December 6, 2022
Korakuen Hall, Tokyo
Watch: Dragongate.live (English & Free w/ Sign Up)
The show opened with High End with their temporary members Takashi Yoshida & Problem Dragon. YAMATO brought up how Yoshida and Dragon were his contemporaries in Dragon Gate NEX and that the show was free on the network which queued up Z-Brats. Shun Skywalker pointed out that High-End was now two members and virtually non-existent so this will be an easy Z-Brats win later. Pretty standard Korakuen open mic segment to let more people get into Korakuen after work before the first match.
Z-Brats (Diamante & ISHIN) Def. Dragon Dia & Kaito Nagano
Diamante pinned Kaito Nagano after a Vuelta Finale in an exciting opener.
As he further entrenches himself with Z-Brats, it’s been exciting to see ISHIN transition away from his rookie year. His heel character comes off more of dead in the eyes Marlin Brando from THE WILD ONES moreso than the overused James Dean in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. ISHIN’s dead behind the eyes and it comes from his frustration from the Iihashi and Mochizuki feud, not ennui. So he’s going to calmly dismantle everyone on the roster and ISHIN’s confidence jumps off the page.
— Sondre Bjørn (@SondreBjorn) December 6, 2022
Kaito Nagano has continued to progress nicely from his debut this fall. He has a certain ability to get an extra foot of height on a dive or headscissors that strikes you when he’s paired up against an accomplished base like Diamante. It’s more Masato Yakushiji than Dragon Kid, but this sort of babyface flier is somewhat rare in Dragongate so it’ll be nice to see if Nagano continues along this path.
After dropping the Twin Gate in Sapporo, Dragon Dia fills a natural role as the exciting flier in the opener. So much of 2022 was built solidifying D’Courage as the leading figures in the promotion that it’s fitting that he can anchor this one. A good bit of fun. ***1/4
Yoshiki Kato Debut Match
Madoka Kikuta Def. Yoshiki Kato
Madoka Kikuta (D'courage) vs. Yoshiki Kato
The last member of the DG class of 2022: Yoshiki Kato's debut match and he faces former twin gate champion, and, class of 2020 Madoka Kikuta
These are big boys pic.twitter.com/Vvf3uosjjM
— Sondre Bjørn (@SondreBjorn) December 6, 2022
Kikuta pins the rookie after a Lariat. This was a decent debut that didn’t have the impact of past debuts, but nothing was wrong. Yoshiki Kato made a mark last month gaining a fail on a roster member pre-debut, but whatever specialness that was generated in November wasn’t here today. Instead of being this rookie behemoth, Kato was a big guy in his debut match.
Yoshiki Kato is a 90 kg former police officer power fighter from Gifu. Like Big Boss Shimizu, he comes from an accomplished past in Javelin throw. The final member of the class of 2022 he completes the baker’s dozen of debates since COVID. Much like the departed Shoya Sato, he comes off more as a grown man than a youngster like most FUTURE project members.
There’s a natural heel charisma with Yoshiki Kato. Where Dragon Dia or Kaito Nagano are fresh-faced handsome young men that seem accessible to the audience, Yoshiki Kato is strapping, sneering and above the concerns of a crowd. His work is in progress, but Kato does enough here to get over his size and power. I’m not going to attempt to project his future, but Yoshiki Kato has a lot going for him and will be an exciting change of pace from the usual FUTURE kids. **3/4
Natural Vibes (Kzy, Strong Machine J & Jacky “Funky” Kamei) Def. M3K (Susumu Mochizuki, Mochizuki Jr. & Yasushi Kanda)
Strong Machine J pinned Mochizuki Jr. after a Machine Suplex.
Since getting betrayed by ISHIN, Mochizuki Jr. has come down to Earth. It was a pretty sweet roll he was on with his dad bailing him out of any situation where he came into trouble. After losing the Triangle Gate to Z-Brats, Junior has found himself getting beat up in nearly every match possible. This is a storyline example of how strong Dragongate’s booking can be. Father and son storylines, like Rey & Dominic Misterio, often come off as contrived or over the top, but Dragongate is allowing it to play out in the ring. This lets it breathe and reach its beats naturally.
This very easily could have been a giant waste of time. M3K has issues when it’s not a full complement and comes off like an extremely old unit. These Natural Vibes members don’t really have a lot to do outside of the Z-Brats feud. This match managed to keep everything moving, stayed fun, and got over Mochizuki Jr’s storyline issues. That’s a success in my books. ***
Ultimo Dragon, Don Fujii, Genki Horiguchi & Shachihoko Boy Def. Big Boss Shimizu, Jason Lee, & Punch Tominaga & Ho Ho Lun
Don Fujii won it for the Toryumon side with two chokeslams on the hapless Punch Tominaga.
This was the Touch Football match of the night, where everyone plays the hits but no one is really taking it out of second gear. Everything here was fine and played for laughs. The biggest event in the match was Ultimo Dragon deciding to exaggeratedly sell the strain of back body dropping Big Boss Shimizu. It didn’t waste our time. **1/2
Powered by RedCircle
Powered by RedCircle
Gold Class (Kota Minoura, Ben-K & Minorita) def. Eita, Naruki Doi & Shuji Kondo
Doi pinned his former minion Minorita with the Bakatare Sliding Kick.
For all the angst of its first six months, Gold Class has finally found certain footing as a trio. It’s not that they should be complete with three members, but Minoura, Ben and Minorita each accentuate the others’ positives and they feel whole in a way that they never had before. With how Dragongate units can stumble out of the starting blocks and never make up for that lost momentum, it’s very nice to see how resilient this unit ended up being.
The Part-Timer team was fun, but this is about all the company feels like they can do with Kondo and Doi right now. This isn’t the Dragongate of a few years ago or even January, this is a Dragongate that doesn’t have time for anyone who isn’t fully aboard the train. Eita remains the biggest question mark in Japanese wrestling with his unwritten joint agreement between Dragongate and Pro Wrestling NOAH. After the match he appealed to Kondo and Doi to continue teaming, maybe for the Triangle Gate, but they weren’t interested. Eita’s most fulfilling future probably isn’t one based solely in Japan, and I hope in 2023 everyone is on the same page about his future and he doesn’t have a lost year like this one within Dragongate
The work was as strong as this position allowed. We are really waiting to see what the next steps are for Gold Class so they were in the lurch this Korakuen. The closing stretch with Minorita and Naruki Doi was particularly strong. Minoura had Doi in position for the Gong, but Minorita insisted on getting the fall since the show was free with more eyeballs on it. He got a couple nearfalls with headlock takeover variants before eating the Doi 555s and Sliding Kick. ***3/4
YAMATO, Dragon Kid, Takashi Yoshida & Problem Dragon Def. Z-Brats (Shun Skywalker, KAI, BXB Hulk & HYO)
Yoshida scored the huge upset with the Cyber Bomb on KAI.
With High-End down to two active members, Takashi Yoshida and Problem Dragon (Mondai Ryu) joined YAMATO and Dragon Kid. Although there is not a link between the unaffiliated guys and Dragon Kid, they are dojo contemporaries of YAMATO. Yoshida landed in Dragon Gate in 2006 from the LA Inoki Dojo and Dragon was a member of Dragon Gate NEX. YAMATO was the leading member of DG NEX in 2006-08 and won the rookie specific NEX-1 tournament in 2007. YAMATO and Yoshida formed the YAMAKong team throughout their career as well, but really haven’t teamed since YAMATO took the Cyber Kong mask at DEAD OR ALIVE 2017.
— Sondre Bjørn (@SondreBjorn) December 6, 2022
High-End struggled to get on the same page with their partners and Z-Brats dominated until a Yoshida hot tag. The work was strong and successfully got over the differences between the coherent rudo Z-brats and struggling babyfaces.
When the babyfaces caught some luck and got on the same page, they couldn’t be stopped. Problem Dragon has never been more than a very popular heel jobber, but he summoned all he could to pull himself off the mat at 2. Takashi Yoshida brought the best parts of Cyber Kong to present as he took every bomb he could from KAI and unsealed the Cyber Bomb to score the huge upset. This was a blast. ***½
In the post match, Yoshida grabbed a mic and said “well we aren’t going to be full members of High-End, but we will assist you as long as you need it.” This infuriated Z-Brats as they proceeded to utterly dismantle the babyface with Hulk rearing back for a wide open First Flash as a theme not heard in four years played.
— DRAGONGATE (@dragongate_pro) December 6, 2022
The greatest member of the Dragongate era of the Dragon System returned to stop his eternal rival from destroying their classmate, Shingo Takagi was back in Dragongate. After an unnecessary update for an audience who followed him his entire career (he’s now 40, does some YouTubing, still single and wrestling for that other place with a lion logo) he announced he’s free on Christmas Day and wants to fight at The Final Gate. BXB Hulk pretended that Shingo was a ghost but for some reason he wants to team with him. Punch Tominaga, Shingo’s eternal minion/young boy, wandered out spoiling for a fight and ate the meanest lariat in years. YAMATO called for a new generation partner and Madoka Kikuta makes up his team at Final Gate.
The match itself was a lot of fun but the post-match angle was one of those “only in Dragongate” moments.
Open The Dream Gate Championship
Yuki Yoshioka (c) Def. Masaaki Mochizuki
Yoshioka successfully makes his fourth defense after three Frog Splashes.
What makes Masaaki Mochizuki stand apart as one of the greatest wrestlers active today, and amongst few all time, is his mind. There is no one who thinks about wrestling the same was as Mocchy, and we know this from watching his championship matches. The only person to base a world title match around attacking someone’s stomach. Someone who finds the best ways to make his opponents look like world beaters and him being the only person capable of stopping them. In this title match, Masaaki Mochizuki showed his brilliant mind in how he was a counter fighter. In the lead up to tonight, Mochizuki had Yoshioka’s number in all previews through how he was able to scout Yoshioka. He got his knees up for a Frog Splash. Turned a top rope Inferno (codebreaker) into an armbreaker to win in Sapporo. Clearly this isn’t the Yuki Yoshioka who was in Mochizuki Dojo, but Masaaki Mochizuki thoroughly scouted his former student.
It doesn’t hurt that Masaaki Mochizuki turns 53 in January and has now pulled out yet another classic. He’s the greatest in-ring wrestler over 50 of all time and he’s popping apron Quebradas as if he’s Mochizuki Jr.’s age. If this were Mochizuki’s Last Dance, then he went out on another classic and further is enshrined as the greatest in-ring wrestler in Dragon System history (Shingo Takagi excluded).
This could have easily been Yoshioka along for the ride if it weren’t up to Yuki Yoshioka. I’ve found Yoshioka’s maiden Dream Gate run fascinating. Dragongate doesn’t typically do the sort of young champion runs so clearly positioning the champion as this one. Shun Skywalker was obsessed with facing his generation and not ghosts of the past. Ben-K would take on all comers. Yuki Yoshioka goes through hell every Dream Gate match. He endures the strongest and most brutal offense from the greatest former Open The Gate Champions and survives. Mochizuki will constantly try to get armbreakers, but a good forearm to the mouth stops this idea. And that’s the key point: Yoshioka has to survive as champion to continue to bring Dragongate into the future he has imagined. In a company with worse booking, this sort of storyline comes off as a little bit pathetic, a champion who isn’t dominant bell to bell begging to face older champions to end that history. If Yuki Yoshioka wasn’t connecting with the crowd, this would have been reflected in attendance (it’s still growing by the show) or in his performances. The Yuki Yoshioka show has been renewed for another season and we will see next time who he will vanquish in order to defend Dragongate and defend his ideal future with him at the forefront.
The post-match was somewhat subdued. Masaaki Mochizuki did ask his former pupil to perhaps take things a little less seriously. During Yoshioka’s show closer, a delivery guy came to the ring with a box for Yoshioka, stunning D’Courage. They opened the box to find a gold rose and a scrawling note with a “Chiki Chiki” on it and a challenge for Ben-K at The Final Gate.
In some ways this was a greatest hits Mochizuki Dream Gate match. His countering Yoshioka at every opportunity showed his creative brilliance. I don’t have this as high as the 2015 match against Shingo Takagi or 2018 match against Kzy, but this is up there and a proud member of that canon. For Yoshioka, this is yet another MOTYC level performance. I completely understand the arguments about Yoshioka’s style of charisma and wrestling style. It’s a style that requires a buy-in and investment, and if you aren’t fully invested then it doesn’t work. In the end it’s who I consider one of the five best wrestlers of all-time, and the all-time greatest in-ring wrestler over the age of 50, and a young ace who survives everything the old guy gave him and for me, that’s magic. ****½
Dragongate’s penultimate Korakuen Hall show of 2022 was emblematic of the back half of their year in this building: Extremely watchable and fun pro wrestling with compelling storylines and one or two stronger matches. We got that this month with the superb Mochizuki Dream Gate title defense, the startling return of Shingo Takagi and the debut of Yoshiki Kato.
Easy thumbs up!