2022 marked one of the most turbulent years in Dragon System history. With the exception of 2004, when CIMA and Magnum TOKYO led a charge to split from Ultimo Dragon and form Dragon Gate from the ashes of Toryumon, and 2018, when CIMA took three prized pupils to Shanghai and Shingo Takagi departed to New Japan, this past year marked one of the most stress-inducing calendar years for the promotion in history. Departures, booking failures, and backstage gossip helped paint a picture of a promotion on the brink, struggling to match the quality that they hit in their golden years.
In reality, Dragongate is a promotion chugging along in relatively good health compared to the rest of the crippled Japanese wrestling industry. They house an army of primed and ready wrestlers under 30, many of whom are 25 or under, and they reinvested in their global expansion efforts this year. As Dragongate embarks on 2023, it’s important we take a step back and remember how we got here.
This is the definitive guide to Dragongate’s 2022.
Dragongate firmly established who was going to matter on their first Korakuen Hall shows of 2022. On January 12, the company capped off an angle that had been raging for nearly two years.
In early 2020, Dragongate was divided into three separate camps. Instead of a handful of distinct and colorful units, bonds were decided by generations. The Dragongate Generation, the Toryumon Generation, and R.E.D. made up the unit landscape, but all was not well in the Dragongate Generation Camp. On February 29, Dragon Dia, alongside his peers Ben-K and Strong Machine J, secured the Open the Triangle Gate Championships. This was a painful reminder for Yuki Yoshioka, who debuted two years before Dragon Dia, that he was falling behind. He wanted a singles match with Dia on the March 5 Korakuen Hall show to prove his worth.
Instead, COVID-19 came calling, The March 5 show was canceled and Yoshioka joined Shun Skywalker overseas in a COVID-stricken Mexico. All Yoshioka asked was that he receive his match with Dia when he returned to Japan.
Dia Inferno rose from the ashes on October 7 and made it clear his focus was on destroying one man and one man only: Dragon Dia. Through injury and pandemic-related complications, this feud raged through the end of 2021 when they finally met in a mascara contra mascara match with Diamante and Shun Skywalker, two other masked men, joining the fray.
The mask match brought on one of the most shocking finishes in Dragongate history. Shun Skywalker, the then-leader of the Masquerade unit, slowly descending into madness and embodying a “gaslight, gatekeep, girlboss” mentality, shoved Dragon Dia into the waiting arms of Diamante, who pinned him and took his mask.
— ty (@tylernoir) December 1, 2021
AND THIS WHY I LOVE PRO WRESTLING… the raw passion and emotion experienced is like nothing else…#ALLTHEFEELS #ドラゴン・ダイヤ#シュンスカイウォーカー #DRAGONGATE #DragonGateNetwork #FantasticGate2021
— Issa – Pro Wrestling Illustrated (PWI) (@IssitaMarie) December 1, 2021
With Dia mentally, spiritually, and physically defeated, Dia Inferno no longer had a purpose. The beast unmasked himself, revealing none other than Yuki Yoshioka under the mask.
Both Dia and Yoshioka were absent through the final shows of 2021, but both returned to action on January 12, 2022 when GM Ryo Saito made an impromptu Open the Brave Gate Championship Match that saw Dia return, this time with a skateboard, and with the help of an interfering Yuki Yoshioka, defeat SB KENTo for the first singles title of his career. The next night, Dia became a double champion by winning tag gold with Yoshioka over the aforementioned SB KENTo and his partner HYO.
Everything that mattered in 2022 was defined by this match.
The year belonged to Dia and Yoshioka, who formed the team D’Courage, which later turned into a trio when Madoka Kikuta became a member in the last quarter of the year.
As Twin Gate Champions, the two found success immediately. They steamrolled through three defenses from late-February to late-March, putting forth a notably incredible effort in a three-way tag against both HYO & SB KENTo and Eita & Yosuke Santa Maria in March at the second Champion Gate in Osaka show.
Their good luck came to an end in May, however, as at the company’s first big show of the year, Dead or Alive, D’Courage was stopped in their tracks by the almighty power of Diamante & Shun Skywalker.
Luckily, this did not halt their momentum as Dragon Dia was still Open the Brave Gate Champion. The third dragon in the dragon lineage after Ultimo and Dragon Kid, Dia came into the promotion in 2018 with an incredibly hyped debut. Injuries and sickness kept him from hitting the ground running the way most Dragongate rookies tend to do, but a year into his career, I was seeing the potential that Dia possessed. I knew at that point, he’d be more than capable of being a strong, singles champion one day.
Dia’s run as Brave Gate Champion lasted one day shy of 200. While his defenses were spread out, every corner of the promotion felt the impact he made over the course of seven months. His best work happened to be his first defense, when Dia, at only 23 years of age, played an angry veteran against the 20-year-old phenom Takuma Fujiwara.
In my initial review, I wrote, “His [Fujiwara] Brave Gate challenge against Dragon Dia was everything you’d want it to be. Outside of an awkward, aborted back body drop that was corrected moments later, the interactions between these two were flawless. In all of his matches, Fujiwara creates momentum by landing his slingshot double stomp, which he now follows up with a lionsault. The story was the same in this match. After selling his ass off for the first third of the match, he hit what is quickly becoming his signature combination and began rolling through big moves in an effort to capture his second ever win and his first ever title.
The flashy moves didn’t work, so Fujiwara busted out the armbar that he shares a name with. When Dia began escaping, Fujiwara rolled through and put Dia in a terrific double armbar. Dia still escaped, but that gave Fujiwara the opening to plant him with a reverse Michinoku Driver. Had that been the finish, I would’ve hooted and hollered so loud that it would’ve woke up my neighbors.
Instead, Dia kept fighting. He stunned Fujiwara, which gave him the opening to hit the DDDDT. With both men out of options, they began trading flash pins until Dragon Dia was given the opening to hit his finishing move, the Double Cork, which he debuted at the start of the year. That proved to be too much for the rookie.”
The swankiness and shock of just how good this match was is still embedded in my brain nine months after the fact. While Fujiwara rightfully received heaps of praise following the match, we cannot underestimate Dia’s incredible work with a literal child in guiding him to his first great match.
Dia then racked up a defense against SB KENTo at Dead or Alive, just moments after losing his Twin Gate belt, then went to a no-contest with HYO in the challenger’s hometown before losing his gold to HYO at Ultimo Dragon’s 35th Anniversary Show.
That show marked the end of one singles title run for D’Courage, but it also marked the beginning of another one. On July 31, Yuki Yoshioka capped off an incredible run that had been set in motion since the first show of the year. After losing the Twin Gate belts on May 6 at Dead or Alive, Yoshioka entered the King of Gate tournament and scored wins over YAMATO, U-T, Diamante, Shun Skywalker, and then Kota Minoura to earn his shot at KAI’s Open the Dream Gate Championship.
Yoshioka would then roll through KAI, then Minoura again the next night at Kobe World Pro Wrestling Festival. Since wrapping the title around his waist for the first time, Yoshioka has transformed into the top dog of all top dogs. He’s wrestling like he was born to be in big Dragongate main events. He called out all former Dream Gate Champions and said that in order to be the best Dream Gate Champion, he’d have to run through those who previously held the gold.
This has led to Yoshioka defeating Eita, YAMATO, Masaaki Mochizuki, and Ben-K, all of which were considered to be legitimately great bouts. Yoshioka has become wrestling’s greatest unsung champion. He’s accomplished a rare feat of being a likable, dominant champion. He’s wrestling with an absurd amount of confidence and it’s all warranted. He’s been passed the torch and he’s run with it, proudly. While not on the level of a Will Ospreay, Jon Moxley, or Kazuchika Okada, it is hard to name any other names more qualified for Flair/Thesz contention than Yoshioka.
More than any other wrestler in 2022, Yuki Yoshioka defined Dragongate.
Who In the Fuck Is Booking Dragongate?
The question as to who is booking Dragongate has always been deeply debated and questioned. For years, Genki Horiguchi was given credit for being the brain behind their golden years, but it was later discovered that Horiguchi was receiving credit because he was the one relaying finishes to English-speaking wrestlers, so when they were asked about the behind-the-scenes structure, they listed Horiguchi.
On August 2, 2021, Ryo Saito was announced as Dragongate’s new General Manager and live event matchmaker. It was described to me as a role that had both on and off-camera implications.
In the May 30, 2022, issue of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Dave Meltzer wrote, “There are stories out right now about a lot of discontent here regarding the booking, notably the influence of NOAH booker Nosawa Rongai. A story, which has been denied to us by two people affiliated with the group, is that a large number of wrestlers are upset because of booking changes over the last year. There is a lot of frustration because of a lot of last minute changes. Masato Yoshino and K-Ness, who were both previously involved with booking, have retired, and right now the key bookers are Genki Horiguchi and Ryo Saito. But with the NOAH/Dragon Gate storyline, Nosawa Rongai has gotten heavily involved, including in manners that don’t involve the storyline. Horiguchi and Saito have allowed Nosawa to change booking on things that don’t involve NOAH including decisions with the current King of Gate tournament. Another person in the company said that the entire story is not true and said Nosawa has nothing to do with Dragon Gate and the angle was just a reason for guys to show up in NOAH.”
This came at a time in which Perros del Mal de Japon, a unit led by NOSAWA and a unit that featured Eita, one of Dragongate’s biggest stars, had just won the Open the Triangle Gate Championships.
My antenna immediately shot up when this story was published. I have covered Dragongate for nearly a decade and far closer than Meltzer ever has. While the idea of a power-hungry NOSAWA taking a bite out of yet another Japanese promotion makes sense, it contradicts with the family values that Dragongate has built their brand on.
In Meltzer’s second report in the June 6 WON, he claimed that NOSAWA was involved in making last-minute King of Gate changes, specifically Shuji Kondo going over the much younger Kaito Ishida in the quarterfinals. This would be believable had Kondo not pinned then-Open the Dream Gate Champion KAI in 40 seconds at the King of Gate kickoff show, clearly setting up a future Dream Gate match between Kondo and Ishida. Having Ishida win that match would’ve been completely nonsensical.
When M3K won the Open the Triangle Gate Championships from NOSAWA and his Perros crew at Kobe World, Meltzer wrote in the 8/15 WON, “There was more stuff with the Open the Triangle Gate titles at Kobe World. Nosawa Rongai & Eita & Kotaro Suzuki would only drop the belts via count out rather than pin, with the idea that Mochizuki Jr., who had just started wrestling, was on the challenger team.”
This would be well and good except for the fact that M2K, the original unit that M3K was based on, made a living off of winning big matches via count out. In 2000, the “double ring-out committee” as a way to ruin big Toryumon matches. Their goal was not to win, but to put a damper on things. They didn’t want anyone to be happy. This became their calling card and it was passed onto M3K in their early stages. Not seeing the finish of the match at Kobe World as an homage to vintage Toryumon, and instead adding it onto the NOSAWA pie-in-the-sky story, was simply atrocious journalism.
Throughout the year, Meltzer wrote numerous absurd stories about Kendo Kashin coming to Dragongate booking meetings, misinformation about Dragongate excursions, and Naruki Doi aggressively exiting the company (despite having dates announced just hours before the Observer was published). In reality, here’s what happened.
This all began because in May, this email was sent out to numerous wrestling reporters,
The email was sent from a fake email address with an inactive domain. A quick Google search will tell you that any search of that email provider gives you several results about it being a temporary provider to be used for spam or abuse. One reporter I spoke to said that while the email seemed fishy, they attempted to do their due diligence and follow up with the wrestler whose identity was falsified. Amazingly, the wrestler never responded.
Meltzer did none of this, and the phony email was later corroborated by Bryan Alvarez (who doesn’t know better) and Mike Sempervive (who should) on Wrestling Observer Live.
Joe Lanza, who has reported and broke more stories from Japan than anyone else in wrestling media over the last few years, first commented on the NOSAWA in Dragongate story on a 5/5 News Update, noting that he had been ousted from NOAH and that, “Perros del Mal faction will work freelance for now, with likely stops in Dragongate and GLEAT.” Five months later on 10/22, Lanza noted that a veteran wrestler “laughed off” the idea of NOSAWA booking Dragongate, which backed up everything Open the Voice Gate had reported throughout the year.
NOSAWA is not, nor has he ever been the booker for Dragongate, and it is a shame that the people that pushed that narrative have not only not apologized, but have continued to push a story that is so far from the truth.
The Kota Minoura Debacle
Perhaps Dragongate’s greatest strength is its consistency. Since the launch of Toryumon in 1999, through the split from Ultimo in 2004 and beyond, there are very few “down” periods in the history of the promotion. Not everything has worked. Gamma never fully connected as a pushed commodity. The Big 6 (the generation made up of Akira Tozawa, BxB Hulk, Masato Yoshino, Naruki Doi, Shingo Takagi, & YAMATO) was initially a box office failure and their returns atop the promotion, or lack thereof, forced Dragongate to insert CIMA and Masaaki Mochizuki back to the top spots on the card. Nothing, however, has been meant with a collective groan from both native and international fans alike like what they did with Kota Minoura on July 7, 2022.
Minoura is one of many Dragongate standouts under the age of 25. He debuted in 2018 at the ripe age of 19 and very quickly found success in the promotion. He joined Mochizuki Dojo and honed his craft. He wrestled in a pair of Triangle Gate matches alongside his Dojo cohorts, but came up short both times.
When Dragongate returned in front of a live audience in July 2020, Minoura was given a jetpack push. He went to two time limit draws that weekend, one against Big R Shimizu, then the next night against Susumu Yokosuka. Those matches were the last time Minoura was looked at as an underdog. He started scoring huge falls over big name talent and by the next month, he was Twin Gate Champion.
By the end of 2020, Minoura had left The Dragongate Generation to fight with Shun Skywalker’s new unit, Masquerade. He settled into a firm #2 position there.
2021 was a year of great success for the Gifu native. He finished second in King of Gate, losing a thrilling match to Kzy in the finals. While he was never able to get his win back on Kzy, he did come out victorious in singles matches against the likes of Diamante, Eita, Masaaki Mochizuki, and YAMATO, and he closed out the year as one-third of the Triangle Gate Champions.
I predicted at the start of 2022 that Minoura would headline Kobe World Pro Wrestling Festival.
Unfortunately, I was right.
When Masquerade dissolved by way of Shun Skywalker going insane, it became clear that it was time to give Minoura his own unit. Backed by a scheming Naruki Doi and a pissed off, tweener Kaito Ishida, the three of them formed Gold Class with the goal of becoming the female demographic’s favorite unit in the promotion. Minoura, in part to his new Mini Me sidekick in Takumi Hayakawa (renamed Minorita), was the focal point of the unit.
While their initial matches, notably a Triangle Gate challenge against Natural Vibes, were thrilling, the unit quickly fell apart. Gold Class stumbled into the summer in disarray.
In King of Gate, Minoura was bounced in the first round against Kzy, but wandered back into the picture on the final night of the tournament by winning a second chance battle royal. He cheated his way to victory there, then cheated to beat Shuji Kondo in the semi-finals. He once again came up short in the finals, this time it was to future Dream Gate Champion Yuki Yoshioka.
Dragongate returned to Korakuen Hall the next month for a show headlined by KAI vs. Shuji Kondo for the Open the Dream Gate Championship (this was a focal point of the supposed NOSAWA takeover in Dave Meltzer’s mind, but this match was clearly established in May before those rumors began circulating). Before KAI and Kondo could reach the finish of what would’ve been an excellent Dream Gate match, the lights in the building were shut off. When they flickered back on, Minoura was beating both men up.
I cannot think of a single angle in the history of the Dragon System that has died a death like this. Everyone knew this was not the answer. This, for lack of a better term, fucking sucked. This epic swing-and-a-miss bogged down the next month of Dragongate.
Minoura would go on to defeat Kondo and Yoshioka in a three-way match that granted him the right to wrestle for the Dream Gate belt on Kobe World weekend. Since he won King of Gate, it was determined that Yoshioka would get a shot at KAI and his title on July 30, with Minoura challenging the winner the next night.
This, again, was not the answer. The Ultimo Dragon 35th Anniversary Show and Kobe World Pro Wrestling Festival bombed at the box office. The first show, which featured the Kung-Fu Masters vs. Diamante & Shun Skywalker classic, a sad Ultimo Dragon vs. El Hijo del Santo match that (mercifully) turned into a Perros del Mal de Japón six-man tag, and KAI vs. Yoshioka, did a measly 1,915 fans. The next night, with Yoshioka vs. Minoura on top, the show registered 2,515 fans. For reference, the prior year’s shows in this building, which were built around Masato Yoshino’s retirement, did 2,396 and 3,580, respectively.
While the idea of booking a major weekend around Ultimo Dragon and his old luchador pal (whom the Dragongate fanbase does not care about) was not the greatest business idea in the first place, the stench of the Minoura angle ensured that no one was buying tickets out of FOMO. Minoura killed the joy that usually comes out of that weekend.
Since The Debacle, Minoura has been drastically deemphasized in Dragongate’s booking and it’s the best thing that could’ve happened to him. Gold Class was reimagined with Ishida running to GLEAT and Doi going freelance (which led to him leaving the unit). Minorita suddenly took on a much more important role and Ben-K revitalized his career by joining Gold Class.
2023 should be a year of rebirth for Minoura. He’s been away from the spotlight for so long now that a reemergence back into relevance would be welcomed.
A Rookie Class for the Ages
From March 2020-December 2022, Dragongate has debuted 13 new wrestlers. Madoka Kikuta, Sora Fujikawa, La Estrella, Takumi Hayakawa (Minorita), Riki Iihashi, Ishin Iihashi, Takuma Fujiwara, Ryu Fuda, Shoya Sato, Mochizuki Junior, Kaito Nagano, Takuma Nishikawa, and Yoshiki Kato have created an unprecedented amount of young talent within the promotion.
This year saw the departure of Riki Iihashi and Shoya Sato, but that didn’t stop the unrelenting forward progression of this promotion.
The biggest blue chipper of this current crop of youngsters is Takuma Fujiwara, who debuted in November 2021 at the age of 19 and quickly rose up the ranks of the promotion. Fujiwara is destined for greatness. He spent his career day in middle school training in the Michinoku Pro dojo with Toryumon X graduate Taro Nohashi. Considered to be in the same FUTURE Class as the Iihashi Brothers, Ryu Fuda, Shoya Sato, and Minorita, he was the first one to garner any notable success, winning a five-way match at Memorial Gate against his peers en route to the aforementioned Brave Gate match with Dragon Dia.
The loss didn’t cool Fujiwara off. He proceeded to rip off a series of incredible matches against Diamante, SB KENTo, & fellow rookie Ishin Iihashi. While his best result was a time limit draw that took both he and Iihashi out of King of Gate, Fujiwara began to feel like one of the hottest acts in the company. His performances on house shows were becoming much talked about. Without a unit, a proper theme song, or a clean pinfall win, Fujiwara was becoming one of the most integral parts of Dragongate.
In June, it was announced that he and La Estrella would be heading to Toryumon Casa in Mexico. Had Fujiwara stayed in Japan, he likely would’ve joined a unit and racked up a number of “notebook matches”. It would be easier to appreciate just how great he is as a rookie had that been the case, but instead he seamlessly transitioned to the lucha indie scene in a way that truly blew my mind. Alongside Estrella and Pro Wrestling NOAH’s Junta Miyawaki, the three exports began working spot shows all over the country. Estrella looked clunky, Miyawaki looked like he was doing lucha at gunpoint, and Fujiwara looked like a natural.
His rookie year should be put in the same pantheon as Jun Akiyama and Kurt Angle. He just gets pro wrestling. He’s a natural. Everything he does is approached with confidence and executed with grace. I think he’s wrestling’s greatest prospect and someone that could carry Dragongate, or any other promotion, on his back for decades to come.
One of Fujiwara’s early counterparts, Ishin Iihashi, now known as ISHIN, stayed in Japan throughout the entire year. Debuting in September 2021 to much hype as he and his brother, Riki, were Japan’s first supernovas (their father, Ishinriki, wrestled in scuzzy indies in the 90s, while their mother, Utako Hozumi, had a cup of coffee in LLPW). Riki stepped aside from professional competition in June, leaving ISHIN all alone.
I initially worried about the younger brother’s success as a solo competitor as he and his brother had been attached at their hip since their debuts, but ISHIN very quickly became one of the hardest workers on every Dragongate show. With Fujiwara off in Japan, Ryu Fuda battling injury, and both his brother and Shoya Sato hanging up their boots, the once fruitful rookie class had drastically thinned. ISHIN provided a much-needed spark on the undercards.
That being said, his chances for elevation drastically slimmed with no peers across the ring from him. He’d have to wait until June 3 for him to set his sights on a new opponent.
The second Toryumon Reunion show was one of the most underreported shows of the entire year. While Ultimo Dragon holds very little booking power in Dragongate proper, these Toryumon reunion shows have been his babies and he was On One for the second incarnation of this show. He came out in the opening match and changed the rules, then noted that because he lives in Mexico and not Japan and fans can cheer in Mexico, that fans would be allowed to cheer at this show.
This led to Ultimo Dragon, Ryo Saito, and the Tokyo Police Department having a conversation that led to Saito publicly apologizing and reminding the fans to follow the no-cheering rules, or else Dragongate would be thrown out of the building.
This all played second fiddle to the fact that Masaaki Mochizuki’s son debuted on this show. He trained for two years under the nose of everyone. Initially Masaharu Eto (his name when he was working FUTURE exhibition matches), he debuted as the surprise member of M2K, the legendary Toryumon unit that would be transformed into M3K, thanks to him, under the name Ryoto Mochizuki. After scoring a victory in the main event of Korakuen Hall in his debut match, he was renamed yet again, this time to Mochizuki Junior, because Ultimo Dragon wanted it that way. This all played out in real time and was absolutely insane to watch.
Mochizuki Junior won the Open the Triangle Gate Championships alongside his father and Susumu Mochizuki less than two months after he debuted.
Second-generation wrestlers Mochizuki Junior and ISHIN (then Ishin Iihashi) wrestled in a singles match in August, then teamed with their fathers in September, before teaming together in an uneasy alliance against Kaito Nagano and Ryu Fuda in October. Right when it seemed like the two second-generation stars were going to team, ISHIN turned his back on M3K, changed his name to all caps and dropped his father’s last name, and then won the Triangle Gate belts alongside his new Z-Brats partners.
The issue between ISHIN and Mochizuki Junior will be one of generational proportions. This could be Dragongate’s newest incarnation of BxB Hulk vs. Shingo Takagi. Do not sleep on their interactions going forward.
Three more rookies followed Junior’s path by debuting in 2022. Kaito Nagano was the first to join the roster. He stands 5’3”, but his lack of size has already turned into a weapon. The Fukuoka-born youngster is already one of Dragongate’s most exciting high-flyers. He’s seasoned beyond his years and is already fitting in amongst more experienced roster members.
Takuma Nishikawa is currently Dragongate’s biggest wildcard. Despite being in the class as Junior, Nagano, and Yoshiki Kato, Nishikawa was shipped off to Mexico to make his professional debut. He’s six feet tall, making him one of the biggest members of the roster, and is planning to use his combination of speed and power to make him an unstoppable force. The footage of him in Mexico that has surfaced has been rough, but I cannot shake the idea that when he lands in Japan, he will be a big deal, immediately.
That leaves Yoshiki Kato, who dreams of being Dragongate’s top power fighter. The ex-cop sent shockwaves throughout the promotion in November when he wrestled resident lowlife Punch Tominaga in an exhibition match. Kato submitted Tominaga once, which is the only time that I can remember a fall actually being scored in an exhibition match. A month later, with only a handful of matches under his belt, he tapped out Problem Dragon at Final Gate. Kato is rough around the edges, but he’s A Problem. If you are going to invest stock in Dragongate’s youngsters, load up Kato stock while he’s still young. He could turn out to be a massive star in a few years.
There is no promotion in the world with as much young talent in Dragongate. These 13 rookies are all 26 or younger, names like Jacky “Funky” Kamei, Madoka Kikuta, and SB KENTo are all under 25, and there are more rookies waiting in the wings to debut.
Dragongate said goodbye to more wrestlers this year than possibly any other year. On paper, this can be looked at as a promotion in disarray with multiple wrestlers looking to jump off a sinking ship. In reality, the story could not be further from the truth.
In the case of Gamma, K-Ness, and Super Shisa, these were veteran wrestlers long past their prime who served no purpose to Dragongate anymore. Gamma announced he was leaving in April, then popped up in GLEAT alongside his longtime friend CIMA before retiring on a self-produced show in August. Super Shisa stepped away from Dragongate and has continued wrestling on the lowest of low level indies ever since. K-Ness, one of Dragongate’s most unique figures, finally retired after a career filled with injuries in April. He had planned on retiring earlier, but didn’t want to get in the way of Masato Yoshino’s retirement. The final K-Ness match was one of the most satisfying matches of the year. It was what makes Dragongate so unique. Kzy was crying as he delivered his final uppercuts to the man who convinced him to get in better shape. The only flaw with the K-Ness finale was that the English broadcasting team experienced numerous technical difficulties during the show, meaning that Dragongate Jae’s commentary of his favorite wrestler’s final match was heard by no one but he and Ho Ho Lun.
Riki Iihashi and Shoya Sato were both young in their careers when they decided to step away from the spotlight. Iihashi was finding his groove alongside his brother when he called it quits, allegedly because he no longer had the passion to be a wrestler. Sato, one of the highest-ranking judoka to ever enter wrestling, was marred with injuries long before his debut. The fact that he debuted at all was a victory in itself.
In June, a pair of rivals split from the promotion. Both Keisuke Okuda and Kaito Ishida made their final appearances in Dragongate in June. There was never an official statement made about Okuda, but Jae recently noted on English commentary that he was fired from the promotion. This would make sense after Okuda developed a fetish for getting his ass kicked in MMA fights. Okuda began wrestling full-time for Dragongate in 2019 and found success initially alongside Mochizuki Dojo and his subsequent Open the Brave Gate feud with Kaito Ishida in 2020, which Open the Voice Gate named their Feud of the Year that year. However, Okuda flopped as Brave Gate Champion and failed to show the necessary versatility needed to be a successful Dragongate wrestler.
Ishida, who at one point seemed destined for the main event scene, left the promotion officially on July 24. This is the one departure that could’ve truly had an impact on the promotion, but my analysis in real time turned out to be correct. Ishida’s departure meant far more in the short term than it did the long term. Gold Class, his final unit, has been far healthier since he left. Names like Madoka Kikuta and Diamante have stepped up to fill his upper midcard void. Ishida is now wrestling full time for GLEAT and cooling down fast.
The exodus of wrestlers paved the way for younger, brighter wrestlers to get more time on big shows this year. Despite it seeming gloomy in nature, no one that left Dragongate this year is irreplaceable. In fact, in some cases, the company is better without them than with them.
10 Best Matches of 2022 Available on the Dragongate Network
- Diamante & Shun Skywalker vs. Jacky “Funky” Kamei & Jason Lee: Ultimo Dragon 35th Anniversary Show
- KAI vs. Susumu Yokosuka: Dead or Alive
- Kaito Ishida, Kota Minoura, & Naruki Doi vs. Jacky “Funky” Kamei, Kzy, & U-T: Champion Gate in Osaka Night One
- Dragon Dia vs. Takuma Fujiwara: Champion Gate in Osaka Night One
- Kzy vs. Kota Minoura: King of Gate Night Six
- Diamante vs. Yuki Yoshioka: King of Gate Night Eleven
- Dragon Dia & Yuki Yoshioka vs. Eita & Yosuke Santa Maria vs. HYO & SB KENTo: Champion Gate in Osaka Night Two
- Dragon Kid & Kzy vs. K-Ness & Susumu Yokosuka: K-Ness Retirement Show
- BxB Hulk, HYO, & Shun Skywalker vs. Big Boss Shimizu, Jacky “Funky” Kamei, & Kzy vs. Ben-K, Kagetora, & YAMATO: Gate of Passion 4/25/22
- Eita vs. Yuki Yoshioka: Dangerous Gate 2022
10 Fun Dragongate Matches to Watch on YouTube
In 2022, Dragongate released more footage than ever before. On their official YouTube channel, the promotion began uploading select matches from each of their house shows. Most matches are standard, pedestrian affairs, but a handful of bouts stood out amongst the rest.
- Ishin Iihashi vs. Riki Iihashi: January 15, 2022
- BxB Hulk, Diamante, SB KENTo, & Shun Skywalker vs. Big Boss Shimizu, Genki Horiguchi, Jacky “Funky” Kamei, & Kzy: April 3, 2022
- SB KENTo vs. Takuma Fujiwara: April 10, 2022
- Shoya Sato Retirement Match: Ishin Iihashi, Minorita, Shoya Sato, & Takuma Fujiwara vs. Don Fujii, Masaaki Mochizuki, Ryo Saito, & Susumu Mochizuki: May 24, 2022
- Shun Skywalker vs. Strong Machine J: May 25, 2022
- Dragon Kid, El Hijo del Santo, Ultimo Dragon, & YAMATO vs. Masaaki Mochizuki, Mochizuki Junior, Susumu Mochizuki, & Yasushi Kanda: August 7, 2022
- Dragon Dia, Madoka Kikuta, & Yuki Yoshioka vs. Big Boss Shimizu, Kzy, & U-T: August 7, 2022
- Ben-K vs. Kaito Nagano: August 22, 2022
- Jacky “Funky” Kamei, Jason Lee, & Kzy vs. Diamante, HYO, & Shun Skywalker: September 3, 2022
- Madoka Kikuta vs. U-T: September 11, 2022
Roster Power Rankings
|In the Hunt
|Legends Who Have Peaked
|Second In Command
|Big Boss Shimizu
|Can Beat Anyone, Can Lost to Anyone
|Jacky "Funky" Kamei
|Looking to Break Out
|Strong Machine J
|Rookies Who Win
|Veteran Loss Posts
|Ho Ho Lun
|Super Shenlong III / Yosuke Santa Maria
|Rookies Who Lose
|The Worst Wrestler in the World
What to Expect in 2023
Dragongate kicks off their year with a pair of shows on the Dragongate Network in Osaka and Kyoto on the 7th and 8th respectively, but the first two big shows of the year will take place in Korakuen Hall on January 11 and 12. On the first Korakuen show, units will be on the line as Z-Brats will wrestle High-End in a losing unit disbands match. High-End is down to just two original members in Dragon Kid & YAMATO thanks to an injury that Kagetora suffered. In his place, Problem Dragon and Takashi Yoshida have become assistants to High-End.
They’ll take on a Z-Brats unit who feels hot and has plenty of story left to tell. I see no reason why Z-Brats would lose this match. High-End are one of the least interesting units in company history and it is time that they go away.
The following night, Yuki Yoshioka will look to make his fifth defense of the Dream Gate title when he wrestles Shun Skywalker. This could very easily be one of the best matches of the year and I expect it to do big business in Korakuen.
Yoshioka has made it clear that he wants to defeat every former Dream Gate champion that gets in his way. If he gets through Skywalker, his options going forward will be limited. Naruki Doi would be the frontrunner, with eclectic names like BxB Hulk, Don Fujii, and Susumu Mochizuki also being on the table.
If Yoshioka is able to survive the onslaught that Skywalker will surely bring his way, that gives his Dream Gate story a chance to pivot. It is impossible to ignore the talent looming overseas. SB KENTo is booked in the United States through January 14, but once he returns, he will be ushered into the main event scene. The same could be said for Takuma Fujiwara, who has been teaming with SBK in Mexico. There’s also Diamante, who wrestled Yoshioka in a classic in King of Gate. He’s worthy of a Dream Gate shot sooner rather than later.
Dragongate will look to expand their North American efforts in the new year, but at home, 2023 should be a year of stability for Dragongate. After five years of constant changes, whether it be the OWE exodus, the pandemic, or the roster moves that were made this year, Dragongate appears to have Their Guys and are going forward with no reservations.
With the talent that has been assembled, we could look back at 2023 as another golden year in the promotion’s history.
Open the Voice Gate
If you’d like to keep up with Dragongate in 2023, Voices of Wrestling’s Open the Voice Gate podcast covers the promotion weekly.
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