ULTIMO DRAGON 35TH ANNIVERSARY SHOW
JULY 30, 2022
KOBE WORLD MEMORIAL HALL
Watch: Dragon Gate Network
OPEN THE BRAVE GATE #1 CONTENDER BATTLE ROYAL
SB KENTO DEF. GENKI HORIGUCHI, HO HO LUN, ISHIN IIHASHI, PROBLEM DRAGON, PUNCH TOMINAGA, RYU FUDA, SHACHIHOKO BOY, SUPER SHENLONG III, & U-T
SB KENTo survived nine other opponents to win a shot at the Brave Gate belt on 7/31. This match was highlighted by the return of Ryu Fuda, who was unspectacular but solid, and a hot closing stretch between SBK and U-T, as they’re prone to do. ***
NATURAL VIBES (BIG BOSS SHIMIZU, KZY, & STRONG MACHINE J) DEF. GOLD CLASS (KOTA MINOURA, MINORITA, & NARUKI DOI)
The official opening match of Ultimo Dragon’s 35th Anniversary Celebration saw an ascending unit in Natural Vibes take down a unit on the decline in Gold Class. Even in a nothing match, Kzy continues to be one of the finest wrestlers Dragongate can offer on big shows in Kobe. He came across like a superstar tangling against Doi and Minoura in this match. While there’s nothing wrong with being in a Triangle Gate match, which he’ll be in tomorrow, I would’ve liked for Kzy to be in a bigger spot this weekend. Nevertheless, these two units put forth a quality opening match. There was no juice to anything Gold Class did, but the unrelenting chemistry of the Natural Vibes trio carried this match to being worthwhile. ***1/4
BEN-K, MADOKA KIKUTA, & TAKASHI YOSHIDA DEF. GURUKUN MASK, KENICHIRO ARAI, & THE BODYGUARD
For the second year in a row, Ben-K found himself in an utterly meaningless match on the first night of their Kobe double-shot. Last year he was saddled alongside Gamma, Problem Dragon, and Punch Tominaga against Young Vibes, Yosuke Santa Maria, and Takashi Yoshida, while this year he finds himself alongside Yoshida and the promising Madoka Kikuta. This was perfectly inoffensive wrestling ending with Ben-K spearing the life out of Kenichiro Arai. **1/2
OPEN THE BRAVE GATE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
HYO DEF. DRAGON DIA ©
Dragon Dia failed to make his fourth successful defense of the Open the Brave Gate Championship. This was the third singles match between him and HYO this year and the first one with a clean finish, as the prior two bouts ended in countouts. This is the first singles championship HYO has won in his career.
Seven months of work went into this match. In January, Dia was rebranded into a character meant to resemble Olympic gold medalist Yuto Horigome, and alongside Yuki Yoshioka, became undoubted uber-babyfaces that the promotion needed. Dia has represented all things good this year and has consistently been met with opposition from HYO and SB KENTo in Z-Brats. Dia defeated SBK to retain Brave Gate gold at Dead or Alive, but HYO not only forced a double countout in King of Gate, but then once more in HYO’s hometown during a Brave Gate challenge. In their third singles match in three months, HYO used every trick he had in his book while also displaying his growth as a wrestler en route to earning his first Brave Gate reign.
HYO targeted the legs of the far more athletic Dia early on. He wanted to ground this match to a halt and slowly pick apart his opponent. With SBK, who is now in line for a Brave Gate shot running interference on HYO’s behalf, it looked like this was going to be a pretty easy evening for Z-Brats.
As he’s done so many times before, though, Dragon Dia came firing back and waylaid on both Z-Brats members, connecting with a huge dive to the floor that took out both HYO and SBK and then a flurry of big moves later on in the match on HYO. The challenger survived a Firebird Splash, notably, as well as Dia’s patented DDDDT.
HYO has done such a good job of producing automatic drama in his matches given how sneaky (read: big brained) he’s been over the last few years. Despite Dia hitting move after move, it seemed like HYO could steal the match at any moment, which is exactly what happened. Dia was unable to connect with the Reptilian Rana, and as HYO slipped out, he caught the champion in the Black Panther Clutch and pinned him for the victory.
This was such a smart match that played off of both men’s strengths and characters. Dia was a valiant champion who ultimately got caught up dealing with too much all at one time and succumbed to the pressure. HYO capped off an incredible journey that would’ve seemed impossible only a few years ago. He’s now a credible, threatening Brave Gate Champion. Job well done. ***3/4
KAGETORA 20TH ANNIVERSARY MATCH
KAGETORA, JINSEI SHINZAKI, & TARO NOHASHI DEF. DON FUJII, SHUJI KONDO, & TORU OWASHI
Kagetora is not a superstar, but if Dragongate were a baseball team, players like him would be the ones that would help you win a World Series. I’ve always found him to be a very flawed wrestler who wears his effort on his sleeve and oftentimes makes it very clear when he’s bored or disinterested in his work, but when he’s on, he’s a brilliant performer who is unmistakable in his in-ring approach. If he’s your clubhouse leader, you’re doomed. If Kagetora is a guy that can come off the bench and pinch hit for you every once in a while, you’re in great shape. Thankfully Dragongate has relegated Kagetora to the bench for many years.
Oddly enough, I felt like we didn’t get to see much of the Anniversary Boy in this match. Instead, his peer, the former Arakencito in Toryumon X, Taro Nohashi, was all over this match. I like Nohashi a lot. I would like to have known what his career would have looked like had he migrated from Toryumon X to Dragongate, but instead he was relegated to post-prime Michinoku Pro. Shinzaki, in this role as a special attraction who hardly did anything, was perfectly acceptable.
Kagetora rolled up Don Fujii for the win to cap off the sub-10 minute match. This was perfectly fine for what it was, but I’ll never go back and revisit this match. ***
DRAGON KID 25TH ANNIVERSARY MATCH
DRAGON KID & MASATO TANAKA DEF. BXB HULK & YAMATO
In an effort to pay homage to his FMW roots, Dragon Kid brought in Masato Tanaka to take on the reunited YAMAHulk team. The last time Hulk and YAMATO were aligned in a two-on-two match, they won the Open the Twin Gate Championships. A week later, Hulk joined RED and turned on YAMATO. This was a reunion that should’ve felt like a big deal, but given the muck that we had to go through to get to Kobe World, this was just another Thing on a card full of Things.
Outside of a crossbody from Masato Tanaka to YAMATO, who was on a table on the floor, this was a good reminder that Dragon Kid is simply not human. At 46-years-old and after multiple huge injuries, Dragon Kid still moves around the ring like a wrestler in their 20’s on fresh legs. The finish of this match, which saw Dragon Kid hit a 619 on YAMATO, then a Bermuda Triangle Moonsault to the floor onto Hulk, only for him to go back up to the apron and connect with an Ultra Hurricanrana on YAMATO was a thing of beauty. It all happened so fast. Most wrestlers do not move with such speed and precision. Most wrestlers, though, do not have the career that Dragon Kid has had.
While he’s produced a number of epics in his career that would better represent his legendary status, this lighthearted affair served its purpose in displaying the freakish talents of one Dragon Kid. ***1/4
KEIJI MUTOH DEF. KONOMAMA ICHIKAWA
It doesn’t get better than this.
Watching Konomama Ichikawa, the greatest comedy wrestler of all-time and a man who I’ve enjoyed far more than Keiji Mutoh throughout their respective careers, fake out Mutoh and his Shining Wizard to land a deadly butthole attack on Pro Wrestling NOAH’s biggest wart was one of the best things I’ve ever seen.
Unfortunately, Mutoh once again flexed his political muscles as he later pinned Ichikawa with a Shining Wizard that looked far more painful for the old man than it did the young, vibrant Ichiakwa. Mutoh pinned him and rolled out of the ring, though not as quickly as he did against Kaito Kiyomiya a few weeks ago. If I have it my way, this will be the last “new” Mutoh match I ever watch. NR
OPEN THE TRIANGLE GATE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
M3K (MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI, MOCHIZUKI JUNIOR, & SUSUMU MOCHIZUKI) DEF. PERROS DEL MAL DE JAPÓN (EITA, KOTARO SUZUKI, & NOSAWA RONGAI) ©
Perros del Mal de Japón could not make their third successful defense of these Triangle Gate belts. With this win, Mochizuki Junior has won his first title faster than anyone else in Dragongate history at 57 days, easily beating the former record of Strong Machine J, who did it in 102 days in 2019.
There has been a gross amount of NOSAWA discourse within Dragongate this year. People have falsely reported claims about him and his power, others have complained about his presence, and most have been entirely lost about the Triangle Gate picture and why the titles have moved around so much this year. Not me, however. While I thought maybe the A+ Gold Class squad of Doi, Ishida, and Minoura would hold the titles for a little while after they won them in March, I figured out what the story was as soon as they dropped them in their first defense. All year, the titles had bounced from trio to trio with no successful defenses. It was obvious that Kobe World would be where these titles find stability. Add in the fact that Mochizuki Junior, the literal son of Masaaki Mochizuki was now a member of the roster and he was reviving one of the single most legendary acts in Dragon System history, it became clear as day.
M3K is here to bring stability to these belts.
Yes, it was annoying that the Triangle Gate titles have spent weeks in Pro Wrestling NOAH, but the confusing nature of the trios titles has been for a reason. This is what we have been building to. Mochizuki Junior, less than two months into his career, is now holding gold alongside his dad and his dad’s best friend. Mochizuki, Masaaki has guided his son to victory, protected him from defeat, and trained him to become the best wrestler he can be.
The way they’ve laid out all of the Mochizuki Junior matches, from his debut in which he was given a pin, to a Kobe Sanbo Hall battle royal in which M3K members eliminated themselves so he could win, to here, where he won a huge title by countout in an effort to make him appear weak, yet somehow credible, has all been brilliant. This kid is going to be a star and my faith in that grows stronger each and every time I see him.
For anyone bothered by Mochizuki Junior’s meteoric rise, there are a number of asterisks to go along with this victory. Yasushi Kanda, a member of his unit, was the referee. He favored M3K the entire time. Then, like I mentioned, he won by countout (M2K and subsequently M3K are famous for causing matches to go to double counouts) after preventing both Eita and NOSAWA from getting in the ring before the count of 20. It’s not like he steamrolled Eita and pinned him clean.
While this was the weakest Perros match in Dragongate up to this point, it was the most effective. Mochizuki Junior got his moment, as flawed as it may be. I love what they did here, I love how they’re using M3K, and I love the end result. ***
ULTIMO DRAGON 35TH ANNIVERSARY MATCH
ULTIMO DRAGON VS. EL HIJO DEL SANTO
These two absolute legends wrestled for a few minutes before Eita and NOSAWA ran in and caused a no contest. While it is easy to groan at this, neither Ultimo nor Santo are in a place where they can have an effective singles match. I’ve seen recent footage of both men in tags working with life and vibrancy, but this singles match fell apart immediately and it was getting sad before Perros ran in.
EL HIJO DEL SANTO & ULTIMO DRAGON DEF. EITA & NOSAWA RONGAI
This wasn’t a great match, but I had a blast watching it. Eita brought some much needed physicality and intensity to this match in the beginning, and to close it off he took Santo’s Somersault Senton, which looked absolutely devastating. As an entire segment, this became a lot of fun once Perros introduced themselves into the fray. Eita was rendered useless after that Senton and together, he and NOSAWA became trapped in Santo’s Camel Clutch and Dragon’s Dragon Sleeper, respectively, causing both men to tap out. NR
Afterwards, Super Crazy ran out and helped his Perros brethren pick apart Ultimo and Santo once more. This brought out, yes, Great Sasuke, who made the save. This set up a trios match between Eita, NOSAWA, and Super Crazy vs. El Hijo del Santo, Great Sasuke, and Ultimo Dragon for the following night.
OPEN THE TWIN GATE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
JACKY “FUNKY” KAMEI & JASON LEE DEF. DIAMANTE & SHUN SKYWALKER
Diamante and Shun Skywalker failed to make their second successful defense of the Open the Twin Gate Championships. Jacky “Funky” Kamei and Jason Lee, representing the Kobe-exclusive Kung-Fu Masters unit, become the 58th Open the Twin Gate Champions with this victory.
You will not see a better tag team match this year.
With all due respect to the top dogs in North America, nothing is going to beat this. From start to finish, this was a perfect display of progressive pro wrestling. I’m so much more interested in exploring the unknown than attempting to relive Crockett’s glory years with modern pacing. These four men, three of whom I’ve long touted as being some of the best wrestlers in the world, just showed us their magnum opus.
Time after time, I have said Shun Skywalker is arguably the best wrestler in the world. When the FSM 50 came calling last year, I ranked only Kenny Omega higher than Skywalker on my ballot of who I thought the 50 best in-ring performers were. In 2022, he’s only gotten better. The only name I will accept as possibly being better than Skywalker, currently, is Will Ospreay, and I think even that is up for debate. Skywalker is in the midst of his first run as a clearly defined heel, but that doesn’t mean he’s lost the flash that led him to Dragongate’s main event scene. Instead, he’s merely added layer upon layer to produce an end result of being one of the most complete wrestlers in all of the land. Skywalker has become a power junior without any of us calling it out. He doesn’t have the meathead-aesthetic that Shingo Takagi was known for. Whereas the current New Japan standout thrived on gym class jock charisma that was easily accessible and understood, Skywalker is dead behind the eyes. His charisma is haunting. He’s ungodly strong, even if he doesn’t project it. Early on in this match, he launched Jason Lee with the velocity of a Nolan Ryan fastball in the direction of his partner, sending them both crashing and burning to the floor.
The charm of the now-former-champions is also due to Diamante, who has transformed himself from a heavy-footed luchador into the world’s best base in three years time. There is nothing that Diamante can’t do. In so many ways, he’s the Mexican Claudio Castagnoli. He seemed hellbent to fly in this match, adapting a number of his biggest moves into top rope variations, notably a double press slam off the top with Skywalker in an effort to harm Lee.
The aforementioned Jason Lee is the best junior heavyweight in Japan. Dragongate is a roster full of juniors, but Lee is the one who most resembles the traditional junior heavyweight style. I’ve said for nearly 18 months that he could walk into any other Japanese promotion and he’d immediately be the best junior there. He’s better than Desperado, far better now than an injury-riddled Hiromu, and simply in a different league than anyone that NOAH or All Japan offer. Lee has figured out a way to work with the crispness of Christopher Daniels while also having his offense look far less robotic. His signature moves look brutal. His strikes are intense. Everything he does registers with me.
Then, there’s Jacky “Funky” Kamei.
Less than three years into his career and in his first Twin Gate match ever, Kamei stole the show.
He will never be a megastar and he’ll never headline this event, but he represents something far greater to this promotion. Kamei, like Genki Horiguchi and, say, Magnum TOKYO before him, just feels like the embodiment of what Dragongate is all about. His peer, SB KENTo, whom he debuted with, will ascend to greater heights. Takuma Fujiwara, who’s younger than him, will surpass him in the pecking order sooner rather than later. But Kamei is Dragongate’s new Energizer Bunny. He is the kind of face you want showing up in tiny towns and on massive stages. He’s the perfect underdog babyface who can sell and sell and sell and still somehow survive. He burst out in a big way last October against SB KENTo in Kobe, but if there is a God somewhere watching over us, Kamei’s profile will be raised all across the world after this. This is what a star-making performance looks like.
There’s all of the moves that Kamei took. The Doomsday Springboard Dropkick, the knee-first moonsault from Skywalker, and the spot that can only be described as Skywalker and Diamante launching Kamei into orbit, all of which looked devastating. Then there’s Kamei’s counters. Standing on Diamante’s shoulders and diving off of them to tag his partner, the Tornado DDT out of the Cielo Finale, and the final pair of Torbellino’s to escape Skywalker’s SSW, all of which couldn’t have been executed any better. Everything great that Skywalker and Diamante bring to the table was perfectly matched by what Lee, and Kamei in particular, do best.
The closing stretch of this match sealed the deal on this being a rare instance of perfection in pro wrestling. Unable to put Kamei away with the knee-first moonsault, Skywalker turned to his trusty SSW, the move that helped him become a successful Dream Gate Champion. Kamei countered the first one with an attempted Torbellino, a move passed down from Masato Yoshino, but Skywalker countered that into another SSW attempt. Kamei went back to the same well, once again going for the Torbellino and this time connecting with it, forcing Diamante to break up the pin. Kamei kept going, however, getting rid of Diamante and then connecting with Project A on Skywalker to upset the champions.
It is fitting that Kamei rallied his team to victory in part due to a move made famous by Masato Yoshino, as a year ago when I was telling the story of Masato Yoshino’s career, I shared an anecdote from Mike Sydal, who made a slight error in a match with Yoshino on a house show early in his Dragongate career. Sydal came to the back and apologized, prompting Yoshino to say, “…I know you fucked up. You watch me, I never fuck up. You must never fuck up.”
As tides continue to change in Dragongate, the overall output does not. There is still a throughline of greatness that radiates off of this promotion far more than it does anywhere else in the world. The ambition in this match is not what’s impressive, it’s the perfection in which they executed their ambition that blows me away.
In 2006, after Blood Generation vs. Do Fixer had upended the world of wrestling, Ring of Honor booker Gabe Sapolsky described the match as being “five years ahead of what was being done in the U.S.” There is no promotion on Earth, nor any other combination of wrestlers, that are prepared to do what these four just accomplished. I’ve never seen a match like this, with so much athleticism and brutality, all of which was executed to the greatest degree possible.
This match will not age well in the way that most matches do. In a few years, we will not see this match influencing the larger wrestling world. This match will age well because we’ll never see anything like it again.
This was perfection. *****
OPEN THE DREAM GATE CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH
YUKI YOSHIOKA DEF. KAI
KAI falls in his fifth defense of the Open the Dream Gate Championship. For Yoshioka, this is his first time with the title as he becomes the 35th Open the Dream Gate Champion.
Despite all of the controversy surrounding the Dream Gate scene at Kobe World, the first seven months of Yuki Yoshioka’s 2022 should be studied by bookers around the world if they want to learn how to truly make someone a star. Yoshioka left for Mexico right before the pandemic started in 2020 with the goal of simply getting away from the Dragongate fanbase. They didn’t want him to be seen for a long time. They wanted people to forget about Yoshioka. When he returned to Japan that fall, he was under a demonic mask hellbent on targeting Dragon Dia as his foil, Dia Inferno. That run had numerous ups and downs, but with Dragon Dia getting unmasked at the end of last year, Yoshioka felt the need to take off his hood and in a shocking turn of events, team up with Dia. The two won Twin Gate gold in January and held them through Dead or Alive. In King of Gate, Yoshoka blitzed through the field, beating YAMATO, Diamante, Shun Skywalker, and then finally Kota Minoura. He became the rightful heir to the Dream Gate title and someone who was credible enough to stop KAI’s reign of dominance.
As Dream Gate Champion, Yuki Yoshioka is not going to be a game changer, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t worthy of having this top spot. As he showed here against KAI, who, whether people want to admit it or not, has been a terrific champion in the big moments, Yoshioka is a big game player. He does his best work when the lights are the brightest. He looked so ruthless in this match, diving onto all of Z-Brats on the floor from the top rope, trading lariats with KAI, and kicking out of KAI’s most vicious head drop maneuvers. Despite playing a hell-dwelling beast for a year and a half, Yoshioka looked like more of a beast here than ever before. He looked like a top dog ready to lead the company into less choppy waters.
KAI, as I mentioned, has been brilliant since getting past the lackluster Takashi Yoshida defense in February. I was genuinely terrified at the idea of what that reign could become. Instead, he produced a banger with Big Boss Shimizu, a MOTYC against Susumu Yokosuka, and a great match with Shuji Kondo prior to the finish. He was exactly the guy that Yoshioka needed to beat. KAI roughed him up and Yoshioka kept fighting. This was far stiffer than your average Dream Gate affair and for someone like Yoshioka who is prettier than the average human, he needed that.
Yoshioka was the favorite going in, but once he kicked out of the Meteor Impact KAI at 1, I knew he was bringing home the gold. That was the moment he needed to throw everything he had at the champion. They collided with a brutal double lariat spot, only for Yoshioka to keep throwing them to come out ahead. He hit KAI with a Darkness Buster, a move given to him by K-Ness, but KAI kicked out. He then hit a standing frog splash on the champion, then went 3/4 of the way across the ring and hit one more giant frog splash to secure the three count.
They had an impossible task of following the Twin Gate match, but on the whole, this was everything you could’ve asked for. KAI was a great final boss for Yoshioka, who fought valiantly and won cleanly. He is the new, rightful Open the Dream Gate Champion. ****
It’s hard to criticize a show that produced the best match of the year. While this wasn’t one of Dragongate’s best big shows ever, it produced one of their greatest matches ever, and that should be celebrated. There will be time later to analyze the flaws of this show, what went wrong, and why this company one day flipped a switch and now they feel so “off”, but today is a day to celebrate what Diamante, Shun Skywalker, Jason Lee, and Jacky “Funky” Kamei accomplished. Go watch that Twin Gate match.