The Final Gate 2022
December 25, 2022
Fukuoka Kokusai Center
Watch: DRAGONGATE NETWORK
Dragongate will descend on Fukuoka this Christmas day for a stacked Final Gate 2022. At the top of the card, we’ll see a highly anticipated Open the Dream Gate title match with big future implications and the long-awaited return of Shingo Takagi to the promotion that made him a star.
I haven’t gotten to write about Dragongate in a while, so apologies in advance for being long-winded.
As always, if you’re a newcomer to Dragongate, I recommend starting with Mike Spears and Case Lowe’s excellent 2022 Dragongate Primer.
Natural Vibes (Kzy, Strong Machine J, Jason Lee, Jacky “Funky” Kamei) vs. M3K (Masaaki Mochizuki, Susumu Mochizuki, Yasushi Kanda, Mochizuki Junior)
See, this is why you watch Dragongate. Sure, other companies open their big shows with eight-man tags made up of displaced wrestlers, but they don’t do it like THIS. And yes, the company has always emphasized the multi-tag more because they do it better than everyone else, granted. There’s still a lot of meat on this one, though.
First off, we get the entire M3K unit together in one match, which doesn’t happen often. Half the fun of following DG these days is watching the development of this prodigal crop of rookies, and Mochizuki Jr. will be swimming with the sharks here. I imagine Susumu tangling with his former faction will come up, somehow.
Natural Vibes is rolling out their “guaranteed good match” squad (normally, that would include U-T, but we all know he’d been healthy for too long). The Kung Fu Masters contingent of JFK and Jason Lee are automatic fireworks, Kzy is an all-timer, and with his addition to Natural Vibes, Strong Machine J has impossibly become interesting and fun.
Okay, I’ll level with you. I’m talking this up too much. It’s gonna be an eight-minute appetizer. But it’s gonna be a GOOD eight-minute appetizer. Like when you finish that cup of Matzoh Ball soup and wish you just sprung for the bowl. Prediction: M3K
Yoshiki Kato & Kaito Nagano vs. Takashi Yoshida & Problem Dragon
Speaking of this rookie class, Dragongate is grabbing you by the throat and demanding you pay attention to Yoshiki Kato. Since he slaughtered Punch Tominaga in a five-minute exhibition early in November, he’s been presented as the company’s big, muscly power wrestler of the future. I think he has a certain fire to him that may not be present in some of his more refined peers. He’ll have a perfect big-man foil in Takashi Yoshida.
I can’t believe I’m typing this, but since Yoshida and Problem Dragon stepped in as HIGH-END’s version of Timon and Pumbaa, they’ve been one of my favorite acts in the company. The YAMAKong reunion at Gate of Origin was one of the better Twin Gate matches this year, and Yoshida’s been wholly charming as the try-hard grunt clashing with Shimizu.
I’m still holding out hope for Problem Dragon to turn out one more Father Time-defying stunner of a match like he did one year ago, challenging for SB KENTo’s Brave Gate title. It won’t happen here, but this’ll still be a fun romp before Yoshida pins Nagano. Prediction: Takashi Yoshida & Problem Dragon
Open The Brave Gate Title
HYO © vs. Minorita
What’s interesting about this match is the weird ways these men’s careers mirror each other. HYO debuted as part of the Class of 2016. The Class of 2016 is notable for, well, essentially running this company right now (especially if you bundle 2018’s Minoura and Dia in with them — and I do).
HYO’s classmates, people like Shun Skywalker and Ben-K, stood out for their imposing physiques or funny masks. HYO, on the other hand, was the small one in the leopard trunks. HYO didn’t stand out out from the pack with his impressive ring work — though he probably could have — he stood out by being a little prick.
He broke up Mochizuki Dojo (the faction it was his idea to start) and eventually became the “big brain” of R.E.D., attempting to force double count-outs in all of his 2021 King of Gate matches. He put a bunch of muscle and became a focal point of the group when they re-named themselves to Z-Brats, continuing to use his tremendous intellect to avoid having to wrestle a conventionally good match.
Over Kobe World weekend, he snagged the Brave Gate title from Dragon Dia. The next night, he defended it cleanly over his partner, SB KENTo — a victory that said he was capable of outwrestling anybody, he’d just prefer not to.
Takumi Hayakawa debuted at the end of 2021. His class included the prodigious Takuma Fujiwara, the hard-hitting Ryo Fuda, the judo dynamo Shoya Sato, and pro wrestling thoroughbreds the Iihashi Brothers. Hayakawa was just the little one.
That changed when Hayakawa was unveiled as Minorita, Gold Class’s recruitment gift to Kota Minoura. Minorita’s alternated roles as pesky comic relief and exciting underdog teammate. His star has only grown as he’s played the Mini-Me to new Gold Class leader Ben-K. He scored a pinfall over HYO at KBS Hall earlier this month (Ben-K tossed his lifeless body on top of HYO for the win — it counts), but he confirmed his title shot by winning a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors in Nagoya (thank you, GM Ryo Saito).
Minorita walked the path that HYO paved for him — he compensated for being an especially undersized competitor in an already undersized promotion by adopting an oversized persona. HYO will win and continue a reign that, in all honestly, is elevating the Brave Gate title. This match should be a blast, with an audience desperately pulling for our precious little Minorita. Prediction: HYO
LEC FUWARUN MASK 8-Man Tag Team Match
Ultimo Dragon, Dragon Kid, Dragon Dia & Bokutimo Dragon vs. Don Fujii, Genki Horiguchi, Eita & Ho Ho Lun
Obviously, all the fun here is on the Dragon side. Three generations of Dragon teaming up alongside BIG BOSS Shimizu’s old alter-ego, Bokutimo Dragon. I told myself I’d give this match as much effort as Ultimo Dragon will, so we can wrap this up in a paragraph.
The displaced Eita has been a lot of fun lately. Shimizu is a constant gift that none of us deserve. For actual storyline implications, keep an eye on Dragon Dia. The guy had been untouchable since he unmasked, but he’s dropped falls in three of the last four televised shows. It might be going somewhere. Prediction: Rando Non-Dragon Team
Special Singles Match
Kota Minoura vs. Diamante
Kota Minoura’s meteoric rise began in the summer of 2020, unveiling his new Seven Colors Suplex persona and claiming the Twin Gate titles with Jason Lee. It arguably peaked at Dangerous Gate 2021, when he challenged YAMATO for the Dream Gate title in a dense match that told a beautiful story. It came to a screeching halt at this year’s Kobe World, in a main event losing effort against Yuki Yoshioka.
All signs were pointing to Kota Minoura taking the reins. He was a world beater and the retiring Masato Yoshino had given him the Sol Naciente finishing hold. But then Yuki Yoshioka swooped in and claimed the throne. Gold Class, a faction that practically formed in service of Minoura, was swiped by Ben-K. Hell, even Minoura’s mascot, Minorita, seems to be moving on. Something was just missing.
Still, the fact remains that Kota Minoura might be the best bell-to-bell singles match wrestler in this company (in the Non-Mochizuki Division, of course). Dragongate knows that, too. He main evented the Global Dream crossover show with Pro Wrestling NOAH, and Kenoh’s show-closing promo showered him with praise. At this month’s Hokkaido triple-shot they gave us a singles match with Susumu. This company loves to stick a “Special Singles Match” on a big show for no other reason than knowing it will kick ass. We love them for it.
One of the most exciting performers to watch these days, Diamante exhibits absurd agility and grace for a man of his size. That size stands out on a roster like this one. He sneakily had the best match in this year’s King of Gate (5/29 vs. Yoshioka) and was in the consensus Dragongate match of the year over Kobe World weekend.
That’s all there is to it. This match is a just a gift. Merry Christmas. Prediction: Kota Minoura
Open the Triangle Gate Championship Match
Z-Brats (Shun Skywalker, KAI, ISHIN) © vs. Naruki Doi, Shuji Kondo & Toru Owashi
Yuh-oh. Shun Skywalker’s getting a little weird again.
In December of last year, Skywalker capped off a 2021 campaign where he led the most exciting faction in wrestling (Masquerade) and was the clear wrestler of the year (I said what I said) the only way you could expect him to — he went nuts.
That arc began with him shouting possessively at the members of Masquerade and costing Dragon Dia his mask. It ended with him taking his spot as one of the figureheads of Z-Brats.
Now, some of his old tics are turning back up. He’s going into shouting fits calling for the dissolution of unserious groups like Gold Class and Natural Vibes. At the 12/16 Korakuen, following a loss to Kzy, he had to be forcefully dragged out of the ring by BxB Hulk. I have a feeling he’ll be the focal point of this match’s finish.
KAI and ISHIN round out the champion team. If you haven’t watched ISHIN yet, pay attention to this match. This guy went from being the chunky half of the Iihashi Brothers that came out in his mother’s gear to being a lethal weapon.
The challengers are interesting in their own right. Ever since transitioning to a part-time/freelance position, Naruki Doi has been reborn. On any given night, Doi can appear in a randomly configured team and fly around the ring like the last decade of damage to his body never happened (I recommend his 12/10 match teaming with Eita against D’Courage). As one of the last-standing bastions of the Big Six era, Naruki Doi is still in the same class as the best this roster has to offer.
He’s been spending time in DDT where he’s currently a KO-D Six Man Title holder. One of his partners on that team, Toryumon veteran Toru Owashi, will join him here. The team will be rounded out by Shuji Kondo, who earned them this shot by King Kong Lariating KAI into smithereens at Korakuen.
At first glance, it doesn’t make sense for this Doi-led piecemeal team to win. But Shun is self destructing, ISHIN’s gotten what he needs out of this, and the Triangle Gate belts are hot potatoes anyway. One more notch in Rampaging Muscle’s belt. Prediction: Doi, Owashi & KAI
LEC Gekiochi-kun Presents Shingo Takagi is Back! Tag Team Match
Shingo Takagi & BxB Hulk vs. YAMATO & Madoka Kikuta
If you just scrolled right to this match, I apologize. I’m kind of at a loss for what to say about it. Shingo left Dragongate as one of its marquee names in 2018, then went to New Japan and became one of THEIR marquee names and an IWGP champion. Now he’s a bachelor with nothing to do on Christmas, so he wants to fuck around with BxB Hulk again. You should see some of the assholes I hang out with when I’m back in my hometown on Christmas. BxB Hulk doesn’t sound so bad.
One of the big talking points has been the way Kikuta meekly inserted himself into this match, getting all but swallowed up by these three forces of personality. Well, look. To this point, the guy’s entire character has been having a big butt. Of course, he’s at risk of getting eaten alive — he’s stepping out there with some of the largest personalities who’ve ever come through the company.
But since being added to D’Courage, DG’s marquee faction, Kikuta’s seemed on the cusp of something more. He’s found success in bigger and bigger spots, including a Twin Gate run with Dragon Dia. He’s a sizey, physical wrestler who looks like he’s clobbering folks out there. He also looks like Matthew Lillard. Sic Shingo Takagi on him, and let’s see how he holds up.
Anyway, sure hope Shingo wears the singlet. Prediction: Shingo & BxB
Open The Dream Gate Championship
Yuki Yoshioka © vs. Ben-K
Let’s talk about Ben-K.
Like Yuki Yoshioka, Ben debuted in the Class of 2016. Unlike Yoshioka, everything else.
While the rest of his classmates had to deal with things like the Mochizuki Dojo and Rookie Ranking Tournaments, Ben was shepherded into MaxiMuM alongside Naruki Doi and Masato Yoshino. He’d form the successful Big Ben tag team with Big R Shimizu, become the silent secret weapon of R.E.D., and even get a Dream Gate title match by the end of 2018.
At the same time, PAC had come back after years and years away in the WWE ecosphere. He reinvigorated the promotion, took the reins of R.E.D., and held the Dream Gate title with an air of reverence. With new eyes on the company, Ben-K’s megapush began. After being betrayed by R.E.D., he turned face and sought revenge. He went undefeated in the 2019 King of Gate, smashing R.E.D. “leader” Eita in the final. Then, in a culmination of six months of loose threads, marched into that year’s Kobe World show and dethroned PAC.
In the post-match, the formerly silent Ben-K took the microphone for his big coronation. He barked out a long meandering promo to a quiet room. PAC was gone. Now that everything had come to fruition, it all looked a little less shiny. A few months later, Ben dropped the title to Naruki Doi at Final Gate 2019. One year later, at Final Gate 2020, he received one more Dream Gate shot. That match is mostly remembered for him getting legitimately knocked out cold in the finish by Shun Skywalker (which is unfortunate because it was a great match, for what it’s worth).
In the years that passed, he faded into a background player in the HIGH-END unit. The once Goldbergian Ben-K was mostly popping up from time to time in a Bash Brothers-esque tag team with real life friend Kensuke Okuda. Then chiki-chiki happened.
This past September, Ben abandoned HIGH-END and took over Gold Class. Entering the ring with a gold rose in his teeth and gaudy gold chains around his neck, a new man emerged. The once milquetoast meathead had become one of the funniest, most captivating acts in wrestling. An egomaniac shouting belligerently at opponents, foolishly challenging Kzy to rap battles, and tossing his little buddy Minorita around the ring, Ben-K has become a can’t-miss property. Where was he hiding all this?
Above all, Ben-K has the crowds in the palm of his hand. Reportedly, fans are lining up in droves at Meet n’ Greets just to say “chiki-chiki” with the guy. At the 12/6 Korakuen Hall show, after Yuki Yoshioka narrowly defeated Masaaki Mochizuki in a MOTY-level title defense, a gift box was brought out to the ring. When the champ pulled a golden rose from inside, announcing his next challenger, the audience audibly gasped.
If you’re at all concerned that I’ve typed this much about Ben-K while hardly mentioning our current champ, me too! There’s weirdly little to say about Yuki Yoshioka, despite an undeniably successful first run as Dream Gate champ.
Yoshioka’s role as champ has been the pure-of-heart babyface overcoming adversity. It kind of reminds of BxB Hulk’s 2014 Dream Gate reign in its wholesomeness. Or maybe Yoshino’s first reign in 2010 in that he still kind of feels like the underdog in some matchups. But he looks the part — when he shed the Dia Inferno garb, he revealed a body chiseled from stone. And he’s been delivering in the ring all year long, including the excellent King of Gate run that broke him from the pack and earned him his title shot.
If any matchup stands a chance of not getting overshadowed by Shingo Takagi’s return, it’s this one. Yoshioka as the stoic, new ace of the company makes a perfect counterpoint for Ben-K’s newfound absurdity. Hell, you can argue that Yoshioka is just doing what Ben was supposed to do back in 2019. Prediction: Yuki Yoshioka