MAY 11, 2023

Watch: Dragon Gate Network


For the first time since June 5, 2022, La Estrella returned to Dragongate competition (he lost a six-man tag alongside Ultimo Dragon and Takuma Fujiwara vs. Ben-K, Dragon Kid, & YAMATO). Estrella spent the back half of 2022 all over the world, seemingly aimlessly traveling throughout the galaxy (the galaxy being North America, and one quick stop in Germany) and struggling to get bookings with US indies. 

When Estrella left for North America, the goal in my mind was that he would return a more confident flyer. His entire career thus far has been a one step forward, two steps back kind of deal. He can perform a breathtaking move, garner traction on Twitter, and feel like “a guy”, and then the next moment, he’s messing up another big move and thwarting not only the momentum of the match, but his own momentum. Unfortunately, not much has changed for the alien-turned-Kobe native. 

The way I can describe Estrella is that he’s capable of doing very cool high-flying maneuvers, but he’s not a very good high-flyer. There’s just too much inconsistency in his game and in this promotion, specifically, he stands out far too much. His twisting tope through the middle rope was great, but his stage dive onto Kzy, Lee, and the boss of the LEC corporation, that essentially acted as Estrella springboarding himself into a backdrop driver, was not. 

In a shock, Estrella pinned the Brave Gate Champion with a funky rollup. I don’t think Dragongate will give up on Estrella until they absolutely have to. ***1/4 


Big Boss Shimizu may forever be Dragongate’s secret weapon. 

Shimizu, who will celebrate his 10th anniversary in wrestling at the end of the month, was notably absent from Madoka Kikuta’s post-match speech at Dead or Alive in which he crowned a new “Big 6” (more on that in the main event review). Shimizu came into this match with an intensity that we rarely see from him. His place on the roster as an upper midcarder was seemingly frozen in carbonite, but Shimizu made a ruckus with his performance against the three smallest men on the roster (brilliant booking, might I say). 

This was another strong outing from the former Korakuen Hall employee, Daiki Yanaguichi, as well. Whereas some Dragongate prospects debut and feel fully fleshed out, a great deal of mystery as to what he can be still hangs over Yanaguichi. I don’t know where he’ll be six months from now, a year from now, or five years from now, but I do know that at the moment, his scrappiness is a welcome surprise. His chemistry with U-T was noted and appreciated. 

Shimizu, moments after putting all three youngsters on his back and delivering a Samoan Drop, planted Yanagiuchi with a Liger Bomb and won the match for his team. 

This was far more than just a second match six-man. Had this gone a tad longer, I’d have put it in my notebook. This was tons of fun. ***3/4 


You can’t win them all. **



As odd as this may sound, this was possibly the most pre-pandemic a post-pandemic match has felt in Korakuen Hall. It was violent, it was loud, and it went all over the building. I seriously don’t remember the last time Korakuen sounded like this. Not only were there shrieks of horror at some of the offense, but the bodies banging into the Korakuen Hall infrastructure radiated throughout the building. This was a walk-and-brawl with a purpose. 

The issue between Ultimo and Diamante, which has been bubbling for nearly three years now, could finally be coming to an end. Diamante desperately wants a singles match with Ultimo, and despite the fact that they were sequestered off with one another for most of the match, Ultimo is continuing to duck the offer. 

It should also be noted that Eita was back for this match and he beat the ever-living piss out of ISHIN. I would like Eita to stick around if he wrestles with this much energy and effort. 

Diamante pinned a maskless Ultimo Dragon after friendly-fire from Kagetora and a failed save attempt from Dragon Kid. 

This way over-delivered. It was easily the best thing Ultimo has done this year. I highly recommend giving this a look. ***3/4


Both of these veteran teams are overperforming this year. For Susumu and Kanda, despite being attached at the hip for their entire careers, they’ve had their strongest output ever in 2023 with a pair of true gems. For Doi and Kondo, both of these men are firmly entering the post-prime portion of their career and are working hard as freelancers who are still aligned with Dragongate. 

In a paint-by-numbers tag, Susumu planted Kondo with the Jumbo no Kachi and secured the win for his team. ***1/4 


This was beautifully violent. 

Don Fujii has been a perfect wrestler for nearly 26 years. He can do everything. He can do comedy, he can trade strikes with the best of them, he can wrestle like an old school showa wrestler, he can keep up with Dragongate’s young kids, and despite his age, he can continue to pump out great matches. Dragongate milks the most out of his great performances. I knew as soon as I saw this match on paper that it would be good stuff, not because of Mochizuki or YAMATO, but because Fujii was in a position to deliver, and Don Fujii always delivers. 

After another great walk-and-brawl throughout the building that saw Fujii and YAMATO nearly go over the balcony at Korakuen, they wound up back in the ring, duking it out and swinging for the fences. Everything about this match was fun. It was fun watching guys hit each other as hard as they could. It was fun watching guys try to throw each other to their death. Everything about this was very fun. 

Fujii, shockingly, pinned YAMATO with a Gedo Clutch. ***1/2 


Dragongate made a bold declaration at the end of Dead or Alive that these six wrestlers would be the ones leading them into the future. As a collective, they are the new Big 6 (officially dubbed the Reiwa Generation), a foil to the “original” Big 6 that was made up of Akira Tozawa, BxB Hulk, Masato Yoshino, Naruki Doi, Shingo Takagi, and YAMATO. I have largely felt since Kobe World Pro Wrestling Festival 2019, the show that ushered this era to the forefront with Ben-K defeating PAC to win the Open the Dream Gate Championship, that Dragongate’s future was incredibly bright. They handled the pandemic better than any other company in Japan, and coming out of that wretched era, they have pieces in place to make an impact in the immediate and long term future. 

If this match told us anything, it’s that the Reiwa Generation is more than capable of carrying the torch that their predecessors lit. 

The main events of Dragongate’s Korakuen shows have delivered big this year, with a thrilling unit disbands match, Skywalker vs. Yoshioka, a ridiculous time limit draw to kick off Rey de Parejas, the absurdly great finale to said Rey de Parejas, and Kikuta vs. Minoura, with the winner moving on to the Dead or Alive main event. This match was every bit as good as any of the aforementioned matches. If I had to rank all of these matches, I would put this a hair behind Skywalker vs. Yoshioka and the Rey de Parejas finale, and a tick above the rest. This will likely be one of the 10 best Dragongate matches of the year. 

The unit interplay between both D’Courage and Gold Class, with Kikuta and Yoshioka and Ben-K and Minoura on opposing teams, was fascinating to watch unfold. I can’t help but shake that coming out of the next batch of Korakuen shows, we’ll see friction among the D’Courage camp. It feels like Kikuta vs. Yoshioka is the biggest match they have right now, one befitting of Kobe World, and one that, given the chemistry that the two displayed in this match, that they should do. Kikuta and Yoshioka are so violent when they are in the ring against one another. Despite neither man clocking in at 6’0”, they both command the ring with the grace and power of a traditional heavyweight star. Yoshioka throws his Battle Hook lariat with reckless abandon, and Kikuta moves like a freight train when he gains momentum. They both did a lot of things right here. 

Gold Class brought forth a good showing. Ben and Minoura squared off to start the match, with Minoura shockingly out-powering Ben during a test of strength sequence. That was the only moment where Minoura stood out during this match. He fell to the wayside, whereas Ben felt like a vital part of the match towards the finishing stretch. 

Strong Machine J is the man in this cluster with the most to prove. To date, he’s only wrestled 17 singles matches and half of them have come in this calendar year. He failed to win the Dream Gate belt from Shun Skywalker in March and despite his success with the Open the Triangle Gate belt in the past, he’s entirely unproven as a future name that the company can use on the marquee. The good thing about J is that he wrestled this match like a man with the most to prove. He was desperate and passionate and wrestling with heart. The greatest thing that ever happened to this man is that he dropped this idea that he was a literal machine. Strong Machine J, the human, the son of Super Strong Machine, is a god damn great wrestler when he’s allowed to do that. Behind the two D’Courage members, he was the most impressive guy in this match. He nearly pinned Kikuta down the stretch, countering a hip attack with an atomic drop, then flattening him with a lariat and connecting with a German Suplex for a deep 2 count. We are likely many years away from Strong Machine J getting The Win, but when he does, everyone in the building will erupt with praise. His journey to the top is the most exciting part of the new generation. 

That leaves Shun Skywalker, who did not lose any of his edge, even after losing the Dream Gate belt. He’s still a man possessed, and he did such a great job of existing on an island in a multi-man match. He has no friends in this generation. Yes, he was teaming up with Kikuta and Minoura, but at no point did they feel like partners. It felt like Skywalker against the world, and even with his team coming out victorious, the win was nothing more than empty calories for Skywalker. The fact that he wasn’t the one dishing out the final blow means that this was all a waste of time for the former two-time Dream Gate Champion. 

Kikuta scored the win on Strong Machine J after a flurry of offense, capped off with his signature Rolling Lariat. 

This was hot, this was intense, and this was non-stop action for 21 minutes. You won’t see many six-man tags better than this in contemporary wrestling. I highly recommend going out of your way to watch it. ****1/2 

Big Boss Shimizu made his presence felt after the main event, noting that his name was not called during Kikuta’s naming of the new generation and that he wanted to prove that he belonged at the top of the card. At press time, a Dream Gate match between Kikuta and Shimizu has not been signed.

Final Thoughts

Dragongate has put an enormous amount of pressure on themselves, and if Hopeful Gate was any indication, that pressure will pump out diamonds in a coal-ridden industry. Run to Dragongate Network and watch this main event.

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