who is expected to have the best match on every show that he’s on. Stateside, he’s been able to face every local ace thrown his way and he’s been able to survive all of them. Skywalker is shining bright by “dulling down” his work. He’s no longer a wild banshee who verges on a horrible, top rope botch every time he steps into the ring. His heat segments have become his high spots. No one is able to do more with less right now in wrestling than Skywalker. He’s grounding the likes of Kamei and Lee and it’s enthralling. He has reinvented himself in a way that I didn’t think was possible. He’s reinvented what heel work can be in Dragongate. This current run is one of the most unique runs I’ve ever seen from a singular wrestler in the Dragon System.
This isn’t to say that Skywalker hasn’t had great matches. He delivered two gems in May, a MOTYC against Kzy in the King of Gate tournament and a jaw-dropping Twin Gate match against D’Courage. As of this writing, Skywalker has 9 matches on my spreadsheet at 4 stars or above this year. He’s the best wrestler in the company. His work here with Kamei and Lee made me salivate for what they’re going to do when the Twin Gate belts are on the line, not only because that trio of workers continue to fire on all cylinders, but because nothing delivers quite like a Twin Gate match at Kobe World.
Since I began reviewing Kobe World shows for Voices of Wrestling in 2015, my star ratings look like this:
2015: YAMATO & Naruki Doi vs. Matt Sydal & Ricochet: ****
2016: Jimmy Kagetora & Jimmy Susumu vs. “brother” YASSHI & Naruki Doi: ***1/2
2017: CIMA & Dragon Kid vs. Masato Yoshino & Naruki Doi: ****1/2
2018: BxB Hulk & YAMATO vs. Ben-K & Big R Shimizu: ****1/2
2019: Big R Shimizu & Eita vs. Kaito Ishida & Naruki Doi vs. KAI & YAMATO: ****3/4
2020: BxB Hulk & KAI vs. Kota Minoura & YAMATO: ***3/4 (YAMATO was a last minute substitution for Jason Lee, who was pulled from the show for COVID-19 precautionary reasons)
2021: King Shimizu & Susumu Yokosuka vs. Kaito Ishida & Kazma Sakamoto: ****1/2
*Speed Star Final 2021: King Shimizu & Susumu Yokosuka vs. Ben-K & Dragon Kid: ****1/2
The list of Twin Gate matches at Kobe World that predate my reviews include:
2008: Ryo Saito & Susumu Yokosuka vs. MAZADA & NOSAWA Rongai: ***1/2
2009: Genki Horiguchi & Ryo Saito vs. Shingo Takagi & YAMATO: **1/2
2010: Don Fujii & Masaaki Mochizuki vs. K-Ness & Susumu Yokosuka: ****
2011: CIMA & Ricochet vs. Dragon Kid & PAC: *****
2012: Jimmy Kagetora & Jimmy Susumu vs. Shingo Takagi & YAMATO: ****
2013: Akira Tozawa & BxB Hulk vs. Naruki Doi & Ricochet: ****3/4
2014: Akira Tozawa & Shingo Takagi vs. T-Hawk & Eita: ****3/4
Basically, as long as your match isn’t dragged down by Real Hazard bullshit (2009) or the mere presence of “brother” YASSHI (2016), you are guaranteed to have a great match in this spot.
If you want to look past my ratings, since the inception of the Voices of Wrestling Match of the Year Poll in 2012, here’s how Twin Gate matches at Kobe World have done:
I am already putting unfair expectations on Diamante & Shun Skywalker vs. Jacky “Funky” Kamei & Jason Lee, but the talent involved makes this, to me, the most anticipated match of the summer. Skywalker is currently the best wrestler in the world, Jason Lee is the best junior in Japan, Diamante is the best base in wrestling and someone who continues to only get better, and Kamei is a sparkplug who can turn this match into a forever memory.
In this match, we saw only a slimmer of what this Natural Vibes pairing can accomplish with the Z-Brats duo. The work was great, undoubtedly. Shun Skywalker monkey flipped Kamei into Lee. That is the sort of stuff that gets me out of bed in the morning. Skywalker headbutting Kamei minutes after falling behind in a strike battle is just icing on the cake. This is the kind of pro wrestling that I am into. This match set the table for a match fairly or unfairly has MOTYC expectations in my mind. Anything less than that would be a disappointment.
While this, in a vacuum, was not a great match, I deem it essential viewing for what is to come. ***3/4
BEN-K, DRAGON KID, & YAMATO DEF. BIG BOSS SHIMIZU, KZY, & U-T
Remember all of the excitement that I have for Natural Vibes vs. Z-Brats? I have none of that for anything involving High-End right now. This match appeared to have set the stage for a possible Ben-K turn, as after the match he questioned why he wasn’t in the upcoming Triangle Gate match on 7/21 and was essentially told to “sit tight” by YAMATO in response.
The closing stretch between Ben-K and U-T was excellent as U-T climbed all over the former Dream Gate Champion like a jungle gym. There was a tremendous spot in which Ben-K speared U-T, only for U-T to immediately counter into his patented Beinllave submission hold. Ben was able to escape and soon after was once again connected with a spear on the Aichi-native. That was enough for the High-End trio to get the win. The action was very good, but I am not invested in High-End as a unit. ***1/2
OPEN THE DREAM GATE CHAMPIONSHIP
KAI (c) VS. SHUJI KONDO
This will go down as KAI’s fourth successful defense of the Open the Dream Gate Championship despite it ending in a no-contest due to Kota Minoura interference.
As usual, KAI put forth a tremendous effort in this encounter. Just like he did against Shimizu and Yokosuka earlier in the year, KAI made it seem like there was a legitimate chance he could lose the title, even if realistically, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense for his opponent to win. Whatever concerns I had about KAI as champion were wiped away after three months with the belt and in the following three months, he’s proven to be a reliable Dream Gate Champion that can have Dream Gate-quality matches. The closing stretch between him and Kondo was as strong as Kondo has looked since he returned to Dragongate in 2020.
Unfortunately, the match ended in a no contest when the lights shut off in Korakuen Hall and Kota Minoura began attacking the champion and challenger when the lights flipped back on. Thanks to the help of Twitter, Dragongate would cover their bases to explain why the lights shut off, but brooding, spooky Kota Minoura is such a strong change in direction for a man who has spent the entire year being a beautiful bimbo. I love Kota Minoura. I entered this year thinking that he would be crowned Dream Gate Champion at Kobe World this year.
I do not think this is the way to get him to the title.
He will hopefully lose to Yuki Yoshioka, who will then hopefully defeat KAI, but I’m not excited about the process in which we’re going to get there. After the match, GM Ryo Saito set up a three-way between Kondo, Minoura, and Yoshioka for 7/24 in Kobe and that match will determine who challenges for the Dream Gate belt at Ultimo’s 35th Anniversary Show and Kobe World.
This was all a mess. This is not what this show needed at all. This will go down as one of the most disappointing Dream Gate finishes ever because had KAI just pinned Kondo clean, this would’ve been a ****1/2 match. With the non-finish, this match turned into a disappointing debacle that is now entirely skippable. NR
Rarely does Dragongate fail to push stories forward in an engaging way while also producing lackluster wrestling, but the 2022 incarnation of Hopeful Gate checked off both boxes. I did not like the storyline progression, nor the wrestling, which puts the company behind the eight ball as they head into their biggest weekend of the year at the end of the month. This is a skippable show.
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