Dragongate
Kobe Pro-Wrestling Festival 2023
July 2, 2023
Kobe World Memorial Hall
Chou-ku, Kobe, Japan

Watch: Dragongate Network

As a man who has followed Dragongate over the past few years, I think it is safe to say that 2023 has been a year of peaks and troughs, both inside and outside of the ring. However, with huge main event cage match in which five masks are on the line alongside four big title matches, Kobe Pro-Wrestling Festival (or, Kobe World) has the potential to be a great show. Having learned from last year’s mistakes and made this a one-night-only event, the powers that be have put together a card that showcases the best of the Dragongate roster alongside a couple of notable guests from New Japan and Pro Wrestling NOAH. The Reiwa Six – the six wrestlers who Madoka Kikuta labeled as the ones to carry the company going forward at Dead or Alive– will all have their chances to shine, whilst the main event will see someone lose their mask inside the confines of a steel cage. Will it be Ultimo Dragon? Highly unlikely, but with Dragon Dia the last Dragongate wrestler to lose his mask – the least likely outcome – who knows what they might book?

I may not know what they are going to book, but I will give it the old college try as I preview and predict the whole Kobe World card. Who do you think is coming out on top?

Advance Match
Shachihoko Boy, Takashi Yoshida and Problem Dragon vs. Genki Horiguchi, Punch Tominaga and Ho Ho Lun

One of the things that has occasionally dragged down the quality of Dragongate shows this year is the involvement of some of the lesser talents of the promotion in multiple matches across the card. However, in a clever piece of booking, the biggest culprits are all included in this first Advance Match. It limits the damage on what is naturally an otherwise card and gives them a chance to have their moment in front of the live audience. In a match where the outcome doesn’t matter one iota, I think Yoshida pineapple lariats Punch to get the victory for his team. Prediction: Shachihoko Boy, Takashi Yoshida and Problem Dragon

Advance Match
KAI and H・Y・O vs. Ryoya Tanaka and Masaaki Mochizuki Jr.

It speaks to how many big matches there are on the main card that KAI, the Dream Gate Champion just last year, is in the second Advance Match. You could say the same for HYO, to be fair – the killer of the Toryumon Generation hasn’t really kicked on in the ring or in storyline like he might have been expected to. I feel sorry for KAI, who can often be relied upon in big match situations; less so for HYO, who needs a massive character refresh sooner rather than later.

When this match was first announced, I mused upon it being two of Daiki Yanagiuchi, Kaito Nagano and Ryoya Tanaka in my first edit of this preview, but Mochizuki Jr. makes the cut alongside the aforementioned Tanaka. It is positive that Junior is well enough to be on the show, though a recent neck injury precludes him from being placed higher on the card. The heels will win, but the addition of Junior does add an interesting wrinkle to what is otherwise a foregone conclusion. Prediction: KAI and HYO

Dragon Dia, La Estrella and Eita vs. Kagetora, U-T and Taro Nohashi (Michinoku Pro-Wrestling)

Dragon Dia, La Estrella and Eita vs. Kagetora, U-T and Taro Nohashi (Michinoku Pro-Wrestling)

The theme of at least two of the first three matches (pre-show included) seems to be who is in them as much as anything. With the D’Courage focus largely being on Yuki Yoshioka and Madoka Kikuta, Dragon Dia finds himself in the opener in a strange trio, including former running buddy La Estrella and eternal enigma Eita. As this will be the Youtube opener, it does offer the potential for a mixture of exciting dives and fun chain wrestling, so it at least should be a fun sub-ten-minute match. Taro Nohashi was fun the only time I saw him; U-T and Kagetora can both bring a bit of fire to proceedings; the only real question is who will win? Dia is the biggest name if you rule out Eita, so I feel he will be on the winning team, beating a still-rusty U-T. Prediction: Dragon Dia, La Estrella and Eita

Open the Brave Gate Championship Match
(Champion) Jason Lee vs. (Challenger) ISHIN

Open the Brave Gate Championship Match
(Champion) Jason Lee vs. (Challenger) ISHIN

I don’t want to lay all of my cards on the table so early, but it feels like this is a show where none of the titles feel like they are in danger, or should be in danger. The Twin and Triangle Gate titles do get swapped around with some regularity it feels, but as they both have seen new champs in recent weeks, another swap feels unlikely. As for the Brave Gate title, I am all in on a long Jason Lee title reign.

What a challenge from ISHIN does afford us (hopefully) is a hard-hitting junior heavyweight contest that should be enthralling from bell to bell. Lee is an excellent worker, whilst ISHIN as a bully heel, imposing his will on the champion, should be entertaining. There is no need to take the belt off of Lee and with HYO and Minorita reigns that haven’t particularly focused on the in-ring quality, I hope that a long Lee title reign will allow the focus to return to the match-by-match work for the Brave Gate once more. Prediction: Jason Lee

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Masaaki Mochizuki and Kenoh vs. Don Fujii and Shuji Kondo

Masaaki Mochizuki and Kenoh vs. Don Fujii and Shuji Kondo

A match that has changed seemingly off of the back of Kenoh ending Kongoh as a NOAH faction, this has little in the way of stakes but should be a very fun outing with four workers who rarely fail to be engaging. My initial preview that focused on the initial pairings (Kenoh/Kondo versus Mochizuki/Fujii) had the native team winning due to my belief (one largely stolen from the Open The Voice Gate guys) that the long game is in the Mochizukis challenging for the Twin Gate against Kanda and Susumu. Therefore, any team with Mochizuki was going to be my choice for the victory. If anything, the addition of Kenoh to his team only adds strength to that argument for me, as he is debatably the biggest name in the match in terms of stature and I feel Kondo could eat a pin without losing too much in terms of his overall booking.

It would be remiss of me not to add how much I have loved watching Kenoh in DG and hope to see more of him if possible. Prediction: Masaaki Mochizuki and Kenoh

Bosou 10 Match Series Revival #2
Konomama Ichikawa vs. X

Bosou 10 Match Series Revival #2
Konomama Ichikawa vs. X

Considering how full this card feels, there is the need for some levity at points; few are as good at doing this as Ichikawa. I’m very bad at predicting things like who the X might be in a contest, but the suggestions that Shingo Takagi might step up to face Ichikawa feels realistic. I had initially saw it as a possible return match for Mochizuki Junior, but with him in Advance Match 2, there is a space for a man that will already be in the building, such as Shingo, to experience the adulation of the DG crowd once more. Ultimately, all you can guarantee with an Ichikawa match is that the X will win. That, and it should be a good slice of fun. Prediction: X

Open the Twin Gate Championship Match
(Champions) Susumu Mochizuki and Yasushi Kanda vs. (Challengers) B×B Hulk and Ben-K

Open the Twin Gate Championship Match
(Champions) Susumu Mochizuki and Yasushi Kanda vs. (Challengers) B×B Hulk and Ben-K

This is the only belt that I feel might be under threat at Kobe World. I know that this flies in the face of my suggestion earlier that the money is eventually on an M3K Twin Gate clash, but Ben-K is just so hot right now to coin a Zoolander phrase. Keeping Ben clear of the Twin Gate does mean there is scope for him to be a Dream Gate challenger in the not to distant future though, so a valiant losing effort (with BxB Hulk taking the fall) makes booking sense to me.

Mochizuki and Kanda have been an excellent tag team this year, rolling back the years in multiple matches that will probably earn MOTY discussion. Kanda has always been entertaining enough in my time watching DG, but never particularly mind-blowing in anything he did. 2023 has been his year, though, and the duo have earned themselves this spot and a probable victory if my thoughts are correct. Prediction: Susumu Mochizuki and Yasushi Kanda

Special Singles Match
YAMATO vs. Hiromu Takahashi

Special Singles Match
YAMATO vs. Hiromu Takahashi

A match that has spawned out of the All Star Junior Festival, YAMATO’s belief that New Japan only ever call on promotions like Dragongate when they want something, and the LEC Foundation’s cash, this should be a really fun match. Though not specifically aimed at Takahashi, YAMATO’s disparaging remarks surrounding the card were aimed at New Japan and that arguably creates enough heat for this to be a spicy little number. Takahashi isn’t coming over here to lose – there is no doubt about that in my eyes – but it will be the getting there that will hopefully showcase two excellent proponents of wrestling at their best. YAMATO has been reborn in his time away from the main event and unit warfare; this should be another example to justify that choice come the end of the year. Prediction: Hiromu Takahashi

Open the Triangle Gate Championship
(Champions) Kzy, BIGBOSS Shimizu and JACKY“FUNKY”KAMEI vs. (Challengers) Kota Minoura, Minorita and Naruki Doi

Open the Triangle Gate Championship
(Champions) Kzy, BIGBOSS Shimizu and JACKY“FUNKY”KAMEI vs. (Challengers) Kota Minoura, Minorita and Naruki Doi

With storylines attached to a number of other matches on the card, some of the title matches need little more than the gold to be on the line and a decent selection of workers to be worth booking. This Triangle Gate match falls into that category for me. Outside of nominally suggesting who is THE faction in Dragongate, there hasn’t been much of a storyline surrounding this that I can discern.

However, to give it that little twist to make it a must-watch, the booking of Doi alongside Minoura and Minorita is an excellent choice. Sans Kaito Ishida, this revisits the original form of Gold Class. Usually, you wouldn’t already be looking at nostalgia with an act less than two years into its existence. However, that highlights how significantly things have changed for Gold Class since they began as Doi’s attempt to get more female fans into the audience. The Triangle Gate champions are a strong Natural Vibes outfit, Minorita and Doi are on fire this year, so it comes down to whether Minoura turns up or not. Here’s hoping. Prediction: Kzy, BIGBOSS Shimizu and JACKY“FUNKY”KAMEI

Open the Dream Gate Championship Match
(Champion) Madoka Kikuta vs. (Challenger) Yuki Yoshioka

Open the Dream Gate Championship Match
(Champion) Madoka Kikuta vs. (Challenger) Yuki Yoshioka

I was hoping for more out of the build to this, but the announcement of the match has largely been the build. The match interested me when first signed, but there hasn’t been enough done as far as I am concerned to really pique my interest beyond my expectation that it is almost guaranteed that I will watch a good wrestling match. Instead of the route, they went (D’Courage largely teaming together, no hints of any dissension), I was expecting them to at least throw a few more matches out there which would have Kikuta and Yoshioka on opposite sides. From that, you could show how closely matched they were: never involved in the falls against each other, but given extended stretches in matches that would see a different guy come out on top each time.

What the build does suggest to me is that there is something else at play here. I think that Yoshioka as a heel is the eventual play, though it then becomes a matter of how they get to it. To take the gold off of Kikuta would be foolish in my eyes; he is one of the best wrestlers in the world and is on a hot streak since his tag match opposite Shingo Takagi several months ago. Therefore, I think Kikuta wins. After that…who knows? For me, Yoshioka turns on Kikuta either at Kobe World or not long after. If the turn doesn’t happen at the big event, there will at least be the first signs of dissension in the immediate aftermath – a refused handshake, maybe? No one likes the new guy coming in and showing you up, and if Yoshioka gets put in his place by Kikuta as is likely to happen, a heel Yuki challenging later down the road is the way to go.

I also reflect that this eventual heel turn reads like the musings of a man who grew up watching WWF and WCW. It is just as possible Kikuta and Yoshioka have a match and things go back to normal afterwards. Prediction: Madoka Kikuta

Mascara contra Mascara
5 Way Steel Cage Survival Match
Ultimo Dragon vs. Strong Machine J vs. Shun Skywalker vs. Diamante vs. Dragon Kid

Mascara contra Mascara
5 Way Steel Cage Survival Match
Ultimo Dragon vs. Strong Machine J vs. Shun Skywalker vs. Diamante vs. Dragon Kid

Coming off the back of the big Reiwa Six proclamation at Dead or Alive, it feels a little strange that the main event of Kobe World largely spins out of Ultimo Dragon and Diamante’s ongoing feud. Sure, the logistics of a cage match does somewhat force the promotion’s hands, but it is at least interesting in terms of the optics. What does make this match engaging in my eyes are admittedly two of those names mentioned by Kikuta – Shun Skywalker and Strong Machine J. Both have been excellent in their ongoing feud and this gives J in particular another chance to prove he belongs with the others. As opponents, they’ve had excellent chemistry so I only hope that translates into this multi-man match.

I was perfectly happy with the proposed Dragon/J versus Skywalker/Diamante tag match that was on the table, so the inclusion of Dragon Kid just feels a bit odd to me. Outside of the need to get him on the card – he is pretty much the DG mascot after all – he is unlikely to lose his mask, nor gains much from taking someone else’s. There could be some humour in his attempts to help Ultimo Dragon to add some levity to what might otherwise be quite a brutal match, but ultimately, he won’t be taking the loss.

So who is going to lose? Diamante has to be favourite. The only other option I can conceive of is Strong Machine J. Though the mask and his lineage has been what made him notable in the first instance, perhaps it is also what is limiting him from truly breaking into the main event picture on a full time basis. Pie in the sky thinking, perhaps, but my outside bet, my Dia losing his mask moonshot.

If Diamante loses, does he turn? That’s the other possibility that has been floated by those who know a lot more about DG than me. However, I’m wondering whether the Z-Brats numbers are a little on the small side to afford them to lose another wrestler. Diamante turning on an arrogant Shun, one who belittles him over time for losing the mask and not taking out J could be the play going forward. On the show or after, either way, a Diamante face run seems to be nailed on. Prediction: Diamante loses his mask

As you no doubt can see, there is a lot of intrigue surrounding the main matches on the card as masks, titles, and turns are all in the offing. When you dig deeper on the card and consider the high floor/high ceiling potential quality of several matches, this should be a show that looks good on paper and delivers in the ring. I know that I will be looking forward to bell time.