Dragongate
Kobe Pro-Wrestling Festival 2022
July 31, 2022
Kobe World Memorial Hall
Kobe, Japan

Watch: Dragon Gate Network

Z-Brats (KAI, BXB Hulk, Shun Skywalker & Diamante) Def. Kobe Kung Fu Masters (Jacky “Funky” Kamei, Jason Lee, Ho Ho Lun & Super Shenlong III) 

Skywalker won the fall after a Cielo Finale on Super Shenlong III. The hometown specific Kung Fu Masters drop their first match since founding as last night’s Z-Brats losers powered through the opener. Less than a day after Dragongate’s first Five Star match in almost two years, Jacky “Funky” Kamei made his early claim to be the MVP of Kobe World Weekend with another phenomenal performance in a very good opener. The chemistry he shows with Shun Skywalker has been something special. For some reason, the Class of 2016 never really developed a generational rivalry with each other, but I could see Kamei ending up being Skywalker’s best rival. Kamei’s inventive flying and compelling babyface crowd connection matches up well with Skywalker’s runaway train power offense. They kept this opener moving, showed a lot of fun Kung Fu Masters teamwork, and followed up on the match from last night. The new Twin Gate champions, Kamei and Jason Lee, heavily sold from last night’s match making the lovely part-timer Shenlong III easy prey for Z-Brats’ Twin Towers. ***1/2 

Yasushi Kanda, Ryo Saito & Genki Horiguchi Def. Konomama Ichikawa, Shachihoko Machine & Kanjuro Matsuyama

GM Saito won the match for his former Jimmyz team after reversing Ichikawa’s Figure Four Leglock. Over the last eighteen months, Dragongate has had a preponderance of matches like this one with six veterans out there for six to twelve minutes where it’s a pleasant time and fun match, but no one is pulling a stop out and no one is taking it out of second gear. I call it a Touch Football match, because it reminds me of the lethargic nature of anyone who plays Touch Football after a holiday meal. You know you need the movement after that heavy of a meal, but you know if you push it bad things will happen. Everyone did their trademark comedy spots but Matsuyama got most of the focus. Playing off of last night, Ichikawa did a picture perfect Dragon Screw and Shining Wizard before losing the match on his own move. The biggest plus of the match was Takashi Yoshida joining Jae on English commentary as Ho Ho didn’t immediately run to the booth after the opener. Yoshida has a buffoonish charm that Jae plays off of really well and they should get him back in the booth in the future. **1/2

U-T, Gurukun Mask, Problem Dragon & Ishin Iihashi Def. Kagetora, Kenichiro Arai, Punch Tominaga & Ryu Fuda

U-T spiked Punch with the Fuego (Abdominal Stretch into a Crucifix Driver). Ryu Fuda is making up for lost time. There was a fear that he would be another lost member of the Class of 2021 when he quietly disappeared from cards three months ago from what we now know was a sternum injury. Before the injury Fuda lagged behind the rest of his class as a nondescript former kickboxer best known for getting choked out by the currently absent Keisuke Okuda. Fuda could have been a guy that slipped through the cracks and become a footnote like many other failed Dragon System rookies. Instead Ryu Fuda put his best foot forward in his return, adding a fun edge to his kickboxing where he is willing to springboard off the middle or bottom ropes to provide extra precision and momentum. Fuda’s work with both his classmate Ishin Iihashi along with U-T was the highlight of this match. Ishin has come along quite well since his brother’s retirement, but he’s coming up on his first anniversary and we need to see some sort of movement or momentum behind him. It’s a very good thing that Punch Tominaga is weirdly over with native fans, because no one should look more grimy than my main man Kenichiro Arai in a match. Perfectly fine. ***1/4

The Skateboard Family (Dragon Dia & Don Fujii) Def. Takashi Yoshida & Madoka Kikuta 

Dia rebounds from his Brave Gate loss by pinning Kikuta after a Fujii Chokeslam and his Firebird Splash. One of the more frustrating aspects of Dragongate’s 2022 has been their booking strategy of only announcing big matches in advance. It makes coverage more difficult not knowing what the Kobe World card is until less than a day out. The other side of the booking strategy coin was this match, something I didn’t know I wanted until they dropped last night and an incredibly pleasant surprise on a nothing big show Dragongate undercard.

The Don Fujii and Dragon Dia bicycle kleptomania feud over this summer was yet another example of Dragongate getting how to use nostalgia (in this case, Don Fujii’s 20 year plus run of stealing everyone’s entrance props) in modern wrestling. Having their big blow off team up (a key facet in a lot of Dragon System feuds) on a weaker Kobe World undercard really helps this show. Now, the match was overwhelmingly fine. Fujii and Dia’s chemistry paid off in a team that I’m totally fine with never seeing again or being a thing with Yoshioka as Dream Gate champ. Madoka Kikuta has been pretty rudderless since his return in May, but there might be something in a team with Yoshida for the near future. ***1/4

Aagan Issou (Shuji Kondo & Toru Owashi) Def. Gold Class (Naruki Doi & Minorita)

The T2P power fighter team won after an Owashi chokeslam on Minorita. It feels very wrong that Naruki Doi spent his 2022 Kobe World Weekend in two rather meaningless undercard tag matches where he has been the secondary member of his teams. But that’s the reality of Gold Class right now, a tweener unit that has bombed long term and is on death’s doorstep after the departure of Kaito Ishida from Dragongate. There’s just not a lot of ways to book Doi until the company either kills Gold Class or figures out where to go next with them. So one of the three remaining members of the Big Six spends his Kobe World Weekend in a tag team with a mascot.

This match became a commentary on Gold Class and on a reason why it has failed: Minorita. For as rich and vibrant of a character Minorita is, he screws up the internal logic of matches if he’s wrestling in them instead of being a manager. Without Ishida, Gold Class is down to three people and now Minorita has to wrestle in every tag or trios match. 

When Minorita is in a match for Gold Class, the match becomes all about Minorita and the size disparity and his annoying the opposite team. That’s not a criticism, Minorita is the best thing about Gold Class, but it just shows the inflexibility of the unit right now. Kondo and Owashi were good at getting fooled by Minorita and then beating the stuffing out of him. Doi kept the match going as Kondo and Owashi couldn’t isolate him away from breaking up the pin until finally Kondo got him to the outside and Owashi chokeslammed Minorita for good. Perfectly fine match in unfortunate circumstances. ***

Open The Brave Gate Championship
HYO © Def. SB KENTo

HYO makes his first successful defense of the Brave Gate with the Black Panther Clutch.

The Bamishiri Brothers exploding on night two of Kobe World worked in a lot of ways but couldn’t escape the fact that the crowd wasn’t very into a Z-Brats vs Z-Brats matchup. SBK and HYO starting the match with an abrupt screw job fake out didn’t really help matters. SBK looked like he wanted to throw the match but instead caught HYO with a crucifix hold and then the two quickly went out onto the apron where SBK spiked his tag team partner with an apron DDT and dominated the early minutes.

From there HYO had to claw his way back into the match. There was a bit of a disconnect in the match that was happening and the match that was being presented. After such a prolonged beatdown and tricks from SB KENTo, HYO was treated as a babyface but then immediately cheated with a turnbuckle rip that led to SBK clap calls. Weird stuff for a moment there. 

The two guys worked well together and showed the chemistry that one would expect given the last two years of these guys teaming. There was an extended crawl to the ropes on the last SB Shooter attempt in the crowd that woke the crowd up a bit. The Great Brain, knowing he was up against the wall against Dragongate’s Supernova, went deep into his bag of tricks in the closing stretch, including a low blow until he won his second straight Brave Gate match with the Black Panther Clutch. The wrestling itself was good but it just couldn’t escape the weirdness and crowd disinterest of Z-Brats vs Z-Brats. A let down after the Brave Gate match from last night, but the right move given the news of SB KENTo’s excursion starting in August. ***½

Ultimo Dragon, El Hijo Del Santo & The Great Sasuke Def. Perros Del Mal Del Japon (Eita, Nosawa Rongai & Super Crazy)

The masked legend team beat the rudos on the second straight night with stereo finishes from Ultimo (La Magistralling Eita) and Santo (El Caballo on Nosawa).

This virtually was the same match as they had last night as a tag, but with a Sasuke crazy old man turnbuckle tope con hilo. The legends got the flying start but it devolved into a brawl and ripping Santo’s mask (which took the effort of all three Perro members). Right when things were getting long in the tooth given the age of most parties involved, Santo slung folks into chairs. Innovating things still when he’s approaching 60 that Santo. 

Really the moments in here made this worth the time and teetered on the fun side of the “is it fun or sad to see this wrestling legend” meter. I mean the only time I’ve seen Ultimo as happy as he was doing moves with Santo were his instagram posts from an old convertible in Havana.

In the post-match both Santo and Nosawa postured for apuestas that most assuredly will only happen if Nosawa needs a really expensive haircut. NR 

Open The Triangle Gate Championship – 3-Way Elimination Rules
M3K (Masaaki Mochizuki, Susumu Mochzuki & Mochizuki Junior) © Def. Natural Vibes (Kzy, Big Boss Shimizu & Strong Machine J) & High-End (YAMATO, Dragon Kid & Ben-K)

M3K successfully made their first defense.  Ben-K eliminated Natural VIbes for the first fall when he speared Big Boss Shimizu and Susumu Mochizuki won the deciding fall with the World Liner on Dragon Kid. 

This was an enormous test for Dragongate’s first-ever second generation wrestler in 20 year old Mochizuki Junior. Here he is in the semi-main event at Kobe World less than two months after his formal debut. The promotion even put Junior in a match where if things went poorly or if he had a bad night, he could be hidden relatively easily. Dragon System 3-Ways are great at that, hiding flaws or protecting inexperienced wrestlers with eight other wrestlers around them. Junior could have been hidden and play up the sports dad aspect of his character. That would have been the safe course.

Instead Mochizuki Junior proved that he was Masaaki Mochizuki’s son and brought it to Strong Machine J. You see, before Strong Machine J revealed that he was a secret breakdancing robot he really hated other second generation stars. Whenever J would face off against the Iihashi Brothers, he would take it straight to the other second generation wrestlers in a vicious fashion. Junior was more than willing to tap into that, and combined with J’s upward momentum since this Spring it provided a lot of spice to the first fall.

The closing stretch of the second fall played into Ben-K’s issues with High-End. Feeling immensely disrespected by his exclusion from the High-End Triangle Gate challenger team that went into Pro Wrestling NOAH, he set this match up earlier this month. Things were going well and it looked like High-End would at long last win their first ever team title against a comparatively weaker champion team. That was until Ben inadvertently speared Dragon Kid and then speared the turnbuckle in the dying moments of the second fall. Junior hit a nice fisherman’s variant of Masaaki’s Twister, and soon enough Susumu called for his Kobe World specific move, the World Liner, for the win.

This did not reach the exceptional level of past 3-Way and 4-Way matches, but didn’t disrespect the Dragon System standard. Mochizuki Junior took a major step forward as well as High-End possibly took the next step to its hopeful end. ****

Open The Dream Gate Championship
Yuki Yoshioka © Def. Kota Minoura

Yuki Yoshioka makes his first successful defense of the Dream Gate with a Frog Splash on Kota Minoura. 

After almost fifty minutes of Dream Gate matches over less than 24 hours, Yuki Yoshioka is the unquestioned top dog in Dragongate. Dragongate’s first Kobe World Weekend resulted with YAMATO escaping as champion, the boring and unfulfilling option out of Skywalker and Kzy, but absolutely the right decision entering a post Masato Yoshino Dragongate. Dragongate leaves Kobe World Weekend 2022 with the only acceptable result for its fanbase: Yuki Yoshioka slays Dream Gate monster known as KAI and then follows it up a day later by teaching the petulant Kota Minoura a lesson about actions having consequences. 

This was a booking problem of Dragongate’s own creation, and I don’t know if I want to applaud them for creating an issue and then logically getting themselves out of it with the babyface beating the heels. Minoura’s 24 years old, did not figure into the King of Gate plans (neither did Kaito Ishida but don’t tell some journalists), and was the best option for good matches when Jason Lee suffered a concussion. Unless the end goal with Minoura is a full heel run, something I think he could be really good at given his work in this match, this will end up being one of the most puzzlingly booked Kobe World main events in history. 

This was absolutely a solidifying win for Yoshioka, but I find myself liking the King of Gate final between the two more. Minoura played a satisfying heel picking apart a tired champion, but the crowd died with him in control. He’s going to be a great fully-fledged heel one day as he’s got the nice mad man look about him. The opening exchange ended with Minorita and Naruki Doi interference both changing the momentum of the match and allowing Minoura to dismantle Yoshioka on the outside. This was the extent of Gold Class’ interference, but their specter loomed large. 

As the match moved into the later stages, the last day caught up with Yoshioka. How couldn’t it? Last year Shun Skywalker tried to go back to back at Kobe World and came up short, what made Yoshioka different this year? Was it the momentum after winning King of Gate this year and having Minoura’s number? Was it some sort of conviction not allowing another dishonorable champion? Regardless of what it was, it gave Yoshioka what he needed to get through Minoura’s offense. Kota’s Engranaje mastered over last summer, the previously unbeatable Gang and R-301s. Each time Yoshioka was able to escape and continue to fight.

After a brutal top rope Inferno and insane springboard Battle Hook, Yuki Yoshioka climbed up to the top rope and vanquished the Minoura menace with his dive bombing Frog Splash. The only choice to be Dream Gate champion walked out of Kobe World Memorial Hall defending his belt. If only all these steps in Yuki Yoshioka’s coronation were as satisfying as the end result. ****1/4

Final Thoughts

As a big show, Kobe World 2022 was a satisfying experience. Yuki Yoshioka is definitively the guy coming out of this weekend and this match with Kota Minoura and Mochizuki Junior stepped up when the bright lights shone the brightest. The Legends vs Perros match was exactly as we expected and no one got hurt or embarrassed themselves. But as a Dragongate Kobe World, this year’s edition received short shrift of the Kobe World Weekend and lacked blow away matches one expects on Dragongate’s biggest weekend of the year. The two night bloat is real and reared its ugly head on the undercard. There’s a show of the year contender if Dragongate took the best parts of Ultimo’s 35th Anniversary and Kobe World. Instead we are left with a solid show with the right end result and a nothing undercard, but not any of the expectations Dragongate fans have when it comes to Kobe Pro-Wrestling Festival. 

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