MARCH 5, 2023

Watch: Dragon Gate Network


Tonight’s opener was not about celebrating Jason Lee’s new Brave Gate reign, nor was it about the continued success of the current Triangle Gate teams, but rather the pouty, disenfranchised Minorita, who was not an official participant in the match. Minorita was winless alongside Ben-K in Rey de Parejas 2023 and he took an alarming number of falls in the month of February. He was easily the least respected champion Dragongate has had in years. It’s not a reflection of his output, but rather a continued story they’re telling with the 25-year-old. After mirroring Kota Minoura’s personality for a year, his mini-me is feeling emotions separate from him. 

These emotions are depressive. Minorita, who is built like a child, is expressing childlike rage over losing the first title of his career. He was late to assist in a signature Gold Class double-team spot when the victim was Jacky “Funky” Kamei, but when Lee found himself in a similar position moments later, Minorita threw all of his rage towards the new Brave Gate Champion. If Minorita has it his way, the issue between him and Lee is not finished yet. 

I found a lot of this match to be clunky. Normally, a match with participants like Lee and Kamei and Ben-K find a way to create a well-oiled machine of multi-man goodness, but this match never found its stride. Minoura, after a series of vicious moves towards Ho Ho Lun, planted the Godfather of Hong Kong Pro Wrestling with an R-301 for the win. **3/4 


Don Fujii and Mochizuki Junior attacked one another to start the match. They brawled to the floor and disappeared rather quickly, leaving the elder Mochizuki’s to pick apart the bones of the inferior Ichikawa and Shachihoko BOY. The match was won for M3K after Masaaki Mochizuki reversed the momentum on Ichikawa’s La Magistral on Susumu. NR

Fujii and Junior brawled back to ringside, unaware the match they were involved with had ended. When they were finally calmed down, Junior grabbed the microphone and set up an impromptu match with Fujii. 


This went to a double count out in 3:52, but every second of this was great. 

Junior is still attempting to shed his pretty-boy, nepo-baby image, and taking hard blows from the face from Don Fujii and then fighting back is going to help him do just that. Junior was throttled by Fujii, taking chops to the throat and punches to the side of the head as soon as the impromptu match began. Junior fought back, however, and with a half-ripped shirt and marks growing all over his body by way of the abuse of Fujii, and soon found himself on even-footing with the wily veteran. 

As the match spilled to the floor, Fujii scored a big plancha off the apron onto Junior. This is the most hangtime Don Fujii has ever seen. It was glorious. He locked in a Cobra Twist on the outside, then attempted to beat the prodigy back in the ring. Junior thwarted his attempt, however, and prevented Fujii from getting in the ring at the count of 19. Referee Yagi hit “20” with both men still on the floor. That didn’t stop Fujii from landing one more cheap shot on Junior before heading to the back. 

Dragongate continues to hit all of the right beats with Mochizuki Junior. As he approaches one year in wrestling, he’s been consistently engaged in entertaining feuds since his first night in the company. He bounced from ISHIN to Strong Machine J to standing up for himself against his own father to now his father’s longtime tag team partner. Every step of Junior’s journey has been enthralling thus far, and I expect his interactions with Fujii going forward to be no different. ***1/2 


This was a nothing match, only notable for HYO winning with his diving senton instead of one of his other signature moves. There was no need for this. **1/4 


For years now, the term “touch-football tag” has been thrown around on these big Dragongate shows, specifically when discussing Ultimo Dragon’s matches. It’s a way of saying that the match was lighthearted fun. No one got hurt, but no one put themselves in a position to get hurt, either. 

This was a touch football match between guys who can still go. On one hand, it’s frustrating, because any match with Dia, Eita, and YAMATO should be one full of big spots, intense counters, and a hot finishing stretch. Instead, Eita embraced his role as Young Ultimo Dragon. He did so little and got such big responses out of it. 

It’s incredibly frustrating to see Eita continuing to get by on the bare minimum, even if it is incredibly respectable. With the Perros del Mal de Japon branding finally subsiding in Pro Wrestling NOAH, I keep on waiting for Eita to get back in the headspace of being Team Dragongate. He showed us last September that he can still go at the highest level. He is a brilliant wrestler, akin to a current day Samoa Joe or KENTA where due to his bad neck, his physical prime is behind him, but his mind is so brilliant that it doesn’t matter. I want to see a motivated Eita, whether that’s here, in NOAH, or in a grimy Mexican indie, which might be the place he feels happiest. A Happy Eita is good for wrestling. It’s not that he’s unhappy in Dragongate, but at times, he certainly seems bored. 

Takashi Yoshida attempted to overpower Dragon Dia down the finishing stretch, but the former Brave Gate Champion was too quick for Yoshida, catching him in a roll up and winning the match for his team. I maintain that despite the fact that this match could’ve been better, it was still a ton of fun. ***1/4 


After a month in America, Big Boss Shimizu and Kzy, the duo dubbed Big Time, returned to Japan to make their third successful defense of the Open the Twin Gate Championships. 

Madoka Kikuta may very well be the best wrestler of 2023, so far. 

At press time, Kikuta finds his way onto my Match of the Year Tracking spreadsheet (matches rated 4 stars or higher) 5 times, including this affair with Big Time. Ever since his 2022 finale against Shingo Takagi at Final Gate, Kikuta has gone up a level. Keep in mind, I thought he was one of the 50 best wrestlers in the world last year, and he didn’t wrestle until May and didn’t feel impactful in any way until August. No one has been better than him over this seven month period. All five of his “great” matches this year have taken place alongside Yuki Yoshioka in the Rey de Parejas Tag League, but while the former Dream Gate Champion has been good, these matches have given Kikuta a chance to show just how good he is. 

There’s nothing special or different about Kikuta’s approach, he’s merely wrestling with the confidence of a man who knows that he’s doing a good job. When he become an assistant to D’Courage last August, a time of great uncertainty in Dragongate after a dismal summer main event program and a looming American expansion that was going to take top stars out of the picture for quite some time, I remarked that Kikuta was going to have a real make-or-break moment in D’Courage. Dragongate gave him everything he needed to succeed. I never would’ve imagined that Kikuta would’ve hit the ball this far out of the ballpark, however. D’Courage is as much his unit as it is Dia and Yoshioka’s now. 

He was on fire in this bout, throwing haymakers Shimizu’s way and going hold-for-hold with Kzy. Although Kikuta and Yoshioka should certainly have a run with the belts at some point in their career, I’m glad they took the loss because I think bigger things are on the horizon for Kikuta. There is a palpable momentum with him, both in the micro (whenever he enters the ring) and in the macro (the larger Dream Gate scene). 

A month of bouncing the American independents did not hinder Big Time’s efforts. They were great, as always. Shimizu, in particular, has become one of the greatest Dragongate tag team wrestlers of all-time between his work with T-Hawk, Ben-K, Eita, and now Kzy. 

The match looked like it was coming to an end after a short-arm clothesline from Kikuta rocked Kzy, but a flash-frog splash attempt from Yoshioka was met with the knees of Kzy. The Natural Vibes duo largely retained momentum after that, and after a Swanton Bomb from Kzy onto Yoshioka, which was followed by a El Hijo del Santo-esque dive to the floor from Kzy onto Kikuta and a Big Boss Press from Shimizu to Yoshioka, the champions were able to retain their titles. 

This was everything you’d want from a big Twin Gate match. It was hard-hitting when it needed to be, dramatic when the moment called for it, and thoroughly entertaining from beginning to end. ****1/4 


Nearly two months after winning the title, Shun Skywalker has made his first successful defense of the Open the Dream Gate Championship. 

This was Strong Machine J’s 11th singles match of all-time. Eleventh. 1-1. Nearly four years into his Dragongate career, the second generation star has been kept away from solo confrontation thanks to his contributions in the Strong Machine Army, Team Dragongate, and now Natural Vibes. He’s a great partner, but also his singles match record is murky. His first solo endeavor was a subpar 20-minute time limit draw with Ben-K. He wrestled a number of uneventful singles matches on small shows both here in Dragongate and in the Okinawa-based Ryukyu Dragon Pro, then last year, in King of Gate, J showed signs of life as a singles competitor when he wrestled Shun Skywalker. The match was short, but it was easily the best solo effort anyone had ever seen from J. 

J would only get two more singles matches after that, both untelevised, before this one. His eleventh career singles match doubled as Skywalker’s tenth career Dream Gate match. Over the last four years, we’ve seen Skywalker evolve at this event in particular. In 2019, he was a plucky upstart in the biggest match of his life against PAC. He had no shot at winning, similar to the position that Strong Machine J was in here, but his impressive outing went a long way in solidifying Skywalker as a future main eventer. In 2021, as an unproven champion, he and Kaito Ishida pushed themselves to the limit in a match that at the time was considered to be a look into Dragongate’s future. This time around, Skywalker is in the midst of his second Dream Gate reign and he’s more dominant than ever before. 

Just like in 2019 when it was Skywalker challenging PAC, the challenger in this match was given just enough offense to make it seem like there was a one-in-one-million chance that he could come out victorious. It was fitting that J was machine-like throughout the match, going on blistering runs off offense and using more heart than brains when the moment called for it. The match took a turn for greatness when Z-Brats tossed a number of chairs in the ring (the second chair-related attack of the match), but before the champion could use them on offense, J clotheslined the chair, sending both he and Skywalker to the canvas. The challenger would recover quickly and begin peppering Skywalker with chair shots, all before Referee Yagi could recover from a previous injury. 

A Dragon Suplex nearly secured the victory for Strong Machine J, but an injured Yagi counted too slowly. That didn’t halt his momentum, as he transitioned right into the Machine Suplex, which Skywalker kicked out of, making it the first time that anyone has ever kicked out of that move. A second attempt was thwarted by a stomp to the foot, but J spun back around and locked Skywalker in position yet again. This time, however, Skywalker leaned forward and rolled J up in the jackknife to steal the victory. 

This was done so well. J looked like a competent wrestler against the highest ranked member of the Dragongate roster, and Skywalker not only racked up a successful title defense, but did it in a way that fit his character. This was exactly what it should’ve been. ***3/4 

Final Thoughts

Dragongate’s first marquee weekend of the year closed with a bang. They once again put forth a strong effort as the core roster members continue to work at a level above nearly every other promotion on the planet. Thumbs up for Champion Gate in Osaka.

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