APRIL 5, 2023

Watch: Dragon Gate Network


The English announcing crew noted that Jason Lee looked caught off-guard when his name was called last, as he’s now Open the Brave Gate Champion. This was a notable, albeit subtle evolution for Lee, who for years now has been one of Dragongate’s many unsung heroes. With his first singles title reign underway, he now commands a certain level of respect that he previously hadn’t gotten. That was evident in this encounter as he went toe-to-toe with the biggest names in Gold Class. 

I have long advocated for a team in the current Dragongate ecosystem to have a lengthy, “vintage” run as Open the Triangle Gate Champions and despite the fact that Natural Vibes have a trio challenging for those belts at the upcoming Dead or Alive PPV (Kzy, Shimizu, and Strong Machine J), this hard-hitting group would be my pick to hold the titles for an extended period of time. The group is so hard-hitting, so calculated, yet so athletic that they should remove any ill-advised bias from the group’s dancing that they sprinkle in throughout their matches. 

In a bizarre finish, Ben-K planted Jason Lee with a spear, but Minorita shoved Ben-K out of the way, leading to Minorita pinning the Brave Gate Champion. After the match, Minorita ran off with the belt. ***1/4 


For those keeping track, Kenichiro Arai has been the ASUKA Project Champion for 2,847 days (Roman Reigns who?), one-third of the Tenryu Project Six-Man Titles for 434 days, and the Latin American Champion in the Fight of the Ring promotion for 359 days. Kenichiro Arai is not a man you want to mess with. He proved that by pinning Genki Horiguchi in four minutes. **


This match was originally set to be Dragon Kid & Konomama Ichikawa vs. HYO & Shun Skywalker, but Ichikawa brought out Ultimo Dragon, fresh off of Wrestlemania Weekend appearances, and that prompted HYO to bring out the returning Diamante. 

This match ended in a DQ after Diamante ripped the mask of Ultimo Dragon off. 

Diamante has transformed from being Ultimo’s designated lucha buddy to one of the best wrestlers in the world, and by proxy, it’s easy to forget that the Mexican import can still bring out the best in the 56-year-old legend. Ultimo has had a marvelous stretch of work between the Negro Casas encounter in Los Angeles and now this, proving, as I’ve said many times, that when used in small doses, he can still be a lot of fun. 

Right when this started to get going, Diamante ripped off his forever-foe’s mask and the match ended. With the world now seemingly opened back up on all fronts (please don’t let this come back to bite me), I would not be shocked if we see the return of Ultimo Dragon’s Dragonmania show and some sort of Ultimo vs. Diamante program aimed at taking center stage there. NR


ISHIN is in the midst of a phase. We saw Takumi Hayakawa turn into a clone of Kota Minoura and take on the Minorita persona, Mochizuki Junior lash out at his over-protective sports dad in his quest for independence, and Takuma Fujiwara dawned a new look and linked up with SB KENTo in Mexico. It’s normal to see youngsters go through different phases, but the second iteration of ISHIN in Z-Brats after his initial turn last fall feels hollow and unfinished. 

His new gear and mannerisms remind me of Jon Moxley, but he has none of the charisma to make the “zombified-state” persona work. I would rather him turn the intensity up to the proverbial “11” than the intentional decision that was made to keep him at a “1”. His new in-ring approach doesn’t feel cerebral, it feels lethargic. I know it’s not what’s right for him because this was still a very good match in spite of his new persona. 

The interactions between KAI, ISHIN, and Kondo were as hard-hitting as you would expect. Even Kagetora, who is secretly feisty, brought the goods in a match in which he could’ve easily been overshadowed. 

I am nowhere near sold on ISHIN’s new deal. It feels very much like a house show act and not something that is ready for fans in a big building, but the in-ring work is just as solid as ever and this is a match that is worth your time, even with the warts. 

KAI & ISHIN will challenge Twin Gate Champions Kenoh & Shuji Kondo for the Twin Gate belts at Dead or Alive. ***1/4 


What a glorious match. 

I’ve spent a lot of time this year focusing on “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere” YAMATO, who has decided to forgo unit warfare and remain unaffiliated for an extended period of time. It’s been great to see. YAMATO is at his best when he’s mean and vindictive, and we’ve seen a lot of that this year. He was yet again brilliant in this match, but it’s time I carve out some time to talk about Naruki Doi. 

I thought Doi’s career was largely done at this time last year and I was okay with that. He had rewritten history with his excellent 2020 Dream Gate reign that made up for his abysmal time with the title in 2009, he had long-established himself as one of the best tag team wrestlers ever, and he seemed content coasting into an Ultimo-like state of showing up, getting paid, and moving onto the next town. Instead of enduring the grind that Dragognate requires, however, last fall Doi made the switch to go freelance, and as a result, is now working for more promotions but is working fewer dates than ever. That has done wonders for Doi. 

Between his work carrying members of the DDT roster, battling it out with All Japan’s thin junior division, and scraping with Dragongate’s youngest members of the roster, Doi has reinvented himself in 2023 and has become an absolute delight. He was incredible here as the primary target of Korakuen’s new favorite wrestler, Daiki Yanagiuchi. 

Much like YAMATO, we’re now seeing a side of Doi that we’ve largely never seen before. This is grizzled veteran Doi, but he’s moving around the ring like 2013 Doi. It speaks to the healthy nature of Dragongate’s next generation of stars that while other promotions are counting on Doi to carry divisions, Dragongate is keeping him engaged with undercard one-offs. I wouldn’t care if Doi ever challenged for a title again (although, admittedly I think him vs. Skywalker would be fascinating), because he’s so interesting doing this sort of stuff. 

Yanagiuchi flung himself, literally, at Doi, Eita, and Fujii to a mixed degree of success. He landed a pair of huge dives to the floor, but also suffered a near-death experience by way of Fujii’s Indian Deathlock before Doi eventually made him tap with the Camel Clutch. This is a “go out of your way to watch this” ***1/2 kind of match. ***1/2 


This was the perfect combination of tag teams that offer both speed and power. 

Dragon Dia has long been Dragongate’s litmus test for whether or not you’re stuck in the past or have adapted to the new era. He’s like a band that can sell out theaters but can’t draw in an arena. I feel there’s very much an aura surrounding him of people that “get” him vs. people that don’t, but I think the next month could be the time that Dia breaks out on a level that makes people all across the globe take note. 

I’ve long been an outspoken advocate of the third-generation Dragon. In fact, last year I labeled him a “perfect” babyface. I don’t think there’s anything that he can’t do while in peril, and I don’t think there’s any part of him that operates at a level that’s less than extraordinary. For whatever reason, however, not everyone sees it that way. His chemistry with Kamei here and his chemistry with Jason Lee on the two Kobe shows that followed this Korakuen date saw Dia work with a bit of an edge, however, and now is the chance for Dia to leap into the next stratosphere. 2022 was all about making Yuki Yoshioka into A Guy, and now Yoshioka is A Guy. Their other unit mate, Madoka Kikuta, is clearly having a moment, but his success is not linked to his other partners in the way that Yoshioka’s was with Dia last year. This match made me think that this is the year that Dragon Dia becomes a name that the wrestling world has to pay attention to. 

WIth all of that being said, he lost to a flash pin Jacky Knife by way of Kamei. This was all very entertaining. ***1/2 


My short thoughts on this match are that if you weren’t already, you need to consider Mochizuki Junior for being one of the best rookies we’ve ever seen in wrestling. He should be mentioned in the same breath as Jun Akiyama, Kurt Angle, or Takuma Fujiwara. More thoughts can be heard on this episode of Open the Voice Gate. 

In a true “duh” moment, the clash between M3K members ended in a double countout when neither team could survive attacks on the floor to make it back in the ring before the 20 count. This was such an obvious finish that I didn’t think of in the lead-up to this encounter. 

While it falls just short of landing on my spreadsheet (matches 4 stars and above), it is yet another entry for the father-son duo when it comes to deciding on Tag Team of the Year. While 2023 is still young and the Young Bucks have plenty of time to soar past them, the Mochizukis have now had 10 matches as a team this year and nearly all of them have been worth investing time. They have honed their act, oftentimes bouncing back and forth between tension and chemistry so good that only people that share blood could have it. It’s been a blast watching Junior embrace his father’s grumpy side. 

The countout finish was capped off with Kanda drilling Mochizuki in the knees with a blue box attack, then Kanda yanking Junior off the apron right before he could secure the countout victory for he and his father. This was very good. ***3/4 


With this match, it is possible that the stench of Kota Minoura in main events has worn off. 

In 20:06, the white-hot Madoka Kikuta defeated Kota Minoura in one of the best Dragongate matches of the year. This had passion, this had heart, and this had the intensity of a world title match in a giant stadium in the closing minutes of the encounter. Nearly a year after upending Dragongate’s main event scene and sending both creative and business into a tailspin, Kota Minoura reminded us why he was once thought of as a phenom. At 24-years-old, Minoura remains a beacon of hope in a depleted Japanese wrestling landscape. 

Whereas Minoura offers hope of what could be, Madoka Kikuta is an assaulting presence that reminds you of how good things are now. It’s a good time to be Madoka Kikuta. A year ago, he returned from a career-derailing shoulder injury and three months into his in-ring return, seemed at a loss. He linked up alongside D’Courage, first as an assistant then later as an official member, and has since become Dragongate’s most prolific in-ring wrestler. Outside of maybe Bryan Danielson, I don’t think anyone has had a better in-ring stretch since August. Kikuta has been dynamite, landing great matches in singles encounters, tag matches, and trios affairs. He’s done it all and he’s hotter than ever. 

This match sealed his fate. He will now step back into the arena that humiliated him once before. In 2021, a 21-year-old Kikuta stepped into the ring against Shun Skywalker, who was then leading the charge under the Masquerade banner, for the youngest Dream Gate match in history. Minutes into the match, Kikuta hit the mat awkwardly and damaged his shoulder, ending the match abruptly in a painfully embarrassing match. 

Two years later, Kikuta is now a beloved babyface and Skywalker a feared heel, and neither man has felt hotter. So often in Dragongate, they start at Step 1 and when you expect them to pivot to Step 2, they instead veer into Plans A, B, and C. They think on a different wavelength than even their most loyal fans. This, however, was a match that they had to do in this spot at this exact time. It just made too much sense. They had to go from Step 1 to Step 2 and beyond. Kikuta vs. Skywalker is a money match. 

I was astounded at how physical this was. Kikuta, who has wrestled both Shingo Takagi and Masato Tanaka in the last few months, has been known to throw a haymaker, but pretty boy Minoura gladly returned fire in an equally violent way. The highlight of the match was Kikuta escaping Minorua’s Bevel Gear flash pin, then having to hit Minoura with not one, but two huge lariats to cool the surging Minoura before a third and final lariat, this one of the Hand of God variety, secured the win for Kikuta. 

Although I still prefer both Skywalker vs. Yoshioka and the Rey de Parejas Finals, I would not begrudge anyone that had this as their DG MOTY up to this point. 

Madoka Kikuta looked like a world-beater in a match where he could look like nothing less. This was outstanding. ****1/2 

Final Thoughts

The latter half of Gate of Passion brought exciting youth, grumpy veterans, and a world-class main event to the table as this promotion continues to tread on with greater consistency than anyone else in the world. It was easy to miss with the fallout of Wrestlemania Weekend, but Kikuta vs. Minoura was better than anything I saw from Los Angeles. It’s essential viewing. Thumbs up for Gate of Passion.

Powered by RedCircle