JULY 2, 2023

Watch: Dragon Gate Network


This was as entertaining as a sub-three minute match could be. Yes, under three minutes. Clearly Dragongate was worried about how long the last two matches were going to take. Every combination of this match was intriguing. Quite frankly, it was a poor move by Dragongate to not give this match more time. This deserved 12 minutes, not 2. For what this was, it was great. 

Dia pinned U-T with a DDDDT at 2:46 to win the match for his squad. ***


Jason Lee failed to make his second successful defense of the Open the Brave Gate Championship. This win marks the first time in ISHIN’s career that he’d held a singles title. 

The dream of Jason Lee’s “PAC-esque” Brave Gate run is no more. Lee, who has long been one of the best wrestlers in the world and the best junior heavyweight not named Hiromu Takahashi, was rewarded after years of hard work in Dragongate with a Brave Gate run that began in March. It seemed like this would be the time for Lee to burst out in a major way. He has become Dragongate’s greatest secret, someone that people “in the know” respect and adore, but not someone who is recognized outside of the immediate Dragongate sphere. 

Lee successfully defended his title against Dragon Dia in May in a match that was good, but didn’t last long enough to truly be great. I hoped that this would be an undeniably great encounter that would put both Lee, and the surging ISHIN on the map, but once again it fell into the “good, not great” category. 

ISHIN, wrestling’s first supernova, a second-generation star who follows in the footsteps of both his mother and father, both of whom were former wrestlers, was able to capture singles gold for the first time in his career with this win. 

Whereas Lee has made a career out of intricate, intensive technical wrestling, this was very cleary An ISHIN Match. Following in the footsteps of Dragongate’s power juniors before him, the supernova took glee in beating up the Hong Kong native en route to his title win. 

ISHIN notably kicked out of a Maximum Driver, something almost no one has done before. He dodged a Hong Kong Tornado, and with that momentum suddenly on his side, he eventually planted Lee with a Swinging Scrapbuster. 

This match was not perfect, but the finishing stretch was immensely satisfying. ***1/2 


Easily the most disappointing thing on the card, these four heavy-hitters went out there and put forth a disjointed tag match that didn’t live up to the potential that the names involved brought to the table. 

Prior to this encounter, everything Kenoh had done in Dragongate was golden. He was a pleasant addition to the roster and a rare instance of an outsider seeming like he actually belonged in the promotion. This goes down as his worst outing yet. It’s not that he did anything wrong – in fact, my big takeaway was that there was a ton of Kenoh/Kondo stuff left on the table. 

This was disjointed and strangely lifeless. I don’t know what it was. Perhaps it needed more time. Nothing about this match felt right. Kenoh won with his signature Foot Stomp on Don Fujii. ***


For the second consecutive year, comedy icon Konomama Ichikawa put out an open challenge for Kobe World. 

This year, four-time Open the Dream Gate Champion Shingo Takagi answered the call. Takagi had been announced for this show previously as a second for Hiromu Takahashi. This was everything you would want it to be. Takagi is a wrestling genius. There isn’t anything he can’t do. Ichikawa is Ichikawa, and that remains a positive. This was a ton of fun. NR


This win marks the first successful defense of the Open the Twin Gate belts for the M3K duo of Susumu Mochizuki & Yasushi Kanda. 

It’s hard to believe that Yasushi Kanda is a thriving Twin Gate Champion in the year 2023. For nearly 25 years, he spent time wasting away as the bottomfeeder of his unit. He’s transformed into an aging hero of sorts, a shocking twist in the latter stage of his career. Kanda was yet again great here, battling it out with Ben-K and surviving offensive onslaughts from BxB Hulk. 

This was a no-frills Dragongate encounter. Mochizuki hits hard, Kanda hits hard, Ben hits hard, and Hulk hits hard. Thus, you had a hard-hitting match between these four. Much like the Brave Gate match earlier in the night, this started slow but had a white-hot finishing stretch. 

After a tope from Kanda eliminated himself and Ben-K from the bout, the match came to a close with Mochizuki and Hulk in the ring. A series of Jumbo no Kachi lariats failed to put Hulk away, but a supercharged Yokosuka Cutter did the trick. With that, M3K retained the gold. ***3/4 


This dream match was more than just a dream match. Dating back to the All-Star Junior Festival, which was produced by the LEC Corporation, YAMATO has railed against New Japan Pro Wrestling and their fans for only using Dragongate and other small promotions when they need help drumming up excitement. As a result, this match was placed on Dragongate’s biggest show of the year. 

What we got from this highly-anticipated singles match was a match that didn’t live up to the lofty ceiling that was placed before it, but also didn’t feel like a disappointment. YAMATO and Takahashi had a strong professional wrestling match that dipped into their greatest hits in a satisfying way. Takahashi’s off-kilter, alternative-like charisma would not be possible without the road that Dragongate paved. His risk-taking, “act first, ask questions later” in-ring approach feels far more in-line with the extended Dragon System Universe than it does Tatsumi Fujinami or Jushin Thunder Liger, the pillars of the New Japan juniors division. This match, if anything, offers us a great piece of history and an intriguing “what if?” look at Takahashi in Dragongate. 

These two absolutely brought it in the final minutes of the match, with Takahashi hitting a Galleria, then YAMATO coming back and nearly scoring the win with a Frankensteiner of the Almighty, all before Takahashi finally put the five-time Dream Gate Champion away with the Time Bomb II. ***1/2 


Natural Vibes failed to make a successful defense of the Open the Triangle Gate Championships. Gold Class are now the 87th Open the Triangle Gate Champions in history. 

After a number of matches that were good but nothing to go out of your way to see, the Open the Triangle Gate Championship match brought forth the greatness that you would want out of the biggest show of the year. Everything about this match clicked, especially the interactions between Minorita and Big Boss Shimizu. 

Shimizu has acted as a giant thorn in the side of Minorita since his debut two years ago. Currently, the pint-sized brawler sits at 0-5 all-time in singles matches against the big man. That didn’t stop him from challenging Shimizu at every opportunity in this match and more often than not, he came out ahead. 

Then, of course, there was the Naruki Doi factor. Doi was an original member of Gold Class. When he became an exclusive freelance wrestler last September, he relinquished his responsibilities in the unit. This did not mark a return to the fold, but rather an unrequited partnership that was foisted upon Doi by both Gold Class and GM Ryo Saito. In the ring, Doi was brilliant. He’s been brilliant all year, ever since going freelance. It’s freshened him up both in Dragongate and elsewhere. 

Jacky “Funky” Kamei was another shining star in this match, which is becoming par for the course. Kamei has developed a knack at 23-years-old for rising to the occasion in big matches. He is something of a Robert Horry-like figure. Kamei might never be the face of a unit and he might never be a Dream Gate Champion, but Kamei continues to steal the show whenever possible. He was absurdly great in this match. Despite being small in stature, everything Kamei does feels big. He belongs in big rooms. He thrives in this environment. 

After Kamei cleared house with a dive to the floor, Kzy and Kota Minoura were there to close things out. Minoura is by no means a perfect wrestler, but he was fantastic here. He looked like the unstoppable, yet gorgeous wrestler that Dragongate has always wanted him to be here. He shook off a DDT from Kzy and plastered him with a Jumbo Tsuruta-esque running knee. That led to a Gang, which Kzy kicked out of, all before a Fire Thunder Driver, which ended Vibes’ night for good. 

This was classic trios action in a way that only Dragongate can do. It lived up to the idea of what the Triangle Gate should be, a combination of in-ring styles in an effort to find the most balanced team. This was all of that. This, in short, was great. ****1/4


This win marked the first successful Dream Gate defense for Madoka Kikuta. 

Dragongate tried something, and I’m not sure they stuck the landing. 

Madoka Kikuta was irrelevant on this show last year. He had returned from a year-long absence in May 2022, but had no immediate direction and had taken no steps, quite frankly, in any direction. He had become a guy on the roster and nothing more. In August, he joined D’Courage as an assistant – not even a full member of the two-man unit that featured both Dragon Dia and Yuki Yoshioka. In D’Courage, he found purpose. He thrived. He quickly gained momentum and became a focal point of the unit, winning the Twin Gate belts with Dragon Dia and then seemingly rivaling Yoshioka in popularity during the tail end of Yoshioka’s Dream Gate run. The transformation he has undergone over the last 11 months has been absurd. It’s hard to imagine a time now when Kikuta wasn’t a focal point of the roster. It happened overnight, and Kikuta worked to a point that now he won’t go anywhere anytime soon. 

For the biggest show of the year, Dragongate went D’Courage vs. D’Courage, pitting the two biggest and best young stars against one another. I was an avid supporter of this match before it was booked and shortly thereafter. This was the biggest match they had. It made sense to do it here. The only issue is that the build to this match did not work in the way that Dragongate wanted it to. 

D’Courage are ultra-babyfaces. There are no shades of gray, nor heelish tendencies. That means that even in the build to this match, Kikuta and Yoshioka never strayed from the D’Courage path. They maintained their good guy status throughout, oftentimes teaming with one another even after it had been announced that they were wrestling each other for the big belt on the big show. 

It just didn’t work. 

The match felt colder the closer we got to it. It wasn’t the catastrophic failure that last year’s Dream Gate build was, but this can’t be considered a success. 

When it was finally time for Kikuta and Yoshioka to collide, they went big. They worked this like it was a Tokyo Dome main event. It was slow and drawn out with both men opting for big strikes that echoed throughout a sold-out Kobe World Memorial Hall. They ditched a lot of intricate work that had been found in their prior Dream Gate matches. Yoshioka worked Kikuta’s leg with intense focus. Jae and Ho Ho on commentary put over how Kikuta wouldn’t be able to launch hip attacks with a bum knee. It all made sense. It just didn’t land. 

By no means was this a bad match. In fact, it was very good. It just happens to be the worst big match that either of these guys have had in a year. 

The final strike exchanges between these two were electric. They pummeled one another. Yoshioka countered Kikuta’s discus lariat with a Battle Hook. Kikuta countered Yoshioka’s Battle Hook with a lariat of his own. Kikuta eventually landed a Rolling Lariat, but Yoshioka kicked out a tick before the count of 3. 

A final, short-range lariat put the challenger away for good. 

How does one talk about a match that was good, but not as good as it needed to be? D’Courage has been the focal point of the promotion since they formed in January 2022, and Kikuta’s implementation to the group only made their image stronger. The D’Courage explosion, however, will go down as a forgetful chapter in their larger, grander story. ***3/4  


When Diamante made his Dragongate debut in 2019, I wrote, “Diamante appeared out of nowhere.” before waxing poetically about his size and strength. 

It’s true. Having not followed his prior haunts, whether it be All Japan Pro Wrestling in 2018 or CMLL throughout the early 2010’s, Diamante’s sudden debut in Dragongate came as a shock. This was a month after Ultimo Dragon’s triumphant debut in Dragongate, and it became clear immediately that Diamante, a tall and lanky luchador, was tailormade to work with the aging legend. 

Initially thought to be someone who would weigh big matches down, Diamante slowly transformed into perhaps the single greatest Dragongate success story for a foreigner, edging out the transformations of PAC, Ricochet, and others. Diamante looked clumsy and lost during his first few tours with the promotion. Nearly four years later, he’s considered to be the Mexican Claudio Castagnoli, a genetic freak with unparalleled basing ability. Despite working as a heel during his entire time in the promotion, Diamante has developed a strong following. He’s where the action is. Things are better when Diamante is around. 

Whenever Luis Meza, the real name of the man behind the mask and presumed new ring name for the Monclova-born luchador, makes his official debut in Dragongate, it will not be out of nowhere. It will have heaps of lore and emotion behind it. After a nearly 40-minute, grueling cage match, Diamante was forced to unmask in the middle of the ring on Dragongate’s biggest show of the year. In the process, Dragongate may have unlocked a future superstar. 

The main event of Kobe World was a grueling, violent endeavor that ended with Diamante, Ultimo Dragon, and many folks in attendance, in tears.

The same cannot be said for this encounter, the second (or third, if you count Masato Yoshino’s retirement match on Speed Star Final) non-Dream Gate match in history to headline Kobe World. In 2006, CIMA and Magnitude Kishiwada politicked their way into the main event, going on after a Dragon Kid vs. Susumu Yokosuka Dream Gate match that has garnered a much greater representation than the No Rope Match that went on last. 

This was no CIMA/Kishiwada. Despite wrestling tradition pointing in favor of the world title match going on last on a show like this, nothing could’ve followed this affair. Everything about this match was laid out perfectly, and every notable spot seemed to register with the audience. This match started with Diamante pouncing on Ultimo Dragon and ended with the two embracing in the middle of the ring. Factoring in everything in-between, this is one of the very best matches of the year.

Usually reserved for the Dead or Alive pay-per-view in May, Dragongate’s cage matches have garnered worldwide notoriety for their usual display of zaniness not found elsewhere in wrestling. This was not that. If you want the standard affair Dragongate cage match, you will have to dig into the archives. This was a fight, and easily the most “traditional” cage match Dragongate has ever had, even if nothing about it was truly traditional. Ric Flair and Kerry Von Erich weren’t fighting for masks on top of a cage, but they were pummeling each other with strikes and brutalizing one another with the cage itself. Whether or not this match leads to a Freebirds-like revolution of the territory is yet to be seen. 

As expected, Ultimo Dragon escaped the cage first (although Dragon Kid, who entered the match solely to protect Ultimo, did try to sneak out of the cage before his mentor, which led to thunderous laughter). Eventually, Dragon Kid did what he set out to do. He protected the legend en route to getting his mask, and with that, the Ultimo Dragon legacy was safe. 

In what initially looked like a funny spot turned out to be a brilliant segue into the next phase of the match, as Ultimo, now 56-years-old, couldn’t actually climb over the cage and onto the floor. He retrieved his mask and then climbed back down, with Dragongate officials opening the cage door for him. In that moment, Z-Brats ran out, dumped weapons into the ring, and were then chased off by Natural Vibes. The introduction of chairs and tables into this match upped the stakes even more. 

Dragon Kid was next out, surviving a focused onslaught from Diamante and eventually using the luchador’s own strength against him, as he was catapulted up into the air, only to land high atop the cage, as only Dragon Kid could do. 

With the two elder statesmen out of the way, this match could focus on the three people that truly mattered. 

Diamante and Skywalker, former Twin Gate Champions in their own right, put on a beautiful and brilliant double-team display on the wounded Strong Machine J. It seemed feasible that the Z-Brats duo would beat him so badly that they’d be able to waltz to the top of the cage, leaving him stranded alone and maskless. After blasting J with a conchairto, the heel team headed to the top of the cage. J, unwilling to go down without a fight, met Skywalker at the top of the cage and prevented him from escaping. Diamante, who was all alone in his corner, inches away from finding a way out of this hellscape, dropped down and pulled both men down from Skywalker’s corner in an effort to aid his stablemate. 

Still, it remained a glorified handicap match, and after Diamante’s save, it seemed like the former Twin Gate Champions were stronger than ever as a team. Somehow, J shook out of a Cielo Finale attempt and led a babyface comeback that made me believe in all things good in the world. Mask ripped, beaten beyond belief, and Strong Machine J was still fighting. 

After cracking Diamante across the skull with a chair shot and slamming Shun Skywalker through a table with a Sunset Flip Powerbomb, J raced to the top of the cage and secured his family lineage. 

The two-on-one section of the match was beautiful. Strong Machine J has had a rocky road to stardom. He battled a stale gimmick and injuries for a long time, but the work Shun Skywalker has done with him over the last four months has helped J reach a new echelon on the Dragongate roster. His performance getting out of the cage was heroic. In a wrestling world filled with “shades of gray”, Strong Machine J’s escape to freedom represented heroism that only wrestling is capable of producing. 

Skywalker, now alone with his partner, seemingly offered an act of gratitude towards his fellow Z-Brats member. It looked as if Skywalker, who had been saved by Diamante, who could’ve easily escaped, was going to sacrifice his mask so that Diamante could escape. 

Then, as Dragongate Jae on commentary so aptly put it, Skywalker became “a fucking snake”. 

The two-time Dream Gate Champion yanked Diamante off the top of the cage (possibly reaggravating Diamante’s elbow injury from earlier in the year) and began a targeted attack on the man he once shared a tag title with. 

I have a hard time thinking of another character who has nailed every beat of his act over the last two years in the way Skywalker has. He lost the Dream Gate belt for the first time on August 1, 2021 at Speed Star Final. He began descending into madness shortly thereafter, turning his Masquerade partners against him and eventually costing Dragon Dia his mask in order to protect his own. 

He ditched the purple & silver, donned the black & yellow, won and lost the Dream Gate belt one more time, and has been the single most interesting thing in this promotion since the summer of ‘21. His betrayal of Diamante was not a swerve for the sake of a swerve, but rather just another beat that Skywalker hit out of the park. His character, his battle with Strong Machine J, and his epic saga with Diamante all belonged on the biggest stage Dragongate has to offer. 

Skywalker felt superior to Diamante throughout the final stage of this match. There were moments where Diamante looked strong, but Skywalker was more cunning than Diamante could ever imagine being. Skywalker hit souped-up versions of his signature moves, then tied the back of Diamante’s mask to the ring ropes, paving the way for an easy exit for the Gifu-native. 

Faced with the proposition of either removing his mask to halt Skwyalker’s progress up the cage, or deal with the crushing defeat and subsequent unmasking, Diamante chose the latter. The ending, in a way, was successfully anticlimactic. Skywalker, quite literally, stood atop Diamante in the end. It was soul-crushing. It was the kind of thing that makes you want to crawl to Kobe and fight Skywalker on behalf of Diamante. It was evil and unjust and perfect all at the same time. 

In the end, Dragongate put forth their best effort, creatively and physically, in one of their most unforgettable matches ever, on their biggest show of the year.

Skywalker, always eager to talk, grabbed the microphone after the mayhem was finished and blamed Diamante for letting Strong Machine J escape. That was met quickly with a dropkick from the wounded luchador, and a subsequent exit from the two-time Dream Gate Champion. 

Ultimo Dragon came out to the ring next, by Diamante’s request, and helped the man who he brought into Dragongate unmask. I do not begrudge any grown adults who shed a tear during this moment. This is the sort of stuff that only Dragongate can do. These are the moments that make me push back on the “it’s not what it used to be narrative”. CIMA wasn’t there, Shingo was in the back, and none of The Big 6 were present for Diamante’s unmasking, yet it still hit that raw chord of human emotion that Dragongate occasionally strikes, like in the case of Uhaa Nation’s farewell ceremony or BxB Hulk getting his head shaved by Shingo. This all felt so real and human and most importantly, humongous. 

This is only the beginning for the artist formerly known as Diamante. ****3/4

Final Thoughts:

Dragongate closed their biggest show of the year with a cage match that has to be seen to be believed. Once again, Dragongate displayed raw human emotion in a world full of phony acting and faux-emotion. Diamante’s unmasking will go down as a forever memory for many Dragongate fans. It was, in short, as good as it gets. Kobe World 2023 was not a perfect show, but that doesn’t mean that it didn’t have a perfect moment.

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