Open The New Year Gate 2023
January 11, 2023
Korakuen Hall – Tokyo, Japan

Watch: Dragongate Network (English Commentary)

Dragongate FUTURE Match – 5 Minute Exhibition
Ryu Fuda vs Taiki Yanagiuchi 

Taiki Yanagiuchi is a member of the FUTURE Class of 2022. His progress had been delayed by injury for around six months of training. This match was a surprise for everyone, referee Takayuki Yagi and the commentary team included. 

Fuda healthily was in control for the first few minutes. There were a lot of deep near falls in a match that recently saw pre debut Yoshiki Kato scoring a fall. Yanagiuchi got an inside cradle nearfall a second before the bell. He has a bit of pluck about him and is a bit smaller than Fuda but in better shape. His fundamentals are sound but I’m going to reserve judgment until debut.

This going as a time limit draw without a fall over an unexpected predebut rookie must feel like a statement on Ryu Fuda’s position coming into 2023. As someone now in his second year of wrestling, you feel for him being in a stereotypical rookie position in a class with Takuma Fujiwara and ISHIN, but I think he’s going to be fine long-term and can perhaps blossom this year. NR

After this Z-Brats and the High End Alliance came out after General Manager Ryo Saito announced the Loser Must Disbands stipulation as a standard No DQ Elimination Tag.

Natural Vibes (Jason Lee, Jacky “Funky” Kamei & Strong Machine J) Def. Naruki Doi, Eita & Punch Tominaga

Strong Machine J pinned Punch Tominaga with the Machine Suplex Hold.

If Eita’s 2022, the most conspicuous Dragon System-based year of his career as he based his efforts mostly in Pro Wrestling NOAH and in Perros Del Mal Del Japon, results in him becoming one of the most fun grizzled veterans in the world, it’ll be worth it. He continued his January with a mean domination of Jacky Funky Kamei after a very fun singles match with Ryu Fuda in Osaka this weekend where he dismantled Fuda in a sprint. He’s still adrift unit-wise and with fellow unaffiliated part-timer Doi and one would hope he’d figure into the unit shuffle.

There was a lot of Punch Tominaga in this match, which was encapsulated with gorgeous bridging german suplex from Strong Machine J and Eita dragging him out of the ring so they wouldn’t lose immediately. Jason absolutely clocked him before an SMJ domination stretch and Tominaga nearfalls and a tidy Machine Suplex Hold.

For how Tominaga dominated this match, it was pretty solid. Natural Vibes are as crisp as always. Strong Machine J is someone who I hope to see a big 2023 from and his closing stretch might be one of my favorites in wrestling. ***

Big Boss Shimizu Def. Kaito Nagano

Big Boss Shimizu defeated the new-look Soccer Enthusiast Kaito Nagano with the Big Boss Press in a fun match.

Kaito Nagano getting a soccer enthusiast gimmick should be seen as an endorsement of his future. The Dragon System loves the enthusiast archetype with others like Genki Horiguchi and Ryo Saito having their own sport enthusiast characters early in their careers. There are much worse wrestling careers to have than Marraha Isappa. Nagano, who literally just became a legal adult this week, continues to progress as one of the most dynamic high flyers in all of pro wrestling. The soccer dimension suits his movesets well, and I wouldn’t want him to be a Ben-Kcito so I’ll call this a best-case scenario. 


This was a blast of a rookie vs. vet match. Nagano got a bunch of solid nearfalls and some that got the crowd to react strongly. Nothing with this match really is in doubt, Nagano is only four months into his career and much much smaller than Shimizu. Jae, on commentary, brought up that Nagano’s second professional match was against Shimizu, and he lasted two minutes longer than that time. After Shimizu left, Kaito Nagano grabbed the microphone.

I find these moments interesting within a wrestler’s career within Dragongate. On the heels of the new gimmick and theme, connecting with a crowd is so important. For new Dragongate readers, it might be a bit surprising, but it’s a promo-heavy promotion. In previous eras, this was a make-or-break moment. The crowd seems to have bought in on him already and Nagano sealed the deal. ***1/2

Masaaki Mochizuki Def. Kono Mama Ichikawa

Mocchy won in seven seconds with a dropkick.

This happened after the full (and silent) entrances for M3K and Ultimo Dragon. Ichikawa requested the match be changed to a singles match. Then afterwards he begged for them to do the regularly scheduled 8 man tag because they’d have to give refunds. Ultimo already left the ringside area and took off his ring costume so GM had to go get his gear back on. Five Stars No Notes. 

Ultimo Dragon, Genki Horiguchi, Kenichiro Arai & Kono Mama ichikawa Def. M3K (Masaaki Mochizuki, Susumu Mochizhuki, Yasushi Kanda and Mochizuki Jr.) 

Kono Mama Ichikawa somehow beat the Double Ring Out Committee and rolled into the ring by count out.

Really fun to see the sequences with Mochizuki Jr. and the long-time veterans Horiguchi and Arai. The first-generation guys got a little rough with Junior and it’s wonderful to see how composed of a wrestler he is. Ichikawa was deposited backstage early on in the match and came in to eat everyone’s offense afterwards. After eating Mocchy’s Twister, it became double countout time. As it’s the first show of the year, Dragongate likes to do stuff that is somewhat lighthearted and reminiscent of previous eras of the Dragon System. They did not expect to encounter the perseverance of Kono Mama Ichikawa tonight.

For once, the weakest wrestler in the world pulled off his master scheme. If you like comedy wrestling, you love Kono Mama Ichikawa and this was so much fun. The non-Stalker parts with Junior were the obvious highlight outside of Susumu getting Ultimo more fired up than usual. Not a Touch Football match. ***1/4 

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Don Fujii & Shuji Kondo Def. Kzy & Yoshiki Kato

Kondo pins Kato after a short-range King Kong Lariat.

Yoshiki Kato is a fascinating prospect in the context of what wrestlers Dragongate stereotypically produces. Kato’s a hulking figure of a man and I wouldn’t call him particularly handsome. In a class with people who literally were not considered adults under Japanese law until this week, Kato’s a grown ass man and a former police officer. Instead of the speed and precision expected of a Dragon System wrestler we’ve gotten a very rough around the edges power fighter. That’s all to say Kato is a problem, he’s never woken up on the right side of the pillow and is Bad News in all the best ways.

This was all about Kato’s progression entering his second month of his career. In December, he was tapping out the absolute bottom ranked veterans, in 2023 he’s getting the veteran power fighters. He looked incredibly comfortable dishing out punishment (and taking it) with Kondo and Fujii and his innate charisma made it entirely believable that he would be able to put up a fight against them. Kzy might have been his tag team partner, but make no mistake this match was all about Yoshiki Kato.

The pairing with Don Fujii played up everything that brought Yoshiki Kato to the dance. Kato ran roughshod over Fujii in the early going, taking aback the designated drill sergeant. Fujii always deserves more credit than he receives for his unique ability to bully the rookies and take the rookies’ comeback without losing a single drop of heat. The fanbase adores that this early fifties cranky weirdo has a bone to pick with each and every rookie that comes through Kobe, and Fujii pays that off every single time.

I know this match had early notebook hype, but I feel much more restrained about it. Maybe with more Kzy interaction it gets there along with more time, but given what it was, I thought it was delightful ***3/4

Gold Class (Kota Minoura, Ben-K & Minorita) Def. D’Courage (Yuki Yoshioka, Dragon Dia & Madoka Kikuta)

Ben-K won it for his trio with a Masakari (Jackhammer) on Dragon Dia after a Spear.

Given his size and newly-gifted tiny Brave Gate belt, it made sense to focus a lot of this match on Minorita. There is an obvious future Brave Gate match between him and Dia given their interaction and matches this week, so it’s nice to see the slower build to it. Given his size and character, I don’t think this will be a longer Minorita title run and Dia’d be the most justified guy to get the belt off of him.

The work between the six guys was solid throughout with a tinge of exhibition surrounding it. Yoshioka’s immediate title match with Skywalker means that you really aren’t going to focus on him. Minoura, Kikuta and Ben-K don’t really have any sticks in the fire, so the Brave Gate focus was really the only option here. The trappings of being a thrown together unpromoted semi-main event on a lightly attended first show of two straight nights were not something this match could really escape. 

Notable in the closing stretch was a nasty bump Yuki Yoshioka took. Yoshioka was going for the finish and his frog splash when Kota Minoura shoved him off the turnbuckle, bouncing off the apron to the floor. Yoshioka didn’t figure in the rest of the stretch after this bump. I wouldn’t be surprised if this was done in anticipation of his title defense the next day against Shun Skywalker. It wouldn’t be the first time they’d set up a title match that way. ***1/2

Losing Unit Must Disband – All Out War Elimination Tag Match
Z-Brats (KAI, BXB Hulk, Shun Skywalker, HYO & ISHIN) Def. High End Alliance (YAMATO, Dragon Kid, Kagetora, Takashi Yoshida & Problem Dragon)

Shun Skywalker was the sole survivor of the match after pinning YAMATO with the SSW.

Order of Elimination: Yoshida, Problem Dragon, KAI, HYO, ISHIN, Dragon Kid, Hulk, Kagetora, YAMATO

The key to the unique Dragon System match type is melodrama. There was zero doubt in the world to believe that the High End Alliance would disband Z-Brats. High End was the worst babyface unit since Over Generation. An argument that chemistry is innately important in a Dragongate unit, the individual parts were always much better than the combined group. One can argue that the starpower of YAMATO and Dragon Kid were hurt by this unit. But for a half hour, this shambling walking corpse would do whatever it took to get the crowd to believe, if only for a moment, that High End could survive. How could a tag team and two passed by spare parts compete with one of the strongest Dragongate heel units since VerserK?

The sudden return of Kagetora did a lot of heavy lifting in this Disbands match. Takashi Yoshida and Problem Dragon consistently have been below the mark as assistants so of course they would be eliminated before the five minute call. Kagetora’s return and instant pinfalls on KAI and HYO made it an even match between full members. It was a great moment, the sort of thing one grows to expect in a Disbands Match. But it didn’t introduce doubt. This was still a collection of ill-fitting wrestlers against the rampaging heels.

The dying moments of High End came down to YAMATO and Shun Skywalker and a lot of High End and Z-Brats interference after an attack on GM Yagi. The dissension between BXB Hulk and the rest of the unit resulted in errant powder attacks and kicks harmed Shun Skywalker, but didn’t do enough to prevent the inevitable result after a delayed SSW. ***1/2

How does one properly evaluate a match that couldn’t overcome two years of cursed history of High End? The work here was all solid and it did have the standard Disbands match tropes, but I don’t think it was possible to get High End over that finish line before ending it. So it was a success but under the trappings of someone having to do really annoying house work. You’ve gotta get it over with, you’d rather be doing something else, but you put forth the effort to get this over with and move on with your life.

The most interesting part of this exercise came in the post-match as we got swift resolution to the BXB Hulk/Z-Brats storyline. In a post match attack, Z-Brats unmasked Problem Dragon and Hulk reared back for a First Flash. Instead of further embarrassing Dragon, he clocked all the members of Z-Brats and announced his departure. Near instantly, Gold Class came out and offered Hulk gold roses to join. The original Dragongate hearthrob has joined the unit previously focused on raising Dragongate’s fan gender ratio back to 90% women.

This was likely Hulk’s last heel run of any importance. Although his contemporaries Shingo Takagi, Akira Tozawa and Kazuchika Okada are in relatively good shape given their tenures, the older Hulk is in the midst of his physical decline. I can’t say that I’ve personally loved Hulk’s heel run, but he didn’t look THAT out of step and over his head. Gold Class needs to grow and Hulk makes sense as the veteran piece that can fill out tags and has enough station to not distract. Minorita likely will always be the person to take a fall in a major match so it won’t look embarrassing, so it’s a good fit. Getting to play off of his history of being a heartthrob is an added bonus and should be a pretty funny quirk to say the least.

Then High End addressed the crowd for the last time. Everyone admitted that the unit didn’t work, but were proud to fight with each other for these past two years. YAMATO, Dragon Kid and Kagetora find themselves in interesting places as unaffiliated wrestlers. The roster is really at a point where one can argue for two more units and these three should figure into that. There is a longer conversation to be had about YAMATO-led face groups, but he should figure into leadership in his next one, Dragon Kid will be a second-in-command or filling the ranks, and Kagetora, when inspired, can be one hell of a Brave challenger or second or third on a champion team. High End ended up being a colossal waste of time and one can only hope for better units in the future for its members.

Final Thoughts

Thumbs in the middle for the first Korakuen Hall show for Dragongate in 2023. There were a lot of interesting parts of the show (Nagano’s new gimmick, Ichikawa’s schemes working for once, Yoshiki Kato), but nothing exceptional. It’s a solid two and half hour show, but felt like it was something the company had to get through before the bigger show the next night.