KING OF GATE
JULY 7, 2023
KORAKUEN HALL, TOKYO, JAPAN
Watch: Dragon Gate Network
HYO, ISHIN, & KAI DEF. JACKY “FUNKY” KAMEI, JASON LEE, & U-T
After losing both the Brave Gate belt and Triangle Gate belts at Kobe World, this seemed like a chance for Natural Vibes to get back to their winning ways. That’s not what ended up occurring, however. This Z-Brats beat down from their most muscle-bound trio gave Vibes very little hope of ever winning. Despite a great dive to the floor from Kamei, which wiped out all of the heels, this was the Z-Brats show. U-T was the one to take most of the beating. He narrowly escaped defeat when ISHIN ran through a series of big moves on him, but he was no match for HYO’s new finisher, the Zero Kick. That did U-T in just after the 8 minute mark. ***
GENKI HORIGUCHI & TAKASHI YOSHIDA DEF. DAIKI YANAGIUCHI & KAITO NAGANO
There is no way to describe this match other than labeling it “strangely delightful”. A lot of the match featured Takashi Yoshida howling. Like, howling at the moon. Or maybe it was the crowd? This man has been wrestling for close to 20 years and for some reason, he just started howling. Nothing about this match was great, although the rookie combinations that were used in this match looked great, but something about this match was undeniably fun. I can’t say with my chest that you need to make time for this match, but I can certainly say you won’t waste your time if you decide to view it on-demand. Yoshida won with a Powerbomb on Yanagiuchi. **3/4
KING OF GATE 2023 FIRST ROUND MATCH
KZY DEF. EITA
I’ve recently been thinking a lot about the greatest “What If?” moments in Dragongate history (this may or may not be related to a long term project). Every big name you could imagine comes up on this list. CIMA, Magnum, Shingo, etc. all have entrees on a list of moments that could’ve created a butterfly effect within the promotion. Then there’s Eita. I feel like Eita could have 25 different entrees on this list. His entire career has been a head-scratcher, and I’ve been scratching so much over the last 18 months that I’ve nearly deteriorated my scalp.
Dragongate is in a fine position, healthier than most other promotions and showing great promise for the future. I can’t help but wonder how much better of a position they’d be in, however, if Eita was dedicated to the promotion with 110% of his mind, body, and soul. He is still arguably the most over person on the roster. The cheers for Eita early on in this match were disgusting. This crowd, despite his actions over the last five years, treat him like a hero. I really had to sit back and wonder what ace-like babyface Eita would be like, and how the last year would’ve been different had Eita transitioned from RED into a Tanahashi-like slot within Dragongate. He has the talent and the crowd support to be that, he just simply doesn’t want it.
Eita rarely wants to do anything that requires effort, but he worked his ass off here in this super compelling kickoff to King of Gate 2023.
In a battle between the 2020 and 2021 King of Gate winners, the bulk of the match was built around an early spot in which Kzy came up empty on a plancha to the floor, then ate the single most vicious Imperial Uno of Eita’s career. He nearly kicked Kzy’s head off. The leader of Natural Vibes fell straight back, lifeless, and unable to move.
Instead of taking the countout victory (or perhaps calling an audible due to actually rocking Kzy’s bell), Eita brought him back in the ring, but the 2021 tournament winner managed to kick out of the pin attempt.
Eita, sensing the end was near already, began busting out his big moves. He continuously dropped Kzy on his head with moves that I don’t feel like he’s done in years. It was thrilling watching Kzy barely survive, albeit stay alive, as Eita threw everything he had at him.
Finally, while attempting Trauma, Kzy countered with an inside cradle and stole the victory. He seemed barely conscious by the time he won the match, but the flash pin made him feel alive. The finish came as a genuine shock, as the match had yet to pass the 10-minute mark and Kzy had taken such a beating up to this point.
Eita and Kzy made a lot out of a very little. The tone of the match definitively changed after the Imperial Uno on the floor, and Kzy’s fight of survival down the stretch was thoroughly entertaining. This was a great way to start King of Gate. ***3/4
KING OF GATE 2023 FIRST ROUND MATCH
PUNCH TOMINAGA DEF. BXB HULK
Perhaps I am on an island, but Tominaga winning this match does not bother me. BxB Hulk kicked him repeatedly, extremely hard, until Tominaga caught the former Dream Gate Champion by surprise with the Punch Clutch and stole the victory. That’s the only way to describe the finish; Punch stole this victory and no one – and I mean no one – saw it coming. **3/4
DON FUJII, DRAGON KID, & ULTIMO DRAGON DEF. MOCHIZUKI JUNIOR, SUSUMU MOCHIZUKI, & YASUSHI KANDA
In an extremely Hawk Harrelson voice, you can put it on the spreadsheet, yes!
It makes me sick to my stomach that Mochizuki Junior got injured in May and thus missed the build to Kobe World. Prior to his injury, he was one of the three most entertaining acts in the company, trailing only Madoka Kikuta and Shun Skywalker. He’s picked up right where he left off.
This six-man was almost entirely devoted to Mochizuki Junior and Don Fujii, and those two put forth the best effort of the night, up to this point. Junior charged Fujii during Ultimo Dragon’s entrance, starting what turned into 10 minutes of unrelenting aggression between the second generation standout and his father’s best friend.
The thing that was so jarring to me was how hard the strikes were between the two of them. Junior would kick Fujii in the chest and it would echo throughout Korakuen, but then Fujii would be able to come back and paintbrush Junior with a slap that could clearly be heard in the cheap seats. They beat the life out of one another.
That sort of beating is needed for Junior. He’s already surpassed the shadow of simply existing as the son of Masaaki Mochizuki, but he’s pretty and young and by definition, a nepo baby. Getting thrashed by Don Fujii will only benefit him in the long run. Firing back and firing up the way that he did? He benefits from that in real-time.
The match, as expected, came down to Junior and Fujii. Junior missed his signature spin kick, giving Fujii the window he needed to drop the youngster with a leg sweep, then tie him in a seated octopus hold, which eventually forced Junior to tap. The finish was sloppy in all the right ways. Had Don Fujii seamlessly flowed into a complex submission, the crowd may have erupted in laughter. The final few seconds of the match matched the intensity that had been on display since the very beginning.
This was absolutely perfect for what it was, and worth going out of your way to see to get reacquainted with the greatness of Mochizuki Junior. ****
After the match, Diamante came to the ring wearing a mask. It should be noted the shrieks of joy that followed him when he came through the curtain. Diamante said that since he made his Dragongate debut in Korakuen, he wanted to come by and show his face to the fans before heading home to regroup with his family. He took his mask off to a thunderous applause. Shun Skywalker then hopped up on the apron and said if he was going to run away to Mexico, he should get it over with and just do it already. Diamante, who presumably will be working under the name Luis Meza going forward, sent Skywalker flying with a dropkick. Meza and Ultimo Dragon embraced, and DG got one step closer to having a bonafide main eventer on their hands. This was a great segment.
DRAGON DIA, KAGETORA, YAMATO, & YUKI YOSHIOKA DEF. BEN-K, KOTA MINOURA, MINORITA, & NARUKI DOI
The action didn’t stop after intermission. The combined team of D’Courage and former High-End members clashed with Gold Class in what turned out to be a borderline great encounter.
The thing that struck me about this match is just how crisp everything was. This was one of those Dragongate matches that is a good Dragongate match, but would blow people away in literally any other environment. Whether it was Minorita’s early flurries of offense, YAMATO’s dialed-in signature moves, or the late match friendly-fire between Gold Class members, everything was done the right way at the right time. This is the sort of stuff that separates this promotion from everyone else.
Despite bringing a ton of excitement to the bout, Minorita was the one to eat the pin, eating Dia’s DDDDT. ***3/4
KING OF GATE 2023 FIRST ROUND MATCH
BIG BOSS SHIMIZU DEF. SHUN SKYWALKER
Shun Skywalker’s July is off to a terrible start.
Not from an in-ring standpoint. In fact, Skywalker might have the early, pre-G1 lead for being the wrestler of the month. But over the last week, Skywalker failed to prevent Strong Machine J from exiting the cage at Kobe World, created a mortal enemy in Diamante, and was bounced from the first round of King of Gate by Big Boss Shimizu.
This result did not come as a shock to me. I predicted on Open the Voice Gate that not only would Shimizu beat the former two-time Dream Gate Champion, but that he’ll go on to win the entire tournament. He certainly has the talent to do so. He’s no stranger to King of Gate success, having made it to the finals of the 2016 tournament before losing to YAMATO, who parlayed that victory into a Dream Gate win over Shingo Takagi at Kobe World 2016.
Shimizu wrestled this match like a man that could win the entire thing. That’s not to say he was dominant, because he certainly wasn’t. In fact, Shimizu took most of the match, eating bomb after bomb from the deranged leader of Z-Brats. Every strike Skywalker threw at Shimizu had the velocity of a Nolan Ryan fastball. Every kick echoed throughout Korakuen Hall. Skywalker also relied heavily on chokes in this match. Not sleeper holds, per se, but straightforward, hand-to-hand combat-style chokes (lest we forget he also used the Mandible Claw in this match). All of this calculated, intense offense paved the way for Skywalker to look dominant all while not making Shimizu look weak.
The Natural Vibes big man struggled to fight back. Each time he scored a big move, Skywalker would climb back to his feet and deliver offense to put him back in the driver’s seat. Skywalker looked to put the match away with his knee-first moonsault, but each time he went for it, Shimizu grabbed a leg to prevent takeoff. After a handful of failed attempts, Skywalker lined up for it yet again, but Shimizu sprang to his feet and dumped him on his head with a Snap German Suplex.
That was the break Shimizu needed. He dumped Skywalker with a Shot-Put Slam. That wasn’t enough to put the former champion away, nor was a flash pin that was attempted soon after, but they gave Shimizu momentum. Skywalker lined up for a bicycle kick in the corner, but that was meant with another counter, and as a result, another Shot-Put Slam. The six-time Twin Gate Champion went for another, but Skywalker transferred momentum in mid-air. It looked like he was going to roll through with a hurricanrana counter, but Shimizu stopped that and planted him with a Powerbomb. That led to a Big Boss Press and then the three count.
Clocking in at 13:43, Shimizu survived a war. He took everything Skywalker had to offer and came out the better man. This was the perfect start to a tournament that could prove to be very fruitful for the 10-year veteran. This is must-watch. ****1/2
KING OF GATE 2023 FIRST ROUND MATCH
MADOKA KIKUTA DEF. MASAAKI MOCHIZUKI
There is no one like Masaaki Mochizuki. While appreciated by people “in the know”, it will go down as a tragedy that the 53-year-old isn’t mentioned in the same breath as Kenta Kobashi or Jushin Thunder Liger when discussing the greatest minds in wrestling history. Mochizuki not only has a list of great matches longer than just about anyone else, but he’s able to constantly find new ways to be great.
In 2018, Mochizuki, the then-Dream Gate Champion, defended his title successfully by working over the mid-section of Kzy like no one has ever done before. It remains a high point in his catalog both for the quality and for the uniqueness. This match with current Dream Gate Champion Madoka Kikuta, while not quite as good, will be just as memorable.
For all intents and purposes, Mochizuki worked this match by targeting the giant ass of Kikuta.
Technically, he went after the “hips”, but he quite literally, time and time again, kicked Kikuta in his giant ass.
For all of the comments about Kikuta not showing enough fire at Kobe World, he answered those concerns with this match. He was so dynamic, weaving back and forth between being a sympathetic underdog and a dominant champion. His facial expressions here were great. Each time he started to make a comeback, it seemed like he was ready to lead a nation with the fire that he showed.
The final few minutes of the match were brilliant, with Mochizuki yet again dipping into his bag of tricks, this time going from targeted limb (glute) work to move-trading, finisher-stealing big bombs that you’d expect from any modern “epic”. Kikuta lined up the veteran for his signature Rolling Lariat, but Mochizuki met him with one of his own. Kikuta popped up, however, and planted him with a Twister, Mochizuki’s signature brainbuster.
Kikuta would once again attempt a Rolling Lariat, this time being met with a flash pin from Mochizuki. Kikuta escaped and then quickly connected with his signature lariat. Mochizuki kicked out of the pinning attempt, but would not do the same with the short-range lariat that followed.
After a sleepy build to the Dream Gate match at Kobe World, beating Mochizuki, in his home building, with this sort of match, is exactly what Kikuta needed. This was so good. ****1/4
Dragongate heard that they didn’t show enough fire during Kobe World and responded with this show. King of Gate kicked off with a non-stop action show that featured three great tournament matches and multi-man fun throughout the card that exceeded their expectations.
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