FEBRUARY 3, 2023

Watch: Dragon Gate Network

This is the first Tokyo-based Dragongate show to have an unrestricted cheering crowd since February 7, 2020, a show that feels decades old when you look at the names on the card. For the likes of Madoka Kikuta, Mochizuki Junior, Yoshiki Kato, and other youngsters, this is the first time they’ve ever been cheered in Korakuen Hall. Even for someone like Jacky “Funky” Kamei, he was only two months into his career when he last heard a vocal crowd in Japan’s most infamous building. I’ve watched empty arena shows, legends retire in front of clap crowds, and generational superstars wrestle in silence. This will be an overwhelmingly positive review because all of the tension, despair, and depression that the pandemic caused Dragongate to have was all washed away in one single night. I have praised Dragongate more than any other promotion over the last three years because they’ve deserved it. They were the best at adapting in the early stages of the pandemic, and even as America and Mexico have gone back to “normal,” Dragongate has put forth the most watchable wrestling in the midst of this dreaded era. I stand by everything I’ve said, but watching this show, it struck me just how much I had missed hearing the cries of the Dragongate faithful in Korakuen Hall. 


I was slapped in the face by just how over Eita was in this match. I will do my best to not harp on the “wow, this guy got cheered!” aspect of this show throughout this review, but oh my God I forgot just how beloved Eita is. I have always been a supporter of Eita going out and doing other things, specifically in relation to Perros del Mal de Japon. There were a few years in which I felt Eita was being shoved down my throat and I couldn’t take it anymore, so his other ventures were given a rousing thumbs up from me. I still wish he’d go back to Mexico and slum it up in DTU for a few months. That being said, I so badly want him to find his place as one of Dragongate’s top babyfaces. 

A few years ago, Masaaki Mochizuki took a major step back in Dragongate and began having more featured matches in NOAH than he did in his home promotion. Eita followed a similar path. Over the last year, Mochizuki has returned home, with a purpose, to wrestle alongside his prodigy of a son. I want the same for Eita. I want this man leading the charge and leading the next generation forward. He’s too talented to waste away in NOAH’s pathetic junior division; his home is here, and his home is calling. 

The best parts of this match were when Diamante and Eita were in the ring with one another. Despite having such natural chemistry with one another, this was only the ninth time they’ve wrestled as opponents, with one of those outings being a battle royal. 

Shun Skywalker pinned Takashi Yoshida with his knees-first standing moonsault, in which he pinned Yoshida from a kneeling position. Not to sound like a neanderthal, but that was a badass finish. There’s no other way to describe it. ***


Dragongate’s two pluckiest wrestlers squared off here. Both undersized, even for the vertically challenged promotion that is Dragongate, this was exciting in the sense that it was the first time we’ve ever seen Kamei work as the dominant one in a match. He’s made his living off of being a punching bag that punches back, but against the younger Nagano, Kamei had a rare chance to play top dog. 

Nagano’s soccer gimmick is already a hit with me. I love the way his offense has shifted to incorporate soccer-related moves into his arsenal, first with the penalty kick, then later with a Pele Kick, the latter of which set up Nagano with a chance to hit his Super Frankensteiner. Nagano, who is barely 5’3”, does a somersault on the mat before leaping up and catching his opponent on the middle rope with a frankensteiner. It’s like the ultimate Crossfit workout and every time he does it, it blows my mind. 

The flaw in this match was that Nagano, for the second time, blew the finish with a botched flash pin. This was the same one that he won his first match with in Kobe in December. This time, he didn’t get the win with it, and instead Jacky had to get creative and figure out a way to get into the Jacky Knife after the botch. Nagano is flawless when soaring through the air, but that pin has given him trouble twice now. Nevertheless, a strong outing from both men. ***1/4 


What a brilliant match. 

I never run out of good things to say about Jason Lee. Hong Kong’s finest wrestler feels like an elder statesman on this roster, having been with the company now since 2017, and this was a rare instance in which he could play the veteran card against the far more inexperienced Kato. 

The match was built around Lee working over the veiny, enormous arm of Kato, who notably had Korakuen Hall in the palms of his hands for the entire match. They are already in love with this man. Lee attempted to use his brains en route to victory, while Kato survived by using raw power. For a moment, it seemed as if Kato was going to use his power to secure the victory as he was able to get Lee up for the Torture Rack, but the Natural Vibes stalwart was able to escape and quickly swung the match back in his favor with a picture perfect dropkick.

Although it is rarely used, Dragongate has established Lee’s Kimura Lock as a deadly finish, and that’s what he went after Kato with. The first time he locked it in, however, the Gifu-native was able to stand up with the hold locked on and ram Lee into the corner. Looking to capitalize, he picked Lee up for Bloodfall, but Lee landed on his feet and then began swinging at the rookie with vicious forearms. After landing a trio of them, he put the Kimura back on. Kato stood up yet again, but Lee cranked the hold and the rookie fell back down, tapping to the perfectly executed submission move. 

Kato, who has stated that he is on a mission to become Dragongate’s next power fighter, is the closest thing the company has had to SUWA since he exited in 2004. He is rough around the edges, far less polished than his contemporaries in Junior and Nagano, and yet there is a thrill to Kato’s matches that few wrestlers have right now. This was a perfect test for him, and Lee was the perfect opponent to guide him through. This was akin to a Bryan Danielson TV match. It was brilliant from start to finish. ***3/4 


If you would like to hear myself and Alan4L rave about the career of Susumu Mochizuki for three hours, you can do so here

The first match of this year’s tag league was a delight. While every other match from the tournament that followed it on this evening would top it, this was a strong character outing for all four men. Now that Strong Machine J isn’t married to the Machine gimmick and now that the deadweight of Machine G is out of the picture, his team with Strong Machine F is a welcomed addition to the tournament. 

There was a shockingly good sequence between J and Kanda, who wrestled like he was 20 years younger for a brief moment in time, but other than that this match was largely pedestrian. A Jumbo no Kachi on Strong Machine F put the match away for his team. ***1/4 


Last month, Mochizuki Junior made a huge step in his career. In a tag match with his father against Kzy and Strong Machine J, the youngster stepped up to his father and told him to step off. Despite finding immediate success alongside his father and Susumu Mochizuki, the second-generation star has been bypassed by ISHIN, and Kaito Nagano and Yoshiki Kato are right on his heels. This was the first big opportunity Junior has had since then to show his worth without his overprotective father getting in the way and doing the hard work for his kid. 

This was so hard-hitting from the beginning until the end. HYO and ISHIN are the perfect foil for this father-son combination. They are weasley, yet tough. Even as HYO was taking a barrage of kicks from the renowned strikers, there was a part of me that felt he would be able to roll up Mochizuki and steal a win. 

That nearly happened, but the onslaught of offense kept coming from the Mochizuki’s. The highlight of the match came by way of Junior, who hit the most gorgeous Bridging German Suplex that I have ever seen on HYO. That nearly won the match, but ISHIN broke up the pin at the last second. After ISHIN and Junior spilled to the floor, that left Father Mochizuki all alone with HYO, who failed in his stunner attempt and then ate an Inverted Twister. The final few minutes of this match were incredibly heated. ***3/4 


This was a fine, ultimately uninteresting display given everything that had come before it and everything that would come immediately after it. Ben-K pinned Genki Horiguchi. **3/4 


One of Dragongate’s greatest tag teams, YAMADoi, is back after a near-seven year hiatus. There have been instances over the years, whether it be the reunited Knesuka in 2015 or even VerserK-era T-Hawk & Eita, where retreads of once-legendary tag teams have failed to live up to the expectations. Dragongate is a promotion that moves ahead so quickly that sometimes looking back at the past can be a mistake. 

That will not be the case for 2023 YAMADoi. 

Naruki Doi has been a world beater ever since he went freelance and began working a reduced schedule. It’s the greatest thing that ever could’ve happened to him. For other promotions like DDT and All Japan, he adds credibility and star power to promotions that need it (specifically DDT outside of Tokyo), and for Dragongate, his appearances now feel like big deals. He has a spring in his step that had been gone since he dropped his Dream Gate belt back in 2020. Doi has turned back the clock and is wrestling with a sense of urgency that I am simply in love with. 

He and YAMATO, the latter of whom is a month removed from teaming with Dragon Kid in HIGH-END, were animals in this match. They went right after The Dragons and kept up the attack throughout the match. The pacing in this was gross, simply put. It was absurd how hard YAMADoi went from beginning to end. 

As they’re prone to do, this match went up a level when Doi and Dragon Kid began throwing big moves at one another, notably when Doi changed course on what should’ve been an Ultra Hurricanrana and instead powerbombed his longtime rival straight into the canvas. 

That spot paved the way for YAMATO to pick Dragon Kid up and put him away, but Kid countered the Galleria with the Bible. YAMATO kicked out, but The Dragons began blitzing the legendary tag team. Their run was short lived, as yet again YAMATO found himself in a position to hit someone in a Galleria, although this time it turned out to be Dragon Dia, who also countered with a Bible of his own. Top notch stuff. 

The Bible failed to put YAMATO away, and the only five-time Dream Gate Champion decided at that point that he had had enough. He fought back and planted Dragon Dia with a Galleria, but the third-generation Dragon kicked out. A third and final attempt at the Galleria – and the second one to connect – finally secured the win for YAMADoi. 

The energy in this match was palpable. Dragon Dia is a beloved babyface who was notably cheered over YAMATO at points in this match. The pacing was frenetic. The offense was crisp. This was simply superb. ****1/4 


This match went to a 20 minute time limit draw. 

Don’t look now, but there’s a storm brewing between BxB Hulk and Madoka Kikuta. When Kikuta returned from a year-long absence last year, he fell victim to a pair of First Flashes from Hulk. A few weeks later, Kikuta’s King of Gate journey ended thanks to Hulk. In December, when it looked like Dragon Dia and Kikuta were destined for a long Twin Gate run, BxB Hulk and then-partner KAI ended their reign as champions. 

Madoka Kikuta can’t get over the hump. 

He can, however, bask in the adoration of the Korakuen faithful. I’m not sure anyone was more over on the show than Kikuta, including his partner, former Open the Dream Gate Champion Yuki Yoshioka. Kikuta put f\orth a masterclass in Babyface 101, fighting his (enormous) ass off en route to a soul-crushing time limit draw. Had the last few seconds of this match ended differently, I would’ve said Kikuta merely survived this encounter. He ate everything BxB Hulk had to offer. An EVO couldn’t put him away. A Kaishaku couldn’t put him away. Then, with time expiring, Hulk went for a First Flash, but Kikuta sprang to his feet and cleaned his clock with a Discuss Lariat. Kikuta has hit a few big lariats in his life, but at this point in his career, this was The One. I will never forget how great that looked. 

Before he could pin Hulk, the bell rang signaling for the draw. All four men, Minoura and Yoshioka included, were exhausted. This was a 20 minute draw with 40 minutes of intensity packed into it.

When this card was announced, I was very skeptical that this main event would be able to follow the YAMADoi reunion. For as good as Kikuta and Yoshioka are, Hulk is aging and Minoura has been a ghost as of late. 

This turned out to be the perfect main event. I can’t say enough good things about Hulk, and I can’t praise Kikuta enough. There is a palpable energy when Kikuta hits the ring now. On a roster filled with world class talent and some people that are legitimately flirting with being the best wrestler in the world, Kikuta continues to steal the show time and time again. 

Although he came shy of a victory, Kikuta won over new fans with this match. ****1/2 

Final Thoughts

I have not had this much fun watching Japanese wrestling in a very long time. There have been better shows with better matches, but this show helped drown three years of pandemic-related suffering. I am skeptical of anyone that can’t find enjoyment in this show. There’s something for everyone here, whether it be the style battle between Lee and Kato, the slugfest tag match between father, son, and Z-Brats, the frenetic pace of the YAMADoi reunion, or the epic main event. This could very easily end up being the best Dragongate show of the year.

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