Rey de Parejas
March 2, 2023
Korakuen Hall
Tokyo Japan

Watch: Dragongate Network

After what feels like much longer than a month, Dragongate returns to Korakuen Hall to finish off the first Rey de Parejas tournament in twenty years and to look ahead towards their first big weekend of the year, Champion Gate. Considering the company’s appearances on yesterday’s All Star Junior Festival and last month’s Keiji Muto Grand Final Pro Wrestling “Last Love” ~Hold Out~ shows, it certainly feels like Dragongate has been in Tokyo a whole lot more than usual even if this is their first Korakuen in a month. With still some questions and spots open on the Champion Gate card, it’s time to figure out who is the Rey de Parejas 2023 and Big Time’s opponents for the Twin Gate along with the next Triangle challengers.

The show opened with Natural Vibes doing their first (mostly) complete Party Anthem dance in front of cheering crowds. Kzy and Big Boss Shimizu were back from America and had to give a trip report (three defenses and a story-line belt theft angle). As well they highlighted Strong Machine J’s upcoming Dream Gate challenge and Jason Lee’s Brave Gate attempt this weekend. Closing things out, U-T took the microphone. Having not wrestled since December due to ACL/MCL tears, he wished to relinquish the Ryukyu Dragon Twin Dragon Tag Team belts he held with Kzy. He’s on the path to recovery, but U-T felt it wasn’t appropriate to remain an injured champion. Pretty decent opening segment

Rey De Parejas 2023 Semi-Final
D’Courage (Yuki Yoshioka & Madoka Kikuta) (A Block 2nd) Def. Z-Brats (Shun Skywalker & KAI) (B Block 1st) 

D’Courage advanced to the finals with a Yoshioka frog splash out of nowhere on KAI.

There is absolutely zero hyperbole in the statement that after it’s all said and done, we will denote Madoka Kikuta’s career with at least two parts: Before he faced Shingo Takagi at Final Gate 2022, and the wrestler he became after that match. Maybe it was being in a lariat war in that match, but his fire and the crowd connection he’s developed so far this year puts him in the conversation for a 2023 Q1 Most Improved Wrestler.

This crowd connection became the focal point of the semi-final. For the first five minutes, Z-Brats had Kikuta isolated and delivered him a beating. It’s a testament both to KAI and Skywalker’s ability and size to make it look convincing that a man of Kikuta’s size can be put down. With one of the more fierce looking shoulder tackles I’ve seen, Kikuta has shown that he’s willing to finally put that size to use.

From there we were off to the races and after a shorter sprint with Yoshioka’s hot tag. I’ve been critical recently of Dragongate and their promotional partner GAORA’s rare missteps in production, but the finish here put that talking point to rest. After a rough lariat, we saw Yoshioka perched on the top rope in the background. Coming “out of nowhere” he drilled KAI with a frog splash to win a fun semi-final. ***1/2

Rey De Parejas 2023 Semi-Final
M3K (Susumu Mochizuki & Yasushi Kanda) (B Block 2nd) Def. Gold Class (Kota Minoura & BXB Hulk) (A Block 1st)

The Dragon System’s original tag team advanced to the finals when Yasushi Kanda reversed Kota Minoura’s Engranaje submission into a side cradle pin.

Susumu and Kanda came out to the Jimmyz theme rather than the M2/3K hallmark G.W.D to commemorate the passing of Mick Iriki, the singer of the Jimmyz theme. Iriki did a couple of live performances of the theme at Kobe World and other large events so it was fitting that they would play it here.

Although Susumu and Kanda have been on form the entire tournament (and were good here), I felt like one of the biggest storylines in Rey de Parejas has been how revitalizing the Gold Class team has been. The Minoura Debacle of last summer will always loom over his head, but through the last month Kota Minoura has proven he can be a pure babyface that the crowd can get behind. There are less matches in front of BXB Hulk than behind him, but Gold Class has proven a fitting unit for him if this ends up being his last major face run.

The work here was solid. The crowd was exceptionally into Kanda’s valiant kickout of the R-301 and begging for him not to tap the Engranaje, so the finish felt incredibly earned. Probably most importantly, this clears out Gold Class to defend their Triangle Gate belts most likely at Champion Gate. I liked the first semi-final a bit more, but this was not far behind. ***1/4

Z-Brats (HYO & ISHIN) & Teelan Shisa & Ultra Soki – No Contest

This match was thrown out when Ryukyu Dragon Pro Wrestling Champion YAMATO attacked everyone after about six minutes

This clearly was setting up YAMATO defending the Ryukyu Dragon belt at March 18th’s Memorial Gate show against Teelan Shisa. Outside of Dragongate, YAMATO is working his old heel Almighty character with the bags under his eyes and mirror and detests Ryukyu Dragon Pro Wrestling. YAMATO cut a brutal promo after his attack calling the Ryukyu guys weekend warriors. Shisa brought up YAMATO’s weird actions in the lead up to the All Star Jr. Festival and made his challenge. 

The ALL CAPS Z-Brats team were not one of the highlights of the tournament. It was good and fun to see ISHIN grow into his heel role, but five tournament matches of sleaze and HYO shenanigans grew tiresome pretty quickly. I personally enjoy both of their heel work, but I get how it’s long in the teeth for some.

The work in the match we had was fine. Teelan Shisa is one of the better members of the RDPW roster and had a nice no touch tope con hilo. Ultra Soki is someone I’d rather not see on Dragongate shows over the rookies to be frank. NR

Daiki Yanagiuchi Debut Match
Don Fujii Def. Daiki Yanagiuchi

Fujii punished Yanagiuchi with his HIMEI Boston Crab to beat the last member of the Class of 2022.

Sometimes in this company we see a debut and we already see something magical. They step between the ropes and they knock our socks off, like Shingo Takagi or SB KENTo. Sometimes that special night is a false hope of a career that is not to progress past that night. Katsumi Takashima and his performance in the Rookies versus Vets legendary match of 12/1/2016 comes to mind with that one. Or they don’t necessarily offer much in that debut, but blossom into special prospects like Takuma Fujiwara or Shun Skywalker. We can never really use these debuts as portends of the future or we would still be waiting for Punch Tominaga to blossom into superstardom.

One thing that we can tell for certain is that Daiki Yanagiuchi had something on this show, even if only for one night. It’s naturally a beautiful tale: Yanagiuchi the former Korakuen Hall staff member clawing through nearly every adversity possible to hear the people he used to wait on, live or die with every kick out. The failed dojo tests, broken ankle, seeing your classmates quickly surpass you. It all was worth it if only for this night.

Getting into the nuts and bolts. Daiki shows promise. It’s clear why the Dragongate office was totally fine with keeping him around to test again. He’s got a clean dropkick and natural body motion that will serve him well in this promotion. Daiki’s already in solid shape and looks like he could build the muscle this promotion expects and is handsome enough to be a bankable babyface.

On the other side, Don Fujii might be the best vet ever in a vet versus rookie match up. It’s not just the willingness to punch someone half his age in the mouth, it’s knowing their abilities and how to apply them to get the best reaction possible. Each nearfall Daiki built the Korakuen crowd into a much wanted roar. They deflated after Fujii locked Yanagiuchi in the HIMEI. The result was never in doubt, but they had multiple moments where their hometown boy who they’d see each month working the building almost won. And that’s kinda what this is all about, right? ****

Natural Vibes (Kzy, Big Boss Shimizu & Jacky “Funky” Kamei) Def. Masaaki Mochizuki, Mochizuki Jr. & Shachihoko BOY

Kzy won it in his Japanese return with a running elbow smash on Shachi.

This normally would be considered sort of a Touch Football match where we go through the motions but we had two really interesting facets with it. For one, we saw some progression in Mochizuki Jr’s development and his storyline with Masaaki Mochizuki. The story of Rey de Parejas for the Mochizuki Family was Junior’s frustration with his dad’s nature. Each time Junior was in a hold or pin attempt, father would try to save the son. This always resulted in Junior eventually telling him off and trying to fight his way out of his battles. 

This week, Junior not only snapped, but then cleared the ring before rolling under the ring for his dad. Progress! One day there will be a Mochizuki vs Mochizuki program, but until then, I’m glad to see this progression.

This match also let Big Time get their sea legs after the month in America. They’ve got the Rey de Parejas winners in front of them in Osaka, so it’s good for them to get ring time. As well, this is the first time Kzy and Shimizu got to wrestle in front of cheering crowds in Japan for three years. This was fun enough of a tag but nothing to truly go out of your way for. ***

Natural Vibes (Strong Machine J & Jason Lee) Def. Gold Class (Ben-K & Minorita)

Strong Machine J conquers Ben-K with a Machine Suplex and looks strong going into his Dream Gate challenge.

On Voice Gate this week, We couldn’t really make sense of some aspects of this card. It was complicated with the tournament so one couldn’t have a Shun/SMJ face off in a match. I think getting a fall over Ben and looking strong against one of the most powerful guys on the roster is a decent replacement. That was always going to be the issue of running a tag tournament leading up to a major show: it tends to make developing the rest of Champion Gate a struggle. 

That’s really not the problem with the Brave Gate feud as I don’t think you really have to “build” Jason Lee vs Minorita. Jason and Minorita’s exchanges have been a blast both in the tag league as well as in this match. There’s also Minorita’s size and tournament as a build. Every single match BenRita had, Minorita took the fall in convincing fashion. This guy might be over his head and Jason Lee can capitalize. Lee added rather brutal elbow strikes to his game that he could potentially just catch Minorita on the button and ball game.

So in a match that was serving a lot of masters, I was pleased with how this came across. It was going to face irrelevancy on a show with a tournament final and debut, but this ended up being a lot of fun and helped out the title programs for this weekend. The post-match had your standard go-home promos for a big show, with the exception of Shun just standing in the entrance way as Strong Machine J promised his revolution.  ***1/2 

YAMATO, Naruki Doi, Shuji Kondo & Takashi Yoshida Def. Dragon Kid, Kagetora, Eita & Dragon Dia

YAMATO won it for the more rudo-ish side with a Frankensteiner of the Almighty 

This could have been an exhibition semi-main event, where everyone is going through the motions and having to be on this card, but instead this was a bit of fun. Eita felt the need to basically ham it up at every opportunity that presented itself. Bringing one of Dragon Kid’s masks solely to antagonize your teammate? Absolutely lets do it. Teasing your first BASTA tope con hilo in Dragongate in over five years only to be faked out by Naruki Doi? Why not.

The work here was fine, but the real joy in this semi-main event was everyone’s propensity to just be working all the time. YAMATO completely played babyface after metaphorically defecating down the throat of a promotional partner less than an hour before. 

Sometimes you got to get a whole lot of incredibly popular cornerstones and vets on your card and you get a match like this where you just go “well this will be something” and that was this. ***½

Rey de Parejas 2023 Finals
D’Courage (Yuki Yoshioka & Madoka Kikuta) Def. M3K (Susumu Mochizuki & Yasushi Kanda)

Madoka Kikuta won Rey de Parejas for D’Courage with the Rolling Lariat on Susumu Mochizuki.

In the first Rey de Parejas finals since 2004, we were presented with the great existential question that every Dragon System fan has encountered lately: What happens when the original stars are passed by the younger modern stars? Susumu and Kanda, the first ever tag team in Dragon System history, one that started teaming BEFORE Toryumon Japan existed, came out with a house of fire taking it to the young generation leaders in D’Courage. Yasushi Kanda did a tope suicida for the first time in what has to be decades for godsakes! They hit the Kamikaze and Gekujudoh Elbow Drop, the original finisher for M2K, within the first two minutes of the match, but it simply wasn’t enough to take out the young guns.

Soon Kikuta, who has gone from Most Improved to a legit Most Outstanding case for me in a period of one show, was firmly in control. The Korakuen crowd chose to be behind their first loves, the ones that brought them to the show, and that didn’t bother Kikuta and Yoshioka. They spent the last few years as rudos, so they were just as comfortable letting the veterans milk the hot crowd as they were taking in the cheers.

Let’s be clear: This wasn’t an one-sided performance, Susumu and Kanda tapped into their combined 50+ years of experience and brought it just as well. Case Lowe and Alan4L spoke on Susumu at length, but he is the definition of the unsung wrestler and with each Jumbo no Kachi or Super Exploder compounded the fact that he’s an inner ring Tag Team Hall of Famer. 

And quite simply, this was the best Yasushi Kanda match I’ve seen in years. Probably since he was Jimmy Kanda. The wear of the night got to him but he still was going for moves like the Acapulco Tornado and Ryu as if he knew this was his last great chance at glory. So out comes the blue box, being the originator of the attack of course.

Eventually Yoshioka cleared the ring with a tope con hilo and left it to Susumu and Kikuta, the way this match was destined to end. The man who revitalized his career facing the Pumping Hawk versus the carrier of the Jumbo No Kachi. With a rolling lariat, the Hand of God, he put down the legend for good after almost 25 minutes of a war.

I am putting myself out on an island here, I don’t think that building has seen a tag match THAT good since COVID. I felt myself as one of those screaming for either M3K or D’Courage, but not for a side, but for this match to go on as long as possible. To see how long the original tag team could survive the teams of today. Jae Church and Ho Ho Lun were fantastic on the call as well. Make sure to check out this one. ****3/4


For the difficulty Dragongate had in Korakuen delivering excellent matches last year, this marks a third straight Korakuen with a match of the year contender in 2023. All the pieces were set up for this weekend’s doubleheader in Champion Gate and looking ahead to the spring. The Rey de Parejas tournament ended in phenomenal form and we saw the debut of the newest product of the best training school in the world. Easy thumbs up.

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