DECEMBER 25, 2022

Watch: Dragon Gate Network


Dragongate kicked off their final big show of the year with two of the brightest points in the promotion this year. The third incarnation of Natural Vibes, the version with Strong Machine J and without Toryumon era stars like Genki Horiguchi and Susumu Mochizuki, has been the best unit of the year on a show-to-show basis. Whether they’re in opening matches or main events, they have continuously put their best foot forward this year. 

M3K has been a fascinating experiment. Dragongate rolled out their famed M2K unit, one of the units that put Toryumon on the map, with the core three ten years older than they were the last time they rebooted the unit. This time, however, Masaaki Mochizuki shocked the world and brought his son, first known as Masaharu Eto before being announced as Mochizuki Junior, into the fold. When the 20-year-old phenom isn’t in the picture, the unit struggles to maintain my interest. Luckily for all of us, Junior was alongside them this time, and the results were thrilling. 

The finishing stretch was built around the second generation wrestlers, Strong Machine J and Mochizuki Junior. J has taken umbrage with Junior ever since he waltzed into the promotion and started winning with the help of his father. Their interactions here were incredibly crisp. It’s remarkable how much J has improved over the last 18 months. Long after the Machines gimmick faded away and he was no longer a wrestling robot, his movements were still so robotic. Now, he’s a fluid ass-kicking machine who planted Junior with the Machine Suplex to pick up the win for his team. ***1/2 


This was a historic match. 

After jumping the veterans during their entrance, Yoshiki Kato needed just over two-and-a-half minutes to submit Problem Dragon with the a Torture Rack. This comes just 19 days after Kato, who just turned 26, debuted as a member of the Dragongate roster. 

This win over an established roster member, even someone like Problem Dragon, comes alarmingly fast. Remember, Takuma Fujiwara, a prodigy, only scored one pinfall before splitting for Mexico and that was a five-way against his contemporaries. Kato has been on a meteoric rise since his exhibition match against Punch Tominaga. Not Fujiwara nor Junior nor Nagano have been treated with this much respect. Kato is a monster that Dragongate seems to have huge plans for. Do not skip this match. **3/4 


When Minorita, then known as Takumi Hayakawa, debuted in Dragongate last October, I constantly harped on how small he was and how even in a promotion full of small guys, he was the smallest guy in the mix. Standing at 5’1”, Minorita remains the smallest man in Dragongate. When he became Kota Minoura’s “Mini Me”, I championed him as finding his thing and using his size to his benefit. I assumed the gimmick had a ceiling and that it would merely be a vehicle to advance Minoura’s career. 

Instead, Gold Class failed under the initial concept. The unit was built around hunks trying to make sure Dragongate was the #1 promotion with women in Japan. Kota Minoura, flanked by Kaito Ishida and Naruki Doi, became a sore spot atop Dragongate cards. Business cratered when Minoura inserted himself into the Kobe World Dream Gate scene. Matters were made worse by Ishida exiting the company (a move that I correctly predicted as meaning far more in the short term than in the long term) and Doi taking time off to heal a worsening neck injury. The only thing Dragongate could afford to do was lean on the 5’1” frame of Minorita. 

The only thing that the Yamanashi-born rookie has done wrong is that he isn’t Takuma Fujiwara. All of the press and PR that Fujiwara has rightfully received has taken away from the praise that Minorita also deserves. 

The first 14 months of his career should be looked at as a triumph in developing young talent. Minorita has gone from a sidekick to a vital part of a thriving roster, and given the depths that Minoura fell to over the summer, the rookie is now helping rehab the former main eventers career. Minoirta has been a continued bright spot in Gold Class and has even helped revitalize the career of Ben-K, who headlined this show. He may even have better chemistry with Ben than he does Minoura. 

This is long winded, but necessary, as it’s important to note that this Brave Gate win isn’t just a random title change to get the belt around a new waist. HYO did a splendid job as Brave Gate Champion in the last half of the year. He gave the title its own unique feel, just as Minorita will do. The rookie worked his ass off en route to this title, and his effort in this match was no different. 

Like all HYO Brave Gate matches, this was a slow build with HYO methodically ripping apart his challenger. Minorita was finally able to gain an advantage when he whipped HYO into exposed turnbuckles, making HYO’s plan backfire on him. He plastered the champion with his fan soon after, then picked up the victory by hitting the Minorita Roll on the champion. 

Minorita’s Brave Gate run, given his overwhelming charisma and current momentum, could be something special. While both men are capable of having better matches, this set off the 46th Brave Gate run on the right foot. ***1/4 


This was good fun with Ultimo Dragon and his spiritual sons battling a quarter of unaffiliated roster members. This was notable for Dragon Dia’s bad dye job (something that Dragongate rarely misses on) and Ultimo shoving Bokutimo out of the way to pin Genki Horiguchi with a La Magistral. **1/2 


This was Diamante’s 10th singles match of the year. His catalog includes a pair of singles matches against Takuma Fujiwara, the second of which stole the show on the K-Ness Retirement Show, a strong match against Dragon Kid in King of Gate, a highly-praised match against Yuki Yoshioka in Osaka, and a hot sprint against Jacky “Funky” Kamei in October, among others. His body of work this year has showcased that he’s more than capable of working against Dragongate’s biggest names in a singles capacity. Quite frankly, Dragongate might be doing themselves a disservice by not using Diamante more as a singles wrestler. 

I thought this was going to be another installment in the Kota Minoura Rehab Project, but instead Diamante beat him viciously and defiantly. My only complaint about this match was that the finish, a standing Vuelta Finale, felt abrupt. Had they built on the work that had led up to it, this would’ve found a spot in my notebook. 

As long as Yuki Yoshioka holds the Dream Gate belt, I will continue to cross my fingers and hope for a Diamante challenge based off of their incredible match in May. ***3/4 


This marks the second successful defense for this Z-Brats trio. 

A year ago at this event, KAI won the Dream Gate belt, Shun Skywalker snapped on his former partner Kota Minoura, and ISHIN was getting his ass kicked alongside his brother. Their charisma and brutality have all helped shape Z-Brats into one of the most entertaining heel units in company history. This was another great showcase for this heavy-handed trio, this time against a lineup of freelancers and former T2P standouts. 

The time that Doi took off in the summer, followed up by him altering his schedule to work less dates for a larger variety of promotions has done him wonders. Doi is moving around so much better than he was at the start of the year. He had truly faded into the background, but oddly enough, now that he’s working a part time schedule, he’s moved back into relevancy. 

I hope this incarnation of champions hold the belts for a very long time. KAI is not just “good for KAI”, he has become yet another success story of the Dragon System. His presence never bothers me and I actively enjoy most of his work. ISHIN, who has been dead-behind-the-eyes ever since turning heel, has been methodical and calculated in his approach in a way that I find to be incredibly intriguing, and Skywalker is Skywalker; he’s excellent at whatever he does. 

After hot fighting between the two sides, Owashi planted KAI with a choke slam, which ideally would have paved the way for Kondo to put him away. Instead, Kondo hit the ropes and was met with a box attack and a powder attack from ISHIN, leading to KAI rolling up the big man with his dreaded Gannosuke Clutch. This was a blast from start to finish. ***1/2 


The last time Shingo Takagi wrestled in Dragongate, PAC had just returned to the fold, deadweight like “brother” YASSHI and Gamma lined the undercards, and names like Kota Minoura, Shun Skywalker, and Yuki Yoshioka had asterisks next to them to denote them as promising up-and-comers. The promotion has gone through what I think is a much-needed facelift in the four years since Takagi exited. They successfully shed whatever dead skin was left when Stronghearts split, they transitioned away from relying on names like Masato Yoshino and Naruki Doi to draw houses, and they have a fleet of hungry rookies ready to make an impact. 

Madoka Kikuta may not be a rookie, but he’s one of many under-30 Dragongate wrestlers that the company is relying on to carry them forward. Kikuta was going nowhere fast before linking up with D’Courage in August and has since become one of the feel-good stories of the year. I want to be a curmudgeon and question the science of this match because Dragongate has so aggressively pushed their youth this year. They have been the embodiment of “adapt or die” this year. They have little patience for anyone that remembers life before 1990. Even if Kikuta wasn’t going to come in and pin Takagi flat on his back, I want to rally around the idea that he should’ve pinned Hulk to keep the youth victorious. I’m going to throw that complaint by the wayside, however, because this match was so much fun. 

A lot of people have a lot of different ideas about what Dragongate was in 2022. While I am incredibly bullish on their future and thought that this year, for lack of a better term, rocked, there are long time fans that do not share my same optimism. Regardless of where you stand on the promotion this year, there is no doubt that the company took some hits. This was a far more stressful year than Dragongate is used to, and it was so refreshing to have a match that was so much fun on the last big show of the year. 

Takagi may very well be the best wrestler to ever live. I was astounded at how crisp all of his strikes looked in this match. I think striking is one of Kikuta’s many assets, but Takagi showed that he is simply in a different league than everyone else. 

I loved the history they wove into the story of this match. For those unaware, Hulk and Takagi are bitter enemies. They were the first two graduates of the Dragongate dojo with Takagi debuting six months before Hulk. They were briefly partners, but spent the better part of their careers mauling one another. As Jae so eloquently stated on commentary, neither man would be where they are in their careers without the other. This led to Hulk nailing Takagi in the back of the head with an axe kick after a Pumping Bomber that looked like the finish. Takagi responded in kind by giving Hulk a Pumping Bomber to the floor. 

The final few moments with Takagi and Kikuta were marvelous. Kikuta is not the most boisterous wrestler, and he was criticized by many, myself included, for not showing enough fire when Takagi came out to set up this match earlier in the month. This match took a long time to get going and Kikuta specifically seemed like he needed to warm up as the match went on, but by the end of things, he was on fire. 

After a particularly great strike exchange with Takagi, he caught the 2021 Tokyo Sports MVP with his “Hand of God” discuss lariat. That clip should be replayed for every big Kikuta match until he unlaces his boots for the final time. He destroyed Takagi with that lariat. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to put the outsider away. Takagi responded in kind with his most vicious Pumping Bomber of the match, then the Last Falconry to finally put Kikuta away. 

Everyone from Hulk to Takagi to Kikuta to Jae and Ho Ho Lun on commentary deserve a round of applause for what they did here. This was a phenomenal way to cap off Dragongate’s turbulent year. ****


This marks Yuki Yoshioka’s fifth successful defense of the Open the Dream Gate Championship and his fourth against a former Dream Gate Champion. 

Final Gate has not been kind to Ben-K. He’s now 1-7 lifetime at this event, losing one Triangle Gate match, three Dream Gate matches, and a pair of bouts to Takashi Yoshida, one singles and one tag. He should be eternally grateful that he and the then-Big R Shimizu won Twin Gate gold at this event in 2018. In 2019, 2020, and now 2022, however, Ben-K’s Dream Gate dreams have been shattered. 

In 2019, he was coming in as the champion against an aging Naruki Doi. In one of the most shocking upsets in Dragongate history, Ben ate a Bakatare Sliding Kick and lost his title. A year later, he was brutally knocked out by a Shun Skywalker strike. This year, after a charisma injection, gimmick change, and more momentum than ever before, Ben-K was no match for the well-rounded greatness that Yuki Yoshioka brings to the table. 

As Jon Hernandez explained in his preview for this event, Ben-K became a new man in September. If anyone peaced out of Dragongate at Kobe World and is planning on checking back in for this show, they’re going to be so incredibly confused at what has become of Ben-K. “Chiki chiki” Ben-K has been such a monstrous hit, however. He’s more over than ever before. Although Dragongate seems to be leveraging their future on Yoshioka, there was a real possibility that they would strike while the iron was hot and belt Ben back up. 

Instead, after 26 minutes of war, Yoshioka remained victorious. 

I found the pacing of this bout to be fascinating. They grappled early on with Ben showcasing his amateur wrestling background, but after an errant spear that sent the challenger shoulder-first into the post, they worked the last 3/4 of the match dishing out big moves with big impact. It felt like they cut out the build to the big moves and just went right to them, which I don’t think is a bad thing. 

The ferocity of the final few minutes was incredible. They traded headbutts, Yoshioka ate an enormous spear and then fired back with one of his own, then finally got the momentum he needed by cleaning Ben’s clock with the Battle Hook lariat before pinning him after two Frog Splashes. 

Yoshioka’s title matches have all been incredible. The work he did against Eita, Masaaki Mochizuki, and YAMATO in particular was enthralling, and this match belongs in that company, as well. Yoshioka wrestles with a quiet confidence that by all accounts is registering with the Dragongate fanbase. Attendance is up in every market they run with him as the champion and he continues to feel hotter after each defense. 

This is an issue that Dragongate has run into with numerous Dream Gate champions before, but take YAMATO’s run last year for instance: he never built any momentum as champion. It was very similar to WWE PPV booking. They would build a match to get to the big show, the big show would happen, and then things would reset. There is a throughline with Yoshioka from January-December of this year and with his Dream Gate run in particular. Everything he’s done since unmasking as Dia Inferno and beginning to team with Dragon Dia has led to this, with him standing victorious over his classmate on Draongate’s final big show of the year. This is a match worth going out of your way to see. ****1/2 

Final Thoughts

Dragongate closed their year on a feel-good note. After a turbulent year that saw old faces leave and unfamiliar faces take over, the promotion ended their year with something familiar for fans old and new alike: world-class wrestling. Thumbs up for Final Gate 2022.

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